I wrote a personal essay about my Uncle Rodney to honor and celebrate him this Pride season in a way that he was most likely not able to be seen and celebrated during his lifetime. I’m so grateful for his spirit and that we were able to pass each other under the veil. The essay, along with other FANTASTIC work by other LGBTQIA2+ artists is available here on Mala Forever’s site (link in title).
I was asked by the SFMoMA to write a piece and have it featured as a permanent exhibit in their parking garage. The title of the poem I wrote, Capitol & Broad, is rendered on a wall along with a short excerpt of the poem. The full length poem is also up on their website in their online journal, Open Space. Capitol & Broad is an intersection in Lakeview, a neighborhood in San Francisco where my family has been for several generations. My parents were raised there and I grew up there.
In January I took part in the RADAR ‘Show Us Your Spines’ residency at the San Francisco Public Library. Over the course of the month in the library I got to read, watch, touch, and visit with ephemera created by and for Black queer people. Among these were the letters between Pat Parker & Audre Lorde, a short documentary called ‘T’ain’t Nobody’s Business’, and Cheryl Dunye’s early works. I wrote this piece after watching ‘T’ain’t Nobody’s Business’ wherein a historian talks about a police raid that ended one of Ma Rainey’s queer house parties where the cast of her show, predominately Black women would join together and dance around to music together in her living room (clothed and unclothed, lol). I read this piece in February at the residents reading in the Hormel Center at the Main Library.
The Castro has never been my place because it isn’t packed with people who have felt pride in smelling clean. People who have known the satisfying smell of hair grease and hot iron. It’s not full of people who forget to cover their mouths when they laugh and who remember to leave a lil’ meat on the bone in mixed company. There aren’t enough people there who had to wear a different outfit than the one they’re wearing now, just to get out of the house.
I’ve explored all of the Castro’s dark corners and only found myth. No magic. No deep flavor bursting in the middle of a bite. This place has never been mine, but when I get a white lover, the magic of the Castro glows a little brighter only momentarily when we stand close enough together.
Where is that place where Blackness and queerness are celebrated at the same time? Is it only in this body at this moment?
I’m looking for a place where the walls sweat and someone notices the nuances in my gender expression and nods or grunts in agreement.
Where this story is true: I’ve always been gay. Even at eighteen, being dropped off at The Crib by my straight boyfriend.
Where this story is also true: My queerness is Black. My queerness is growing up no the same block, so we cousins.
I lust deeply for that place where the song drops and it feels all at once like 1997 in my mother’s heels, pretending that I’m going out to the club with her and simultaneously it feels like 2008 having lust dreams about a frenemy and also it feels like 2013 when I find myself in a mouth that looks just like mine.
In myplace I see myself spinning spinning spinning to Minnie Ripperton’s high notes alongside my Uncle Rodney, who has to marry his mother’s friend’s daughter for citizenship before sneaking out of the backdoor of the house to go out dancing with his boyfriend. In myplace we meet eyes when he walks into the door and we’re holding each other’s faces and laughing and admiring each other’s afros, despite his having been dead just months before I was born.
In myplace people dance close despite sweat and are conscious of joy leaning on the bar. Wrap arms around the necks of their lovers and neighbors and dance partners in awe of their ability to show this love without shame, without dying, without being white.
In myplace I’m walking the category of “mostly newly recovered from trauma and figuring it all out” and there are 10-10-10-10-10s across the board.
In myplace my identity is not a trauma. I am not a sore. I am not an injury. In myplace this life, this body is not a sentence that we have to make the best of. There’s a wildness and a cunningness and lovelovelove too big for this body—so I carry it on the top of my head in a basket. Make coats out of it. Pull it along in a wagon to hand out to people on the street like ice cream on warm days.
In this place, myplace, when the disco ball turns. When the street car dings outside. When the theater lights buzz up and the bass beats through the walls, it is all for us.
This is the place that was made for you and me: Kingdom of shea butter and oxtails. Bay leaves and Murray’s. Duct tape and cashmere. Durags and bonnets. Bring me all of your cries—sopranos to barrotones and all of you in the middle. There is a place for us and there’s no pattywagon waiting out front once the lights come up inside. And there is no bitter DJ playing dubstep mixes of Whitney Houston.
Myth has it, that ever since myplace was even a languid dream oscillating between the heads of two lovers, it’s been a place the cops have tried to shut down. And they wasn’t even late on the rent at that point. They say two cold lovers were spooning for life in a twin bed and their heads were so close together that they had the same dream. They dreamt of myplace.
Myplace started off as someone’s grandmother’s living room. They’d move the couches out and hide the silver and open the doors after midnight. The big women and their big voices would come in their suits and ties, their petticoats and layers of dresses, their press n’ curls, their matted underhats. It was a place where the wicked took deep pleasure at the rest of the world’s fear of them. Where the basic-asses would leave them the hell alone—to read and dance and make music and smoke and sing all night ending in deep solemness with the stringy yellow sun rising. Needless to say, there were a few failed séances. A few broken tables. Missing shoes. Food and body odor that could make you giggle into your handkerchief. It was myplace.
It was myplace then and it’s myplace now, despite whatever new name they have for it. Despite the new wallpaper and the dingy cover over the jukebox. And whoever they put behind the bar these days. I have friends from gradeschool in the bathroom line and at least one former lover in each room pretending we’re okay as friends again this year.
When the children come down from their beds into the bar, all of us auntles and unkies misty eye over them growing up right before our eyes and point out the locations of their parents, maybe they’re dancing in circles to Donna Summer or getting out a new black trashbag for the garbage from underneath the sink.
Over the lights and the music the child is cared for at eye level. Is kissed on the head and ushered back to bed. This is myplace.
Myplace. The daytime eyesore selling cheese grits for hangovers on football Sundays.
There’s a botanica in the back and a love spell with your name on it. More lit candles in tubs of water than I can count and a beaded curtain leading out to the back porch to the smoking yard with the broken down gazebo, where the lovers got married all those years ago.
When they first began letting outsiders in, they came with their film rolling and their short writing pads full of pages and pages of questions. They wanted to know what we thought about politics, who we voted for, insisted on how hard our plight was despite having not lived it. But nobody had the nerve to fix their pen or their mouth to ask about the joy we cultivated by pulling it down in particles through the thick air. Nobody asked about the endless soultrain line where it was always almostyour turn. Nobody asked about all the great loves of our lives we found and re-found on the back porch. I think part of it was that they couldn’t feel it like we could. They couldn’t feel us, like we could. And that’s how we’d known (for the millionth time, really) that we had built something special. Something that would outlive all of us. Something that could never die.
The Crib was a very messy but babygay cute 18+ queer club event that took place at City Nights (also lovingly referred to as Shitty Nights) in San Francisco.
 In the first version of this work, this line read: ‘in myplace injury is not the center of my identity.’ Inspired by an essay I read during my residency called ‘The Whiter the Bread, The Quicker You’re Dead’ by Allison Reed found inNo Tea, No Shade(an anthology). The essay explores white queer theory and the centering queer white identity as an ‘injury’ that perpetuates violent erasure(s) particularly of racism and classism. I replaced this line with a more descriptive one because without this very specific context (of Reed’s essay), the line reads as ableist.
1) A queer love story centering two Black women that has an engaging plot line that exists beyond coming-out to the world and/or their families. Queer people in the show are played by people who are queer in real life. In the show it would be preferable if one or both of them were raised broke and are adjusting to having money. In the reboot, maybe their expressions of stud-ness and femme-ness are renegotiated, but in Season One it’s perceivably a stud-femme relationship. Maybe one of them is a T.A. in grad school who is in a battle to reclaim stolen intellectual property (or a patent!) from someone with more power and notoriety. The other struggles to preserve the rights of sex workers by organizing fellow dancers at her club to open their own womanist strip club. The scenes portraying the love of the two main characters are not performed for the male gaze. There is a range of sensuality and sexuality that is not created for juxtaposition to straightness—it just is. There are contradictions and messiness in their relationship roles. They struggle with things like finding new friends, having separate lives/not using the singular “we”, trying to figure out if they’re a poly couple, interrogating why their doctors don’t listen to them about their bodies, questioning how to actually raise a child without assigning them a gender, and feeling like the oldest people at queer parties in their city even though they’re only in their late twenties. Maybe one of them has an incredible sense of smell and the other has a habit of holding her lover’s face in her hands and asking with genuine curiosity, “what are you thinking about?” There will be plenty of scenes of them doing normal ass things in their own way—detangling an afro from the end to the root in front of an open laptop on Sundays, calling a mama to make sure that the recipedoes actually call for the amount of butter she said the first time, dumping water from the dehumidifier, being referred to as ‘friends’ at certain holiday gatherings with family elders, bumming a cigarette when drunk, grinding teeth at night, talking about the ‘hit or miss’ nature of acupuncture, and the joy of getting either of their names pronounced correctly in public by others on the first try. When they have sex, the camera does not preemptively turn or fast-forward or shy away. Extra points if there is more than one episode showing how they fell in love. Extra extra points if the show doesn’t end with them breaking up and/or if the show goes on, continuing to feature them both as they heal after they separate.
