Sweet Potato Pie Press

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  • Poem for people who ask when I "went natural"

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    I was brought up in a kitchen

    with a towel around my neck

    and a hot comb hissing

     

    I was born

    half past a yellow bone

    with fine tooth combs that broke upon third use

     

    I was born with beadies at the back of my neck

    brushed quickly in the morning

     

    I was born South Carolina dry

    something like twine and cotton

    in my grandmother’s hands

     

    I was taught with beeswax and Pro style gel stored in my sister's backpack

     

    I was born natural

     

    permed for one summer

    thick strands strung out on chlorine

    in Oakland swimming pools

    crying for the thick to come back

     

    and it did

    in between press and curls sweating out

    and the boys who liked the long-haired girls

     

    I was born with people in my hair

    in my ear

    wishing it shine,

    wishing it sheen and straight

    I was born wirey-hot headed dirty brown-haired girl

    and brittle without oil

    twisted in the morning

    and touched by white women for luck

     

    I was born light and nappy

    I was born not knowing this hair

    and handing it to someone else

     

    I was born with afro puffs

    and camp counselors who said they were ugly

     

    I was born Louisiana dry spice

    and daddy's Nature's Blessings to soften my edges

     

    I was born with bad ends and rope twists

    I was born with a blow dryer busting on the floor

     

    I was born of a silver-haired Virgo and a balding Gemini in a suit

    and hair that wouldn't obey a rubber band

     

    I am in the bathroom combing for hours in heat

    a thick universe of coils that grows from me and down my back

    laughing

     

    I was born with Lusters pink lotion and the burn of spray on my scalp

    I was born with straight parts down the middle

    and beads with foil on my braids

     

    I was born natural

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  • Ryan Coogler Gets To The Heart of Human Portrayal In 'Fruitvale Station' (LAFF 2013 Review)

     Oscar Grant's daughter, Tatiana. (photo credit: Nijla Mu'min. Taken at the Oscar Grant Vigil in early 2010 at Fruitvale Bart Station.)

    "He didn't like to be left alone."

    Oscar Grant's mother Wanda, played superbly by Octavia Spencer, delivers this line in one of the most compelling scenes in the film. It is a detail, that when considered in the context of the story, hits us on all sides, and most importantly, in the heart. Details like these penetrate the divisive rhetoric framing Oscar Grant as a saint or a criminal. Instead, he is a son who didn't want to be left alone by his mother, a detail so specific and tangible that the story can only be felt at that point, not categorized, or framed.

    The film centers on the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, a black Bay Area resident who was fatally shot in the back in the early hours of New Years Day 2009 after being detained by BART Police at Fruitvale Station, all of which was captured on Bart bystander's cell phone cameras.

    Michael B. Jordan delivers a whirlwind performance as Oscar Grant, one that sees him take on several micro- performances dictated by the personality of Grant. During the Q&A for the film, director Ryan Coogler spoke about his research of Grant, saying, "If you go to five different people, you get five different stories (of Grant)." This is best conveyed in a grocery store scene where Grant jovially assists an unknowing white female customer with a fried fish recipe, while maintaining a friendly exchange with a coworker, followed by an emotionally- heated interaction with the grocery store manager. Jordan skillfully navigates the varied textures of Grant, situating himself into different modes of empathy, anger, and joy. Of the role, he said, "...I'm not a political activist, I'm an actor and through my work I'm able to spark conversations between people, and get emotions out of people to start questioning how we treat one another."

    His performance is a great complement to Coogler's direction and script, where nuance and foreshadowing are handled with a level of subtlety that doesn't overemphasize their presence, but captures them in striking, understated ways. The Bay Area itself becomes a character, populated by black beanies, water rushing onto the rocks of the bay, and that distinct diction and physical bravado embodied by Grant and his friends, all framed beautifully by cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who shot on super 16mm film here.

    With that foreshadowing and characterization, comes a rising tension in both Grant and the film that makes the happiest moments- Grant playfully brushing his teeth with his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) - bittersweet.  The sound design accelerates the tension, merging with the industrial, metallic rumble of the Bart train moving in and out of tunnels. The Bart becomes a warning, an element of dread in this way.

    This is a film for the people, a film for feelers and thinkers who want to see a story about a flawed person who loved his daughter and family, and wanted something better in life even if he didn't quite know how to get it. It is not a film about blame or about the cop who pulled the trigger, and it may be criticized for that lack of emphasis. But at a time where human beings like Grant are murdered and then scrutinized by the media about their "criminal background," the film is important and necessary. It argues for a life that mattered to a daughter, and leaves us to wrestle with the hard questions of how this tragedy impacts her, and people like her.

    Fruitvale Station opens in theaters July 12th. Visit the website for more information.

