Posted in Audio, hope chest, Nonfiction, Parenting, podcasting

Hope Chest, Ep. 11 – Growing and Going: A Love Story


Even now, I’m not sure why I did it. I’d say it wasn’t like me but that would only be half-true. I’d forgotten what I was like—or perhaps I never quite knew—and by the time we got here, I was becoming something else altogether.

That is often a function of relocating, of looking for new cities in which to settle, new soil to turn and plant roots. When you leave who and where you’ve been, you are hoping for a home, a place to thrive and surprise yourself, a space to make wide, open, and safe enough to mitigate the bigger risks you intend to take. 

I owe you an explanation, for you were the only witness. You were here, not just to see what happened but to be exposed to it. And it was an unexpected exposure, one for which I am solely responsible.

Adult decisions should be durable enough to withstand the inquisition of a child. And more mothers should hold themselves accountable to their children, not only when those children are old enough to articulate the impact of our parenting, but also in the moment, where help and potential harm may be two sides of the same coin. 

Because a child does not wait to feel the weight of their mother’s choices, they should not have to wait to hear why those choices have been made. I know well that you are a child who clings to narratives, who turns them on her tongue and tosses them out like skittering stones on a river. So I have already told you some version of this, a version appropriate for 11-year-old ears. But there is always more to tell, always more it may help an older version of you to hear. 

I did not move with the intention of meeting a man. It is not as if I’d heard fables of fine Black princes growing in North Carolina, alongside their crops of sweet potatoes and collards (I have learned, since arrival, that there is some truth to this, though that is not a part of this story). 

We came here for the reasons I told you, to be at once alone and together, to stop sharing a spare bedroom with my mother in her mother’s apartment, to sleep in ways that weren’t head-to-foot in a twin bed flush with a wall. We’d been living that way nearly all of your life and for just as long, I’d been vowing to change it. 

We moved only when I was sure I could afford to, when the work I procured wasn’t part-time or contractual, when the pay would arrive on a reliable monthly schedule, when the salary was high enough to secure us a home. 

The convergence of those qualifications just happened to fall at the end of February of 20-20, when I found out I would be hired for a full-time job five hours south of Baltimore. 

We moved to Durham in March, as our lives were closing in and a hush fell over all inessential movement in the outside world. In March all we had were our beds and our WiFi, a box of books and toys, our hangerless, dresserless clothes. A masked trip to Target yielded dishes, sets of glasses and silverware, our wash clothes and towels. Slowly, over our first locked down months, we populated our rooms with creature comforts, with couches and pillows, a Fire TV. I finally unpacked the appliances Nana gifted us; they’d been sitting in our trunk: a toaster, a can opener, a hand mixer. 

We ordered our groceries and ate too much takeout. In the absence of in-person hours for school and work, bedtime became an abstraction. Screen time, which I’d never been keen to restrict, was without regulation or boundary. The limit did not exist. 

And as for the separate bedrooms I’d promised you, where I would finally be able to tuck you in, dim the lights and duck apart, you were loath to sleep in yours, much preferring the familiar cozy crowding you got, sleeping right next to me. In those early months, your twin bed went unused and only a sliver of my queen was imprinted with our sleepy weight. 

When we came here, I did not know how to tell you no, did not know how to get you to hear it, did not have time, between acclimating to a new workplace I’d never seen after hire and trying to keep you occupied in a time where you were one of few children enrolled in no school at all, having left third grade in Baltimore just as school in Durham shut down. 

I’d dreamt of the space our own place would afford of us, the sprawling stretch of several rooms rather than half of just one. But in this 1,145-square foot apartment, we were never apart, and the structure I hoped to provide you seemed as nearly as distant as it was back at Nana’s. 

I suppose this provides some explanation. When a long-held dream comes true, you do not always know how to just rest in it. You do not always trust that you belong to it. You believe you’ll wake up to find it disintegrated. No pinch in the world is powerful enough to dispel that worry, especially as daily life within that dream feels warped and unwelcome in practice. 

Living alone with you, being your only mother, after nine years spent living in a three-matriarch household, did not feel liberating as I’d hoped it would. 

Maybe I thought it needed more. Mediation. Distraction. A balance. 

That, I think, may be why I sought the man. 

I met him in May, via Tinder, a dating app I hope will have evolved by the time you’re old enough to use one. I was drawn to the ease of his smile. He was sitting in the sun, on a stoop outdoors, dressed in blue plaid and light jeans. And his smile just… looked like he’d earned it, that he’d fought through something to make it that bright, that he’d learned to laugh just because it felt good to, after years of doing so to keep from crying. 

