So, today what I want you to do is open up and let Blackness into your heart, the energy of Black, if it can enter you. --Akilah Oliver
I think of Akilah Oliver’s words often. I first encountered Oliver’s work at Naropa University—where I studied her flesh memory: the she said dialogues and listened to her archive as I practiced and wrote/performed into the space of healing ancestral trauma—how to exercise the ghosts that haunt our bodies.
As a community member of collective.aporia, and as a poet and artist, I want to document my experience (share this account for the archive) at a Black Lives Matter march in Portland, Oregon, as a way to discuss the notion of healing collective grief. This continues to be at the forefront of my own artistic (activist) practice as we are confronted yet again with the reminder that the policing of this country disregards Black lives with the recent shooting of Jacob Blake.
I’m currently living in Portland, Oregon, and for many of us, 2020 has been a tumultuous year of transformation. Daily I’m thankful to witness the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. This resistance gives me hope. Many of us have been moved in spite of Covid-19 to join the countless BLM marches and protests throughout the nation at such a crucial and pivotal time. The following are notes on funeral marches as a way to protest in Portland, Oregon (a former white utopia).
We walked slowly, weaving through empty SE Portland streets, chanting “march with us”— towards Cleveland High School where just last year the school faced a “series of incidents” that included a noose and a blackface cake.
We were among hundreds of people in the streets, trying to practice social distancing, wearing masks, searching for the grief in each other’s eyes, moving together at the same pace, pausing sometimes to make sure we were safe—altogether, holding signs overhead, shouting “Black Lives Matter.”
Moving together, I could feel our collective grief. I could feel myself hold back tears and could also feel the tears in everyone’s shouts, screams, crying out: “No Justice, No Peace.” Over the hours we moved together, my stomach was tense, my feet ached, and as we began to sing, a feeling of déjà vu overwhelmed me to tears. It was as if my ancestors had also taken the streets like I was—or they at least dreamed about voicing their dissent and disappointment in humanity.
Heartbroken we sang together, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round”—a Black spiritual that entered my body and emerged from my throat. After singing this spiritual and committing the words to memory, a quick search brought me to the words of Bernice Johnson Reagon:
Black singing is running sound through your body. You cannot sing a spiritual and not change your condition.
These words appeared in P. Kimberleigh Jordan’s “‘Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round’: Spirituals as Embodied Acts of Resistance”—reminding us that “for nearly four centuries, people of the African descent in the Diaspora expressed their presence, pain, desires, and hopes through the repertoire of spirituals.” The collective presence and performance at the BLM march was/is participating in this legacy of healing the pain of the past and present.
I sit with these words and think of Tracie Morris’s “Africa(n)” and I come full circle to Akilah Oliver’s invitation to “let Blackness into your heart.” Blackness is the griot giving us permission to weep for the dead.
This notion of Blackness, resistance, and community brings me to consider how the BLM march functioned in a similar way as a ritual. I think about Malidoma Somé’s writing around ritual: “In a tribal community, healing of the village happens in ritual.”
While Portland, OR is far from a tribal community, as a woman and creative of color I walked away from that BLM march protesting the murder of Black lives, racism in public schools, while also paying homage by chanting the names of countless lives lost—in a way, collectively performing final funeral rites for these Black lives. I continue to walk around Portland humming those songs, reminding myself that these experiences allow for our collective to grieve and move this grief through the collective body so that real healing can begin. You could say I’m self- soothing as I hum these songs to myself and the Portland city streets as I feel how the community continues to burn in grief, in fear. For this reason, the protest songs—or spirituals—these Black Lives Matter (funeral) marches that contain elements of ritual, hold and heal the community each time we take to the streets and listen to the words and songs of BIPOC community members.
This account of a crier at a BLM march, aims to write into the space of grief and how we hold and move grief through our bodies—in this case, by attending a BLM march, joining my community in song. While we are bombarded by images and stories of trauma, while we move slowly through this long hot summer into an uncertain fall, may we also remember to move and speak with the intention to heal these deep ancestral wounds. This is an account of a brief moment where I caught a glimpse of hope for our local community meeting together to heal deep collective grief. These moments hold space for all the tragically beautiful, moving music and art, all the transformative collectives and organizations that have and will continue to emerge from this uprising, grief, and revolution.
april joseph is a poet and clarinetist from East L.A., CA. She received her BA in Literatures of the World from UC San Diego, and her MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University. She has taught high school, undergraduate and graduate students in Eugene and Portland, OR, Las Vegas, NV, and Boulder, CO. april creates mourning songs to heal ancestral trauma. Collaborative, student-centered, process-oriented learning inspires her to teach artistic expression to transform lives, to be free. Her most recent publications have been included in the literary journals: Morning/Mourning (2018) and TAYO Issue 6 (2016). You can learn more about april’s work at bodyfulspace.com.
[Image by Shawnie Hamer]
[Sorry this is a day late, dear ones. Time seems to be escaping me a little more each day. I hope you still enjoy]
Once, in now what seems like a different life, I became connected to a man whose moon in Aquarius. I say “connected” because, at the time, I thought I might be in love. But even then, I knew it was a love that felt different than romance. I also say connected because I still love and treasure this person, who I now consider a soul-friend.
In an attempt to understand my love for him, I asked a past-life reader if he and I had ever shared lives together. She explained that he had been in my life many times, and often showed up a guide before long voyages. In one life, she explained, I had been a researcher going to uncharted lands on his ship. He had prepared me for this journey, practically and emotionally, helping me to survive and thrive in the strange waters and lands I was traversing.
