All The Burned Parts
A story from Alexis Lawson.
This week’s story and prompt comes to you from Alexis Lawson, a poet, storyteller, daydreamer, and author of the poetry collection The Beauty in my Bare Bones (2019). She is passionate about incorporating her culture into narratives that otherwise may not see representation. She enjoys exploring themes including self-love, black womanhood, reflection, and love.
Alexis is a good friend of mine, and I am so honored to publish her work here. Her writing is absolutely beautiful, honest, and raw, and I can’t wait to say I knew her one day.
Do you have a story? Share it with us!
As the quarantine began, I began to write a book. A book that I would publish after I became twenty. It was so messy, but so honest. Will honesty always feel so sloppy? Maybe it wasn’t that it was messy but that I was worried about others' perception of my truth. How my words, my experiences, and how I remembered them would land on someone else's heart. And then this newfound selfishness kicked in. Fuck their feelings, this is my truth—and I deserved to share it. And so, I planned and wrote. Twenty chapters dedicated to the twenty years of my life. Twenty different experiences that I never shared.
Needless to say, I never finished the book. But oftentimes I find myself thinking about the pages that I wrote. The stories that I almost unleashed to the world unfiltered. I don’t know who I thought I was, maybe Harper, from The Best Man, but I was going to set it all free.
Being stuck inside my mother’s house after graduating college, a place I swore to myself I’d never return long term, already felt like bondage, non-tax paid imprisonment. All that I desired was freedom. But I was too smart to ignore the fact that my freedom would never be free, just not at the expense of me.
As I finished about ten chapters I realized that the book needed to be written was not the one, I was writing. I was writing the tears that had been built up for years. I was sharing the stories no one ever asked to hear. It was more therapeutic than artistic in terms of my normal creations.
A year later as I look back on the art that I created during the quarantine I asked myself and posed the question to you, have you burned all the parts of yourself that you “let go”? Not tucked away in a closet or unloaded onto your friends, but truly burned them. I think naturally we want the words “let go” to have the same permanence as the action “burn”. You see how I separated the two, words and action. Because for the most part as people that is how we use them. Let lacks the amount of finality that it should have. We let our pets off their leashes and hope they’ll come back. We burn pictures of past lovers who broke our hearts and know we’ll never get them back (unless of course they’re backed up to Google Photos, but we aren’t going there). The intent is parallel, but the roads are different.
I reflect onto a collage piece I decided to make when I couldn’t find the words to write. The collage features a portrait of myself, holding a dying rose that I received at an event honoring my Soror, and favorite poet Nikki Giovanni, in front of a huge flame, a pair of destructive jeans, a New York street sign with a butterfly perched on the tip, and a sun. Separately none of those things make sense, and still to a glancing eye, collectively may not make sense either. And so, I guess this is where those museum art cards come into handy. Imagine my voice as the audio guide on your museum tour:
In this collage, we have nineteen-year-old Alexis Lawson, daydreamer, cat mom, and undercover emotional wreck. She is holding a rose that appears to be dying that has been sitting on top of her mini fridge from an event that took place weeks before the photo was taken. Some even say that the flower sat in the front seat of her hot car for weeks before this photo was taken. Behind her you see a variety of things, but we are going to work back to front. Maybe that’s an artist’s way of reading left to right. So, in the background you see black and white stripes laid with no direction. Lawson is a fan of things being ununiformed, so she decided to have a mixture of different sizes of stripes. In an interview between herself and her conscience, Lawson reveals that the stripes were to emulate jail uniforms as she felt locked up during the quarantine. The next thing we have is a golden sun. The sun appears to be a bit crumbled, but that doesn’t stop Lawson from using it, much like the pieces of paper she’d thrown across her room from her attempts to write another poem. Next to that we have a New York street sign. Lawson tells her invisible audience that it was the closest street sign that she could find on google to make the location of the Plaza Hotel, that is the location for one of her favorite movies, Eloise at The Plaza. It’s hard to call up a friend in the middle of the pandemic and ask them to go snap a picture while they’re out. No one was out back then. On the tip of the sign, we see a Monarch butterfly, like the one found in the rib cage on the cover of her first book, The Beauty In My Bare Bones. Underneath those elements see a pair of distressed jeans. It is not hard to associate the destructiveness of the jeans with her emotional state during this time. In front of all those things we see a flame. How could that relate, you ask? Well, it’s probably the only thing Lawson does clearly explain in the collage. On top of the sun, you see the words, “I’m that fire. The one he set a blaze” which easily connects with the furious flame across the piece. Those lines come from the poem, A Possible Fire, in her poetry collection that talks about being in an unhealthy relationship that she felt burned out in, in the end.
Okay, now we’re back.
So let me answer the question. Have I burned all the parts of me I let go?
The simple answer is no. But I’m working through those parts of myself every day. Holding myself accountable to the roles that I play in every interaction and experience that I have. Because I’ve learned that if you try to burn too many things at once you’re bound to get burned. Some flames are too big to tackle all at once. So, in that collage I took five elements of me: the childlike, the artistic, the physical, the emotional, and the logical; and made them tell a story. Every story of your life won’t be visually appealing, but there’s good in there somewhere. And so, in that I guess I’ve mastered dancing in the rain—but dancing in the fire a skill that’ll a lifetime to attain. So, if you were one of the people who said yes to the initial ask, I want to consider this week's prompt.
Your prompt this week is to take the question, “Have you burned all the parts of yourself that you let go?” and do a 5-minute journal on it. No stopping, just write. What are some things that you think you burned but still linger in the air? What are some things you wish you could burn but haven’t found the courage to give up? After your 5-minute journal I want you to think about your five elements and the stories they would tell. Pick 1 childlike element, 1 artistic, 1 physical, 1 emotional, and 1 logical.
This week’s song is Instructions On Being by Tank and the Bangas, selected by Alexis to accompany this piece. This is a spoken word piece written by Tank and the Bangas' lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball. She reveals the thoughts that run through her head, and offers herself instructions on being. The lyrics to this are astounding. I highly recommend it. This last line: “God, it is amazing what you tell yourself when you think no one is watching.” Wow.