Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I think I’m having an affair with my manicurist

I think I’m having an affair with my manicurist.

I look forward to seeing her like we have a standing date; every 2 to 3 weeks, usually on Saturday or Sunday mornings. I wake up early on my weekend (a rarity for me), trying to avoid the rush of women getting their nails, toes, eyebrows did. I always ask for her. I sit before her. we exchange familiar how are yous. smiling, she comments on the bright colors I wear. the first time I told her my name, she smiled and said “everything about you is free.” that made my spirit happy.

she’s in her mid to late twenties, wears heels all day and pretty things while everyone else wears sneakers and flip flops. she dresses up for work like work is on her way to somewhere sexier and more important.

while all the other manicurists ask me to pick from a photo album of nail designs so they can carefully stare at it then re-create the image on my nails, lily (my manicurist) just asks me to pick the colors I want and tells me “I know what you want.” I tell her she’s an artist. she laughs. I tell her I’m serious. she smiles and goes about the business of making my nails beautiful. she designs beauty off the top of her head, each nail a unique design of fuschia, purple, turquoise, yellow, lavender, gold glitter and silver glitter. each nail is an impromptu improvisational work of art that will live on my body for the next few weeks. each time I look at my nails, catch a stranger on the train admiring my nails or a friend compliments me on my nails, I smile and silently thank lily. I am consistent with this self-love ritual of taking the time to get my nails done. even when I don’t make dance class as often as I like or don’t drink as much water as I know I should, I make sure I tend to my nails, I make sure that I take that time to relax and let myself be still.

I watch her, like a student, I watch her take care to take care, speaking rapidly to her coworkers, laughing at their jokes, making her own. she occasionally laughs with me, asks me how I am but is mostly quiet, firm with the filing, cutting and buffing of my nails. firm but gentle with it too. knowing in a way that comes with repetition—like I know my poems, she knows my nails.

the last time she did my nails, when she was done, I looked at the masterpiece of my nails and beamed, “you’re the best!” she responded, “I like it when you say that. because it’s true.” lily got that undercover swagger like what!?!

me? I love butches like some of y’all like your coffee black, no sugar—strong and undiluted. y’all know this. but. but there’s something subtly hypnotic about her, quiet and lovely. charming and laid back. femme. feminine in this sweet way that brings softness to my eyes.

this affair is a sweet little thing. a hushed secret that amuses me. no kissing. she’s held my hands more tenderly than some former lovers. that’s real talk. I watch her. one of those women who doesn’t know how amazing she is. one of those women wrapped up in taking care of everyone else. I wonder if anyone holds her un-manicured hands with the tenderness she holds mine. I wonder if her eyes watch someone buff and polish and file and file and file again her nails, watch someone open bottle of liquid color and apply wet brush to her nails once twice, then a shiny, clear top coat. I wonder if anyone ever took her nails and made 10 visual art pieces on them for her to walk around with and feel beautiful because of.

she’s my favorite manicurist. her heels, her laughter, she’s soft spoken but her fire bursts out once in awhile in the way she sculpts her words, especially if she’s slightly annoyed. lily. the unexpected affair with no lovemaking, but plenty of intimate moments. we keep our clothes on and don’t kiss.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

compassionate disease

(I performed this for World AIDS Day in 2005; most of this poem is an excerpt from "LIKE WILDFIRE", a play I wrote from 2005-2007)

I want to write a poem specifically for World AIDS Day

specifically for you,

for all of us here today

& I don’t know how to write about you & I

or this “epidemic”,

the only epidemic I ever wrote about was racism

and homophobia

sexism & poverty


I’m going to write about an epidemic I would like to see happen:

I want compassion

to become a contagious, incurable disease

we pass between us with glances, hand shakes & innocent bumps in the elevator,

I want to become infected with compassion/passionately concerned about the welfare of people whose first names I may never learn/

you hear your neighbor beating his wife & you call the police & go over to see if she is okay,

you give money to everyone who asks if you have it,

we believe in rainbows, we swallow sunshine for breakfast,

your eyes stay riveted on the ache splattered across the face someone you’ve never met—his ache deepens as he reads the piece of paper in his hands,

and he grips the edges until the paper splits.

