Poems & Remembrances

 Selection of poems written by Pamela Sneed, and inspired by Sekou Sundiata, his words, his work and the Blink Your Eyes Retrospective

For Sekou Sundiata

I don’t want to write a nice neat poem about Sekou
Sundiata

I don’t want you or I to feel comfortable

I don’t want this to feel flowery and poetic

I don’t want to talk about what a great poet he was and

he was

I don’t want to talk about the deep brown cocoa of his
skin that

looked the way we do when sun hits us

I don’t want to describe the baritone of his voice

that could entrance you

I don’t want to say again he was my
teacher and 

the endless challenges he offered

He was a champion of Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka

and June Jordan was a personal friend that 

was the school he came out of that Black Power

Panther thing

changed his name from Robert to Sekou Sundiata

I don’t want to eulogize him or talk of the last time
spoke

Today I want to be that person who says when everything

has been resolved and determined

when the final vows exchanged, I object

In the face of silence, I object

I want to be like that slave who refuses to wear chains

does not go gently

I want to invoke the mother of Trayvon Martin

his father burying a son

the community that lost a comrade

I want to conjure Sean Bell's widow

the family of Amadou Diallo

I want to circle this room with caution tape

draw his body in white chalk

part the crowds and audience that has gathered here

raise my fist in the spirit of Audre Lorde and Assata
Shakur

and to shout it is a crime Sekou Sundiata is not here
today

among us

I don’t know what we need to do to save our artists

to listen while they are still here

where to draw the line between personal responsibility

for health and the nightmarish medical system

we are living in

I don’t know where to end this except to say I love him

and miss him.


Poetry and Protest

It’s been a long time since Audre Lorde was alive

long time since she donned a dashiki addressed the crowd

refused to wear a prosthesis

spoke in a voice full of the courage cancer gave her

called herself after the Amazons of Dahomey one breasted

black lesbian mother warrior poet doing her work

coming to ask if we are doing ours

long time since she said things like your power

flows from the same source as your pain

and when in doubt, in fear

silence will not protect you

it is better to speak knowing

we were never meant to survive 

long time since she spoke to us as defiantly
as Nina Simone

singing Mississippi Goddamn 

which I’ve updated to Arizona
Goddamn and George Zimmerman Goddamn

It's been a long time since she and Barbara Smith published

This Bridge Called My Back for Radical Women of Color

words that cut to the soul

long time since students lined up to take her class at
Hunter

always full

and her famous saying make a piece of work as if yours

or someone else’s life depends upon it

long time since poetry and protest sprung up from the ground

like arresting pink purple red bulbs

since it felt like fever that spread

long time since Nelson and Winnie emerged from hiding 

house arrest fists up in the air igniting us to act

long time since 6 am wake-ups

when adults filled children’s yellow school buses

went to Washington DC to protest in favor of women’s rights

long time since assemblies on the front lawn of the
Washington monument listening to Rev. Jesse. Jackson speak

Still there have been bursts of activism Tyler Clementi,
Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin 

but nothing like the 80’s-Act-up,Tawana Brawley, Eleanor
Bumpurs, Michael Griffith chased to his death across Queens blvd by bat
wielding whites and so I came to believe that activism 

like all of our fallen heroes

required a moment of silence

this is of course until I traveled to South Africa

saw up close the cell Mandela sat in for 17 years

before transferred to another prison

before seeing the meager bucket, blanket given

this is before learning of the thousands like him men
and women 

who died in isolation, unknown gave their lives

like slaves that thrust themselves from the ships in protest

until I met people of every age

Black White Indian Coloured who gave up their lives
careers families

to end apartheid

this was until I saw poetry embedded in the floors and
walls 

of the District 6 museum

survivors forcibly removed from their homes, history

I learned again that words, theater, activism can really
change things

have power and meaning.


Black People Speak Two Languages/For Sekou Sundiata

Time's passed now

He's been gone awhile

ceremonies and memorials over 

I know after I'd heard he died for the first few days

I looked for him thought I saw him everywhere 

in strangers faces the same way in Ghana 

everyone looks like a long lost family member or friend

but this morning I woke up in my bed

for the time in months dreaming of Sekou

I traveled back many many years to his classroom

at the New school

where he gave us his students handouts of the poetic forms

the lyric poem, the narrative, epic, Baraka's "Why's
Why" and the haiku

lessons I still carry/ teach to my students today

I'll never forget what a revelation it was when he declared

Black People Speak Two Languages

and suddenly I understood my own struggles at the time

as a young black woman trying to adjust to a white school/

white environment

and I will never forget graduation day at the New School

when Sekou, the performer, with my parents in attendance

dedicated a poem to me

It would be years after that date before I saw him again

we'd both had our own bouts with illness, mine to a lesser
degree

and his eyes darted deep into mine

in a typical black man way stern but caring

teacher to student "You alright?" 

"Yes," Sekou.

And I suppose now there are no coincidences

because it was accidental almost that I saw
his last big performance at BAM 

last year we talked briefly in the hallway after the
show

and then again at a New Year's eve party

him, gliding in cool in a Black fedora like hat

"What are you working on?, "he asked.

"Books, a performance about Nina Simone"

"Great " he said, his eyes flashing with interest,

full of fatherly love and approval and that was our
last 

conversation ever teacher to student

then too soon

much much too soon

he vanished.



 

(c) Pamela Sneed 2013