True to H(e)ART: 40 Years of Writing and Art from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, has a call for submissions on experiences at Michigan. Alongside that call are women asking me throughout the week – “how is your return?” And to respond to both, I’m creating a daily post-log for what happened, what sustained me, what was the thing that kept me going? I thought I could find it in a word, but instead, my fingers are stuck in translating the week of love and appreciation. Below is an excerpt of my work in progress. Feedback is welcome:
OM to Michigan
My kale grew flat, shiny and immediately greener on the pan. It was danced alongside the wooden spatula and paid homage to the sun that peeked inside the side kitchen window. Watching the rice water boil, forging holes inside of the surface, I thought back to the mysteries of michigan.
Can you believe that in a single week, life can alter itself?
My body boiled and dented, surprised and healed.
And in the healing, I hear the song:
Oh mother are you listening, our sisters need healing.
Oh mother are you listening, our sisters are healing.
Our love is our power.
Chanting above the kale leaves, the steam rising out of the tofu brought me to the steam of the Sweat, where inside of a dark-filled three-foot high lodge, thirty women of color sat and cried together on the wet earth. Inside of the sweat lodge, I asked my grandmother, Mary Meruca Lambey Locario and her husband, Daniel Locario, and my brother, Shawnel Hyde (who didn’t make it out of Bed stuy Brooklyn) and my mother in law, Irma Iris Cruz (silently, I welcomed her) and we sat together, in the room, our prayers hanging from the bamboo and cloth ceiling, and I asked for timelessness, for the gift of silence and pause.
And of course, there were women. For them I danced, and kissed, and appreciated. It was a week that I will never be able to comprehend, how far it extends, the magnitude of it’s power.
“So, it is your first time, what are you excited about?” I asked Po-Hong on our bus ride from the airport to the land. “I don’t know. Everything. I want to experience everything!” she said. Po’s voice was like a familiar blanket. I wrapped it around myself hoping to be near to it for as long as she would speak, and laugh that laugh that made the comics keep going.
It didn’t take long for Po to see Rachel as our bags were loaded onto the tractor. They greeted, and without a question, Rachel began to tour Po and Shannon, another festive virgin the gift of the land. “Katia was looking for you.” Rachel said. “She thought you were arriving yesterday.” And as her fingers pointed left and right: “note the chem free signs, don’t smoke here. There are the showers. This is the main road. That’s where I am camped. My sister should arrive soon…” I followed along, thanking her for the reintroduction. Yet, out of the hundreds, thousands of women present, walking about, settling in, greeting one another, there goes Katia walking toward us.
Greeted with love only an hour upon my arrival; I was home.
“I made a space for you. Go to the drummers tent, cross left. walk up a few steps, walk through the beaded curtain, there will be an orange chair; that is where you should pitch your tent.”
“Thanks Katia! I think I can remember that. But I have to catch the nut loaf. I’ll unpack after dinner.”
“Okay, I’ll find you!” and she did.
Opening night was of course as magical as one could imagine. There were lanterns flying into the air. I rekindled with a friend, who I had been nervous about sharing the land with, but hadn’t any choice, because in the madness of the women and the excitement of the countdown til 8pm, I lost my seat and ran to the front where she was seated.
“Sherley, oh my! Is it okay if I sit here?” What did she care, the festival was about to begin.
And on the stage was Richelle Donigan, dancing along side the festival dancers, including Adaku Utah and Naima Penniman, a couple of beauties from where I know as home in Brooklyn (the people’s republic of). What an awesome sight to see them move, Naima, lifting the red symbol of our blood and our spirits through the stage trap door. Once the music began, we were all already breathless from Hanifah Walidah’s duet with Animal and the Pussy Manifesto to the djembe.
puuussy puuussy puussy manifesto
Manifest this mother f*cker #1….
photo from the Michigan Official Facebook page
Damn, so much fun. I was overcome when Naima grabbed my shoulders and together we jumped up and down, to the Michigan anthem Amazon Women Going to Rise Again when Judith Casselberry began to do her reggae sounds.
It was all too much. So much, that once the darkness came, I had to take a walk. Cigarette, but no light. Standing on the side lines, in the Chem-ok section, I watched the Indigo girls speak, hoping for peace and solace. And then, there, Amy Ray began saying how much she loved Michigan. and Thank you for that Amy Ray. We love you both too!
