All posts by Robin Byrd

Dying Continents…

by Robin Byrd

Yesterday, I attended a wonderful webinar hosted by Hedgebrook, “Exit Strategies: How to End a Poem” with Chet’la Sebree, author of Mistress, Field Study. Ms. Sebree generously shared her jewels and knowledge with us. The atmosphere was inviting. Community in Hedgebrook webinars is really comforting and uplifting. To write together is nice once in a while. We learned more than “endings”. The webinars are recorded and there is always a “holding space” segment after the webinar where the participants who can stay have more time to discuss the art or any other things with the instructors. This is the part that makes the community so comforting and inspiring.

We worked on exercises using poetry that we had already written or new pieces. Below is a new piece that I started in the webinar but seems to be evolving. Poetry has been something that I have written and read all my life; something I make a point to continue to study – it never hurts to work on craft.

Dying Continents

The earth shook ferociously
Tsunamis terrorized the coastlines
Whole towns destroyed
Whole futures washed away in an instant

When things shift
There is no time to steady yourself
against the moving tectonic plates forcing new terrain
Or time to gather the energy to do more than stand

I am bound to the memory
Of the theft
Of things that cannot be restored
Or salvaged
Of organs failing
Of bleeding out damned spot

We wait for endings,
songs and measured grace
Grace to cover
Grace to continue
Did we forget
Or simply let it go

They say there is a new continent
Built on the scars
They say there is new contentment
In unchartered lands
New content
In place of what had been

by Robin Byrd 2-27-2021

Toni Morrision’s Song of Solomon Marathon Reading

Literary Partners is doing a marathon reading of Toni Morrison’s book “Song of Solomon” on YouTube. You can hear it read live if you sign up for the free event and you can also donate to Literary Partners when you register.  Tomorrow, 2/28/2021, Part Three will also be read live.  You must register to attend the live event at https://litpartners2020.org/toni-morrison/

A group of writers are reading it; it’s quite captivating and wonderful. The reading has such a flow to it.  I have binge-watched television shows but this is a whole new way to experience the reading of a book.  I am loving the difference in each reader yet the singular magnificence of Ms. Morrison’s work.

Readers: Brit Bennett, Edwidge Danticat, Hilton Als, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Jennifer Egan, Jesmyn Ward, Lorrie Moore, Louise Erdrich, Margaret Atwood, Ocean Vuong, Robin Coste Lewis, Tayari Jones, Tommy Orange and Yaa Gyasi. 

Introductions by: Kevin Young, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Lisa Lucas.

A Tribute to Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon Marathon Reading
Dates and times for live reading event.

Links to portions read Live on February 26 and 27:

Part One https://youtu.be/8V_Mn3n91Hs 

Part Two https://youtu.be/Mi-0xR3TsA0 

Part Three will air live tomorrow.  Please take into consideration the time zone so you do not miss it.

Thoughts on Black Stories…

There is always discussion on the right or wrong/ness of other ethnicities writing stories outside of their ethnicity.  As writers, we all know that you have to write the stories that want to be told through you.  Not long ago, black stories were only allowed to be told through white writers as black writers were considered “less than able” to tell our own stories. A classic black story is Sounder which garnered both Golden Globe and Academy Award Nominations for the late Cicely Tyson, an extraordinary actress who lived with purpose.  Had the story not been written, she would have never had the opportunity.  The white author of Sounder admits the story came from his black school teacher.

“But one night at the great center table after he had told the story of Argus, the faithful dog of Odysseus, he told the story of Sounder, a coon dog.  It is a black man’s story, not mine.  It was not from Aesop, the Old Testament, or Homer.  It was history – his history.” – Sounder by William H. Armstrong 

The unfortunate thing was that author couldn’t seem to remember his teacher’s name to give him actual “story by” credit.  Undoubtedly, the story of Sounder was to be shared, had to be shared… And, we are grateful for this sharing. 

Serendipitously, I caught a Close/Up with the Hollywood Reporter Writers Roundtable  on YouTube hosted by Scott Feinberg with: Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Radha Blank (The Forty-Year-Old Version), Sam Levinson (Malcolm & Marie), and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami*, Soul), the segment discussed some interesting insights on working through the Pandemic safely, directing their own screenplays (*One Night in Miami is directed by Regina King), the change in how the work is seen by the audience and the question of who should write what.  The writers are very candid. 

The challenges will not go away over night or over decades- it has seemed -but we must try to do our best in telling our stories and pushing to not limit ourselves or the work.  Being Black can mean, in a lot of cases, that we are mixed with other things; we have the right to write those stories too. 

As a people, we are affected by the mutation of Eugenics and how that has wounded us – from our ancestors to ourselves and to our sons and daughters. Sterilization / castration without consent is something that still happens.

