Do & She Do

Three important things happened to me on October 1, 2014. My younger sister
Yvonne died at the age of 30. My oldest daughter, Isis Amira, turned sweet 16.
And Yona Harvey became my favorite poet. This last one isn’t hyperbole and
there is really no neat way to explain the rest. A mess is a mess is a beautiful
“time waits for no one” mess. But if you read this and you know what I mean,
you just know. My daughter and I served my family by being the ones who broke
the news of her mother’s death to my little niece. We wiped tears at my
sister’s “everybody wear purple” funeral and returned to Pittsburgh
from my childhood home of Newark, NJ a bit different.

Something in my mind or spirit had shifted. I had new me work to do and I
felt increasingly more annoyed with the tools I had been picking up, trying and
then eventually putting back down when they felt wrong or worn. Religion’s
promise of spiritual ligament had not anchored things. Employment had fostered
useless discipline that fixed disappointment. Divorced and remarried parenting
had been rougher than any smiling doting photo on social media could belie. But
when I peeled back those truths, I had somehow still managed to make some joy
some beauty some something. And reading Yona Harvey I began to imagine that the
waters of my life were perhaps still frozen and that I was perhaps indeed a child
peering through. That maybe something glittering was under my almost
40-something everything.

Pittsburgh life did what it does. I can’t lie and say that anything after
2014 got easier. But I tried. I grew into a state less about working on me and
more about wonder. I grew into a radical acceptance of so much hemming of the
water. How would I ever do such an impossible thing? I didn’t know for sure, so
I would just keep reading. But wasn’t I part of a tradition of women already
doing that hemming? Maybe. All I know for sure is that it was a remarkable
grace that I found language for my heart’s ineffable beats in that book of
gorgeous poetry.

I followed Yona Harvey’s work. Sometimes that was all the way in Wakanda and
sometimes it was right back here at a university event in Pittsburgh. Always it
was in the space where I was a dare in my own mind. Where I might try to write
some joy and pain some beauty acting ugly – try to write something…write
anything. Always Yona Harvey’s work, from “Mary J. (Upswing)” to “Sonnet for a
Tall Flower Blooming at Dinnertime,” calls me to consider what it means to want
to be free. And so, I had to pause for a little solitary celebration today
after I read her NextPittsburgh interview with the talented, elegant and
gracious writer Tony Norman. I’m so happy for the students at Smith College who
will welcome Yona Harvey in the glory of tenure this fall. I’m so grateful for
the times in Pittsburgh (and close by) when her words showed me that my not
being afraid of breaking things was key.

This news of her gracing the ground of a new place is sure to make its
circuit around the Pittsburgh stay or go infinity loop. This will exit that
loop eventually like other news. But while it’s there, some of my fellow
Harveyites will wonder if her work will bless us at Smith the way it has from
here. It will y’all. You’ll see. Just like those of us who may also end up
leaving Pittsburgh will ride our own hurricanes, do & she do & we do,

Yona Harvey, from all of us wanna be water hemmers who knew Martians were
real but learned from you that they didn’t need us to come there for love, we absolutely adore and salute you! May you have all the free, all the wild, all the gumption of an East
Liberty piano girl in this next movement of your concerto. Thank you for
sharing your gifts.

Note: There are some references here to Harvey’s poems. I can’t footnote them all but I can highly recommend getting her books and enjoying her magnificent work!

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