    This Review is cross-posted on Shadow & Act on the Indiewire Network, HERE.

  • This is a love story

    my mother and stepfather. a love.

    my mother and stepfather. love.

    I was an avid reader growing up. I read everything, even books that weren’t meant for children.

    Mama by Terry Mcmillan was one of my first novels.

    I recall reading a novel entitled Hand-me-down Heartache by Tajuana TJ Butler. It was about a woman named Nina who’s in a relationship with an attractive, unfaithful basketball player and her unwillingness to leave the relationship. Having witnessed her father’s unfaithfulness to her mother growing up, she had come to accept the behavior, though it’s painful.

    There’s a scene where Nina stakes out in front of her boyfriend’s home, bangs on his door, distraught and angry, while he’s inside with another woman. As a young girl, I read this with fresh eyes for the denial and hysteria that Nina was experiencing. The scene was vivid, and so keenly observed that I felt Nina’s embarrassment, especially when he emerged from his home and told her to leave him alone. I wanted to scream through the page to Nina, and tell her to forget him, but something in me felt for her. I entered the scene fully, imagining the quick beat of Nina’s heart, her wet, mascara-streaked eyes, and the neighbors outside watching as she fell apart.

    How do we get there? From young women, reading about love and feeling it in our imaginations, to fighting for it, and refusing to accept that it was never there?

    We want to make our own stories.

    I am transitioning from something that was not good for me. Something that I made into what I wanted. I am writer, a storyteller by nature, and perhaps this practice has seeped into other avenues of my life because I began to mold a story, envision moments I wanted to have, treasure the good ones we did have, and ignore others. I was editing. I was waiting for someone who wasn’t there.

    Some days, I drove home from school, numb. The drive is long from Calarts (in Valencia) to South Los Angeles. There are mountains, big rigs, and long periods of space that I filled with thoughts and strategies of how I’d convince this person that we could make it work.

    Unlike Nina, I didn’t learn this behavior from my mother. My mother always said, “Love those who love you.” She stood by this saying, never falling for men, or tolerating people who didn’t reciprocate this belief. Nowhere was this more evident than in her relationship with my stepfather. Some nights, she’d cook spaghetti, his favorite meal, but not without requesting that he pick up certain ingredients on the way home. He’d scour the shelves of the grocery store to make sure he could have my mother’s spaghetti. When he arrived with the needed items, she’d finish the meal. Sometimes he picked up the wrong ingredients, or maybe forgot the mushrooms, and would go all the way back to the store to correct the error. Later, he’d finish his plate and come back for seconds. He was full, happy, and they smiled with glasses of wine in their hands. This was a partnership that extended to the meals that were prepared. This was a love that I witnessed.

    But I also witnessed a torn love. The love between my mother and father. A love that rendered my father frozen in time, cooking the same meal every night and recalling the lamb chops my mother used to make. His stories of my mother are a tapestry of my childhood, bordering legend, myth, and magic.

    We want to create our own stories.

    I am fine some days, but others I want to return. I want to return to the sweetest moments. Like, the time he surprised me and flew out to Los Angeles to visit. The day of his arrival, the emotional and physical preparations, new sheets and freshly twisted hair, a smile that wouldn’t disappear.

    But the urge to return is quickly beset by the reality that the person cannot be returned to.

    I have not been in Nina’s specific situation, but now, I understand. I understand how a feeling can explode into mania, into denial, and into an illusion. There is a need to create a romantic narrative from the unbalanced, from what’s torn and wounded. But, why?

    Well, there are years of friendship, years of connection, and years of wanting. There were different states, long distances, and periods of waiting. I am graduating on Friday with a dual-Master’s degree, and I wanted him to be there. I still do. There are days I can’t believe he will not be there. For the last four months, I imagined him there, standing with my family, sharing this momentous day with us. He said he would “try.” That was a central part of my narrative.

    I write love stories. This is a love story. This is love for self, a love that will not allow me to write myself into anyone’s life again.

    If someone wants to build something, create something with you, they will do that. There’s nothing that will stop them from doing that. No distance, no practicality. When those become reasons to abandon a partnership, there never was one.

    There is someone who wants to create an equal narrative. And it may be with me. Until then, I’ll write on my own.

  • alone in the winter

    he will come on a plane

    the ride will be bumpy

    but he will be here,

    you will fly him through traffic

    to a twin bed

     

    you will cook him bbq short ribs

    and sweet potatoes, too tough

    he will smell your hair

     

    you will find him in the mountains,

     

    you will drive him to the taco truck

    and hike Hollywood blvd

    though you hate it and he will too

     

    he will dance his fingers upon your neck

     

    and need you for one more day

    that you don't have

    because he's got to get back on the plane

     

    you will cry him off

    and swallow the air

    when it's all done

    ~nijla