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.
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.
During a (socially distant) outdoor get-together a few days ago, a friend and I talked about what we missed about the pre-COVID-19 world. As we were talking, it quickly turned to what we had actually taken for granted.
Going out to eat indoors at a bustling restaurant. I haven’t gone out to eat anywhere since March–even outdoors. I always enjoyed the occasional long lunch or dinner with my husband or friends. It was our time to shake off the cycle of going to work, coming home, watch TV/read/workout and sleep. I even miss looking over at other tables to see what they are eating, the clang of plates, forks and knives and the multitude of aromas floating from the kitchen.
2. Concerts. I hope I never say “I’ll see him/her/them next time they come” because now I don’t know when “next time” will be. The energy of singing along and rocking my body to a live performer in an arena or club with other fans is the kind of connection I miss sorely. It cannot be duplicated online.
3. Travel. I know some are masking up and taking the risk to fly but that isn’t for me right now. All those times I searched for flights to London, Ghana, to go back to Aruba but dismissed it, just knowing we would go later now seem like missed opportunities. I know there will be a time where it will be a safe reality again but I really didn’t know what I had until it was gone.
4. This one is big for me–time spent with family. All of my immediate family and cousins live hours away from me and out of state. Since my household is immunocompromised, taking the risk definitely isn’t worth it. There is an ache within me I know will only be soothed when I get to see, hug and kiss them safely again. If I could go back in time, I would have been in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, New York and Florida more often and never put it off because I thought the time would always be there. This virus has even taken away my husband and I being able to safely pay our respect in person for the loss of my beautiful Auntie in New York. I took for granted that I would see her again at another family function, a familiar and loving presence.
5. The feeling of safety. As a Black woman married to a Black man in America, safety isn’t always a guarantee but I never imagined the feeling of security would be robbed from me in this way. No one did. I can take all the precautions I want but if I don’t feel safe, it doesn’t matter. I won’t have peace.
Nothing is worth sacrificing my peace.
All I can do is watch and wait and work, connect with who and what I love and breathe.
Forgive myself for taking these small pleasures and great joys for granted.
Recently, without realizing it, I developed an obsession with the concept of time. Well, not so much time but the concepts of an alternative future and time travel.
This is not something I would normally write about but this is where I am.
No matter how silly it was (re: Seth Rogen’s Hulu Original Future Man), innovative and emotional (Amazon’s Undone), groundbreaking (the writers’ doomed vision for the world’s future in Westworld) or how prolific (Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred), over the past couple of weeks, I haven’t been able to tear my eyes or hands away from it.
It was happening and for some reason, I didn’t connect the dots or recognize the common thread.
Each time I read or watched, I was asking myself if I would make the same choices.
Change the past for a better future. Alter a minute detail for a shiny, new me. Attempt to take control over what’s already done.
These stories have made me examine choice in a way I haven’t in a long time, if ever.
I understand there is no sense in longing for a past that never was or clinging to a hope I will one day bend reality to my whim.
But my analytical nature examines why I made the choices I did–picked up the phone at a particular moment, took long aimless drives, booked that flight, didn’t take the leap to pursue teaching overseas when I had the chance, grew silent when I should have been shouting or simply why some people have floated in and out of my life like nameless ghosts and others seemingly tethered to me, part of my DNA.
I have found myself indulging in the fantasy: if I went through this door, maybe I would have been a dancer or an activist or a healer, adorned in vibrant headscarves and crystals or a suburban woman with a brood of children or a tightly wound, bespectacled corporate drone in a more metropolitan setting.
I will never know the truth of any of those closed doors, those unexplored lives.
Choices have been made. Deals have been struck.
And thankfully, more will come.
Everyday, I am living in the abundance of choice, the beauty of possibility. Even now, in the midst of this uncertainty.
I think that’s enough to take with me as I watch and read, in awe at the boundless imagination of others and my real life unfolds.
I’ve actively resisted using the word “weight” on this blog. I happily write about wellness in its totality. However, the world seems so invested in exact numbers. It’s as if people need to know exactly where to place you.
Sometimes “people” is me.
I don’t define beauty and worthiness by a number. For sure, I want to change the number but I don’t subscribe to any of those notions. I heard a podcast host (an extremely fit man) in response to his guest who is struggling with his weight loss goals say something like: Yeah, I love doughnuts! The guest said nothing about doughnuts and the host repeated it more than once.
Clearly, this is not wildly offensive. I am sure it was just an awkward attempt to relate to his guest but I was disappointed by it. For me, it fed into the notion some people have about overweight/obese people sitting around, glued to the couch and shoving _________ (insert whatever junk food you would like) down his/her gullet. I actually have heard some version of this on more than one podcast, radio station, TV show, magazine, book or film.
Since you can find overweight people sitting next to you at work, class or at a sporting event, traveling beside you on the plane or working out with you at the gym, why does this notion persist?
Maybe I feel compelled to write about it as my husband and I, who eat a plant-based diet to heal from our conditions exacerbated by inflammation and love to be out and about, are about to undertake a serious weight loss journey. I don’t want who we already are to be lost on those who read this or already know us. I start as someone who works, writes, dances, prays, reads, travels, nurtures and cooks and I will be that woman in a smaller body and my husband will be who he is in a smaller body, too.
Not people who are waiting to get off of the couch but people who are ready to move on to the next adventure.
