A Matter of Time – The Feminist Wire

A Matter of Time


By Amira Davis

“I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?” I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.” How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow.”…”How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after the successful completion of the Selma to Montgomery March on March 25, 1965)[1]

In another time
I arrived here
in chains, unfree,
spoken of in extremes

too Black, too loud, too strong, too fertile, too sexual, too diseased

forced across seas,
beyond reason, into madness
my voice not lost
but stolen
a Baobab tree
etched into my remembering back

with whips

branches tipped

with budding, bloody leaves;

deep roots that span two worlds

400 years have passed
& I have not yet learned to navigate
the hyphened space
between the African & the American
but who counts the seasons?

Ma Rainey sang her blues for me
like Bessie did, and Billie
crooned Strange Fruit
while Zora told of eyes

that watched for gods

My mothers: grand, great and just
were blues women, too
sensuality & soul sifted through

ancestral sounds
low moans birthed in cramped quarters
a battle cry to Warrior spirits named
Oya, Hatshepsut, Nzingha
Granny Nanny, Mother Harriet,
Asanteyaa, Ella, Fannie Lou, Queen Mother Moore,
Assata, Vina & Bettye Melba

It is the song of black birds
perched atop trees
bearing witness

In the timbre of their tune I hear the call,

“How long?”

& the response, “Not long.”

I channel these mother tongues on stages
& street corners, in classrooms, on pages
in languages of resource & policy
in places sacred & profane
my scream reverberates from inner
to outer and cyber space
biting words rush from my mind like
self-emancipated slaves
they burn my lips, my fingertips
unmasking my invisibility
leaving people to wonder,

“Why is she so angry?!”

Do you not see arms that ache
for babies lost and stolen?
sold in marketplaces, on auction blocks,
to private prisons and for-profit care,

killed in imperial & urban wars
poetic tragedies in which Kiyanna, Kiwane
Larry and Boo forever die
on city streets
denied the right to live

safe & whole

I mourn memories,

collective & private
wombs: cut off/cut out
after birthing & wet-nursing america
to her magnificence

when it is our turn to feed
the massive breasts of the state turn dry
& sag around her bloated middle
the true mark of an old vulture

Perhaps my anger reflects
the tiredness of my pain

Chants of democracy
lose meaning in survival struggle
that consumes each new thought in utero,
necrotizing the flesh from action

While before my eyes,

in 24 hour news cycles
voters become voteless,
the landed made landless,

the once housed now homeless,
unruly markets shape shift
into tsunamis,

& the price of food soars like eagles

In the cramped quarters where

Black folk live and die

rats & roaches feed
alongside politicians & money changers
who violate the body of We The People
are bailed out with its life blood

through gas pump hoses

student loan & credit card


Where once feared street thugs called GDs[2]
are choir boys, singing in the shadows of

G8s & G20s
and while the golden arches
may for some resemble an oasis
in the expanse of food deserts
I can’t replace for my children

innocence lost

with “happy” meals

The margins are filled with those like me
who, overwhelmed with jingoism,
consume the goods of life
marked Made in China

from dollar stores

while the public goods

like right to life, housing, & decent education

remains elusive to our grasp

I stand here
not alone, but with the ghosts
of mothers/sisters/aunts/nieces/daughters
crowding my space,
speaking through bodies, real

and incorporeal

We gather here to commiserate,
cleanse ourselves with holy water,

clutching amulets
bathed in tears
the brazen among us
push tight clenched fists
into the face of power

and swear our oath of r/evolution
this poem our offering to life
& light/hope & healing,
peace, love & the desire
to draw breath
one day again

I heard in his question, “How long ‘til freedom?”
Call: How long? Response: Not long

but tell me,

who really counts the seasons?

(C) Copyright Amira Davis 2008



[2] Chicago street gang known as Gangster Disciples, who like other urban street gangs, are held directly responsible for terrorizing the Black and Brown communities.


AminaAmira Davis is an artist and educator in Illinois.