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I wrote previously about being invited by SWWIM to participate in a reading they were helping out with at The Betsy Hotel, featuring visiting poet Chet’la Sebree, winner of the 2020 James Laughlin Award sponsored by the Academy of American Poets for her book, Field Study. I was so glad I went, for so many reasons. The experience also left me feeling like there are no true coincidences.
When I was first approached by Jen and Catherine at SWWIM about the reading, I knew immediately how much I wanted to do it. It’s been an emotional and difficult year, and the past few months, especially so, following the death of my mother in January. I recognized that I really needed a getaway. Once I decided to make the trip, my focus was on deciding which poems to read, how to introduce them, etc., along with what to pack, what to wear, and so on. Literally the night before I was to leave, (getting up at 4 a.m. was no fun), it struck me that this trip would be a perfect opportunity to scatter some of my mom’s ashes on Miami Beach, not far from where she was born and raised, in Coconut Grove, and married my father, at the historic Plymouth Congregational Church, (also in the Grove.)
Soon after I arrived at the hotel, around 10 a.m. on March 30, I walked directly across the street to the beautiful beach. The ocean felt so alive and wild, and was a beautiful emerald green. It was there that I scattered mom’s ashes, right at the shoreline. Then I lay on a beach chair, facing the sea and the sun, and didn’t move, for nearly two hours. I felt glued to that chair. Perhaps it was the emotional experience of being there, in a place that was such an important part of Mom’s upbringing, where she first learned to swim; where my grandparents hosted tea parties and socials for her back in the day (I’ve only learned of all this activity through articles documented in Newspapers.com); the specific power associated with the act of bringing part of my mom home, or all of those things.
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The reading at The Betsy was later that evening, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was wonderful to be able to meet, listen to and spend time with Chet’la, who graciously signed my copy of Field Study and has opened my eyes to the ways she approaches her craft, particularly in Field Study, “braiding” (love this word that Catherine used to describe Chet’la’s work in SWWIM’s “Meet the Writer” interview with her the next day) personal experience with intellectual insights via quotes from Black women writers and others, as well as contemporary snippets like tweets and musical references, and so much more, to deliver a work that conveys how one life can be interwoven and in conversation with many other lives to evoke a “whole” person’s life experience. We are the product of our own experiences, yes, but each woman’s personal experience incorporates the influence of many others, and Black womens’ experiences are not, to paraphrase Audre Lorde, “homogenized.”
I realized the day after I flew home to Gainesville that March 30th would have been my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary. That I had received the invitation to participate in an event on that specific day, in Miami; that I would be able to carve out time from work to make the trip; that it would occur to me to take Mom’s ashes with me and be able to scatter them in such a magnificent and meaningful spot — all of this awareness has arrived in layers, which I believe will stay with me for a very long time jasaseo.link.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]