1986: An Elegy for Our Coldest War

Could Be The Ballroom was always our Nuclear option
A rock scrabble bunker become a threshing floor
How we survived our Coldest War

A Mother a Father an entire house full of babies
tucked into mangers woven out of street corner filament
limber enough to parent those of us:

born with and with out parents
with and without islands

begat inside flags with and without stripes
while reading for A-level exams

stretched astride Empires and Queens
too Black to be British
too gay to be queer—

too poor for the crowns we deserve


Boys and girls born beyond signage
onto intersections above and below 42nd street
where hormones traffic themselves,

Run all the rules. Busts all the lights
cum shot out of blackness too Pentecostal
for its own beneficence

Could Be the Ballroom Scene laid its own bedrock
atop an inference. As if by subterfuge.
As if by stagecraft. As if by premonition:

The way we live
The way we die
The way we transition

In and out of space
In and out of time
In and out of academies & boarding schools
With and without degrees.

In and out of dimension
The lives we all span is a performance


1986: What a performance it was!
In the year of our Lord June 30, 1986
adjudicating case: 478 U.S. 186 otherwise known as Bowers v. Hardwick the Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s Sodomy laws in a 5-4 decision.[1]

This year 1986 according to dissenting Justice Blackmun—enjoined by William Brennan Jr.,
Thurgood Marshall and John Paul Stevens—our nation’s highest court became “obsessively focused on homosexual activity”

So happens this same year 1986
a midsummer night’s dream is bequeathed
to Reverend Charles Angel;[2] a new faith begins its practice inside the living rooms of Black Gay men
fagged playing Russian roulette with their secrets the waters break. Gay Men of African Descent[3] is born

June 14, 1986
Daniel Garret[4] freebases on a James Baldwin line:
“Our history is each other” and a group of Black Gay Men
exhale enough pride inside a writer’s workshop
to inscribe for themselves a new nation:

Other Countries[5]

write themselves out of a BlackHeart
Collecting the floodlit life-force condensed
inside Joseph’s Beam[6]

In some ways we all still live huddled, impatient,
un-relented inside Joseph’s hologram

If There’s a Cure For This I Don’t Want It[7]


October 1986
Craig Harris[8] black gay living
with AIDS and walking realness

grabs the mic from the San Francisco Health Commissioner at the American Public Health’s Assoc. first AIDS workshop speaking for all of us he proclaims: “I Will Be Heard”

before Craig’s mic drops
National Minority AIDS Council is born
Craig Harris, Paul Kawata, Gil Gerard,
Suki Ports, Marie St. Cyr[9]

invite our colored selves to the Ball
because the rainbow was never enough.


On this runway Audre Lorde cries Dear Joe[10]
& the tinny juke box music comes up
through the floor of our shoes

This runway is a Battle
This runway is an Extravaganza
Watch listen learn
This Battle Is and Is Not Yours

The Old Way : The New Way :
either way spells perseverance
crafted out of imaginary high school diplomas

The Old Way : The New Way :
either way spells perseverance
out of nothing besides our poverty, our disease,
our sex, our privilege, our shame, our death,

A people a culture an art form a wellspring is born.


When lifespans splinter into foreshortened seasons
a phallus engorged pandemic goes jackhammer & rogue
sometimes God opens the second door

1986 is a second door
a portal in time manned by the
Queens of the Damned

a middle passage collects itself onto dry ground
An ADODI[11] river collapses alongside a
New York City Nile

Shamans sing:

in & out of gender
in & out of place.
Yoruba priests
walk bizarre


When My Brother Fell[12]

I cared not how rich he was
How Caribbean he was
How Ivy League his poison oak
How much southern fruit pickled his veins

When My Brother Fell

I cared not how many Prospect Park trees[13]
bear witness to his lovemaking. I paid no attention
to which butch-queen-voguing-fem
he was fucking
in between bushes

