Three Days Awake

By Shonda Buchanan

 

Day 1: I woke and opened my eyes to a quiet morning, trying to feel if it was the end of an era. I didn’t want to turn on my phone, or check any feeds. If I didn’t know, then I couldn’t react. I took my husband to work, turned on the radio, and it was real. Returning home, I couldn’t dress for work, or figure out where my makeup was. I felt embarrassed by my comfort and by my overconfidence in my place and identity in America, but even more really embarrassed by my belief in a country which allegedly has for the most part “overcome” an enslavement past, who didn’t give women the right to vote until August 18, 1920, who has worked hard but not hard enough to solve our poverty issues. I had a belief in things unseen.

Day 2: Last night, I went to bed with questions about belonging: Do I belong in this country? One that my ancestors fought for, here in Indian Country, in a land where my father’s people picked, packed and carried cotton, tobacco, whatever, in Mississippi? Here in a land where my mother’s mother and my grandmother were Mixed Blood (Black, Indian, and white) domestic workers who cleaned the houses of white women in Michigan? I closed my eyes, but I could not sleep. I laid awake for an hour. What will I tell my students the next morning?

Day 3: When I arrive to class, I know I have to engage them. This is their space to vent, to write, to process, to make sense of, to testify, to challenge, and to express how they feel on the paper. To re-establish their own sense of belonging in words. To reclaim their place with language. I tell them to write for ten minutes. And so instead of telling them how I feel, I let them tell me. Afterward, I give them the opportunity to share. Today:

“My friend at my old school, a PWI (predominately white institution) said, ‘Oh, now that he’s President, I can call you nigger.’

“My white friend from high school said now that we’re gonna be slaves again, I could be her slave and all my black friends could be her slaves, and she’d be a good master.”

“One of my friends told me she was thinking about suicide because she’s an immigrant and she’s worried about being deported.”

“One girl online said she voted for him because he’s white and she didn’t feel safe with a black president. She wanted to feel safe again.”

“If this is what America feels about us, what does that mean for me?”

“We can’t be afraid. We can’t show fear. We have to fight back with our words and actions and let those people who voted for him see that we are not afraid and won’t be counted out.”

I try to encourage them. That this is simply another hurdle in the fight. That no one can take your power. That no one can diminish your light. That we have come too far. I say this to also encourage myself:

Awake
Somewhere between one and four a.m.
between versailles, virginia and iraq
i hear the siren as i lie awake, sleepless,
not yet weeping.

plaintive wail startles the pinched
january silence
a world war I french platoon memory
of the first treaties between worlds
drawn, treaties broken.

I wondered about my nephew
as fighter planes blasted into pre-dawn sky,
lingering among the cloud’s thighs. Are they scared?
Are the pilots hearts are as tight as mine, fearful
of a world in a giant’s hands about to be torn apart easily
as toasted bread.

My nephew
lives in the desert now where those
planes are headed; and his mother, like all mothers
of soldiers, cry themselves to sleep every night.
He wears the hue of sand and vipers
smoked smell of tarot card death and turmeric and scorpions
attempting to remain unseen.

Mothers know everything now about war
are familiar with fracture
the place where you come in whole and believing
the moment you leave in pieces.

Listening to the last of them lurch from gravity,
i’m sure leaving a trace of something
hot and white and seen, i think
should i get up, turn on the television
to watch the end approach or do i stay in bed,
safe and warm, and let it find me.

It is the end of another epoch.
And like apollinaire wrote long ago on the eve
of another pre-war night in a breathless french countryside,
we are not saved.


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Former Chair of the Department of English & Foreign Languages at Hampton University and Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing since 2004,  Literary Editor of Harriet Tubman Press, Shonda is also the author of Who’s Afraid of Black Indians?, Equipoise, and editor of the two Los Angeles poetry anthologies Voices From Leimert Park I and II. An Eloise Klein-Healy Scholarship recipient, a Sundance Institute fellow and a PEN Center Emerging Voice fellow, Shonda has freelanced for the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle, and Indian Country Today. For more information, visit www.shondabuchanan.com.

 

Featured image courtesy of Judit Klein.