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Dialogue among Civilizations Through Poetry
Durham, North Carolina United States
March 31st 2001 8pm Center for Documentary Studies
Sponsored by Carolina African American Writers' Collective
Organized by Mendi Lewis Obadike
 
 

 
Curry Powder   by Christian A. Campbell

Panday in power now, somebody cries.
They think they better than people,
My Trini cousins say, And they like
Wear Fila shoes.  My brother and I
Laugh and add, They is smell strong
Like curry powder.  Is true, we insist.

Coolies and niggers fighting these days
But great-grandmummy Nita did not fight
When she found herself facing the West
Instead, touching the Negro face of a Bajan,
Manny.  She did not wear saris no more.
Calypso she liked and could wind down
With the best of them.  She became deaf
To the ethereal ballad of Krishna’s flute.
She chose Manny, not Lord Rama in her
Hindu epic gone wrong.  At her wedding
She never once uttered Ganesh'sname
And she loosened the grasp of Vishnu’s
Four hands from round her waist.
So her sisters disowned her in the holy
Name of Mother India.  But she made
Dougla babies anyway and did not give
Them the sacred names of gods: Brahma,
Shiva, Gauri.  She named Grandaddy
Leon, a good English name, like all the other
Rootless Negroes.  And so Trinidad became herself.

You know how people go, it took many deaths
And many births for the Mullchansinghs to talk
To the Brathwaites again and, finally, Mummy
And her siblings were born looking Indian enough.
But Panday in power now and Mummy warned
Me to say Indian not coolie.  One of my cousins
Told me, with a grown-up intuition, You know,
In Trinidad, you not black, you dougla.

Panday in power now and my cousins still cuss
About neighbours with their flags of many colours
Claiming their yards for as many gods as there are
Colours.  After enough cussing, we all go to eating
Pelau with roti and curry, and so, with our fingers
Stained yellow like old documents,
We, too, stink of curry powder.

back to dialogue


Some of Us    by Kahlil Koromantee

Some of us prefer to call our native tongue 'creole'
Some of us don't like being called food
So we say, Patwa
Not you
To give praise to the Haition

Some of us are learning to say creole with a 'K'
Not because it looks better
But because it's essential that we love ourselves

Some of us keep our hair low
Some of us still wear fros
Some of us got alienated for wearing dreds
And some of us don't like Ti-tid

Dominican against Haitian against Jamaican against Nigerians against Mexicans
against Koreans against Nubians...
Some of us cross barriers like Badu crosses with Billie
And some of us wait for the barriers to fall, so they cry like Billie

Some of us still trying to be White
Some of us settle for Spanish
Some of us glad to be Black
Some of us glad to be back

Some of us fight with our words
But then all of us have something to say

And then some of us can catch flying bullets with their bare hands.

back to dialogue


 thecae    by Yvette Fannell
 

[8:30 a.m.]
he sells himself
cowering within
the breast pocket
of a cheap suit
the Republic of Kiwi
labeled the cuff
clutching its hem to peek
needing to hide
needing to know
if they
see him

from nappy
to jappy
a guide
on suffocating
the autonomous woman
with a Kate Spade bag

forcing raw fish down her throat
with chopsticks
and a tongue depressor
she booted
her bottom clung to the tile
saki made her sweat
legs loosely straddled
round the base
Kohler out of focus
in her face
chin dripping with a soft pink grit
it was salmon

build up the outside
downsize the inside
cut cost
maximize profit

build up the outside
downsize the inside
cut cost
maximize profit

she grabbed the Sharpie
out the drawer
squatted nude
back to the mirrored wall
she began

Ferragamo in a bubbly script
on her left foot
Cole Hann on her right
Donna Karan up her left shin
Calvin up her thigh
the 'i'
dotted by her birthmark

she crushed a truffle in her hand
rubbed her belly round
as nana takin' butter to a butter ball
she reached into the crystal dish
Baccarat, and popped a Godiva truffle in her mouth
turning toward the mirror
glass shattered
thru an aching laughter
she cried
and continued
MAC on her forehead
Chanel on her lips--

[6:30 p.m.]
he leaped out his pocket
stumbled onto the floor
nauseated by one breath
his hallway smelled
the crock pot vapor
of international cuisine
the pained odor of it all
bubbling in the same pot
blistful sores bursting
upon friction

the fumbling at the door didn't shake her
she was passed out
blood spots smeared
covering the creamed
Karastan
was the only
regular part

he dropped onto the carpet
and felt her
checking if she pulsed
searching for the cut between her thighs

"did you hurt yourself?
baby did you cut yourself?"

