Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Written In Blood

Octavia Butler's death was sudden. When I heard the announcement, I began to cry.

I am overwhelmed. Francis Newton, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King and Octavia E. Butler. I have a sense of foreboding. I have a feeling of despair. It is a feeling that I am struggling to call by name. I am not sure what it is. Perhaps I don’t know enough about transition from life to death. I know that our body is the house the where the spirit dwells for an unknown time. And who cares about my sadness or confusion? Instead of ringing my hands (covering mirrors and stopping clocks) I should honor the life of these women who know struggle first hand. They know loneliness, jail, fighting to get your words heard and printed and distributed in a world where people are still surprised by your presence. Yesterday I walked into a staff meeting at my new job (I am not known by many of the teachers) and a woman sitting beside me said, “Excuse me who are you?” I was the only person black and female around the table. Lord God from Zion! Had I been cleaning the floor, I would have been ignored all together!

We’re losing so many women, some of whom we can name, and many more we can’t. Many women are being stolen from us daily. Francis Newton was taken away from us by lethal injection. When we are not being stolen by bullets, we are taken by cancer, diabetes, heart failure, starvation, eating disorders, AIDS, domestic violence and war.

We are barely breathing.

Some of us are being thrown away. Where are all of the displaced women of the Gulf Region? Some are in New York, others are in Houston and I even hear that others are in Oregon and Utah. Those of us who don't speak English live just below the radar of the Minute Men and anyone else who thinks they are saving the country from terrorism or keeping “those people” from taking our jobs.

How many women are locked away in prisons or waiting on death row? Waiting in Guantanmo? Does anyone known if there are women detained in Guantanamo Bay? How many are picking through rubble in Pakistan, hiding in their homes between raids and bombs in Iraq or sitting in a boat offshore in Africa to avoid being raped?

The history of Women has been written in blood, but fret not! I'm willing and able to continue the struggle.

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish.
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Thomas Moore

Monday, February 27, 2006

All That You Touch, You Change-Octavia E. Butler

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

These are the opening words to Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower. They were the words that pulled me into the fantastic tale of fear, hopelessness and where one girl’s ability to empathize, could lead to her own demise.

Parable of the Sower was the first book I had ever read by the writer. I found it along with all of the extra copies of books on Publishers Group West/ Seven Stories Press shelves. I loved reading and it was easy to snatch up any of the two-dozen or so extra copies of novels published and distributed in the office where I worked as a Sales Assistant.

This book is not for the weak. It is also not a book to read before turning in. In the first few chapters we meet the narrator who is a teenager in the year 2024 in a world where the price of water cost more than gasoline, people ride shotgun on bicycles in groups for safety and a drug called pyro makes gangs of growing addicts crazy enough to set everything and everyone on fire. It is a dystopia about the day when the walled community of struggling Californians is broken into by a world gone mad. The world on the outside is one that so close to the real world that I’ve taken notes from it on survival skills.

This morning I awoke to hear the news that Octava E. Butler died this weekend. The details of the cause of her death were not abundant on Democracy Now. I was shattered upon hearing that another sister, someone I admired and who’s work I enjoyed has gone on. She was a pioneer in the field of speculative fiction being one of the only Black and female writers to journey into far away places where race, gender, class and politics were the vines running through her stories. She led me to read other stories like The Handmaiden’s Tale and The Gilda Stories.

I met her once. I had taken a week off from work to attend the Yari *Yari Pamberi International Conference on Black Women Writers in 2004. She was talking with Jewelle Gomez near the stack of books I was grazing over. I stood a little ways from them not wanting to intrude and not waiting to ask for an autograph, but just giving all the body language that I wanted to talk with them. They were disguising the lack of control over the cover or their books. I heard Octavia say “It’s so hard to find a good illustrator these days.” I said hello and gave each of the ladies a booklet. “If you are looking for an illustrator the contact information is on the back.” I told them the poetry was mine, but that the illustrator was my husband. They flipped through the book. They were interested in the work. They complimented his work. I was just pleased to be invited into their warm air. We exchanged other pleasantries. Jewelle Gomez complimented me on my glasses. We exchanged other pleasantries and went our separate ways. I told myself to hang on to that air.

