During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.”
— Bill Moyers
In this clip from the 1995 Dodge Poetry Festival, poet Sekou Sundiata, who “oralizes” in polyrhythmic, jazz-influenced performances, performs “I Want to Talk About You,” a poem about his home, Harlem.
“I Want to Talk About You”
By Sekou Sundiata
“It hurts me to my heart to see you like this, under world and under weight, impossible to be with, impossible to leave. I must approach you the way I approach music sometimes … late at night and by myself. When people who can’t understand are long gone, like the famous who want your infamy without your tragedy, like the rich who want your treasure without your pain. Too hard to catch up and too hard to follow, I keep looking for you anyway. Where years ago you went underground leaving two dead policemen in your trail, then backstage at the old Apollo Theatre, where we used to be waiting, pulling on the stars, begging them to kiss us like they say. But in your ashy sunken face I see a falling of flesh from bone. I see your red eyes, your blue hands, your protruding ribs where once I entered and lived. You were my living room, my address, and my home. What remains the same is how little, how much you’ve changed. You don’t belong to Bird or Billie anymore. You don’t belong to Malcolm or Langston anymore. And no point telling me whether you left them or they left you, since the whole thing was out of your hands, since you have no more control over death than you do over life, but you make it and you shape it and you make it and you shape it and you make it and you shape it and you make it and you shape it every day. Maybe that’s why you never sleep. Maybe that’s why the rings around your eyes are thin lines between love and hate that you could enter and leave at any point, which brings you right back to where Billie sings and Bird plays to Malcolm and Langston’s words the songs, the speeches, the songs, the speeches, the songs, the speeches, the poems more alive now than then, but you’re coming back. You’re coming back. You’re coming back. You’re coming back. You’re coming back. It’s your power and your redemption. Oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem … I searched everybody, every dream, every place I’ve ever been for you. If not your beauty, then your ugliness. If not your blood, then your rhythm. If not your name, then your story. Oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem, oh, Harlem.
Read the transcript of Bill’s interview with Sundiata in The Language of Life.
Sekou Sundiata, a poet and performance artist whose work explored slavery, subjugation and the tension between personal and national identity, especially as they inform the black experience in America, died in 2007. He was 58 and lived in Brooklyn. Read more at The New York Times.