2) A “this is what it used to be” documentary-type show that tours historically Black neighborhoods now suffering from gentrification across the United States. The show unearths the histories of fantastic, normal-ass Black people who used to live there. Episodes will include: San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Austin, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Harlem, and Washington D.C. Weekly episodes would be one hour long and feature historians as well as relatives of people who used to live in communities that are now predominately white and upper middle class. Semi-famous black folks with roots in these neighborhoods or memories of growing up there would be featured every now and then talking about how the Blackness of that place inspired their work. Anti-gentrification organizers and long-time residents would be centered on the shows as a means to connect the struggles of each city. Parts of the show would feature segments of former Black residents responding to/interacting with the current absurdity of the gentrified community (i.e. the San Francisco episode would feature my grandmother walking through what used to be Fillmore stopping into each of the shops declaring, ‘Oh another one!’ as she crosses the threshold into another specialty sock/backpack/travel supply shop, close-up on her face as she learns what boba is and folds it out of her mouth discreetly into a napkin, close-up on her snatching her glasses off angrily as she looks at the price tags on monochromatic clothing in chic stores on Valencia Street close to where the projects used to be, or follow her while she is touring a newly built studio priced at a million dollars overlooking the water and ruins of the old PG&E plant down the street from where she grew up—when she says, ‘I never thought I’d see the day when…’ you can hear the echo bouncing off the ceiling through the empty building).
3) A semi-sci-fi show that follows kids who have survived trauma into their adulthoods as they realize that they’ve gained ‘superpowers’. After being the caretaker to one of her parents, one kid (much like Octavia Butler’s Lauren Olamina) develops the power of hyper-empathy, wincing and aching whenever someone close to her is in physical or emotional pain. Another kid, after surviving a traumatic experience, develops a sixth sense of sorts, being able to anticipate at any given moment the possibility of what could go terribly wrong—he’s only right half the time. Another kid can read people’s minds and adjust himself based on their perceptions of him, thus gaining the trust of adults and popularity and acceptance of others in his class, despite not being able to do so in his home with his family of origin. Each of these kids grows, not fully recognizing their relationship to their gifts until they’re adults and run ragged by the constant maintenance they require (whether through self-medicating, somatic therapy, or thrill seeking). They balance courage and fear of healing the wounds that created their superpowers, afraid of who they will be if the wounds close, afraid that their gifts are the only things that make them who they are. Each time they embody a positive coping mechanism without losing themselves, they develop new superpowers that exist outside of their wounds, with no strings attached. In Season 4, after healing, they struggle with the new obstacle of boredom.
4) An avant-guard-ish show that tests the limits of camera work by way of centering on a protagonist who has chronic anxiety. The camera seems to act as a vexing fruit fly—getting too close to the face of the protagonist during anxiety attacks, or hovering at a weird angle overhead in the shower when shame pounces on them through the recollection of a distant memory of something they did once a long time ago, or sitting on their chest as they try to breathe deeply to get to sleep (despite insomnia) at night. We accompany our protagonist in their odd message dreams and in their delusions, as the world turns sideways after self-medicating with psychedelics. Our protagonist begins asking, then interviewing people in their family of origin about ‘feelings’. They begin to trace ‘the feelings’ back as far as the oldest person in their family can remember. In a dream they receive a message from an ancestor instructing them how to heal themselves and several generations of ancestors too. They struggle to believe what’s been shared with them and battle with the implications of what they must do.
5) A series that follows several plotlines unfolding at one intersection in a city. In the show, often times our vantage point is a bus stop or a corner liquor store or a fried chicken spot or just a place where old heads sit and watch the day go by (with or without a domino table or a chess/checker board). While the camera may move around to the three other corners of the intersection, zooming, focusing, straying, or looking over it’s own shoulder, everything we see, hear or need to know (or don’t need to know), happens at the corner. There are holes in backgrounds of the plot, half-told stories, vigils, and all kinds of news shared on the one corner. The show plays with the limitation(s) and fullness of looking out at the world from one single place.
I wrote and performed this piece for Still Here VI: Existence as Resistance, a show featuring queer Black San Franciscans. This show was part of the National Queer Arts Festival and was the first I've ever curated. I prepared for the show in the community of fellow artists, performers, and loved ones--it was a labor of absolute love and pleasure and hope for Black folks in my city. I really really love us.
I used to live here
My whole hood a museum now. and my whole city a playground with rules against me.
This used to be a good place for a young witch to practice raising hell with two too-small hands
A place for getting on the back of the bus without paying and still feeling dignified shouting BACK DOOR.
This used to be a good place to be nobody. To hide from the too-rough fingers of the world under thick fog until you caught your breath and could run again. Or so I'm told. By the time we got here four generations ago all the good hiding spots for catching your breath were taken or we wasn't allowed to buy.
You used to be able to find a lost aunty in the TLs who told good stories and forgot which secrets were who's
You used to could dream about life as a low rider and a Black cowboy here
My mama didn't speak Spanish but sometimes she wasn't talking to Pepe's mama because Pepe’s mama, who we all thought was Selena reborn, took our clothes out of the dryer when she was impatient. And sometimes they was best friends on late Sunday night washes.
You used to could have lil’ baby dreams and get the best directions from a man nodding off while standing up
You used to could get your fortune told by the man in front of the liquor store who had been revived from death twice for the price of one loose Newport
You used to be able to have all hands on deck after watching a loved one fall off the wagon. Again. And again.
I'm 17 years old when My boo and I have matching Jordan's and matching North Faces zipped up to our chins. We kick out the red ‘stop request’ signs on the M train and put them on a necklace and wear them like a prize.
The first time going into the tunnel at West Portal I thought I was so big I crouched my neck into my shoulders so as not to bump my head and I was transformed into someone who was from here.
There is an entire microcosm of a dark world ruled by 2nd grade teachers in the tunnels between West Portal and Van Ness station. I have seen it with my own eyes.
It ain't even a Blondies downtown no more.
Where are all the black & brown children in this city? Somewhere being treated like extinction.
They dug up our bones when they turned over the dirt in them projects where Anthony's granny used to live. It's a high rise now. With the best views any building built on black back bones could build.
Or so they say. they won't let me up to see the view.
My head fell off while running to catch the 54 again today
It’s an anniversary. I remember missing the bus like this when I went home to my great grandmother, a famous mustard seed. She sewed my head back onto my neck again and sang me her famous mustard seed song called "girl you ain't got no options." She sang it in the panic soprano falsetto voice, the one in the key of "this house just won't burn down will it?" The one in the pitch of tired 24 hour Safeway light.
And it was soothing.
Besides having two girlfriends named Monique with several children each my father assures me that I am the cutest cute that ever cuted. Until one day I am nine and I get my hair permed and my thick locks become a whisper in the shadow of what they used to be. And my head feels too light. Without saying so with his mouth, I have become an adult and he stops coming to pick me up on Saturdays.
I used to live here
Several leagues beneath the sand and sea at Ocean Beach where people are burning out fog machines to keep the attraction going, there is another layer of alternate reality, a universe where I can’t find parking anywhere in the Mission
And the light goes out at my grandmother’s old house but none of us live there
And the house with our multi-generational miracle in it is nearly up to 1 million dollars on Zillow tumbling profit as it gets bought and sold every year
And I see people whose singing voices made me cry with joy lying in the street with no shoes on
And I’m losing teeth in all my dreams
I used to live here
Before my sister had the baby and summer returned in September in time to celebrate. When Cesar Chavez was Army street and I only knew one Portrero Hill and there was no pizza or dog walking there.
When we couldn’t be queer so we had to really enjoy our Halloweens in the Castro. When the Metreon was still new and the fast slide in Yerba Buena gardens was the top of the world and downtown was a Friday activity brought to you in part by a long paper transfer or a pass with a Y on it.
I know hood and hippy talk. I know “ain’t”. I know hyphy and gumbo. I know that you don’t have to get out of the car to enjoy the view but the wind has magic in it. I know that nobody puts their feet in the water but there's a blessing just for me.
I used to live here and I’m coming back for all my shit.
I’m coming back for all our shit.
All of our after BART stops running shenanigans.
All of our heart to hearts around Lake Merced a million times. After all the little things we got away with stealing at Stonestown. After our standing in line for Jordans and driving our mother’s car without licenses and being curious about the significance of why Tuesday at 12?
I am coming back for our San Francisco whether or not they let me across the bridge.
I want to see it up close. I want to see us upclose.
I want to meet all of our mothers hanging out the windows looking left and right for us to come barreling down the blocks when it’s time to come home.
I want this for all of us.
I want it to be how it was when I used to live here.
I heard the revving of the engine as we walked in front of his car. When I startled and looked into the front window, he stared directly back at me. He had dead eyes and a snarled lip. He was wearing a full Brazilian military police uniform. It made him look bulky and crammed in the driver’s seat.
We were crossing the cobblestone street near our hotel, behind the taxi we arrived in and in front of the unmarked car containing the police officer. His bright headlights struck us, making our clothes white as we crossed. The moment we were out of the periphery of his car, he sped off down the one-way street.
It was a warm night. We were returning from Porto da Barra Beach where we ran into the dancers from an Afro-Brazilian folkloric dance showcase we had seen the night before. Our delegation of Black folks had filled the entire front row of the theater. At the end of the performance, when we gave a standing ovation hooping and hollering, I turned around briefly and noticed that the entire audience behind us calmly clapping in their seats, was white. The performers called out to us when they recognized us on the beach the next day. We proceeded to visit and laugh together for hours--them speaking no English, us speaking no Portuguese. In the cab back to the place where we were staying (a former colonial convent, turned hotel), I’d asked our cab driver the question that had been lingering on my mind since the night we arrived. Riding into Salvador, I saw several graffiti markings that held enough similarities to words in Spanish that I understood. A rough translation said, “someone was killed here by PM”.
