Tuesday, April 2, 2024

African American Poets June Jordon and Rickey Laurentiis Identify With Palestinian Oppression—National Poetry Month 2024


Many Black Americans identify with the struggles and suffering of the people of Palestine.

Considering the on-going blood bath in Gaza and the prospects of even greater atrocities looming ahead, it is no wonder that many African American writers have come to identify with the oppression and violence suffered by the Palestinian people.  Today we feature reflections by two noted poets, June Jordon and Rickey Laurentiis.

June Jordon was born in New York City in 1936 to Jamaican immigrant parents.  Educated at elite Barnard College she wrote of the experience:


No one ever presented me with a single Black author, poet, historian, personage, or idea for that matter. Nor was I ever assigned a single woman to study as a thinker, or writer, or poet, or life force. Nothing that I learned, here, lessened my feeling of pain or confusion and bitterness as related to my origins: my street, my family, my friends. Nothing showed me how I might try to alter the political and economic realities underlying our Black condition in white America.

In defiant response she went on to be a widely read and admired poet, essayist, memoirist, teacher, and activist.  While teaching at Berkley in the early 1990’s she founded the Poetry for the People to inspire and empower students to use poetry as a means of artistic expression.  Jordan also believed in the power of Black English—called as eubonics by someand encouraged its use in poetry as an authentic voice.  She died of breast cancer in 1992 at the age of 65.

                                                June Jordan.

Moving Towards Home


        “Where is Abu Fadi,” she wailed.

        “Who will bring me my loved one?”

        —The New York Times, 9/20/1982


I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the red dirt

not quite covering all of the arms and legs


Nor do I wish to speak about the nightlong screams

that reached the observation posts where soldiers lounged about


Nor do I wish to speak about the woman who shoved her baby

into the stranger’s hands before she was led away


Nor do I wish to speak about the father whose sons were shot

through the head while they slit his own throat before the eyes of his wife


Nor do I wish to speak about the army that lit continuous

flares into the darkness so that the others could see

the backs of their victims lined against the wall


Nor do I wish to speak about the piled up bodies and

the stench that will not float


Nor do I wish to speak about the nurse again and again raped

before they murdered her on the hospital floor

Nor do I wish to speak about the rattling bullets

that did not halt on that keening trajectory


Nor do I wish to speak about the pounding on the

doors and the breaking of windows and the hauling of families into

the world of the dead


I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the red dirt

not quite covering all of the arms and legs

because I do not wish to speak about unspeakable events

that must follow from those who dare “to purify” a people

those who dare “to exterminate” a people

those who dare to describe human beings as “beasts with two legs”

those who dare “to mop up” “to tighten the noose”

“to step up the military pressure”

“to ring around” civilian streets with tanks

those who dare to close the universities to abolish the press

to kill the elected representatives of the people who refuse to be purified

those are the ones from whom we must redeem the words of our beginning


because I need to speak about home

I need to speak about living room

where the land is not bullied and beaten to a tombstone


I need to speak about living room

where the talk will take place in my language


I need to speak about living room

where my children will grow without horror


I need to speak about living room where the men

of my family between the ages of six and sixty-five

are not marched into a roundup that leads to the grave


I need to talk about living room

where I can sit without grief without wailing aloud for my loved ones

where I must not ask where is Abu Fadi

because he will be there beside me


I need to talk about living room

because I need to talk about home


I was born a Black woman and now

I am become a Palestinian

against the relentless laughter of evil

there is less and less living room

and where are my loved ones?


 It is time to make our way home.


—June Jordan


From Directed by Desire: The Complete Poems of June Jordan (2005), Copper Canyon Press, © 2005, 2023,  June M. Jordan Literary Estate Trust. Reprinted by permission.


Rickey Laurentiis grew up in New Orleans and earned an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  A transgender non-binary poet they are the author of Boy with Thorn, selected  for the 2014 Cave Canem Poetry Prize), won the Levis Reading Prize, and was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and a Lambda Literary Award. A 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry fellow, they have also received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and other foundations. They are the inaugural fellow in creative writing at the University of Pittsburghs Center for African American Poetry and Poetics.


Rickey Laurentiis.

Tall Lyric for Palestine (Or, The Harder Thinking)


What doesn’t resemble me is more beautiful.

—Mahmoud Darwish, “To a Young Poet”


Because I should’ve wrote this years ago, I’m crying. So what my slow failure pass the years

      Make me be crying. So what in Bethlehem I tried to push so much against it, where the Wall is checkpoint and weird. So what

      My lonelier, sadder blacker aches kept from me a heard resonance with the land thought against my body,



      I arrived.


And have known some privilege.


And have seen some freedom.


I mean, I told myself No, you shouldn’t compare it—myself to Palestine—no, I—


But I compared it, drew that Wound, leaned into a kind of pity so new to me who—


—was so used to being all base & bottom of the world; I tried, but felt that distant, thieving love dilate my eyes.


And I cried, softly.


So what I had not asked for, did not want this. So what. I thought Tears cheapened it, sissy’d it. So what.

      But was a new privilege I met as salt Slipped, downed and furthered my face, an


            And then Black

privilege began to describe me. Imagine that! I was some doubler consciousness again,

      me watching four boys swing their joy on an old couch-on-wheels

      Before that Wall’s forestalling future, so who greeted them first was my tears; they’re playing a game.


A song: Palestine keeps a divided home, where Blackness only roams.


The tears! But panic I could call a film for this frame that’s guilt, the next is friendship: Am I what in Palestine?

