The In Between Papers

I write out of a need to understand the movings inside of me. I write because I want to be able to speak to the raging war and understand it’s factions. I write because I want to own my reality for myself. I write because I want to know myself.

My life has been sprawled throughout dungeons and meadows. I can only understand it through the movement of thought and pen. My life has been shaped by capitalism, racism, patriarchy, ego, and conscious movement. Writing has always served as a way to anchor my experience and seek for the tools of liberation. One of the key components to our rescue from this societies wickedness is an unflinching understanding of the dialectics of our inner workings. My queer and feminist foremothers understood this is the 60’s when they declared the personal to be political. My African ancestors understood this when they created art that reflected and served a purpose in their material lives. My writing is my therapy. It is my spear. I hope to liberate myself and in that process – reach others, build with others and create a new proposition. a richer revolution.

Last week I completed my second chapbook (collection of poetry): “The In-Between Papers”. This small collection of thoughts and prose holds big meaning for me. It is a collection of emotions- understood and cried over. Embraced and celebrated- over the past year. The narrative of the past few months is an intense one as you might imagine from the poetry and writing on this blog. I have found value in owning my truth and sharing it when useful. It helps to lesson the burden or secrets on your heart and helps to place you in the center of your own reality- as an active participant. Folks often draft fantasies out of their lives. They don’t see their own movement within their circumstances and in many instances continue to repeat them. I hope that by sharing these thoughts I can contribute in some way to the growth of someone outside of myself and that I can continue to create, within myself, someone more ready for revolution.

If you would like a copy of this chapbook, hit me in an email! I’d love to send you a copy!!

You can reach me at: cliftonrashad@gmail.com

*special thanks to the Corner Collective for inspiring and pushing me to get this done!

An Involuntary Recognition of Life

Some calm . . .

setting like sun done come upon me

as I find pieces of myself that were kept away for birthdays, family gatherings, and first dates.

They lie tucked under the bath house bed.

My palm, pressed to skin, feels like solace and I feel still

Laying transfixed, still. . .

My eyes find some man being fucked, violently

His head bent low.

and I saw you laying parallel.

Playing majorette with a couple of torn heart-strings.

Twirling about with some other man’s ruined symphony.

You blew smoke- thick like illusion – and sang of worlds where we weren’t prey for White men eager to waste salt on our endings.

Some part of me sat with you back when food was homemade and basons were bath tubs and we laughed at uncle Floyd’s missing teeth

and dirt roads that no one can drive on

and night’s out and even crack pipes

and we laughed.

And thought on how ghetto life seemed easy compared to this numb terror.

Still . . .

Barely understood thoughts: gold bands and dark skin

Sarah Bartman

melon patches

mule bone

Hurston and Hughes.

gin joints

spades tables

grandma’s hands

reconstruction

a month of Sundays

Loretta

pale skin and Betty Gene

South Carolina

insertion and pain

bleeding at the start

black balls

white dolls

and minstrel shows

money shots, towels and still . . .

we all lay under some White man’s gaze.

The Artist and The Revolution II: Nina Simone

To create art in the service of life. My earliest memories of Nina are of my mother wrapping her head with kente cloth in the bathroom. In those days I didn’t like the sound of Nina, her voice put me off, it didn’t sound like EnVogue. Her lack of smooth vocals put her in the back of my mind.

In college, I found her again. She was tucked away in a series of clips from the civil rights movement. “I would have been a murderer” she boldly stated, later saying that she would go to the south and exchange bullet for bullet with the fascist white power structure. “Who is this womyn?” I thought. And then I heard this:

Never had I heard such passion. Never have I heard such a distinct sadness. Never had I heard someone reach though speakers and command that I listen. Command that I feel their profound emotion. In the service of the people, Nina travelled and played protest songs during the Civil Rights movement, including the anthem “Young Gifted & Black”. She represents a large portion of the Black population that lived under the threat of death in this country as they fought for freedom. At the same time, Nina is free. She lived as she sang. She lived a life of heartache, pride, disease, misery, joy, laughter, and contradiction and she lived it boldly. I see her as a jubilant womyn, someone who achieved a certain kind of clarity of spirit and freedom within the poisonous world we live in.

When I hear Nina sing I imagine Black children in fields running into and endless light, I see Harlem in the 1920’s, I feel my Grandfather’s breath graze my ear as he tells me stories of growing up in South Carolina in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I feel connected to this vast history of Black life and struggle, to this search for liberation and I am saddened to think on the history of my people and others out at sea searching desperately for port. She means that much to me.

Why Write?

I am filled with a tremendous rage. Like a twister ready to set down on earth. It has always been inside of me. I was born into rage.

My parents wished to do well by me and honestly tried as much as a drug addict and prisoner could.

My brother, the great hope of our clan, saw his ship stay out at sea. On board were his dreams, forever in the horizon. Mocking him, as the sails blew brilliantly in the wind.

My grandfather, the man whose hands could break earth, fell to cancer in my formative years. Finally parting this wretched place.

As I sat on the many porches of my youth I saw a world that would rather me dead.

I saw my brothers and sisters tamed and beaten into submission by armed men occupying our communities under the banners of “protect and serve.”

I saw the decay of the buildings we were sent to get socialized in and I was filled with a paralyzing fear as I, the one who was elevated and chosen as the model student, was confronted with the reality that I too was a nigger in the eyes of the State.

I saw the disgust in the eyes of my peers as I ascended and the satisfaction as I fell. And rightly so. I am Black and it was lies, bourgeois culture and desperation that made me think otherwise.

I looked out upon a world that hated us and made us hate one another.

I would soon find there was no quarter for people like me.

My first boyfriend, try as he might, could not love me in the same way he could a womyn. No same gender loving Black men are allowed to express what he felt. We are kept in line with the Bible, the fist, and the gun.

We were told loud and clear one night when the television flashed headlines of a gay man found stabbed, shot and sodomized with broken glass.

There is no place for us . . .

That is why I began making art. I learned very early on that if I did not write, if I did not create, that I would be crushed by the paralyzing circumstances of my youth.

I create to get out and to help others get out. Together we get out of these boxes.

One day I wish all the darkness in me to part and for enough sun to fuel three summers.

I wish no more winter in my bones.