“What is ‘PM’?”
In retrospect, I could have anticipated the answer based on context clues. I was still filled with terror by his response,
“Police Military, Military Police”
I felt goose bumps raise up on my scalp and the beginnings of a tension headache rearing at the base of my neck as we rounded the tight corner at the bottom of the hill near our hotel.
There was a deep quiet in the car as the reality set in for each of us hearing the answer to the question about “PM”. Before long I began to spiral into questions about the military police: How many of the boarded-up houses had I seen on the narrow, winding roads with this message on the front? How many people passed the words each day as a warning and reminder? How many people saw the graffiti and remembered their neighbors? How long had the houses been left that way, un-lived in and closed up and boxed off (filled with the too-soon-dead ghosts of families?) Who all died? Were there children?
Brazil was the last place in the Americas to abolish slavery (in 1888). Slavery lasted there for about 300 years and worked to terrorize more than 4 million African people brought to the country as slaves.
Brazil’s current population is estimated at 209.29 million people.
Based on the 2010 census (when the population was 190.7 million people), more than half of the population identified as Black or ‘Brown’. Brazil’s census addresses ethnicity and race by categorizing people racially, primarily by skin color-- people identify themselves in the categories: black, brown, white, or yellow. This is a controversial process within Brazil. This process challenges our ideas of Blackness in-context and contributes to the project of global anti-Blackness. Because of this way of identifying, just 7% of the population identified as ‘Black’ with more than 47% identifying as ‘Brown’.
I got my organizing start as a teenager in San Francisco doing outreach work. At the time, I wanted independence (read: to make my own money). But as I began to gain vocabulary for my lived experience as a kid in a highly policed community, as the kid of an incarcerated parent, as someone living in a neighborhood without the resources we needed, someone who was accustomed to navigating systems for survival, someone with a trauma gut—I knew I was getting more than a paycheck, I was being put on with a form of knowledge that has shaped my life. I began seeing the signs of injustices everywhere and I couldn’t stop talking about it. My tolerance to feel powerless was lower and lower. Over time, I went from attending community meetings and reporting back the impacts to youth in my community to doing youth outreach, to leading trainings, to testifying at the capitol, to learning direct action strategies, to writing policy, and I’m still at the intersection of all of those places, with a more open heart (read: regularly heartbroken) and resilient determination for a future where Black folks are free here in the United States and around the world.
I heard about the trip exactly a month before I got on the plane to go. When I read about the purpose of the trip I was so excited about the idea of international building and solidarity with Black folks that I had a hard time keeping my feet on the ground. The trip had a particular focus leading up to Brazil’s National Day of Black Consciousness, a day when Afro-Brazilians celebrate identity and raise awareness about the struggles of Black folks in Brazil. On our delegation’s preparation calls we spoke about our dreams to merge strategies toward Black liberation organizing and were hopeful about the opportunity to coordinate efforts/actions/campaigns that might amplify our voices, eventually, on a global scale.
On the day of the Black Consciousness parade, tens of thousands of people showed up.
There was a police line (made up of officers who were not visibly Black) that marched on either side of the massive group. There were several types of drums and shakers and bell sounds everywhere as chants turned into songs that became call and response. When we paused at an intersection, I heard some commotion and felt space being made by the bodies around me. There were two Black men dressed up as bruised and bloody boxers, fighting each other. They pantomimed sparring violently before pausing at a point in their bout to raise their fists in unison. After the brief moment, they were suddenly jolted by the imaginary striking of a bullet before falling to the ground. I watched this mini-performance happen at least five times as we marched. I was moved to tears each time they started back up, picking themselves up from the ground to fight again.
When he revved the engine, he was invoking the violent reality of what happens to black people in this place (in Brazil), and whether he meant to or not--what happens to Black people all over the world. Last year, across Brazil, 76 percent of the victims of police killings were Black, and 80 percent were between the ages of 12 and 29.
On another ride back to the hotel later in the week in Salvador, we were coming from a late night of dancing when we passed a funeral parlor that had a storefront on a main street. It was lit up with bright lights like a booth at a carnival. Caskets of all sizes were leaning up against every wall. There were people in line talking to the owner in the doorway. There was a child on someone’s hip. It was after 2am.
Like the United States, in Brazil, slavery exists as an ancestor to incarceration. Like the United States, the vast majority of incarcerated people in Brazil are Black. Like the United States, to be Black and breathing in Brazil, is to hold fear and celebration and grief in one hand, juggling. Like the United States, to be Black and breathing in Brazil is to live precariously at the mercurial whims of state sanctioned violence at all times--to know the metal taste of terror too well, to know the lingering scent of loss clinging to all of the clothes in your closet as a house scent.
It is clear to me that the work that Black folks in Brazil do to get free, is inextricably tied to my own freedom.
In Brazil, there are Black people that look like me. There are Black people that look like you. Black people make the rhythm of Brazil and I didn’t have to speak the language to know that. We know us when we feel us.
me and my friends learn intimacy in each other’s hands me and my friends channel knowledge for each other and change spare tires ask about ex-boyfriends and comfort with mouths like our grandmothers summon our most beloved elders
me and my friends make mistakes and love anyway
me and my friends watch each other have children and have fun at the club
me and my friends know the tonal pitches of each quiet
me and my friends know the fear of—
me and my friends know when it’s all too much. know the look of one fading, how the eyes look, pretending
me and my friends know I’m sorry, I fucked up and How can I do right by you?
me and my friends know when one leaves, we all leave
me and my friends know hard love sometimes feels good
me and my friends want to see each other win we put in all of our chips to see to it make our shoulders strong to stand on pick out our afros for the occasion put on our flyest suits bring our new girlfriends bring seeds in our pockets show up with our wigs even snug on the napes of our necks
when I forget who I am I call her she never forgets
I will hold fire for you when it's your turn: to cross the stage to raise up the baby to nail the headstand to get the medal to close the conversation to empty the lot to finalize the divorce to christen the baby to consecrate the offering to lay it/her/them to rest to read the thing aloud, finally to weep uncontrollably at nothing for hours to shout the brave thing to be the designated driver to pull her elbow away from the creepy dude to hold the purse while you handle that business to bring the water
me and my friends lose contact and come up for air years later when we see each other on the street
smell each other’s hair and know the other has survived, something, everything. start from the place we left off.
eat off the same plate head on the same pillow save from drowning, often
me and my friends feel everything one of us goes to make the offering and all our toes feel the tide licking at our heels feel the relief balming over us already
*this poem is dedicated to my friend, Rheema. She stands at the intersection of fierceness and softness with me. She is currently fundraising to cover costs of her family's business closing in the Bay Area. You can donate and access her fundraising campaign here: https://www.youcaring.com/rheemacalloway-1106111
She was more than my dog. She was my baby.
I saved her life at least twice—three times, actually. She was an omen. She was a friend. She was a pillow and a comforter. She was a burst of life and light on a leash. Expert pigeon chaser. Mercurial instruction listener. Face licker. Underwear chewer. High jumper. Shoe chewer. Book chewer (avid reader). Mattress chewer. Pen chewer. Table leg chewer. Rug/carpet chewer. Couch chewer. Plant chewer. Limit tester. Full-time unconditional lover. Therapist. Love sigher. Cuddler (laps, legs, same pillow too close to my face), burrowing under covers. Made me late to work because I couldn’t stand to leave her by herself being this dang cute. Witching hour hallway runner hunter. Nosey neighbor. Bossypants. Always returns home. Answers to her name and ‘treat’ and ‘walk’ and ‘outside’. Always returns bounding with a smile and tongue hanging out the side of her face.
You taught me to trust you each time I let you off the leash and you came running back when you heard panic in my voice. You taught me patience with each carpet stain and each ruined thing I didn’t need in the first place. You taught me in-my-face-joy. Over and over and over again. I knew the lurch of fear and anxiety absorbing your pain anytime you were sick. I knew the guilt, the winding cycle of self-deprecation each time I couldn’t walk you because I was too tired or too depressed. The guilt of staying out late knowing you were waiting on me at home, alone. The relief of you loving me anyway. Of you being excited to see me anyway. The mutual joy of having a companion who never gives up on me. Never.
I am relieved and grateful revisiting the photos and videos of us. I loved you and you felt it. I loved you enough to see you in all of the small, tiny, precious things. The ants, the bees, the mice, the pigeons, every small thing took on your spirit (and continues to) because of my love for you. You have transformed my relationship to the world.
When I went in to the SPCA I was going to visit with dogs because I was more stuck and depressed and isolated than I had ever been. I had been trying everything to get out of it. When you came into the room and began munching on my hair, I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew you were mine. Despite the fact that five other people had come to adopt you while we played. Your love brought me back to life. Your energy reminded me of the joy and urgency of living. Of seeing things for the first time and accepting, even loving them, immediately. Your too-muchness made me build a relationship to my own too-muchness (that I’d kept pulled away and reserved only for solo sessions of target practice). I thought you were a burden because I was more concerned with how people would receive you. I also feared for you, a reckless puppy. At every turn you could have got off leash and into traffic or trapped under a fence or eat something you weren’t supposed to (like you had many times before). Like you did this time when you didn’t survive.
The first thing I felt when I got the call before 5am was—this is my fault. There’s nothing like getting a call at that hour—it makes me want to throw my phone into a fire just thinking about it. My belly turns just at the thought of a call before 5am. I was still optimistic, though. I asked my ancestors to keep you out of pain and to do what was best. I surrendered early on—praying for your health and recovery, admitting that I was so far away in New York and had so little control and wanted nothing more than to run from this situation—back in time, to our little home, to you prepping yourself for a comfortable spot for sleeping under me under the covers. Readjusting and warm.
