I was forced to discover Assata Shakur, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and countless other Black writers on my own. In my English classes, we sat in huge circles and cheered as Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams did the Carolina shag in the center. “One-and-two, three-and-four, five-six” replayed in my head as I watched them shimmy all over, unknowingly forcing students to dodge their movements. We laughed when one of us almost got hit by Dickinson’s twirls; we were happy to duck and roll. They are the priority. They are two pioneers of American poetry. They are the reason I recognize the red in the wheelbarrow easier than the color purple.
If I had read “From the House of Yemanjá” by Audre Lorde in middle school, how much more would I know of myself? Would I have aligned with the lines, “I am the sun and moon and forever hungry,” and realized that my inherent duality is what causes me to crave? I want to be a nameless face in the crowd, but I also want to be at the frontline with tears in my eyes demanding liberation. “Jim Crow Must Go,” “I Am A Man,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace,” are all cries to be released from the chains that prevent us from pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. If I didn’t have these shackles, I swear I’d become the focus of the dance floor. Without reading Assata by Assata Shakur, would I know that it is our duty to fight for our freedom?
After finishing a bell hooks novel, there was a small amount of weight lifted from me. The Southern Black family dynamic had made parts of me feel empty. As a child, there was no safe space for me to experience my emotions in real time, so the unshed tears were carried with me. I needed to shamelessly cry into a loved one’s arms. I felt that my family cared for me, but I knew I wasn’t being loved in the way I yearned to be. During my junior year, I began the journey of facing my personal trauma, and I read Sisters of the Yam to get a better understanding of Black emotional health. bell hooks made it clear that, in order to heal, I had to be willing to shed.
This revelation came at a beautiful time in my life. I had a circle of Black and Brown queer folks who surrounded me with love, patience, and resources. Through them, I discovered the book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown. brown says, “There is no way to repress pleasure and expect liberation, satisfaction, or joy,” which affirmed that I needed to allow pain and frustration to come and go in due time. I began to be very intentional about doing things that felt good. I allowed myself to laugh when I clumsily dropped my pomegranates in the grocery aisle. The small delights in my days like birds chirping at dawn or finishing a dense novel become more meaningful. I held hands with the people I loved, and I squeezed them tight when parting, trying desperately to make up for all the hugless goodbyes.
Pleasure Activism stayed in my backpack for a few months after I read it to remind me that pleasure is a necessity. I still carry this novel everywhere with me; I constantly recite its quotes in my head to pass time. The most meaningful part of the book to me is when Audre Lorde is quoted saying, “And there is, for me, no difference between writing a good poem and moving into sunlight against the body of a woman I love.” “One-and-two, three-and-four, five-six,” “one-and-two, three-and-four, five-six,” and “one-and-two, three-and-four, five-six” plays in my head as I try not to step on the toes of this woman who smells of lavender and bears my name.