your heart jumps at the sound of any child crying

I want an epidemic of compassion of uncontrollable proportions

this compassionate segment of the population will have to be quarantined from the apathetic,

cbs will report that the virus is spreading at an unprecedented rate,

there will not be enough hospital beds to accommodate the massive number of people infected with their own humanity;

it’s some sort of super-virus-bacterium with a defiant resistance to antibiotics & vaccination,

compassion is a messy disease/your face wet from tears/sore from the bruises of heart beatings and you can feel your heart beating your ass

hands shaking

eyes open like a faucet:

I want to feel your spirit and not some facsimile thereof,

my smile is a disarming weapon,

thoughts are actions/wishes come true

words are dangerous/silence lethal:

I wear my heart on my face/my soul on my tongue

my intentions are in my eyes

all of me is right here

I ain’t got shit to hide

I’m wide open


honesty still counts for sumthin.

paper maché teacup mango soil poem amalgam

I want to write a million little poems

put them in a tea cup

drink them

I want to remember you at your best

frame those moments

melt the rest

I want to make paintings larger than me


that feel as intimate as a handwritten letter sent through the mail

from a lover

I want to forget the bad

treasure the good

selective amnesia like that is dangerous

and responsible for why my body stayed when my spirit wanted to go

your fingertips are made of flower petals

and dew drops

your words paper maché images that dance and do cartwheels in my head

you are as soft as cinderblocks

as sexy as pollination

broken hearted poets are as common as sidewalk cracks

sometimes we are mango pits

drying out on windowsills

the fleshy orangeyellow fruit we once inhabited only a memory

pit not in the earth, sitting there

full of potential wasted

when there is so much to plant

why do we spend so much time

out of soil?

kind of a revelation

I miss you

not the fights,

not all the ways we didn’t fit

the ways we did

the silence when it was beautiful, the laughter when it was real

I understood the way your hips moved

like a song I wrote

or a poem long memorized

you tasted like a permanent part of my tongue

your arms like something I didn’t want to sleep without

{I remember takin down your braids

& realizing I loved you}

you were a hurricane,

a flood,

a thunderstorm,

a slap in the face,

the most sensual embrace

now I

can’t decipher between the magic of you

and the disaster of you,

our brilliance

our pain

::real talk:: is it that I miss you?

or that I miss what we could have been

and never were?

why is tragic so romantic?

why is tortured heartache on a poetic pedestal?

receiving medals

& long winded odes?

I said to someone


great poems come from pain

but there’s other shit to write about that also

makes beautiful art

I love you

wherever you are

& I’m not even mad anymore

Monday, November 16, 2009

i am an artist

because the Niger Delta flows through my blood

because I know guava by taste, not name

because I eat ripe plantain raw

because the most natural piece of clothing to put on my body is a wrappa

because sometimes I like to walk barefoot—the streets, the grass, the sand, the earth

because sometimes I get so homesick I can’t function

because there is nothing as strong as my love for my people, my country,

our languages, how we move, how we dress

because when the music plays, my soul comes out

because I love the heat, sweat dripping down my back, sweat everywhere

because I love you

because I always have and always will

because I will always save a song for you, find a song to dance with you to

because you give me life

because you make me laugh

because I was born to do it

because your smile lights up mine

because I love fish, love the water

I represent the Delta

I represent all the peoples you don’t see

the Naija women makin love to each other in the night night soft soft slow slow hard hard

I represent to you who you do not know

I represent the New York mixed with the Naija,

the subway tracks,

the red soil

the urban, the rural,

the daughter of the village

who dances on concrete

because I am a mixture of so many rhythms and beats

because I like heels and power tools

because I am soft

because the beat, the beat, the beat, I live by that beat, because of and within that beat

because I was meant to tell stories

I came so I could tell you

all this and all this and all this

because the Delta flows through my blood

because because

because of these things

I am an artist

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I’ve avoided writing this poem

said “later, later”

to this poem

I don’t want to say goodbye

I’ve loved you since forever

before puberty

through high school, through college and now


I love you.

your magic undeniably divine,

even the haters who can’t stand your shine,

you love them too and that makes me love you more

you make me wanna dance

and dance and dance

you make me wanna make art beautiful enough to love all of our humanities to the surface

beneath the anger we sometimes bury it in

beneath where our hurt is

I want to give you words carved with the same magic as you

words that make prisms of light like your soul do

I want to make this as beautiful as you

I want to give you tribute, give you an embrace that loves you like I did when I was 9,

like I do now,

at 29

watching you, a miracle in motion, I feel the very best of me springing from my chest,

reaching for you

to dance with you

every doubt I have about who I am

and the divinity I came to render on this planet


whenever you’re around

I feel invincible

my soul springs forth, is called forth, is so open to you

I miss you and I want you to come back to me,

my miracle in motion, giving us so much love

my tears are stuck in me

in the same place this poem has been all these months

I feel them simmer

but rarely let them come to a boil and spill over

could you come back to me?

