Esther Belin

Today, I want to do something I haven’t done in awhile here. Shine a light on a poet.

Esther Belin is a Dine writer and multimedia artist based out of Colorado. She is the author of “From the Belly of my Beauty” and “Of Cartography: Poems.”

I chose “Night Travel” simply because of the way it connected me to memory especially here: “we’d be hungry for travel and for being almost home.”

I have been there. If you ever took a long car ride at night, Dad at the wheel, you’ve been there. Even if those are not your memories, Belin invites you to be a passenger in her daddy’s truck, reliving the darkness and the road with her.

Night Travel

BY ESTHER BELIN

I.
I like to travel to L.A. by myself
My trips to the crowded smoggy polluted by brown
indigenous and immigrant haze are healing.
I travel from one pollution to another.
Being urban I return to where I came from
My mother
survives in L.A.
Now for over forty years.

I drive to L.A. in the darkness of the day
on the road before CHP
one with the dark
driving my black truck
invisible on my journey home.

The dark roads take me back to my childhood
riding in the camper of daddy’s truck headed home.
My brother, sister and I would be put to sleep in the camper
and sometime in the darkness of the day
daddy would clime into the cab with mom carrying a thermos full of coffee and some Pendleton blankets
And they would pray
before daddy started the truck
for journey mercies.

Often I’d rise from my lullaby sleep and stare into the darkness of the road
the long darkness empty of cars
Glowy from daddy’s headlights and lonesome from Hank Williams’ deep and twangy voice singing of cold nights and cheatin’ hearts.

About an hour from Flagstaff
the sun would greet us
and the harsh light would break the darkness
and we’d be hungry from travel and for being almost home.

II.
I know the darkness of the roads
endless into the glowy path before me
lit by the moon high above and the heat rising from my truck’s engine.
The humming from tires whisper mile after mile
endless alongside roadside of fields shadowy from glow.

I know the darkness of the roads
It swims through my veins
dark like my skin
and silenced like a battered wife.
I know the darkness of the roads
It floods my liver
pollutes my breath
yet I still witness the white dawning.

What I’m Excited About

5 Things I’m Excited About:

  1. Time off the next few days without the expectation of going to work, a class or a meeting. I have days off but I regularly schedule appointments, meetings and errands. The only thing I am committed to is posting here until the end of the month.

2. Time to read. Octavia Butler’s “The Parable of the Sower” and “The Parable of the Talents” have been on tables and nightstands throughout my home. Started and put back down to write, sleep, work and binge watch to unwind. I am a better writer when I read and also far more inspired.

3. Taking a few more bike rides before it gets too cold. We haven’t out on our bikes in a while and I want to get back out there. I don’t believe I have ridden my bike through fall leaves since I was a little girl. I am looking forward to doing that again.

4. My upcoming workshop “Get Lifted: Using Music and Poetry to Find Your Light.” I keep finding songs and poems that seem perfect for it. I am hopeful listening, writing and reading aloud together will produce an experience that actually leaves us lighter and ready to try it again.

5. Seeing my family over Zoom tomorrow. It’s been a few months since we have all seen each other at the same time virtually and in person, years. COVID-19 has taken away so much but it cannot take this.

In Class

In the mornings, I often work from my bedroom. Sometimes, I play podcasts or music in the background. I was listening to “In Class with Carr”, a conversation between Karen Hunter and Dr. Greg Carr. They were fawning (rightly so) over Stacey Abrams. They discussed her intelligence, her organizational skills, determination and her career as a romance novelist under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery.

Dr. Carr asked “Where does she find the time? Is it discipline?”

Karen Hunter then uttered this profound statement: “What I imagine is that Stacey Abrams tapped into her fullness.”

She noted there’s enough time if we don’t waste it. Some people walk around as if they are waiting for life to crack open. What she observed is what leaves most people awestruck: She steps into the world fully unafraid.

I won’t claim to know the innermost thoughts of Ms. Abrams but she operates as if she left fear stranded on the side of the road 8 states away on a cross-country trip. She does not wait for excellence to descend upon her. She rises to meet it.

We all know that if she can, we can. This “In Class” episode prompted me to search for more material for my upcoming workshop, map out ideas for a new opportunity and create my profile for the See Jane Write Collective rather than scrambling to complete it later.

It also prompted another thought. Tapping into our fullness is our calling.

It is our birthright.

It is our most sacred duty.

All I can ask of myself is to honor it.

