a stolen line of firsts. letters between us. love between the lines.

  1. Happy Birthday Sista Docta Tara!!!!

    "Little Phillis survived a nightmare Atlantic inch by inch dreaming your face"

    -Archeology of Freedom (by Lex)

    We know when we were born.   What a luxury to know.  To have the date to refer to.  What evidence of self-possession.   We know the date.  Maybe even the hour.  Maybe even the people who were there.   In my own family this is a recent luxury.  My maternal grandmother does not know when she was born.  She does not know anyone who was there.   But we know.   We could even make astrological charts of the exact cosmic minute we got bodied in a breathable way.   What a gift, to know.

    Of course Phillis had to subtract and estimate.  Maybe, like my grandmother, by the time she was old enough to know about birthdays the people who had been there were separated from her forever, impossible to find.  At the very least she had to approximate a date in an calendar incompatible to her birth and to her life and resistant to her existence as a person of record except as cargo on a ship that shared her name.

    What a blessings to be able to claim a day.   And to claim a friend.  Phillis had at least Obour as a person who whether or not she knew her friends birthday, could be glad that Phillis was born, just because.  Not because of the worth of her laboring life, intellectual and domestic to an owning household.  Not even because of her reproductive value as a wife and mother in a patriarchal world (no shade to Mr. Peters).  But just because she was.  Just because she existed.  And the icing on the cake may have been that she existed so brilliantly and affirmatively, miraculously claiming the power of God, her own voice.

    You too are miraculous Tara.  And every time you raise your voice to your students, to our colleagues, every time you lower your voice for an aside, an intimacy, a critique or a joke every time you show up for a meeting or for a friend is a miracle.   You are born.  You are still here.   And I want to celebrate you beyond use value (though your work is useful), beyond what you do. 

    I get to celebrate you just for being.  I am happy that you exist.  Dare I say Obour and Phillis are too.  And so many people with the privilege to call you friend.

    You were born.  And we all know it.  And we can know the details if we want.  And we celebrate you in multitude.  In chorus.  Triumphant.

    Most affectionately yours,


  2. from Lex with Phillis


    Dear Phillis,

         Can I live? Can I outlive you? And how? Every bone a word, every moment a ritual stolen back.  Are you beacon or warning? Lighthouse or loophole? What do you want me to know?


    (That you must gather the truth around you, gather the truthtellers around you, that you must by every means stay warm, that love is the only only freedom, that I love you and this.)


    What did you know about love? How can I love myself whole and well?  How can I be a mother?  What did you learn from birth?


    (Love yourself strong.  Say what you mean until it resounds in your chest.  Know now that you are not as small as you feel.  That you are big enough for love and survival both, huge, big enough to dance with those babies and remember it is the same thing)


    Do you see us? Do you hear us now? Did you already know? Could you sense this and us somehow?


    (You all are what made it worthwhile to write, worthwhile to live.  I knew you would come.  I would have wrote for you in blood it that was all I had, printed fossils with my teeth if I thought you would find them.  I love you.  All of you.  And look.  It was enough.)


    Love Phillis

  3. From Sangodare Akinwale/Julia Roxanne Wallace

    Phillis or rather Mrs. Wheatley or Mrs. Peters,

                 Please forgive the clumsy address.  Salutations

    I know are not my best.   I wonder of you, how much of your time;  was being the righteous of the day the only peace you could find? What of African culture can persist, when one so young is denied any bliss, subject to horrors and harm unspeakable and with such genius still many find unbelievable.


    I think of you circa age seven or six what maturity had you already and to gain to exist.  I think of you age 20, 21, 25 and I wonder who I would have needed to be, what to do to keep you alive.  Would it have been possible to walk in love or would moral conviction have brought down the hammer of the judge.  Perhaps a comrade, cousin, some given or chosen kin, maybe unable to save your life, but make it a better life for you and yours to live in.


    And now I am reminded that your light certainly still exists, transformed in many ways but still possible is bliss.  What in my power embodied as I am can I offer to be service to offer peace or healing.  What to bring what to dam.


    I can offer that of my purpose which overlaps with yours.  To use these tools of communication and beauty to open up the doors to righteousness as I see itaccess to love a path to spirit living inside, all around or up above.

