The PdS Black Voices Series Presents: YALIE S. KAMARA
Your First Set of Seasons
August 17: When you move to ___________________, everything feels young. The summer heat never fades, and the night weaves into itself like a Mobius strip. Humidity loops around your body, and at the very least, there is always a gentle mist rising from your pores. The flowers seem to sweat and hang from their own dampness. But you feel beautiful, because you feel light. Joyful and sure of yourself. But this may be part of the problem.
August 25: This is the first feeling of fall(ing): you notice an old late 80’s-model American car following you around town after your first day of class. It slithers through the heatwaves like a metallic serpent. You walk close to the police station and wait, and the car speeds off. You walk home, looking over your shoulder every twenty seconds. You burn the dress that you were wearing when you get home and scrub his one million eyeballs from behind your neck, in your hair, on your lips, and between your breasts. You slick your hair back and wear braids for months to follow. You’ve been advised to be less beautiful before_____________takes it away from you.
September 15: You start to search for comfort in vices: you drink beer as if there’s a hole in your stomach that only dizziness and bubbles can caulk. You puff on cigarettes because the smoke makes this all feel like a magic trick. Like the morning after will be the end of the show.
September 30: The days get shorter and the trees too, lose their hair to the changing season. You notice that you have to leave your house earlier than you used to in order to get to campus on time. It’s as if the wind is tugging at your collar. Or perhaps you are becoming a sling shot, pulled back slowly, until you are taut and ready to be catapulted beyond the city limits.
October 15: In an afternoon course, a girl questions you about what authority you have in telling your own story. She follows her question with a response. And perhaps another question, which means she never wanted your feedback to begin with. She is muted by a passing train and you smile for the second you are gifted with not having to explain yourself. Your grin soon fades as your peers’ heads start to look like that late model Pontiac, a mosaic of rusty, chipped blue hoods. Their headlights flare so brightly that you can’t see yourself. In class, you learn to walk into your own mouth, slide down your throat, unplug your voice box. You’ve been advised to talk less before they take sound away from you.
December: You search for comfort in people and food: you are so stricken with ennui that the donut you eat with that one girl from class tastes like ash. You feel like the main character in Le Horla, in the scene where he is so bored, that when he yawns, his eyes tear up. In a bid to hide this from her, you cue questions for her as she talks to the illusion of you. She doesn’t realize you’ve asked her a variation of the same question thirty times: can you hear me?
January 10-March 1: You cultivate your strength in quiet moments, saying prayers in your bare white bedroom, while the world outside of your window looks like floating opal ghosts. You become good at finding hope in strange places; all of the cars are flecked with snow, so none of them look suspicious, you breathe easier. Your bedroom light flickers wildly for a few moments and turns off by itself. You should probably sleep. This is winter in a town that doesn’t love you. You begin to build a world of affirmations, spell them out with your frosted breath. You don’t dare write them down. Perhaps out of the fear of immortalizing this uneasiness.
March 20: There are a thousand flowers in bloom across your courtyard, a tangle of ivory and fuchsia petals wrap around each other and hang from the branches, rows of fingers waving at you as the wind ripples through them. The snow melts. And the tulips line the entrance of state buildings. The rose thorns have punctured all of the tires of an old car that you’d seen travel alongside you months before. It sputters and surrenders. A hummingbird places you in between its beak and flies from your mouth. You practice speaking, then singing. Your voice crackles, and you are awash with remorse in this beauty. You’d been so devoted to chronicling death that you’d forgotten that it too passes. But how long does it take? Is this peace or will the moody spring and its pewter-colored overcast charm the flowers to leave you too?
You lean over to a friend and tell him how sorry you are to not have seen the flowers fighting to reclaim their spaces on branches and in bushes, how you missed them bloom, how nature came back to life from a grey stillness. How you wished you had blossomed together.
April 15: He reminds you that maybe you were meant to return to ______________ at this exact moment, in time to taste its sweetness. He tells you that in this season, there are trees that are still yet to bear fruit.