like some resurrection?

just show up—I would be all open arms and laughter,

ready to welcome you back with a huge meal and a Soul Train line that would go on and on and on

past many dawns

I have loved you all my life,

your music and art and dance and breath and riffs and beatboxing and dancing and dancing and dancing and dancing and dancing and dancing, Lordess, your dancing

has carried me for so many years through so much joy, uncertainty, sadness and revelry

you make revelry in me

everytime you look at me

I miss you

more than I ever knew I would

I always just assumed you’d always be here

it never occurred to me you would go anywhere

Oh Michael,

Michael, Michael…

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Caster Semenya: Praising Your Name

Dear Caster,

How you dey? Congratulations on winning the Gold Medal in the 800 meter at the World Championships! As an African woman, I am so proud of you and all it’s taken for you to get where you are at 18 years old—that is remarkable and more specifically, you are remarkable.

When nothing makes sense

I come to poem

bringing a relentless rhythm trying to make sense of it all

I want to give this poem to you Caster,

handwritten and prayed over,

reverently and with humility.

I want to give this poem to you across the Atlantic Ocean,

across land and sky.

I would like to know what your favorite color is,

the sound of your laugh,

who raised you,

if you have siblings,

what you like to do when you’re not running,

I’d like to share a meal with you

and just talk about your dreams, my dreams,


I’ve read stories about you

heard people talk about you like you’re something less than human

I don’t know if you prefer to be referred to as she, he or just by your name

I won’t make assumptions

I won’t presume to understand you

but something about you

feels familiar to me

that quiet, humble way about Africans who’ve spent their entire lives driven and reaching for a dream that maybe no one sees as possible but you

and, if you’re lucky, your mama.

that day after day struggle, drive, prayer

body drenched in sweat,

your early mornings & late nights

striving and reaching and believing

sometimes doubting but never giving up

never giving up

always reaching to do something bigger than you,

to leave a mark on the world with your beautiful name on it

I want to give you this poem Caster,

because I am so sorry you are going through all that you are going through

I saw you on the cover of YOU magazine yesterday

looking like the kind of girly this world finds suitable for women

and I wondered where your mind went as the camera clicked your image

capturing you in what I suspect feels like a costume to you

I wonder what you thought as you smiled—did you want to scream? to walk away? to run on some distant track where your nail polish and hair style didn’t matter?

you too fly Caster

they can’t believe you so fly

so fast

so gifted

so they want to strip you of your gender

of your humanity

they want to strip you of you.

your gender is your business

your body is your business

the world is dissecting your sex, your gender, your skills,

trying to figure out whether you can keep the title

you sweated your whole life for,

they dissect you

with scrutiny and callousness they could not endure themselves

I’m angry

but mostly sad.

Dearest Caster

I wanna sit on the couch and talk shit with you,

just laugh & laugh with you.

please do not crumble or stop believing or give into other people’s narrow definition of you,

your soul is bigger than all this

and you are strong enough to survive this

I don’t know if this will offer any comfort at all

but it hurts to be a visionary sometimes, to be brilliant, to be excellent

sometimes it hurts in ways we could never have imagined,

the trailblazers often get yelled at,

misunderstood and demonized—

from Jesus to Tupac

Audre Lorde to you, Caster,

anyone who is different or exceptional

feels the brunt of unexpected pain & criticism.

the children of your critics

will praise your name,

rock t-shirts with your face on it,

have posters of you on their walls to inspire them to be great.

I remember being home in Nigeria

and the entire market stopped to stare at me

because of my Zulu warrior frohawk hair.

that was one market on one day in one village in Nigeria,

the entire world has their eyes on you & I can’t imagine how you feel.

please know that all over the world we love you,

those of us who have never fit neatly into gender boxes, sexuality boxes, racial boxes,

many of us come to your defense, with a quick passionate solidarity that I hope you feel in your heart and in your soul.

I will burn a candle for you tonight & say a prayer for your peace of mind.

I offer you this poem

with fierceness as relentless & beautiful

as you.


Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene

“In the 2009 African Junior Championships she won both the 800 m and 1500 m races with the times of 1:56.72 and 4:08.01 respectively. With that race Semenya improved her 800 m personal best by seven seconds in less than nine months, including four seconds in that race alone. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) asked Semenya to undergo a gender test after the win. The IAAF says it was ‘obliged to investigate’ after she made improvements of 25 seconds at 1500m and eight seconds at 800m – ‘the sort of dramatic breakthroughs that usually arouse suspicion of drug use.’ The IAAF ceased compulsory tests in 1992 but retains the right to test athletes.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

for teish: rest in power

i ran away from you like a child does a bully
a woman does a lover she bored with
a place too small for your spirit
and now
years later i hear this
like a slap across my face and i'm back on erie blvd,
back on springfield road waiting on the bus to go to shoppingtown mall
where i was
too Black
not Black enough
closeted and then out
some sort of non-sumthin with too much sumthin to be anything.
i wanna say
that means sumthin
call someone
but i don't talk to nobody in syracuse no more
except my mama

if i was still upstate
we might have been homegirls teish
i might have pointed out the cute men for you
you'd have let me know which butches you thought were hard and soft enough to handle me
we would've laughed, talked shit, cursed, danced.
i send you this now
a poem too late
you were killed last year and i'm just now hearing the news
forgive me teish
sometimes i call myself an activist
always a poet
today my hands feel empty of the titles i don to make me feel like i'm felt
i hope my soul is in the right place
hope it matters
hope this poem matters
hope this poem IS matter you can feel wherever you are
lyrical libation for you sis from nyc to syracuse,
syracuse: still a strange, estranged home of mine
please accept my prayer to you:
rest in power teish


The trial of Teisha's accused murderer, Dwight DeLee, is scheduled to begin in on MONDAY, JULY 13 in Syracuse, NY.
It will be tried as a hate crime. (which can add another 3 years to the sentence)

The Judge will be the Hon. William D. Walsh
Onondaga County Court
Onondaga County/City of Syracuse Criminal Courthouse
505 South State St.
Syracuse, N.Y. 13202-2104

for more info:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


heart open like butterfly wings/protect myself like venus flytrap/that’s how i feel right now/was tryin to squeeze my wind into your whistle/fighting to force my laughter into your grasp/tip toeing around your luggage as i wondered why every single date we had ended up at baggage claim rummaging thru your childhood trauma & adulthood drama/i don't even want you to change, i just want A change/CHRYSALIS/more than a divorce/a course of my own choosing/my own colors & flavors/my own rhythms & reasons/my verses & fists/my love is tender as a lusciously swollen clit/strong as our mama's arms/i ain't asking for shit/i'm takin mine/makin bliss/without compromise or apology/son you can't handle my sun/& that's cool/cuz THIS SHINE WASN'T MEANT FOR YOU/i feel my most free when i let go/so i walk away—not to give up on you/but to give in to me

Monday, June 15, 2009

3 kisses

broken hearts off beat
and dancing without movement
kiss without breath
speech without syllable
comparison without simile or metaphor
this is what happens when 2 people with fractured parts

there is a hesitant beginning
a quarter of my heart is in this
and the rest is reticent, waiting
for the fractured to become shattered
you don’t know me like this
you don’t know how my breath tastes
how my hips moves
how my fingers dive
how my…
you just don’t know me like this

attraction does not equal love
this bed does not equal freedom

I hold back like a star athlete on the bench
not trying to prove shit
just choosing not to bat this season
you called me dangerous
I think because of the way I kiss/
I smiled
if only you knew, this is me holding it all back
imagine if I actually put it on you
like for real

what I’ve seen and been through has tired me
loving women who hate themselves has done something to me
not forgiving myself for loving her even as it almost killed me has done something to me
being punished for my sensitivity has hurt my tender heart & made me want to venus flytrap the world away
I can’t pretend that it’s just you and me in this bed
I see my former beloved and that one you used to get down with
sitting at the foot of the bed watching us
I feel them between us
making this an unexpected, unintentional orgy
your ex wife’s name is painted on your face, tongue and heart
your eyes scream her name
my pussy misses the one that used to
and this is not supposed to
turn into
something about something other than you and me
but see how easy it is
to talk about everyone except us?
it’s because there is so much more
than just us
and that is the reason for this poem
this poem is how I can talk to you
this poem is how I can let myself cry without asking you to hold me
this poem holds me tonight
hard and soft
like a good butch should

I haven’t called
you haven’t called
this will pass and we will return to the safety of our laughter
I will act like we ain’t never laid up in that bed
I will ask you about who you seeing
how you’re healing from your ex
we will be friends again
no benefits


Sunday, June 7, 2009

a love poem for each of your bruises

{photo credit: NerdScarf Photography}

On May 16, 2009 two lesbians of color were brutally beaten by police officers in front of a club in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, NY. The Safe OUTside the System Collective of The Audre Lorde Project and Gays & Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered of Make the Road New York organized a protest against the 77th Precinct in Brooklyn for the women who were attacked that took place on Saturday June 6, 2009 @ 3PM

I wrote this poem that Saturday morning & performed it at the rally.