When I think of our Full Moon in Aquarius in this Leo season, I think of my friend and the voyages he has helped me complete. Moon in Aquarius asks us to prepare, purge, and purify. To rise up and out of the drama and ill-built thought/emotional patterns we have constructed for and of ourselves. To analyze the why, instead of being distracted by the what. And while this process can seem detached or even cold sometimes, it is a challenge to find our higher selves so that we may complete the next leg of our journeys in new and creative ways.
And now that we are in Leo season, it is safe to say that we need this energy. I myself am a Leo, and like any good Leo, I love my birthday season. This period of summer has always been one of ignition—every big decision I’ve made, every big move, every new project or adventure, starts here. But I will be the first to admit that we Leos (and the energy we bring to this month) can be…dramatic. Luckily, even though the approaches are vastly different, Leo energy and Aquarian energy share one common goal: the protection and betterment of the community.
This full moon in Aquarius reminds us that there is no time for the more egocentric qualities of Leo season. Though this summer is arguably one of the heaviest our society has seen in some time, it can still be easy to get distracted by the intoxicating qualities only the end of summer carries. But we are also in the middle of a revolution, and that requires us to level up, as a few of my friends call it. We must shed old cycles, harmful ancestral patterns, and our silly distractions in order to be fully present in ourselves and the work.
This full moon also occurs square Uranus. Uranus is the planet of independence, liberation, and enlightenment. When the moon is square Uranus, we are being asked to take a critical eye to the way we define our “self,” not to stifle or silence, but to shed the aspects of ourselves that are false or weighty. As Café Astrology writes, by doing so, the result is the ability to “harness your magnetism, your originality, and your creative talents for all time.”
Which brings me to my last thought about this moon. In the collective.aporia August workshop, Harnessing Delight, facilitator Marie Conlan said this week that delight is less about “these really grand, wonderful moments” and more “speaks to, or connects with, or validates our experience of our lives, our experience of the here and now. [Delight] witnesses us and it is a way to ground ourselves into the present moment…It shows us if we are listening.”
Even in the midst of uprising and a pandemic, Leo season is a joyful time. And though this full moon in Aquarius might be asking us to do some tough work on ourselves, I encourage us to reframe this work as presence, rather than sacrifice. Because each day we get to fully be with ourselves and our communities is a gift. Each day we notice the small things, like the sweetness of a kiss or the taste of coffee, is beautiful. Each day we grow and evolve towards our highest self is a happy, victorious day. And each day we refine our magnetism and creative gifts to be used for the progress of our community is an act of rebellion—against those who want to crush our spirits; against the rhetoric telling us the only way forward is through the old ways of the colonizers and oppressors; against the shadow voices in our heads telling us we are not worthy, or are not able, to create real change.
Relish in this big Leo energy. Be grounded in the moments of joy and play you curate for yourself and your community. Channel the Aquarian moon to examine the parts of yourself you can leave here, in the sun-soaked finale of summer. Collect and treasure what you keep, and thank what you leave behind. And when you rise, refreshed and invigorated, ask yourself how your renewed creativity and inspiration can help recreate the world.
Tarot Reading: Ace of Wands
The Ace of Wands is one of pure, passionate potential. For those unfamiliar, Leo is the cardinal fire sign, and wands represents the element of fire in the tarot deck. Fire is synonymous with creativity, sexuality, passion, and divine spark. This card tells us that the fires within us, within our bellies, have been ignited and are burning full force. We are bursting with new ideas, are hungry for new paths, and ache for new ways of doing things.
I especially love this image from Marie White’s Mary El Tarot Deck. It shows the lions face moving back and forth between a state of solace and roaring, which I interpret as an exploration of the forms that passion (which can also look like fierce protection or rage) can take, and how they can be useful at different times. Also, in thinking of our Aquarian moon, I really love that this figure has Hawk wings. Aquarius, the cardinal air sign, and Leo’s cardinal fire, are meeting here, in this moment, within us.
So what are we going to do about it?
White writes of this card:
Spiritually this card is the seed of your strength. You may not know the full magnitude of what divine strength you have until the very end when you have moved it and channeled it through a more oppressive and all surrounding earth and claimed it as your own; discovering and building it into something amazing in your life, the full potential of your will, or your self.
Aces are the beginning. They are pure and unharnessed. This card is asking us to utilize the more refined Aquarian energy to help direct this magnificent fire. If we do, like the swift hawk, we will know exactly where to fly next.
Bibliomancy | Excerpt from page 68 of Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (also a Leo)
Every morning the sky and the sun seemed to be a little higher and the river stretched before us with a greater haze of promise. Every day the book-stall keepers seemed to have taken off another garment, so that the shape of their bodies appeared to be undergoing a most striking and continual metamorphosis. One began to wonder what the final shape would be.
It was observable, through open windows on the quais and sidestreets, that hoteliers had called in painters to paint the rooms; the women in the dairies had taken off their blue sweaters and rolled up the sleeves of their dresses, so that one saw their powerful arms; the bread seemed warmer and fresher in the bakeries. The small school children had taken off their capes and their knees were no longer scarlet with the cold. There seemed to be more chatter—in that curiously measured and vehement language, which sometimes reminds me of stiffening egg white and sometimes of stringed instruments but always of the underside and aftermath of passion.
Bibliomancy |"Big with Dawn" by Katie Condon
Yesterday: me, a stone, the river,
a bottle of Jack, the clouds
with unusual speed crept by.
A man was in the middle of me.
I was humbled.
Not by him. The earth,
with its unusual speed,
went from dawn to dusk to dawn.
Just like that. The light
every shade of gold. Gold. I’m
greedy for it. Light is my currency.
I am big with dawn. So hot & so
pregnant with the fire I stole.
By pregnant I mean everything
you see is of me. Daylight
is my daughter. Dusk, my lover’s
post-pleasure face. And the night?
Well. Look up.
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