NPM23 Blog: Pulling Joy Forward by Elizabeth Mudenyo

Easy Joy

Rock hunting
hands digging past algae
knee deep in water or
keeled over dusting off sand
putting rocks in the bucket of our shirts
shining them and showing them off
What a lucky find.
Oh and this turquoise note!
This red accent!
Good eye, good eye!

It cost nothing
to be that fortunate
time was elastic never wasted
every minute found
its home

Many once removed from
their shores lost their initial luster
but we vowed to keep them anyway
to protect in cases for display their presence
somehow alive in their history

We naïve youth carried them home
and tried in looking to see their layers
what turn of events what returns
and departures could have led here
to the occasion of this rock

What is the weight of this rock
now back then wasn’t it a feather?
we made any excuse to carry
home each one of a kind

This one a sharktooth
this one an ear! this one
nearly volcanic, coral reef, wood,
gem, perfectly square, mimics a shell
this one a full moon craters and all

How these rocks would weigh down
totes make every move from
home to home clumsy
why all the added weight?
what for?

How they would become
paperweights, decor, inanimate
bookends, sit on altars, one fits
in the clutch of my fist smoothed
over when anxious

Joy Despite

“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”
–Wendell Berry

Before time was commodified
before times of crisis, of uncertainty,
brutality, senseless injustice, chaos

Before we were many
fractured burnt out trying
to navigate our spirits trying again
to figure out how to be with each other
there was an ease of joy

Here when we again finally
have the chance for reunion it comes
with difficulty, with precarious funds, ongoing
sickness, anxiety, overstimulation, mistrust

Sometimes joy just out of bed bleary
crust in its eyes decides to keep going
making motions towards the day that allows it
sometimes joy is a stumbling forward with hope

Calling Joy

An old roommate used to prompt, “what are you
looking forward to?” an old friend, “what’s new
and exciting?” another, “what’s bringing you joy?”
I felt my heart and eyes widen towards those
questions. A call forward of future joy to nudge
present excitement, to render this shared moment
anew. It seemed in those instances, so easy to recall,

the naming of the little joys, should they act upon us,
something of their wonder, filling in the future like
a memory, how it might taste, the bread broken
a face I miss, uninterrupted naps, the feigned agony
and sentimental sighs towards my comfort TV show,
overdue celebration of a loved one, birthdays circling back,
what gestures might be made, what improbability can come true,
the feelings ahead of me were expansive, beyond the singularity
and quiet of this one, beyond a chore, a deadline, a hurdle
at my heels for weeks, a heaviness on my chest the past couple
of years, pushing against my sleep

a question eclipses the hours the calendar keeps
us breathless, many places at once but here

Naming Joy

There is more space to do this as a practice
making a practice of calling joy into our lives
noticing it and giving it our gratitude

Noticing our bodies’ return, sun through the curtains
the music of outside, the water on the nightstand
the small ways another you, readied you for this day

Saying it aloud as it arrives, “This is a special time”
we are fortunate to be here with each other

Today I am stretching my limbs trying something new
or getting to know someone or blocking off plans
or spending a sacred day alone or returning someone
very close to my heart home

Joy is the experience, it penetrates sharp and clear,
we can point and say, “you make me happy”, and this song,
and this place, and this taste on my tongue and this crunch
of snow, and the smell of Jasmine, we can name

In 2014 Warsan Shire tweeted:

document the moments you feel most in love with yourself –
what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing.
recreate and repeat

It can be helpful to have a list handy, sometimes we
need the evidence, the gentle reminder

Maybe those things aren’t the cause of joy
but have found their ways into it like
joy is hosting your mind today, your body
joy is the space, the container
joy is the opening, the entry

It is helpful to layout a roadmap and to do
a little intentional setting whether it’s for this moment,
this day, this year, a new journey ahead, it can be expressed
in any form, in journaling, in conversation with friends, family,
in therapy, with strangers even, anywhere it feels safe to place it

