Hunger – The Feminist Wire


By Kwame Dawes

For Toni Cade Bambara

courtesy: Aishah Shahidah Simmons

courtesy: Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Ancient people with long memories have, I am sure,
a name for it—the country folks call it lonesome
but that has its baggage. The blues witch’s brew
comes the closest; but we know the shadow
of lynchings, shackles, whips and blows looming
over that word—the justification of this
heaviness—something like the gloom
of guilt after an orgasm quickly regretted,
that sticky wallowing in sweetness, but
without the sweetness, without the orgasm,
the humming deprivation, the stone at the pit
of the belly, the pain in the throat,
the nausea that is not sickness but a
mood – the thing the aliens in their
multitudes, pragmatic as wood, call
feeling sorry for yourself.

And that day in Toronto, it’s what I was feeling,
when you saw me like we knew each other
forever, like old friends, fellow villagers and kin
in this crowded place of benevolent whiteness.
You became, for me, Grace, herself, gorilla lady
of elbowing beauty. And the rest is memory,
wholesome, irrefutable. You took me on a long
walk, fed me, laughed with me, teased me,
goaded me. Me, with a beard too full for safety,
half blind, with a bag of halting poems, dreams
and rejections—and you called me a poet,
said it would be alright, then deposited me
that evening in the city, somehow healed
of this nameless affliction for another day.

They say you had the eye; they say you saw
into people. They say you came before as shaman
or bruja and returned as priestess; they say you were
stonebreaker. But for me, you were a big sister
feeling for a lonely brother with no language
to lament, and you gave me more days, and
more days. Yes, they could have called you
Grace, Bambara; they could have called you that.

Kwame Laughing FotoKwame Dawes is the author of nineteen books of poetry and numerous other books of fiction, criticism, and essays.  He has edited over a dozen anthologies.  His latest collection Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon) appeared in 2013.  He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and teaches at the University of Nebraska and the Pacific MFA Program.  He is Director of the African Poetry Book Fund and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.