The Painting

I see your face in
dreams that leave me

drenched
in perspiration

In one dream
I am painting your face,
unguarded, open,
your essence fills my
canvas; we are in a field
of dandelions

My brushstrokes are
short, choppy, hesitant.
I am trying to
complete the picture
before I wake and
before you leave.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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The Taste of Your Words

Can we make a trade,
my words for yours? Not
just a conversation; we don’t
need words to speak. We have brief
glances that transform the air around us
into longing. We have the brush of your
finger against my skin until it tingles with
anticipation. We have a shared language
that lives inside our love. One look
from you conveys the depth of your
desire for me, but I want something more.
Is that selfish of me? That I want to
take your words and swallow them whole,
turning them over inside
my mouth like pieces of candy?
I want to taste your every word, savor
the flesh that exists behind your words.
I want to run my finger along the lid of your
intention until I know everything there is to know
about you. Will you be my teacher, teach
me the history of you? Did your mother ever force
you to sit at the table until all your vegetables were
gone? Did you rush home after school to watch
the evening cartoons? Did you sit at the kitchen table
most nights to study? Did you swell with pride when your
mom would look over your report card? When your dad
took you with him in the car, did you swing your feet
or were your feet able to touch the floor? Did you look
for me underwater when you went to the swimming
pool? Did you lie in the bed and dream our love into
existence? When you stood in front of the mirror
getting ready for school, did you search for me in
your own eyes as you looked toward the future?
Did you walk past vivid flowers that fill the air with their
aroma and imagine bringing me a bunch of wildflowers?
You knew didn’t you? You always knew that
forever would be birthed by inevitability and that our destined
meeting would turn into a lifetime spent exchanging
my words for yours. And that sometimes I’d hold onto your
words, making no exchange. Sometimes I want to just hold
your words like I’m holding you. Sometimes no words at all
would be needed to say, I love you. But still we would
because it’s true. I love you and I have since the day
I stood holding those words on my tongue, wondering if it
was too soon, but you saw the truth in my eyes. And, for us,
that was just the beginning.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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A Love Like Home

I cannot handle loving
another person who doesn’t
get that loving me means offering
me another place to call
home, a place where my soul
doesn’t feel the need to unravel
& leave a trail to a place where
I am no longer me. I will not seek
shelter in any more abandoned spaces
that have been left empty; I have finally
learned how to love me & this loving
can’t be undone. & if that means
I’m one of the black women who
unofficial surveys and anecdotes claim
have given up on love, then that’s okay
with me. I will not force my being
or my acceptance into a place not meant
for me just so I can pass for
one of those girls in love – passing is a form
of self-degradation—you know the ones whose
smiles belie the sound of the tortured rattle knocking
in their souls, that tell-tell sign that something is
wrong. But you learn to ignore it because it’s
better to suffer for love, to break down for love,
to slip into the malignant shadows of
an ill-formed love than to be at peace
alone. Loving me feels like home & I won’t
abandon that love for anyone. Ever. Again.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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Dying Flower

Deep down
there’s a place where I
have learned to suppress desires, to
let them wither and
die

My silent suffering is

rooted in the fragile
leaves
of a dying bloom.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

dying flower

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Jessie Mae– Installment Two

The sudden chiming of bells startled him. Looking back out the windows, he saw that Jessie Mae was no longer standing where she’d been before. He at first ignored the doorbell thinking it must be her at his door, but the bells became one long sonorous clanging as if though someone were resting a palm against the bell. Go away, he muttered under his breath. But the unwanted visitor did not go away, so he was forced to stop and go see who was at the door. When he looked out the peephole, he didn’t see anyone, so he was about to head back out to the garage. “Mr. Evans,” the voice called out as if though she’d seen his face when he was looking through the peephole. “Are you home, Mr. Evans? Mrs. Evans?” It was his neighbor from down the street, Aurora. A Jehovah’s Witness who stopped by once or twice a week to talk to Lenora about “Jehovah and the paradise that was waiting on the other side of death but only for those who served Jehovah.” He had no interest of talking to Aurora. That’s why he always invented some chore or fix-it project that needed to be competed and excused himself whenever she was inside the house. He ignored Aurora and headed back to the garage. He didn’t go directly back to stacking the packages in the freezer. He waited for the quiet that settled throughout the house when she finally stopped ringing the doorbell. Once she went away, he got back to work.

