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How to Recreate a Lightning Strike
How to Recreate a Lightning Strike, after Ntozake
For when you need a recapture an elusive sensation
a jar with a bit of water to soothe the soul
a bit of salt for sharpness of mind
a magnet for attraction
a shard of carnelian for power
a white candle, lit with intention
Light the candle and believe the flame is lit within your soul. Place it next to the jar of water and admire the way the flame’s reflection dances in the glass, on the water. Sprinkle your salt in the water in remembrance of the ocean; add your carnelian as respect to the treasures there. On the opposite side of the jar from your candle, place your magnet.
Believe the feeling will come back and welcome it with hands outstretched.
Note: Only attempt on an overcast day; the sun will overtake your intentions and load them with the intensity that it will not be able to sustain, though it will certainly try.
July passed in a swirl of confusion. My father’s health was more uncertain than usual and our little family spent three days huddled around him in a hospital room with no windows. I wanted to be nowhere but close to him.
In an attempt to get well with my soul again, I retreated into the things that I love best. Words and magic. Words/magic. Magical words. Word magic.
Sometimes, I lose sight of the playfulness of this practice to which I decided to commit myself. I spend—have spent—so much time being practical, getting the job done, meeting deadlines, that I forgot that once upon a time, there was no greater joy than playing with words. Loving their texture, watching them break to see their inner workings, hearing the melody of them on others’ tongues, experimenting with them to see if I could perform some small alchemy.
Part of me rediscovers the joy by reading about other writers’ delight in word play, in word craft. I read How We Do It: Black Writers On Craft, Practice and Skill and I felt a bit of the old spark. I even made a little TikTok thinking about poet Rita Dove’s essay “Seven Wives for Seven Mothers.”
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I felt a spark, but the flame didn’t ignite as I’d hoped. As it turns out, the only way really for me to do that is to write.
I gave myself permission to write things that weren’t pretty, bits and pieces of stories that had no end, feelings that were too big for anything I could try to capture on a page.
This practice led me back to Ntozake Shange, as so many things do. I thought about the quilted nature of her novel Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo, the way different forms were woven together, including spells (or maybe they’re Indigo’s home remedies but I prefer to imagine them as spells; I think she’d agree). The first time I read Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo, I delighted in the texture of these recipes, the way they were fanciful and poetic and grounded in reality. I could imagine something like a spell book made up thick grainy paper filled to the brim with these mixtures, lavender pressed between the pages, scraps of corduroy and gingham used as bookmarks, photographs taped in for emphasis and echos, all written in colorful inks. I could imagine the way it would feel to hold in my hand, all covered in worn dark brown leather, how it might smell. I could imagine every crease in the leather and the grooves of the embossing.
As I imagined the landscape of this spellbook, I realized I could make one for myself, an effort to reassemble the sensation of lightning striking when you discover you’ve read the right book at the right time.
It needn’t be nearly so involved, but I could start by simply allowing myself the time and space to play with my words and create interesting mixtures with them, as Ntozake Shange did. As Elizabeth Acevedo does with Emoni’s recipes in With the Fire On High.
And so I set out on my journey to recreating a lightning strike.
Other things I’ve been reading that attract the lightning:
Morgan Hampton’s Cyborg mini series
Eve Ewing’s Black Panther run
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, Sangu Mandanna
Wild Wishes and Windswept Kisses, Maya Prasad (out October 2023)
Anne of West Philly, Ivy Noelle Weir & Myisha Haynes
Postscript: I’ve also been watching My Adventures With Superman and a new Lois Lane essay feels imminent. If you can’t wait for that one, please see this personal essay I wrote a couple years ago for Catapult.