                                                    Yes!  Be blessed.  With love, take solace,

                                                                            Signed Julia Roxanne Wallace

  4. From Valencia Wombone

    (letters from the Phillis Wheatley Pocket Poetry Prayer Meeting in Durham NC this past Sunday)

    Dear Phillis

                Thank you for messages encoded in poetry, for me and your energetic children since your children died of cold with you in Boston.  I remember how cold Boston can be and I grieve to imagine you shivering unable to find warmth in the cruel capitalist system.  No tea party to warm the bodies of black folks bound to be free.  Emancipation.  Who is free to write the words of liberation? And who is chained to the enslavers words to pass between hostile hands and eyes to write our freedom?

                                                                                                    Valencia Wombone

  5. From Amos

    (letters from the Phillis Wheatley Pocket Poetry Prayer Meeting in Durham NC this past Sunday)


      Wed be taken to the wailing wall to stuff crumpled paper prayers in between the bricks.  I would not know who to address the prayers to and prayer would not come.  I did not have a god, or ancestors, or know my great grandparents folks and family dead or living.   Itd be only us surrounded by terminators. 


    Now on this new old land in the south I remember.  (I have never been here before, but I am not new to you.)  I know my family, the dykes and fags and trans-formative artists and visionaries, survivors who once I believed I was, but alone.  Now I know you are my family.  I want to take care of your soul.



  6. From TaMeicka Clear

    (letters from the Phillis Wheatley Pocket Poetry Prayer Meeting in Durham NC this past Sunday)

    Dear big sis Phillis,

                 Wow, so much respect for you.  I fought back the urge to cryseveral times.  I know that your transition now allows me to communicate with you on  and in a higher plane of existence, though I ache for your los while on this plane.

                I have very recently decided to try to get my writings published and Ive also applied for a writing gig with some sistas doing some black feminist writings and some writings with the intent to heal and teach.  Im rather nervous about my writing style and subject of interest.  Moral does not seem all that popular.  Feels like Im preaching sometimes.  Do you know the feeling?  You seem to involved in the writings I have read of yours.  How did you balance passion and communication?  I just keep thinking, you dont seem like a surface communicator.  Like small talk and pleasantries were shost and you got right down to the depth of it all.  I dig that.  That is how I relate.  Which at times creates awkwardness for some.  I listened to Alexis read a letter to your friend and thought to myself, yeah, thats how I want to talk to everybody.  Did you struggle to connect with people? Well I want you to know I am so glad your presence and magic was a part of this world and that through it all you made your mark.  Id love to hear from you.  I love you,


  7. from Nicole Campbell

    (letters from the Phillis Wheatley Pocket Poetry Prayer Meeting in Durham NC this past Sunday)

    Dear Phillis,

      I am in the constant process of becoming.  Most times unable to be present in the moment for fear of responding and acting as someone not myself, someone who has not become.  As I write this down, I think what a luxury this is.  A young Black woman pondering her state of becoming.

                A young Black woman able to take pause, ponder her placement, dub myself powerful.  Maybe some may see this as a luxury, but my becoming compels me.


    Phillis how did you become?

    How did you write it down?

    Did it compel you as it compels me?

    Did not writing it down make you sick sometimes?


    I want to revisit the ocean with you

                Is that too presumptuous?

    Meet you at the shoreline

    The sand squishing around our brown toes

    Feel the mass that brought you here

    brought us here

    Phillis, woud we swim in the ocean together

    We would find a way to keep you warm.

                                                          I PROMISE.

    Maybe we could be Black women relaxing, becoming golden.


    Lets dry off. sit in the sun. write each other poems. read magazines.  eat the sandwiches I packed for us.  then fall asleep in the tent that I pitched.


    We could be golden.


    Dear Phillis, thank you for making it a little bit easier to dream.


    All love,


  8. From Jasmine Kumalah

    (letters from the Phillis Wheatley Pocket Poetry Prayer Meeting in Durham NC this past Sunday)

    Dear Phillis

                I want to write to you about the land you were taken from.  The land of black skin and red soil.  They said that the land was pagan and that we were godless. But Phillis, each step in this land is steeped in the hearts of gods and goddesses.  See when they came with their wooden crosses and golden bibles, they closed their eyes and reached blindly.   Our gods and goddesses are too numerous to lie dormant behind brick walls.  The reach beyond the walls we build and reside within the forests, the lakes and the seas.  They stand amongst us and apart from us.  They lie within us, dancing carefully on our sanity, they posses us, they break us and make us.  Phillis, it was mama wata that delivered you to the land that now holds your bones.  She rocked the boat that took you from her shores.  She held command and took back your fallen comrades.   Black skin, red soil.  Of what pagan land can you speak of.  Phillis, the land of which you come is one bathed in the light of the great ones.



  9. From Faith H.

    (letters from the Phillis Wheatley Pocket Poetry Prayer Meeting in Durham NC this past Sunday)

    Dear Phillis,

    I need you.

