“Do you conjure ?”
I was looking in the mirror at the whiteness of my hair and thinking “oh my”. I have had gray hairs since I was 14. Both my parents (Ibaiye) had dramatic gray/white hair so it should be no surprise and yet and still, the shift from black to gray and now a clear “whitening” of my hair is both off-putting and familiar. There are so many ways I am changing. I look at my physical body and I see how my shape is….has shifted. There is both a fullness and thinning happening. The lines in my skin are more apparent like time travel road maps that mark my thighs and hips showing where I have journeyed. There are faint lines around my eyes that are likely not apparent to other people, but when I look in the mirror in to the morning, fresh-faced in the bright lights of my bathroom, I see them. When I hold hands with my sons, I see how the faint veins under my brown skin have become more pronounced, tunneling from my fingers to my wrists. There is a low slight fullness in my belly where I housed two big babies and again, there are lines. Lines etched around my belly button like tree roots that echo where I held two souls inside of me. My spiritual and mental shape has shifted too like a water balloon being filled to capacity or like a piece of paper that was torn in two and then taped back together again, again and again. It is heavy, strong and fragile. It’s a psychic shape shifting that I am so present with everyday. It’s a sensation of being both more grounded–open and a clarity about my bandwidth to manage or handle certain types of energy that feels so much smaller. I think that something was shook loose or broken off inside of me that allowed me to entertain a certain level of toxicity in exchanges and relationships that just isn’t there anymore. I mean its gone…really gone. I also know that I have been carved deeper inside by spirit and I hold more secrets, love, tools, magic and wellness that I can call forth for myself and my tribe. Healing.
C O N J U R E
make (something) appear unexpectedly or seemingly from nowhere as if by magic
implore (someone) to do something.
I was looking at my toes when he approached. It was a glittery polish called “ethereal” and my feet hurt from the shoes I had chosen to wear to the wedding. I was in my assigned position at the gift table with Poetic Justice box braids piled high on my head and a strapless fake ass African print dress. My cousin Cheyanne was my date and was the only person I knew outside of the bride, my girl Danita and her mother, Ms. Pat whom I worked with and had asked me to be a hostess. That’s where I met them all…the Aggie History club crew. The wedding was at “the farm” in Chapel Hill and everyone was beautiful. Elders, babies, all us in varying degrees of brownness and African attire, linen and old school church flow. Locs, bantu knots, incense and oils. He was a deep dark brown wearing a stunning orange and mustard yellow custom-made African print shirt that had cowrie shell for buttons (and yes, french cuffs with the same shells) staring right at me when he approached.
“Peace Sis, what’s your name”?
“Your parents named you Billie”?
“What is your name”?
“Your parents named you Sharief”?
low chuckle…looks at my feet
“You smell something”?
“What?! I don’t even know you and my feet don’t stink (feigned offense quickly turning into flirting)!”
“Where are you from”?
“New Bern and you”?
“Nice to meet you Sharief from Philly (nervous unconscious twirling of a braid)”
“Nice to meet you Billie from New Bern….peace foots”
wakes away feline, slow strong and graceful and I-am-sprung
We were 27. Over the next 3 years we fell in out of intense love several times and I became “Sharief’s Billie” first, then I became crew and have been ever since. The crew was an amazing cast of characters; the impressario/showman, the enigma, the court jester, the soldier, the warrior queens, the dancer, the drummer, the alchemist, the thinker and the homeboy. Sharief was one part soldier, one part sage and one part king. He did not suffer fools lightly and his Scorpio sting was catastrophically potent. I lived in Raleigh, he lived in Greensboro and Che was 2 years old still clinging to my legs. Back then, Greensboro seemed a million miles away so we spend lifetimes on the phone till 4 and 5 in the morning and he wrote me letters. The letters were called “Thoughts on Paper” and they would be multiple pages of his stream of consciousness date stamped so I could see when he was thinking of me, us, life, etc. He would press flower petals into the envelope so that when I pulled my letters out postmarked from Gboro, roses would fall out to greet my feet. His shape was magnificent. Our shape together was more urgent and intense than sweet. When we were together, music was always involved. There were soundtracks to our cooking, loving, fighting, making up, struggling and sleeping. The way his body moved when dancing to acid jazz and house music at a “Straight no Chaser” house party off Elm Street was like watching someone get the holy ghost…he got lifted. I could always feel his shape even when we were not around each other like there were cosmic strings laced around our fingers and toes connecting us to each other. When we broke up for the last and final time, Sharief’s stinger penetrated my hand and cut the cords. His shape disappeared to unknown places and even I couldn’t find him. Over the next 15 years it become my task assigned by the crew to seek him out and bring him back home to his tribe.
Ogun left us. He left because after all his toiling and hard work to bushwhack the world, to bring us iron, healing and technology, we laughed in his face and disrespected him. He retreated to the woods and his shape blended into the leaves and trees and civilization came to a screeching halt. No hunting, no cooking, no medicine and no protection, we were left vulnerable and on the brink of destruction from our own arrogance. Only she could bring him back. She danced at the edge of the woods with honey in her hands. He watched. She could sense his shape leaning towards her and then she did it. She smeared honey on his lips and he came forth, back to us. Her name is Osun.
I am Osunfunke
I found him, in his new shape by way of Osun and Yemoja…his little sister and his mother. “It’s me Omisade, Sharief’s Billie” I said. The next voice I heard was his. His register was deeper and slower. I threw out lifelines to other crew members so they could hear his voice too. We talked for months about life, my babies, my parent’s passing, his mother, the crew, illness and healing. Then the fates were kinder than before and we were able to see each other in his universe of Illadelphia.
We met in the lobby of the Sofitel. His fingers were still a deep dark brown, slender and elegant. His gaze was steady, but didn’t burn with the same penetrating intensity when we first met. There is a softness living there now around the edges of his eyes. His gait had a familiar rhythm and yet it was different like a panther that had taken a bullet in his hip…slow, deliberate and sometimes halted, tentative. His chin and my head both covered in white, grey, silver and black tuffs of hair…thick and slightly wild. Both our shapes had shifted with time, trauma, love, loss, reinvention and reclamation. With life, our shapes had evolved into something new that still felt like home. He brought me roses.
The lines of where he had sojourned over the past 15 years were less pronounced than the lines of where he had been stretched, torn and put back together. We listened to music and I showed him pictures of the crew who are now a remix of the original constellation adding marriages, babies, priestly initiations, death and new geographic realities. He looked happy and a bit overwhelmed as I dutifully pressed the urgent collective messages of nostalgia and deep love into his hands with my own.
“Do you conjure?”
S H I F T I N G
“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?… Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.”
― Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters
Artwork: Philippe Morel