Immediately after hearing the news of Amiri Baraka’s passing, I made hot chocolate under the guise of sharing it with my mentee who was here working with me. The kitchen counter was full of vegetables that I pulled out to juice but I instead chose to make hot chocolate. As the almond milk warmed and I put the unsweetened cocoa powder into the mugs, I noticed how I was feeling. I recently met with Dr. Akilah, a naturopath and energy healer out of Atlanta, and ever since I’ve been really present to how I am feeling and how that impacts my behavior and choices. The hot cocoa was a reach for comfort. I have not made hot chocolate in 3 years. I avoid sweet drinks at home opting for either a water mixture, fresh juice or medicinal tea.
Earlier in the day –after the police stopped me a block from home for not having my seatbelt on and gave me a ticket–I ate cassava, callaloo and saltfish–comfort food. I’ve also eaten popcorn—something else I don’t do often but it reminds me of Auntie Jennifer’s house. She absolutely loved eating popcorn. My mind was uplifted for a while but came right back to reality. Sigh. I had gotten over the unexpected expense of tickets, I got one yesterday as well, and the needed car inspection, but reading about Amiri Baraka’s death left me shook. One of my brothers in poetry, Brian Gilmore, who was a huge influence on my development as an artist in my early to mid-twenties, posted that he was going to make cornbread to get his mind off things. Now, I am sitting here wondering what else I can make, but will make my vegetable juice to stay in solidarity with my health plan. I didn’t eat enough callaloo to make the nutrients count.
Then I tried to sit with google chromebook on Facebook, LIKING each of the status posts about Amiri’s passing. However, there were too many in my newsfeed and it didn’t feel like I was honoring his life, but passing the time because I did not know what to do with this grief.
Where do we place this grief? Tell me where to put it. There is no container for it. The past few months began with a grief moment every other week but since early December the pace has quickened to a weekly grieving schedule. Tuesdays are my studio day, Saturdays I go to hot yoga community class at Sacred Brooklyn, and there has been at least one day that involved grieving for someone lost. I don’t know if loss is the appropriate word to use here. Perhaps that is the issue, I need to re-language death, identify new ‘descriptives’ since it is becoming so ever-present within my immediate circles.
The issue might be that our entire culture needs not only new words to talk about death, but a new way to look at it and honor it. It is after all, inevitable. I guess that’s not the point of this post though. It’s really just me thinking out loud as I search for a way to process what seems to be frequent death announcements spanning across generations. I’m sure I’ll wake in the morning thinking of gluten-free pancakes and baked sweet potatoes. Cousin Carla says at least you don’t crave Jack Daniels or cigarettes but I would love to be able to move through grief in stillness, without using anything outside of myself to assuage the pain.
Amiri Baraka’s passing reminds me of my mama’s book shelf when I was a little girl, it reminds me of my Auntie Bennye and Uncle Keith’s record collection and Auntie Jennifer’s love of Black poetry. As a girl growing up in a working class town where baseball, church and eating good food were often the only creative activities, I longed for something that spoke to my artistic soul. Music and poetry were my first loves. Arriving at Howard University’s campus pre-DC gentrification was like a “Toni in Afro-Wonderland” film. Over the years, I not only met the people from those books and albums, but worked with many of them, sat on panels next to them and even got checked by a few. Tonight before sleeping I will say a prayer for E. Etherlbert Miller, my literary father and poetic mentor to countless others. Baraka’s passing reminds me of the hours he spent feeding and nurturing my creative hunger and love of poetry.
Well, I guess I will make that vegetable juice. Everything is already cleaned and prepped. Hoping I can channel this energy into memorizing the words for next week’s performance with pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs at Brooklyn Academy of Music. We will perform with Abiodun of the Last Poets, another one of the greats who has reached elder status. Perhaps that’s part of the exercise–transforming grief into art, making the ugly beautiful, focusing sadness into an experience that will uplift and impact the lives of others? Who knows? If I drank liquor I would pour some out, but I’ll do me and raise my glass of green juice while reciting Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. Yep, poets do things like that.
Sending love and light to the Baraka family, hugs to my Howard University family and to my poetry family around the world—it’s Nation Time.