Arrivals and Departures
Blogger: Cherryl Floyd-Miller
Arriving in New York and at the CUNY Graduate Center was no easy task, but after navigating my way from Penn Station, around bodies that will not move for you, through chatty lunchtime New Yorkers, the successive, small pockets of smells (bodies and street food and heavy, greasy air), and a huge red Macy's sign (yay!), I made it. The buildings here made me feel tall, as opposed to how they always dwarf me. I think it's because here in New York, just as much occurs closer to the ground as it does in the busy-ness of a highrise or a skyline. There is something happening at every level of the view.
I arrived at the CUNY center, met the beautiful face of Phebus Etienne, who had a conference pass waiting for me, and turned to hug Carolyn Micklem ... deeply ... extralong! Time has not diminished her capacity to love you bone deep in the limitless space of a hug. My ears were cold from the walk and she didn't mind at all letting me warm them for a moment against her face.
In the foyer area, Executive Director Alison Meyers and Executive Multi-tasker Dante Michaux were setting up the tables for the auction that would come later in the evening. They both stopped what they were doing for a moment to introduce themselves. This was an important gesture and a kindness from the universe after the long trip that brought me here. Another table in the foyer had so many lovely and distracting book covers that I stopped to let myself get engrossed. It was a large moment within a small one in which I realized I had met almost every author who had a book on the table! On an historical occasion like this observance of the orgin and projection of this incredible community -- this dream that we all dreamed and then dreamed some more in order to live -- I quietly retraced our history-making evolution.
I moved in on the first panel session already in progress (actually, almost at its end) and took a seat on the floor to try to find a listening entryway into the conversation. It didn't really happen. I had missed most of the panel discussion, so I took the time breathe at arriving, to peek from my low position on the floor to find faces among the audience. Since I attended my 20-year class reunion last year, I was prepared for the small blaze of heat that expands in your chest when you see someone you haven't seen in a very long time. The sun rises in you. Perhaps you don't recognize them, but something -- the way they dart their eyes, the way a cheekbone lifts on the upswing of a smile, the special way they make their nose wrinkle -- triggers a familiarity and all you can do is just smile to contain yourself. I immediately spotted John Keene, who did not have dredlocs the last time I saw him, but whose bright eyes always let me know he's John. Where I hear the name Tyehimba Jess, I will always turn and look for one of his signature hats. Tara Betts always, always is a smiling, inviting face, even when she's cussing. Toni Asante Lightfoot, who hugged me before saying a word, is always a voice to me. It is the sound of her that always invokes my familiar, how her voice has just enough smoke in it to seep into you and linger even after she's left the room.
I remember Toi saying (when the CC retreat space was Mt. St. Alphonsus) that from year-to-year she could see that the bones in our faces shifted each time we return to Cave Canem; she would stand smiling in the hallway and watch us (absorb us) as we returned to the mountain, like a mother welcoming you home from college or war (when those are two separate events). It was like she was really seeing us become ourselves. Whenever I needed to know about my own humanity, how it came out of me, I needed only to find Toi's face. Those eyes, intense, told me everything I needed to know.
In this moment, too, I noticed how bones and bodies have reconfigured among us. I vaguely heard Greg Tate in the background being challenged by some serious sistervoices in the room about the misogyny of rap lyrics, heard Elizabeth Alexander read poems, saw Yusef Komunyakaa lean into the table to check out Greg Tate's response to the challenge from the sistervoices ... before the panel was declared out of time.
I was thinking that this has nothing to do with the panel -- is departure -- and therefore is not relevant to this blog space ... but only for a minute. I soon remembered that I am among people whose very existence inside a tradition called Cave Canem is a departure, and completely relevant, and what has sustained and charged us.
Alas, coming in at the conclusion of a panel was an almost perfect way to enter the communion of these spirits ... in medias res, the work and the joy already in progress, because they always are. I had time to be close to all my people while stealing some internal time to reflect on all that we have become - are becoming.
Posting Note: I thought I would be able to blog continuously while the reunion was happening, but the fullness of such an event does not sanely allow for that. I wanted to be fully present, so I took notes and used my tape recorder in order to start giving accounts after the reunion retreat. I am decompressing now, but will keep transcribing and reporting on the reunion, so keep watching the space for more.