Oh Memory Dear and Fatal: Elegy 1963-2013

Cheryl Clarke

how many anniversaries can anybody accommodate in one week not to live in anticipation
of events to become next year’s celebrations and memorializations.

Jackson, Mississippi: ‘NAACP Field Secretary Shot’ in the back getting out of his car in front of his house and strong man that he is, drags himself by the car door to his front porch door collapsing as Mrs. Evers, the three little Evers, and awakened neighbors look on hysterically, one firing a shot to scare off the assailant. Washington, D.C.: Tipped off by FBI, Maryland State Police turn back Klansmen just outside the District line, carful of weapons. Our neighbor, the widow Mrs. Flowers, joins us full of hope as we ride the bus to the Lincoln Memorial on that hot August day for ‘Jobs and Freedom,’ returning to watch ‘I Have a Dream’ on television. Birmingham, Alabama: when Mrs. Davis, a neighbor, drove a frantic Mrs. Robertson to the 16th Street Baptist Church where the dynamite detonated into the basement choir practice, the news of her daughter Carole’s death was broken to Mrs. Robertson by her father, ‘She’s gone, baby. ‘ Dallas, Texas: asked by an aide if she would like to ‘clean up’ from the blood, Jackie advised, ‘Let them see what they have done.’

Sakia (1990-2004)*

Hey, girl, I want you to know.
I’m gonna miss you so much
if you go.

Thought your ‘Aggressive’
truth could stop that reckless mouth
battering us all our black woman lives?

He is in jail now with the knife he stabbed into your fearless
fifteen almost 16 year old chest
one early mo/urning
at a Newark (N.J.) bus stop on Broad and Market.
Let us mark the space of
your martyrdom
your no-place-to-go-to-be-who-you-were

our collusion.

* In 2004, Sakia Gunn, a soon to be 15 year old was returning from Manhattan, where she hung out on the Peers and other places to be who she was as a queer black teen. She was stabbed to death by a black man acting out of his male privilege, when young Sakia stated that ‘I’m gay.

Cheryl Clarke is the author of four books of poetry, Narratives: poems in the tradition of black women (1982), Living as a Lesbian (1986), Humid Pitch (1989), Experimental Love (1993), the critical study, After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (Rutgers Press, 2005), and The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980-2005 (Carroll and Graf, 2006). She continues to write poetry and essays. She has written a chapbook, entitled “By My Precise Haircut.” Though she has written many essays over the years relevant to the black queer community, “Lesbianism: an act of resistance,” which first appeared in the iconic This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color (Anzaldua and Moraga, eds., 1982) and “The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community,” which was published in the equally iconic Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (Smith, ed., 1984) continue to be favorites. She considers herself a scholar of Audre Lorde and continues to write about the impact of Lorde’s work. She recently wrote an introduction to G.R.I.T.S., An Anthology of Writing by Southern Black Lesbians (Williams, ed., Media Arts Project, 2013). Her article, “By Its Absence: Literature and Social Justice Consciousness” will appear in The Handbook of Social Justice (Reisch, ed., Routledge, 2014). She received the Kessler Award from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2013. She finally retired from Rutgers University in July of 2013 after 41 years of studying, teaching, and administration on the New Brunswick campus. She is co-owner with her partner of 22 years, Barbara Balliet, of Blenheim Hill Books in Hobart, the Book Village of the Catskills.

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