I know that is hard to believe, that a single photo on a dating profile could convey so much about someone we’d never met. But many months later, as many a minor challenge arose, I drew on the promise of that picture, and more often than not, as tension subsided, he’d smile and that promise was kept. 

After several weeks of texting, both words and voice recordings, along with a few awkward video “dates,” one in particular spent watching a romcom in tandem while stealing glances at one another as the onscreen romance unfolded, we met him in person at the end of May. 

I drove us just a mile to a wine store parking lot. He pulled up in his Black Chrysler 300 and smiled his Tinder profile smile, before masking up and opening his door. He reached into the backseat for two bouquets, and you leaned forward in the passenger seat to get a better look at home. 

Though I tried to keep cool, I questioned the wisdom of the entire exchange. Should you be meeting a potential suitor at the same time I was? Was he trustworthy enough to be near us? 

He was the first person we’d met in person since moving to this city? Was he safe? Sanitized? Unexposed. It would be several months before even the hint of a vaccine. He was risk upon risk upon risk. 

But that had always been the point. After putting my thirties in a jar that protected us both from the precarities of freelance writing life: unstable housing, threat of eviction, mounting debts and loans, after living with relatives who kept you at home while I slipped off on occasion to pursue the one casual relationship I’d started in the nine years since you were born, a connection made only of offsite trysts and the occasional overheard mention of a strange man’s name, one you’d never come to know, I was 40 now. And you were turning 10. 

We’d subsisted long enough on cloistered sips of air. We were ready to catch real wind. We were ready to soar. 


If moving was our leap from a great height, meeting Quan felt like the moment a parachute opened. I didn’t know it at the time, not in that parking lot, but I was about to embark on my first real romantic relationship as a mother. It would move quickly, pressurized within the parameters of a pandemic. At any moment, it would ask far more of me than I would have, under normal circumstances, been prepared to give. It would ask much of you, too, in the way of maturation. 

Gone would be the days of bursting into my room unannounced or forgoing nights spent in your own bed in order to burrow in mine. No more were the limitless loops of videos, of time ceasing all shape and dimension. 

We would become, without much warning, ensconced in the disruptive rhymes and rhythms onset by the arrival of a man. 


It is one thing to live in a house full of women, deferring to the tacit rules of age, allowing the elders to set or raise or change your stakes. It is another to strike out on your own and find the experience both freeing and wanting, unable to stabilize a life left, for so long, as unstable. 

It is a different life altogether to meet a stranger, grow enough trust to let him move in and test, every day, the sturdiness of that trust, even as its benefits grow more and more evident by the day. 

Quan helped me homeschool you. He cooked balanced dinners. He walked the aisles of megastores during the grocery buying and budgeting that have always made me miserable. He traveled to your hypothetical worlds with you so often that, at Christmas, he thought it prudent to purchase you a book of Would You Rathers, so we’d all have more concise questions to answer than the ones you came up with on your own. We went for walks together. And raised your reading level by restricting your iPad time. We logged onto family Zoom calls, where he subjected himself to the surveying questions of cousins, aunts and uncles, and my father. 

We intended a kind of future. At least, we did for a time. 

For just as long, just over a year, you saw your mother being loved. You saw me extending love, too, though as the beneficiary of so much of mine, that part was less of a foreign concept. At 10, you had yet to see someone’s heart in their eyes when they looked at me. You’d never heard my voice lift a whole three octaves, under an intoxicant called flirting. You’d never seen me sidle up to someone as he cooked in the kitchen and wrap my arms around his waist, warming my cheek on his back. Even the little pecks hello and goodbye, the random close-lipped kisses we deigned to deliver in front of you… those were all new to you, too. 

It didn’t last. Not all good relationships do. Sometimes they’re meals meant to nourish and serve, first plump and decadent then picked clean till there is only the gristle and bone. 

But there is much to be made of the bones. We are only beginning to figure out what’s left of their purpose. And even if the result of their reading is that only the two of us have made a more stable home, the year we spent as three will have been worth it. 


When we are not careful after taking a risk, regret writhes its tentacles around even our fondest memories. The best laid plans of our better angels are buried under the burden of second guesses. 

I am trying, as ever, to be careful, to teach you that a well-reasoned risk is worth the disappointment of its outcome. We are still wandering together, still working our way through the whys. You have seen my heart swell and then be broken. Some days, that’s left me embarrassed but never ashamed. For even though our home has been altered in his absence, it is no less ours to reshape and reclaim. What I set out to give you remains intact and for whatever our journey has taught you, I hope this is what you retain: when love abounds, it betters and when it recedes, we survive.

