Last night I sat on the hood of my car and grieved for Gynna McMillen. Joyce Vincent. India Clarke. Korryn Gaines. Aiyana Stanley–Jones. Deeniquia Dodds. Sandra Bland. For the 64,000 Black women in the United States who vanished—though I highly doubt the statistics are accurate—with no corresponding national uproar. I grieved for a woman whose name I may never know, who was sexually assaulted in 1999 while she attended Penn State, whose primary means of identification in this cultural moment is inextricably linked to the men who harmed her.
I sat with my tears and my anger and my stomach cinched into knots. Asked myself what difference my tears could make—as if I was the only person doubled over in grief. I could feel the beginnings of a panic attack coming on.
And then I remembered my machete. My mother tongue. My power and illogic: conjure and the pen.
So I went inside. Lit my candles. Pulled out the work of Black women poets and writers and artists and scholars and thinkers and doers (who, I’d like to think, endured their own moments of existential panic, knowing how unloved, unguarded, unsafe Black women can be, in virtually any space by creating). Cut on Betty Davis’ Anti–Love Song to stabilize my breath. Stared at the postcard portrait of Alice Walker and her luscious fro that hangs on my office door. Whispered the lines of Warsan Shire’s “In Love and In War,” the poem that reminds me I can always protect myself. I called the names of all the Black women I could remember. All of their lives. Their murders. The ineffable joys of their existences. Then I sat down to write.
My aunt once told me it is a holy work to tend to the dead. And one of the ways in which I tend to the Black women whose names, whose voices, whose shadows I cannot escape, is to do my work. Naming each of the violences that come for us collectively and individually in the night. Creating a poem, piece of prose, song, or any other kind of art for the next Black women entrenched in despair to find. Something for her to use as a shotgun or floodlight in the night.