Or to how big
how thick
how heavy
the thorns

he let ride his back into Heaven

When My Brother Fell
I picked up his weapons and never questioned
The category he walked
how much make-up he had on
or which label she wore
behind closed doors

I never questioned
If his momma knew
If his daddy cared

I kept walking


Essex said, “there was no one lonelier than you Joseph”
30 years later, we not gon’ do it that way this time
The Ballroom collapses whole classes into nations

Every call gets a response
Every name every category
every non-binary
is an intention

A Universal law makes its own rules
Divines its own boundaries
causing legends to be born

While Paris Burns
Assoto’s Saints[14] and Willie’s Ninjas[15]
stand guard

a whole river of boys born without bones
boys born without spoons let alone silver

bright boys born on islands in between boroughs
that rupture beneath their salt water promise

Somehow the Ballroom always knew why
Boys and Girls born too-fluid-for-homes

need Houses

Essex said, “If we must die on the front line
don’t let loneliness Kill us”

If There’s a Cure For This I Don’t Want It


1986 1986 1986 is a house song at morning mass a break beat, a beat box, a carol, a love song, a dirge
a Brooklyn Children’s Museum born again
inside a Donald Woods’[16] forest

1986 is
a GMAD, an NMAC, an ADODI
a god-accented ebonic surviving for Joseph,
for Essex, for Donald, for Willie,
for Assoto Saint, for Craig Harris

For all Us born Survivors of the Coldest War
With and without parents.

Born too gay,
too queer for the crowns
we deserve.


*Images are from ‘Bobó for Yemanjá’, a February 9th event celebrating Love Positive Women 2020 in NYC at which Brad performed 1986 and other poems.


Endnotes

[1] In Atlanta, Georgia, August 1982 Michael Hardwick was issued a citation for drinking in public. Hardwick missed his court date and an arrest warrant was issued. However, before receiving the warrant, Hardwick paid the $50 fine. Nevertheless, two weeks later, police arrived at Harwick’s home, were admitted by roommate, and found Hardwick in his bedroom having sex with another man. The police arrested Hardwick and his companion for sodomy, a felony under Georgia law. Hardwick challenged the statute’s constitutionality in Federal District Court with the support of the ACLU. The case challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s sodomy laws reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986. The Court issued a divided opinion holding that there was no constitutional protection for acts of sodomy, and that states could outlaw those practices. The case drew attention to sodomy laws across the country and in the years that followed several state legislatures repealed such laws. Finally, in 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas the Supreme Court overturned its ruling in the Bowers v. Hardwick case and invalidated the 13 remaining state sodomy laws insofar as they applied to private consensual conduct among adults.

[2] Charles Angel (1952-1986), a Pentecostal minister, community organizer, social advocate, and activist, who helped found the organization, Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD).

[3] Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) was founded in 1986 with the mission of advancing the welfare of black gay men through education, social support, political advocacy, and health and wellness promotion. (For more information see the NYPL Archives and Manuscripts)

[4] Daniel Garret was a member of the Blackheart Collective, founded in 1980 by the Harlem-born Isaac Jackson. Blackheart members, all New York City-based black gay artists, produced a literary journal. The publication sought to queer dominant black intellectual traditions such as Afrocentrism and extend the gay liberation movement’s concern with prisoner rights and prison reform to a broader race- and class-based critique of carceral state power. The Blackheart collective disbanded in 1985.

[5] Other Countries was a writer’s workshop formed to develop, disseminate, and preserve the diverse cultural expressions of black gay men. The group produced two journals in the early years of the AIDS crisis, Other Countries: Black Gay Voices (1988) and the book-length Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS (1993).