Posted in Uncategorized

Wishes for Daughters in Darkness, at Dawn.

May affection be a simple enterprise for you. May you never know entanglements with men who disengage quickly while you thrash about like a swan in the rings of a six-pack. I wish you friendships with discreet women; relatives whose opinions of you are not forged by the opinions of others; gentlemen callers who do not condescend. I wish you emotional slip knots, the limber stealth of escape artists, the willingness to remain tethered at the right times.

(Indulge me; I am your mother. My wishes are potent.)

May your heart never become such that it is only contented by playing the Nightingale. Do not be too tender, neither too eager to heal. May you never learn to use your own ribs as splints; do not break any bit of yourself to reset the men who are broken. May you laugh at the idea of women like your mother, who seek only the feral and the numb, then romanticize bringing them home. Do not wait by the shore for anyone’s return but your own — better, may you never know this pining. May you never set yourself adrift to become more present for others. Know the sound of yourself, listen for the whisper of your God, hear the hiss behind the lips of the man who cannot love you.

If anyone is able to indict you, may it be for the bluntness of your honesty, not the dullness of your deprecation. May your chest never be a bat-filled belfry. Love is crazy-making; may its loss leave you mercifully sane.

And when you grow, child, when you grow: may you never apologize for it. When you feel yourself unfurling as a tree, may you never withhold your figs. No one is owed your origin story. Give it only to those whom you trust and only when there is something to be gained.

Do not long for those who’ve made themselves isles. There is water between you now, but someday the plates may shift. You must be able to breathe regardless; may you never deprive yourself air. Never dive into seas for those already wielding life preservers; when the time comes, they will not share. May you never believe yourself a rescuer where you are regarded as little more than a spectacle.

And when you go, child, when you go: carry all these many wishes with you. May they never feel as weighty as a burden. May they ever be airy as embers. May they aid you in bearing quite little resemblance to me.

Posted in Uncategorized

Respectability Is a Burden.


I was not meant to be corseted. What is truly feral should never be made to feel trapped. But beloved, I have spent interminable years binding myself so tightly the skin ’round my ribs was raw and the heart their cage protected thrashed wildly against its constraints. This, I mused, was womanhood: a submission to cords and strictures, a wriggling rawness, an escape artist’s act.

Once an adult, I went into the world with shuffling steps, with halted breath and a scandalous, reveling circuit of hopes scrawled in the tiniest of fonts, in the most clandestine of diaries.

A woman who shuffles takes twice as long to find her footing. She is the late-blooming crocus. She is not taught to run with her breasts unbound through meadows where it makes more sense to be shoeless than shod. When she runs, if she runs, the air itself becomes admonition: Your heels will turn black and no one will think you were raised.

But oh, how painstakingly I was raised, told to lead and not to follow, yet also taught that the house where I lived belonged to a man bound by matrimony not blood, a man who did not know what it meant to love us. Tread lightly, always. It is his house, not ours. But you will always be welcome, my mother would whisper, wherever I live.

We were no Grandma Moses women, not particularly brave, neither freedom-seeking. We could’ve left him, before he left us. But it is the one who is left, and rarely the one who leaves, who gets to be viewed as “respectable.”

At the time — and we were 12 years younger then — we needed edicts, needed pushing, someone’s approval — certainly each other’s, if no one else’s. Even now, we seem locked in a prism, demanding each other’s light. My mother has forgotten the feel of her corset; she has lived in it so long, born that pain that yields traditional beauty for too many years to be rid of it. But she is braver now, stronger, even as she asks: Am I doing this well? Can I do this well? Is wellness still attainable?

Always, always, beneath any question, I hear: do you believe in me more than I believe in myself? (Is this not what daughters are for?)

My own questions cool on my lips. A mother’s belief in her child should be beyond investigation. Bound women owe their mothers silence. Or perhaps we are simply too short of breath to trust our lungs and tongues as couriers.

(But does she believe in me, more than I believe in myself?)

(Should she?)

(Is this not what mothers are for?)


When you were born, your shoulders twisted and you launched yourself free well before I was prepared for a final push. I had been naked for hours by then, under an inadequate and starchy gown. Everything I’d been taught to keep under lock and key for all these years — in order to appear “respectable” — was being pilfered and prodded, tugged taut with needles and stitches. A different kind of corseting, and yet: an untold freedom.

Pregnancy is the great liberator. One looks at a woman’s filling womb and understands just how many things about herself she will not and cannot reveal. Somewhere, perhaps in a room lit with laughter or darkened with apologies, someone has likely known her in ways that you won’t, though he also may never quite know her at all.

