Poetry by Farah Lawal Harris

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My Five Stages of Grief in 2015 © Farah Lawal Harris


in psychology,

the Kübler-Ross model describes the five stages of grief

as a series of emotional stages one experiences

when faced with their own impending death

or the death of someone else.

the five stages are:

denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

here are mine:

 

1.

my mom and dad are immigrants

who came to the U.S. on their own volition,

got student visas to go to college

because it was a smart life decision.

i was born in this country, but Nigeria is in my veins.

now, more than ever, i cling to my ancestors’ names:

my great great grandfather, Herbert Macaulay’s face

is on Nigerian currency;

his grandfather, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther’s life

has been covered in documentaries.

and then there’s me–

akata-loving girl with an African-American studies degree,

stranger to my parents’ homeland

and i am hated in this country.

 

2.

i am hated in this country.

not too long ago, some whites

used to lynch niggas at night,

leave mutilated statues of souls that used to be

full vessels of hope

emptied

for the hot sun and maggots to eat

until their families cut them down from trees,

trying to revive them

with saltwater tears.

but tears have never been rain.

today, some whites

kill niggas in daylight,

leave mutilated statues of souls that used to be

full vessels of hope

emptied

until the community calls out overzealous police,

trying to revive them

with justice.

but justice has never been rain,

so we get devoured

every 28 hours.

 

3.

every 28 hours,

i or someone i love could die,

but fear overtakes you

when i pass you at night?

i wish you knew how afraid i was of you–

we are marionettes whose strings are pulled

by unpredictable Geppetos

who with one false accusation,

one New Year’s Eve at Fruitvale Station,

one wallet mistaken for a gun,

one day at the playground trying to have fun,

one bachelor party before my wedding day,

one hoodie to protect my head from the rain,

one jaywalk in the middle of the street,

one individual cigarette sold cuz Newports ain’t cheap,

one nap on the couch as the SWAT Team busts in,

one hip-hop song played loud as i hang with my friends,

one knock on the wrong door for help,

one afternoon at Walmart holding merchandise they sell,

could turn my family’s life

into a living hell.

Gepetto, when you wore a white hood instead of blue,

i recognized you.

Gepetto, i wouldn’t be so scared

if you saw me too.

Gepetto, why don’t i matter to you?

 

4.

why don’t i matter to you?

black lives matter

when we rob, rap and rape.

the only time you see me is when

i make you money or take food off your plate.

i can’t breathe–

i’m in an illegal chokehold.

i can’t breathe–

blackness is incongruous with hope.

i can’t breathe

cuz he was handcuffed when you shot him in the back.

i can’t breathe

cuz our justice system is out of whack.

i can’t breathe

because so many no longer do,

i can’t breathe

because no Declaration holds me in its truths.

wake me when i matter to you.

 

5.

but then again,

who cares if I matter to you?

i’m a proud black woman and i won’t go away,

Nigeria and America simultaneously

run through my veins,

i am black–

i matter.

they were black–

they mattered,

we are matter,

protons, electrons and neutrons

by the name of Trayvon,

Amadou, Renisha, Sean;

Oscar, Jordan, Michael, John;

Tamir, Ezell, Kajeime, Yvette;

Eric, Aiyana, the list ain’t done yet…

their names live on because

we are immortal,

we are black;

we are priceless,

we are black;

we are resilient,

we are black;

we are beautiful,

we are black.

we are black.

we are black.

we are black.

and we matter!

Negatives


i never thought i’d throw your picture
in the trash.
i kept negatives of each developed set
of disposable camera film
just in case
some disaster like
excessive heat in my un-airconditioned childhood bedroom
or a flood from bursting of rusted pipes
crept into the shoe box under my bed
and ruined the images of
us.

i still don’t know for sure
if photo negatives can withstand the elements,
never understood their permanence.
i look at tiny distorted thumbnails
and i can’t even recognize the moments,
just like i can’t put my finger on
what made you stop calling me your friend.

you discarded me in the worst way,
left me living smudged in your life’s wastebasket
when i thought i still sat pretty in speed dial–
what denial!
i wish i could say i don’t miss you.
i wish i could say i haven’t shed tears over this loss.
i wish our friendship lasted
as long as the negatives that now live under my adult bed,
the ones i keep in case i one day regret
throwing your picture
and my hope for closeness
in the trash.