“Then he grabbed stuff, this and that and that and this and this and that and that and those – Scissors.  He inserted them and CLIPPED!! Babies, I thought of babies.  I looked him in the eye, this white man who was raping me with stuff made of steal.  He looked at me.    An expression.    A small detectable grin. ‘Oops!’ he said.” – Oops! by Robin Byrd

Some of these stories are hard to tell; we wonder why it’s still happening. Fighting for equality promised to us by law is exhausting…

“but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma/ i havent conquered yet/ do you see the point my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender/” – For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

We have the right to tell the truths of our people and to write about how we are surviving more things than being shot in the streets, in our homes… We have the right to be awake without apology…

We also have the right to walk in love without that being mistaken as a pass for more abuse…

More books to read:

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts.

Reading/Viewing List for Black History Month

by Robin Byrd

I have rewritten this Blog article several times.  For now, I will leave it at what are you reading and viewing this Black History Month?

Here are my lists:

Reading

Caste The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Pushout The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris

The Book of Jasher

The Books of Enoch

The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni 1968 – 1998 by Nikki Giovanni

Viewing

Malcolm & Marie (Zendaya and John David Washington) by Sam Levinson

Looking forward to seeing

The United States Vs. Billie Holiday (starring Andra Day) by Suzan-Lori Parks

the Price of Settling…

by Robin Byrd

There is a cost for everything – the biggest question is how much do you want to pay?

Lately, I have been researching a lot of things that seem random and disconnected – history, geography, post-traumatic stress, women’s issues, world class lies, isolation, and COVID. As a writer, mining for story is a regular event.  The problem, this time, is the mass intake of information and not knowing what it will be used for.  With all this extra knowledge, I feel like I should map directions to a new project.  I am just not sure what that project needs to be.  There is usually an arrow that lights up “go this way” but this time there is no arrow just continuous downloading of information. 

Questions, I am asking myself:

If you find out something was a lie, how do you handle the material that you wrote based on that lie?  Is it now considered a fictional account? 

Do you settle for what you now know to be false and leave it as is or do you correct it? 

What will it cost you to leave it?  Sleepless nights, self-esteem, integrity, or simply a ripple in time…

What is the price of settling, if you do nothing and just move forward?

What is the cost if you go back with what you know now and rewrite?  Rewrite.   That’s a word that triggers anxiety, it’s like losing your whole identity.  Paradigm shifts are hard especially when they are tied to your life and your work.

The act of writing can be an act of purging… I just want to always write my truth even when it changes, even when the bread crumbs that have just now become visible lead me to a place I had no idea existed.

I guess the price of settling to me is worth revisiting… it’s more about getting a sure footing in order to move forward and less about what it costs to get that sure footing…

The Search for Water…

THE LONG HOT SUMMER

At rise, inside a 1960s apartment building.  Hundred-degree days, a waning water supply and the dire need to stay in a creative space, the protagonist gathers the almost empty bottles; she pours them into one bottle, scavenges for more in bags around her home.  She can make it to the day before payday if she rations herself…  Inside an old purse she finds a five-dollar bill stuck between two receipts.  PROTAGONIST breaks out in a victory dance, slow and off beat, dehydration is cruel.

PROTAGONIST (singing)

HOT DAMN, WATER, WATER

WHAT? WHAT? WATER, WATER

                           (pause)

——–

I could have never imagined that the world would start to have hints of the BIRD BOX or the BOOK OF ELI real time and that in the midst of “working from home,” the competing stress factor would be water or the lack thereof.  So yes, I danced around a bit then promptly left for the store to restock.

The dehydration lasted a few days longer than expected, symbolically tied to the minimal writing I have been doing.  My whole self has been crying out for community…  I took a webinar on grief through Hedgebrook just for that reason.  The Webinar, “The Sixth Stage: Possibilities for Awe and Wonderment When Writing Grief” with Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili, and its ‘holding space’ was a profoundly refreshing experience.  Hedgebrook offers a lot of webinars that can be a source of gathering during this time.  This was my first one which I took on grief because I seem to be living there as of late.  Grief encompasses real estate like a swarm of bees heading home to the honeycomb looking for the sweet refuge of its cavernous walls.  Hovering over loss like a tornado, it’s the bitch that won’t go away easily, not without a fight, not without drawing the last bit of blood.  With the death of one of my cousins and one of my dear friends, my body which has been keeping score has begun to scream, “do over, do over.”  There’s no such pleasure…

What’s left is what’s left. Or, is there a way to change something – some part – of this madness?

Maybe the do over is in the expelling of the stinger and the adding of salve and alcohol.  It does help when you write about it.  Even when there’s so much of it that it can fill two lifetimes, writing moves it on it way.

I am missing the pieces of me frozen in the walls, my fingers and toes have started tingling, waking up, moving, they don’t know there’s no such thing as do over’s.  Maybe I won’t tell them, maybe I’ll just wait and see if this leads to deep welled water… deeper than this grief. Maybe it’s flowing upward from underground just waiting for me to believe so it can burst forth…

There is a wonderful article “Letter from Oakland: Black Motherhood in Sleepless Times by Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili on the Literary Hub site at https://lithub.com/letter-from-oakland-black-motherhood-in-sleepless-times/

An elephant’s ass….

by Robin Byrd

the elephant – and his fat ass – is sitting on my arm, squashing my chest

his feet protruding through the walls

destructive

and he smells

like centuries of hippopotamus-shit caked in his skin

imagine elephant ass/hippopotamus shit

from where I’m lying, I can only see thick gray folds of wrinkly, wrinkly skin with gobs of hippo-shit smeared across the folds

crumbling off that ass onto me

damn elephant

get off me!