If he is not her husband, she is secretly considered — by some — to be salacious. And if she is unapologetic, she’s informed that she deserves to be brought low. Respectable folks then levy what they believe is their greatest of barbs: you have lost your virtue and, if we’re honest, our respect.

But a child shifts a bound woman’s gravity. No longer able to shuffle, she must widen her stance. If that child is to survive her, she cannot remain in bonds. Before long, it becomes quite clear how little the earth will move if she bares her body or soul.

Do you understand what I’m telling you, child? Respectability is a burden, bigger than any one woman should bear. And poor impulse control is not only acting on every desire; it is also believing you must never succumb to any at all. It is subscribing to the belief that the only men worth having are the ones who care too much about how many men you’ve had. It is being deceived about God Himself and how He looks at women who govern themselves as though they do not know when to say when. It is this idea that education and career make you respectable, but only if both yield you enough income never to need the kind of help that requires deep humility.

Poor impulse control is your mother, writing: always confiding to so many strangers and still, still, struggling to look her intimates in the eye. (And even myself in the mirror, child, even my own reflection…) I am not sure I have ever made an unapologetic decision in my life.

And some days, I am stiff, both muscle and mind still uncertain of just how far they are able to stretch without a respectable exoskeleton ever tightening around them.


This is what mothers are for: rawness and rules to be read, to be broken. We are no more meant to be fully understood than our daughters. But here is our upperhand: you — your life, its freedoms, its unmarked skin, its unimprinted ribs — are the parts of ourselves we’ve gnawed loose.

You, walking outside of us, are the evidence: we can both be free of these traps.

Posted in Faith, Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction, Parenting

How Deep the Mother’s Love for You?

I think that, now, you may love me more. It is possible that the older you get, the more you understand our relationship, and how it’s predicated on the faith you seem, at times, to know far better than I do.

I have watched you at church, where I didn’t regularly take you until you were well over 18 months old. When you raise and wave your hands and your face is awash in beatific reverence, I know that you’re mimicking nothing, that whatever gestures of worship you extend are yours, untaught and unrehearsed. To your guileless toddler mind, I will never leave you or forsake you is less a stray line of dialogue in a holy narrative and more an earnest incantation, a promise, a governing tenet, a truth.

With every day that you open your eyes and find me here, inches away in a bed we share, your confidence grows. I can be your dim earthly reflection of God. Ours can be a fixed and unquestioned bond. Your mother can be immovable.

This confidence has been slow, gradual, earned, but the affection that now attends it is unabashed. I have waited for you to comprehend the fathoms of what I feel for you. Every embrace is an echosounder; every kiss is understood as another nautical mile. But I suspect it will be years yet before you discover the truth of this mystery.

How deep the mother’s love for you? Like the Father’s (and your father’s), it is floorless.

In just over a month, you will be two. But if anyone were to ask me, you’d be 200, a Highlander, a water sprite, a warrior, iridescent and timeless. You have been with me a kind of forever. This is the thing so few really know about children. You presage yourselves, whirling around in the twisters of DNA and dust that compose us. And we know, long before we know, that you might someday be and also that you may never exist as more than the cells that encase the nuclei of promise we could never live long enough to see fulfilled. In this way, when we are aware of ourselves and invested in you, we will always know more of you than you know of yourselves.

Every day, mothering you takes fresh meaning, issues new instruction. Consider, for instance, the meals and how we divide the portions. We eat in genial silence, exchange smiles around our chews. But when our allotments dwindle, you do not entirely trust that I will leave you with more than you need. You stuff all that remains into your tiny mouth, so that you become, for a moment, a puffin. Your eyes grow wide and unsure. You wonder if I will be angry, if I will mistake your self-interest for greed. You needn’t fear; it’s my job to know that you are not selfish, but hungry. It’s my mission to feed that which quickly hollows, a longing that is not meant for food.

At this age, you are insatiable, acquiring time, numbers, language, love and hoarding them for a future you’ve no way to know. I am beginning to understand that more than anything, my role is to reassure you:

I am not here to take but to give. 

Posted in Faith, Nonfiction, Parenting

Reconsidering Mary, Mother of Jesus.

My mind can finally fathom Mary. Not her bypassed virginity nor the angel that quelled her fear, not her courage, her confidence in God’s peerless, perfect will nor the charm it must’ve taken to cajole her husband into journeys and mystery and a cessation of questioning.

It is in but one way that I can access her—finally, after all these years of believing her to be beyond my grasp—and this way seems the most significant of all.