When I got the call from the doctor they said you had staples or some kind of metal in your stomach. They said you’d gone into septic shock. ‘The prognosis was bad’. You most likely wouldn’t live. They recommended humane euthanasia.
I had been moving about the day shaking. But, I am an actress. I had my first-ever meeting with a literary agent and laughed on cue and made eye contact while my muscles made knots around themselves. While my stomach became a muscle that tied a knot around itself. I don’t even remember how the meeting went besides looking back and forth between the top rows of her shelves on either side of the room where she had standing copies of newly released books for authors she agented. She was a small woman and I remember only wondering if she’d stood in the chair I sat in to put the books up there. I came downstairs to receive the news.
You were alone there. I said I needed to see you before they euthanized you. A nurse said she could facetime me in. I was so afraid and so grateful. There was a wave made of white foam and a riptide. I saw your little batface—one eye blinking slower than the other. You didn’t seem to be in pain. They’d put you on pain meds by then. You were laying on your side, your head up and nodding. I said hi to you. Hi Mommy’s babygirl. And you weren’t responsive to my voice. What happened? I was outside in midtown. Sitting on the wooden ledge of a café, making a seat out of nothing because I couldn’t do anything standing. People walked by as I crooned into the front camera on my phone. Hi baby and hi baby and hi my little baby dog until I said my last words to you.
I thanked you for loving me and for letting me love you. I thanked you for saving my life and being the bright light that I didn’t know I needed until I knew. I tried to forget that there was at least one stranger I didn’t know, listening to me say my last words to you, holding a phone so I could see you before injecting you with a liquid that would extinguish you, immediately. I said that I looked forward to seeing and knowing you and loving you in another lifetime. That I was grateful that I got to know and love you this lifetime. That I was so sorry for what happened, it was a horrible accident, a horrible accident, a horrible accident.
The vet let me know that he was injecting the liquid. Your head dropped immediately. Neck went limp and you were gone. I saw the vet for the first time from a weird angle, he repeated that he was so so sorry before hanging up the facetime call.
I bawled on the side of the street. I cried with a knot in my throat all through the street. I called my grandma and she cried with me (you were the only dog I’ve ever seen my grandma hold and pet and love and buy Christmas presents for!). I told all my friends that I was planning to spend time with during my brief visit about you immediately—they prepared to hold me in my grief. They made me tea and rubbed my back and hugged me and sat with me and held my hands as I made calls and made arrangements—to retrieve your collar or put words on a commemorative urn. They went to dance classes with me and checked in while they were at work on breaks and ate food with me and took me to the beach with a bouquet of flowers to make my offering. They lead me in ceremony. They lead me to the rivers they knew so that I could talk to you from thousands of miles away and at least one dimensional plane apart. They gave me stuffed animals to keep with me to talk to in your absence and reminded me of grief as a cycle and love as a part of the same cycle, and the act of honoring love by grieving. They texted me to remind me to eat food and drink water. They gave me sunglasses to wear on the train because I couldn’t ride a stop without hiccupping into a good cry remembering that you wouldn’t be home when I got back. They sent their love because they knew how big of a loss this was for me—because they loved you too.
You gave me the confidence to build strong community (you were the social one!). Because of it, I am held fully in my loss of you. Thank you for being my babydog. And for being so much more than my babydog. I hope you are enjoying life as a brilliant idea reincarnated over and over again and shared between loving people. I hope you are enjoying life as a lightening bolt or an electric current flying through as much space as you dare to inhabit. I know you’re wild and offleash like you should be. I’ll make sure to leave a few treats on my altar for you in case you ever have enough time to stop by for a moment to visit.
I’ve decided that I will not be ruined this summer.
I’ve decided that I will not be jekyllhyded by grief
That I will not hide hurt from myself
out of fear
I look forward to going there.
I look forward.
I look forward to the time
letting sadness and longing
reel out of me
through my back
and into the floor.
I’ve decided to choreograph my own grief dance
I’ve decided to spend my time
believing that healing is possible without being swallowed.
by cutting myself triumphantly out of the belly of a great whale
after lingering in the darkness there.
I have decided.
That it does not have to be wholeconsuming
to be real.
I have decided.
I can stop when it hurts too much.
Fold the corner of the page,
and return to it when I’m ready.
I have already decided.
I will not be broken in half this summer.
It’s too late to grieve the old way,
by way of being eatenalive.
Of ignoring the bleeding out.
Of becoming nothing
until I can’t taste my food.
I have decided.
to laugh at the audacity of humidity.
To let my anxious stomach
fall out of my butt
when it drops,
If it dares.
I have decided to love.
(in the present).
I have decided.
I can be healed by the medicine
spun by my own fingers
for the top of my own head.
I have decided.
that I am still curious
in the deep mist of griefjunglefloor.
I have decided.
In my own image.
I can dance with two lovers.
Laughing and crying.
With both feet
off of the ground.
Life is lonely as a conduit.
Everybody thinking they love you because you got answers flowing through you.
Because you see them in a world where nobody ain’t too fond of looking anybody in the eye,
It’s lonely being a river that flows in two directions.
Everybody love your water ‘til they’re whisked away
And it’s your fault
for being a river in the first place
Even when you posted signs.
And told them,
When they got too close
To touching ground in the deep, rushing end
And you had to look at them sternly
“Be careful. I don’t play.”
Everybody got shit they want you to pull out of your chest for them:
“Won’t you go deep in that raspy spot behind that lung and let me know who’s gon’ win the game tonight?”
Everybody see your light and only want to play it.
Only want to use it ‘til it’s darkness.
Only want to take it.
Take it as an invitation.
Then complain about the fire going out
When they didn’t put no wood in the pile.
Life as a myth is tired.
I spend my days too big to fit indoors.
Up on a high hill,
To the tired and tried prayers of men
With imprints in their knees.
I’m not supposed to tell them,
“That they wouldn’t have to be kneeling all the damn time if they dared do right by anybody but themselves”
But I be thinking it.
I spend my nights with my feet up.
Burping and picking my teeth
With their sorry offerings.
I bet if you weren’t supposed to live,
You’d be hungry enough to gnaw at the
Of sorry men,
Living under the ground as several severed parts can be exhausting.
Some days my head
can’t even open my eyes.
Some days my fingers twittle
And I feel something
Maybe my other hand,
turning over soil in my palm.
And my ears can almost hear
the kiki-ing of my toes
finding each other
“I think I can feel it,
Can you feel it?
I think I’m feeling it.
I used to walk
on top of the street,
before I was a cautionary tale.
I used to wear what I wanted
And not answer to,
“AYE, AYE MAMI—YOU WITH THE LEGS”
from across the street.
I was baaaaaaaaaad.
Bad meaning good.
There was many a story
Told about me.
Ones where I ate men whole,
Where I smoked
and peed standing up
and sang at the table
and ain’t cover my mouth when I smiled
and led us all to freedom.
And raised hell with two
And didn’t have the baby.
And couldn’t have the baby.
And let my hair grow,
until my locs turned to snakes.
And fed a million children
by way of miracle making,
(with no thanks).
And cured five million people of polio
And was still buried
in a shallow grave.
They got plenty of stories about me.
But they never get my laugh right.
And every few decades,
when they dig up a piece of me,
they never bother to be curious enough
to match one side of me with
They got plenty stories about me.
But ain’t nobody ever asked me which one was my favorite.
They never let me choose.
Even though I end up dead in all of them.
Last week San Francisco's Board of Supervisors held a hearing on money bail. I was asked to testify about the harm of money bail. I recommend a swift and complete end to money bail. In it's place, I recommend community release based on a needs assessment that provides folks with the resources (preferably wraparound services) they need to thrive. Additionally, I recommend courts be replaced entirely by Restorative Justice processes and jails and prisons be closed altogether. Jails and prisons only address the symptoms of systemic harms and marginalization with violence. This vision is another essay entirely, so I'll just leave you with my testimony before I get carried away:
When my father was arrested, the bail was set at $500,000. My family was in a state of deep shock and distress. We didn’t have half a million dollars. We didn’t even have the 10% needed to pay to a bail bondsman. We barely had 1% of the bail amount. We had no assets, owned no property, were disenfranchised to the bone. Without having the 10% to pay to the bail bonds company, my father stayed in jail. In jail, my father missed out on so much—including my college graduation and his father's funeral.
Money bail is harmful no matter what—you hurt when you pay, and everyone hurts when you can’t.
It’s not just our family who has been hurt by this unjust practice. At least 46,000 Californians are affected by the harmful practice of money bail. According to 2015 Board of State and Community Corrections data, 46,000 people were kept in California jails, not because they had been convicted of a crime, but simply because they could not afford the bail for their release.
That’s 46,000 empty seats at graduations, at the sides of hospital beds of elderly loved ones, and at the dinner tables at every holiday family gathering. This past December, there was one empty seat at my sister’s baby shower. It was my father’s.
At the baby shower we passed a phone around the celebration gathering—to my mother, my grandmother, my sister, to each of my little cousins—to hear my father speak to us with a knot in his throat because he was missing out on becoming a grandfather for the first time.
Money bail is like a ransom note to women and families. When we can’t pay it, we are all punished. Freedom should not come with a price tag.
