Wednesday, June 13, 2012

orchard of me

Sugarcane Writers.
Sugarcane is a weekly LGBTQ Of Color Writing Workshop I facilitate in Oakland, CA. 

there is a field with lavender and tiger lilies.  open sky.  wooden barn full of tools to make precious things, gifts for family: chosen, blood, created.  everywhere is an altar.  candles ignite when my gaze touches them.  poetry is everyone’s first language.  my cat cooks me dinner sometimes.  the sky rains glitter and love notes.  dawn is a good friend.  moon and I play patty cake with ocean waves.  my bathroom floor is a beach.  the door is always open.  my neighbors and I hold hands on our way to the grocery store.  laughter is a given.  before the apology, all is forgiven.  best intentions and deep affections intertwined vines all over this house of mine.  I move with the wind, we prance together, choreograph rapid-fire Congolese dances together—then bake cookies.  we: orchard, field, waking reverie, lovely melody, multi-layered harmony.  fire and I love each other so much we feed each other water when we need it.  in this orchard of redwoods and roses, soft as the inside of my own thoughts, I am tender with myself.  rainbows in my tea cup kiss me good morning and plant sonnets on my lips.  this is home, no need to run from all we ever asked for.  family in my arms, so close they live in my skin/my skin not a division between me and the world/a world within me full of lip-locked love stories and all I love about my own self.  an orchard field of my own me.  a bliss of my own me.  a quiet of my own me.  all the running I’ve done into my own me, running across this orchard into my own arms: home.

(This poem was written during a free write at Sugarcane, a weekly LGBTQ Of Color Writing Workshop I facilitate in Oakland, CA.  The beautiful words "an orchard of you" is lovingly credited to  Sugarcane Writer Aima the Dreamer

Sunday, May 13, 2012

for people who (a mother's day poem)

I suppose I should write something,
being a writer and all,
about this day.
many people celebrate this day
with flowers & flowery declarations
am silent
watch this day
from sidelines, silently
I am not bitter
I know that most people that say they aren’t bitter
are bitter
but I am not.  I’m just
there are many things that come between parents and children
that replace umbilical cords with
words held hostage in throat

sometimes home feels farther away
than the most distant memory
I don’t want to feed you clich├ęs.  I’m just being vague
truth is, I don’t want to tell you the truth
if I did then you would know all the words I edit out of all the poems
and therein is the rest of me
the me you don’t see
I am writing this
not to tell an incredibly specific truth about my story
I am writing this because I have to do something on this day
I want to shout out everybody with complicated relationships with their mothers
mothers who it hurts to love up close
hurts to love from a distance
I am writing this for people who did not post beautiful pictures of their mamas
on facebook, twitter and instagram today
folks who never know how to answer “how’s your mum?”
I am writing this for those who feel an ache when they see people in happy relationships with their mamas
I know
me too.
I still believe in healing
I still believe in loving through all the things we don’t know how to love through
and today, if mother’s day is making you feel like an orphan
out of place
or forgotten,
I feel you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

letters and words and paragraphs.

I wasn’t expecting that I’d write you. I’m not all those others. with the names picked out already. I’m the eccentric auntie who comes and goes as she pleases. not the hold you after your nightmares one. not that one.

my body has betrayed me. cultivating cravings for children I swore I’d never bear. I don’t know what to do with these desires to have and raise them. my body making choices for me my mind never consented to.

I like heels. I love my purses. I don’t want to carry those diaper bags and strollers and baby car seats and this wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m not supposed to feel this way. feel like you and I are supposed to know each other. like I’m supposed to teach you things and hold you. and tell you your other mother loves you, she’s just being stubborn right now. I’m not supposed to see us all around the dinner table. all the sun shining. all the beautiful meals.

and I can’t understand why this is happening. why I want them now when I knew I wouldn’t. this is too much.

she doesn’t know I want to have her babies and I don’t know how to tell her. all these tears. I can’t. I’m not supposed to be a mother. I’m not supposed to arrange playdates, pick the best schools, baby-proof my house, teach them about gender and twist their hair. this is not the life I’ve seen for myself. I’m not supposed to be a grandmother someday. I can’t feel this way. and I do. and there’s nothing you can do when your body has made up her own mind about who she wants to carry. and what have I been carrying all these years? the belief that I don’t know how to be a good mother? maybe somewhere I gave up on family. real family. family that is always there. that shares meals and teaches you things and forgives.

I want to understand what’s happening to me. but I don’t. I feel like the things I knew are changing. I thought I’d spend my always in New York and now I’m leaving. thought my heart would stay broken forever and it didn’t. thought I’d never have babies but my body wants them. my minds says no and my body says what she says.

what am I supposed to say or do? my body wants to be pregnant. I’m a dyke who doesn’t want babies. tell me what to do about that. tell me how to move through my day with the children inside me singing so strong I can feel the vibrations on my skin. I just want to lay here and cry. I don’t know what’s happening to my own body. I’m confused. before we even talk about the logistics of babymaking (sperm, the role and level of involvement of the father and and and…), I am confused. who am I? I know I’m a poet and a sister and a daughter and a cousin and a niece and an auntie. I never thought I’d be a mother. ever. never.

I meant this as a letter to you. all you. singing in me songs so strong I feel vibrations on my skin. how do you know this song? that I haven’t taught you yet? songs we made up one Sunday. songs you taught me.

I can’t. I cannot do this. I cannot change everything about my life. I can’t. the world will not drastically drop in population if I don’t have babies. and then…I so tired of resisting my body’s desire to have you. I don’t know what will be. or if we will be. but I’m tired of resisting even considering you.

