A few gestures

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2011 at 11:44 pm


Paper Tiger

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm

My father about two years ago had begun to tell me that I did not how to love. More specific I did not KNOW LOVE. It was in a conversation in which I had initiated by a simple phone call. A ritualistic outreaching that I made occasionally in order to demonstrate possibility by enacting hope towards a relationship with a man who is the only father I have ever had or known. In the months and years preceding this diagnosis of me, most times he did not answer my phone calls, had refused to see me, and returned mail that I had sent him. Reasoning in poetic and philosophical terms as to why he has flavored his rhythmic lifetime neglect of me with seeming disdain. This phone call I had placed to him, was intended to be quiet and smooth, to tell him I love him and hope that the words would find a place within him, stay whole and absorbed. (and in my delusional way to make him love me and treat me as his daughter.)

This comment of me not being able to love was thrust within accusations of my abandoning him, of my simple and impressionable mind, of him declaring soon and imminent death.* This comment poisonous and palatable to a spirit that has been conditioned to accept intimate contempt. The sword of it was precise and stunning. This comment was condemnation that created an amount of ache in me that felt as quiet and colorless as any kind of loneliness. I had not realized that simple words like that could have me convulsing in tears on a long train ride from Harlem to Brooklyn (unable to stay at work that day having to leave, immediately as death).

Being in New York felt like the perfect place to receive such news of the incapacity to love. To be able to cry like an unclaimed child in the acquaintance of strangers was an answer to a lack of comfort I could provide myself. My tears were deep and heaped in lungs that could not fill with air for a deep breath, my face was warmed with the weight of being-ness and shame and consequently I was numb in places that never felt sensation. What I mean by that, is in spaces that were not loved in ways that I (deeply) wanted my father to love me, to an extent that the places disappeared from a lack of acknowledgement, the desire to be known and to be seen in a way that made me feel like I mattered (or maybe even existed, do I exist? Do I disappear if he does not see me? am I here? a ghost, a light a breathe a meaning a name, a seventh child, a black thing, a relation within a context of him?) those spaces found a new depth, a new emptiness to evolve into.

So this story begins in various gardens within me, connecting like stars and seeds and streams and all kinds of natural things. The momentum of nature and growth, neutral of disaster or birth, is here in my heart as I turn thirty and desiring to belong to a specific path, chosen and marked. So spirit has been telling me to return my gaze to a memory, a moment that is really young in me and remembered by me in the vivid taste that childhood is experienced.

I was in my bedroom that I shared with my little sister, knees bent underneath me, angrily and dutifully ripping up my first ever school pictures. When I had received them from my teacher, I had looked at them and had realized I was ugly and therefore needed to destroy them/and/me. Our room had hardwood floors, a big window that faced west and always seemed sensible for jumping out of (for escape or fun or death, all in the same hue) our walls were decorated in crayon, scribbly art of brilliance and freedom, which was already fading. In the ripping and tearing apart of my five year-old miniature two-dimensional selves by my tiny breathing assassin self, I was interrupted by my mother. She walked into the room, and in my memory I am looking at myself from over her shoulder, looking at her look at me, her hair short and African. She is clearly upset and I know I am being naughty but I am unmoveable in clarity of necessariness of action. When she asks me why I am doing that, I tell her sad and disappointed in a fact that I am clear I cannot change, that it is because I am ugly. I also recall at this time that I had begun wearing my mother’s tweed kangol hat to school in order to conceal that my hair was nappy and ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Seeing the word ugly lined up like that side by side gives a sense to how that felt like to me.

My dad laid a boat in full sail within a glass bottle, on an ocean that found a stream to a river that my five year-old self was on the bank of looking among rocks to find one that was smooth and fit-able in my hand and only my hand. The glass bottle was set to sail when I was 28, sometime in September during a staff training when I had a job in Harlem working with black angels who were made of only the finest clay and earth. I was in the garden next to the building of this job, talking to him via cell-phone and desperation. His words as usual were concisely disfiguring.

So as always there is beauty in all kinds of pain, or so I believe and have experienced. Not that the beauty heals the pain or the death, but the pain or the death highlight the dimensions and facets of the beauty. (Thank you, Goddess).

I am on the train like I said crying because I feel confirmed anciently and irreversibly, ugly and un-love-able and now according to the judgement of my father newly minted incapable of being able to know love and a miracle takes shape. It comes and sits at the seat that is directly across from my knees and leans in towards me without facing me and speaks to me. She is a woman who is brown and round and beautiful and smooth. I can tell she is named love. She tells me that she understands me, she understands the feeling, the pain. She seems to understand that it is not from a break-up or a death of a loved one or a loss of a job, the reason is not standard or obvious as to why I am losing all my own-able and sense-able shit on the Brooklyn bound A train, leaving Harlem. She recognizes the tears of ache that are ancient and in constant suppressed eruption. She tells me that she knows that sometimes you just cannot hold it in, sometimes it just has to open up and come out. She tells me that I will be okay. Not good (never that) but okay. I wanted to kiss her on the mouth with my snot and tear saturated face for such a favorable diagnosis of my condition. She was another star, when warmth does not come from your supposed sun, another star.

The end. (the beginning.)

* he is not dying, but old and sick and miserable at life. I can never remember the sayings properly or exactly, but I know this one goes something like the chickens come home to roost, or “you made your bed” or falling on your own sword.