In California, the median California bail is $50,000. That’s five times higher than the national average. San Francisco’s bail average is one of the highest in the state.
Women bear the greatest burden of this failed system. Today, 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 2 Black women, has an incarcerated loved one in prison. Women make up more than 80% of family members primarily responsible for covering court-related costs. As Black women we already make pennies on the dollar for grueling work because of pervasive wage inequality. This is much of the reason as to why I am not joined by thousands of women in this room this morning. Know that I stand here today representing at least eighty women (nieces to great grandmothers) in my family who have had to navigate the money bail system through bail bondsmen, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars over time. This is money that we will never see again. We paid this money in order to have our loved ones get a fighting chance to show up to their trial in a suit and not an orange jumper and shackles. To meet with an attorney and not have to guess when the next time they see their public defender will be (if at all, before court).
I urge you to do everything in your power to end money bail. We have a long legacy of conflating data visibility and transparency with accountability in this city, which makes no difference in the day to day lives of people suffering from issues like the harms of money bail.
I urge you to also start upstream, tying police accountability for their proven bias (via the DOJ Report) with the representation of Black residents (as 3-5% of this cities population) as over half of the entire jail population. I urge you to tie the prevalence of desperate plea deals in San Francisco to the inhumane conditions (proven via numerous official city reports) of people living in 850 Bryant for over a year waiting to see trial (like my father did) just because their families can't afford bail.
Once and for all, it’s time to end the money bail system. People like me who have been impacted by the bail system are locking arms with advocates and leaders across the country to pressure states to dismantle the brutal money bail system that forces people to buy their freedom. I urge you to link arms with us too.
Money bail actually began in San Francisco. This is the perfect place and the perfect time to end it.
It’s been weeks since I felt clear.
I am trying to make sense of it but it’s a pretty nonsensical time.
I’ve had a pressure headache nearly everyday for the past few weeks. Sometimes I can sense other muscles (like my belly or my neck or shoulders or even my butt) causing the tension in my head and I have to go completely limp throughout my body in order to ease the headache.
I can’t remember what/if I pressed something (an emotion, a trauma) down in order to get to this depressed place. It’s usually brought on by something like that.
I spend the moments when I’m not feeling depressed half enjoying being able to breathe through my nose and see things clearly and half stifling air through my throat and tensing my belly afraid that I will be sucked back into depression.
How the fuck did I get here?
I didn’t realize that I’d worked more than 40 hours a week for three consecutive weeks until I book two flights for the same time on the same day. And didn’t realize this mistake until nearly a full week after it happened. Then spent hours on the phone trying to explain to someone how such a thing could be an honest mistake. An honest mistake.
Psychic stress had it so that I left my keys in a car on my way to the airport and didn’t realize it until I landed in New Orleans and was so overwhelmed by things I couldn’t see that I unpacked and repacked my bag for no reason and noticed my keys missing. A net of community would have it so that I could call the driver and arrange with many thankyouthankyouthankyous for him to return my keys to my neighbor for her to hold for me until I got back from my trip a week later.
I hope this doesn’t sound like shaming. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m apologizing. I am moving toward a place when I don’t feel ashamed to be depressed. I am moving toward a place where I don’t apologize for not being present during a spell of dissociation. ‘Cause I don’t feel sorry. ‘Cause I don’t feel much of anything.
Psychic stress would have it so that I locked my keys in my car on the day of my birthday celebration. A net of community would have it so that my best friend could go to her house and get my spare key to go to my house to get my spare car key (which I’d made for the first time in ten years of having this car) to unlock my door and get us to my birthday celebration (where I was surrounded by music and good food and my family and friends in one place for the first time since my sixteenth birthday).
Psychic stress would have it so that when I slept I only dreamt of stress and woke up with a body wound up too tight and a jaw clenched with teeth bracing on top of each other.
I felt a blur over everything. A film over my eyes. My fingers and hands touched things and I felt nothing.
My dishes piled up and there was still powder to vacuum on my carpet and solution to scrub sitting in my tub.
I confused my days.
I had no desire to do anything, especially not move my body, which is what I needed to do most.
Deadline after deadline held the front of my head. I met them all. #highfunctioning #deadlinesbedamned
In the midst of being overwhelmed I had made the decision (over and over) somewhere in my mind that deadlines were more important than taking care of myself. Everything followed suit.
In this particular bout with depression and dissociation I recognized how good I’ve gotten at high functioning and keeping it moving.
In this particular bout with depression, I pretend less. When people asked how I was, I didn’t lie as much.
When people asked, I told them I was moving through it.
I moved quickly through hyper-sensitivity and dissociation with high spirits on my birthday.
Why does it take so long to come back?
I know my tools and I hate them when I’m depressed.
I trust me with myself (even in the middle of this quiet shitstorm) and that feels good.
I tried. Lighting my candles. Looking people in the eye. Using a massage ball on my sore muscles.
I didn’t want to answer my phone, was overwhelmed and over stimulated by everything, flakey, anxious, apprehensive.
My gift of sensitivity was off.
My mind was foggy, which felt like a deliberate curse.
Most of my good habits were off/forgotten.
Last Wednesday, I felt that I had calves and shins and didn’t remember the last time I remembered that I had calves and shins because I felt them.
It deeply irritated me when people said things like, “the stress isn’t worth it/positive thinking will change things/you have to meditate and get outside.” I KNOW (in my quietest voice, ‘thank you’). When I’m depressed these things sound impossible, improbable and work to push me away from people I love. It doesn’t feel useful unless someone is making a plan with me to go on a walk or somehow making it easy to do self-care and be accompanied in it.
I had a talk with myself. I said I’m ready to start feeling stuff again.
I have enough energy to make (what feels like big), difficult decisions for myself that just wants to stay inside in bed all day.
Yesterday, after turning my car around three times I made it to Congolese dance class, alone. I’d been avoiding it because I had in the very forefront of my mind that I did not want to be watched or criticized. I was grateful warming up when I told myself over and over under my breath that I came to class for myself. When I told myself that I didn’t possibly have the energy to grade my performance and be concerned with what anyone/everyone thought about my dancing and dance at the same time. That I should just dance. That I should just break a sweat and let that be enough.
Last month I stayed on an old plantation in North Carolina.
Before it was a retreat center, it was a school campus. Before it was a school, it was sharecropper land. Before it was sharecropper land, it was a plantation. A site of terror for the breaking of unruly slaves.
I traveled to this place with other healers and organizers from all over the nation for a Healing & Safety Council Retreat for Black organizers with BYP100. An email had been sent out to the group prior to our arrival giving key information about the space. Honestly, I’d just left my job the week before and when I opened the email and it said ‘The water smells strongly of metal here,’ I stopped reading. I didn’t get to the part where it explained that the site of the retreat would be an old plantation. So, when we pulled into the grounds and I saw an old house that was that old, I knew where I was immediately and regretted not reading the email in full.
In addition to the water smelling strongly of sulfur, the land itself carried a very high vibration (and I’m not just saying that with good old Bay Area ‘woo’). For a solid portion of my time there, I walked around very quietly as if trying not to upset a baby. I felt like someone was trying to talk to me.
The healing work we came together to learn was about transformational justice. About working inward to make calling the police an obsolete option. We know that the harm that police cause in our communities, to our children and families is an act of terror and rarely (if ever) ends well for Black people (and that’s putting it lightly). We planted seeds together to build the technical strategies, the harm reduction approaches, the first-responder responses, and the flexibility to address instances of harm within our communities without ever calling the police.
Prior to doing this work we were grounded as a group in the knowing that we are all the answer to an ancestor’s prayer. There were several times throughout the material and our group grounding activities where I could’ve fell out and cried and caught the spirit—this was one of them. I thought about all of the times I walked around with my head down or full of doubt. I thought about my harming others instead of asking for help or grace. I thought about Black people, my people, every single one of us being an answer. I don’t have the words for what shifted in my being but I changed my mind. I think I had decided not to stifle the love that flows through me abundantly. Instead, to let it all wash over my people, each one an answer to a prayer. Each of us bearing the weight. Each of us, myself included, needing this outpouring of love that I was given and had been damming up for fear of fear (this is another essay in itself).
When everyone else felt the haze too, the heaviness that is ancestor spirit being in the room, we loved each other almost immediately. I’ve never seen so many loves of my life in one place.
I wanted to be as free as I could on this land. Feeling the spirit of these ancestors who toiled and bled and died and were separated from their families and their children on this land. I felt them inviting me to put my toes in the dirt. To be mad for them, spit and pull up things out of the ground in spite. But mostly to be free.
Every time I come together with my BYP100 family, I remember the importance of having spaces that are all-Black. Without my conscious inviting of a de-cloaking of all parts of myself weathered by the beating and harsh winds of the outside world, I began talking to people I’d never met the way I talk to my family. I began laughing and smiling without consciously covering the side of my mouth where a tooth is missing. If I was curious or upset or feeling strongly about something, it came out readily. For the duration of the retreat, I did not compete for anything and I felt whole and loved. This is also freedom.
I’ve been really shy and self-conscious/insecure about singing since I stopped being guided by my bursting heart (8 or 9 years old?) but in this space, on this land, I let it out, I let me out. I sang loudly and made music until early in the morning with other healers and organizers. Went inside of an old old schoolhouse on the grounds that had been half eaten by time and termites. Learned about the mightiness of tiny chiggers (not too personally, thankfully).
Throughout the retreat, healers of all talents talked about sensing things and even seeing things on the land we were on. I felt a little bit of jealousness beginning to creep up under my feet. I shook it out. I wanted to see stuff and hear stuff from the ancestors, too.
