Calling All You Bastards, the Fatherless, the Forgotten.
“Do you want to write your father?” My mother asked on the 33rd birthday. I didn’t have an immediate reply and she continued, “I have an address for him in Guyana.”
My last memory: I’m three years old. He came for a visit and I remember the quiet of our Brooklyn apartment. It was clean. When he approached to offer a hug, some kind of physical affection, I ran behind the bedroom door, painted royal blue. It was a sea between us. He was a stranger to me, even then.
Thirty years later, I was still a toddler, behind the door, making myself quiet and invisible. The desire to speak, to say something, to myself known, took shape as epistolary poetry. As an introvert, poetry is how I bring my voice out. I investigate the emotional and psychic parts of myself and give language to what can be incommunicable at times. As a Piscean, it’s my way to explore the deep. This sea is called Father.
What would I say to him, as a queer adult woman, fully shaped in his absence? My words felt of much and little value. I needed to write my way through and into a range of feelings felt for his disappearance—often times I didn’t know I had feelings. I had to come to the hard-earned truth that I was enough.
My mom says my name means “precious jewels.” A Cave Canem poet shared another meaning: “to know when it’s enough.” I’m coming into my second meaning.
My mom and father met in Brooklyn. Young lovers. He was 10 years her senior and already in an established relationship. He’s originally from Guyana and was deported back to his homeland and cannot return to the USA. It’s only recently, I’ve learned these details, and the desire to heal became important to me. Maybe it was the film Antwone Fisher that planted the seed—and witnessing my wife, who’s adopted, work diligently, and with heart, to bring healing attention to her father(s) that inspired me to make these poems into a project to be shared with others.
I have 95 copies of dear Gerald to give away, a poetry collection of 33 epistolary poems, in exchange for letters addressed to your father. So far I’ve received several letters, one coming as far as the Philippines. I will select 33 participant letters to be used as inspiration for a second collection (which I’m considering titling, Who’s Your Daddy?). In early 2015, I will go to Guyana and give my father a copy of the book.
I wrote my first letter to Gerald in October 2013. It wasn’t as lyrical as any of the poems I’ve written for two years. It was simple: Hi, I’m Arisa. My mom is Denise. She said you named me . . .
To submit a letter and learn more about the project visit http://atoguyana.wordpress.com/dear-gerald-letter-submissions/.
ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List. Member of the PlayGround writers’ pool, her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of PlayGround Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.