To paraphrase, James Baldwin said that to be Black in this country is to be in a rage all the time. My own experience as a Black woman writer is one most catalyzed by grief; an old grief, an old familiar knowing. Writing for me is ancestral. It is conjure and it is grief work. I believe that I inherited the memories of the folks who preceded me; the ones from whom I borrow blood and bone. The folks whose names are lost to me but who show up nonetheless when I look in the mirror and find the anthropomorphic evidence of their lives.
As a Black poet I often feel that I am seeking a language older than words. I am seeking the bottom of the boat and the songs we had before it. I am seeking a reckoning. I am adjusting my own contemporary understanding to make room for ancestors to use my eyes and word my mouth. It is both holy and terrifying. Holy. Because what delicious ceremony, what magic,what perfect juju to call out to the old ones and beseech them in the writing process; to permission them to speak to and through you. Terrifying. Because ain’t no tellin’ what they might say; what stories must be told, and what wounds still need a tourniquet.
I write to be the tourniquet. But the reckoning has to happen first. One must first engage memory and stand still enough to receive what it offers. Because the diaspora has suffered the slings and arrows of historical and contemporary silencing and erasure there is an urgency in speaking, in naming, in declaring, and in remembering. In an African-American context, writing has always been a subversive act. We are the tension between African and American. We invent in the hyphen. We generate from that hyphen. We make our own world in that hyphen.
And because we were not permitted to engage language in ways that those in power did, language and the acquisition of language for us was traumatic and devastating and carried it with the branding iron and the whip if we did not integrate it fast enough to comprehend orders but we were simultaneously charged with not owning the language in any meaningful way that might liberate us. I carry that memory. It sizzles up and forward whenever I write. I can feel how radical and how political and how confessional an act writing is. I can feel my ancestors sit up and lean forward. I can feel them insisting on a proper story. It is a sacred thing.
I am often asked what my writing process is. The question always interrupts me. How do I explain witchcraft? What language do I curate to help you understand what it feels like to fall into the arms of the old ones? To unlatch the trap door and fall forward toward…whatever is waiting…whatever belongs to you. How do I show you that holy place?
I write to keep from dying. But more than that, I write to re-flesh the bones. I write to exhume the bodies and in some cases (as it relates to specific instances of personal trauma) I write to bury a body. I write to stand and accuse. I write to keep a record of the little girl I was and the woman I am becoming. I write to own this body…to own it, Lord have mercy, despite so many attempts to commodify or appropriate or brutalize or un-name or misname it, from my stepfather who’s been dead since 1982 or the agenda-heavy policies that seek to preside over my body and bodies like mine. I write to levitate above the noise of this world. I write so that my grandmother is never really gone from me. I write because I’ll die if I don’t. I write to remember the bottom of the boat. I write to forget the bottom of the boat.
I write to speak to God. It is a sacred place do you hear me? A sacred place, a holy place, the only place I have ever known that was entirely mine; the only place that re-assembles my used-to-be self and sees her whole; the only place that knows all of my many names; the only place that acknowledges how vast, how complicated, how expansive,and how magic Woman is and Black is and God is right there the whole time and my grandmother is there too and her mama and my uncle and my grandfather and my daughter who didn’t live, and right beside her a seat for the daughter who did, who does, and all of those supernatural folk who survived the un-survivable in the dark, on their backs in the impossible heat and tremble of a ship riding the Atlantic so that I might remember them here. Ain’t that holy work? Ain’t that a magical place?Ain’t that walk on water, miracle-making? Ain’t that the best kind of resistance there is? To remember, to recall, and to write it all down; to crawl out of the grave and stand in the center of the room armed with the medicine of memory and get free over and over again? If somebody asks me what my writing process is going forward, that’s what I’ll tell them. I’ll tell them it’s a resurrection and then I’ll point to my scars and say, “Look how beautifully I’ve healed.”
Dominique Christina, MA, M.Ed
Women of the World Slam Champion 2012/2014
Author of: “The Bones The Breaking The Balm” 2014
“They Are All Me” 2015
“This is Woman’s Work” 2015
“Anarcha Speaks” 2018
HBO Series High Maintenance: Writer/Actor
Watch Promo Video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF2FhqttQ90
Facebook: Dominique Christina