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Gathering Mango Dreams

by keisha bruce 

Below is a transcript of a multimedia essay that was delivered on July 16, 2022 at GEM Collective’s online event, Black Presence: A Dialogue with Azeezat Johnson’s Legacy. This piece was originally intended to be performed in community.

“Gathering Mango Dreams” was created in response to an unpublished piece written by Azeezat Johnson, Francesca Sobande, and Katucha Bento called “Black Presence: A Gathering of Words”. As such, it gathers thoughts, provocations, art, and music centred around dreams, love, diaspora, and desire, to envision a space where dreaming, imagination, and pleasure can become processes of Black diasporic (other)worlding.


spaces where dreams take shape

I was touched when I was invited to contribute a piece to this gathering on Black Presence in dialogue with the legacy of Azeezat Johnson. The thoughtful invitation, the collective's unpublished piece, and Azeezat’s body of work inspired me to attempt to release any of the pressures that I usually associate with writing and work. I wanted to honour such a beautifully curated space by allowing myself to relax into it. I was called by the invitation and so in response I wanted to experiment, dream, imagine new worlds, and try new things. Ultimately, I wanted to have fun. I wanted to challenge ideas around labour, rigour and creativity. Instead, I wanted to create something that felt more freeing; to dream up a space where I can create unapologetically and sometimes with little direction. I wanted to release my body and mind, and surrender to the waves of my creativity and thoughts, sometimes clumsily. But I wanted the space to be clumsy and I didn’t want to have to think everything through one thousand times. I wanted a different pacing. I just wanted to breathe differently. Thank you for allowing me, and us, this space. 

This is the space of playing,

of playing with words,

       playing with our worlds. 

Azeezat Johnson, Francesca Sobande, and Katucha Bento, Black Presence: A Gathering of Words. 2022


Mikael Owunna, “Anagonno Alagala (Anagonno of the Sky),” Cosmologies, 2021

Black transfiguration.

The movement from one mode of Black being, to another.

A physical, mental, or spiritual metamorphosis.

In these spaces of Black transfiguration, time collapses, space grooves, and we become...

cktrl. "Lighthouse." (2020)

You appear.

          Emerging from my breath of blue-purple haze, you

step into my garden.

Your eyes haven’t adjusted,   yet.

You do not know me. But, you wonder.

First, there are hues. Pulses of orange, fluorescent

waves of greens and ribbons of deep blue cloud your vision, and I watch

as you squint and linger, yearning for your eyes to widen. Longing for clarity.

My child, you are neither here, nor there,


You are still emerging, still forming.

You are still unrealised,

                       and yet

you are within my reach. You are on my grounds.

To you, the scene is not quite clear.


you slowly begin to realise that you have left your

body, lying and rested,

but your mind has yet to understand that you are here,

with me.

Solange. "Dreams." (2019)

The hypnotic sound of Solange’s voice as she repeats “dreams” in the opening of the song, lulls us into a dreamscape. As the beat kicks in, we are gently rocked awake as Solange points out the longevity of dreaming. While the beat is sharp and punchy, Solange’s voice remains smooth and somewhat eerie. Sonically, it is as if we are held perpetually between the state of wake and sleep. There’s an air of melancholy surrounding Solange’s notes, and although this lends to a tranquil sound that evokes for me feelings of floating and peace, it unravels complex feelings around having to see another day pass by with those dreams unfulfilled. I’m often conflicted when I listen to this song as beauty and sadness, fantasy and reality, meet in the harmonies. Waiting for our dreams to become reality can oftentimes be cruel, especially when our dreams feel urgent and necessary to our survival. Yet, the power in Solange’s song is not only felt through the sonic dichotomies, but also through her insistent repetition. Her perseverance to long for these dreams, and her unwavering desire to have them fulfilled keeps the song going and keeps her dreams alive. To long and to desire are fiery and active energies. How can we invite those active energies into our dreamscapes without erasing one of the most important aspects of dreaming: rest?

How can we invite those active energies into our dreamscapes without erasing one of the most important aspects of dreaming: rest?

How do we engage our dreams and actively work towards them (if we would like to), but also protect them from being subjected to overworking, societal pressure, shame, burnout, and fatigue? I like the idea of day-dreaming… If dreams are our desires, then day-dreaming could explain how we engage our desires in our everyday. Day-dreaming could be a practice of refusal, because as we day-dream in our everyday lives we ‘opt-out’ of our surroundings and enter our dreamscapes where our desires live. We are offered respite in these dreamscapes as we refuse to participate in our reality. As day-dreamers we give power to our erotic desires. I also find lucid dreaming a useful method. If to dream is to engage our imagination, then could we configure lucid dreaming as a practice of using our imagination to actively shape the world around us? As lucid dreamers, we might bend the environments to create new spaces that were never meant to exist. We might deconstruct and reconstruct reality. As lucid dreamers, we are the cartographers of our dreams.

I saw a mango tree in my dream

I felt the pull toward her as she called me forward.

Her fruits spilled across the grounds

yet she was still adorned with her many jewels.

At her foot stood a man with a wooden cart

He gestured to me, put his cutlass down, and reached over

"This is for you"

and handed me a woven basket

To meet at the foot of the mango tree, is a diasporic delight. Julie, she is called; it is she who brings us together. We oftentimes gather around food. We are connected through palette, through touch, taste, and method in a diasporic sensory recipe of engagement. Through food, we can create a delicate intimacy, where we feel together through taste, the rhythm of being together in the kitchen when our hands brush by and our bodies groove against each others’, and when we gather to eat in community, serving one another and sharing in the culinary experience. But this isn’t always such a romance, food can also reveal our differences and pull us apart as we argue over pronunciation, flavouring, and sociocultural politics at the dinner table. In this space of physical gathering through food, where we mark out cultural belonging, dissimilarities, and honour traditions, ‘the difficult work of working through difference is necessary for our survival and our pleasure’ (Macharia, Frottage, 7). Through food, we serve one another, but whose labours create the foundation for this form of diasporic intimacy? How can we preserve these intimate food archives while attending to the ways that they might have been shaped by or reproduced harm?


“On Love” by Cece Philips. 2022.

Encouraged by the man

and lured by the tree’s sweet aura

I wandered up the hill and began to pick the fruit that hung above me


I tugged them from the low branches

shaded by the leaves

and I gathered fallen ones from the grass

Though I harvested, the mango tree and her grounds stayed full

as did my basket

So I picked one out and pierced it with my teeth

peeling it open

skin to flesh


Then I heard you speak to me for the first time:

“My darling, you are safe with me

That which you are hungry for can be found in the fruits of my tree

For I am Julie, and with me you shall never empty”

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