I don’t know what to say to you. this is not the most heartwarming welcome you could have received, I know. I’m sorry. I guess I just want you to know beforehand. where I’m coming from. and incase we never meet I guess we’ll always have these letters and words and paragraphs.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

i used to be a poet

I used to be a poet.

I used to know how to do this. didn’t even need to walk up to the mic.

rocked that shit from my seat, off stage, from the doorway, on the train, wherever.

now I question everything.

I think too much.

I used to be a poet.

too much of a poet to be self-conscious. validation irrelevant. compliments unnecessary. I knew what I said was the truth so I ain’t need anyone to agree. things were simpler when I was younger.

I went on tour because I felt it. I didn’t market anything, I just showed up.

now flyers and list servs and.

I used to be a poet. with the fury and the love, the tenderness was implied. the love amplified.

now I feel intellectual, almost theoretical,

been in this so long, the memories of where I been take over. the future. the supposed to, the what ifs take over my mind, demand attention.

insecurities center stage. shaking and tears near. tears in me.

unclear. why am I saying this again? are you hearing me this time? I’ve said this so long, been performing this poem so long, it’s who I am now.

but that’s not who I am.

it takes so much to perform. it never used to take this much. it was just what I did.

it was all so simple. I didn’t think about it.

I don’t want to think. I just want to make art. without thinking and wondering and making sense of and figuring out and strategizing.

I just want to rock shows. that’s all. shows. late shows, early shows, sweaty, dark shows, outdoor shows, freestyle poems in the middle of dance parties, rhyme with djs, let the beatbox move me to move me to move you. that’s all I want.

all this “I should do it like this…or that.” I can’t.

shit is oppressing me.

I want to rock the poem about my father and leave it on the stage.

I don’t want to carry it anymore.

my mother leaving.

my father leaving.

my whole family leaving. is fine.


naw, son, for real, I’m good.

I just want to write about it, dance about it, rock shows about it and leave it on the stage. I don’t need to carry that.

carrying that is what feels heavy on my back, has me doubting my own gift.

and I’m gifted. I don’t have time to doubt my own gift, only time to feel it, be it, give it.

I’m wasting time with these insecurities.

they trying to take over. I feel them creeping. they hungry for my smile. want to eat my peace of mind.

I won’t feed them.

I won’t set the table and make a plate for them with my thoughts, my wringing hands, my doubting the love of everyone loving me.

insecurities creeping everywhere overrunning the garden of my life with plants I never planted. whose fuckin seeds are these? I don’t want this shit.

I used to be a poet.

I used to do it so pure my voice cried words onto the mic.

it was so pure. too pure for there to be room for all the pain of what if and I should and I’m done with it. I’m done with what if and I should.

I want to rock pure like that. step up to the mic with the words trembling from my chest,

freshly memorized,

soul still shaking in my chest and holding me up tall to share this fire.

love rocking me steady.

that’s why I love poetry. when the poetry is raw and roots are tumbling out of your mouth.

that’s what I love.

when I was a poet, I was a poet.

if I am poet, then I will be a poet. without all the bullshit.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Photo Credit: Rebecca Emmanuelle
Pictured: Etaghene + Adaku Utah

the tears are persistent so I’ll write.

I’m performing my one woman show for the first time in 2 years in 14 days. in it is so much that scares me and moves me, that holds me and makes me want to run, so much tenderness, anger, joy, wonder, discovery. the show is me offering all I am to all of you. that’s some scary shit. I’m scared. why do I do this? why do I write all this sacred down? why do I write all the fears down then insist on sharing? I want to be confident. but I’m not. it’s not like I haven’t rocked shows before, traveled before, shared this work before. but the show is different now than it’s ever been. I’m different now than I’ve ever been. and I want you to get it. to get me. and I want to be able to relax. I’m not relaxed. it’s the kind of day that you need India.Arie to sing to you and tell you it’ll be okay.

I don’t know what reassuring words I need to hear or that there are any. I spoke to Adaku and she gave me that still wise earth love that she always brings me. and I think I feel better. but I am all kinds of scared and the tears are insistent today. quiet like rain that sneaks up on you.

at rehearsal last night with my director there were tears and laughter. I love that woman—a sister, a comrade, an amazing artist. she is so loving, so dope, so insightful. it’s deep to look in the face of your own life and see for the first time what you didn’t know was there reflected back at you in and amongst your words, your verses, your paragraphs, your pages. words you wrote revealing a you you didn’t even know about. and then figure out how to share those truths with hella people. and I know why I do this. I do this because I was born to. I don’t second-guess that. but this shit it hard. and I want to be ready. and I want to do right by the truths of my life. and I want more time. and I need a vacation. a retreat. to sleep in. I want pancakes. and—

the tears are like a lake in my eyes. still as summer in the middle of somewhere that people only visit when they want reflective solitude. still as that.

it’s deep because the only difference between “sacred” and “scared” is the placement of 2 letters. okay then.

