Go to Tougaloo, the meeting place of two rivers, and be quiet. Wait for the light that floats above the water where Pearl meets Mississippi and step in it. If you are too afraid to trust the light, to know yourself as more than one river, you will never know. Step in when you are ready.1
When you step into the light it is loud, but keep breathing. You will hear what sounds like an ocean of singing, thousands of renditions of “This Little Light of Mine.” Stay still until you know that the light holding you came from within. Let it shine.
This is a portal thousands of years old. Cool from the people who stayed offering centuries of Choctaw care. Smooth from the running of water. Stealth from the breath of the free people who refused to be held by enslavement. It is enough that you are here in this moment. Feel that multitude.
Let your hands lead you to what you want, which is the writing under shore raised like braille so you have to touch it first to know it. Touch that part of yourself that is current and running and flooding at exactly this time. And continue to breathe.
What two rivers agree upon when they meet is the ocean. Their destination. Their longing. That pull. When two rivers meet it is a ceremony, a delegation for only those who have reshaped land with their cleansing. Only those who have learned that the first form of their name is an acrostic of “letting go.” The meeting of two rivers is surrender. It births civilizations and swallows them back. This is why you came to Tougaloo, the meeting point of two rivers, with your question.
When Afro-Caribbean Black lesbian feminist warrior Audre Lorde came from New York City to be a poet-in-residence at Tougaloo, she had a question about what it meant to be a poet. When she arrived, she was a librarian. By the time she left, she had become a teacher. But those two rivers were all love for the ocean of poetry. A love for rhythm only clarified by the ricochet of bullets from the white supremacists who couldn’t touch the flooding within themselves with bare hands, who were afraid to trust themselves as light, afraid to know themselves as more than one river and who were therefore offended, incensed, moved to violence by the very building, the very greens, the very thought of Black students in college in the state of Mississippi.2
The students wondered something about the poet-in-residence Audre Lorde. “Miss Lorde,” they asked on the first night, “would you call yourself a nature poet?” Because they felt the convergence of rivers and oceans. Because the sound of her voice was reshaping stone. Because they, children of the Delta, could smell the air before the flood. And the flood happened. Audre Lorde let herself love those poetry students so much that she revealed her secrets to them, who she was and who she loved, which is what she taught them to do with their poetry. Be who you are and act on your love. And when the student evaluations came to ask them what they would change they said over and over again that they wanted more. More Ms. Lorde. Could she stay here forever? More. She really inspired and lifted us up. We could be more who we were when she was with us. If we could make a suggestion to the provost, we’d say, “Please let her come back.”3
It was a flood, and also a portal. Audre Lorde fell in love with the students and also with Frances Clayton, a white woman who let herself be known as light and more than one river and part of the ocean of Audre becoming more true to herself. In one sense, it seems like Audre left Tougaloo and returned to New York with new knowing and confidence. But it is also true that she stayed. She stayed committed to Frances whom she would call her sunflower. She stayed in touch with those students whose letters she kept. She was with those same students who were singing in Carnegie Hall, a choir of poets at their own two rivers, a week after her term ended at Tougaloo, when they all got the news that the killers who would not trust themselves as light, would not step into the two rivers, would not admit their salt, had shot down MLK Jr. in Memphis. They were together just then at the meeting of rivers. They were singing full-voice “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” and as they kept on singing with salt on their faces it became more true. As they kept on singing, facing the ocean, breathing the convergence, Audre Lorde was in the portal, writing on the wall.4