region escape purple cycle

i’m not good with goodbyes, endings. i don’t respond well to death, have a hard time accepting it. when things end, i spend a little time compressing, packing everything into a tightly sealed box. i turn inwards, until I can lock that pain into that sealed box. it means that i never get to mourn. but then the box starts cracking in places, leaking sadness. one of the (many) things i need to work on, the acceptance of death, the physical finality of it. this is all related to needing a safe space for comfort, and learning how to create it or find it. so i can really mourn and honour the memories. so i can talk about those i lost.

a teacher passed away recently, and her death had a bigger impact on me than i had expected:

boulder, 2008. a writing workshop. i’ve written about it before, elsewhere. the workshop was called “Taking a Solo: Prose & Interdependent Consciousness”, and was taught by akilah oliver, replacing thulani davis. akilah was there as i transitioned as a writer, artist and most importantly, as a black woman.

thich nhat hanh and inter-/intra-/inner relationships. being black. expression and emotion. universality and the odyssey.

within the classroom and beyond. in her home. my first american fourth of july experience was at akilah’s invitation, lying on grass, fireworks through trees. words she spoke weighted. in her multitudes of poet teacher artist black woman.

two: (first) the act of witnessing. what does witnessing mean? what is the role of the witness? how do you (avoid/escape) witness? what should witnessing result in? who is a witness and who is an actor and who is a victim and who records and recalls the scene? testifies? etc. (second): tashkeel, or the process of forming. a project, discussed, dissected, noted, challenged. shelved, only recently returned to.

in my transient nomadic world, elders are rare. for my generation, their wisdom is hard to come by. sometimes they’re not there, sometimes they’re not available, sometimes they’re in conflict. (i’m not the only one). every opportunity to learn is seized on, every word cherished. i don’t have access to many black women older than myself who take the time to talk and listen and understand.

i wouldn’t profess a closeness or growing intimacy between akilah and myself. there is a tragedy to her passing at such a young age, a sadness at the loss of her gifts as a person and an artist. akilah is a significant person to me, because she was generous, patient and giving, and i’ve always been grateful to her for that. i grieve her passing.

ashé.

Akilah Oliver (d.2011)

***

writing this has been difficult, largely because i’m alone. part of the reason i find death easier to block than deal with is that i can’t talk about the joy of having known and the pain of no longer knowing, which is always keenly intense, too intense for most casual spaces. writing this, i’m nowhere i can be held. but i’m learning to create my own safety, to carry it with me, and to reach out when i need to.