forty-six years
of diaspora living
and finally, i see
myself again.

forty-six years of living
and i refuse to apologize
anymore

unless i am wrong
and wrongness always
has a personal
and a political component

so goodbye, good riddance
and good luck.

i loved you once.
honestly.
as freely as i could
i loved you
and attempted to bring
the best of myself
to our relationship

but the best of me
is revolutionary
and in a non-revolutionary era
that is a form of suicide

and i refuse to commit to that.

forty-six years
of diaspora living
and finally, i see
and love myself

again.

How Elsie Became Tuyet

September 2, 2013

Elsie was a straight A student,
a dutiful daughter and a speaker
of three languages.
I was nothing of the sort
but still, we became friendly enough
that I was able to ask
why the French teacher called her
Tuyet.

Americans say its hard to pronounce.

I tested it on my one language tongue.
Tuyet.
Two syllables.
Elsie.
Two syllables.

I could see no difficulty
and so discarded Elsie.

When she told me that her family
decided that she is to marry
I remembered the teenage Haitian girl
who used to live across the hall.
Enamored with her boyfriend’s anatomy
she had names for various parts
and one of those named parts
led to a hurried wedding ceremony
at the local Seventh Day Adventist Hall
as well as her disappearance
from my life..

Back then, being called Haitian was worse
than being called nigger.
but I didn’t care.
She was cool and pretty
and made me not want to have sex.

Tuyet was cool and pretty
and also on the edge
of a disappearing act.

She left me
with a picture of herself
in a spring blue and white dress
and a pageboy haircut
that stands out
more than her face.

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Excerpted from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden

Sometime in the late 1930’s, the government in another of its persistent and futile attempts to suppress African cultural survivals, decided that the colony would more easily be governable if drums and other traditional musical instruments were outlawed. The colonials must have sensed, and correctly, the importance of music in the cultural independence and political resistance of the African masses. I would, of course, encounter this phenomenon again in the American South. But at least the George Wallaces and Ross Barnetts of that world never tried to outlaw our spirituals and freedom songs. Though I’m sure they must  have often wished they could have.

So in Trinidad by legislative fiat an African could be jailed for possession of drums and other musical instruments? Not a gun, not a grenade, or some dynamite, but a drum? I have often tried, and failed, to visualize the campaign to enforce that law. In implementation of this policy, did armed police and soldiers–the governor’s minions–surround African communities and conduct house-to-house searches? And for what, those threats to public order, drums, tambourines, maracas, and marimbas? Did they kick  down the doors to shacks with guns drawn: “Freeze. You’re under arrest. Seize that drum!”

So, suddenly deprived of their traditional instruments of musical expression, Africans resorted to their creativity and whatever materials lay to hand. In this case, the fifty-five-gallon steel drums used to store oil at the refinery.

These they took and cut to varying depths. Say nine inches down for an alto pan, two feet deep for a tenor pan, and twice that for a bass. Then on the top they would heat and pound out a number of raised areas, each of which when struck would produce a precise musical note of a certain pitch. Over the years the brothers experimented with ways to refine the basic instruments and to create others. The result is what is today known the world over as the Trinidad steel band: an ensemble of musical instruments of great range and flexibility, capable of playing not only calypso and other forms of local popular music, but the most complex and demanding of jazz compositions or any form from the European classical tradition you care to name. A sound immediately recognizable in the distinctive, liquid purity of tones and the fluency of its musical lines.

Hey, as you may have noticed, I can’t pretend to be an ethnomusicologist. I’m a revolutionary. But that description should give you a fairly accurate sense of the accomplishment represented by the creation of the steel bands.  And remember, this unique innovation and the musical tradition it evolved into came directly out of the determined and indomitable will of Trinidad’s African’s to resist colonization and to maintain their culture.

Excerpted from Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggle of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)

Reggae for me is very much associated with the ’70’s, with a time of a lot of self-questioning, nationally, individually. And not just self-questioning, because also I think it was very much a time when people were open to ideas about what I will just loosely call the spiritual world, you know, the inner world. And there was a sense that both things were important – that is, making things right in the world of the here and now, the social world, kind of building a New Jerusalem impulse; and also the other important thing was attending to what was going on inside of you and becoming right, becoming what the rastaman referred to as the higher man, or the Iya-man. So yes, I think reggae was important in terms of keeping the significance of those two strands of living very alive and real and accepted and normal for a lot of us.