Jessie Mae was kneeling in her garden to investigate the fragile petals of the sleepy morning glory flowers while Larry was stacking the packages of flesh in the freezer. She’d seen Aurora knocking on Lenora’s door and had been surprised when her friend didn’t open the door and welcome the young woman inside. Lenora seemed to enjoy talking with Aurora even though she’d said she could never convert to a witness because something about it seemed cultish. “I get the feeling that all of them are going to get together for assembly and drink poisoned Kool-Aid and I can’t do that girl. I don’t want to go until he,” she pointed up toward the sky, “calls me to come home.” Still, Lenora was the only one on their street who didn’t hide behind closed doors and curtains when Aurora and her friends knocked on their doors. That’s really strange. Lenora never avoids Aurora. I’ll call her later to see if she’s taken to hiding out too, she laughed to herself. Such beautiful flowers, her thoughts diverted back to the work at hand. I wish I could get them all to bloom at the same time. It would be so beautiful to have them all open at once. Next door, Larry was thinking to himself, It’s not all going to fit, as he stacked the packages in the freezer. At the same time, Jessie Mae’s four-year-old neighbor and his mother came outside and sat on their porch. The little boy was singing a song for his mother, one he’d learned in school. When he’d finished singing, his mother applauded and told him how wonderful he sounded. His sweet voice was like a pickaxe to Jessie Mae’s heart. She wiped away tears with the back of her hand as she forced herself to keep her attention on her flowers. Her neighbor launched into another song and the tears welled in her eyes making it difficult for her to focus on the flowers.

When Jessie Mae was pushing her trash cart down to the curb, Larry was standing before the mirror in his second floor bathroom admiring the freckles of blood that dotted his face, a galaxy splayed across the bridge of his nose. Though he’d been careful not to stain the floor with blood, his clothing and face and neck held traces of his wife’s blood. He brought his fingers up to touch his face and he licked the sweet nectar from his finger.

As she was walking back up her driveway, Jessie Mae glanced up toward her neighbor’s bathroom window. From where she was standing, she could make out the silhouette of his body. She’d stood in this exact spot on more occasions that she would ever admit to anyone watching Larry, her best friend’s husband. Guiltily, her eyes slid down to their front door to make sure Lenora hadn’t opened the door and was standing there. When she saw that the door remained closed, she went back to watching the man she’d loved since the day she met him.

When she heard the mail truck pulling to a stop behind her, she tried to avert her eyes quickly so Vince, who’d been delivering their mail for the past four years, wouldn’t realize he’d caught her once again staring up in Larry and Lenora’s bathroom window.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

*Note: Installment One can be found here.

(c) 2016 by Rosalind Guy

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Jessie Mae – Installment One

I’m currently revising one of the short stories for my short story anthology (date of publication TBA) and decided to feature one of the stories here in installments. Please feel free to comment, offer feedback and share. Enjoy!

 

Jessie Mae was standing outside watering her grass when her next door neighbor Larry was cutting up his wife’s body. Had it been a few months earlier she would have still been at school making sure her students made it on the bus and straightening up her classroom. But she’d been forced into early retirement by the school board after her principal had suspended her because she said Jessie Mae’s age had started to make her a “liability in the classroom,” – she was accused of falling asleep while she was monitoring the students on the playground—so at only 57-years-old, she was forced to spend her afternoons finding things to keep her busy like taking care of her garden and her lawn. Her flower bed had a mixture of flowers that were chosen for their colors, pink and purple impatiens, blue and yellow English Primrose and Sweet Alyssum. Some of the petals drooped from the weight of the water, but they would soon absorb the water and resume their posture, showing off all their glory. The diamond drops of water that glistened on the flowers almost seemed to be too heavy a weight for the flowers to bear, but the flowers were resilient and in their resilience was their true beauty. Every year, no matter what happened the year before, the flowers always came back. And sometimes when she thought she’d overwatered them, she’d come out the next day and they’d be standing proud as if though they had not struggled under the pressure of all the water from the day before. Using her free hand, she reached up and adjusted the brim of her gardening hat to shield her eyes from the glare of the sun.