Monday, March 21, 2011

!!!!!!! {tour diary}

Photo Credit: An Xiao

I’ve been busy. I’m starting my tour diary now before I hit the road because let me tell you, everyday is planning for then. and what I do now is just as much a part of the tour as being on stage in Johannesburg. incase you ain’t heard, I’m in the midst of booking my one woman show, Volcano’s Birthright{s}, alllll ovvvverrrr the worllldddddddd! this is so exciting! and so much work, lordess, lordess, it’s a lot of work. my days are: wake up, check email, brush teeth, get dressed, respond to emails during commute to work, go to work, call venues/folks, respond to emails during lunch break, come home, write/respond to emails, make calls, schedule in-person and phone meetings around tour-related ish that happen during lunch and before and after work. somewhere in there I eat and sleep. I love booking in different time zones because I can call them at all kinds of hours and they’re still open. booking is a detailed, annoying, fulfilling process. there are days I want to call someone and yell: “WE GOT THE VENUE!!!” but I don’t know anyone else will get what that means. you have to be in it, day to day, to get the significance of finally booking a venue after a month of: “what about/well maybe/I’m not sure/I’ll get back to you/what are the dimensions of the stage again?” if you had that back story, you’d know why I’m so fuckin excited to have that venue locked in. that’s kind of why I want to write this—to take you on this journey with me, to show you the inside of it.

what’s what as of right now: we got the tour launch booked. the tour begins in June in BROOKLYN!!! (celebratory shot fired)—I’ll be giving a talk about my one woman show and performing excerpts of the show at Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturdays. I am BEYOND excited about this! the west coast premiere is also booked, the show will be in San Francisco in July. I am so happy to be returning to the Bay! I’m in conversations about Philly, LA, Malibu, Boston, South Africa and my beloved Nigeria. I’m also working on a fundraising campaign for the tour, more info on how you can support the dream coming soon!

in the midst of all this, what sustains my spirit is the understanding that every show I’m booking has already happened. I already performed in Jo’burg. I already shook my soul in Edo, I already performed a soulful, sold out show in San Francisco. that future already happened. all I have to do is get from here to there. the dream is guaranteed. this sustains me. re-understanding time in this way and moving in the world AS IF—as if everything I dream is so. as if it is so. this takes most of the pressure off. and I keep moving. everyday I re-inspire myself, remind myself of why I’m doing this, trust my gut and know that the desire to share my story comes from a beautiful place. a place so beautiful the universe can’t resist conspiring with me to bring that dream to fruition.

I heart this quote: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” ~ Paulo Coehlo

my days are hella full. like hella full. I mean the seams of my days are busting. and I love it. I still make time to dance. I still make time for friends. I still make time to watch netflix and chill and eat good food. self-care is wo/mandatory.

I haven’t even started rehearsals yet. yooo……!!!

more soon, xxxo.

Monday, March 14, 2011

mental illness has never been my problem

photo credit: al janae hamilton

mental illness has never been my problem. I’m mentally stable to the point of being emotionally logical—I could write a thesis about my feelings for any given person in my life complete with bibliographies and case studies. I’m not trying to be funny. it’s true.

I’ve been depressed. there have been times when I was so depressed I fuckin worried myself, wanted to tell someone to come watch over me and make sure I was okay. (I’m okay.)

it’s the most heartbreaking thing to watch your mother lose herself in her own depression. it’s a pain I can’t put words to. it hurts so much, I’ve stopped feeling. I’ve just shut my feelings off, sent them to go shudder and huddle into themselves in a faraway country. she says really mean things to me. and doesn’t remember. she disowned me a week before Christmas. told me she never wanted to speak to me again. then she called me from Nebraska, thousands of miles from home, wanting me to bring her back home. she didn’t remember telling me the things she told me that hurt me so deep I was walking around like a zombie for a week. she didn’t fuckin remember the words that devastated my soul.

she calls me—crying. angry. happy. regretful. depressed. yelling. whispering. sometimes she goes through all these emotions in one conversation. sometimes she hangs up on me. sometimes she cries. sometimes she blames me. sometimes she wants me to forgive her. sometimes she thinks I’m her perfect daughter. sometimes she blames me for everything. sometimes she thinks I’m her savior. but never is she my mother. she hasn’t been my mother in years. I’ve been mothering my mother for years. she’s someone else. my mother is gone. you know her? you don’t know her. the things my mama taught me…that woman, who taught me how to sew, who held me when Aymi died, who always made sure I knew I was Nigerian, knew where we came from and was proud, that woman who used to make the best egusi soup on either side of the Atlantic, that woman who taught me how to be funny, that woman. my mama. my mother. she’s gone. so fuckin gone. depression took her. paranoia took her. the pain of losing everyone she ever loved, except me, took her. the whoever and their army that she’s convinced is after her took her. maybe her soul is buried with her mother. or with her dead son, my brother. or maybe the pain of being apart from Naija done broke her heart proper. she won’t listen to me. I’ve tried to save her more times than I’ve tried to save myself. cape with the s on my chest. I’ve ran relay races passing the baton to myself, running and running, trying—and I can’t. I can’t give her mind and pride and laughter and joy and life and will to believe in herself back to her. someone stole her from her. if I knew where to go to get her back, I’d go get her back so I could give her back to herself. and have my mama again. do you know how much I need a mother? how many times I want to call a woman who knows me, from breast feeding to baby pictures to puberty to high school dances to college admissions essays to graduation day, and say “mama, tell me why she broke my heart?” and have her comfort me and tell me my wife is somewhere looking for me. do you know how much I want to go home and have her make me a plate of my favorites and not have to tell her how to cook anything because she knows? because her hands making that meal for me my whole life is why it’s my favorite, is why I can’t have it any other way? do you know how much I miss home? I mean the home we made in this country—our home away from home.