It’s Funny


it’s funny how
people mirror us more than we ever know;
it’s funny how
if we don’t ever cry, our spirits die and we don’t grow.
it’s funny how
our words to some act as seeds;
it’s funny how
what we want differs from what we need.
it’s funny how
friends you think will always be there sometimes disappear;
it’s funny how
when you’re at your lowest, your family is near.
it’s funny how
you can go from being so happy to being sad;
it’s funny how
people leaving your life isn’t always bad.

Traveling


today, a well-traveled friend told me
that she thinks the journey
is just as important as the destination.
i hate the journey most times.
i hate arriving at airports,
checking bags,
slow security,
stinky restrooms,
germy strangers,
stuffy planes,
recycled air,
worn seats,
heart racing
before i fly and say goodbye
to home.

but once i am in the air,
those feelings subside a little
as i look out and enjoy the sky,
happily wait for my half cup of ginger ale
and slightly stale cookies.
i enjoy looking at the calm that comes over most faces
before lulling off into a light sleep
as thoughts of the exciting places they’ll go,
the people they will see,
the business they will attend to,
the family member or friend they will bury,
the food they will eat,
being able to be on their feet
and live another day on this earth
take over and travel along with them.

it’s funny that the landing part
is somehow easier.
i do brace myself upon the descent,
spend about three seconds not breathing
as the plane touches ground,
but i can’t help a smile coming across my lips
when i realize that i am where i intended to be
and that it would be impossible to get there
without a journey,
without deciding to pick up and leave,
without facing discomfort for a few moments,
without trusting
that it will be all worth it in the end.

From Disdained to Divine


for the past few years,
i have looked at my body with disdain–
blamed it for inexplicable pain,
glances from creepy men who refused to break stares
even after i shot the dirtiest of daggers with my eyes to say,
“get away from me.”
i have tugged my love handles unlovingly,
stood in the mirror jiggling parts
i’m too shy to mention through poetry,
cursed my skin for getting dry and scaled in the winter,
wished i was thinner,
wished i could trade this black woman body
for that of a girl named Molly
(with a big-enough booty to keep her warm on cold days),
wished bra shopping didn’t frustrate,
but now i recognize all the self-hate and laugh.

today, i look at this body
and see how much God loves me–
so much so that he hand-crafted me,
sculpted me without straight lines.
i am His design,
i am that divine living representation of Him.
i admire my skin
and every limb and curve it touches.
now when curious eyes land on me,
i smile to myself,
put myself in their shoes,
knowing that if i saw such a creation,
i’d stop and look too.

Love Letter to My Dreams


to get to you,
i will jump–
no–dive–
into an ice cold pool,
not knowing how to swim well, stay in my lane
or hold my breath for a long time;
not knowing the difference
between a breast stroke and butterfly,
only having a loose plan to freestyle
and hope i make it
with my pure unadulterated desire,
naive hope
that somehow,
i’ll stay afloat.
they may need to push me in,
but damnit,
when that time comes
i’ll happily oblige,
doggy paddle for miles and miles,
tread water just for the chance
of grabbing a thread of the fiber of you,
that same fiber that makes me
me.

You Fill Me


you fill me,
not in that literal way
of pitcher pouring into tall glass
to form condensation on the outside,
but in that spiritual way
of your heart pouring into mine
to form radiance of skin,
showing of teeth,
growing of hair,
confidence that shouts to strangers
that i am loved enough at home
to need anything from them.

i never knew a man who made my hair grow,
whose soul glowed and became B complex
to make my life much less so;
i never knew a man who laughed at my jokes so hard
that tears filled his eyes,
a man who knew all of me,
from the low dark corners i don’t want anyone to see
up to the vision of who i’d like to be
and loves each part equally,
but you,
you fill me.

i was complete before,
but with you i overflow,
always grow,
always know
that i am full.