[6] Joseph Beam was born December 30, 1954, in Philadelphia. He studied journalism at Franklin College in Indiana where he was an active member of the Black Student Union. Back in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, Beam got a job at Giovanni’s Room, a GLBT bookstore and began writing news articles, personal essays, poetry, and short stories that reflected the life experiences of black Gay men. In 1984, the Lesbian and Gay Press Association honored him with an award for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist. Disappointed at the lack of published gay black male voices, he edited the pioneering anthology, In the Life (1986). Beam helped resurrect the flagging National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays—originally founded in 1978—joining the executive committee and editing the organization’s journal, Black/Out. He died of complications related to AIDS in December 1988, just three days shy of his 34th birthday. After his death, Beam’s mother and his friend Essex Hemphill completed a second anthology of black Gay men’s writing, Brother to Brother (1991), which Beam was working on when he died (extract from Liz Highleyman’s article, “Who was Joseph Beam?” for Seattle News.)

[7] The refrain from Diana Ross’s 1976 hit song, “Love Hangover,” written by Pamela Sawyer and Marilyn McLeod. The song is one of the anthems of the House and Ballroom community.

[8] In 1986, the American Public Health Association (APHA) had its first AIDS workshop, and neglected to invite any HIV/AIDS or medical leaders of color to the event. Craig Harris crashed the meeting, taking the stage and the microphone from Dr. Merv Silverman, the San Francisco Health Commissioner. This was the genesis of a national movement and the founding moment of the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) that quickly became a voice for communities of color, spreading awareness of the disproportionate impact that HIV/AIDS had on their communities (see https://gay-sd.com/the-national-minority-aids-council-they-will-be-heard/).

[9] Leaders of prominent minority AIDS organization nationwide – including Paul Kawata, Gil Gerald, Calu Lester, Don Edwards, Timm Offutt, Norm Nickens, Craig Harris, Carl Bean, Suki Ports, Marie St.Cyr and Sandra McDonald – started the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) in response to the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) failure to invite anyone of color to participate on the panel at its first ever AIDS workshop in 1986. NMAC members met with U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop when he was writing his historic report on the AIDS. Originally scheduled for just 15 minutes the meeting lasted nearly two and half hours. More than three decades later, HIV still disproportionately impacts communities of color and NMAC continues to provide public policy education programs, conferences, treatment and research programs initiatives, trainings, and electronic and printed resource materials (see http://www.nmac.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/History.pdf).

[10] Audre Lorde (1934-1992) dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Lorde was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. She earned her BA from Hunter College and Master in Library Sciences from Columbia University. She was a librarian in the New York public schools throughout the 1960s. She had two children with her husband, Edward Rollins, a white, gay man, before they divorced in 1970. In 1972, Lorde met her long-time partner, Frances Clayton and began teaching as poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College. Lorde articulated early on the intersections of race, class, and gender in canonical essays such as “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984) collected Lorde’s nonfiction prose and has become a canonical text in Black studies, women’s studies, and queer theory. In the late 1980s Lorde and fellow writer Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which was dedicated to furthering the writings of black feminists.

[11] ADODI was born in 1986 in Philadelphia as a movement of same gender loving men of African descent. “Adodi” is the plural of “Ado,” a Yoruba word that describes a man who “loves” another man. The Adodi of the tribe are thought to embody both male and female ways of being and were revered as shamans, sages. and leaders. Adodi currently has chapters in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC. (see: http://www.adodi.org/)

[12] Essex Hemphill (1967-1995) was a writer who addressed race, identity, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and the family in his work. His first full-length poetry collection, Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1992), won the National Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award. He edited the anthology Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men (1991). His work is featured in the documentaries Tongues Untied (1989), Black Is … Black Ain’t (1994), and Looking for Langston (1989). Hemphill died of complications from AIDS in 1995.

[13] The Vale of Cashmere is a secluded patch of wilderness in Prospect Park that’s been the unofficial locus of gay cruising in Brooklyn since the 1970s. In his short story, “Summer Chills” in Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men, Rory Buchanan writes: “When I got there, I found the park filled with men in the same horny, hungry state of mind I was in … I can’t remember ever seeing so many gorgeous black men in any one place.”