I miss our plates and silverware—is that weird? I miss my mama’s silverware and that small kitchen with the blue carpet and delicate little curtain, brown cabinets and old stove. I miss our broken old school 1980s tv, on top of which our new school (well, now it’s old school too) tv sat. the tv we watched benny hill and eastenders and guiding light and the young and the restless on. I miss the glass dining room table where we ate every dinner together everyday of my entire childhood, except the years I was in Nigeria.

do you know what it’s like to watch your own mother disintegrate before your eyes? lose herself and lose so much weight she makes a dandelion seem heavy in comparison? as I write this, the tears are coming and I refuse to let them fall. not again. I’ve cried so many tears, I just won’t anymore.

and then they wonder why I’m hard. they do—the women I love. they call me hard, say I won’t open up. of course I am and of course I won’t. if I love you and you break, like I loved my mama and she broke, how the fuck am I supposed to survive that?

mental illness, depression, paranoia. none of these things are my problem. none of these things effects me. I’m mentally stable. to the point of being emotionally logical. no matter how angry I am, I’m like a lawyer with my emotions—organized and eloquent. I could take any argument to the supreme court and I would win. I’m not like her. they tell you about mental illness and depression. in commercials and in magazine advertisements. they don’t talk about how much it fucks you up to watch the person you love vanish before your eyes, swallowed by a world you can’t see and can’t change. no matter what anyone says, I’ll always feel I haven’t and didn’t do enough. I’m not depressed. but I have plenty of sadness. I carry my own sadness and guilt that I can’t save her from her suffering.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

this is a dangerous poem

Photo Credit: Charla Harlow

the kind I promise to keep to myself so I can be more honest with the page

I’ve opened up

(this sounded better in my head, in the shower, free styling, hold up, let me just fin—)

I saw your name today

I saw the place on the piece of paper

with my poem on it

where you wrote your phone # and name down

for the first time all those years ago.

I adore you still and it tears me apart still

this loneliness is so lonely because no one understands and no comfort comforts me.

I have more eulogies to write

for my dead friendships and relationships

than there are grains

of jollof rice

in all of the Naija Delta

when they come to my funeral,

if they come to my funeral,

they will whisper bad things about me inside the paper thin walls of their skulls

they will call me a bitch


they will call me stubborn and unforgiving

it will be true.

there are only so many cliffs you can jump off of on faith


and walk away from unscarred

that shit makes you hard






if you promised to jump with me

but I look up from the bottom of the cliff

and see you

at the edge of the precipice

walking inland

I’m not who I used to be, I don’t know where she went

I used to be nice.

this is a dangerous poem because I have to write it and I don’t know how to.

all this pain churning in me, I articulate and narrate the intricacies of this ache to friends, they’re sympathetic, some: empathetic, some: deeply compassionate, some: politely

offer me their best “it will get better” speech

but it doesn’t, my love

we just forget

that’s not better. that’s forgetfulness.

I don’t know what to say and I don’t know what I want you to say to make this better

when you’ve loved one person

and then they’re gone

there’s nothing to say

this poem is so dangerous it says frightening things,

causes racial poem profiling, makes you shiver and

clutch your imitation Louis Vuitton clutch

as each word inches closer into your personal space.

this poem is socially awkward

and bad with boundaries

walks away without making the first move

this poem won’t call you the next morning or listen to your stories

this poem is dangerous cuz she treats you as well as you’ve treated your worst


this poem shares secrets:

like missing your mother, I miss her.

I don’t believe in happy endings and I don’t think it gets better

I don’t pray and I don’t feel me anymore

sometimes I don’t believe in God

I want to be held and can never find the words to say that

except in dangerous poems and on stage

I don’t have peace, I’m not patient

I’m not self-centered enough and I’m too ill-mannered

I lost something somewhere,

I don’t know what and I don’t know where

but I’m pretty sure it’s everything

I want to run away

to Paris

to Harare

to London

I won’t let you in. I’ll let you think I did

but I won’t.

I don’t trust you and I never will.

I only like you half the time.

I want a big wedding but I don’t believe in love anymore

I want kids but I don’t want to give birth or raise them.

maybe I could just parent for 10 key life-changing moments—

okay: 11.

I think some men are cute. seriously. if they could fuck like a dyke, I’d holla.

this is a dangerous poem because you should know better

than to expect me to ever

write down the worst of it.

I have more to say but my homemade granola is sitting in my yogurt beside me,

side eyeing me,

getting soggy.

I’m gonna go watch cartoons.

Monday, January 17, 2011

the hard part

photo credit: y. etaghene

I still believe in you. maybe it’s foolish. I feel foolish, because of the two of us, I’m the only one who believes. when did love become so transient? when did our love become so fickle? I don’t care about all the fucked up ways a heart can break, all I care about is the love. our love.

this is why I stay up, waiting for one song to say something to me that I can respond to. with a musing, wondering poem like this. I listen to this song like I would your breath. I’m not mad. anymore. It would be easier if I had anger in me.

there are days like this where I laugh with a friend. I watch how in love my friends are with each other. love is everywhere. a friend is getting married, another just let herself love again. and I look at myself. my life. my heart, broken. the nights aren’t the loneliest, they’re just when I’m my most still. the days are the hardest. people ask me how I am. I don’t want to lie, but beloved, I don’t have the energy to tell the truth. the truth is without you, something is missing. ever since I met you, whenever I’m without you, something is missing.

I don’t understand. I still believe. I don’t understand why or how I still believe. even now. even after you’ve disappeared, even after you’ve walked away, even after you’ve left in every possible way, over and over. broken your promises. and acted so selfish I can’t even recognize your name. even after you’ve taken every beautiful word you’ve murmured, proclaimed and written to me and twisted it into a lie. even now.

I feel foolish and I don’t understand. I will never understand how you could walk away from our love and not even leave me a post-it note explaining why. I can’t say your name the same. I don’t know you anymore.

