by Shefon N. Taylor
in a native land
the first home I never knew
moss across my tongue
a foreign language escapes my throat
earth that swallowed me whole
held her fine powder
in the palms of my hands
there is no smell of soil
all we did was burn
writing what was found in the fire
from the embers onto pages
I place the ash between my fingers
forever holding hands
with what I want to remember
writing you is
peeling back skin that is
both yours and my own
mining wounds that smell of the seaside
hair blowing in copper winds
nostrils inhaling a mercurial breeze
reeking of your broken promises
and dreams left destitute
a voice roaring
through red throats
and exhausted lungs
anger perched at the top
of my chest
a bitter fire
this is the way you taught me to love
I hold my face between my palms
are you my mother?
“you are your daughter.”
the reflection replies
it is not that she does not love you
she has yet to learn to love herself
she has yet to learn to love herself
she has yet to learn to love herself
I repeat until my lips are chapped
from my own breath
perhaps there was too much
of your face in my own
could you not stand to see your eyes in mine?
what is this weeping
am I all blood and broken bones
is this all I will ever be
holding my mother’s pain
along a grief stricken spine
In conversation with Shefon Taylor pertaining to The Women That Raise Us:
"...We must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those oppressive values which we have been forced to take into ourselves.” - Audre Lorde. Through experience, this concept has seemed to flow into our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others, potentially, creating barriers and preventing us from building, supporting, and lifting one another. how can we transcend this construct?
It is important that we make it a conscious practice to interrogate what Audre Lorde is discussing here, which is our own internalized dominance and oppression. That internal investigation requires us to ask consistently, “In what ways am I or am I not creating space for the Black women in my life and the worlds in which I inhabit, to express their full humanity?” If the world maintains a narrative that disapproves of Black women, we have to be accountable for how we personally preserve that along intersections of Black womanhood.
For instance, as a light-skinned Black woman, it is important that I retreat when I take up space where brown and dark-skinned Black women should be centered. As a cisgender, heterosexual woman I can recognize when I am attempting to be an authority or gatekeeper of femininity and womanhood. These examples can be extended to the many facets of our identities, but ultimately I can not truly be a champion of sisterhood, empowerment and community when my internalized dominance does not allow me to extend empathy, trust and love to myself and others.
I believe the same rings true in the context of this Syla Journal theme. As Black women, we cannot extend those necessities when we internalize the idea of superhumanization (read as dehumanization) and project that onto the women that we identify as mothers, caretakers and nurturers in our lives. That sentiment also extends to how we treat ourselves. We need to conduct an inventory and identify how our overextension, self-sacrifice and suffering is not just personal or psychological room for improvement, but a way of being in relationship with dominant ideology.
Audre Lorde continues on in the quote with, “through examining the combination of our triumphs and errors, we can examine the dangers of an incomplete vision. Not to condemn that vision but to alter it, construct templates for possible futures…” We have the ability to craft a vision of freedom, one that is an example of full humanity, that exists outside of the confines of what has been shaped and molded by our oppressors. It requires our creativity, our compassion and our deep imaginations. If we are calling ourselves builders of and contributors to culture, we are responsible for the architecture of that future. Our action has to move beyond just interrogation, and cement our commitment to Black womanhood the way we say we so deeply desire. That is how we transcend the construct, by doing the work to affirm the dignity, humanity and femininity of all those Black and women identified.
The Women that Raise Us aims to exemplify the variations of women that raise and influence us, directly and indirectly, acknowledging every connection, whether ancestral or distant. Who are the women that have shaped you or raised you? Who are the women that continue to do so?
I was raised from a little girl by my maternal grandmother, Annetta. She has really been a … well of sorts. Where I have gone to draw up and learn the practice of art and creativity, self-sacrifice, compassion, what it means to care for and nurture your family and above all, love.
My father’s mother, a reminder that somewhere I am loved by him, even if it is only through her hands. My mother, both in her distance and absence, is teaching me my greatest lessons on grace, redemption and the power of presence.
There are so many other women, in moments both large and small, that have shaped me. My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Murray, who invited me to star as Ruby Bridges in our third-grade play and introducing me to acting as creative expression. My praise dance instructor, Barbara, who was the catalyst to my relationship with my body as an instrument of expression and surrender. My aunt, Maya, who married my uncle when I was 15 years old and has grown to be one of my greatest friends, confidants AND hairstylist. My grandmother kept me in her church, as many days of the week as possible through my teen years. The women there and the larger culture of the Black church have also been a huge influence on the music I enjoy, how I build intimacy with other women and understanding the importance of spirituality.