[14] Assotto Saint (1957-1994) was a Haitian-born, pioneering poet, author, performance artist, musician, editor, human rights and AIDS activist, theatrical founder, and dancer. Saint was among the first Black activists to disclose his HIV positive status, and one of the first poets to include the AIDS crisis in his work. After graduating from Jamaica High School in New York City, he enrolled as a pre-med student at Queens College. In 1980, Saint fell in love with Jaan Urban Holmgren, a Swedish-born composer with whom he began collaborating on a number of theatrical and musical projects. Their relationship would last 14 years. They were both diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987. The death of his partner Jaan Urban Holmgren in 1993 profoundly affected Saint. In his poem, “Wishing for Wings,” he concludes that no words can convey his despair over Holmgren’s death. Saint died of AIDS-related complications on June 29, 1994. He had requested that, in protest of the indifference of American society to those dying of AIDS, that the American flag be burned at his funeral and its ashes scattered on his grave. Holmgren and Saint are buried side-by-side at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn.

[15] Willi Ninja (1961-2006) was a dancer, performance artist, and choreographer who was featured in “Paris is Burning.” He was a self-taught dancer who was perfecting his vogueing style by his twenties. As mother of the House of Ninja, he became a New York celebrity, and give modelling stars like Naomi Campbell pointers early in their careers. He also inspired Madonna and her 1990 hit song and music video, “Vogue.” In 2004, Willi Ninja opened a modelling agency, EON (Elements of Ninja), but continued to dance, appearing on the television series “America’s Next Top Model” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and dropping in at local clubs. Willie Ninja died of AIDS-related heart failure in New York City on September 2, 2006, at the age of 45.

[16] Donald Woods (1958-1992) was a poet, singer, and creative worker based in Brooklyn. He earned a bachelor’s degree at The New School and did postgraduate study in arts administration. His work as a writer began with his involvement in the Blackheart Collective. He studied with Audre Lorde and participated in Other Countries, a black gay men’s writing workshop. Woods was one of several authors of “Tongues Untied,” Marlon T. Riggs’s film about black gay men. He also appeared in Riggs’s film, “No Regrets.” (see: https://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/29/obituaries/donald-w-woods-34-aids-film-executive.html)

This article was originally published in ArtsEverywhere on Feb 27th, 2020.

*See Every Where Alien in the LUV coalition. And, check out Brad Walrond’s Launch Pad column in our Features.

A pre-Covid 19 estimation of LUV

Brainstorming in New York at the Goethe Institut

[*From February 9-11, 2020, Luv ’til it Hurts was busy in NYC. LUV participated in Love Positive Women (a project by Jessica Lynn Whitbread) with a poetry and food-inspired event ‘LUV YEMANJÁ’. Food and a series of handmade porcelain candles were offered by artist Thiago Gonçalves and poet Brad Walrond offered a version of his work ‘1986’ paired with other poems to suit the occasion. On the following two days, a group including Jakub Szczęsny, Eric Rhein, Todd Lester, Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima, Paula Querido Van Erven worked on the hopeful next phase of the LUV project. Within this process were statements describing the project from individual viewpoints, such as this one by Brad. xo Todd]

Luv ‘til it Hurts reminds us how proximal and interwoven our histories [are] regardless the presumed, apparent distances between the bodies, identities, and castes our worlds have suited for us. Perhaps in each [of] the futures we all must inevitably occupy, HIV/AIDS will have always been more metaphor than acronym; the Universe—even the portion that belongs to Us—is the occupant of an accident recovering it’s purpose. A virus expresses as much as it destroys; binds, deconstructs, creates, recreates its own kinds of becoming. 

That pleural vacuum into which it catapults us, it’s undertow of grief, stigma, loss, shame pulls us each closer towards a corporal remuneration of our otherwise carefully tilled, fiercely guarded boundaries. Perhaps we discover, by the sheer performance of survival, that the threads now begging us together, have been there all along. Survival here becomes the enactment of hope against hope—a remaking, a re-fashioning, a reconfiguring, a re-imagining of our lost and future selves. 