Writing it, saying it, making it, can be helpful
to double up on methods of how we make way for joy
bring in prayer, visioning, any and all woo woo
this is part of the practice manifesting, materializing
those dreams

It can be an ask, an encouragement, an affirmation
of what already is

I believe I can be happy I believe I am
made with love and purpose
I am light

These affirmations often come to me via YouTube
through yoga instructor Arianna Elizabeth

Forming Joy

Poetic forms lend to being containers for joy,
such as praise poems, odes (e.g. Safia Elhillo’s Odes to My Home Girls),
hymns, invocations, and kwansabas (thank you Mia S. Willis!)

What invocation or praise poems can do, is invite a generous
outpouring of attention. These poems have a habit of tending
to a subject, a person or a people. They pull in the details of
community that celebrate the individual and make the whole
They are lovingly told. Often through their repetition in form,
they become a space that reiterates exaltation. A feeling of,
Look! Look! Look!

Take for instance ‘brown out shouts!’ by Kay Ulanday Barrett,
a poem situated in Brown trans and queer brilliance, and see how
it holds space for warmth

anything with roots arches toward her, they can’t help it,
their arms like petals soaking up her light.

it thrives in specificity, and takes pleasure in naming who it is for—
the exact people, places, acts, worthy of praise

for aqua starr black.
because they had the bravery to re-name
themselves: aqua. starr. black.
sometimes you just gotta call out your power
cuz no one else is gonna do it for you.

There is a pulse and a fullness to these poems
and yet they also invite the complexities of joy

They hold the gratitude with the terror of violence
happening each minute

Aggravating Joy

We line up the affirmations we gather lists of wellness
for consecutive grey days we say go for a walk even 30 mins
rest, call a friend, see a friend, cook a meal, eat a good meal
spiced with a generous hand, notes from home dancing on your tongue,
rest again, listen to music full volume, see art in a staring contest,
fall in love, find purpose, get a new hobby, drink water, stretch,
use ACV, take breaks, change your sheets, log off, moisturize, read,
travel, etc etc that too

Fleeting Joy

“Too much joy, I swear, is lost in our desperation to keep it.”
—Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Joy cannot beam through every fiber through
all the times of our lives it guarantees it cannot stay

It is leaving, it is standing in the doorway coat on
even if it were to reel you back into the room
it would again re-lace its boots
joy does not live here
it is just visiting

You want to make a home in joy
in a sun that doesn’t set
as if it wouldn’t hurt your eyes
as if you would not grow weary
as if it would not defeat you
you also need rest from joy

Extraordinary Joy

There is of course
extraordinary joy that comes
by surprise and as advertised
makes the shaky ground of laughter
head cocked back mouth open wide
enough to bear ripe fruit
hand over heart or both coupled
over aching belly

How can I begin to tell
in the best detail the story
of utmost joy

In the liminal space between
Christmas and New Years
residential curbsides become
littered with christmas trees
once celebrated now discarded
we decide to rescue a tree
you and me on either end
it will come with us to the park
we decorate it a red ribbon
lose in your tote
top it with my winter toque
we will bring it the beach
plant it in sand
christen it with music
take photos an
leave it as a mirage
for some winter jogger

It wasn’t just mischief
or whimsy that lit up our faces
it was us and every detour
our imaginations took
what magic that made

Elizabeth Mudenyo is a Scarborough-based poet, community-engaged artist and arts manager. Elizabeth is a fellow of The Watering Hole and the Poetry Incubator. She was a participant of the Hurston/Wright Poetry Weekend with Danez Smith and Diaspora Dialogues Short Form Mentorship with Olive Senior. Her work has appeared in Write Magazine, Arc Magazine, The Ex-Puritan, Canthius, CV2, and elsewhere. She is an MFA Candidate at the University of Guelph. Her poetry chapbook, With Both Hands, was published through Anstruther Press.