When my 6 AM flight for Memphis takes off from LaGuardia Airport, I’m snoring in my friend’s guest bedroom in Harlem. I still have on my boots from the night before, my hair smells like cigarette smoke and Santigold’s “Go” is playing on a loop in my head. The flight to Memphis is/was the first flight in what will be a year of traveling the world and I’m not on it. I won’t wake up for another hour and a half.
In the taxi, boots still on, hair still smoky, I call the airline and book myself on the next flight to Memphis. I dig through my bag for my sunglasses and Advil, then pat myself on the back for becoming a living Kanye West lyric. Finally settled into the fact that this is – for better or worse – the official start of my year of travel, I lean my head against the window, watch Harlem fade into Queens and run through my itinerary.
Three days in Memphis to see my family one last time, then on to New Orleans for a few days and ten thousand calories, San Francisco for a series of bad decisions with my friend Isaac, a quick stop in Columbus, Ohio to perform for the city’s PRIDE festivities with Jon Sands and Angel Nafis, then on to Pittsburgh to attend the Cave Canem Poetry Retreat. Finally, on June 24, assuming that I don’t oversleep, I will board a flight for Madrid, Spain. I will have set foot in four continents by this time next year.
But first, I’ve come home to Memphis in order to leave. Both sides of my family are from Memphis. The city and the Mississippi river are the unspoken background to many of my poems. I’m here because I need to convince my loved ones that, despite a rather elaborate amount of evidence to the contrary, I have not lost my mind. I’ve found it. And as Ralph Ellison wrote, “The end was in the beginning.”
*Not long ago, I read a short story by Jorge Luis Borges in which he refers to the Mississippi River as the “dark and infinite brother” of the other major world river systems. I wrote the phrase down in my notebook and forgot about it until I first heard about Trayvon Martin. Every time I saw a picture of him, I would feel the words “dark and infinite brother” ready to walk out of the open door of my mouth. On Twitter, after a month after Trayvon’s murder, Alex Newell noted that he missed Trayvon even though he never knew him personally. I felt the same way as I’m sure many of you did. It’s surreal.
Or perhaps, it’s just deeply human.
All I know is that a month ago, over drinks in the Bowery with Roger Bonair-Agard, the words left my mouth before I fully realized what I was saying, “I’m moving out of my apartment, giving my stuff and away and traveling for a year, man. I’m going to find all of my dark and infinite brothers.”
A smile broke across his face and when Roger said my name, all I heard was “brother.”
So, here it is. Yes, I will listen to “N*ggas in Paris” right in front of the Louvre. Yes, I will practice my Julia Roberts impersonation on the beach in Bali. I will dance at a bar in Cape Town and learn how to roll my R’s in Buenos Aires, but I will also go in search of my dark and infinite brothers wherever they are. And when I find them in Amsterdam and Tunis, in Montevideo and Edinburgh, I will ask them “Who is your Trayvon Martin?”
I’m not entirely sure where a question like that will take us and I don’t want to hinder them or myself with expectations. I just want to ask that question wherever I go and listen because conversations, in and of themselves, can be journeys.
As I write this article, I’m in the guest bedroom of my grandmother’s house here in Memphis. Only now, six hours into writing and re-writing, does it occur to me that this the last bed my mother slept in just over year ago before passing away. The end was in the beginning.
Before I even knew I would lose her, and even as I held her hand in the hospital, I knew but couldn’t fully fathom just how much my mother’s death would change my life. I’m leaving everything I know and taking on the world for the same reason I told her – in the end – it was okay to let go:
We will find our home everywhere we are brave enough to travel.