It is as if our bodies are made to become sites of discovery unto themselves. As if by force of opportunity and accident we infect a kind of prescience replicating inside an utterly human omen—being whomever we were cannot achieve us a habitable future. Perhaps living with and being impacted by some thing so summarily universal that has already changed the future, has already, by its sheer defiance, made its own impression on a species’ ambition and dreams, shows us life itself can be renewed. Shows us there must always be novel, crucial, life-giving ways for a human kind to rub and touch and agree.

Luv ‘til it Hurts as a moving recombinant collaborative show quite literally embodies the terror and the hope of this global pandemic. It represents unique opportunities to document and reveal global and parochial histories of the infected and affected while engaging communities in a viral generative praxis of encounter, transmission, deconstruction, reconstruction, remaking, reimagining and recovery.

                                                 —bw

Luv ‘Til It Hurts: the Launch

Luv ‘Til It Hurts was formally launched October 27, 2018 at the historic LGBTQ Center in New York City. In keeping with Luv ‘til it Hurts stated mission, 

’to be a porous container, it aspires to ‘hold’ people together 

long enough for essential introductions and exchange ideas’’

for me at the time of this writing, April 2019 it has already been a ravishing success. I launched Every Where Alien [my arts culture and content producing brand and company] in January 2019. My first project is in the form of a narrative documentary and requires travel to São Paulo. I’m thrilled Luv ‘Til It Hurts, found Every Where Alien’s project worthy of support. 

I am equally thrilled by how this journey with Luv ‘Til It Hurts has placed me proximal to several astonishing artists and HIV/AIDS activists from around the world. In September by the time I walked into Kairon Liu’s New York Humans as Hosts solo photography exhibition I understood. This experience, for me, had to be more than a fiscal exchange. Kai is brave and brilliant. His art is breathtaking and layered and provocative. I was here to learn, to hear, to witness, and to breathe. 

Simply put I would not have met Kai were it not for Luv ‘Til It Hurts. Quite likely neither would I have met Malaya Lakas, Philip Miner, Theodore Kerr —each all, in their own right, gifted and prodigious HIV/AIDS activists, administrators and artists.

Mine and Pony Zion’s trip to Brazil in January 2019 gave occasion for me to deepen my relationships and collaboration with the truly legendary artivist innovators  Flip Couto of Festa AMEM and Félix Pimenta of the House of Zion in Brazil.  I had the honor to work with the unmitigated genius of Coletivo Coloteres in capturing the footage as the two-week residency in São Paulo unfolded. And of course I got to witness firsthand the life and work of Luv ‘Til It Hurts’ founder Todd Lester. 

In the course of doing this work to research and write this poem chronicling Luv ‘Til It Hurts Launch I’ve been gifted with new friendships, inspired by world-class art and activism, and the prospect of vanguard globe-spanning collaborations. 

And for me, as an often reluctant and sometimes burnt out longtime HIV/AIDS activist perhaps the greatest surprise is to realize, even now after all these years, there is so much this pandemic and its survivors and activists have to teach us about but what it can plausibly mean to be human beings, and how we might co-create freer safer more vital societies for our kin—even when either ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, are faced with withering stigma, economic injustice, health and healthcare access disparities, and yet still the prospect of dying too soon. 

On the night of October 27, 2018 Pony Zion opened the Luv ‘Til It Hurts launch with a group dance performance performed to a song he wrote and produced. Flip Couto and Festa Amem and Félix Pimenta shared a video about their work and travels. I shared a poem chronicling 30 years of black queer art activist organizing and the House Ballroom Scene in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in New York City. Pony and I shared a bit about our then forthcoming Luv ‘Til it Hurts and #houselivesmatter supported residency in São Paulo. We joined our co-presenters Malaya, Phillip, Theodore (Ted) and the panel began curated and co-facilitated by Kairon Liu and Todd Lanier Lester.

