Since 2002, I’ve had the privilege to call Black. Lesbian. Womon. Writer. e. nina jay a dear sista-survivor-friend, comrade and confidante. I met her when she was a frontline worker in the anti-sexual violence movement in Chicago. I will always, always be in-debt to her for her wise unsolicited counsel about not cutting an integral part of my film NO! The Rape Documentary that exemplified how rape is used as a weapon of homophobia against Black lesbians. At that time, I moved into using digital video and I was more concerned about the quality of that specific footage, which was shot in 1995 on hi-8 video. She heard and affirmed my concerns, and e. nina jay also reminded me that it’s the power of the testimony that will stand the test of time. Reluctantly, I listened to her counsel and every time I see NO!, I’m eternally grateful.
My incest and adult rape survivor spirit has been consistently blessed by her poetic words almost since our first meeting through the cyber waves. This is one of many reasons why I was overjoyed when she published “body of rooms,” her debut collection of poetry and spoken word. There is also the visual representation of the written “body of rooms.” Directed by Tracy Baim, the video features e. nina jay performing all of the featured poetry and spoken word from her body of rooms collection. Information on how one can purchase the book of poems and accompanying video is on the Body of Rooms Facebook page.
I walk with nina’s poems the way that I’ve walked with the (Audre) Lorde’s prose and poetry. They are sacred texts. I must admit that it took me a minute before I watched her on-screen performance of the poems because I knew I had to be ready.
“these beautiful rooms
these beautiful rooms
I am opening the doors
To these chaotic rooms
This house is no tomb
This life is not doomed
This black rose can bloom
I will make a home
Of this body of rooms”
--e nina jay, body of rooms
From the moment and I mean the absolute moment I hit play on my dvd player, e. nina jay pulled me into the screen and would not let me leave the room until the last credit rolled up the screen.
At various points, I wanted to get up. I swear I did. I thought I could go to the bathroom while it played or sneak into another room and listen to it at a distance. e nina jay’s words wouldn't let me leave her body of rooms, which mirror my own. During my private viewing, I wanted to look at my computer. I wanted to check my phone. I wanted to multitask but her words demanded my full uninterrupted attention. I told myself that I would pause and then come back but I knew I wouldn't come back on the day that I watched it.
Perhaps another day but not that day. I decided that I had to get on board her survivor FREEDOM train. To be clear, nina covers the waterfront in “body of rooms”. Yes, the foundation is sexual violence because for too many of us, sexual violence was our very first introduction to our own sexuality. However, she also uses laser sharp vision to examine the impact of racism and US imperialism on our Black survivor bodies. In the US (and many other countries in the world), racism and imperialism WITH sexual violence coexist. You often cannot have one without the other.
I decided I would not be afraid. I knew that she wouldn't take me anywhere that would harm myself. I knew that, but I wasn't sure if I had the strength, the stamina and the courage to journey with her. I breathed slowly while I listened deeply. It was an affirmation and a reclamation. It was one margin in the front and at the center.
I am grateful and I bow deep.
Information on how one can purchase both the book of poems and accompanying video is available on the Body of Rooms Facebook page.