as a poet, I often find myself sharing others’ words. I’m inspired by a myriad of voices + ideas. they often spill out of my mouth. an attempt at modern-day conversion, perhaps?
during friends’ birthdays, I never know how to tell them how much I love them, how many days I need them/miss them/think of them, so I share poems from other poets instead.
shared Audre Lorde’s "A Song of Names and Faces" in a friends’ birthday card last fall. a friend who I adored very much, a friend who made and understood art and taught me a lot about what it felt like to see (and to see truth). we walked a lot, enjoyed trees and broad skies and peace and ideas of home. as the poem’s speaker says, “I cannot record the face you wear / in this afternoon / because I have not judged myself.” that, in three lines, was our friendship. each of us blurs of the other, unrecordable because we are laughing too loudly, clapping too quickly, for anything to capture our energy.
this poem explores, with impressive conciseness, a familiar space—physical and emotional— that we experienced frequently, a stilted ether of an untethered, inspiring friendship. this friendship had lasted a long, long time, and last fall, it was soon to wither.
when I scratched the poem onto the birthday card, I cut out the last two lines. the couplet felt like a sharp, nostalgic knife, and I didn’t want to wield it. I wanted the nostalgia without the severance. I wanted the friendship without the confrontation of pain. so I used erasure instead of honesty. I didn’t realize, in that scribbled moment, that I couldnt’ve chosen a better poem to capture how sad I was to be losing this person’s bond yet how happy I was to celebrate them one more time.
never heard from them about the poem. not sure if it was even read. haven’t heard from them in several months. I remain here, with Audre Lorde and C.D. Wright and Akilah Oliver, and musicmusicmusicmusic and with New Orleans and home cooking. there have been more birthdays since, but I haven’t given anyone a birthday card. instead, I visit them, hug them, and tell the birthday superstar that I love them. and I hope, for now, that that’s enough.
m.e. riley is a writer, musician, educator, artist, and social justice advocate. she is originally from southeast Arkansas and now lives in New Orleans, where the seeking of joy is tethered by humidity and humility.