Singin’ My life with Her Words…Ms. Lauryn Hill

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2011 at 6:04 pm

It all begins when you feel like someone gets you, truly understands and accepts you. When someone is not confounded in the witnessing of you. When the nudity of your soul, causes no comments, denials or judgement. this rarely happens with another and sometimes is even missing in the relationship with the self. Like most people I find the unconditionally accepting reflection of myself in music. When I was 11 years old I made this connection with Dizzy Gillespie. He spoke the language of my soul and played his horn into the timid places of my being.  No words, no lyrics, just horn and breathe. and again with Billie. And Nina. And Thelonious. And De La. And Smashing Pumpkins. And then in 1996, when I was 14.

OOOOHHH La La Laaaaa.

It could be cliche, yet no less poignant the way that I felt spoken to directly by her. I felt she found my letters and read. each. one. out. loud. So did everyone that year. The album spread like hot, juicy gossip, “Have you heard about ‘The Score? Have you listened to it yet? Have you got it yet?”  The Fugees second album, instant vintage. On the cover were three brown, pensive faces with Lauryn’s wise and quiet in the middle. Young and serious as hell.

On the night of her first appearance in almost 15 years at the hallowed palace of Minneapolis music, First Avenue, on an exceptionally hawkish January evening, stood hundreds of us to witness her. Ms. Lauryn Hill. That is what our tickets said and all of the posters. The Ms. a small honorific that becomes an awkward formality when referring to a woman that so many of us have spent hours wrapped up in the velvet depths of her voice, the ornate immensity of her metaphors.

The Score and her solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,  two albums that were almost spiritual in their thematic resonance to people of all backgrounds and experience. In the years since these albums that have rocked a generation as well as the world, it appears as though the world of Ms. Lauryn Hill had also been rocked. In ways that many have tried to understand, psychoanalyze, and judge. After becoming a legend and an icon, at the height of it all, she went away. She became a mother to five children. She stayed in her world. The world was curious at first, then not as much. She came back a couple times, transparently conflicted. So at this place we awaited her to see what she wants to share with us this time. I was on the fence as to whether I was going buy a ticket to see her for myself or responsibly pay my overdue  phone bill?

She comes on stage and she is wearing a wool fedora, a sparkling red sweater and a fur vest dwarfing her already existing slightness. I had decided I needed to go and give her love. It seemed like if anything she needed was that. Not a wanting or an expectation to be what she was or what I needed her to be. I had caught wind from reviews from her earlier dates on the tour that she had been hours late and un-apologetic of the fact. I was in an audience of youngsters who have never owned a cassette tape, let alone listened to any of Lauryn’s music on one but were curious and an older crowd who couldn’t wait to be reunited.  But here I was on my tip-toes looking on stage and seeing that she was even more beautiful then I remember.  Is it awe I feel? Yes and giddiness. It has been years. Like seeing your first crush and despite the years and all the life that has passed your stomach flips and is intrigued by the relic of your nostalgia. Here is the woman who told me it was alright to be me, a quirky, nerdy and intense black girl and understand the depth that exists within and beyond that. There she go, right up there only dozens of  feet away from me, my heart skipping beats. I was surprised to feel exactly what I felt 15 years ago when I saw her on the exact same stage, flanked by dudes and retaining a poised rambunctious edge. 

Behind her was a band that was overgrown for the modestly-sized stage. Multiple guitarists, keyboardists, bassists, back-up vocals and a drummer. The bands sound was full and tight and could ride with the depth and heavy of  Lauryn’s voice. The first song she sang was “Forever Loving Jah” by Bob Marley and the crowd began to rock in that involuntrary reggae way. To hear her sing after all of these years was spellbinding. Hearing her live and feeling the texture and emotion of her voice fill the space not only of the room, but inside of my skin.

She went through her set and played songs from the Mis-education of Lauryn Hill, but each one was newly arranged.  This created a subtle distance in that I could not automatically sing along or relate to a song that I had listened to over and over again. The crowd was silent except for applause or shouts. This resulted in a hearing of the songs for the first time after hearing it a hundred times and connecting to the lyrics in ways that I never have.  A hook  would be sped through and a lyric from a verse would be repeated like a chorus, placing new emphasis on the meaning of a song. The listening was transformed. The ad-libbing from the “ex-factor”  “Care for me, care for me, why weren’t you there for me?” became an eerie chanting that felt directed specifically to everyone in the room and to the sky and Jah herself. It was like a gift to get to hear these transformative songs and feel it in that same way I did when I was a teen and feel understood and special and  naked and open and emotional and safe.

She started opening up to the audience. Telling us she loved us, that she missed us. That she was feeling our love, that she was happy we came to see her.  That she would be back. She pointed up into the balcony to acknowledge her partner and father of her five children and her happiness that he came all the way here to surprise her. She then launched into a set of Fugees songs, which just about made me faint. Here she kept it traditional, no re-arranging or re-vising, rhyming her co-Fugees, Wyclef’s and Pras part with the nastiest of prowess. “I get mad frustrated when I rhyme!”  I began to jump and feel free and silly, singing along with every lyric that is permenantly burned in my mind. Then she sang, quietly ominously “strumming my pain with his fingers…”  holding us inside of the promise of a sure and emmininent ectasy.   She left us on her prolific rendition of “Killing me Softly” having had killed us softly, with the hope of a  rebirthing  and reclaiming of ourselves.

By:  junauda petrus