#GetLit: James on James, Comey, Patterson

#GetLit

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks, you’ll know that Trumpacolypse has been on full blast — with accusations and testimonies and threats dominating the daily news cycle.

One thing that’s caught my eye has been the firing of the former FBI director James Comey. The story is juicier than any other celeb scoop out there, more than anything that TMZ or Perez Hilton can dream up.

Disclaimer: If you’re a Trump supporter, stop and read no further. 

As if we don’t have enough reasons to despise Trump even more, he fired Comey in perhaps one of the most embarrassing ways possible. The former FBI director found out in the middle of a briefing in Los Angeles, on national television. There’s something really unwieldy about Trump and the way he conducts his presidency, far from the cool and composed style of his predecessor. After the smoke cleared, all what was left was an upset Congress wanting to hear from Comey himself.

It’s no wonder then that the Internet went wild and called Comey’s prepared testimony for Congress a spy novel:

“A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.”

See for yourself and read Comey’s full testimony here.

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A bright light within the government: Tracy K. Smith was just named as the new Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress! We love some Smith over here at the blog, and the book review for Ordinary Light (Amazon | Indiebound) was one of the first few posts.

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Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light is nothing short of tender, with its vivid details on moments that could easily be buried in one’s memories. I think I tend to gravitate towards similar themes: books on poetry, literature, love, relationships, self. Smith’s was no different, except it opened up a foreign world wherein she had (and I didn’t) a language — all of it beautiful, majestic, painful — for her relationship with her mother.

— An excerpt from my book review of Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light

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Currently swooning / ecstatic over Kinfolk Magazine’s current issue on relationships, in addition to June’s reading list. Reading Kinfolk has taught me a lot about pacing, about discipline — it comes out quarterly so I’ve learned how to only read a few pages here and there to last me the whole three months. It’s that serious. 

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Coming up on Libromance: a list of queer reads just in time for Pride month, Rosario Castellano’s book and more literary goodness.

Awe at the undeniable fact that I will forever be the son of a fiercely beautiful woman. Awe at knowing just how exquisitely she prepared me to live and write my way into this world. And yes, her absence hurts, but her presence – and I feel it more and more each day – her presence moves me forward. (Saeed Jones)

 

Every time Mother’s Day comes around, I always think of the poet Saeed Jones. His essay Infinite Ache: My First Mother’s Day Without Her comes to mind right away, after I read it for the first time a few years ago. Maybe it’s the way that Saeed wrote about his mother, or his grief, or the beauty of what she had imparted upon him, or the familiarity of nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the Nichiren Buddhist chant) but her being and his  writing had left an indelible mark in my memory.

In his poem “Mercy” from Prelude to Bruise, he writes:

Her ghost slips into the room wearing nothing but the memory / of a song…

 

I’m also reminded of Ayana Mathis’s book The Twelve Tribes of Hattiea book I read three years ago. After reading the book, I remember taking a nap and waking up thinking of Hattie, finding it impossible not to. The book unfolds with the lives of Hattie’s twelve tribes, or children, as I try to make sense of her hardness and her husband August’s softness. I remember Lafayette, steely and inaccessible, Franklin, whose narrative left me at odds with what I knew as the irrationality of war.

…Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren’t already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones. (Ayana Mathis) 

 

Recently, I read Tracy K. Smith’s memoir Ordinary Light wherein I was introduced to the incredibly intimate and tender relationship of a daughter with her mother. In a previous post about the memoir, I wrote about how Tracy’s writing opened up a new language for me, one I haven’t had the opportunity to create with my own mother.

I was calm and safe beside her, right at home. I didn’t think to call it beauty but beside her, I felt what the presence of beauty makes a person feel. (Tracy K. Smith)

I am grateful to these writers for their strength and their will to write their personal experiences and stories, no matter how harrowing or joyful, about mothers. My own relationship with my mama is a work in progress, a bond that I used to despise for a multitude of reasons when I was younger. As I get older though, I’m able to see her in a different light — who she is as a person, and who she was as a young mother then.

While the work of Saeed, Ayana and Tracy have touched something in me that is equal parts painful and healing, I am aware of my experience only as an immigrant daughter, kind of assimilated and openly queer. I revere Black motherhood, of which I have no direct experience but aware of the mottled heartbreak it comes with, in struggle and in relation to living in the U.S.

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I cannot fully know and I cannot fathom the well of pain felt by the mothers of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Alex Nieto, Trayvon Martin, but I can surmise the depth of anger against institutions of state that have violently taken the lives of their sons.

What I do know is that it is the same institutions that have kept mother and child separate, an all too familiar scene at airports in the Philippines. The separation of the family is not an uncommon theme, as mothers leave their children in their home countries to care for children and families in the First World as recounted in this New Yorker article.

I think about struggles of mothers living abroad, the strength needed to withstand a foreign culture and the backbreaking work of minimum wage; the loneliness of an empty apartment after a day’s work buoyed by the promise of coming home one day; the daily misgivings of being undocumented, of being invisible and small in the face of the dollar; of the heartbreaking passage of time, of physical distance, of the increasing emotional distance, of being away.

Still, I see it — the smiles in spite of the callousness, joy in their eyes in spite of grief. I guess there will never be enough words, but always, an infinite ache.

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The featured image in this blog post, as well as the last two images are from Mamasday.org, a project of Forward Together, a multiracial organization for social change. Send a virtual Mama’s Day card using one of their beautiful creations!

Sunday Spotlight: Mama

Sunday Spotlight

A New Language 

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light is nothing short of tender, with its vivid details on moments that could easily be buried in one’s memories. I think I tend to gravitate towards similar themes: books on poetry, literature, love, relationships, self. Smith’s was no different, except it opened up a foreign world wherein she had (and I didn’t) a language — all of it beautiful, majestic, painful — for her relationship with her mother.

She introduced Kathy Smith, her mother, in quite possibly the most loving way. The stories of her childhood intermingled with her mama’s homecooked dishes, pies and cakes, her gentle admonishments; even the Christian one-liners that Smith learned from her sprinkled throughout the book were welcoming. Her prose gave me the time and the space to lament my own childhood. One which has been riddled with a kind of conditional love that I’m just barely starting to accept.

Hers was filled with a different light, the kind that sifts through tall pine trees in the morning, straight from the heavens to the soft, green grass. I’ve never read anyone who has spoken so tenderly of their mother, which at times I found to be implausible. But Tracy took me there, and I knew. I started to heal.

I thought about my own mother in the next room, sleeping by herself in a large, empty bed. I wonder if she’s dreaming about my father who works the graveyard shift in San Francisco. I wonder if she longs for him the way I longed for her tenderness, the same longing throughout my life that started and ended with three words: I am enough.

As my mother read, I’d sometimes let my eyes drift across her face, taking her in out of habit, memorizing her, breathing in her smell, the way she held herself, the lilting cadence of her voice. […] watching her warmed me. I was calm and safe beside her, right at home. I didn’t think to call it beauty but beside her, I felt what the presence of beauty makes a person feel.