Excerpted from Talk Yuh Talk: Interviews with Anglophone Caribbean Poets, editor: Kwame Dawes

simply streaming day 1

July 16, 2010

yesterday, i blogged under a new theme: simply streaming: writing whatever comes to mind and posting. i’ve decided to set myself the challenge of simply streaming for 30 days starting today. of course  being a writer, such posts will be edited – minimally.  as someone commented on a previous blog, i rarely use capitalization when i’m blogging. in fact, as a poet, i find the whole capital – lowercase thing problematic. i never like how my poems look when i use standard grammatical rules. poems are not novels. novels are supposed to have structure…even if it’s a deconstructed structure. so to free myself of constraints in this undertaking , you will rarely see capital letters in simply streaming. let the words flow like water…undammed.

shitty dreams. shitty dreamers. that’s just want floated through my mind at this moment in time. it’s a kinda harsh juxtaposition: shit and dreams. maybe that’s why i don’t like either kind. who knows. i do know that a decision i made about five years ago was the right one. i also begin to understand that why i entered this year thinking it’s gonna be my year. i thought whatever it was about this year that made it “mine”, was going to involve writing but now i realize it’s all about independence and declaring it. i am free now. the die is cast and it spells out amandla tichaona.

freedom, of course, is scary. scary and humbling. but every person in the world, i repeat, every person in the world deserves freedom simply by being born and as i so aptly wrote in my younger years: i wasn’t born to die.

Twelve years ago, before I was a Mother myself, I gave my Mom a copy of Mothers of the Revolution. Reading the subheading of the book: The War Experiences of Zimbabwean women, she thought it was going to be the war experiences of gun-toting nappy-haired women who don’t hesitate to shoot upon seeing the white of someone’s skin. But it wasn’t. It was about the quiet, non glamorous, non-romanticized work of revolution; the work that is so quiet we don’t normally see it unless it’s not there…or unless it’s a threat to the dehumanizing status quo.

The whole question of motherhood, revolution and writing has been on my mind lately due to a conversation I had with a sister-friend about the sacrifices inherent in good mothering/parenting. She says that she may not be cut out for motherhood because she wants to be able to spend time writing and having mornings in bed, etc. Oh, how I can relate! What wouldn’t I give for just a week of that!! Then I look at my chocolate bundle of goodness, stubbornness and just plain 6 yr old boyness and I think no. Mornings in bed alone or with a man or a book or music or just the sunshine streaming through the window can’t compare with his scream of laughter when I tickle him in his armpits or the tightness of his arms when he comes to me for a hug after being hurt or even the endless questions that have me telling him to hush.

What’s even more ironic about her position is the fact that she had previously informed me, during one of my venting sessions, that my Son is now my revolution. I had understood that since writing

Sankara Mantra (7 Months)

Lashes like mine
Eyes like mine
even in the way
they peruse a room
Skin like mine
but darker.

A bafflement inside me
every time I hear him
referred to as black.
(how’d you get such a black baby?)

It has happened twice.
Just like my response.
(black is beautiful.)

His mouth like his father’s.
He even smirks like him
causing an almost instantaneous
transfer of affection.

Sankara
whose birth filled the holes
that were consuming my heart

Sankara
who is entranced by his reflection
in the mirror
has begun to stand.

I am in awe of his determination
and the fact that
at barely seventeen pounds
his head is already past my knees.

Sankara
who I brought into an oppressive world
clutches his walker with his pudgy fingers
and walks completely around it.

I watch with a joy that is miraculous.

Sankara
Who I brought into an oppressive world
is owed happiness and well-being
and that is a debt I will pay
like Malcolm said
by any means necessary.

 

Still even though I love my revolution too deeply to ever to ever abstain, this quiet work sometimes gets to me.  I once wanted to be louder than oppression. Now I find myself writing poems about wanting quiet! The same sister-friend mentioned earlier says it’s due to maturity but I miss immature me!  I miss the woman who wrote oppression should be shot down like john f. kennedy. I don’t quite know the woman who wants it quiet like days at ocean beach. I don’t know much of anything except there’s a richness to my life that wasn’t there before…no matter how much I gave of myself to the people and causes I believe in.

I guess I just have to unite womb and mind. The pre-mother me heard Tupac say “I’m your son” and even though he wasn’t talking to me, I said yes. And now that I’m a mother, I’m still saying yes.

 

Links:

http://www.postcolonialweb.org/zimbabwe/miscauthors/mothers1.html

Louder than Oppression

My Spirit Talks

napowrimo 2010

May 1, 2010

i didn’t make it. thirty poems in thirty days seems to be beyond me. last year i lasted about a week. this year, i did about a total of two weeks worth but it was haphazard. some days, i wouldn’t write/post anything. two days later, i’d write/post two or three poems.  the week my son was on april vacation, i didn’t write/post anything. oh well. so it goes…or so i thought until i did a mental run through.

i already knew poems have gestational periods but i learned i can hold the amniotic sac of a poem in my mind until i can tend to it. I learned i can craft the lil pieces of life released from the sac into something worthy of sharing…as well as being the seed of something greeter. i’ve also learned not to neglect what’s left behind in the sac.  basically, i learned to be a tiny bit more disciplined with the craft i call my calling.

30 days will come
and 30 days will go
with the assignment incomplete
but still
i be smithing
words
into new iron
configurations