Her gaze was focused on the grass she was now watering, which sparkled like gems as the sun’s rays caressed each damp blade. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the orange school bus pull to a stop at the corner. A group of lively children and teenagers spilled out of the open doors of the bus. The bus transported students to and from Woodmeade elementary and middle schools. Jessie had been a teacher at Woodmeade Elementary so some of the students who recognized her called out to her and told her they missed her. Inside his house, Larry was concentrating on cutting the chunks of flesh into near-perfect squares, some of which looked like pieces of the chicken breast cubes Jessie Mae would add to her salad later that evening for dinner. Once the pieces of Lenora’s body were cut into almost perfect chunks of flesh, he began to wrap them in the butcher paper that Lenora kept in the kitchen pantry. The sturdy paper, which she had used to break down large trays of pork chops, ground beef, and neck bones, was perfect for containing the blood and keeping it from spilling on the floor as he wrapped the pieces of flesh.

Jessie Mae had just shut off the outside faucet and was coiling the hose around her arm so she could return it to the outside storage closet when Larry left the kitchen and went up to the second floor, hunting the tape he knew was in the house somewhere. She listened as the group of kids made their way down the street. Something twisted and knotted inside her as she noted once again how much she missed being in the midst of her students. Being a teacher had been more than a job for her; it had been a passion for her. She enjoyed watching her students engaged in the learning process, especially when they discovered they were capable of doing something they’d at first believed impossible. It had been only a couple of months since she packed up all her belongings in boxes and moved them into the storage room where she also kept her lawn and gardening equipment. Not wanting to continue her train of thought, because she could only cry so much about something she was powerless to change, her gaze was drawn to the kitchen window which was lined with potted plants she’d picked up from the Home Depot. Though she no longer ate her dinner at the kitchen table, she’d read that having plants in the house was healthy because they purify the air and release oxygen. She didn’t know how true that was, but it gave her something else to do. She often thought the four-bedroom house, which had been the perfect size for her and her husband to raise their family in, was too large for her now that she was living alone. If her daughter had her way about it, Jessie Mae would sell their family home and use the proceeds to move to Chicago where he daughter and Jessie’s grandchildren now lived.

Jessie Mae was pulling her mail out of the mailbox when Larry lifted the id on the storage freezer in his garage. Already stored in the freezer was what remained of a month’s worth of the various meats Lenora kept on hand so she’d always have something to prepare for Larry’s dinner. Since they’d never had children, a full freezer of meat usually lasted them for several months. As he removed the white packages with Lenora’s handwriting scrawled across the front, his eyes were drawn to the four square garage door windows; the presence of his neighbor caused him to hesitate but only for a brief moment. In that instant, it had seemed that their eyes had met, but he was sure that was just his imagination. He quickly turned his attention back to the task at hand. He moved more of the raw meat out of the deep freeze to make room for Lenora, wonder what he should do with the meat that wouldn’t fit back in the freezer. Lenora and her best friend Jessie Mae often shared and exchanged food since they lived so close to one another; maybe he’d carry some of the meat over to her later instead of throwing it all in the trash.

The sudden chiming of bells startled him. Looking back out the windows, he saw that Jessie Mae was no longer standing where she’d been before.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

*Note: The second installment will be posted in a few days. The above work is an original text created by me.

(c) 2016 by Rosalind Guy

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I Speak Your Names

With tears in my eyes, I now mourn another death at the hands of the police. And from that place of grief within me, I have composed a poem. But then, I have to take a break. Because I am so tired of crying.

