i met/or was blued by toni morrison
at chinua achebe’s 70th birthday celebration.
i was invited by my friend, a student at bard, to attend.
was warm with folks of color.
we gathered in a small hall.
writer after writer
offering after offering
to the large life in the chair.
i remembered the title of his book, from the roots album.
remembered the contents of his book, from my high school’s required summer reading.
but i did not remember his feeling, the feeling of africa, until i saw his face.
down in the front row
my young mind was hungry for
had no idea how to pronounce with young tongue.
the offerings continued.
‘the middle passage’
in a way
i thought was going to stop my heart.
in that sonia way.
that cadence and voice way.
that steals you while setting you free.
i felt my body weeping, not my eyes.
when it was toni’s turn.
(she was once a professor at bard. as was chinua achebe, a professor at bard. this was a reunion of sorts.)
she asked no photographs be taken.
no photographs were taken.
i noticed her tone became chill when an african american male student asked her a question about the responsibility
of the younger folk to her work/ what we could do to continue her legacy.
it was odd.
a few minutes prior
there had been honey all through her mouth.
oh, i realized, reluctantly, they were white. the first blue.
the elder achebe spoke, gratitude made his voice cinnamon and heart matter.
we gave him our souls to kiss. we kissed his.
the celebration grew into night, then ended.
i stayed around to meet and speak. waited my turn, as any
young black woman
who’d met pecola breedlove at fifteen
she was there, toni, speaking to a friend.
her back turned to me.
i steadied my neck.
stood behind her, gingerly.
pointed to me.
it had come.
i was going to meet pecola’s mama.
the woman who brought me back from the dead.
finally, her white brown locs
she looked over her shoulder.
the eyes of pecola’s mother
was giving me the look of annoyance.
her eyes, ‘what do you want’
her shoulders, ‘i don’t care’.
i was slung. the second blue.
i managed to get a, ‘i just wanted to say thank you, just thank you for your work,’ out.
she returned to her friend. the third blue.
i was confused. wounded by the blue ice. i don’t even know if she had said anything in return before turning back around. that blue ice ate me.
what was i to think. feel. do.
just a few minutes prior i saw her taking pictures with a group of white female bard students.
didn’t she write the bluest eye for me.
why was pecola’s mother so cold.
i was underwater.
trying to build my feet into boats.
when i lifted my head
i saw sonia.
i slowly swam over
to share with her
how her reading of ‘the middle passage’
had brought the ancestors to me for the first time. that i had never felt anything like that from poetry. that it felt like i was there.
in this tender bridging with sonia,
i was still a car wreck.
water in cracking glass.
that mothers had broken my heart before.
it is a wild knife
you can survive it.
as i was gathering my things from my seat
my group of friends and i,
continued our blended conversation.
was a brillant sense of red and moon.
she was soft spoken.
her energy was wolf balm.
was grandmother song.
was happy prayer.
we were all enjoying each others eyes so much,
but it soon became time for the
so we began to share our
deep gratitude and goodbyes with her.
she stopped and said
‘you, young people aren’t attending the dinner.’
‘no, it is a paid, invite only, affair.’
‘i invite you. you will come sit at my table’
found someone. took
out her checkbook
paid for all of us.
‘you are important. you are our future. you must be a part of this, a part of this history, a part of the conversations that will happen in that room.’
we were stunned.
we followed her into the dining room
we ate and spoke with our favorite auntie.
the one with the magic.
in that moment.
i became this writer.
this writer. who
felt the call.
felt it like new name.
my work must be work.
my work must be work.
this night was no mistake.
i did not go blue
because the stars were running instead of walking.
the ancestors showing me.
showing me how
break or unbreak
showing me there is either silence or words.