From a distance: In my art, I am deeply drawn to black women artist who reach toward memory as a source in their work. Lorna Simpson, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and others have mentioned memory as a cornerstone to their creativity.
This last woman who I have memories of as a child, but mostly conjure from memory is my great grandmother, Virginia King. My great grandmother is a source of my work and living in an incredible way. I feel deeply connected to her spirit, her energy and have no doubt that she is with me, always.
Do you consider "negative" and "positive" relationships and experiences with women as a contribution to your growth? Do you consider friends, inspirations, fallen relationships or even the everyday encounters as a contribution to your current self?
Absolutely. Our worlds and all of the experiences within them are constantly shaping and informing who we are. I have lost old friends, rebuilt familial relationships, confused business relationships as sisterhood, yearned after vanishing mentors and all of those moments have been a contribution to the many women I have been to arrive here now.
In our relationships that have failed us or not achieved our expectations, there is much to be learned about the complexities of others, a deepened self-awareness and a gained wisdom as we go on to navigate new experiences and relationships.
I have also accepted that not every Black woman I happen upon has entered my life to set the stage for a deep, life long bond. There is solace in knowing that I can be transformed by a thirty second or decade long encounter just the same.
I remember one morning walking through the breezeway toward a building I’d previously worked in. There was someone walking toward me and I could not quite make them out because of the brightness of the sun. It was windy, a bit brisk and the next time I looked up there was a short, elderly, Black woman approaching. She stood in front of me and asked, “Baby, could you please do this for me?’ gesturing at the strings on the neckline of her hooded sweatshirt. And there I was, placing my bags on the ground, securing the strings into a bow and straightening out the hood of her sweatshirt. A woman I did not know, who did not know me and a moment that has clung to me for years.
It was a reminder that we are always caring for and mothering the world around us, even in the most mundane, insignificant moments.
How can we lift each other, while we still climb as individuals? How can this become an ongoing practice?
In this current moment, I believe it is very easy to be disillusioned by the idea that we are standing alone on the mighty mountains that are our personal brands. Very quickly, we can lose sight of the fact that so much of this life has been carved out for us by other women. Even the parts that seemingly may not, trails that we are blazing ourselves, have also likely been supported by a community of women around us. With that in mind, it is important to remember that our individual movement contributes to a collective one and vice versa.
It becomes a practice when I consciously reject the idea of scarcity and those urges of unhealthy competition between women. For me, it’s helpful to practice self-compassion so that when I am faced with the brilliance of another woman I can see them as a reflection. I can bring into focus a human with desires, wishes, dreams and not have the ugly head of jealousy rear itself when the world wants to illuminate my fears and insecurities. From there, I can also extend compassion; and offer love, support and even myself in their climb.
In the words of Toni Morrison, “the function of freedom is to free someone else," and if you are no longer wracked or in bondage to a person or a way of life, tell your story.” That is the real practice. Taking note of our own liberation, to want and make it accessible for the woman beside you.
Where were you mentally, physically, emotionally, when the piece was created?
Mariasha belongs to a larger body of work in progress, entitled, Anterior. Anterior shares the simple opening invocation of, “may the women with whom I share blood, speak my name and never find themselves alone” and is traveling through both the lives and interpersonal relationships of the women that have shaped who I am present day.
This individual poem travels through the world of me and my mother. I was in a place where I was contending with the truth of our relationship. Both reconciling the pain and cultivating the joy that is being my mother’s daughter.
I remember as a young girl when my mother would be at work or gone for the weekend, I’d sneak in her room and scan her bookshelf. Amongst the Maya Angelou and other prolific writers, she would also store her journals. I’d pull one down from the shelf leafing its pages, uncertain of what I was looking for. Trying to find this woman through the only portal that I felt was accessible to me.
This poem feels like an extension of that moment, of sneaking off into my room constantly trying to discover the woman that gave me life. The lines travel obscurity, a dull ache, the almost nameless pain that presents itself with the complexity of an inexact mommy-daughter dynamic.
Shefon N. Taylor, a multi exploratory artist, examines the complex and prosaic moments of being across art forms. Her journey celebrates creativity as a continuum, a force to express our many and full selves and the use of imagination as an ingress to self-discovery, healing and liberation.
Through her digital design work and poetry, she incorporates disjointed elements of ordinary Black history, nature and space into surreal stories.The often-opaque themes weave texture, shape and color to transcribe an understanding of her present life, the lives of women before her and the possibilities of an imagined future. Shefon cites artists such as Lorna Simpson, Wanuri Kahiu, Carrie Mae Weems, Ntozake Shange, Warsan Shire and Zora Neale Hurston as inspiration to her work.