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Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Shout Out To My Mom-Where My Birthmark Dances by Octavia McBride-Ahebee

Hanging Terrance Hayes' Carp Poem
This is my mom hanging up one of our poetry butterflies

I am large. I contain multitudes.  Walt Whitman looks magnificent.

Our butterflies before hanging.

Last Friday, I went to the Paul Robeson House for a poetry event.  While I was there, I saw the son of a local poet-KWW.  This boy was about 10 and very commanding.  He was video-recording the event. I have literally observed his growth from the time he was about 2, until now, and always in the company of poets.  I was thinking, though I was five years older than he, how so similar we are and how blessed we are to have been dragged to bookstores, art galleries, playhouses, open houses, backyards, parks and every conceivable venue by our mothers to hear their poetic voices and those of their peers.  I’ve learned first hand, with a front-row seat how wordsmithing saves lives, keeps insanity at bay and gives you a life mission. I grew up, to paraphrase a Ntozake  Shange poem, in the company of people whose poetry added some humanity to our world.

Above are photos of me and my mother, Octavia McBride-Ahebee, hanging the poetry butterflies in our cherry trees that we made yesterday to celebrate Poetry Month.  The butterflies are filled with poems by Terrance Hayes, Nikki Givonnai, Derek Walcott and Walt Whitman to name a few. We sat on the patio, wearing our afghans, and watched for the reactions from our community members to our poetry butterflies. We watched a woman pushing what looked liked two weeks of laundry, followed by her crew of babies, stop and laugh before one of our butterflies. She laughed because she remembered Nikki and Ego Tripping and she stood there and read to her children, with attitude and all.  That alone has made our year and given us enough magic to be so generous.

My mom’s second collection of poetry, Where My Birthmark Dances, is coming out in July and will be published by Finishing Line Press.   I am so proud to share that I did the artwork for the cover.  I know every poem in this book.  I have imagined the frustration of a Haitian father selling his body to buy food for his family.  I have imagined the urgency of  Opportune, a child, whose mother has left her to work as a nanny in the US and  Opportune’s  plea to the wealthy children now being cared for by her mother that they love this mother in her absence.  I know the haughtiness of a young Ivorian girl bragging to her new American classmates about the combs she had, in Abidjan, with names and stories that prepared you for the day.

Where My Birthmark Dances is an emotional trip and one that will carry you to a place where you will think and act.  Order the book today.  It comes out July 23, but ordering now determines the number of books printed during its pressrun. Simply click on the link below the photo of my mom and the book  and then scroll down and order.

Here’s a poem from the collection that I find so haunting.

Deliver Me From The Hands of Strange Children
By Octavia McBride-Ahebee

On the Day of the Dead,
On the day we plead on their behalf,
he *naked me,
stripped my body
in front of carved saints, elegantly stoic
cloistered in their own uselessness

he naked me
in front of bands of soldier boys, spellbound and spoiled,
wearing their sisters' dresses and their mothers' wigs
their necks encased in feather boas and forest paint
their waists jeweled with the feces of Cold War arsenals

in a church garden wild with perfume
under a bush plum tree
the kind we make our Christmas pudding from
he naked me

he naked me
as I quietly pleaded to the holy queen
as he told me her ears were stuffed with cassava leaves
and her son's many failures
as he pissed his discontent in my face

he laid me beneath a neighboring mango tree
magnificent in its promise to shield
and he used a bayonet like a crochet hook
pushing through my vagina
in search of hidden bounty
in search of buried cell phones and soiled cash
pulling from its walls only prayer beads
christened by frightened menses

for such a gross disappointment
he placed mary's head
machete-sharpened and faceless
in there instead


*Naked, used as a verb, is a Liberian description of the military tactic employed by boy soldiers in which they stripped civilians, particularly women, of their clothing as a means of humiliation.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Shining Moment; The Freedom Riders

Painting By Charlotta Jansen
I was just about to kick myself because I missed the January deadline to be able to participate and follow the route, both physically and emotionally, of the Freedom Riders. But you had to be a college student to be considered and I'm still in high school. As part of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, PBS is doing something big and meaningful. This is what its program American Experience is doing: “In May 2011, forty college students will embark on a journey retracing the route of the original 1961 Freedom Rides and beginning an important national conversation about the role of civic engagement today. The ten-day, all-expenses-paid trip is a unique opportunity for college students who are committed to learning from history and to applying those lessons today.” American Experience selected college students with a broad range of backgrounds– lending diverse voices to the journey. Students will share their experiences and learn from their peers, from pioneers in the civil rights movement, and from today’s civic leaders. "

Who were the Freedom Riders? Get ready to learn some Constitutional Law. "Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. The case overturned a judgment convicting an African American law student for trespassing by being in a restaurant in a bus terminal which was "whites only." It held that racial segregation in public transportation was illegal because such segregation violated the Interstate Commerce Act, which broadly forbade discrimination in interstate passenger transportation. It moreover held that bus transportation was sufficiently related to interstate commerce to allow the United States Federal government to regulate it to forbid racial discrimination in the industry. The majority opinion was written by Justice Hugo Black.

The significance of Boynton was not so much in its holding — it managed to avoid deciding any Constitutional questions in its decision, and its expansive reading of Federal powers regarding interstate commerce was also well established by the time of the decision — but the outlawing of racial segregation in public transportation led to a movement called the Freedom Rides, in which African Americans and whites together rode various forms of public transportation in the South to challenge local laws or customs that enforced segregation." ( Source Wikipedia).
So look out for events celebrating this movement and honoring these brave and conscientious YOUNG Americans.

Here's the link to follow this amazing project.