At the end of day two, I was overwhelmed by jetlag. I drank coffee, then water, then hot water. And when I couldn’t stay up any longer unless I was to become short and unkind to others, I excused myself for a nap. This nap would be the beginning of the floodgate of clear message dreams sent to me while I was on this land. I’d forgotten for a moment too long that this was the way I received my messages.
I dreamt that there was a fire. I only knew that there was a fire because I saw smoke. I walked out of my room (inside of a house where I lived but didn’t recognize as my own in my waking life) and saw smoke and the back of a small child as she was running and busting out of the swinging kitchen door, presumably to safety.
In the dream, I had things in my hand and turned back toward my room to grab things before getting out (I had my laptop and my backpack in mind to grab). I stopped almost as soon as I’d turned around toward my room telling myself calmly and clearly, ‘No. There’s a fire. This is a fire.’ And I left everything behind. According to my dream journal, I did grab a small precious thing (I don’t remember this part of the dream now).
I moved calmly and deliberately through the house as whitegrey smoke came into the kitchen, crawling up the ceiling. When I made the decision to leave things behind in order to get out, I woke up before exiting the house.
I woke up from the dream in a panic because I’ve had several foreshadowing dreams that have come true within a matter of weeks. I was afraid that literally this might be a warning about a fire in my home. I made a reminder for myself to check my fire alarms when I got home, to remind my loved ones to do the same, to be careful burning candles, to check my insurance policy, etc.
Returning to the group after the dream, my belly was still anxious. Even after making the list of things to check on to best protect myself. I talked with the healers in the group about it. Someone said that the child was my intuition. Someone said that smoke without fire means that I am afraid—could be with the new life changes I’ve made for myself (leaving my job without securing another one first). Someone said I’m having a hard time making a decision. I tried each one on to see which one might make my belly less queasy.
Reading my waking journal after the dream, I see the half asleep handwriting of a scrawled question, “Am I the fire?”
By the time we packed up to leave, I had made several offerings to ancestor spirits on the land. While waiting on my ride to the airport, I took a long walk out to the fields as far as the land extended in one direction. The old houses, the main campus, where the big house would be, were small from there. I thought about the distances that kept my ancestors (who I don’t know, but who feel like loved ones) apart. Even in a distance that took just fifteen minutes to walk. I thought about the invisible control that kept and keeps us from loving each other. I thought about what clever ways and subtle movements of eyes and hands had to say ‘I see you, I love you’ when communication was forbidden. When love was forbidden. When freedom was forbidden.
In this site of disaster and devastation, I felt the resilience of ancestors who would not ever break. Who gave and continue to give the spirit of indestructibility and possibility to us. I am eternally curious and grateful for their guidance.
Tanea Lynx & Juana Teresa Tello
On April 13th, the SF Sounds newspaper made the mistake of publishing an article written by Sarah Burchard, entitled Bring on the Bayview. From what we’ve gathered, Sarah Burchard is a white person who is not from San Francisco. As people born and raised in San Francisco and Bayview residents, we find Sarah’s article overtly ignorant and flat-out offensive. The article blatantly disrespects residents and our experiences in the current social, economic and political climate that has caused the violent disappearances of working class families from our city.
It is clear that Burchard didn’t write her article for Bayview residents, otherwise she may have thought twice before submitting such distasteful and racist opinions about our home. As a historically Black community tucked in the southeast corner of San Francisco, the Bayview has been home to many Black families for generations since The Great Migration.
Since the article was published, some backlash has taken place which has resulted inthe article being removed from the SF Sounds website. A note from the publisher has been posted online in its place:
“Note from the publisher: It has come to my attention that the article “Bring on the Bayview” published in SF Sounds was problematic in tone and intention.The reason for writing the article was to help local businesses in the area and the people that live there. As the publisher and acting editor, I instructed the writer to be more gritty and funny. This was outside the writer’s writing style and resulted in the article that was published. Unfortunately, the article was published without editing resulting in an outcome that was not intended. I apologize to the people that live in the Bayview area and promise to do better in the future. In doing so, SF Sounds will write more articles in the next year that shine a positive light on the community and the people that live there.”
The publisher and editors of SF Sound should be ashamed of themselves for claiming that this piece was a result ofinstruction to be “more gritty and funny”. Additionally, the excuse that the piece was “published without editing” speaks to the level of carelessness, mediocrity and misplaced trust in privileged people who seek to “help the people that live here”. The audacity of Burchards’s tone and the stereotypes her narrative perpetuates about our community are not only privileged and entitled, but cause for direct response. We feel there should be no “future” of published articles in this paper without a public apology to the residents of the Bayview. And, for the record, the Sarah Burchard-types of the world are not welcome in the Bayview.
These white-privileged opinions, in the current state of crisis in Bayview, are representative of the white supremacy that continues to prevail in our society and in concentrated forms in our city. Blatantly racist, classist and rife with colonial perspectives of dehumanization of Black and Brown people, Burchard notes that she now feels safe “taking her skinny white girl ass down to the Bayview”. She says that she feels safe because “a lot has changed over the last couple years. As rents increased in the city artists and blue-collar workers moved over bridges and farther down 3rd street. That corner of 3rd and Newcomb, local rappers used to sing about, is now surrounded by several respectable places to eat.” (rappers usually rap, not sing, but okay). Burchard goes on to make several grammar mistakes while naming eateries she likes that local Bayview residents don’t eat at (in fact, we had to look up more than half of the places she mentioned while reading her article). Trying to polarize herself as different from techies and pretending to recognize the strength of our community, she writes, “people down here just really seem stoked to be serving you.” So, no editors and publishers--no editing could have undone this. This entire piece is one large ‘edit, undo’.
Burchard boasts about her ability to walk freely in our neighborhood comforted by her white privilege, while the youth of color who live here are criminalized on a daily basis by the police. It is disgusting to read that the cost of her “safety” is funded by the $35million budget increase for SFPD to police Southeast neighborhoods like Bayview. The increase of such costs only make for the detriment of Black residents--such is true for Kenneth Harding Jr., Mario Woods, and Jessica Nelson Williams, all Black residents killed by the San Francisco Police Department. We ask the question to Burchard, “Safety for who?” The new police that come with the coffee shops and yoga studios and restaurants are the precursor for “redevelopment”, and always result in long-time residents and natives being racially profiled in their own neighborhoods. Such is the story of gentrification and police violence that resulted in the murder of Alex Nieto by SFPD.
Perhaps Burchard has no idea how her words contribute to this form of modern day colonization and land grabs that take place in our city. But we have experienced nothing less from a capitalist society that upholds its power with state sanctioned violence against the Black and Brown bodies it exploits to built its wealth. Such is the case for the last remaining 3-5.8% of Black residents left in the city of San Francisco. Too many Black residents have been disappeared by forced displacement, police violence/murder, and jails in this city (Black residents are 3-5.8% of the population but more than half of the entire jail population in the city). We see the hypocrisy within our local government that prioritizes profit over people and neglects the undeniable needs of their constituents, especially for affordable housing (with formerly 100% affordable housing communities being redeveloped into “mixed income” developments).
While Burchard wasted her sad (presumably paid?) time writing this article, the average median income in San Francisco as a city, steadily rose to over $88,000. The average median income for the Bayview, however, has yet to reach $40,000. While she submitted this atrocious piece of elitist, neoliberal trash to be recognized, edited, published and put into print for readers to see, Black residents in the Bayview continued to experience being stopped by police disproportionately, to have their licenses suspended for inability to pay tickets, to be killed or brutalized by police, to experience the adverse health impacts of environmental racism and food desert zones due to generations of redlining and to be up to our ears in court debt.
Sarah Burchard wrote about restaurants in a neighborhood that is a food desert. Where many residents cannot afford to eat out at restaurants at all. We know that her words are representative of many perspectives of our community. For years voyeurs and settlers have come to enjoy our neighborhood while ignoring our existence. In fact, sometimes they call it Sunday Streets. For years we have been referred to by our deficiencies, from low birth weights, to crime statistics, to lack of transportation service and inequitable parks. But when does the mirror turn back to people like Sarah Burchard? Back to the city of San Francisco that has maintained our community in this state so that we are organizing and making demands to change the same things that our grandparents organized to change? This gives us reason to be skeptical--we question the quality clean-up prior and during construction at the shipyard, as there is proof of tampering with soil samples from the Superfund Site. We worry that several storefronts are currently blighted, and given the recent trend, we fear they will soon be occupied by white settler businesses to cater to the residents of all the luxury housing developments northbound on 3rd street leading into Mission Bay’s new UCSF hospital, AT&T ballpark, and the future home of the Warriors. The T-train itself is a symbol of neglect as it only provides useful service to the AT&T Ball Park on game day even though it is situated in a public transit-dependent community.
Through this uncertainty and violence, we take care of each other in the Bayview, because no one else does. We support our local businesses when we can. As these changes transform our community right before our eyes, we’re clear that these changes are not intended to benefit those of us who have been here. And we will fight back. Sarah had one thing right -- the community is strong here. She asked for it loud and clear in her title, “Bring on the Bayview.” So here we are. Here it is. Don’t come to Bayview if you can’t come correct.
