PAMELA SNEED

FOR MAY AVIM

Had I nvr

Stood on those sandy banks of Cape Coast, the slave fort in Ghana

Pointed to the Atlantic

Had I nvr felt the stones

Under my feet

Seen the dungeons Black people were held

Had I nvr read and heard of the crimes committed there

Shown walls where my ancestors scraped in terror

Had I nvr encountered death

Pox urine bowels blood pus food spoiled soiled and mixed together

Seen rooms rebels were kept alone away from general population

Had I nvr seen that rickety reconstructed slatted door of no return

The mouth of entrance

And steps down onto ships

Had I nvr been able to imagine those captured

Or the stories of the great Asante warrior Yaa Asantewaa

Who led her people to fight against British invaders

I might nvr have become the teacher and person I am today

Might nvr have understood When actor Forest Whitaker

Went on a talk show after

Filming the last king of Scotland on location in Uganda

His chest puffed out as he stated I’m from

The Akan and Igbo people

ancestors sit on my shoulders

They Talk to me everyday

Had I nvr been to Ghana

I might nvr have been able to guide a student through a solo production

Called birthright

About Jewish identity tourism in Israel

I might not have understood the conflict

It’s carefully crafted history that is managed and sold like ticket blocks to an amusement park

But manages to transform you anyway

I might nvr have been able to speak to my black students recently

Get excited when one who does portraiture says he now mixes his portraits

with water from

Places Black peopl stood oceans and rivers

I say of course the middle passage you must go to Ghana

He says I know

I tell him of Gilroy black Atlantic

And how identity is hybrid and fluid

From the slave ships traveling port to port

I tell him about just recently being fascinated by some information on one of those charging stations in New York so cool but I learned they’re used for surveillance

Anyway I was walking down broadway upper west side and it said

The Lenape word for river as it flowed both ways

It made me think of people before

And how they had more accurate words

I told him about the African burial ground in lower Manhattan

How the bones of African slaves are underneath the halls of justice in Manhattan

And that the burial ground museum was a treasure in lower Manhattan

His eyes widened he said I nvr knew there was one

Had I not been to Ghana I might nvr if cared abt that museum

Talk to black shamans priests and priestesses they’ll tell you about our relationship to water

I told him too about blood and water

How in Rwanda during the massacre there was so much carnage

Rivers turned red

And repeated what a shaman told me

during slavery there was so much carnage from the ships

It completely changed migratory patterns of sharks

I suppose it may seem odd to tell a grad student to talk to shamans

Had I not been to Ghana I would not have fully understood the brevity of his intellectual and spiritual pursuit.

Another Black student on the same day talks of chasms in his family history things his family did not tell him impart

And I ask him to look at it historically too the chasms that we’re created by slavery and separations

Nvr seeing a child a lover partner aunt grandparent again

Or the way maps are broken up and don’t acknowledge us as hybrid

human beings as disasporic not belonging to one place one people and the chasms In our identities and histories.

Since before and after Ghana I search for lost and missing things

Perhaps it is brought on by the chasms in my own history/my own identity

Being adopted and not knowing my own history

Once after I returned from Ghana a famous intellectual annoyed me when they said of my travels

Oh you were performing origin

And I suppose they were right in that so much of my origin like that of many American blacks descendants of slaves is unknown

I also search for Black queer histories

In absence write them

All the black and latinx gay men lost to the Aids crisis histories rendered as if we are separate

The women the lesbians who cared for them

Recently I’ve become fascinated with May ayim/the poet and.

protege/student of Audre Lorde who committed suicide/who helped coin the phrase Afro Germans who put Afro German people on the map.

I had nvr heard of her /but learned she was quite famous there’s a street named for her in Berlin

She was adopted too /her father was from Ghana/later she took his name

I received a commission to write a poem for Whitman Waller

I search through the archives I want to know about Black lesbian health initiatives/if there’s documentation of black lesbians who experienced the aids crisis

I stare at pictures in the archive two black lesbians of another era dressed to the nines in cowboy boots staring happily into the camera their hair in locks

They are browskinned/

I come across posters from women in the life parties in dc I wonder where they all went who disappeared

Fell silent

Another photo from an event revelers covered by sheets

That say the ghosts of protests past

I’m reminded of two events 3or 4 years ago I traveled to the first slavery museum in Portugal

And I thought I might do all this research instead I ended up saying to those ancestral ghosts we see you we hear you thank you

recently I heard of a new James Bond movie with a black lesbian in the role

Something I wanted to do thirty years ago

And I mourn for all those lesbian dreams and lives lost

Unable to see ourselves.