WORDS: MYLES E. JOHNSON | ART: LOVEIS WISE

“The children begin to play older without knowing the price is weariness.”

Nikki Giovanni, “Age”

The weather in New York City this past weekend was generous. It showed restraint when it had permission to get extremely hot.

It remained pleasant and reasonable. It is June, the weekend before Juneteenth, but the weather decided not to growl and boil like it had permission to. I rested in this decency for most of the weekend. I rested in the idea that despite how tightly we have choked the Earth, the Earth still shows moments of grace.

The weekend before, maybe even that Friday, I can’t recall because my days have begun to melt together because Life is not as graceful as Earth, my friends were excited for August. August is a strange month to be excited for, nothing happens there. There are no holidays there and it is usually just violently hot; the dog days of summer is what I remember older black people that have since escaped Earth called it in my childhood. For my friends, Juneteenth and Christmas and weddings and homegoings were in August.

They said, “We’re going to Cuba!”

“Everyone’s critiques, hot takes, and analysis sound like they’re exhausted. They lack rigor and the sharpness needed, and it is sad. We’re tired.”

The joy of a trip does not begin once your feet hit the land but once you have decided that you are going. It happens once you are able to anticipate it. After all, isn’t happiness having something to look forward to? This past weekend, the day before Father’s Day, our president put sanctions back up on Cuba and my friends were no longer going to be able to visit. The leader of the free world does not have as much grace as the world we’re living in. I can not conclude what happened to their anticipation or happiness, but I’d assume it left which is fine. Happiness comes, stays for a while, leaves, says it will come but does not, and surprises you like an unexpected health diagnosis on a regular, sunny Tuesday. What I do not know is how often I have had to witness people make and sustain happiness, just to have it broken, or at least plotted upon by sharp-toothed systems. I know how exhausted I’ve seen people be in the search, no, the cultivation of happiness.

Last weekend, I forget which day, I made tea in the evening. I put on the gospel song, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Precious Lord, take my hand / Lead me on, let me stand / I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone. I found happiness for a moment in a song about exhaustion. I thought, does no black person leave this Earth without being exhausted?

Just when my little bit of happiness began to grow, it was snatched; a dance I am used to, but my familiarity does not make it less painful.

I read the words that fellow young writers throw at the machine of domination. The words bounce off. Writers I had once been cut by with their thoughts could no longer make me shed blood. Their ideas and language were dull. I wrote this on my social media page after reading essay after essay, hoping someone found what I could not: “Everyone’s critiques, hot takes, and analysis sound like they’re exhausted. They lack rigor and the sharpness needed, and it is sad. We’re tired.”

That same day, maybe the day before or after, I do not remember, Philando Castile’s murderer was acquitted of all charges. Just when my little bit of happiness began to grow, it was snatched; a dance I am used to, but my familiarity does not make it any less painful. Soon after getting the news, I decided to run. It is beautiful to runaway in New York City because every place you go can feel like a different world. I climbed aboard a train and attempted to listen to music. I usually escape inside of music while living in New York City in order to drown out the chaos of being in the center of the world. I meditate and let the music deliver me into a space where peace and stillness are plentiful.

I sat with my exhaustion and stopped trying to beat it, outrun it, ignore it, or cover it with freshly baked happiness.

I wanted the voices of Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone to deliver me to a place where I can be restored. I wanted to be happy and not exhausted, but reality proved to be a harsher situation to soothe and meditate myself out of than I expected. I put on the audiobook of Nikki Giovanni’s “Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day”. It is just her voice and her words, no music or sound effects. Because of this, Nikki Giovanni didn’t attempt to drown out the chaotic sounds of New York City but use them. Giovanni drops her observations, “[..] what this decade will be known for, there is no doubt it is loneliness.” It is the 1970s and Nikki Giovanni sounds exhausted in the same city that makes stars and cold, cold winters, that I now call home. Her voice and words find a home in the clamoring of strangers, the sound of rushing metal against rails, maybe some rats, and maybe some laughs. As I ran away, her words bounced between brownstone buildings and went into dark alleys that traditionally make me nervous, but that day it was perfect.

I listened to Nikki Giovanni talk about aging, work, love, and Tupac as I ran away and waited for a happy ending to a poem, a peaceful resolution that could give me hope. It never arrived, and because it never arrived, I found a peace and happiness there. A resolution in the fact that life is never obligated to resolve! I was pushed to understand that life, the universe, God does not give you lessons, but lessons are an inextricable ingredient in what the whole universe is comprised of; there’s an allegory in every atom. Exhaustion is a relentless, brutal weapon against black people; exhaustion is a vintage, beautiful black thing that, like happiness, we have cultivated to help other generations of black folks that will surely be exhausted too. This is how I found Nikki Giovanni’s poetry and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”, they are heirlooms from exhausted black lives. I arrived home on Sunday, or Monday, I was so weary I could hardly think straight or keep up with a calendar. I sat with my exhaustion and stopped trying to beat it, outrun it, ignore it, or cover it with freshly baked happiness. That day I decided to make something out of it to offer tomorrow’s exhausted black person, even if it was just tears.

3 replies on “Political Exhaustion: A Thank You To Nikki Giovanni

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