I will love another woman, that’s not the hard part. the hard part is she won’t be you. but maybe the best part is that she won’t be you.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I’d Rather Be On Stage

photo credit: Laura Waterbury

I’m without a mother and father the week of Christmas,
my mother says I’m a bad daughter and that she’ll never speak to me again.
I told my father I’m a dyke & it’s been crickets ever since.
with this weight on my chest and on my back, I’m missing Naija soil,
chasing my parents’ approval and I’m never gonna get it.
I’ve been watching my mother slowly die for years
but it feels like my name on the tombstone

how many ways are there to love a person?
I feel my lover slipping from my grasp so I want to let go
I will not hold you here, it no be by force.
if you wanna go, abeg GO.
I make pilgrimages to what we could be everyday,
crying holy water tears as I watch today bleed and writhe in the bed beside me
she doesn’t know how many times she breaks my heart with her words and distance
I look at her, kiss her, lay in her arms and wonder
if today
will be the day
she shatters my heart.

I’d rather be on stage than dealing with any of this in my everyday,
I can deal with all this
on stage,
in a place where I know everyone came to listen,
where I know I can make you understand,
where I feel more like myself with everyone watching than alone in my room,
where I can be everything I don’t think I’m brave enough to be offstage
I’d rather be on stage than be your confused, insecure lover
Or your unappreciated, guilt-stricken daughter
Or your estranged friend
Or your angry activist
Or who you flirt with
wanna fuck
don’t understand
make assumptions about
treasure then discard
run from
come to then walk away from
hide from
break promises to
I’d rather be on stage
sharing journal entries
that somehow turned into
“performance pieces”,
I’d rather find the emotional arch of this narrative and spill the intricate inner-workings of my spirit
for you, my audience,
I’d rather
sculpt a monologue out of this pain,
rather figure out if I should use this tone: (angry) or this one tone: (hurt),
rather experiment with movement then choose how I should hold my body in order to further illuminate this work
I would rather cry for you, here, upstage, center
than cry at 5am in a darkened kitchen alone searching for meaning that never comes.
I find myself up so late it’s early morning, carving words into air, plopping words onto computer, stringing thoughts together to share something
and still feel I like I’m missing something in these lines.
I search for what’s huddled in between these lines
and I can’t find it
asking Meaning to come home to me, wanted dead or alive
and shit is dead on arrival—bodybag.
I’m clutched between the arms of friends,
my tears soak orange sweatshirt,
they rock me,
every other thing makes me cry,
I have to go to work in the morning,
it’s already morning and I haven’t slept yet.

I’m the ultimate emotional exhibitionist. there are things I tell you that I don’t tell the woman I let inside me. and that’s real. the stage and me, we been in this for 11 years. we rock solid, so yes I trust this stage with my broken bits I hide from everyone else. cuz I know she got me

let me edit this poem right quick,
cuz I’d rather
let me run to rehearsal right quick,
cuz I’d rather
I discard that rhyme, rewrite that line, cross that out, extend that metaphor, let the fury quiver, let the sadness swell,
cuz I’d rather
I want to check my phone and see her name,
it’s not there.
I watch the Misfits.
in her arms I feel less and less beautiful and more and more like the needy bitch I can't stand,
my sex drive snuck out my panties and fled the country,
my smile jumped off the Manhattan bridge and dey resurrect like Jesus for special occasions,
I wonder what I’ll wear to her funeral,
maybe I’ll climb in the coffin with her, make sure she gets where she’s going okay
then come back to this stage to tell all y’all all about it.
I promise.

the character I’m playing is me,
I’d rather be on stage than watch my love for you disintegrate with each insult you toss at me, while you tear away at me, bit by bit each day
with the fucked up things you say.
If I have to lose you, I’d rather lose you on stage,
if you’re going to die, I’d rather you die on stage beside me
so I can turn your funeral into a show interrogating mother-daughter dynamics from the grave
if you insist on misunderstanding me, let me respond via poem, via monologue, via choreopoembiomythography.
I can’t answer your questions in standard English, my feet waka, my heart tire. wetin I go do? I give you blood, I no have blood, I give you my heart, I lay my skeleton for road for you. peace of mind no dey, your satisfaction no dey.

you think I’m scientific with my emotions. you’re right. I analyze emotions like there’s a hypothesis to prove or disprove, gather evidence, write poems to articulate my findings and recommendations. then I perform them. this is who I am. who I am is wrong? really? not on this stage it’s not. and that’s why I fuckin love this fuckin stage.
that’s why I’d rather be on stage, because it’s my stage when I’m on it and even when I’m not.
stage be callin my name, sending me emails askin me when I’m comin back.
on this stage, I’m the point of reference for everything, not you, so if I wanna get scientific with it, that’s cool. I never feel too much or say the wrong thing, I’m perfect here. even my fuck ups make sense. my rage and insecurity are all okay. everyone here loves me. even when they don’t agree, they love me. if I don’t know what to say, I make a joke and people laugh. they get me. I can make my lines up as I go. I can lose control and this stage ain’t gonna judge me, I know this stage got me.

my heart,
my heart,
this heart,
if you go break am,
make you break am for stage, so everyone go see,
make I have witness this time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It’s Not Black vs. African: CHECK YOURSELF

{photo credit: An Xiao}

I wrote an article about how Black people sometimes appropriate Nigerian and African culture ( and below in black you can see one of the responses I got. my responses to that response is below in pink. I responded point by point and inserted my responses into their response. I’m YE. SKelly is the person who responded to my article and is SK below.

SK: # 1 - you can't have both. you can't "claim soul music, hip hop", etc., & maintain your elitist african-ness @ a distance from all us heathen american blacks.

