Africa Jackson
October 17, 2017 2:42 pm
Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Today, October 17th, is Black Poetry Day.

In hindsight, I definitely wasn’t ready to jump back into a relationship after leaving my son’s father. I missed having inside jokes; I missed exchanging glances across a crowd. Losing that felt devastating at the time. I missed the way a kiss could feel like poetry.

It’s so strange how we tell ourselves that we’ll never fall for the same trap again. But there I was — trapped in an unhealthy situation with a new, different man.

In between this new man’s reassuring texts to me, he bragged on social media (with an account he hadn’t mentioned) about how “good things really do last.” He posed with another woman in the accompanying photo. I probably should have known better, but I clicked on the woman he’d tagged. While tears streamed down my face, I scrolled through their entire relationship.

I needed to find him, to ask him to explain. I drove over to his house while memories of his smile flashed like warning signs in my mind. I stomped up the stairs to his front door — maybe I was more angry at myself than hurt by what he did. I’m not sure how many times I launched my fists, forearms, and feet at his front door before I realized his car wasn’t even in the driveway.

This man had flown me in to see him. He insisted that I stay at the Westin Hotel so I could take advantage of the spa and relax. I never thought it was strange that he didn’t want me in his home. All that mattered was that he had flown me in just to be with him, and I felt special.

Little did I know that his “fast, dishonest words” would make me feel like trash. I walked away from his house feeling stupid and unlovable. I found out he was married, but he explained that they were separated. If it had been a movie, all the women in the audience would have rolled their eyes at me.

I left and wandered down a random street for an hour when I came across a tucked away bookstore.  That’s where I found Chinaka Hodge.

The cover of her book Dated Emcees looked the way I felt — not sad enough for tears to fall, but over it enough to hold my head down. I had no idea who this writer was at the time, but the first few pages let me know I would never forget her. The circus of electric clowns in her first piece sounded like the soundtrack to my love life. I smiled and laughed as if I was talking to one of my homegirls.

She wrote like she knew she mattered, and I wanted to have that feeling.

After the first few pages, I bought the book and read it as I walked back to my empty hotel room. She reminded me that poetry could be a satisfying escape. I remember standing barefoot in front of the 30th floor window wondering what it would be like to fall. The poetry in Chinaka Hodge’s book comforted me while I waited for this man to remember that I existed.

At times, her words made me disgusted with myself. Why couldn’t I be stronger? Smarter? Her poetry represented a bit of who I wished I was. I had to put the book down several times before finishing it. Consequently, the simplicity of the teal and pink cover reminded me that I had made things far too complicated. Rather than entertaining a fool, I could have rejected him entirely — that’s the vibe she gave in her poetry when she made that Positive-K influenced declaration, ” i got a man.”

Her poetry often feels like a movement.

I connected to the intimate relationship with betrayal she illustrates in her poetry. I had been putting myself in a position to always be someone’s backup choice.

Beyond my temporary heartache, Chinaka Hodge hit me with a cold reality check. Her poetry tapped into the carnal nature of hip hop. She demonstrated how the music reflects the structural violence permeating Black relationships. She successfully wrestled with her world. Each time I read her book, I climb towards that same sense of self-determination.

Chinaka Hodge’s poetry entered my life at a pivotal moment.

She pinpointed the inescapable pressure I felt to submit to men, all for the sake of escaping loneliness.

I am grateful for Chinaka Hodge. The words in Dated Emcees are not delicate. Her poems are imperfectly well-rounded, bold, vulnerable, empowered. I hope to one day impact readers and listeners with my writing, as she has impacted me.

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