By Laurian B.
During a performance at Davidson College, LGBT rights activists and poet Staceyann Chin conjured one of my secrets.
- Being reserved or having nervousness or timidity in the company of other people.
- Tending to avoid something because of nervousness.
Most of the time, I forget how I embody this adjective because as soon as the feeling bubbles I usually knock it down, hurling myself immediately toward whatever is making my heart race and face redden.
Except in January 2015. When it was Staceyann Chin, standing beside me after having come down from the stage to read a funnily painful excerpt from her memoir, The Other Side of Paradise.
Afterward, she signed copies of her book. I bought one and stood and in line. Never mind that I already had two copies. One that I lent to a friend last year and another I cherished because it was an advanced reader copy and had an adorable little brown girl on the cover. I would never lend that one out. The pages were creased and there were pencil lines throughout.
When it was my turn to have my book signed, Staceyann smiled and said, “You’re an very intent listener,” which meant she noticed how I held my breathe to take in her words when she spoke. And because she was standing next to me. I don’t know what I mumbled in reply, but I can, right now, acknowledge my regret about what I wished I’d said. I wish I told her about the summer of 2000, when I took the regional rail from Philly to Trenton, hopped the slow, yet more affordable New Jersey Transit train to NYC’s Penn Station, then the F train downtown where I walked through a summer thunderstorm to Bleecker Street Theatre because I needed to see Staceyann’s Hands Afire performance. It was a poetic experience, soaked yet warmed.
I didn’t mention it and with my students milling around us, I felt old. Like Staceyann and I had an insider’s joke to share about these ardently sweet, conflicted youth. I couldn’t think of a clever line to initiate that conversation. Instead I performed the ritual of the person in line before me and asked for a photo.
As I leaned in for the shot, I could have mentioned how Chin’s poem, Feminist or Womanists has these lines I’ve memorizes to recite to my students when they struggle to narrow my politics.
The truth is I’m afraid to draw your black lines around me, I’m not always pale in the middle, I come in too many flavors for one f***ing spoon.
I am never one thing or the other.
At night I am everything I fear, tears and sorrows, black windows and muffled screams.
In the morning, I am all I ever want to be: rain and laughter, bare footprints and invisible seams, always without breath or definition.
I claim every single dawn, for yesterday is simply what I was, and tomorrow even that will be gone.
But no, I didn’t mention any of that.
But in this space, I can claim all of it.