Losing an elder is like taking a tongue out of a mouth. The youth becomes betrayed by it’s silence. - Aja Monet
When Seamus Heaney passed away last year, I remember being saddened by the loss. The online world mourned him by posting their anecdotes and pictures of meeting him and by quoting his writing.
A day before Amiri Baraka passed I was in an online poetry therapy session and we read a poem by Seamus Heaney. A flash of sadness seeped in as I briefly mourned over his words. The instructor shared the brighter side by mentioning that the world would be more exposed to his work because of how we memorialize the gone.
There is something about death that makes us more alive to one another. The void becomes more visible in our imaginations. It’s akin to walking on a city street lined with buildings and then you notice a lot between brick walls. You see the lot as vacant, but there is high-uncut gas, unnamed species of insects, and possibly rodents. There is life in the void, in the missing, and the silences that surround what once were bricks, gas, and light.
In my stillness I wonder what Baraka would want from us. How would he want us to remember him, his lineage, and the complexities he wrote about in bold and concrete ways?
Although we see the gone as gone or see the lot as empty, it actually isn’t. Man has built bricks and bones. The lot is just going back to its most original state.
On the day of his death, I hosted THE ART ON MY CHEST. The room was full with writers. I was worried when only one woman in the group knew Amiri Baraka’s work. I was shook into a silence that made me too surprise; I was in a room full of spoken word poets who were not familiar with the influence of his work on their own work/lives.
I always wonder what is happening to our culture. Why do we forget so easily what has come before? How would Amiri react to people not knowing who he was and would he be that self-indulgent?
Baraka’s work has always been about honoring the past to make a better future; that is the value of knowing your history. We must learn to look back, but we do it all the time. Some of us do it more consciously than others. Yes, our youth (and adults) may not know the name of Amiri Baraka, they may never be abled to quote his work. Yes, our youth may never drum a djembe, but they know how to beat box and rap over the rhythms that originated on a dusty field in the Congo.
I write that to illustrate that Amiri Baraka could never die, not even in his birth. His truth permeates even in the vacant lot of our minds. His work will live on in all of us because the truth doesn’t need a name to live.
I am thankful. He has left a lifetime filled of words that can fill our silences with his voice over and over again.
Read his book and remember him. Open your palms to the sky and pray. He now can guide us from the other side.