On This Perennial Island
For the past four months, I have been creating in ways mostly unseen. And with that, contemplating and holding space for the community that happens within invisible works of art, the kind of art that is done in the quiet hours of the morning and late into the evening. It’s this kind of art: I asked my kids to help me on the first day of spring break, Middleton pink all in our hair and on our toes. Then it was a Sunday afternoon, on a whim, before another school week. Maybe only I call this “a work of art”. And even when the world sees it in photographs, at parties, in print, maybe it’s only art because the kids and I consider it so?
Three days ago, my dear friend Christy and I spoke about just this. What I took away from that conversation, what I’ve been thinking about since, is how, when folks experience art, they move on from it too quickly. The artist, too, is supposed to go and create the next big thing, quickly.
I have invested extensive time in all of my living art: The Mae House, our new apartment, the books, my kids, relationships. And living, if we truly think of it, isn’t really visible. Yes, you see someone breathing. You know they’re alive. But we don’t see the tasks—and the joys—that have made that living. That’s art to me.
The other day, I read this poem by Jaqueline Johnson, who I met on a day I very much needed her fairy godmother-like presence. Her spirit and the words she shared with me that day, have carried me here. So I want to share them with you. As you read this letter, breathe in with me, in the space between.
PRESUMED DEAD, MISSING IN ACTION
In my village in Bed-Stuy,
we rally strength against day
and night stalkers. In every block
like in Soweto, there are at least
four or five of us, who fight with
pens, paint, nimble fingers through
hair, song and resistance fire.
I look in any direction in my neighborhood,
and know just like in Azania,
there are no hottentots, but there
are women, who fight, raise homes
from the ground, children and dreams.
late at night or early in the morning,
On a lunch break they are writing, singing song,
Painting, weaning new futures into cloth.
What do you think Bessie Head was doing all those years? Do you know why was Miriam singing so hard?
Who do you think made those beaded bracelets you wear?
All these women artists presumed dead,
And missing in action, create in places
Where light may not be visible
But sight is never lost.
In my village like so many others,
No patrilineal anything,
Can undo this truth.