I know her by her surrogacy, by the way it feels to give birth to a child to whom she believes she can never stake full claim. I recognize the oddness of feeling a strangulating sense of impermanence, even as I bathe her, feed her, infuse her language with manners, even as she becomes a warm somersault in her sleep, her tiny hard-heeled feet using my body as her gymnast’s mat. Even then, in her sleep, when she feels closest, if only by proximity, I never settle into an impression that she is entirely mine.

Instead, there’s a strangeness, an isolation, in loving a small, breathing parcel who feels so unfamiliar, so separate, so intended for a purpose that sits apart my own, so certainly on loan, and so expected to grow impatient with my heart as her holding pattern, as a velvet-lined cage with a door that will surely stick.

I cannot imagine raising Jesus. This is where Mary seems preternatural. This is our point of departure, for I know that even with a husband who loved me enough to completely overlook that his firstborn is a changeling whose presence is owing to a God he’s never actually seen, and even with the other, more normal children I could pin to the ho-hum, incontestable work of biology, I would not have known how to behave like a mother to him. I wouldn’t have known how to chastise him, wouldn’t have believed I needed to, him understanding God and thus understanding His expectations far more fluently than I. I wouldn’t have known how to love him with reckless abandon.

This is difficult enough with my daughter, who came to me in the most undramatic of ways. No tangible angel preceded her. No voice from heaven boomed. She is not the Son (or Daughter, as it were) of Man and so I can’t possibly feel the pressure Mary must’ve felt to get raising her “right.”

But I feel pressure just the same, not to smother her or to grow too dependent on her company or to make myself her barnacle. She is happy and well-loved; of this I make certain. And she cannot know how motherhood feels, not like an all-encompassing state, not like an eclipse of the light that shone before it, but at times, like only a sliver, like a condition that constantly moves so that it is difficult to pin down, to apprehend, to treat.

And so, I suspect that I do what Mary must’ve done. As often as I can, I abandon the morrow and ignore, for now, the woman I see in the eyes of the girl. I listen to her, noting the cadence and questions that lift at the ends of her prattle. I listen, so that I might know her and, in knowing her, earn her lifelong confidence. When she is ready to flit off into a life I cannot imagine, I believe I will understand why. This is far more important than feeling like she is a wind that I can possess.

I invest, for even my shortcomings have something to teach her. I warn her of the world that awaits beyond my arms and our door. And more than a daughter, I interpret her as an ally–for this is a relation that can remain unwavering. This is a kinship we are never meant to outgrow.

Posted in Nonfiction

Twelve Makes One, Part 1.


Story became a one-year-old on August 1. I wanted to commemorate the occasion by writing a series of micro-essays, one for each month she’s been with me. Like the memoir I’m writing about the months she spent within me, this work will become part of a literary keepsake box I’ll spend her whole childhood constructing. 

Here are the first four short essays. Two additional increments are forthcoming.


We are meant for more. I say this as the space around us closes, as the flat, raw-fibered carpet roughens your knees and I have no unoccupied corner, let alone a room of my own in which to write for you. I confess this, declare it with certainty, even as I enter a fourth unemployed month and await either a two-course fall assignment from the college that employed me last semester or a phone call from the netherworld of the human resources offices harboring my online applications. I say it as I type this into a Blackberry with a grossly past due balance. I say it, as I spend money we no longer have on a birthday party that celebrates our first of many years together. I say it as I scale back on amenities you deeply enjoy, like the basic cable that airs your favorite children’s shows.

This is temporary. This smallish life will swell. These minor woes will recede.

I know this, because I have been here before. Years ago, I wrote the glyphs on the walls your tiny fingers now trail. Let us trace them together and remember that where we have been is rarely where we remain.


Mince your plans. Make them no longer than fingertips. Saute them in an extract distilled from the last of your money. Brown until unrecognizable as the fruits of your former labor. Fold in layoffs. Sprinkle a pinch of social services. Account for the unexpected loss of said services.

Possessions will evaporate. Pride will caramelize.

For best results, taste frequently to avoid bitterness. Braise each thought until there are no reddish traces of negativity at their centers. Mix two parts tri-color frustration—professional, financial, romantic—with one part frothy imagination.

Brine the ingredients with tears. Sweeten them with laughter. There will always be a hint of tartness. There is no avoiding that. But there is also a balancing sweetness.

Slice away shame and inhibition. Leave only the cores of your values. Do not toss in hard, small breasts of lust; let lust plump and ripen into love before use.

If you have no love on hand, you must discard your prep work and postpone the completion of this recipe.

With aged love, pour the mixture into a pressure-cooker. Seal it off from the well-meaning hands of other chefs. Simmer stress. Slow-cook everything until only a humble porridge of gratitude remains.


