By DéLana R.A. Dameron
When I was younger, and my mother was trying to stave off my tendency towards following my dad around and doing everything he did, she gave me “girl-y” things. My sister and I owned the Barbie Dream House, thousands of Barbies, and other play things. When I was old enough to want for jewelry and other bodily adornments, she started gifting me jewelry boxes. One was this porcelain jewelry box that she made in her Home Ec class in high school. Thinking back on it now, she called it her Alabaster box, for all of its Christian connotations, but I remember it as this heavy shoe-box sized thing that I was supposed to put necklaces in, and it was painted Mother of Pearl, and if you turned it around under a light, portions of it changed colors. It was good enough to sit on my dresser and hold an earring or two.
One night we got into a fight, and while I don’t remember the fight, I remember being close to this thing my mother made and loved and had given me in the hopes that I would love it, too. I picked up the jewelry box, and threw it across the room. It hit the door jamb first. Then fell to the floor. Ironically, the hard wood of the door jamb didn’t break it, but the carpeted floor did. Maybe it was the combination of the two. I remember my mother’s look on her face. Suddenly, at the breaking of the jewelry box, it was no longer about the fight. It was clear, I had ended that. Then, it was about the jewelry box that she had made that I had broken. When I saw her face, I wanted so badly to not be the person that made it that way. My throwing the jewelry box was about her understanding that she hurt me somehow, and that I wanted, any way I could, for her to understand my hurt, and I used whatever power I could, and that was destroying something in the process.
She walked away and didn’t say anything. There was this broken jewelry box between us. I probably stood there for a moment figuring out how to fix it–like my father, I’m always looking for ways to fix something broken, to try and save something–and then I realized, there was no fixing it, and even if I did try to put it together again, it wouldn’t be the same jewelry box my mother made. I guess I got a broom and dust pan and swept it up into the trash can.
Besides trying to articulate this into a poem or some piece of writing, I think this situation is kind of like writing/writing life for me. I find myself looking for ways to insert/assert myself. People are living their lives, and going about their business, and I come in and sit between them for a bit. Maybe I stir things up. Maybe I say some things that might not feel good. Maybe I might write a poem or a blog or a letter stating my discontents. Then I watch things break around me. I watch faces shift, and I look at what my hands might have done, and immediately, I want to try and fix it. Or write more about it, thinking perhaps the writing is doing the fixing, that a poem will glue the broken pieces together.
What was beautiful, I think, about the moment described above, is that I came to my mother hours later, after the dust had settled, and I said, “I’m sorry.” I was old enough to have my hair in four plaits on my head with plastic barretts at the end. She looked at me, and wiped my face, stroked my hair, and said, “It’s all right.”
Besides a certain level of selfishness–I’m old enough to understand it–and maybe, reckless thinking, I can find reasonings for launching that jewelry box across the room. Someone was hurting me. Someone was not listening to my hurt. I had to take more drastic measures in order to –what I thought would happen–have my voice heard. Maybe writing is also like that, and publishing, and writing the things we think our families and friends and lovers will hate us for. I remember at the Cave Canem retreat in 2006, Toi Derricott gave that reading with Samiyah Bashir (Ms. Lucille read, and Cornelius, and others..) but Toi either talked about or read it from her book The Black Notebooks, that in preparation for her writing about her mother and her tenuous relationship with her mother she had to, “Be prepared for [her mother] to never speak to her again.” I imagine there was a broken jewelry box between them, too. And an effort to put the pieces back together, to un-say what was said, even though the sayer felt the urge to speak her truth. But isn’t that daring? Isn’t that, writing? To be so convicted by your truth-telling that you’re willing to say what needs to be said for your greater good, for others’ greater good, even if it might hurt someone you love…even if it might widen the chasm between you?
My own mother and I had a tenuous relationship. I believed that, when my parents were going through their affairs, my mother had been the one to throw our proverbial jewelry box in the middle of the room and walk out. I realize now, I created my own narratives to the story based on who I valued more in the family, and that no one is innocent in those situations. I wrote about it to process my own dealings with it, to consider my own inheritances of coming of age in a family that openly fought about their infidelities, and how that might have marred my own vision of love and marriage and family.
Kwame Dawes runs the South Carolina Poetry Initiative through the University of South Carolina–the organization in which my manuscript was selected for publication. After the book was published, I was invited down to my hometown to do a reading/workshop along with poets Sharon Olds and Rosanna Warren. After our talks about “Risk-taking,” I took my own risk. I read this long poem –the central piece to my new manuscript–which maps out my own discovery and dealings with my parents’ affairs and interrogating how that affected my sister and my own relationship (you could argue, lack there of, or violent, or, unstable/unsafe, at the time) with men. I call it a type of inheritance. We inherited this. Either way, with Toi’s words behind me, and with the theme of the summit being “The Art of Risk in Poetry,” I read the poem, all 8 sections of it, and looked out into the audience and saw my mother and father sitting there, in the back row, listening.
Again, the Porcelain Jewelry Box.
When I got to my parent’s house, I was trying to figure out what words to say to my parents. On my way to the airport, my father asked me–he’s NEVER asked me, you should understand–for a copy of the poem. My mother, turned to me and said, “I know you were scared to read that poem when we walked in. You shouldn’t be. I understand this is part of your story, too.” And I said, “Thank you,” and we said, “I love you’s” and I got on the plane back to New York.
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