NOW!

he slowly raises that ass up off me

the pressure lingering

the tightness

got me searching for aspirin, tylenol, something

found two pills in what looked like a 2006 package

gonna have to take a chance

if I can just burp

the bubble is lodged dead center of my clavicle

feels like that ass never left my chest

In the morning I burped

It came rolling out like a

Sheila E riff

pure glory!

Dig…

by Robin Byrd

Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry your belongings out through it.”  Ezekiel 12:5

this

is the unearthing unburying re-birthing of the offspring of praise

emerging from the fields covered in a red clay-like bag of waters

clenching smooth milk and honey stones – one in each hand

this

is the promise

sustenance

renewal

Life

clothed like john the baptist in knee-length hair

honed toward home, they go

from the dust

rising in strength, dry bones and all

seeking balm for hands raw from digging

unearthing

unburying

re-birthing

rank from the shifting of dung rocks out of the way

while the earth is shaking around them, its heavens opening to the hope of rain

look up,

the clouds are aching to let loose of water to wash away this dust of ages

mountains are quaking to the shifting ground,

needing more than salve, needing gilead’s balm

THERE IS A BALM IN GILEAD TO MAKE THE WOUNDED WHOLE

God speed to the offspring of praise, these children of promise, as it were,

may praise meet gilead in the valley of baca and make it a well

give Hebron, give grace and mercy, give renewal and sustenance and life

Oh, let praise inherit life…

the speed of sound…

by Robin Byrd

the dead are speaking

literally…

I ran into my mother’s voice; it came out of nowhere – attached to a file on my computer

hit me like a bolt of lightning

I gasped, I cried out, “Mommy!”

I was a ball of emotions

I played it over and over again, oh, how I’ve missed the sound of her voice

She’s been in my dreams for the last month

“what is he reading?” she asks, upset that death forbids her tend to it

the collage of her is everywhere

even my breasts are mommy’s breasts now, courting gravity like a first kiss, surprised yet not so impressed

my hands are starting to cook like hers, I bought a new pot so I can make her stew

been craving it for years, I am my mother’s daughter, her face is in my face

and I think she’s ready to tell her story

She’s coming to me like my characters do but she’s more forceful – like coming back to the middle of a semi-heated conversation we were just having to say one more thing

so familiar

“WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS, ALL OUR SINS AND GRIEF TO BEAR, WHAT A PRIVILEGE TO CARRY, EVERYTHING TO GOD IN PRAYER…”

Her favorite song rises out of the silence in my head

yeah, she’s ready…

and then, last night, I was reading old blogs of mine because I couldn’t sleep nor could I remember me before–

and there, in the comments was Erica (Bennett) telling me she hopes I feel better – the words were audible, clear

“Erica?”

“I hope you feel better…”

“I miss you, Erica…”

and in the background, I could hear another friend saying, ”God loves me.”

He was walking briskly towards me so full of joy…

the dead are speaking…

it’s making me shake myself like Samson and get to swinging

’cause I got things to do…

They are reminding me to redeem the time because the space between now and eternity is as far away and as close as the speed of sound…

Riding the Air…

by Robin Byrd

Is it like riding the air?   movement…   

I seem to have forgotten – stuck here like I am in the hardly bearable heat of these walls and the “go nowhere” doors from sun up to moon down.  I tell myself that I am not going to faint or lose heart, that I am going to subdue this beast one hour at a time, one day at a time, by the Grace of God…

but I really want flight, I yearn for air… I want wings and I want wind to ride. I been looking for signs of movement, looking for a great big wind to come skip-to-my-lou all through this mess, dislodge some rivers for baptisms, root up healing herbs and toss some around for everybody to have.

I want to relax, I want to float like a leaf and land picturesquely on the grass showing off the beautiful colors of my whole self.  I don’t want to apologize for nothing not for floating, landing or seeking air.  If I push myself, I bet I can land far enough away from here so I can breathe new/fresh pockets of wind…bet I can land somewhere east of here, near appalachia, up where lavender lilies bloom, where rose of sharon sings… 

I can’t breathe here no more in this heavy porous atmosphere, it’s dropped down way too low, to the little grassy piece of earth I live on and I just can’t breathe.  I thought I was imagining it but it’s real – the air is thick; thick and sticky like a glob of peanut butter caught in the throat daring you to drink water, threatening to thicken regardless…

I need air and space and

God cracking the skies…

Oh, God, blow on us, shower us with rain and the latter rain, deliver us, heal this land…

Heal the land, Father… we humble ourselves and pray

we pray

we Pray

we PRAY

We dream of riding the night winds again, of sleeping well and waking rested

send Your wind, help us fly

lift us up high enough to catch hold

let us mount up with wings as eagles — send the wind, Lord, send the Wind…

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 King James Version (KJV)