*A note to the editor: If the purpose of the article was to write about food in our community, why wouldn’t you ask someone who isn’t afraid to be here (instead of inviting an inexperienced, racist writer whose only qualification is that she eats food)? Additionally, if you wanted to bring business to eateries in our community, why wouldn’t you encourage a writer to visit places where we eat--legacy businesses that are owned by people of color with delicious food that hire locally? If you’d like to encourage people to support our community, educate them about Candlestick Park, which had been formerly public land under the jurisdiction of SF Parks & Recreation before city government privatized it by giving it to the dirty developer Lennar (now known as FivePoint Holdings). Lennar has intentions to profit at the expense of our community members, with plans to redevelop the toxic superfund site into luxury water-front property.
Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would cuss someone out at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
As I ascended the final steps to the top level, I felt someone touch my hair (which says a lot about the aggressiveness of the touch because my hair is VERY thick and I often don’t feel light touches—in fact, one time my very mischievous younger cousin, Khalil, clamped a chip clip to the back of my afro and I rode all the way home with it on BART and didn’t feel it until I lay my head down for bed on my pillow that night -___-).
It was someone who had been walking beside me in the opposite direction on the small staircase. They were descending as I was ascending into my moment of glory on top of the Eiffel Tower. They’d reached out and touched me—a fucking stranger, as I was passing them. To pet my hair.
Before thinking, I reached up and swatted a hand away from my hair. Full stop on the staircase. There were people behind me also ascending. I’d been doing the work of being in my body on this trip and didn’t concern myself with what the people behind me might think. Thankfully I wasn’t worried about their perceptions; otherwise this lasso-hand stranger danger ass white tourist might think it okay to go around violating the personal space of other people all around the world (presumably a trait bequeathed—no shade, it’s history).
So I swatted her hand away and in the Queen’s (Raenette Sanders, my grandmother) English, I said “Don’t you touch my mothafucking hair. This is not a petting zoo. I’m not an animal. You’re a fucking STRAN-GER.” She was shocked. The look on her face was one of touching something hot on the stove when you were confident the stove was not on. The look on her face was one of complete startle-ment. The face of sincerely believing that you had the right to access a lifeless, humanless, rightless thing. It was like going to grab the handle of a door and finding it snatch her hand first. Or better yet, running her fingers along the stone of a gargoyle at the top of Notre Dame to find it’s stonedead head moving in close to her, ready for a snack. She didn’t know that I was alive. She didn’t know that I was precious and that I appreciate my personal space and bite back. She found out on that day.
If anyone was bothered by the interaction they did not direct their comments to me in English or otherwise. I ascended the last steps to the top of the tower when I was done telling her about herself. I walked around slowly, soaking in the sun and the seine on one side, the wind and shade and view of the gardens on the other side. When I was looking out across the river, I felt my entire family there with me. We were all enamored. This was the longest trip I’d taken alone.
I took my long armed selfies and got got at the champagne bar. If I came on this flight all the way around the world and climbed all these stairs to the top of this structure, I was for-surely going to have myself a (too expensive) bubbly adult beverage. I was celebrating. I wanted to call everyone in my phone and tell them that I was calling them from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I wanted all of us to experience it. This place had only existed in my imagination of movies and photos and television shows from my childhood, with slow accordion sounds in the background.
I took my phone off of ‘airplane mode’ and facetimed my friend, Rheema. Girl, I’m on top of the mothafucking Eiffel Tower. I did a panoramic view from where I was. We didn’t talk for long because #straightouttadata.
Before I left, I found a little cove within the deck where people had tagged their names and the dates or years they’d visited. I generally don’t feel no ways about tagging but let’s just say the name of an ancestor is there and it got there with my Sharpie.
Descending from the Eiffel Tower, I felt the buzz of fulfillment. I’d been exhausted and jetlagged before going up—I’d taken a power nap in the grass below the tower with my bag hooked on me in two different places, and when I woke up I was ready to make the journey to the top of the tower. Now, coming down, I was floating with elation. I met two girls from Indonesia on my way down whose elated faces looked like mine. We were over-courteous to each other, ready to strike a conversation on anything. We couldn’t believe we’d made it to the Eiffel Tower. We agreed, having just met each other minutes before to get dinner together. For the next few hours we took mid-air jumping pictures of each other with the tower in the background, ate Chinese food at a restaurant where BEYONCE HERSELF had eaten (unclear whether or not the pictures of her were well photoshopped). Talked about our families and the communities we grew up in. Said pay me back later at least twice. Talked about how real pick-pocketing was—our admiration and fear for the stealth of the skill (one of them had nearly been pickpocketed during their visit. I figured putting my money in an empty carton of cigarettes in my bag would keep anyone from pickpocketing me ‘cause everybody smoked and nobody was going to steal cigarettes. It worked out ‘cause I was right or ‘cause I made it a point to look unfuckwitable on the train while reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X). After dinner we walked the street and waited for the hour to come when the lights would sparkle on the tower. We went into a market and got chocolate snacks and a tiny bottle of cheap wine that I opened with a key (this is top 5 in ‘skills that I am proud of’). We went back and sat on top of the stairs facing the Eiffel Tower, one of my huge hoop earrings fell out and I couldn’t even be mad—it was a reminder that I was me, in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower, waiting to see it sparkle for me. I cried like the movies when it did. And when it finished, I went and got my earring back.
I remembered how much I love walking around cities at night on that trip. I broke down all of my fears around this. Nearly every place I travel alone gets a dollar of my money for a box cutter so that I can do my practice of walking around alone at night. Paris was no different. Walking with peace is possible when I walk without fear.
On that trip I rode a public bike in the street. I learned to swear in French. I sent my food or coffee back if it was cold or not right (or left the establishment altogether). I recognized racism in several languages I couldn’t understand and chortled thinking of why this didn’t make the list of all the generic universalisms. I bought conditioner and hair grease even though I couldn’t read the ingredients. I cooked for myself. I wore my headwrap and was furious and anxious and not bothered in the end—although I don’t wear hijab, I couldn’t predict the level of extremism(s) that existed for women of color in head coverings and prepared myself for the worst. I ate all kinds of the best bread I’d ever eaten and stayed two doors down from a bakery. I pondered everyday with my tiny cup of coffee and a sizeable croissant why and how the demonization of carbs came to be. One day, on the way to a café for lunch and some writing, I was stopped by a young guy who said in some English, ‘I like your face. Where are you going?’ I said I was going to a café. He said that he had coffee at his house that he could make me and would I like to go there? My head tilted itself to the side in an ‘are you for real?’ way. Creep is creep, even when it sound like hospitality—men are creeps, it’s universal (no shade, it’s history). Before I could say anything, he persisted. I gave a strong Black American ‘nah’ and kept it moving. I learned a lot about how I had a practice of extending politeness to others as I was actively being made uncomfortable—I undid years worth of study in that practice.
Recently, I revisited the journal I kept during that trip, here’s what I wrote on my last day in Paris: “Do you want to grow? Yes. Adjust yourself accordingly, boo. Getting free really is so simple and so damn difficult. Stop holding on to dead shit. If you want to be free for real. Take some of those rocks out of your pockets and let them go. Let it go. Get your teeth from grinding it, holding it tightly in your jowls. Let that dry bone go. In order to have freedom, I can’t hold on to things that keep me dying. Things that aren’t growing, are dead things. And dammit, I’m alive. Let this be a mantra: Free up yourself and let go. Love big and let go. Hurt for a little bit and let go. Get fucking wild and let go.” -9/8/15
I wrote this piece in the reflection of the ugliest relationship I've ever witnessed--that between gentrification and police violence. I wrote this for those who are being disappeared from their neighborhoods and communities to places far away, to prisons and jails, to graves. I wrote this in reflection of Jessica Nelson Williams and Mario Woods and Alex Nieto and Kenneth Harding Jr. and all those named and unnamed who have been murdered by the San Francisco Police Department.
I read this piece for the first time at STAY, a QTPOC (Queer Trans People of Color) Oakland Resilience Festival last year. I read it again last night in San Francisco at the Red Poppy Art House as a part of a series put on by Art Responders called Anti-Viral.
I can’t make you stay.
But I can tell you why I’m still here.
One day not that long ago I found myself wearing jeans and a sweater in the South Light Court in San Francisco City Hall doing Zumba on my lunch break. I had been walking around for several days considering whether or not I had a head.
I had been wondering how my feet had carried me to places without my knowing.
As the clock said “twelve” a co-worker asked if I was going to the dance class being offered that day. I wasn’t. I was going to wonder about my head. And my feet. Until l I had to get back on the clock to worry about things other people were not paying me enough to worry about. She insisted. My feet carried me over. I don’t know how, but all of a sudden I was in the back of the class:
Elbows and knees and mid-body roll when I felt my sweater sticking to me and my jeans being irritated about all this bending.And then, out of my perspiration, I learned that I had a head because my great grandmother appeared in it.
She was laughing.
She was enjoying me dancing and seeing how silly I let myself be and she was laughing.And she said, please don’t stop.
So I didn’t.
Sometimes I think I stay close so that my favorite ancestors can reach me.
I was born in San Francisco. I was born a sad baby. A bad luck sad baby. My parents were married the day before my mother gave birth to me.
My mother had on a white pants suit. Her belly was far out over her feet. My father was dressed in all orange. He had just been sentenced to his first strike. She was 9 months pregnant with me. I was almost a witness. I was in the room. The same judge who sentenced my father came down from her high seat and used the same power vested in her to banish us and bring us together in limbo matrimony.
I always start there. I always start with the court-house. Somehow it feels like a beginning and an end.