You do not strike me as a girl who will be easily manipulated. At age one, you laugh at the words “no” or “stop” and run against the wind that carries your name, rather than toward me, as I speak it. You buck convention. I am almost afraid of what that could mean if I fail at my job as a mother; black women who do not respect authority have not fared well, historically, and yet authority has not meted out kindness to the black woman. So you must always be attentive to the steps of the delicate dance I have begun choreographing for you: do as you’re told, but only by those who fiercely love you—and even then, do not make your obedience so absolute that it becomes a foregone conclusion. It is okay to question why, but know when to take, “Because I said so,” as an answer. Weigh all advice against the motive, even mine. If I ever tell you not to fly toward an apex you know you’re meant to reach, gently defy me. Never step toward danger because you’ll feel ostracized if you don’t. Always listen, if only for lies and loopholes. Scotchguard your psyche against schoolgirls who mean you harm. Their antagonism is rooted in pain, and their pain is not your responsibility.

The life of a young girl is a recital, to be structured and practiced and governed, so that when she is a woman alone in the world she knows how to dance her way through it.


Your father calls me in traffic, on his way to the sets of movies and television shows, and we talk about you. We talk about how to afford you, as we’re certain you’ll have exquisite, expensive taste. We talk about, but never compete over, how much we love you. I describe you to him, calling on the best of my creative abilities, but I still cannot quite do you justice. You are what I named you: a breathing narrative, an ever-transforming Story. You evolve hourly; there is no way I can paint a picture vivid enough to capture the excitement in your smile when you wake up in the morning, clapping and cheering, or the way you approach finger foods with a surgeon’s precision. I see in you a fraction of what you’ll become and I am only afforded that fraction because of our daily togetherness. I do not envy your father his absence; I know he laments it. He tells me so. The rest of what he must feel is his own story to tell. I will not appropriate it, the way some of my writing has done in the past.will no longer presume to know the depth of his capacity for love. Remember this; it is the most significant of the many lessons I learned from your father: a man’s measure of love for you is not necessarily his measure of love. A man’s measure of love for his child is the true gauge to which you can set the needle of his moral compass.

Posted in Make Him a Balloon, Music Appreciation, Nonfiction, Parenting

Sojourner Songs: A Mommy-Daughter Mixtape.

In just over two months, you will be one year old. You are what I imagine you will be: preternaturally strong, exploratory (insomuch that you have made every square inch of our apartment your personal safari), and formidable (insomuch that I’m almost intimidated by the way you lean forward, stare me down, and growl at me when I scold you).

To celebrate your upcoming voyage into newly broken ground, I am packing you a satchel full of things you’ll need to know and of things I hope you’ll come to love.

I have written it before and I’ll repeat myself often: growing up a blackgirl in our country is a singular experience. It is, at times, an iridescent wonder; at other times, it’s an odyssey more treacherous than treasured.

But thank our God that you were born to this lot; it is a lovely one. And in the event that a tempest tosses you off-course and you forget how magnificent our syndicate of sisters truly is, pull back the flap of leather that preserves these mementos of self-worth and remember, my love.

Remember who you are.

1. Lena Horne Sings the ABCs

Lena Horne is our royalty, our Glinda. Benevolent and achingly beautiful even dressed down in denim. She is the embodiment of elegance, and I like to believe we are all born with a measure of what was given to her in abundance. Tap in.

2. India.Arie Sings the ABCs

You already love this. Perhaps when you’re a bit older, you will tell me what value you’ve found in it. I’ve found my own. We’ll compare notes then.

3. Patti LaBelle Sings the ABCs

I’m not a big Patti LaBelle fan, but even I can’t deny how far she dug her foot into this little ditty. For your part, when you heard this for the first time, you leaned in as you are wont to do when things are important to you, and you watched the Muppets shake gospel tambourines to what is, arguably, one of the most important songs you’ll ever learn. You always absorb the alphabet. Though you can’t yet recite it, you understand its potency, that from it, all the words of our everyday world are formed. And what better way to hear it than with flat-footed soul?

4. Paul Simon Sings “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” (with a little blackgirl accompanist)

Paul Simon is an incredible musician, but note how he’s nearly upstaged by the little girl beside him. This is the bold and expressive spirit I wish for you, the shoulder-shaking, full-lunged timbred, quick hand-clapping confidence of a girl who, at the young age of eight, has already found her space in the world.

5. Savion Glover Raps and Taps

Okay, Mommy admits this doesn’t entirely belong here, on a playlist of beautiful colored women. But Savion is always a good idea. You’ll see.