Even though I write a lot of non-fiction and lately, have been inundated with a lot of personal development books, my first love is fiction. Yesterday, after thanking God for waking me and my husband up, I grabbed the latest book I am reading: “The Perfect Find” by Tia Williams. She is one of the authors I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of weeks ago at the James River Writers Conference 2017. I am not ashamed to admit I spent my morning wrapped up in my blankets, getting caught up in the tension and excitement of the story.
The words “keep the story moving forward” have been ringing in my head for a while now and it got louder as I read yesterday. One of my writing teachers, author Sadeqa Johnson offered similar advice to me during the Pens Up, Fears Down course I took earlier this year. I heard it again at the James River Writers Conference during the Library of Virginia Nonfiction Awards Finalists panel from Annette Gordon-Reed.
Writing has taken a more central role in my life this year so those words do ring true. However, why the volume turn-up right now? As I am writing, I am having an onslaught of realization. Those words have been my theme “song” this year. I have challenged myself to do more writing, traveling, confronting of my health, posting, applying, conference-attending and class-taking than any other year of my life. The song is just beginning to build, no deep-throated belting yet but make no mistake, it is audible. With my acceptance of the #bloglikecrazy challenge next month, the commitment to complete my first draft of my novel, starting the process of establishing my business and falling in love with dance again, the vision and the song have clarity.
I have been moving my story forward.
Your turn: What have you been doing to move your story forward?
I am sitting in a hotel room in Westminster, Colorado.
A week ago, I had no idea I would be sitting in a hotel room in Westminster, Colorado.
A shift had to occur inside of me. Hubby and I had originally planned to go to California but decided to push the trip back until the beginning of the year and stay a couple of days longer than the three days we had originally allotted for our trip.
Then we were going back and forth a lot last Thursday on where to go instead. For a hot minute, we were sure we were going to take a train up to Boston, a place neither of us have ever been. As a couple, we have put aside most of the gift-giving in favor of traveling to destinations that either one of us or neither of us have traveled to. A gift to both of us.
After doing some thinking (and pricing), we discovered we wanted to take the advice of some dear friends and go to Denver. Neither of us are particularly outdoorsy except that we do like to take long walks so we had some doubts as to how much we would enjoy it.
My doubts have been erased. I should have known it would happen, too. I have long shifted my attitude to embrace the customs, quirks and idiosyncrasies of the new places we go to. I often leave a trip wishing I had more time to explore and silently (and sometimes not so silently) promising myself to come back.
As soon as I walked off the plane, I could not breathe. I had been warned to stay hydrated but I thought that I could at least walk outside before I would be robbed of my breath. Hubby had to buy water for me and I sat down for several minutes before I could move on to baggage claim. Side note: I left the book I was reading “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas on the bench while I was catching my breath. I am upset but I will definitely buy it again.
The first afternoon we explored a neighborhood called The Highlands with tasty vegan cuisine at a restaurant called Vital Root. We walked past a park honoring Cesar Chavez and settled in at Book Bar, a quaint and charming bookstore and bar/restaurant combined.
I felt much better by the time we got back to the hotel and geared up for dinner in the city. We were excited to find so many food options for us! We went to Watercourse restaurant and I was blown away by the menu items: mushroom risotto, nachos, mac and cheese with broccoli, key lime pie and so much more.
The next day, snow started to fall. It was gorgeous and fortunately stopped mid-day. We had Tibetan take-out and rested. Later that evening, we went to another vegan spot in the city named City O’ City with beautiful artwork lining the walls and a Sam Shepard quote written above the bar. The food again was delicious and the main highlight was the fried ravioli with pesto and marinara.
We ended our night at Meadowlark Bar, a basement bar with Jazz Nights on Mondays. I had to have another moment where I shook the doubts away. When we first entered, we were clearly the only Black faces in the venue. We took seats at the bar and waited for the performances to start. And as with every place we’ve been to since our arrival, we were welcomed warmly. Neither of us are drinkers so we nursed our waters and chatted with the bartender and eventually a painter that showed up later. The crowd that filled the bar were people of stripes of all kind-races and ages. After getting lost in conversation with the painter, we swayed to the music and I was reminded again how much I love the energy of live music.
Today we decided to be our version of an outdoorsy couple. First, it was off to Red Rock. I do not do well driving up high but I shifted my mindset quickly. How else was I going to experience this majestic beauty if I keep myself paralyzed with fear?
The beauty of the landscape is indescribable. I have never seen anything like it. Any amphitheater I have ever been to pales in comparison. The red rock steps, the fall leaves and the freshness of the air overwhelmed me. While we toured the visitor center, I teared up. I couldn’t believe we were here. There are moments when we all know we are blessed beyond measure. There was this current of gratitude coursing through me the entire time I was there. I felt like God was showing off…look at what He made…look at what He has allowed us to build. I cannot imagine what it must be like to attend a concert with such a backdrop.
After Red Rock, we headed to Boulder to visit Pearl Street specifically. It was an outdoor mall that stretched several blocks peppered with tourists, UNC students and locals alike.
The town seems idyllic and health-conscious. It was definitely geared towards pedestrians and cyclists. After taking lunch at a Japanese restaurant, we finally headed back to the hotel.
The feeling is here again. If only we had a few more days, we could have seen the Black Western museum only open on Fridays and Saturdays, taken in more of the city and found a hot spring to soak in for a couple of hours. It’s those silent promises again, begging to be taken more seriously this time.
I know it’s because I want to see, feel, taste, experience as much as I can. I am painfully aware that we only get to do this once.
The shift that has taken place is turning down the volume on my fears and doubts and I am propelling myself forward.
Besides, what good has ever come from standing still and looking backwards?