Jingle Jangle

I watched “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey on Netflix yesterday afternoon. It is the tale of toy inventor, Jeronicus Jangle, finding his way back to believing in himself with the help of his precocious genius granddaughter, Journey, many years after an apprentice stole his work that led to financial ruin. I knew it would be full of song, dance and Christmas cheer but I didn’t expect it to be the movie I needed to see in 2020.

It delighted me to see a Black cast expressing joy so unabashedly. It allowed me to indulge in this magical fantasy without racism lingering in the shadows. I loved seeing beautiful brown skinned children surrounding their grandmother (played by the incomparable Phylicia Rashad) clamoring to hear this story amid a crackling fire and Christmas decorations. The costumes were gorgeous. The idea of an Afro-Victorian fusion was genius. One of many highlights was a snowball fight and dance between Journey and Jeronicus and set to an Afrobeats song.

The acting was incredible and I would expect nothing less from Forest Whitaker, Keegan Michael Key and Anika Noni Rose but the children shone so brightly, too! I wasn’t taken out of the fantasy even once.

There were many messages delivered centered around believing in yourself but this by far was the most moving from Jeronicus to Journey:”Never be afraid when people can’t see what you see. Only be afraid if you no longer see it.” It’s one of those messages tailor made for everyone, but especially for those who may be on the brink of losing hope. Now that is something I believe we can also use a little more of in 2020.

It Can Be Met

I am looking for inspiration today. Every year I participate in the bloglikecrazy challenge, I have a couple of days like this. The ideas seems stale. I type a few paragraphs and then delete it all. Nothing reads right and what inspired me only yesterday seems like it never was.

So what to do on a day like this? Where the time and opportunity to write is there but all I want to do is fling pen, computer and phone far, far away to avoid doing it. I am thinking this is when I choose to calm down, take a breath and realize I created and control this space.

If inspiration to write a poem, an essay, a gratitude list or a letter is nowhere to be found, then accept it. By acceptance, I mean write about it just as I am doing now. Making the choice to be consistent with writing anything is my only way through. Each year, I remind myself of this as if it’s the first time I’ve thought it.

I don’t get frustrated with myself because I need the reminder. I figure this is God’s way, on a lazy Sunday, of sending a nudge.

A nudge for me to remember I am only human. That just because it may not come easy today doesn’t mean it won’t come.

After all, three years of challenges have been met and on day 22 of year 4, there’s no reason to believe the moment cannot be met now.

Time in the Kitchen

I am waiting for my husband to come home with bunches of greens from his mother’s house. We are going to rinse the earth from the leaves, smash and peel garlic cloves, dice red onions, sprinkle spices and boil and simmer.

Our fingers will be coated with spice and juice. We will stand in the kitchen, keeping an eye over the heat, noses tickled by the aroma.

The chit chat will be idle. I will tell him how delicious it will be, our feast.

Occasionally, I will inch closer to him, crane my neck, pout my lips and his head will bend down to receive

Me.

We

Cook

With

Love

She Lives Here

Joy lives here even when I suspect it has lost its way, broken the GPS and took a long nap at a rest stop.

Joy lives here even when I am calling repairmen, performing feats of verbal gymnastics trying to fix this house so I can finally say good-bye to it.

Joy lives here even when I am dead tired and on my upteemth week of forgetting to take all of my vitamins.

Joy lives here even when I am terrified my words will never be embraced or I will never be understood.

Joy lives here even when the fullness of my Black womanhood is in question–my competency, the bounds of my love, intellect and the sanctity of my vulnerability.

Joy lives here because I ask it to move in every day. Move into the creases and the folds and the skin and the breath.

Joy, I ask you to stay.

Joy, I ask you to come home.

Make a Plan

I was listening to Pulitzer Prize winning poet Jericho Brown in a podcast interview with Lewis Howes (The School of Greatness). They spoke of many things: letting go of a poem, adopting the identity of Jericho Brown, their shared history of abuse, paying homage to Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes and Lucille Clifton and his relationship with God.

But here’s what grabbed my attention more than any of the deep penetrating conversation: He says he makes a plan for laughter. He referred to watching an episode of “The Golden Girls” every night. During the Slant Poetry Festival, he mentioned his nightly ritual with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia but I didn’t know it was an intentional plan.

I have never heard of anyone making a plan for laughter. Of course, I love to laugh but what would a plan look like? Or is the best part of laughter is when it comes spontaneously?