"nope."

slowly shaking her head
her tears didn't streak
the brands on her face
the maker--permanent

"no
uhh uh
you can't save me
you can't save me now
it's too late
my insides--

shot."

back to dialogue


 Beneath the Western Light    by Howard L. Craft
after Adam Hochschild, "King Leopold’s Ghost"

1.

"To open to civilization the only part of our globe which it has not yet
penetrated, to pierce the darkness, which hangs over entire peoples, is
I dare say a crusade worthy of this century of progress . . ."
 --King Leopold II

There are tom-toms that beat in forever a call more frantic
Than a dying fawn That beat the life blood of black hearts
There are tom-toms that beat in forever and they scream

Run, take your daughters your sons
Leave your village, their smell is high
The sickening stench of death
Run, the white man is coming with his civilization
He is coming with his fire sticks
He is coming with his long knives
He is coming with his chicotte, his chains
His ropes, his rapes, his hungry bellies
He is coming for the life blood in strong young backs
To carry the ivory, to build the iron snake, to procure
The sap from the rubber trees
Run, Run into the forest’s dense darkness
Smother your little ones that they may not
Give way your hiding place
Watch him burn your village
Kill your chickens
Piss on your cassava
Trample your maize
But do not come out,
Do not let your scared breath shake one leaf
His fire sticks are ready and his Kings are paying
Five brass rods for each hand
Severed from your body.

 ************************

I am Captain Le’on Rom
An author, a painter, a member of the
Entomological Society of Belgium
But this was not always so
Born in the sleepy town of Mons
I was once no more than a provincial book keeper
Before Africa, oh sweet Africa, with your
Untamed wilds, your splendid animals, your
Naked savages in need of civilization
A man is made by opportunity, I say opportunity
and profits, And it profits one to take
Advantage of his opportunities
I recall this verse from Kipling;
 Ship me somewhere east of the Suez
 Where the best is like the worst
 Where there aren’t no ten commandments
 Am a man can raise his thirst.
Indeed each man creates himself I say
Each day he writes his own history and
How should I, Captain Le’on Rom be remembered?
By my works, of course, my find collection of
Butterflies But I fear the revisionist will find nothing to
Speak of except the twenty one heads of the black
Savages I used to decorate my flower bed

II.

"Humanity must not, can not allow the incompetence,
negligence, and laziness of the uncivilized peoples to
leave idle indefinitely the wealth which God has confided to them . . ."
 -Protestant Minister

The cross, the missionary, the church,
The naked savages fucking under the moon
Only our Lord Jesus could love
Their ungrateful woolly skulls and bulging eyes
The fat tubes of flesh that hide their demented grins
The monstrosity of their flat nostrils
Hallelujah!
For their dead bodies floating on top
Lake Tumba with no right hands
Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!
And forty francs for the vigorous nigger considered
Fit for the Force Publique
And for that nigger a red cap, blue suit and gun
If he flee, give him death
If one bullet be unaccounted for, give him the chicotte
Let his meat scream until he understands
The honor in the murder of his savage self

 ************************

I am Oleka
When the white men came to my village
They took our women and tied them by
Their necks with cords
They chained the men separate
Then made us march toward the station where
We will work for the rubber
We have been walking for many days
They make everyone carry heavy things
They make me carry a goat on my back
My wife’s sister, they let her carry her newborn
Yesterday my wife’s sister’s baby kept crying
I prayed that the child would stop crying
A white man took the baby
And smashed his head into the ground
Then he beat my wife’s sister
Today, the man in front of me
Couldn’t walk any more
The white men stabbed him
With the knives tied to their fire sticks
We could still hear him scream
Long after the forest had swallowed him
I hope we will stop soon
I don’t know how long I can carry this goat

III.

African folk song:
 O, mother, how unfortunate we are!
 But the sun will kill the white man!
 But the moon will kill the white man!
 But the sorcerer will kill the white man!
 But the tiger will kill the white man!
 But the elephant will kill the white man!
 But the river will kill the white man!