To write this poem I interviewed, in the course of six months, the principal contributors to the panel at the Luv ‘Til It Hurts launch. I wanted to hear from them firsthand how and why they were drawn to the project? I wanted to learn how HIV/AIDS, art, activism and stigma has impacted their lives? I wanted to hear from them their sense of what proved meaningful in the discourse, process and exchange with the project and the audience during the event. Above all I wanted to hear their heart. I am blessed to have been present with them and I am blessed to have borne witness through their eyes and my own the legacies of HIV/AIDS then and now.  

The poem is written in five parts. I wrote each section as I completed either an individual interview or a set of interviews. I wanted each section to be able to live on its own and tell its own story. I hoped to discover through the sections’ iterative and  evolving interactions what the poem was truly about and how the emergent themes related to one another to tell a bigger story. I pray, however flawed, I have succeeded in hearing their hearts and learning a bit more of my own.

See also:

Luv ‘Til it Hurts, by Brad Walrond

Luv ’til it Hurts

   1.

Across generations of continents
What do it mean to be haunted?

by a virus. A bluegrass
grandma in Sparta, Tennessee died today;

So did Ntozake Shange.

I wonder is it was they knew each other?
Ntozake and grandma?

the yellow / the red / the Asian pacific islander /
the poor poor white / the black / the trans girl /
the doula / the woman / the social worker / the rich /
the nuyorican / the new yawker /the southern belle /
the global south /Brasil / the brown-black / AMEM
and thank you /the activist / the artivist / the Zion / the poet /
the visual artist / the scholar / the writer / the shunned /
the convener / the  loved / the forsaken

Ain’t it
   ?

a Universe of Us?

got queer children in common?

Somewhere in the beveled glitter of rainbows
A proximal history melts us into lemon drops

America’s punk daughters and sons sure know how to tie a not

How else to cut down a noose?
cept with the knife’s edge of a fem queen’s heel
and an icon’s death drop

tonight Love ‘til it Hurts launched
right where we landed simulcast in this
historic nyc LGBT Center Auditorium
on 13th Street just west of Seventh Avenue South 

breathing the unrequited ash suffusing St. Vincent’s biosphere

in this west village five to six block radius
a repurposed hospital building ain’t never lose it’s mission
here lies a fertile field endlessly pregnant with ghosts

Where NYC’s AIDS patients had flooded-in parched
for something like water & comfort on the hapless occasion
of their tsunami life and death

what do it mean to be haunted by a virus?

Tonight there is a Taipei hiv-positive gay boy in here
lending us an innervision. A love petri dish is bubbling over
in his terrified eyes

He’s going back home soon; His country everywhere
infectious with stigma

the medicine men don’t make pills for that.

Kai’s momma don’t know yet his secret.
Her son a host.

His soul-force, warm porcelain, nurses a kindling tide
swayed with tenderness and courage and rage
and grief and joy we can all touch
when we meet him

he has tasted here in nyc some portion of his soul’s own freedom
the call. we hear it.                    don’t u?

its in the blood its in the blood-water
earnest and quiet and true

It hurts to spring out of a cage smiling
It hurts to bounce too hard against a Tree

In the photos he has shown us.
He is calling us home

He is a gift.

He does not quite know how powerful he is yet.

2.

row after freckled row in this ancestor scented auditorium
every where in view an horizon of all-american fauna
sat blowing in the fall wind

we watch at the intersection
wave after seceding wave
come in

ntozake’s fresh unencumbered ghost
laughs in panorama with all the traffic lights

sitting to my right a tsunami flew in from Edmonton

a boy burning himself to the bone
body fluid born too hot
for a working class town

finds a hungry pandemic after its stolen
the lion share of his bedfellows and wet-dreams
left him spurned already in a hotbed
of First Nation descendants and poor immigrants

a psychic says his former lover in a past life must have been a dandy
from the high hills of america’s west coast