{for Tiffany & JG & all survivors of violence}

a love poem for each of your bruises
a love poem for all of our rage and confusion
every knee to your back, for every contusion
a love poem for every butch, every trannie, every b.o.i, every lesbian, every femme, every person not into labels
a love poem for the days when the activist work seems neverending
the police sirens are loud & they are chasing our babies and our angels
and enough

I just want to write about lovemaking, mangoes & my homeland
I want to live my life unhampered by the oppression of a police state that denies my heartbeat
as human and beautiful
I don’t give a fuck about whether you support gay marriage
I’m not married; I care about having good health care
I don’t give a fuck about whether you voted for Obama
I don’t give a fuck about whether you like how I choose to dress
I did not come into this store for fashion tips son
I just want my cinnamon raisin bagel toasted light brown with butter, thank you

I want to hold my woman’s hand in the street at midnight
at 2pm, at 10am
I want to be able to go party with other women who eat pussy
then go to the after party with those same women
grab some food
walk home if I choose
feel safe
I want to feel safe
I want to feel safe
I want to be safe
I do not want to wait for June to celebrate my pride in the street

I’m not interested in whether you can quote Audre Lorde or Assata Shakur
I’m not interested in how many degrees you have
what I care about is that you see injustice and you ain’t having it
I’m interested in whether you will fight beside me for this love beating in our chests
I’m fighting for a life worth living for
I’m fighting for the dykes coming up after me
I want us to live our lives so we are the legends our descendants will need to find in their herstory books
breathing these words so we can make a world we’re proud to pass on
I know you may not remember that one phrase I said that shook your soul—don’t worry about that shit
remember how you feel right now in this moment
and don’t you ever/don’t you ever/don’t you ever
settle for less
than every fuckin peace of justice we came for

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

frankie and I: a love letter, back and forth.


"Yvie, my baby, it has already become public knowledge that my love for you borders on the sociopathic. I love you like Nostrand Avenue Trade that loves to holla at Cunty Boys on the low. It's THAT deep. Once I get through this week, with the grace of God, I want to get together with you. I need to hug you and smell the sweet scents of tenderness, of progressive rage and grown black womanliness that only you can give me."

"sugah honey, my divine, my adored, my beloved, i am honored by how much you love me and i offer you this: i love you like a butch loves her fresh timbalands, the new ones, with no dirt on them that match every damn thing she owns, cuz you match all of me baby. my love for you is an outright addiction at this point, i don't do drugs or drink, i do FRANKIE FUCKIN MIZRAHI. *drop microphone to ground with loud thud* lol"


left me

{i'm still breathing}

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


put this curve
in my back.
when we lay
*my ass to her pussy*
this curve curves
& we fit.

put this crescent at the base of my spine
accentuates that
that makes me woman
with all that ascending my body does
to meet hers
descending onto me.
like plantain hanging from a tree,
we curve into each other
cradling each other, nurturing each other
as we grow beside each other


put this
in my back...

Friday, January 16, 2009

montana haikus

I have trust and commitment issues. yes I am that fuckin chick. Achebe was right—sometimes things fall the fuck apart and I figure if I expect shit to fall to shit, if/when it actually does, it won’t hurt as much as it would have if I hadn’t expected it. (enter aforementioned trust issues stage left.) usually I’d use some profusely poetic language to express how I’m feeling. but I don’t know where all those words are—I think they went horseback riding in Montana…and all they left behind were these haikus………………………

a born warrior
I bring weapons into our
bedroom. disarm me.

in your absence i
engage in L word mara
thons. I miss your wet.

legs open. heart closed.
I feel like a broken pro
mise. how to mend this?

I apologize
this isn’t a haiku anymore.
it’s just the truth.
I love you.

anonymous rain

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to's about learning to dance in the rain."
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