A few good words with Yalie
PDS: “This is winter in a town that doesn’t love you.” This line is this pieces’ song, sung in a round, over and over. What I loved so much about this work is also what hurt most—the microaggressive ways the academic space, community and culture of that unnamed town froze the speaker (the reader too is implicated here because of the use of second person), took her tongue. Talk a little about the process of making this work—was it healing in and of itself to loose this speaker’s tongue?
YSK: I wrote “Your First Set of Seasons,” a few years ago during my first year living in the Midwest and starting an MFA program. The writing took place at a moment in my life in which I was constantly having these encounters in which facets of my identity were being treated as deficiencies. I think the irony of these experiences was that I looked to everything but writing to help me sort through what I found painful about the academic space, community and culture when the reason I pursued an MFA to begin with was in part to learn how to deconstruct the academic space, community and culture. I think that’s the horrible trick of these spaces—they can swiftly estrange you from your skill, sense of self, and purpose.
Though the piece is fictional, it does draw from a fundamental truth: you have to sing if you don’t want this world to make you a ghost. I was fortunate enough to take have Jacinda Townsend as a professor and this piece was written in her flash fiction course. Her class was a place that allowed me to begin to write fiction, a language that is still new to me; my MFA concentration is poetry. I was becoming acquainted with all of these new ways of succinctly telling stories, and it was also a space that felt safe enough to write about this new town, the MFA, and my body in relation to these spaces and to myself. In writing this, I was able to process how very easy it is to suppress the fears and stresses of these new environments and how they manifest in destructive ways. This story was written around the time when I started to gain agency, so the loosening of the speaker’s tongue was happening in step with my own. Healing is real. The speaker and I held each other’s hands and did it together.
PDS: Often, I think about the arbitrary nature of how we as writers categorize the work that we make, and how I’m often drawn to work that queers the idea of what prose or poetry looks like, work like yours. Do you think of yourself as writing more of one than the other, or is it less about preferred genre and more about best forms for expression?
YSK: That’s a really good question. I think that my writing style is a metaphor for my identity. I am a Sierra Leonean-American. My mother is Creole and my father is both Temne and Mende. English wasn’t my first language. My mother’s Catholic and my father’s Muslim. I’ve spent 50% of my life in public schools and the other 50% in private schools. By most media accounts, I am a native of war zones (Oakland and Sierra Leone). My life is informed by a simultaneity of contrasting influences. Nothing feels exactly clear cut. And because of that I think that peace will always look like a mosaic—one unlike thing holds up something else in a miraculous way that makes it whole. I am my best self when I’m chilling in all of the tension of my identity intersections and liminal spaces—that’s when I feel liberated and whole.
Similarly, I find that my work sometimes bleeds between genres and it’s in that state that my work seems to be in its integrity. And I feel good about that because creating work that is authentic to me is my primary objective. I think it only gets tricky when I’m trying to publish and have to choose a genre. This is the first year that I’ve made a concerted effort to publish my fiction pieces, so this is a new (and exciting) problem!
Though I still write more poetry than anything, I feel affirmed in no longer calling myself a poet, but now a writer, which feels full circle, since my first name is derived from Jelimuso, which is the name of a caste of female griots from West Africa.
PDS: What work are you getting really excited about? Whose book can’t you put down?
YSK: There’s a lot that I’m excited about right now, but at this moment, I’ll tell you a secret: I sleep with the Bible and Lucille Clifton’s Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969—1980 in my bed, which together read like a divine, delicious, astounding and aching loop.
Yalie Kamara is a Sierra Leonean-American and native of Oakland, California. In addition to being the author of the chapbook When The Living Sing (Ledge Mule Press, 2017), her work has appeared in Vinyl Poetry and Prose, Pop-Up Magazine, and Amazon: Day One. She is a Callaloo Fellow and was a 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize finalist. She is earning an MFA at Indiana University. For more information about Yalie, please visit: www.yaylala.com