Oklahoma Contemporary
Tavares Strachan, I Belong Here
A figure stands in front of a neon sculpture spelling the words "I belong here"

New Light

April 30, 2020

Belonging There, Here

An original crowdsourced poem edited and read by Quraysh Ali Lansana
A person in a winter coat and glasses writes in a notebook while sitting at a table outdoors
Quraysh Ali Lansana is the award-winning author and editor of dozens of books — including poetry, children's literature, textbooks and more. (Photo: Tulsa Artist Fellowship / Tri-City Collective)

The word belonging carries a lot of weight. For some of us, feeling at home in a place and in our skin can be a lifelong project — for others, our deep connection to our environment and our selves is as natural as the weather.

The concept is made even more complex by institutional and social pressures. As Bright Golden Haze artist Tavares Strachan asks: "Who gets to determine who belongs where? And where is here? And why does it matter?”

The sentiment is even more complicated now, with many of us thinking deeply about how we belong to our communities in a moment of crisis. As we come to the end of a long month in isolation, now seems like a good time to stop and consider how we relate to each other and the environments we share.

That's why Oklahoma Contemporary teamed up with author and educator Quraysh Ali Lansana for a National Poetry Month project centered on the theme of belonging. Taking inspiration from Strachan's neon sculpture I Belong Here, on view in our delayed inaugural exhibition, we asked you to tell us what belonging means to you in a few creative lines. Lansana pored through your responses — ranging from playful to painful — and shaped them into one cohesive poem.

Featuring lines submitted by 21 different people from Oklahoma and beyond, the resulting poem is a life-affirming work about all of us. Until we're able to safely welcome you to your arts center, we hope this message from the community helps you feel a little more at home — wherever that is.


Belonging There, Here

Born not of this world but someplace better
Love I sought, love I seek
Acceptance found in letter after letter
The healing, meditative power of words:

On this Good Friday
the year of the great pandemic
As crisis runs its callous course
may the bonds that connect us

tethered to tides of time by twine that binds
soul-ties, tethered to merciless red clay
where sun meets the Oklahoma sea

belonging there, here, inward, together
(at the bottom of the ocean). Kindred souls
surfaced. First one, then many, to belong
like water and move with time.

To shed tears for someone unknown
viewing loss in the web of cool distance
commonly bound by tendrils of longing

we joke about the weather and brave another day.

The interstices of everyday life--
dark here, light there, and the lines and curves
of pigments in-between--await painters
to stretch and feel, new horizons with color.

Satisfied in my skin, you pull apart
my muscles to make room for your fullness
which is also my fullness.

Which of us first said, Come?
If you, then I, so lured, submitted.
If I, then how could my unshaped plan
foresee so much?

I’m thankful there’s at least a plan.

Apologizing to ancestors for hateful crimes from my bloodline.
Wherever I am, I’m on stolen land. My last words will likely be
I’m sorry
. I belong only in the present moment. It took decades
to figure out I got to make my place

where the people around fill you with peace
and the crevices of your soul are surrounded by love.

Beside you as we foraged for morels
and wild ginger. In fields, now fallow
chewing red clover and thumbing tender
dandelion leaves. When neither of us

needed to speak evening spreads itself against
the willing sky, night falls into mystery. The earth
dark and damp under my feet. This is where I live

with you, now.


Writers:

David Lee Anderson | Emily Burton | Susan Bradley | Lori Brooks | Pat Dannels | Ryan Foster | Bobbie Franklin | Christine Gibson | Holly Harden | 詩 Jjh | Shun Y. Kiang | Vanessa Larwig | Lisa Reagan Love | Moira Lynch | Phetote Mshairi | Vikki Penix | Nicole Poole | Audrey Streetman | Jaime Thompson | Eddie Walker | Eder Williams

Each selected contributor above will receive an artfully rendered PDF of the completed work, suitable for framing.

Images: 

Tavares Strachan. I Belong Here (White), 2012. Blocked-out neon and glass. 24 x 48 inches. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, gift of Anthony Meier in honor of Jeanne and Michael Klein, 2014. Photo by Alex Marks.

Photo of Quraysh Ali Lansana courtesy of Tulsa Artist Fellowship and Tri-City Collective. (Source: Tulsa Artist Fellowship spotlight video, YouTube.)

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Tags tags
National Poetry Month Quraysh Ali Lansana poetry Oklahoma Contemporary Tavares Strachan Bright Golden Haze

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