YE: I’m not elitist and neither is my article. I can and do claim hip hop and soul music and many other forms of music. I live in the States and I’m African. hip hop is based on African music, as are most forms of music in the States. I claim hip hop like I claim soca, the blues, calypso, etc, because these are a wo/manifestions of African music and rhythms throughout the world. I did not create hip hop and I never said I did. I also never called anyone a heathen. that sounds like your self-hate talking.

SK: 2 - if she was born here then that makes her a true african american.

YE: nope. I’m Nigerian. #labelfail. also, why are you now speaking to me in the 3rd person when you were just speaking to me in the 2nd person? #grammarlesson. you can talk directly to me, my assistant did not write the article, I did.

SK: it seems as though many of our kin from the continent think of us as 'slaves' - when mainland africans were part & parcel of our becoming slaves, & NO accountability is taken for that. my mother's ghanaian significant other mentioned that the slave trade is never mentioned in african schools - the party line is that we just 'went away' as if on vacation. talk about a sideye.

YE: I don’t think of Blacks in the u.s. as slaves, once again, sounds like your self-hate talking. if some Africans sold Blacks into slavery…how is that my fault or even relevant to this conversation? who said I was ignoring that? this article is not about that. your mother’s Ghanaian significant other is an expert on every single African school in all 54 countries and what’s taught by all the teachers not only today but for the past 400 years during and after slavery? unless this person has extensively studied this topic, that individual can speak to THEIR experience, not that of an entire continent. but thanks for that tokenizing. #sarcasm. “the party line”? and you know what “the party line” is because you went to school in Africa? #sideeye or you THINK you know this because of a comment someone made about THEIR experience that you are now GENERALIZING and TOKENIZING to make an EXAGGERATION about an entire continent? #sitdown

SK: 3 - hate to bring this up, but as many good nigerian private citizens as there are out there doing real work, it may take more work on an activists part to discern them from those who run the myriad scams that nigerians are famous for - so why is she hating on ppl who help set up schools in third world countries? - wierd.

YE: you’re right. #sarcasm. we should all thank the missionaries who brought their white god to Africa. many racist whites have claimed that they should be thanked for saving Africans from the “uncivilized” African continent via slavery. by these racist, white imperialist standards, they were “helping” and “improving” the lives of Africans by enslaving and raping them. should they be thanked as well? the NYPD thinks they’re bettering the streets by brutalizing people of color daily. should they be thanked for their hard work? how about the KKK that made it their business to eliminate the supposed threat of Black men to white women by lynching them—should they be thanked? also, how can one distinguish between all those dangerous Black criminals and the “good, Black private citizens” just working to support their families? this is your internalized racism talking. are you seated? get up so you can #sitdown

SK: we have been divorced from our culture, & are fascinated by it why is she so scornful of that?

YE: I don’t scorn fascination with a lost culture. I just don’t tolerate the disrespectful appropriation of my culture.

SK: if she's SO nigerian, then maybe that's where she should live. but she won't do that b/c by her own admission, she will get treated with the same snotty 'tude that she bestows upon black americans, & doesn't want THAT.

YE: I never said any of that. I travel back and forth between the States and Nigeria. um, you don’t know me. #sitdown. I actually get lots of snotty, ignorant attitudes in the States. Case and point: this dialogue right here. if I were to go back to Nigeria to live permanently, I’d like to take my oil with me, is that okay with you? since the u.s. in the 3rd largest exporter of Nigerian oil, I’m pretty sure that whatever car, bus, train or airplane you are a passenger in is partly or completely running on my fuel. from my country. which you just “suggested” I go live in because you disagree with me. since I’m leaving, I’m gonna take all the blood diamonds with me, the gold, cacoa and rubber exported from Africa to the States. I’m also gonna take with me the coltan and tantalite with me; these 2 minerals are used to manufacture many things including DVD players, video games, cell phones and the computer you typed this ignorant response to me on. I’m gonna take hip hop, soul, the blues, allll that with me too. it might be a bad look for you if I were to take myself and all my resources with me.

SK: is she trying to claim that africans don't travel? let's talk bourgoise - not only do they travel - extensively, but most mainland africans TO THIS DAY keep a servant or two - still haven't learned about that little iron-clad class system of theirs.

YE: I’m not TRYING to say anything. I said that Africans aren’t tourists in the first world and don’t co-opt culture in the way westerners do. yes Africans travel. of course, if we didn’t travel, how did I get to New York? #logicfail. yes some (very few) Africans have maids. what point does that prove? there’s a very select number of people who have maids. hella people around the world have maids or “servants” as you refer to them. Africans often travel to first world countries to attain some of the privileges that have been denied our countries because the wealth of the first world is not only built on our third world backs but exists because our resources have/are stolen and/or exported. that’s why we travel most of the time—to come use the resources that the first world took, stole and/or bought at the lowest of prices. and…what’s a mainland African? I’ve never heard that term in my life. and I’m pretty sure no African has either.

SK: now here's where i get really confused: she claims to be 100% nigerian, just BORN here... & in another breath, that her great grandmother is trinidadian - but she isn't. so which one is it? b/c that type of mix makes her patently afro-american.

YE: I don’t think people say “Afro-American” anymore. I think it disappeared along with “Negro” awhile ago. I’m not Trinidadian. #shrug. #labelfailAGAIN

SK: & then in the end, she wants to talk global community. my senegalese SISTER, who has walked the catwalks of paris, & keeps a DOPE apartment on gold st. while she lives part of the year in dakar, NEVER tried to sell me a load of bull like this.

YE: um okay. yaaaaay tokenization! does this make your point more valid because you throw in the behavior of an African woman? do you want a cookie for that one?

