I don’t have the clearest memory of my mother taking us from my father’s house to the YWCA. But I have flashes. Dad’s Jaguar storming out of the driveway. How gray the sky was. The brown seats of the bus that took us away from the house. having my brother spoon me in the bed and the room we were staying in so that I could keep warm. And the quiet. By god, the wonderful quiet.
My family unit growing up was my black grandmother, grandfather, aunts and uncles on the weekends, and my white feminist mother and aunts on the weekdays. My mother, my aunt Marilyn and my aunt pat were best friends in college. They worked at the same jewelry store in Seattle. For a time, my aunt Marilyn worked for my dad, but at the first sign of him being a junkie, she split and got into real estate. When my mother was her lowest points-in a shelter, without a job, so scared of my father’s threats and so scared that nobody gave a fuck because he was “Bob Lashley”, they spent almost all of their free time trying to get us back on our feet, buying groceries, getting us from point a to point B, whisking us away from section 8 to her crib in Portland when Aunt Marilyn’s real estate career took off.
She, my aunt pat, and my mother gave me the love of the written word. They also gave me a love of debate and analysis. Because we didn’t have much, our vacation treat was to go to Pike Place market, then Left Bank books, then Eliot Bay. The education they gave me was priceless. In those moments-when I was full of ideas and Imagination-I felt like a very privileged child.
Until about 1989, my aunts dealt with my father until they could take him no more. His behavior came in arcs and stages-first penitent, then hurt when my mother wouldn’t take him back/ put up with excuses, then frightening enough to threaten to kill us all. (I didn’t stay in places for very long). Their friendships all but died because of that, because they were frustrated with each other’s life choices, partly because my mother wouldn’t go 500 miles away from my father, partly because Marilyn Skyrocketed in the Real Estate world, got married and moved to mercer island.
Aunt Marilyn died of colon cancer in 2009. Aunt pat committed suicide in 2011, something I found out when I saw a picture of her in an obituary months later. Because of abuse past and present, My mother is too mentally incapacitated to understand where I am at right now. The pain transcends almost everything, and to be honest, has taken a toll on my own mental health.
The women who raised have never left my mind as a writer and I don’t think they ever will. They are on my mind right now. They sacrificed so much and went through so many hard times for me to be here.
I don’t talk shop much anymore because the stress of being the first and only black poet in too many open mic places drained it out of me. If the end result of all this is that it is easier for a black poet to be different, to go against poetry scene norms, and to exist in spaces without going through I had to go through, then I will be good with that. More than that, I will be happy. I thank Rich Smith for taking me seriously as a writer, and I am grateful for all the good will that has come my way this summer.
Also, the people I’m nominated with are FUCKING GREAT. Wave Books runs a press that publishes some of the most innovative poets in the business. Lindy West wrote one of few truly great and indispensable coming of age memoirs of my time, and spoke truth to power on so many things that needed to be spoken about. My aunt Marilyn and my aunt Pat would have been proud of Lindy.
I don’t know what right diplomatic words to say right now. I’m going through a lot of shit right now. I’ve also never really been good at politics. All I know in regards to poetry is poems.
I look forward to seeing familiar faces, and meeting some wonderful people.