A Dragon Woman with a Lion-heart

by Sundai Johnson

It took me years to name myself a writer. As a young child I had binders full of loose-leaf paper— dystopian thrillers and romance tales. My grandmother would say, that girl loves paper. And I did. I loved paper and pens, and their marriage. Until college, I had only every shared my work with my mother. I read poetry in public for the first time in front of an intimate group, and then at a larger poetry reading a couple years later. Despite my continued writing practice, my journey to the title and a confidence in that identity was a slow progression.

Growing up, I’d watch my mother paint. I often wondered how she fashioned liquid into flesh and crafted lucid images that I could never conjure in my own mind. I wondered if the magic inside of her hands, lived in me. I realize, now, that the title is not fixed to a perceived level of expertise, but instead has to do with the relationship to the craft itself.

Once I began to honor that which was mystical inside of my own soul, I fell more deeply in love with my work. I have pieces that I return to time and time again—to pick at and pull apart. I do not yet know that I believe in the notion of finished. This love is one that sometimes rocks me in a gentle power and other times, is trite and disagreeable. But the way I love this art of mine is much like the way my father taught me to love.

I still remember Kem crooning through the answering machine when he and my mother tried to reconcile the marriage. Pontiac, Michigan will always remind me of the tragic nostalgia of that deep and complex love; a love that tries and tries, despite mishap and failure. Love that is, but cannot find a place here, on earth, to be. The night of my junior prom, my mother scolded me for my tone with my father on the phone. When she told me later, that the two of them talked that entire night, neither of us could have predicted it to be the last time we would hear his howling laugh. We held hands at his funeral during the 21-gun salute.

I write poems about him and let butterflies tell me when he is near. I no longer allow fear to sit thick in my throat but allow the memory of him to remind me that courage does not mean I am not afraid, it simply means I move in spite of it. That, is how I write and that is how I love. 

My mother taught me to be dragoness and my father, to love with a lion-heart. My craft, my poetry, my writing, the wild and hankering way that I love—is wrapped up in who they made me to be.

And so I write, and I love, and I bound, because of them.