6. “Freedom is Coming” – Sarafina soundtrack

Leleti Khumalo is one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever watched flit across a screen. As Sarafina, she is equal parts graceful rhythm and open defiance. Her performance is a cautionary tale about how close a young woman can come to losing her humanity in her fight for independence from injustice. Take note of this lesson and heed the position of the needle that guides your moral compass; it will serve you well.

7. “Mundeke” – Afrigo Band

We’ve danced to this. It is a Ugandan love song and you must be able to sense how much I love it, because you’re always quiet for its entire run. It’s almost as if you understand the language. Perhaps, in your way, you do.

8. “Kwazibani” – Nomfusi and the Lucky Charms

This song was written in honor of the singer’s mother, who passed away when she was 12, one of millions of victims of the AIDS pandemic slowly ebbing away so many of the world’s black women. May a reversal of this devastation reach our world within your lifetime.

9. “A Lovely Night” – Brandy, Cinderella

I can’t watch any part of Brandy’s Cinderella with you without crying. It reminds me of how miraculous it is to have a daughter, to whom I can impart all the wonders of my girlhood, with whom I can finally share all the pixie dust I sprinkled alone as an only child.

Listen closely.

Repeat all.

Posted in Nonfiction


i've been taking self-portraits since my 27th birthday, when i got my first digital camera.

they're confidence builders.

sometimes, i forget who all i am. photographs provide evidence that the you you suspect is buried within actually exists.


Story seems very conscious of the placement of cameras.


unlike me, she isn't a ham in front of them.


she doesn't rely on the camera to show her who she is.


she is already well aware.



Posted in Fiction

Seeing You This Way.

This afternoon, I stumbled across one of the many snatches of writing I’ve started, then abandoned. This one’s actually pretty recent. I started it the first week of the new year. I don’t know; I feel like it has potential. But I’m interested in your feedback, so please leave some.

* * *

Mama was never right after Minnie Ripperton died. For months, she walked around the house, grabbin’ at her bosoms like a slaver. “C’mere, girl,” she’d call to me or one-a my sisters, pressin’ our palms to the orb of her breast,”That feel like a lump to you?”

After she got over gropin’ herself, she took to callin’ us in from outside early and holdin’ us to her chest, goin’, “Mm, mm, mmm,” all the time. She wore baby’s breath in her hair for a while, which was nice, but then she took and burned up all her batik dresses. I was ‘specially sad to see those go. Always figured I’d inherit at least one of ’em; then I could go floatin’ around like a goddess from Cape Town.

Sometime, in the kitchen, while the water ran, Mama would purse her lips and, with suds up to her elbows, she’d mumble down in her throat, where she thought no one could hear:”I’m gon’ have to get me a white man….” Even if it meant dyin’ too young to see her babies grown, Mama wanted to be Minnie.

She was still mournin’ after she turned 50 and Maya Rudolph had been on Saturday Night Live for years. She’d watch her impersonate Whitney or Oprah and still say, “That poor, poor child….”

Mama was prettier’n Minnie, with her heart-shaped booty and her French roast skin and them itty-bitty cornrows curvin’ up ’round her head like tiny ropes turnin’ double-dutch. Whenever she went out with a man, which wasn’t as often as the neighbors had each other thinkin’, we used to sneak into her bedroom and rub her tubes of Desert Plum and Tinted Ruby lipstick ‘cross our faces so hard they crumbled, then steal splats of her cold cream and splashes of all her eau de toilettes. We were greasy and glad to be there, in that over-warm shotgun house with the ebony statues of naked men and women huggin’. Just us three girls and our ever-mournin’ Mama.

We didn’t think nothin’ of it, all those years she spent wonderin’ if modern advances coulda saved Minnie Ripperton. Mama was just like that; she held on too long. She didn’t see no harm in it, and I suppose there wasn’t none. But over the years, she lost many a friend and lover to clingin’. It was just too hard for her to accept people change.

“I’m here, Mama.”

Her skin was clammy as ever. Cold in the fingers like she was already half-gone, and she was. She most certainly was.

Posted in Fiction


You named her: Rashida, after her father, in hopes that this would inspire him to linger. He said he liked the “Shhh!” in the middle: We’ll need that. You laughed, heartened. Maybe a namesake was all it took to tether him.

This laughter came before you knew that he was a spore adrift. Before, you’d felt accomplished when you’d cupped your hands and caught him; then one day, you kissed him and saw him float away.

She’s five now. Sometimes when you peek into the darkness of her bedroom and your narrowed eyes find her, a warm cashew-colored lump, snuffling softly under a fluffy pink comforter, you frown.

