The Past is Present

The Past is Present

I was watching a film the other night during that narrow space between 'the children are finally asleep' and 'I still have enough energy in my middle aged body to do something fun, just for me, before also collapsing into comatose sleep.' 

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable follows scientists who discover the sunken remnants of a ship belonging to Roman-era art collector Cif Amotan II.

However, I learned later that it was actually a mockumentary! Cif Amotan II is an anagram for “I am fiction”. It really had me going. I love things force me to exercise my brain.

Anyway, that story made me think about how the past is always present. Also, how the past is the present. I thought about the ways we fabricate stories that make us comfortable in order to fill in gaps in our history/ancestry, and how we also edit our memories when their jagged edges rip violently into the fabric of the present. 

Acknowledging that we all do this, I think, has the power to clear away some of the emotional shrapnel damming our creative flow. I wrote a bit about unburdening yourself enough to hear the words that want to come through you in my craft essay titled "Release the Dam: A Poem is a River." Have a look.

Unfortunately, so many of us are paralyzed by not knowing our past--like lots of us writers from the African diaspora--while others are constantly halted by the ways the past weighs down their every day lives. 

I like to challenge people to who are overly focused on the past to stand still and focus on now. This is by no means an approach I invented, but I find it very useful to accept that, in both beautiful and ugly ways, people were, are, will always be the same. That means you too. 

Appreciate that you are part of an ever evolving story, and also try to forgive flaws in yourself and others. If you want a more complete picture of what your great grandmother thought about this or that--I was fortunate enough to know mine, as you can see in the photo ;-)--think about what you think about this or that. Although politics and social mores change, people essentially act from the same place--love, fear, desire, etc., etc.  

Creation/change is the only constant, and that is always the substance that now is made of. So, just do your best.

Here's an excerpt from the poem "Birth Right" in my new book Everything Is Necessary, forthcoming from Willow/Aquarius this October, which is a long-ish meditation on the past:

The family,
generations of questions
and afflictions,
planted in places with saint names
doing the devil's work
the knowing of us selves
that we couldn't do
in daylight
hidden behind 'pet names'
and digging songs
and we came back
we come back
we are back
still asking
"Ain't I a Woman?"

I is
We am
a head full of
mermaids and pennies
words like
honey and giggles
spiraling on the wind

But still
in all the days
in all the ways

the ashes of these
racehorse lives
barb wire around my
keep me safe from the
rage of running
the mazes
I built in my sleep


I know you
I know us
but still the same
loving and
in all the same ways

I think came here to
so I could finally learn how
to forget

And then
pitch a hammock
among the stars
laugh at all the things
so small
so un-real
all me
and still


And just
for once
and for all
the perfect
who first