Poetry & the hearts of women activists

One of my fave poems in the forthcoming collection, MY BOOK OF THE DEAD, just as the poem dedicated to Sr. Dianna Ortiz was in the poetry book, I ASK THE IMPOSSIBLE.  Sr. Dianna (RIP) and I became dear friends after I published the poem in her name.

Sr. Dianna Ortiz

Her story has moved me immensely.  Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the poet Akilah Oliver until her death.  Her personal story and her son’s touched me deeply.  This poems appears in Hyptertext Mag. and the anthology,

As a single mother of a son who spent his adolescence and young adulthood in the city of our birth, Chicago, runs-in with police weren’t unfamiliar.  Brown and Black while walking isn’t a legal cause for young people to be stopped and searched but are, nonetheless.  But we try, mothers like Akilah and me and we hope, somehow our sons will survive.

Homage to Akilah

 (For Akilah Oliver

and Oluchi, en memorium)


His body was decomposing    her baby   her flesh        child she once held

at her breast. (He was dead.)

Death took residence                                                                 in her head.

Neglect.  Negligence.  Hospital sued

over a young man left in an emergency room.


was incarcerated.

How was it                                                            all became a crap shoot,

fate of offspring                                                    we’d nourished, adored,

gave to our last breath?  They–our babies                       girls           boys

 muchachitos                                                                       niños queridos

neighborhood kids—pudgy or puny and picked on

or had too many tíos,

Los García or the Walkers                       mom had Lupus or marido with

bad back & couldn’t work.              Nephews   nieces      mijos       mijas 

nietos            nietas                                       sent out to the war on streets.

Society wouldn’t let them be,

not last century or the one before                             and not in 2018.


A poet     woman     mother                                            raised a boy

migrant teacher of language               went from campus to campus;

plethora of words in her arsenal                   Akilah and me, tokens–

brown             female                                                  evolved spirit

from the Southwest or Southside of any city.

She was a teacher with dreads and sleepy-eyed smile     believed—

must have–in doing right   doing it strong               for the sake of

showing her son right from wrong.

If you stayed steady, she said to herself (must have)

captain on a ship of two, where Ramen noodles or mac n cheese dinner,

night bath regular, a story read, put the child to bed

graded papers ‘til 2 a.m., then started again (must have, like I had)

the child

you raised

would benefit                                       fly like Obama had.  Success—

at his fingertips.

No one would shoot him down in a ‘good’ neighborhood,

No policeman would kill him dead for reaching into a pocket.

No school would hold him back ‘til he gave up.

Diabetes and other diseases would be kept at bay.

He’d be ready                     your boy        your flesh       your son (& mine)


for the perpetual onslaught.


The time came for round one     bell rung     Oluchi           fists up,

graffiti can,

the newly minted Black man fell.                                Just like that.

Just like that.

When she got the call,

rushed to MLK Hospital,

put her ear next to his lips–

bloated and bluish, parched like onion skin,

having kissed their last-kiss lips, swollen and soundless,

felt no breath,

heard no final “Mama, I love you,”                    her boy

left to perish on a gurney

her son    her flesh,

she started to die, too.

Slow drip of existence oozed through her pores.

Good-bye, love!

Good-bye, far-reaching star,

order a round of green mint tea for the house before we move on.

Joy, as she once knew it, vaporized.


I felt it way ‘cross the land                          of the free and the brave

(belonging to Whites with money and no conscience.)     In a world

le monde     un mundo                                         where no education,

knowledge of couplets, art, or science,

extent of good works,

community service,

lectures attended or charitable donations,

would re-set a heart broken

by a child’s ruin.


I’ll testify

not knowing each other

but by the way soldiers instantly bond.

I heard her wail

like a canine hears a dog whistle, ears up, heart pounding.

We’d shared the vanity of affording good nutrition,

books, clean water and little league.

Nothing had saved them,

not we—Amazon mothers.

(Somehow, I’ll say it, absent

fathers had failed them.)


One afternoon, standing in her living room,

tired of beating without his, Akilah’s heart stopped.

She hit the rug heavy,

sun filtering through bay windows

kept her lifeless body warm ‘til they found her.


The killing fields are everywhere–

under the viaduct or over the freeway

Chicago     L.A.        Detroit                  Denver

Mothers      aunts      lil sis                    abuelas

with outlined lips & swaying hips–

single mothers push grocery carts on the sidewalk,

sneak out to dance,

fuck in alleyways hoping for love again,

stretch meals through the week,

have pre-paid phone cards,

spend paychecks in advance—

survive in the cracks.

I’d taught him how

to do shoelaces, his tie, ride a bike,

later, shave and drive a car,

have pride in work, clean house, fry an egg, wash out his drawers,

be respectful of women, neighbors, be an honorable friend.

He was behind bars.

I wrote:

Look at this poet.

Look at her life,

her boy,

who went down at twenty-one.

Don’t leave your mother

with only the memory of a son.