I called my husband later to say thanks again. I had asked him to make up some cards. Instead he made mini samples of the book we were working on. The book contained 6 illustrated poems.

I imagine our small booklet among her things. I remember the sound of her voice. Her name is well chosen. For it is the deep octave of her voice that I will hear in my ear. It encourages me to continue to do what I love.

I got a call from Cave Canem today. Cave Canem offers workshops to black poets. It is the chance to study with accomplished African American poets and teachers. The person calling wanted to know which workshop I was applying for. I was impressed that someone called to ask me a question. Maybe my work was worthy of a phone call.

I don’t want to add another photo to my alter of writers and poets and fighters, but if I have to, Octavia you're in good company.

*Yari Yari means “the future” in Kuranko language of Sierra Leone. Pamberi is “forward” in the Shona language of Zimbabwe

Friday, February 03, 2006

Brother Can You Spare A Dime?

I couldn't watch the President's address the other night. I couldn't even vent my anger and frustration about the situation. I was on the subway passing 42nd and Times Square with no energy to go join the World Can't Wait/Drive Out the Bush Regime event. I'd spent 3 hours working with adult students some of whom were really struggling with a reading and comprehension exercise. I was asking myself, Who were their teachers before? What was destroyed in ________________ who sits at the back of the room with the blank stare. Why does he not seem to be connecting to what we're talking about. Not even when were talking about a topic he bought up. Why is it that he seems not to have the words to express himself?

So, while Bush rattled on about freedoms on the march/move or whatever, I watched two homeless black men on the subway each in his own world talking to both the imaginary and the real. They were probably about my father's age. My father, the last of the union men, the last of the factory men has managed by some strange twist of fate and a (lawsuit or two) to have worked at the same company for about 38 years. He will retire in about a year or so. I worry about the two men all the way home. When I arrive at my stop, I wave to the one man remaining in the car. He doesn't notice me. He is busy grooming his hair and rubbing his hands over his face. His bare ashen ankles like sugar cane stalks, stretch from a pair of over sized sneakers. His sneakers are the last things I see as the doors close.

These men are not figments of my imagination. They look like men I've seen before. As a child they were the men who hung out at the news stand in my small town of Freehold, New Jersey. But these men have lost something. Family, dignity, and the ability to connect with a world that has continued to ignore and leave them behind.

With Detroit in trouble, the spotlight on poor regulations in the mining industry (and no journalist to tell the story) and the people who have fought the good fight exiting daily I can only see times getting even tougher for the "mythical little man."

Thursday, February 02, 2006


I was listening to the radio when I heard the news that Coretta Scott King had passed away. I found it ironic that the two most recent selections for the Supreme Court would become official on the same day of her transition. The President's address was also scheduled for later that evening. I couldn’t help but wonder what is happening in the universe and why?

What could I do to stem the tide of what might be coming? I made a phone call. I called the organization ACRES. ACRES is for American Civil Rights Education Services. It is a leadership program located in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn. The organization teaches the civil rights era history by using those who were there as master teachers. The goal of the organization is to eventually have a Civil Rights curricula everywhere. The program services students, teachers and parents. My daughter was excited about the program having heard the student alumni give testimony about their experience at a Martin Luther King Service. As of this writing she is scheduled to participate in the next term. The first meeting with the other participants will be this Saturday.

Another photo of a veteran of struggle is added to my alter.

They are leaving the earth so quickly these days. I don’t know my part in all of this. I do know it is absolutely necessary to get the next generation ready and those after. My four-year-old had a homework assignment tonight. He was to practice saying the name “Coretta Scott King”.