Today, Rashida needs you, needs you like you needed Rashid. Her hair is a complicated clod, matted mostly to the left side of her head. Somewhere, beneath the tendrils you’ll likely have to use scissors to untangle, there’s a ring of elastic you once thought would be useful.

“Mommy!” she squeals like the pig that she is. “You watchin’?!” Her fat feet thunder across the thin carpet. If you were soberer, you’d worry about the neighbors downstairs, the Asians who seem so prim and reserved and whose feet likely never make noises as loud as your daughter’s.

But now, curled on your couch, nursing your third rum-laced coke, you really don’t care. Alyssa Milano is brandishing a pistol on the Lifetime network. You cackle at her Jersey accent and begin to forget that Rashida has made your living room a miniature of the post-Katrina Astrodome.

She’s dragged her plastic rocking horse to a spot by the front door and ground potato chips under its runners. With a bat from her whiffle-ball set, she’s whacked several Happy Meal toys ten feet, in all directions. Their plastic appendages have scattered and landed half-hidden, like mines. A sticky red splat seeps into the cracks between your kitchen’s linoleum tiles, the emission of a drink box she spent fifteen minutes squeezing after lunch and, wedged under the rickety leg of your coffee table, is the trapped, flaccid arm of a naked Black Barbie–the only thing her father brought up to the hospital the day after she was born.

“You watchin’?!” Rashida presses again, pushing her weight onto her toes and reaching her crayon-wielding hand high above her bobbling head. She’s poised to draw electric blue curlicues on your rented, eggshell wall. You take a long sip and turn away. The small squeak of wax against paint lets you know she’s begun her work. Your eyes roll back and you feel submerged in a pool of liquor, which makes your grin. The grin lets slip a stream of drool.

When you come to, Alyssa Milano is gone and your apartment has been swallowed up in blackness. You pull a few strands of your hair from your mouth; it’s longer and oilier than you expect. Manic rushes of rain smash wildly against your building. Something furry and warm is nuzzling against your bare ankles and feet. You panic: you don’t have pets. Has something feral found its way under your door or through the windows that should’ve been closed before the windy torrents and thunder?

You want to move; you are very still.

A pressure damp and round presses, wet and warm against your ankle. You feel fur, hear a sigh, a smack (of lips, of snout?). Your heart seizes in the dark and, with all the might you can muster, you kick.

For seconds, there is silence as the animal sails backward, then a thud as it hits the ground. Relief slumps your shoulders, and your chest loosens. Then you hear her wail.

You’re almost sad; it was only Rashida, kissing you, quiet for once, in the face of real bedlam. Ragged, wounded sobs gurgle out of her now; you can hear her scrambling. Soon she’ll be on her feet. You reach out, where you think you’ll find her, somewhere by your ankles. You’ll pull her to you until she settles, at least. “Shhh,” you’ll coo till she’s fine.

A sharp burst of pain shoots into your palm. You can almost hear your skin breaking.

“You little bitch!”

You hop up from the couch too quickly and can’t decide whether to hold the side of your head to stop its wobbling or rub at the toothmarks punched into your hand.

But before you’re focused enough to hear them, Rashida’s footsteps are far left, up the narrow hall, toward the bedrooms. Her wails remind you of a raccoon you hit one night last summer. Your windows were down and you could hear its alternating screeches and whimpers for nearly a mile.

A chute of lightning touches down right outside your front windows. For a second, the house is almost as bright as it was before the outage, and you see her, rounding into the bathroom. She’s cornered. You get to the doorframe and reach into it just as she’s swinging it forward, then recoil before it slams shut.

Your hand slides along the immobile metal knob.

“Open this door right now, Rashida. I’m not playing with you!”

The threat sounds slobbery, toothless. You realize you’re slurring and blush.

What would Rashid have done if he were here? He’d probably have bitten her back.

“You come out of there right now!” you shriek, stamping your foot for emphasis.

Rashida’s sobs are petering. First, you figure it’s the rain getting louder. It’s the thunder rising, the wind clawing and gathering howls.

Then the high whinnying of the pipes breaks through and the bile pushing up your chest starts to curdle into a lump, nearly blocking your breath.

“Rashida?” you whisper. “Sweetie, open the door for Mommy.”

Your dulcet tone suddenly shifts your voice into strange, unfamiliar octaves. The vomitous splashes of water crashing into your tub grow heavier, scarier. You scream and kick, throw your shoulder into the door, but the old, weighty wood is stalwart, like a bouncer at the rope of a club.

You keep trying, until your head begins to throb and your mind clears. Then, you know: he wouldn’t have been here. He’d have seen all your late-night frowns. He’d have hated you, taken her, left.

The door swings, finally, forward and you fall before the tub, where your daughter floats.