AWP Remarks. On the Carolina African American Writers Collective: See with me as I remember Maisha Moore

Read on Friday, February 10, 2017, 12-1:15pm session, Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, Washington, DC.  Washington Convention Center, Room 101.   Panelists/Readers:  Dr. L. Teresa Church, Lenard D. Moore, Dr. Lauri Ramey, Cedric Tillman
See with me as I remember, walking across uneven stones beneath a prickly whistle thorn acacia.  I am wearing her shoes on the continent of Africa, heeled Mary Janes, covered in a light gray textured fabric.  They gather the reddish dust of Kenya and hold it, though I dust them after each day is done.  I am working at a boarding school for girls who, but for this opportunity, would not be able to go to high school.  They come from across the country, 33 out of 42 tribes represented, attending Daraja Academy.  Daraja means bridge, and I think of bridges when I look at these shoes, that in this land at the equator at the base of Mt. Kenya with its sweeping heights, one can almost imagine a heaven just beyond, where she is and where I hope she can see me, working, writing.  One side of the bridge to another. 
*
Maiisha means prosperous.  Maiisha means life.  She’s a star I never met, a daughter I know through her father, Lenard, and mother, Lynn.  Daughter of CAAWC, sister in my art.  When she passed on to the heights we all hope to reach, her clothes remained.  She was so fashionable, so on point, I imagine.  When I moved to North Carolina and as I got to know Lenard and Lynn, they were passing some of her things on.   In grieving, we keep what holds the most memories; we pass on what we hope for others:  warmth, flair, brightness.
*
We wore different sizes in clothes, she much more slender; we wore the same in shoes. In those first months as a doctoral student in North Carolina, with very little else but the community I found the Carolina African American Writers Collective, and the fellowship of folk like Lenard and Teresa, I was given a gift by a woman I never met.  Maiisha LaShawn Moore.  Her loving parents shared their love and hopes with me:  a good black trench coat, a pair of polka dot heels, the gray Mary Janes, and a few other items.    
I remember still when Lenard and Lynn came with those things, up into my apartment in Carrboro.  Kind gifts to share with a woman they barely knew. 
Those items stayed in my closet, regarded with love and wonder, a long while.  How could I wear what seemed so precious and so perfect?  I couldn’t imagine a clothes confidence, I who generally buy clothes once a season and wear shoes until they have holes … and then more, literally until a few spring rains have soaked through soles and wetted up my pant legs.  I’ve always been very humble in my appearance.  It took me a while to grow into an appreciation of Lenard and Lynn’s love, to feel worthy of it.
 
*
Now, over 10 years after receiving those gifts, and so many more from them both – Lynn in her bountiful care and Lenard in sharing his literary wisdom – there are times, when I dig in my closet, and touch the warm wool of a certain trench.  I think of Maiisha. I think of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective and family and the year when Lenard wrote a poem each day for his daughter.  I think about how poetry saves, how poetry can be a bridge to a prosperous life. 
*
These days, what I write is generally filled with flame and tumult, political charge and action call. 
Today, I want to read about love and life. 

[I read the following poems:  Pandora’s box opens and Terrence Crutcher dies; poet on watching her lover garden                                            persephone’s dream; and huldah at origin]
CAAWC will always be listed in my bio, though I have not lived in North Carolina for about 10 years now, because CAAWC is kin and bridge and love and aspiration.  It is wisdom and laughter.  It is green leaf and red dust; it is a family I strive to honor each day in my work. 
 #awp17
         

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