SK: methinks the author is plagued with issues, & may need to do a little research of her own; specifically w/regard to her own persona. she seems to fully identify w/hip hop culture & yet divorce herself from the people who created it/fought for its/our freedoms.

YE: I have never and will never divorce myself from Blacks in the States—that would be impossible. to divorce someone, one has to get married. to get married, one has to be separate and seeking a union. I am not separating myself from Black people, we are linked forever. there are distinctions between our cultures and experiences, yes, but we are part of a global Black community. of course I have issues. having issues is inherent to being a human being. me having issues does not take away from the validity of what I’ve written.

SK: this is disrespectful, patronizing, callous, & soulless much of the things we accuse white colonists of being.

YE: I think that’s an extreme and inaccurate assessment of my article and is a more accurate description of what you wrote than what I did.

SK: the author needs to check herself.

YE: I check myself on the regular as part of my practice of being a loving, revolutionary, tender human being. Do you? it’s fine to disagree with me, but it’s not necessary to personally attack me, be deliberately rude, tokenize the Africans in your life to make a point or make vast generalizations that are based on no research and no experience. I have no problem whatsoever with people disagreeing with me—let’s talk and share perspectives. what I do take issue with is having people project their issues with their own ethnicity, race or with Africa and Africans onto me. it’s not my fault that Blacks were kidnapped from Africa and enslaved nor do I reinforce or benefit from any of the ideologies that disrespect and degrade Blacks in the States. given this, to hurl insults at me is unnecessary and irresponsible. clearly, you’re speaking from a place of deep pain, anger, ignorance and, at times, stupidity. CHECK YOURSELF. and sit down.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

THE NAIJA ESSAY: Rhapsodizing on Black Americans’ Cultural Appropriation of Nigerian & African Cultures

{photo credit An Xiao}

I’m not Black. Black is not my ethnicity. In fact, Black isn’t an ethnicity, it’s a race. And race isn’t real. Race, Blackness, whiteness, these categories were created by white people in order to define who they were oppressing and who was doing the oppressing. Check your history y’all. Despite this, Black is something I identify with politically and socially given that I’ve spent so much of my life in the States and I do see myself as part of a global Black community of people—some of whom are/were immigrants to Europe, the States and other parts of the world and others who are descendants of the Africans kidnapped from Africa in order to be enslaved in the States, South America, the Caribbean and so on. Blackness is not a monolithic identify. It’s an umbrella term like Queer. I’m a dyke but identify with a Queer community politically and socially. Countless times, people, Blacks in America mostly, tell me I’m American. “Oh well you were born here so you’re American.” #labelfail. No I’m not. I’m a Nigerian who happened to have been born here and I will be Nigerian until the day I die and in my next lifetime too. It’s that serious.

I’m not Black. I am Nigerian. Period. I am not Nigerian American. I am Nigerian. To be specific, I am an Ijaw and Urhobo Nigerian. (DELTA STAND UP!!!) <-- had to do it. I didn’t even know what soul food was till college. I fetched water as a child. I have a long ass Nigerian name with mad vowels up in it. On the census, I wrote in Nigerian. (We have an African prez and the Census can’t be more inclusive? #sideeye.) After being baptized as a baby, I didn’t go to an American church until college. I’ve learned to be a part of Black American culture and given that I live in the States and contribute to the evolution of Black art forms with the art I create, yes, I claim hip hop, soul music, Black American dance styles and the performance arts. I’m still a Nigerian within all that. Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I say Nigeria. Because na so. When I answer in this way, I sometimes get confused looks from people because they want to place me into a category that makes sense for them. They want to either tell me I’m someone else than who I just said or let me know they know who I am. I’ve heard more nonsensical facts about people’s relationship to Nigeria than I can list here. It is okay—to not know. Just admit it. Don’t try to create a familial bond with me and/or my culture where there is none by spewing random facts about Nigeria. You ain’t know about Nigerian heat or suya or NEPA (now PHCN) or pyoowatah or the go-slow or red soil or roasted groundnut.

During a twitter tag team rant session with Zara Emezi, I wrote:

what the fuck i look like meeting a Chinese person & telling them how much i enjoy wonton soup? you think they give a fifth of a fuck?

(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:36:07 PM)

people tell me all their random thoughts & experiences re: Nigeria when they meet me. i'm serious--eg: i like Nigerian food. #uhokay

(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:35:24 PM)

what the fuck i care you gave your son a Nigerian name? there are over 150 million Africans with Nigerian names. #perspective

(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:34:29 PM)

These conversations are tiring. From the woman who, upon finding out I’m Nigerian, takes pride in informing me that she works to set up schools in 3rd world countries, of which Nigeria is one. Do you want a cookie? Fuck you and your NGO. If you really cared, you’d find NIGERIANS doing good work (there are millions), give them that first world loot (which by the way is built on third world backs) and LEAVE. That’s revolution. That’s being an ally.

So many Black people challenge my Africanness. Black people who, by the way, claim the African identity they attempt to deny me. So many Africans challenge my Africanness. All around, my authenticity as an African gets questioned, judged and minimized. It’s not my life’s work to make the world see me as I see me. It’s my life’s work to be me as I see me and let the world do what the world will do.

Me: "I'm Nigerian." Her: "You speak really good English." Me: "We were colonized by the British." Can't make this stuff up.

(Thursday, August 12, 2010 6:56:40 PM)

Every moment is an opportunity to decolonize our spirits and I seize these moments. Part of that decolonization is to never allow my identity to be defined for me by anyone. There are times when ironically, Africans place me in the same category as Blacks in the States and look down on me because to them, I sound American and have lived here for an amount of time that means I’m Americanized now. I let them know a.) there’s no need to look down on Blacks in the States and b.) I’m so Nigerian my blood is made of palm oil. I love you but sit down.

