The Craft

Sundai Johnson

September 2016

It took me years to call myself a poet, a writer. As a child I had binders full of loose-leaf papers, full of stories and ideas. My grandma used to say, “that girl loves paper”. And I did. I loved paper and pens, and their marriage. I only every shared my creative work with ma who praised it endlessly. But when I got to college I felt a thickness in my throat; That there was something about my words that sometimes felt empty, like they needed my voice. I read a poem for the first time in front of a small of group of folks, and then at a poetry reading a couple years later, in front of a larger group of folks. It was a slow progression. It took me a long time to call myself a writer, a poet, regardless that of the fact that I was writing and 'poet’-ing.

But I realized that the identity had to do with how it felt. It had to do with the way that I had a relationship with words. That I got chills, and butterflies from lyrical expression. That I loved to craft the ways words sat next to each other. The way they read on paper and the way they formed on tongues. I was obsessed with language. Obsessed with the art.  I used to watch my mom paint and wonder how she knew how to use liquid to make flesh, how she knew how to craft these lucid images from what seemed like the air. I wondered what magic was inside of her brain, her soul, her hands—if I had it too.

Once I began to honor that which was mystical inside of my own soul, I fell even deeper in love with my craft. I have works that I go back to and back to and pick at and pull apart and I’m still deciding if I believe in finished. This love is tumultuous. It is sometimes a wave that rocks me in its gentle power and other times, it is trite and disagreeable. But I love my art--much like the way my father taught me to love.

I still remember Kem crooning through the answering machine when him and mom tried to reconcile the marriage. Pontiac 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. I remember the night of prom, ma scolding me for getting 'smart' with him on the phone. She told me later, that the two of them talked that whole night. We didn’t know that was the last night we would hear his howling laugh and roll our eyes at him asking us to tell him one more time, how to send an email. 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 let the memory of him remind me that courage does not mean I am not afraid, it simply means I do it anyway. And that is how I write. 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.