But really I started way before that. Before I was born in UCSF a practicing hospital for people trying to learn to get it right. Before my mother was born at General. Before her father was strangled to death by the San Francisco Police Department before she could walk into his arms on her own.
If I track back to where I started I probably wouldn’t even recognize it. Probably wouldn’t recognize me. Have you ever felt like you were created from a feeling? Sometimes I think I was born from the feeling of going fast. The feeling of hanging out of a window on a warm night with rust street light color on you. Sometimes I feel like soon I will be too old to feel this and I get sad because I just want to go fast. Am I too young to want to be young forever?
I can’t make you stay.
But. In this land of knives dull and sharp. Let talking story be a mirror shard. To reflect the times we are living in:
We live in a place where there are prisons for children. They reserve the long ends of guns for our children. Some of our children only know life as children for a very short time. There are several assortments of boxes. All made for our children.
They come in many too small sizes.
In the middle of the night. Pink men break down our doors and drag us from our grandmother’s worn warm quilts. They take us in front of our children. They take us in front of our lovers. They take us away to meet their numbers. The numbers say “we built a bed for you when you failed that test back in the second grade. And now it’s time for you to lay in it.”
They make us talk to each other in money. They make us miss the dirty green paper like it means something. They make it mean something to us.
They make us pay our papers and our plastics just to hear each other’s voices on the phone from that far away place.
I can only hear my voice echoing on my end but it says we’re connected.*Talking through a tunnel named after a funny man. I remember visiting my father on early San Quentin weekends. Wearing other people’s clothes. They say we’re connected.* And it’s costing me by the minute but I can’t hear you. And I’m really glad you called. I’m really glad I caught the phone in time. Because I’ve been having this acid bubble come up in my throat. I’m afraid I can’t remember your laugh. And what’s worse is I’m too sad that you’ll be too sad when I tell you. And what’s worse than worse is that I have nothing funny to tell you so I can’t hear whether or not I’ve gotten your laugh right or forgotten it for real.
I can’t make you stay.
But I can hold up a mirror while you’re here. I can swoon you. Let my light reflect on surfaces they said would never shine. Let it show how mighty and gentle. How powerful and soft. And brilliant we are. How our background of well greased machines looms over us but the sun lets us cast a shadow just as big.
I can’t make you stay.
But I can tell you about a little bit about how I discovered loneliness.
Yelling full force while driving on the highway alone, I was envisioning myself breaking everything in my path. I realized the name for the rage I have—it’s called loneliness. I realized the anguish of loneliness. It was around me. And I wondered why I met loneliness this way. How did it get in my car? How did it make me so angry? Angry enough to want to break everything. Break myself. What did loneliness do to me?
And then I remembered my mother. Remembered seeing her bent over on herself like a knot. I remembered her anguish and I knew it was mine too. When she was lonely, the rage threatened to break her into at least two pieces. So she broke her China and good glasses instead. And I’m not quite sure if the worst thing was 1. Us small children (my sister and I) averting glass approaching her to ask her if she was okay while she wept or 2. if she had to sweep up the mess herself after she’d made it.
Each time I saw her breaking I wanted to cast a spell on each of her lovers. Who had left her. Stepping over shards of glass I wanted to shout about my mother to the men who broke her up. I wanted to twist my neck at them in her honor yelling: YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW THIS ABOUT ME. But you were wrong. You thought you knew I was smoke vanishing. You thought you knew I would wilt in the sun. You thought you knew all the places my body could break. I wish you could see my water meeting fog. What a big fuss everyone makes over me. Wish you’d witness me burst open inside out and sew my own self back together in an afternoon of high sun. Would love to see your face when all my bones break and crack, crunch all over the tops of each other and I still take the long way home. You thought you knew the flintfire of two stones smashing, creating danger in my glance. Thought you knew my heart when it beat against your lungs wanting to make contact with yours. My heart beat like this all the time. You don’t get to know my fire.
But casting spells was strictly prohibited. Prohibited like all the beautiful, scary things that are too good. Like revenge over men that are bigger than you. Like revenge over situations bigger than you. My mother caught me manifesting fire in the middle of many nights over these men, a child with the rage to huff and puff and burn a grown man’s house down. But she caught my small powerful hand and told me not to use my magic. She didn’t say “use your magic for good” “Don’t use your magic for bad” just don’t use it. So I had to pretend it didn’t exist.
I can’t make you stay but I can tell you this before you go.
Your sensitivity is your gift. Your revenge. Your spite. Your love despite. Is your magic. And I hope you spend each night you’re away working on that fire. I hope wherever you are, people see the light flashing from under the cracks in your doors and know not to fuck with you.
I can’t make you stay. But I can tell you why I’m still here.
I can remember when I first caught my own eye in a mirror. I had been practicing my spitting out of my bedroom window. Sitting over the sill with a little foot dangling over the edge because my mama wasn’t watching me. She was in her bed. Covers up under neck. Sick with another heartbreak. Aretha Franklin was playing a rose is still a rose is still a rose is still and the phone was off the hook.
She called me in to the room. Ordered me to bring her a glass of wine. Not a cup. I left the room and caught my face in the mirror. Caught my face in the mirror. Caught myself in the mirror. Caught my own small face.
That was when I first realized I was a human. That this was my body. And I laughed at myself and at the world. I felt so cunning and brilliant. It was the first inside joke I’ve ever had with myself and there aren’t really words for the punchline. But sometimes I can remember it if I look close enough.
At the end of the day, after giving my two week notice at work, I took the train from downtown San Francisco to my parked car in Oakland and drove directly to my local incense/stone/candle shop. I dressed a white candle with my intentions. I bought a small bundle of sage and some sticks of Nag Champa. I drove to Trader Joe’s and bought some olive bread, goat cheese, red wine and coffee ice cream. I hummed and sang under my breath and tried not to dance too flamboyantly while waiting in the handcart line. I went home and listened to music with powerful horns.
My phone had died while I was en-route after work and I’d missed a call from my boss. She told me later that she had called in an attempt to convince me to change my mind, to get me to stay at the job. She got my Erykah Badu voicemail song instead. I couldn’t be convinced, anyway.
There was dim light on me when I dutifully bopped in my living room giving my altar some new attention and lighting my sage. I had a generous clump of goat cheese on my olive bread and still couldn’t help trying to hum as I thought about how grateful I felt. How peaceful the buzz in my body was, having made this decision. It was with this powerful peace that I began nesting for the new future I wanted for myself.
Over the next two weeks of completing my job, I was working overtime in my home to make room. I pulled open every drawer. I combed carefully over shelves. Stood on top of things to get to the backs of cabinets. Digging, pulling, washing, turning over things I no longer needed or wanted. The more (belongings) I prepared myself to part with, the better my vision became of how big my new future would be. I found myself making sacrifices—I held up a long chiffon button down shirt that I’d had for years. It was sleeveless, bright blue with yellow flower-like shapes all over it. I’d worn it as a casual dress, a fancy shirt with a sweater, a dressdown shirt with my arms out. Even thinking about it now is making me want to wear it again. When I held the shirt in front of me I saw one of the buttons hanging off and another button place that had been replaced by a safety pin last year. Looking at the shirt, I remembered that I no longer liked the way the shirt fit, now tight around the hips and therefore bunching in other places. It had been time for this shirt to go a long time ago. Even in the condition it was in, it felt like a sacrifice to give up this thing. I was glad to put it in the ‘to-go’ bag sitting by my front door if it meant that I now had room for something in its place that fit me well/better.
Growth always requires giving something up. This is not easy. (Talk to any toddler you know about what it was like to give up their favorite item of clothing once they’d outgrown it. Talk to yourself about what’s still in your house even though it doesn’t fit you anymore). In addition to giving up things in my house that I had not touched, worn, or looked at in the past year I also gave up some old attitudes when I gave myself permission to make room for something new and better. Leaving my job without securing another job first (on purpose), the first thing I gave up was fear about my finances. I have to let go of this fear at least once a week. I let the fear go that is tangled in my stomach or stored in a muscle on my left side that leaves one hip clenched and higher than the other. I let it go so that new breath can live in the contracted places, so that new possibility of movement and circulation can take place with my permission and encouragement. I gave up my old thoughts of inadequacy. Choosing to focus my attention on how possible the new me is and how powerful and brave I must be to jump like this so that I can fly. I give up doing shit on autopilot (I choose to give this up several times each day). I give it up in order to make room for curiosity and possibility.
I’m the new baby I’ve been nesting for. I gave myself permission to start over (again). I have to remind myself of this commitment to starting over every. single. day. I’m preparing myself and everything around me for the long haul of anew that I am pulling in right now. It’s big and needs a lot of space, this new thing. I’m curious about it and I’m sure it is curious about me.
How I make room for my new life//how I celebrate my new life as it is on its way:
Write my intentions, Visioning: see my goals/dreams/intentions, Empty my refrigerator/fill it up with good food, Take out all of my trash, Clean my house (disinfect, polish, the whole shebang), Vacuum, Iron all of my white shirts with starch, Wash my dog, Play music with horns, Take a bath (preferably with a little coconut oil so I can scrub dirt from under my skin), Celebrate how the old has served me/throw a party to welcome the new!, Light incense, Wash my face/hands/hair/head, Charge up my crystals, Smudge my house, Organize/ clean off surfaces, Open my windows and doors when I clean, Let my neighbors hear me singing Beyonce without shame, Stretch the old out of my body, Look at my capable hands in appreciation, Put my feet in the ocean, Sing a self-song ("Don't you forget all your lessons,"), Call my mother, Caress my own face.