I struggle now just to
lay my head on the pillow.
I cannot sleep.

I carry their names in my mouth
stretching my cheeks to bulging
like a pile of rocks in my mouth.
Afraid that if I open my mouth
their names will spill out like blood
and be lost forever. Every trace
of their blood washed away
as if though I’ve been complicit in
helping to deny their existence.

The blood is sacred and will
water the souls of those of us left
behind as we say their names.

Sandra. Eric. Tamir. Alton. Freddy.
Philando. John. Akai. Oscar. Aiyana. Amadou.

My soul is bloated with memories
the reality that you existed because
I mourned your passing. Even today
I mourn for you. The tears continue
to fall and I hold your names
in my mouth trying to hold onto you, impossibly,
while releasing you to that vague “better place.”

It’s a struggle to forget a past
that’s being played out again, on repeat.
These public lynchings in the street.
And I hold your names in my mouth
the muscles in my face stretched taut
with the effort. I want to speak.
I want to speak.

But if I allow your names to rain
from my lips like the spilling of blood
will “they” see it as a sign of disrespect,
a felonious reaching for a history
that I’m supposed to deny its existence.
I dare to speak your names
to breathe life into your existence
knowing that something as simple as
identifying, providing identification of your existence
is enough to justify your blood
pooling in the streets And because
of that I dare to speak your names.

Sandra. Eric. Tamir. Alton. Freddy.
Philando. John. Akai. Oscar. Aiyana. Amadou.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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State of Double Consciousness

A poem in the works, one that has layers of subtle meanings and what you think you’re reading is not really what you’re reading.

I’m the smile offered up as a sacrificial lamb
I’m the scrubs worn on the golf course
I’m the sideways glance that tries to relay
the message I’m one of the good ones
I’m the vile and empty translation of myself
totally emptied so that you will accept me.

I exist in the state of Double Consciousness.

Of knowing that I deserve better but that,
for now, with you I must settle. Not like when
the pilgrims settled where the Indians already lived
more like that scenario but reversed. In this case
I am the one who is native and indigenous
and being killed slowly. No matter how good I am
I will never be enough. This marriage of the minds
an institutional land mine, a massacre of my soul.

Like estranged lovers we’re struggling to build
a future on the lies that became the foundation
on which we rest. We are ignorantly bliss. Or
maybe that’s just you because there are days when I
feel like I am your tired, your hungry, your poor
I need more but you are righteously blind
to my needs.

I exist in a state of Double Consciousness.

It’s been clear, as in I’ve always known, that you
don’t love me, the shallow superficiality you call love
transcends all your futile efforts to lull me into
silent acceptance of the deformed misanthropy you
call love. Was it you who misspoke or did I
mishear you?

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

 

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Americanah — A Review

In her latest novel Americanah, one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s characters says that “You can’t write an honest novel about race in this country.” The character, Shan, goes on to say later in the novel that, “…if you’re going to write about race, you have to make sure it’s so lyrical and subtle that the reader who doesn’t read between the lines won’t even know it’s about race.” For this reason, I almost decided not to write a review of the novel. Because, I mean, clearly the book is about what it means to be black in America. And no one wants to hear about what it means to be black in America because racism is no longer an issue in America. And why are black people always trying to make everything about race? And a bunch of other empty expressions that try to deny the existence of a system that oppresses a group of people in this country simply because of their skin color. (Hopefully, I don’t have to point out that the preceding statements are satirical.)

So, why am I writing this review? Because I realized, in reading this book, how shallow my own stories are. Without trying to, I’ve written stories about black people who are only black because I insert a description of their cinnamon skin or chocolate or caramel skin. And I don’t want to write any more “precious” stories. I want to write relevant stories that depict what life is really like for my characters. I want to dig deeper. I want to write stories that matter. I want to, as Edwidge Danticat says in her book Creating Dangerously, “create as a revolt against the silence.” In this same book, she quotes Albert Camus, who writes: “Art cannot be a monologue. We are on the high seas. The artist, like everyone else, must bend his oar, without dying if possible.”

