Monday, February 11, 2008

Let everything we say be real. Let everything we do be funky. - S. Sundiata

This past week has been insanely busy. I was preparing for three performances whilst playing catch up with classes after having spent the better part of the previous ten days incapacitated with the flu. Yet I accomplished everything that I set out to do culminating with Friday's performances at La Mama which couldn't have gone better.

Thursday myself and a group of students from Eugene Lang College accompanied by Kym Ragusa went to Bucknell University to pay tribute to the work of Sekou Sundiata, specifically the 51st (dream) state. Originally, Sekou was scheduled to appear but even in light of his untimely passing the events went as scheduled. I can only credit this to the incredible impact Sekou, his work and his teaching had on everyone who has been exposed to it. We performed the documentary theater piece that was based upon our experiences being in the year long class with Sekou and I performed the piece I wrote in his honor. The response was incredible and the discussion afterwards went on for almost two hours before we had to leave the space.

Every time we get together to honor Sekou and continue his work I feel a little bit better, which is not to say that his absence feels normal now because it certainly does not. I haven't even picked up my final paper because I'm not quite ready to face the fact that I would have to pick it up from someone who is not him. It feels so weird now but comforting in a way - I meet to discuss my senior work in his office like I'd always imagined I would do but instead I meet with Margo Jefferson, who is an amazing writer and instructor but still - it saddens me that it was Sekou's death that cause us to be working together. I cheer myself with thoughts that it was his suggestion that I meet Margo and take one of her classes. He thought we'd work well together and he was very correct.


I never took a portrait of Sekou Sundiata because
I thought you had to belong to something
Thought I didn’t have what it took
To capture
To expose
Thought my lens could never hold
This man who held so much
I mean how could I capture
That range-
The slight knowing smile
To the wide grin
The contemplative
The body that never acknowledged weakness
The eyes always busy
Always whirring even when the mouth was still
Sekou said that Baldwin never blinked
But neither did you Sekou
I’m convinced
You saw things
No one else could see
You certainly saw them in me
(That semester I was down and no one noticed but you
stopping me in the hall – Amanda, I haven’t heard
your voice all day… I wanted to cry. I was choking, but
when you said that I felt a little more alive.)

and your voice
like molasses pouring over velvet
deep and sweet
but before you even opened your mouth
Abiodoun called you the smoothest brother out there

The last time I saw you
After 4 years of wanting
to take your picture
I finally asked
And we laughed as you said
Many folks don’t realize
I need a little extra light
for this skin
and you said
But I trust you

Yes its true
Dark skin
Absorbs more light
But Sekou reflected more
Than I’ve ever seen
And with him gone
The whole world seems a bit dimmer
Yet he left little lights behind
In all of us
So many
Snapshots in my mind
And I’m trying so hard
To let this little light shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
let it shine
let it shine
let it shine
Everywhere I go
I’m gonna let it shine
Everywhere I go
I’m gonna let it shine
let it shine
let it shine
let it shine

Even when he said

I get tired of educating whiteness
It seemed he had more patience
Than god from where I stood
Answering question
After question
After question
After question
After question
After question
After question
After question
After question
And more answers for questions unasked
And unseen

I sit in his office now
Like I always have
But its empty
I look over my shoulder
Where his favorite picture once hung
The Audubon Ballroom
Right after Malcolm was shot
He’d always point to that picture
Its quiet power
Here it is
He’d say
This seemingly ordinary picture
Of an empty room
A few chairs overturned
But when you know what happened here
It takes on this whole other significance

It feels like that now
Quiet and sudden
The very last thing he said to me
If you don’t publish I’m gonna haunt you
And I hugged him and said please do
I’m tempted to stop this poem right now
Just so I can see him again
I hope he comes by
But you know Sekou
He never was one to live by appointment

All of a sudden…
Like death came and jacked him
In the middle of the dance
The curtain was still up
When somebody cut the house lights
And I never got to give him
The standing ovation I meant to
Just some poems and stories
And a picture of someone who is not him

You’d think I would have learned the first time –
I never got to make a portrait of my father either
Before I was ready
He was gone quicker than the 911 call
He dialed with his last gasp
On the living room floor
I never told Sekou this –
But I used to imagine he was my grandfather
Not old enough but still
a storyteller like all the men
On my father’s side
He could command a room with a whisper
Spin stories around you
Till you forget where you stand
I like to think they’re there now
Sitting around some ancient fire
Dad and his brothers
Grandpa
And Sekou
Their faces warmed by the
Flickering light that licks
Their eyes and cheekbones
Sekou chuckles
And Uncle Donald laughs his wheezy laugh
From around his pipe
Because there’s no cancer
At this spot
And Coltrane is there too
Blowing in the background
While they spit
Endlessly into the night
Which feels brighter than the brightest day
As the words keep coming
Keep coming
Keep coming
Keep coming
Keep coming
Keep coming…


Probably the best part of Thursday besides the opportunity to get together again with some of the folks who were in the 51st (dream) state class, was talking to Kym. We emailed a bit right after Sekou died but this was the first time I have seen her since she was sitting beside Sekou teaching the class. We are both experiencing some delayed grieving - since she was sick and I was out of town for a lot of the summer- his passing still has this surreal quality. We promised to get together and she said she would read my memoir and be sure to send me Sekou's wife's address so I can send her something. As much as it hurts to lose such a friend and mentor - I can only imagine how it must feel to lose this man if he was your life partner.

I felt like I was channeling more of Sekou - I like to think of him as my guardian angel of writing and performing - on Friday night. My friend Trae put on a show called Women of Color Self-Portraits: a Black HERstory event and she invited me to contribute. I read a portion of my memoir in progress and people really dug it. I had to pause many times to wait for the laughter to die down and I got so many compliments after I got off stage. It was such an incredible and much needed feeling. Doing work about yourself is a delicate thing. If it doesn't resonate its just mental masturbation. Seeing so many folks connect with my work gives me the motivation to continue. That combined with Sekou's emphasis on making work that is grounded in the personal narrative gets me so excited to work on autobiographical writing. We spent the first semester of his class working on these personal essays that forced us to consider our American citizenship and our relationship to history. It was making the personal historical, if you will, and it definitely felt like important work.

I read somewhere recently that I poem isn't done until you've shared it. I have to agree. Something happens to words when you say them out loud and even more so in front of an audience. After the Women of Color Self-Portraits, I performed two poems as a part of Bryonn Bain's Spoken Word Poetry Class. One was brand spankin' new and the other is a monologue I have been refining for a few months now that I did at our show at the Nuyorican in December. After several months, I finally feel like I have my performance of that piece exactly where I want it to be and I can't wait for more opportunities to work on the rest.

In other news, I designed an independent study in autobiographical dramatic monologue with Bryonn through which I am constructing my one-woman-show. We begin workshopping this week.

What can I say but YAY!

3 comments:

Erin said...

good lord amanda, you are so damn powerful. i am sitting here with tears down my face. i never cry.

damn.

your voice feels truer than earth. you're sharper than sharp. hotter than hot. harder than hard.

i am in awe of your intelligence: emotional, intellectual, experiential, all-damn-little-things-general.

damn.
keep on being beautiful, beautiful being!

Morgan said...

Thank you so much, love!

(Were you able to read my whole poem - I just had to fix it for some reason half of it was in webdings!)

Zami said...

you are so fierce. it amazes me.