AIDS always had such fashion sense
Here today gone tomorrow
baroque Baudeliere bad ass.

world turned upside down
negative [survey says] is a positive health outcome
if only it were so simple in these blood rich oil fields
reverse transcriptase trenches mine with the nuclear
parochial sanctimony of a moral majority
plus and minus everybody else

the top’s bottom
the bottom’s top
the infected and the un-infected
the bound and the unbound
the buttoned down and the unbuttoned
the prude and the wanderlust
if only our kind came readied to nurse
each ours very own chance at living?

meanwhile Kai’s photos stream behind us un-announced
powerful enough?

[A prayer becomes an affirmation]

to tell their own story

to teach us?

[if even by omission]

the history of unintended
consequences

how silent and unbeknownst a virus haunts what it hunts
to occupy the hearts and minds of its prey

This project warrants no apology
the activists job is never done.

Perhaps the best ones wrastle
the too tight tendons
of their own too tidy towns

their own dissembled selves
born biting at the bit
kicking the stables

cut their teeth earn their chops
cross the stigma-shorn frontiers
imbued to their own origins

to discover the wealth
of what it could mean to survive
a pandemic before it kills you.

Whether you have it or not
Whether you will get it

or not

To find a cause, greater than oneself,
throbbing with its own life
beyond the boundaries of caste
and circumstance

to lay among the shunned and the dying
the survived and the surviving
the besieged and the otherwise well off
the castaway and the unmoored

in search of what is possible of a self
inside the catacombs of a womanist’s theory
breathing still at Union Theological Seminary
right where it was found

in new york city
inside the bodies of black women
who had to have known
long before they got there

the evidence of their own being
must be for all civilization
a salvation unto itself.

3.

Now are you gonna start dressing like a girl?

Some questions bury their own answers
inside the ferment whisper of unasked breath.

She was born inside the navel concave of a question
marked for transition from the beginning

a Filipina girl born into someone else’s body
run up the west coast Interstate 5 like a spine
run up the American dream like a tourist with tangled roots

immigrant parents born knowing tourism must be a fantasy
long before it is a business.

A brother in Redding California asks his teenage sibling an answer
to his own redwood question

Before he outs him for talking to a boy

Why
?

so seismic a proposition to ask a world for: an understanding.
boys and girls are born whole and un-belonging

these parts
they are shells

we can take them on
we can take them off
for the sake of our selves

we are quite simply who we feel we are

Malaya Malaya

Rehearse with me the freedom wolverine-knit
into the soul–spine of that name

She is a brook delicate and frothing
There is fertility in her bones
Like any fresh water river she is born caretaking
A sea of west coast salmon yelping against the tide

Malaya Malaya

She is an undertaking

her own precious project
She intends on becoming the name of herself
Over and over again

feminist courses are no panacea
each intersection
corset a millstone to its own precipice

we who believe in freedom               can not rest
we who believe in freedom              can not rest               until comes

Malaya Malaya

for women of color

Malaya Malaya

there is no way made for us
we must make our way
each every time

Kai too is the beginning of an answer
To Malaya’s own unasked question

To see herself?

freed inside the swelling shadow of her own story
To bear witness how her light must-will,
so numinously, contend with that darkness

A heart pricked too young by a virus
for the which she was offered no viable
first or second language

with which to negotiate an actionable line of defense

PrEP PEP
Had not quite begun their rally

A whole body of stories snagged between
the too-titan lexicon of an aeon. AIDS HIV unspelling
their own death sentence

whole acronyms still sneezing mouth uncovered
their nubile stigma into a generation’s consciousness
before and after they

re-imagine themselves
a desiccate and crumbled fiction
beneath the hard-packed weight
of their own histories

There is a new way.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

these young ones are making it up as they go
the olde warrior’s stories are not enough
for these young bloods

navigating a new virus
in a haint town
in a new time

they will teach us how to read the next chapter
they will teach us how to listen.

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