“Did you see that, it was a shooting star!” a blonde-bobbed dyke-girl with glass eyes said to me after Amy ray of the Indigo Girls announced she was to have a baby. I turned to her,
“No, I didn’t see a shooting star; but, do you have a light?”
She lit my cigarette, and I looked into her eyes and that was it. For the rest of Michigan, Kate was my shooting star.
My highlights of the flesh …
[as an excerpt, I’ve omitted Thursday – Saturday]
“Let’s go to lake Michigan!”
“To the lake, oh hun, I don’t know… Should we leave the land?”
Kate and I toyed with the idea of crossing the front gate, thinking we needed to see how we could live on the outside world. One lock-headed black girl, one nappy headed blonde, hand in hand on the mean streets of Hart (were we in Hart?).
And so we did it, at very early in the morning, we found her truck and left the gate. Each piece of gravel that pushes against her tire held us back; the road was rough.
“We have to make the healing circle. You’ll love it; we need it; it’s like nothing you ever experienced!”
“okay, we can do it; we’ll be back by two.”
We never made it to the lake that day. But we found ourselves on the main road, heading to a diner where all the women had green bands on their wrists. Each en route to the road, missing the final day ceremony. We spoke to a family of dyke moms and adult daughter who’d been at Michigan since her inception.
“I was at the Lesbian Tent Revival on Julia Penelope.” The short-haired and studly mom mentioned. “You are the woman from the Lesbian Herstory Archives?”
“Yes, that was me. Wasn’t that a lovely revival?” I smiled at Kate, who wasn’t there, but happy to be in the conversation.
“Absolutely. You know, I hadn’t known of Julia Penelope, but I read For Lesbians Only a while ago, and it really connected with my values.” The softer mom mentioned.
“But what do you think of it all? Toshi’s announcement? The idea of women only space?” studly interjected.
“The real issue,” I forced out of my omelet-filled mouth, “is, well, I was raised black nationalist, and I was taught, if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything. We simply have to consider what we mean by women space, we’re not a queer space, it’s about gender, this very amorphous unidentifiable fallacy. As a woman who loves women, I know what that means to me, it may mean something different to my lover, and so, if we are all in consideration of what we mean, then the world belongs in Michigan, no?”
“That’s why I wish you were at the workshop that discussed Michigan’s history. Because it was remembered as a collective. It was not just the vision of one woman, although, thank goddess Lisa Vogel kept it alive. But now, it brings me to wonder, with much trepidation, what if the time has passed? What if there is no longer a need for such a space?”
“Absolutely not. I’ve been here since before I was born. I’m a straight woman, and I cannot live a life without this space, and I need my daughter to be here too. It has made me a stronger person, my family is richer and more evolved because of the connections
that I’ve made in Michigan.”
And so we spoke. About the complications, the intricacies, the reasons, the desires, the unspokens, the ignorance, the safety to speak openly about what we felt was a life or death reality for us all – the existence of Michigan.
I ended with:
“Ultimately, it is up to us to decide if we’d prefer a Michigan that is filled with change, or none at all…”
But then there was no ending. It was only a beginning, for another crew of Mich-women appeared, green banded, hungry, and we all continued to speak, to wail, like wolves, as we would on Sunday night after the closing ceremony, to the moons of hereafter, for the love of Michfest.
The conversation completed our meals, through my half of cheddar burger before we said goodbye, somewhat defeated, filled with hope for another year, and another, and just one more if any at all.
Kate’s eyes were wet after the healing circle…
After the healing circle.
I finally conceded to do the Burlesque at the Women of Color tent finale since T-Boi convinced me by her weeklong announcement, “we need more dancers ladies” to Yaya and I as we walked down the Michigan path and passed the Gaia girls, her permanent workstation. It was on the patio -the location where white women go to ask questions about why they are not allowed, or where interracial families may convene to discuss the difficulties of their deep love and the world that will not receive them -this space was turned into a backstage where women affixed glitter onto their nipples, tightened corsets, and were careful not to have their heels pressure into the carpet which held Michigan soil directly beneath its linings.
“Kate, please zip me up!”
“Shirt or no shirt”
“Does this rainbow pattern match my rainbow arms?”
I was frantic and calmed only once Hanifah was gracious enough to put a dollar in my stocking, Stormy danced with me alongside the stage, her wife cheering us on, and the doctor-healer poured lube down my stomach, and I rubbed it, in and hard, to the end of the Tweet’s voice.
Oh my, Oohh.