The POETIC DIALOGUE PROJECT
an exhibition of collaborative works by artists and poets

POETS

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M. Eliza Hamilton
Abegunde
AT THE WATER SHRINE

                         
Six hours dancing and memory comes in the slide of my foot against wood floors, in the
undulation of my hips to djembe, in the chorus of moans that greet me at the shrine as I
lie down to return Home the only way I know.

Until now, I have only remembered the Passage.  I have not had courage to remember
the moment I died as the moment I lost my voice.  The language of my mother and the
language of my rapist converged in my throat and, unable to maneuver the simultaneous
birth and death of myself, I stopped speaking.

I don’t want to know what I know:  the scar above my breast the smell of burning flesh
the movement of wood my terror in the absence of trees a man squeezing my breasts
pushing my legs the slap because I refuse again and again the beating and pushing until
he believes I am nothing when in fact I have created many of me to survive.

I want to hold on to things I know are real:  my mother’s hand against my face the smell
of cocoa and palm oil her fingers weaving beads in my hair my lover’s body on top of
mine market day and medicines wrapped in leaves, drums beating out the movement of
my feet my hips following the sound.

No one remembers how to place cloth under water in a wooden bowl, how to arrange
flowers and stone around the altar, how to throw the coconut, how to feed the Ancestors.  
No one trusts the rhythm of the body to recognize home and so they follow me back and
forth praying my journey from village to shrine reveals the true nature of grief.

This is where I started:  at the edge of the village offering myself to the Mother of All
Waters if only she would save me from this day. But I am here two centuries removed,
aware I will never be saved the pain of remembering.

I am the woman watching the first merchant ship arrive, its white sails emblazoned with
a red cross.  I am witness to the beginning of the continent’s death.  I am the woman
who lost her tongue to save her priesthood.  I am the woman who jumped.

Memory:  a woman’s hand on my shoulder, someone calling my name - both inviting me
back to Loveland, Ohio, a fall day, a room filled with people who will never know what it
is like to enter your grave with your eyes open, listening to the waters of your birth slap
good-bye against its bow.

For a long time, I do not answer.  I do not want to die or be born again.  I do not want to
hold what I know in my heart, and I do not want to speak it.  I want only to be home, a
young girl, watching the horizon, dangling my legs, and enjoying for the first time the
ocean washing my feet, the water so calm the sky is cloudless.

copyright 1998, M. Eliza Hamilton Abegunde
Jimmy Santiago
Baca
ANCESTOR

                                 
It was a time when they were afraid of him.
My father, a bare man, a gypsy, a horse
with broken knees no one would shoot.
Then again, he was like the orange tree,
and young women plucked from him sweet fruit.
To meet him, you must be in the right place,
even his sons and daughter, we wondered
where was papa now and what was he doing.
He held the mystique of travelers
that pass your backyard and disappear into the trees.
Then, when you follow, you find nothing,
not a stir, not a twig displaced from its bough.
And then he would appear one night.
Half covered in shadows and half in light,
his voice quiet, absorbing our unspoken thoughts.
When his hands lay on the table at breakfast,
they were hands that had not fixed our crumbling home,
hands that had not taken us into them
and the fingers did not gently rub along our lips.
They were hands of a gypsy that filled our home
with love and safety, for a moment;
with all the shambles of boards and empty stomachs,
they filled us because of the love in them.
Beyond the ordinary love, beyond the coordinated life,
beyond the sponging of broken hearts,
came the untimely word, the fallen smile, the quiet tear,
that made us grow up quick and romantic.
Papa gave us something: when we paused from work,
my sister fourteen years old working the cotton fields,
my brother and I running like deer,
we would pause, because we had a papa no one could catch,
who spoke when he spoke and bragged and drank,
he bragged about us: he did not day we were smart,
nor did he say we were strong and were going to be rich someday.
He said we were good. he held us up to the world for it to see,
three children that were good, who understood love in a quiet way,
who owned nothing but calloused hands and true freedom,
and that is how he made us: he offered us to the wind,
to the mountains, to the skies of autumn and spring.
He said, “Here are my children! Care for them!”
And he left again, going somewhere like a child
with a warrior´s heart, nothing could stop him.
My grandmother would look at him for a long time,
and then she would say nothing.
She chose to remain silent, praying each night,
guiding down like a root in the heart of earth,
clutching sunlight and rains to her ancient breast.
And I am the blossom of many nights.
A threefold blossom: my sister is as she is,
my brother is as he is, and I am as I am.
Through sacred ceremony of living, daily living,
arose three distinct hopes, three loves,
out of the long felt nights and days of yesterday.

copyright Jimmy Santiago Baca
Jan Beatty
RED SUGAR

                                                                       
You walk inside yourself on roads and ropes
                                                                        of blood vessels and tendons, you walk inside
                                                                        yourself and eat weather
                                                                                                                       —Gretel Ehrlich
When I was young, I was a comet
with an unending shimmering tail,
and I flew over the brokenness below
that was my life. I didn’t know until I was
twelve that we carry other bodies inside us.
Not babies, but bodies of blood
that speak to us in plutonic languages
of pith and serum. When I was
six, there was a man in the woods,
naked. I didn’t know him, but I knew
he was a wrong kind of man/so I ran.
With my inside body I see his skinny
white bones and curled mouth, he looks
like sickness and it’s the body inside me
that’s running, my red sugar body
that shows me the brutal road to love,
the one good man, the one song
I can keep as mine. I heard it once
when I was waitressing, something
made me turn my head, made me
swivel to look at a woman across
the room, wasn’t even my station,
but the red sugar said, go. When I
saw her up close, I knew she was
blood. I can’t explain this—I only met
my mother once. I said,
Do you know
a woman named Dorothy?
Her face
was pale, she said,
No— in that hard way.
Maybe her red sugar told her to run—
but before she left, she grabbed my arm,
said,
I did have a sister named Dorothy,
but she died.
Two inches away from her
dyed blond hair, I said,
okay, but both
our inside bodies knew she was lying.
Some people call it
eating weather
the way you swallow what you know,
but keep it—later it rises like a storm
from another world, reptilian and hungry.  
It’s the thickness that drives us and
stains us, the not asking/just coming/
the cunt alive and jewel-like/the uncut
garnet and the lava flow/it’s barbarism/
bloodletting/the most liquid part of us/
spilling/spreading/the granular red sea
of sap and gore/sinking/moving forward
at the same time/slippery/red
containing blue/it’s the sweet,
deep inside of the body.                

copyright  Jan Beatty, title poem from Red Sugar
www.jimmysantiagobaca.com