Beneath the Western Light
Sepulchers are empty except the residue of dried orgasm
From the beautiful sodomies of the dark mother
The missing bestial corpses with eyes leaking black lives
From their corners, with black fingers pushing through their navels
With the rotting meat of African bodies embedded in their silver beards
March toward the third circle of Hell
Their lacerated ear drums flap like wet lamb skins
Soaked in the saliva of Cerebus,
The Great Worm, the three headed vigilante
Who digs his claws into their white backs
Who bellows like a thousand niggers dragging
The heads of Leopolds down jagged cliffs
Cerebus the nigger!
Cerebus the enforcer!
Cerebus who rights wrongs, flays backs
Sings lullabies with the centaurs from the seventh hell
While the porcelain screams of the bestial corpses
Rise from a lake of boiling blood
And shatter against the thick laughter of African tom-toms

back to dialogue


 SOLILOQUY TO MARTIN   by Beverly Fields Burnette

The dark night they gunned you down,
and thought that your head
would topple our body,
I was sitting in a movie
where a political message
yelled out
from the screen,
and from my seat, as well.

The crowded theater had to see us,
captured us in the hot spotlight
of their curious glare.
We were live action.
I, a thin, black girl
who had lived your poem;
he, a tall, lean white boy
who had heard your song
that we would overcome!
We had come to celebrate his birthday,
a new friendship,
a freedom,
as we dared
to look frowned faces
in the eye.

Poitier and company portrayed us~
showed our bold, young will,
which sought a cure for the ills,
the misgivings of society;
sought relief from Jim Crow ways
and warring days.
The actors
guessed "who's coming to dinner?"
Our presence echoed
"Guess who's coming to the movies?"

The southern town,
whose clannish, fiery air we breathed,
bragged of two separate but equal church schools,~
places where liberal thinking
set the young upon the seas
of a NEW America.
How ironic that the Klan lurked
and lived just down the street,
and marched...without shame...
to squelch new notions
of togetherness.

The maid in the movie questioned:
"Who's coming next,
The Reverend Martin Luther King?"
(She wore my Mama's apron and her wit.)
But as we sat,
elbows touching,
how could we have known
that you would be next, indeed,
not for dinner,
but for sacrifice?

The air outside
that damp April night
oozed the warmth
and newness of spring;
the stifling isolation of winter
now gone like old attitudes.
The news of your falling
slapped our faces,
burst our eardrums,
forced us from our idealistic visions.
How could it be AGAIN
in this America?
J.F.K., now you,
slain by some murderous master
of his demonic craft.

 Why do the arms
  that embrace the word with love
  have to fall limp
 from acts of violence?

In your flight into The Light,
could you see our hands clasp tighter,
meshed in the oneness of your humanity?
Did your Cause brighten,
as your eyes softly flickered,
then closed?

Didn't the executioner know
that murder
could not stop...
would not stop the people
from smiles and laughter,
from holding hands,
or sharing love
if they decided to~
even in this town
of flaming crosses?

The loss of your head
would never topple hearts
that live your Universal Love.
Instead, your Cause would survive,
grow strong.
The absence of your mortal flesh
is no absence at all
for your spirit looms larger
than your presence.
 
 

All generations,
all races
will adopt your style,
will know your voice,
your profile;
and  unborn others
will strive to fill the gaping hole
you left that night,~
the night they chose your exit-place.

And now each time
we mark your birth and death,
this nation,~
which still struggles to find Peace,
pauses to pray for your great Dream.
And I call my tall, lean friend,
to remember your message
of Unity,
and relive his birthday night
when a nation learned
the meaning
of true Sacrifice.

back to dialogue


coffles:  a suicide note   by victor e. blue

1.
lately, the five-minute walk
from my apartment to the metro stop
takes my mind centuries.
college-educated, black, male:
a proud credit to my race
i should be crawling corporate’s greased ladder,
huddled sambo-fashion
"to give a few gentlemen ease."

i struggle across forgotten streets
chained to souls from Goree
unsure of my fate
no escape, no looking back
feeble squirms only send me to genuflection.

