I was delighted to meet Patrice Gopo last spring at the Festival of Faith and Writing. She introduced her friend, Kate Motaung, in a little gathering celebrating Kate’s book release, and even though I didn’t know Patrice, I was moved and touched by the beautiful words she spoke in honor of her friend.
When I saw that Patrice recently released a book herself, I went out on a limb and messaged her on Instagram if ask if, on the off chance, she would be interested in guest posting over here, because I was really excited to introduce you to her voice and a bit of her story. Lucky us, she said yes! Her writing is at the same time quietly powerful, eloquent and lyrical, and I know you will find her as compelling as I do.
Please welcome Patrice Gopo to the blog today, and be sure to enter a comment at the end of this post for a chance to receive a free copy of her beautiful book, All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way.
In the nightmare I find my toddler face up in a shallow pool. Her wide eyes haunt me. Her clothes balloon with water. I lean over, yank her out, and hold her lifeless body in my arms. I wake, open-mouthed, to the din of absolute silence.
Now alert in the night, I can split dream from reality. I know my daughter sleeps close by. But I see those vacant eyes. The limp body. The spreading circle of damp on my imagined clothes.
I am eleven years old when my pastor dunks me into a baptistery filled with water. Raised to walk in new life, I hear when pulled to the surface. A large towel greets me as I exit, my clothes heavy on my limbs, a puddle forming at my feet. Beneath the soft fabric, my skin feels the cool air, and my body begins to shake.
In the future words gush with great force. Well-intentioned opinions flood my mind and make my lungs burn for breath. Taught as tenets of this faith, I hear instructions about being submissive, respectful, and the keeper of the home. An ancient role, I’m told, assigned from the time the Tigris and Euphrates rushed through Eden.
There are things I will come to regret. The way I shrank myself, the way I silenced my voice, the way I believed that idea to be truth. But I will not regret that moment of immersion.
I gave birth to my daughter in a tub of warm water. She slipped from the sac of fluid within me to the birthing pool surrounding me. Below where I crouched and pushed, she could have remained there for seconds, minutes, maybe more, her body attached to a pulsating cord.
Instead, the midwife’s hands sank below the surface, cupped my girl’s wrinkled body, and guided the fresh baby to her mother. Thin skin pressed against my wet chest as I waited for a scream that never came. Just the flutter of a heartbeat and a soft mew.
“The gentle birth,” the midwife said while she drained the tub. “Water babies don’t really cry.”
Sometimes I daydream about my girl far in the future when she is big and grown. She stands on the bank of a great river or walks barefoot beside the ocean’s many lapping tongues. Her wide eyes stare into a blurry distance beyond the range of my imagination.
And I think how around her, words can rise. How jagged twists on a faith I have handed her may one day creep close and soak her shoes, her clothes, her being. But my daughter, I dream she floats in the river current, breathes with the ocean’s waves. Her strong arms cut through walls of water in a way even her mother never knew.
Why did I believe for so long? Because I didn’t know there existed a way to stop and still remain.
In the bright of morning, after the time for nightmares is over, I hear my toddler’s waking cries. Later we walk past a fountain. Her squeals prod me to stare with her at slim arcs of water splashing into the pool below. I loosen my grip on her hand and watch her touch the slight spray of what she has known since her beginning.
(This post originally appeared in the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and is used with permission)
Patrice Gopo is a 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellow. She is the author of All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, an essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging. Her book is a Fall 2018 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Please visit patricegopo.com/book to learn more. Facebook: @patricegopowrites; Instagram/Twitter: @patricegopo.
Patrice has graciously offered to give away a copy of her beautiful book, All the Colors We Will See. To be entered to win, simply leave a comment on this post — tell me the best book you’ve read in the last six months.
One name will be randomly drawn on Wednesday, August 29 at 8 p.m. Central Time, and I will notify the winner by email.