    Your girlness, your strength and your frailty inform me.

     Lately I’ve been wondering how to write about being my daughter’s mother, Bio Mom as she says when she/they are angry; or Faith; or FaithMom.

     There are issues of coding and discretion. I think the language of fracture, extraction, and theft— can reveal and illuminate her and our and their experience. I think of portal; drift mouth; the tunnels which drift into the mountain; the msn trips; snd impoundments or gob piles hanging fatally above the rows of shotgun houses.

    I can do that.

    There is a young girl, girl child than you were in the Middle Passage. she grew in those seamed and stripped hills. She is violated. Like the mountains seam with coal she is, perhaps, seamed with mental fragility. Regardless, she is hurt.

     And after two decades she is fully they and surviving with internal structures like the bolts which hold in place the coal mine’s roof with its kettle bottoms; the drift; the face of the coal draped in a curtain of canvas which is hosed to hold down the dust which fuels pneumoconiosis or black lung in which carbon particles penetrate the living lungs until the pink tissue becomes immobile and impermeable: dead tissue in a living body.

    The question of responsibility, though: that child/ girl child at the face of fossil filled coal. Can I ethically write of her?

    Faith H

  10. On Volume

    Hey there Tara B!

           Praise be this Sunday for our shared literacy.  Our shared access to an unlikely sacred text.  Praise to the pages of the volume that made Phillis Wheatley survive long enough to belong to us.  All praise.   This Sunday I am thinking about volume, as people in my community here in Durham prepare to come over to our love-lined sanctuary aka living room for a pocket poetry prayer meeting in the name of Phillis Wheatley.  When I think about prayer poetry for my pocket, I think about a quiet practice.

            But is prayer meeting quiet? Or is prayer meeting for praying loud?  Is prayer meeting an embodied megaphone, hotbox for god? A way to make our quiet hearts resound in heaven?  I am thinking about volume.  How quiet.  How loud.   How quiet do we have to be honor the layered liberation in poems by an examined enslaved writer on coinless commission?  How loud do we have to be to drown out the ocean between Phillis and her other self?  How loud to replace to decades of misrepresentation of Phillis in the black literary movement we inherit together sister-scholar?

            Phillis’s letters to Tanner are prayer meetings.  Fully evangelical.  Cherished as a space where black women could discuss the value of their salvation for each other.  Where they could say “I wish you much happiness” and “I hope this will find you in better health” and “I hope our correspondence will revive in better times” knowing that maybe no one else was praying for black women to live and be happy except sometimes us.  Maybe we are the ones who have to offer each other the better days we deserve.   These letters are sweet quiet and audacious and loud.  These are letters between enslaved black women who believed that black women could talk with God.   What audacity to ask “remember me in your closest” assuming that God herself will listen to a black woman’s pleas on behalf of another black woman.  Who taught these women this religion in such an unamerican form?

             Remember me in your closet.  How loud?  June Jordan says it is a difficult miracle that there would be a Phillis Wheatley, that there would be black poetry in America at all.  Would it be difficult for June Jordan to imagine the simple of miracle of a diverse collection of Sunday travelers ending up all in the same place to pray in the form of poems in the name of Phillis Wheatley?  Phillis Wheatley was a person who could communicate with God.  Who could tell bereaved families angry with the God that she herself once called “incomprehensible” what God really meant by the death of their husbands and young children.  She could tell them that God really meant love no matter what happened and people believed her. Not only that, but they asked her to tell them what God could mean.  And what could God have meant by putting Phillis in the position to tell white people what death meant, and freeing her up to talk prayer with her friend?  God knows a seven year old girl stolen from Senegal who survives the middle passage and even one Boston winter has something to tell you about death.  How quiet death can be.  How loud?

             “Come to this country a slave and how should you sing?”  June Jordan asks Phillis Wheatley after the fact.  Like a weary deaconess in prayer meeting.  With the depth of a soul being saved.  How loud?  Phillis herself said herself one Sunday (June 13th 1779) that the “infinite wisdom” of God can “bring a clean thing out of an unclean.” Is this how we make love in capitalism?  Is this how black poetry can exist in this place dirty with greed?  And how quiet should we about it?  How loud?

           I am asking you Tara because I think you would know whether this is a roof-top or a whisper to the roots situation.  And because I love you.  I wish you much happiness.  And health.  And I wish for our correspondence to meet better and better days.  And because I pray for you and for us and for Phillis and for Obour and not only in my closet.

      Most affectionately ever yours, 


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