Reading the book Americanah was such a transformative experience for me, that, in the end, I realized I cannot hide my feelings about the book. Reading it, I felt like I was within yet without this story as it was unfolding. As Ifemelu, the female protagonist in the book, made revelations about her skin color as she tried to achieve the American dream, I was transfixed. There were many times throughout the book when I said, “Yes!” or “She gets it!” or “Right on!” because she was giving voice to feelings and observations I, myself, have had. After struggling to find employment and not understanding why it was so difficult, Ifemelu at one point thinks, “…because she was at war with the world, and woke up each day feeling bruised, imagining a horde of faceless people who were all against her.” And I knew that feeling. Of course, this is a feeling that anyone, of any race can experience, and that’s the beauty of this novel. It “gives a sense of how actual life is lived” without being a sermon to the masses. The messages are subtle, but they are there. One New York Times article says of the novel: “Adichie, born in Nigeria but now living in both her homeland and in the United States, is an extraordinarily self-aware thinker and writer, possessing the ability to lambaste society without sneering or patronizing or polemicizing. For her, it seems no great feat to balance high-literary intentions with broad social critique.”

But Americanah also is a love story. Before Ifemelu left Nigeria to come to America, she and her boyfriend, who she is very much in love with and he is very much in love with her, planned to reunite in America. Her boyfriend Obinze is unable to get a visa and crushing underneath the weight of trying to make it in America, Ifemelu is forced to do something outside her character in order to survive. The thing she does sends her reeling into a state of depression. She retreats into herself and away from Obinze. As happens with life, the two lovers move on with life, each doing what is necessary in order to survive. The lovers are later reunited and though both have changed, their love has not.  I won’t say what happened; you’ll have to read it for yourself. And believe me, it’s worth it. (This one didn’t make me toss it across the room when I read the ending.)

This book is as much about the resiliency of spirit, love, the choice of trying to achieve the American Dream vs. being truly happy, and what NPR called “the shifting meanings of skin color.” This book was a game changer for me. The language is both lyrical and subtle as well as thought-provoking. She’s an excellent storyteller, one I would love to be able to emulate.

So, I’m off to get some writing done. Practice, practice, practice. No matter what it is you want to do, you only get better by practicing.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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A Love Poem, I Think

A poem in the works:

Why do we not trust
the judgment of those
who show us they
don’t love us?
The unraveling
of love
evident in their posture
in their words
in their indifference
in their distance
but the urge to bend
save, change
fight for love
like the fight for freedom
leads to the delusional
grandeur
of molesting
an emotion that
is at once innocent.
We love
from the
beginning.

Love
is not a
distant continent.
It doesn’t require
half a day
by plane, hours
by bus and
a short walk
through
a village
where people stare
at you
because
they don’t
recognize
you.

Yet when people
show
they have fallen
out of love
or have never been
in love
with us, we
set to work manipulating
feelings until we
have built a hollow
statue, an empty tribute
to the love we
wish existed.
Did Michelangelo
not
think to add
realism
with the presence
of a heart?
David
prepared for the
battle of
loving.

But, no dear,
you have to
love me
we tell them
then
go about the
business
of helping to
sculpt, deconstruct
then sculpt again
their feelings
like a
grandmother
who assures us
we are cold
even though
we are not.
We sit in the corner
uncomfortably
wrapped in extra
layers
of clothing
that grandma makes us
wear. And we learn
that love is
forcing others
to exist in spaces
we create
for them.

The easiest thing
for them
was not loving
but through some will-bending
maneuvering & counseling
we create a love,
this willful bending
of another person’s feelings
instead of complicit coercion.

This empty tribute
to a love that
never existed
will one day begin to
show cracks and as we
mumble about how or why
this could happen —
after all this time, I
loved him or her, didn’t
they see that – and we
stare at the monstrous
destruction and crumbling
mass of nothing
as if though
it wasn’t our creation.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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