I will take my spontaneous giggles when they come but I like the idea of making time to laugh. I already enjoy comedic television and podcasts regularly. My husband and I probably goof around with each other more than most. It’s just us so there’s no one around to be “grown-up” for. We are not above dancing for each other, tickling and purposely watching a nighttime soap or two, just to howl with laughter at the over the top antics and tragic acting.

So maybe the plan starts with asking myself each day: Have I laughed today? And if not, what will I do to change it?

After all, what’s so bad about seeking relief from the dreary?

About letting a little laughter in?

Ascension

Last night, I cooked spelt spaghetti listening and intermittently peering into the living room to catch scenes from Solange’s When I Get Home visual album. I love the scenes with Black cowboys, riding regally down Houston streets.

I cut that part of my evening short to virtually attend Brooklyn Public Library’s event #SAYHERNAME, A Public Reading of Audre Lorde’s Need: A Chorale For Black Woman Voices, hosted by Sheena Wilson and moderated by my storytelling sister from University of Alabama, Tuacaloosa, Dr. Jameka Hartley.

There are times where you should be speaking and there are times where you should just listen. Last night was a time to listen. It was not because Jameka and her fellow poets, Keya and Liseli read Ms. Lorde’s work beautifully.

It was because I needed to learn.

During Jameka’s introduction, she mentioned she was moved to do this after the tragic death of the young activist, Toyin Salau, earlier this year. Need was written in 1979 after the death of 12 Black women in four short months in the Boston area. Sadly, we know why this is still happening.

Black women are still invisible. Our pain is ignored. But when we speak up a little too loudly about our pain or organize coalitions, birth movements, we are a threat–to colonized mentality, to governments, to whatever “status quo” is deemed to be.

I found myself typing and then erasing in the chat “Black women are invisible and perceived to be a threat simultaneously. It is infuriating.”

I erased it because I just wanted to listen and for that night to be about these scholarly sisters honoring Audre. Another one of my storytelling sisters spoke up about the adversity she’s encountered in her quest to secure quality mental health resources. This led to a discussion that included solutions in the form of a “kitchen table”, a close knit group of people with whom you can be vulnerable, calling on an ancestor and “dating” therapists until you’ve found “the one.”

There was commentary from the one man in the room about his need to protect his own sister and other Black women. Recognition of the fight of queer women like Audre Lorde and the founders of the Black Lives Matter was discussed.

At the end of the night, powerful poetry was recited for us. It was the perfect closing. After logging off, my husband asked how I felt. He heard my rejoicing and saw my head nodding vigorously throughout it.

He knew how I felt. He knows I want to be in a real room with those people. He knows I now want to close the door behind me with a stack of books written by Black women and do my homework. I want to write and read and shift my perspective.

I want to ascend.

So last night started with a pot of boiling pasta, being awestruck at Black cowboys and transcendent music and ended with Ms. Lorde’s work setting something ablaze inside of me.

5 Things You May Not Know…

I love sharing about writing and growth but there’s more to me than what ends up on the page. Here are 5 things you may not know:

  1. I love the NBA. I was all in watching the playoffs in the bubble, John Starks from the 90’s NY Knicks is still one of my favorite players and I will happily watch commentary on ESPN and FS1 as if they are paying me to view it.
  2. I love how comedians think. I watch and listen to their podcasts. I am in awe of the courage it takes to hit the stage. I have heard many stories of getting booed. I could not do it, especially since that level of rejection may have to happen a hundred times before approaching “good”. I am fascinated by their motivation for wanting to make the world laugh, even when it seems some may be crying on the inside.
  3. Every time I watch “The Sound of Music”, I cry. I don’t know why. When Julie Andrews starts to sing “My Favorite Things”, my voice starts to tremble. Maybe it’s the nostalgia? We watched it every year and we owned the movie growing up. I still have a soft spot for Julie Andrews.
  4. My husband has tried to teach me chess many times but I end up making jokes and getting distracted because I lack patience. I am starting to watch “Queen’s Gambit” and I hope it inspires me to try again.

5. I once sprained my ankle during a trust exercise. That’s right. Trust. I was blindfolded and being led by a fellow leadership camp participant. I tripped over the edge of a sidewalk into the grass when my guide stopped paying attention. There was never a real apology and I stayed on crutches for a few weeks. No thank you to that kind of “trust.”

I hope you find out a few new things and maybe we have something in common.