2.
enduring ancient pains, I drift
back to when we shared a limestone moon.
your black body
blinding me
teaching me
how to love and be loved,
inviting me
into your studio
where each finger, hand, toe, and tongue
stroked the canvas.

i caught on quickly,
learning your rhythms,
tasting and swinging.

it was almost enough to save me.

back to dialogue


 Tell me this is because we remember long   by Mendi Lewis Obadike>

We are in Santiago, in La Zurza. You look pure Atlanta. Mine
Not just your skin and hair, also the borrowed baggy tee, the
Morehouse cap, crooked in the middle--a gift.

I want this to be black: You thank me for a favor. I answer:
"Para servirle." You tell me: "You sound Dominican. Americans say:
It's nothing. You say: To serve you, like us."

Your sandy voice, rubbing against itself, is home. But what of this?
"A la orden." "Para servirle." You hear your roots in my soil.
I have a foot-washing Baptist's mouth. Your speak is a seed in it.

Tell me our mothers chose this way, this humbling
Of self before sister. Tell me no memory shackles our tongues
And this rite is older than chains.
 
 

back to dialogue


Christian A. Campbell--"Curry Powder"
Christian A. Campbell, of The Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago, is a doctoral student in English at Duke University. His work has appeared in The Caribbean Writer, Atlanta Review, and Calabash, and is forthcoming in American Literature, Turtle Dreams: An Anthology of Bahamian Art and Writing, as well as other journals and anthologies. He is a member of the Bahamas Association for Cultural Studies (BACUS), the Carolina African American Writers' Collective (CAAWC), and a founding member of Four-Bean Stew.

Kahlil Koromantee--"Some of Us"
i'm originally from harlem, ny. i was part of a theater group called the frank silvera workshop. i also did readings at the newyorican cafe, a black/puerto rican poetry theater. i am haitian-american (i prefer fugee), was raised in montreal and france. I'm also in the process of finishing my very first novel, and how i somehow got to Winston-Salem, i have no idea. i expect it's all fate and chance!

Yvette Fannell--"thecae"
Yvette S.E. Fannell is originally from Queens, New York. She is a senior at Duke University studying English, Women's Studies, African and African American Studies. Currently, Yvette is working on a collection of poetry entitled, Vibia Perpetua: In the Face of Wild Animals.

Howard Craft--"Beneath the Western Light"
Howard Craft is a poet, playwright, arts activist and educator, and a writer-in-residence with Spirithouse. He has a new book of poems entitled Across the Blue Chasm.

Beverly Fields Burnette-- "SOLILOQUY TO MARTIN"
Beverly Fields Burnette, a Rocky Mount, NC native, is a School Social Worker, poet, author, storyteller, who resides in Raleigh, NC. She is a 1968 graduate of Livingstone College (Salisbury, NC). Ms. Burnette finds innovative ways to include and combine her literary interests with the social work needs and services of children and families. Her poetic works appear in several nationally-distributed anthologies, including Catch the FIre!!! A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, (Riverhead Books NY, 1998). She has also written and self-published a drug prevention activity/coloring book for K-5th graders entitled "KC Takes A Stand". Ms Burnette is a charter member of both The Carolina African American Writer's Collective and the NC Association of Black Storytellers.

Victor E. Blue--"coffles: a suicide note"
Victor E. Blue is a doctoral student in the history department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A former journalist, Blue teaches history at North Carolina Central University. He is the Public Relations Director and Membership Coordinator of the Carolina African American Writers' Collective. His poems, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in the Independent, Raleigh News & Observer, Columbus Dispatch, Fertile Ground, Dark Eros, Catch the Fire, Obsidian II, and Black Issues in Higher Education. He performs regularly throughout the Triangle and also teaches writing in public schools, prisons, and community centers. His first volume of poems is scheduled to be released this fall.

Mendi Lewis  Obadike--"tell me this is because we remember long"
Mendi Lewis Obadike is a poet, media artist, and cultural critic. She is a member of Cave Canem and Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. Her writing has been featured in numerous publications, including Catch the Fire, The Black Arts Quarterly, and the film Take These Chains. Forthcoming are pieces in PoetryBay, the anthology New Sister Voices, and art exhibitions Race and Digital Space and Collective Jukebox. Mendi is a doctoral student in Literature at Duke University where she has taught courses on sound and black identity, film sound, and black women and the Victorian ideal. She is writing a dissertation on 20th century African-American literature and sound theory.