Of Open Hands and Tender Victories: #PoetryandSkosko Volume 1
The wisdom in poems enriches my life. The words teach me about myself, about pain, about love and about overcoming. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of this wisdom with you in hopes that you learn something beautiful too. Poetry written by black women often reminds me that I’m never alone. That my life’s troubles are not unique and that they will not swallow me up, because my sisters have already overcome. Struggle can be incredibly lonely. You feel isolated in your pain, like it is only you feeling this anguish. My dear, it is not only you. Let me hold your hand and show you how words heal, teach and affirm your inner glory.
To kick off this series, I will be starting with the work of Ghanian poet, Tryphena Yeboah from her stunning chapbook ‘Mouthful of Home’. This body of poems addresses grief, love, family and memory. It challenged me to fight for my joy, to honour my pain and to remember that victory can always be mine.
Lesson One: Fear must never tie your feet.
‘If I could do one thing differently, I would like to say my name without tremble; feel it leave my lips with power, taste the fear and still speak’
I am Nothing if I can’t Breathe Joy by Tryphena Yeboah
Fear has such a hold on us, and understandably so. Life can be scary. There are so many things to be afraid of. You could be afraid of failure, of death, of losing people you love. Hell you could be afraid of chickens! What this poem teaches me is that you must not be paralysed by your fear. Taste the fear you’re feeling, know what it feels like, know how it flares, but rise up and do what you want, anyway. Never allow your aspirations and actions to be stopped by fear. You know that saying ‘do it afraid’, yeah that’s what I’m talking about. I remember the first time I went to represent my mum at a job and I was so terrified of messing up. As I stood there, giving out directions, I was hearing my voice shake but I didn’t stop. By the end of that afternoon, I didn’t even remember what I was afraid of. This is the best thing about doing, regardless of your fear. It reinforces your capacity to yourself. Soon enough, you learn that you are brave enough, strong enough to do whatever it is you’re planning to. So today my dear, stop trying to not feel your fear, feel it and step up anyway. You have power, even with your shaking feet, you can still walk.
Lesson Two: Own your emotions, yes even your sadness.
‘I carry grief in the words and do not apologise for the tears’
‘i am nothing if I can’t breathe joy’ by Tryphena Yeboah
‘You’re too emotional’; words I am tired of hearing. I am such a deeply emotional person. I feel everything so deeply and I don’t have a habit of skating around things. I deep dive into my happiness, my sadness and my victories. I sit with them and let them wrap their arms around me until I am familiar with the contours of their form. People, especially women are often touted as being too emotional, and that being a stain on their effectiveness or ability. Screw that. You can cry, the same way, you can dance and laugh. Your grief is as valid as your joy. Never apologise for your tears. Honour your pain by expression. Hazel Grace. in Fault in Our Stars said ‘pain demands to be felt’ and that’s true. You can pretend and you can hide or you can just surrender to your tears and let yourself be. Your tears can never invalidate your strength. Cry if you need to baby. Cry all you want. Your heart will thank you for it.
Lesson Three: The Importance of Staying Soft and Open
‘My heart shall keep its promise of staying soft and open. I’m versed inside a language that demands that before I speak, I weigh the words on my tongue’
Softness changed my life. I have never known this level of compassion and care. And I am the one carrying myself with this tenderness. It is what my lover does too. Life is so difficult and hard. The least you can do is make sure your life is your own soft place. What does softness look like? From Ms Tryphena we can see that softness means weighing your words before you speak them. Weigh them in your tongue. This should first and foremost apply to yourself. How do you talk to yourself? How do you talk about yourself? What words do you use to describe yourself? Softness starts from within. Always address yourself with compassion. Be kind to yourself, even when you mess up. Accountability is not always harsh. Sometimes it’s an open and honest conversation about your flaws and ways you will try to be better. I panic a lot and sometimes I hurt people in my fits of panic. I did this to someone recently and I hurt them so badly. I was so hard on myself and I felt so embarrassed. The shame persisted and persisted and I was so heavy in my spirit. After I apologised to them, I had to sit with myself in kindness. Through that, I was able to learn how to better manage my panicking and how to treat myself after I mess up. You deserve kindness. Don’t let anyone make your life hard for you. Be intention with tenderness; first for yourself and then for your loved ones.
Lesson Four: The Power of Resilience
‘but my body, it washes up the shore after every storm- half-naked, half-dead. And even then, it learns to dance’
‘i am nothing if I can’t breathe joy’ by Tryphena Yeboah
You will dance again.
One thing about suffering is how it convinces us of its permanence. Of our inevitability to overcome it. In this poem, she talks about her body, half-naked, half-dead, learning to dance again. Have you seen a child learning to walk? The uncertainty in their little eyes as they place one foot after another. The inevitable little staffer and how they stand right back up and try again. We can learn so much from the babies. To live a life that’s worth living, we have to be willing to learn how to walk again, how to dance again. So here is me wishing you the grace to bounce back. You will dance again.
Lesson Five: The Inevitability of Falling
‘grief, after all, only prepares us for more grief
and strength is that which falls but does not break’
At Church, I Watch My Mother Dance The Cancer Away’ by Tryphena Yeboah
Grief only prepares us for more grief because grief is an integral part of our lives. It would be too idealistic of us to assume that life will always be happy and rosy. We all know that the more you do something, the better you get at it, and this poem is telling us that although grief sucks, it teaches you how to better deal with loss and pain. And in a way, this is true. I think of how torn up I was over my first serious breakup, how much it sicker but also equipped me with a world of tools I can use if my heart gets broken again (God forbid IJMN this my love will lasttttt 😂).
One of my favourite lyrics ever from a song are from Pink Featuring FUN ‘Just Give Me a Reason’; and it says no we’re not broken, just bent and we can learn to love again. We will fall. We will bend. But darling it is my hope for you that you never break. ‘Strength is that which falls but does not break’. The idea is not that you will never fall. But I wish you a strength that keeps you from breaking. I wish you wholeness, even on your darkest days.
I will end with this;
‘Now tell me, what storm shall come our way that we won’t overcome’
And that is our greatest truth.
Everyday, I pray our resilience and hope will lead to our victory. Here’s to hoping that even if we fall, we will not break.
See you next time.
N:B; all words of poetry from Tryphena Yeboah’s collection are italicised. I do not own those words; they belong to the original author.