For Maria

We celebrated the life of my cousin Maria today. She was a little over a year older than I, and leaves to this world a devoted partner Greg and daughter Morgan and son Jordan.

This day was full of remembrance and thanks, joy and beauty, pain, loss, hope, wisdom.

I think of flowers this day because the sweet Georgia air was full of fragrance, filled with sunlight, with gentle cool breezes. It took me back to the days years ago when she and her family would pull up for a visit — people just showed up back in the pre-text, pre cell, pre messenger days — or we would wind up there after church or when my mother wanted to drop by.

Maria was an artist at heart. I think of her dancing, talking about the books she was writing. There was a lyricism in her voice, it spoke poetry, words seeming formed in a gentle particular authentic Atlanta Sista rhythm.

Maria had a way of telling truth and imparting truth. I think that in every conversation from the ’80s forward there was some kernel of wisdom that I would keep and turn over like gem. My thing has always been science fiction and how imagined realities or worlds give a prism for viewing the here and now. There is this character — The Oracle — in the matrix movies, played by a Sister in both, who in that perceptive way lays out truth and what lies ahead. I always half thought they must have based that character on Maria, because who then in Hollywood would have had the audacity and originality to appreciate the foresight and clarity of an Oracle in Black skin unless they’d encountered it in the flesh? My cousin had that kind of wisdom.

As I write this words like ferocity and indomitable come forth. As the world medicates on the loss of some Parisian cathedral, I’m thinking how miraculous it was for a Black woman to rebuild and reconstruct herself day after day for ten years with cancer. And laughing, and dancing, and writing. I’m thinking about how it’s a story that plays out for so many Black women battling the emotional and physical struggles.

I wish for her precious children that they find for themselves the best dream that she wished for them. I wish for them that they remember her voice in moments joyful and sad, that they treasure those kernels of truth that will come to them in dreams. I wish that they joyfully sing her songs, re-dance her dances, recall her jokes to their children, or nieces, or students, or share them with someone who needs that lift. I wish that they hold themselves dear and sacred. I wish for them that they speak truth and inspire, that they live and with the fire and grace of artists in their own chosen path.

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