It annoys me greatly the ease with which Blacks take on an African identity while doing little to no research/reading whatsoever. Spending a semester in Ghana does not equate with my life as an African. People still ask me if I’m Yoruba and pride themselves on knowing that one ethnicity. *Blank stare* Asking me if I’m Yoruba when you find out I’m Nigerian is like me asking you if your name is Keisha because you’re Black and live in the States. Yes, it is that ridiculous. I’m not Yoruba. I’m not Igbo. Abeg, please stop asking. Going to see Fela on Broadway does not qualify as an education on my country. It doesn’t even qualify as an education on him, given there’s only so much a two-hour performance can contain of a person’s life. We all love Chinua Achebe and Ben Okri and Fela but Naija done produced more brilliance than the likes of them.

Can we please be accountable to the way in which Blacks travel the world as tourists with the same or similar kinds of destructive manners/patterns as rich white people? Tourism in third world countries is another form of colonization. Beautiful portions of the country are often off limits to people indigenous to that country in order for hotels and resorts to be made available for tourists and the tourism economy. Traveling to someone else’s home in search of peace of mind, relaxation or a deeper sense of self is the most colonial bullshit on the planet. Black Americans do this in Africa and the Caribbean, looking for a rugged, vacation lover to help them forget the woes of their lives. Please, please read Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place for an amazing analysis of what tourism has done to Antigua. I don’t travel to other people’s countries to get free. I would never be so arrogant or disgustingly first world. I go home. Or I travel because I want to partner to make art and/or partake in activism that is led by those indigenous to the place I’m traveling to. Any Black person with the privilege and resources to travel to another country to find themselves, and who does this, is feeding into a racist and violent tourist economy.

South Africa, Kenya, Ghana are some of the chosen countries that everyone outside of Africa wants to travel to, specifically Black people. The sexiness and allure of Yoruba culture is due, in my opinion, to how far it’s traveled (Brasil, Cuba, the States) and the exotification of Brasilian and Cuban cultures/languages continues to feed into the way in which Yoruba is a commodity and a spiritual practice laden with inaccuracies (as it is practiced in the States by those initiated into it) and commerce.

It can be strange to talk about my culture to Blacks in the States. One of or a combination of things happens: they can’t relate at all or they make weird statements that highlight their ignorance of my culture or try to make me see how much they know (asking if I’m Yoruba or Igbo) or there’s a sadness that they don’t have the same linkage to their culture that I do to mine. At times, there’s a visible resentment that wo/manifests in challenging my choices, eg: asking me why I hang with so many Nigerians. < --- Um reeeally?! Why do you have so many Black friends? So many gay friends? Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? I guess the same reasons why all the Nigerian queers are eating jollof rice in the park. Sanity dey with family sometimes. And there are all types of family. A lot of my chosen family are queer Nigerians and I’m blessed to have such a beautiful community. I also rock hard with Caribbean folks, Africans from other parts of the continent, South Asians, Latinas and so on. My family wide. I will not apologize for loving my Naija folk and anyone that asks that is selfish and just weird.

I’m surprised that folks sometimes are surprised that I miss home and the extent to which I miss home:

people wonder why i talk about Naija so much & hang w/ Nigerians so hard... Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:27:16 PM via web

...dude--you know i ain't from here, right? you know every breath i take away from my country breaks my heart right? #dontgetittwisted. Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:27:41 PM via web

All Black people are not the same. The reason I do not identify as Pan Africanist is because so much of its application (from my perspective) of the ideology is about making Black people everywhere the same. We aren’t the same. I live here but I am not from here. First world privilege, third world blood. Na serious.

So many people want to say we were kings and queens before the white man came to Africa—yeah, like 10 of us, and the rest of us were just regular folks. This hyper-romanticization of Africa is terribly aggravating and completely ahistorical. Nigeria is hella modern, is hella rural, is hella lots of thangs. It ain’t full of “nubian kings and queens.” #realityfail. Africa today is not some fantasy, nor has it ever been. It’s a real place, filled with 54 countries, thousands of ethnicities and languages, countless hairstyles, clothing styles, culinary magic and so on. Africans are real people, not mythological fodder for folks’ fantasies about what they’d like Africa to be for them. When I hear there are ethnic conflicts in Nigeria, I call home to make sure my family is okay. I don’t shake my head and keep sipping on my coffee. That is the difference.

I am from the Delta and I am proud. If ever I choose to have babies, they will know exactly where they are from because we will live there and there will be no English spoken in my household, besides Pidgin of course. I’m a Naija elitist in this way. And that is as it should be. Allowing anyone with wide eyes into African culture is part of the reason our land was haphazardly partitioned for colonization by Europeans in the first place—abeg our heart bigger than the universe we dey in, sef.

Black people are descendants of Africans. Of course. But they aren’t African. My great grand mama is from Trinidad. I am not Trinidadian just because she was. Na difference, you see? To ignore these differences, to gloss over them is to pretend mac and cheese is fufu. Na lie.

I am intensely patriotic and deeply proud to be a Nigerian. I can’t even explain it, it’s mad intense. I love Black people. I be marching, writing poems, mouth behind bull horn, loving hard, soft, tender and fierce for the sake of ALL our COLLECTIVE freedoms regardless of what continent we were born onto. We are a global community and we are connected. Let’s respect who we be and who we ain’t.

“It’s not that I’m heartless. You don’t understand, my heart is buried in Nigeria.”

~Yagazie Emezi.

My bodi dey here.

My heart dey in Naija.


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