      Or is it my “voice” insisting the story, by certain marks, in whisperings—What do I mean

      by Spirit?—of warring, intifada, blood like Dew in the fields….

      The story is true.


Killings are thrilling, the Wall said, and casual:

      (1) little infant trying—;

      (2) women in their—;

      (3) dogs sleeping;

      (4) boys.

      —What do I mean by Spirit?— The birth of a nation means always the death of a former one.


Sitting here near ole Bayou Road, again all spleen. The Palestinian men I try with my eyes stare back half-meanly; they don’t know I know they know I’m trans—but I am the lady, herself, within. Fiercely her walk pierces a New Orleans’ slick night. They like it.


But I was saying the birth of a nation means always the death of a second one.

      Israel is real, trifling, in someone’s mind.

14. I felt that. I was persuaded. The film peeling across my eyes, only one Palestine,

      Made protest against this fact untenable, as if myself I could see in those fields,

      Saw to the theft and strangle of myself.


What’s solid in solidarity? All I know is still nooses, crosses; still thorns—then it was white phosphorus forming the quick shadow of a boy called Freedom—in whispering, in curtains mark —I’m somehow a distance from.

      Admission is a later knowledge, I think. A right of return.


A slower knowledge. To know it was my want to see myself as that boy I was seeing, that ache again and in myself to be, blacker ache, the one most hurt.


Admission is a graver knowledge, I think, trick privilege, instance when, tonight Maryam reminds me,

      Recalled to just-that-where White phosphorus is made. 

“Arkansas, baby! oh, yeah—”

      I wonder if Palestine can be Black? A Nigga be Filinistina?

      And creole twain.

“And it pass right thru”—peculiar—“that Port of New Orleans.”



(They’re playing a game.)

      —they keep a divided home, 

how Blackness only roams?

      Friend. “Oh, it’s sick—”


Light slides across the face of a body. Dark does. 


The next shot is familiar:

      rows of cotton dipped in historical red; burnt cork; crows; rows of bullets ripped into some resemblingslum skin, ache—



—Try again: they are soldiers I am seeing, Israeli, only the present tense, I should’ve said this years ago.

      I should’ve made this article confession, spelled out between poem and novel years ago. Tall lyric, a space of briar ambition and its mess of all the violences witnessed—


—and the beauty.

      I should loathe this gravity, of those violences, these easy collisions I make from item to idea or like to like.

      But I love to like, to raise the lyric analogy and have you consume: the way an eye carries down the page; down the shallow energy of my head voice now; because I bid it do, to the hilt—


—to the silt. These built up semicolons, the top dot like the soldier’s rifle target, the comma dangling for how the dead do give pause, I should hate it;

      I should spit, I should—

23. WANT

need the harder thinking, which is rigor gammed with care, the possibility of that, that’s all, unmannered, uneven—

      Like some New Orleanian unique South, that occupies the psychot of my brain’s desire, words I worry into existence.


Let’s say the freedom of poetry can be the danger of it, could be the draw? So what?

      Tried in Jerusalem; tried in Hebron—

      But I saw everything I needed to see in the labored chain-work of the overhanging canopy that keeps—those whisperings, certain marks—rocks from falling on the shopkeepers’ heads;

      Took a video of the Palestinian man who said, “Go back. Tell it.”

25. Who wants a pacifying gospel delivered knows I cannot please them, knows I cannot sincerely stop these telling tears.


Yet I walk, eyes like a lady’s reminded to my purpose with truth. Palestine cries a divided home, where Blackness bedamned to roam, and we share a Dome.

      Friend, look in my eyes. To have no home is yet a difference from the denial of return, and don’t we both ache for home?

      Slavery is true; as Occupation remains true; as a sky cross-stitched and beaded with turning danger is true:

Together our nights singly moan.


I mean, I have not stopped this ego rolled down my cheeks and who asked for witness?


I first saw myself as the shame I took fully for myself, those years ago—

      But was written away from it


A free world, I think, is possible. I am persuaded.

      I saw it in the still-for-singing beauty of the land, how Palestine makes a gold hum in my mouth. Saw it in the not-now-warring, rolling hills of Ramallah my feet at least tried to walk frankly in and felt—


—yes, a resonance. What could I imagine now?


What new eyes could I claim?


What must you admit, really, to be free?


That I tried my body and thinking completely in that Palestine, so what.


And was I wrong?


I first arrived in Palestine, through the Jordan corridor, with the Palestine Festival of Literature in 2016, accompanied by such elites as J. M. Coetzee and Saidiya Hartman. Though Hartman, the only other Black American on the caravan, passed through easily, I was barred for an hour at the first checkpoint. How come?

Where I mention “doubler consciousness” I refer to W. E. B. DuBois’s theory of Black persons’ double consciousness, which keeps divided interests between Blackness and what he called “Americanness” (or whiteness) ever within the confines of Black life. Can there be more?

Where I mention “slum,” see the aforementioned Saidiya Hartman and her expansive theory on the afterlives of slavery and their impact on what she calls the “fungible body.” The slum, she theorizes, is where we find such marked bodies. But is that the only place?

I want to thank Sharif Abdul Koddous and all the organizers of the Palestine Festival of Literature; Kristina Kay Robinson, in whose seminal, performance project Republica: Temple of Color and Sound we meet Maryam DeCapita; and Ru Freeman, John Hennessy, and Emily Everett for all their various help in (re)shaping and shepherding this poem toward its present form. But is it done?


Rickey  Laurentiis

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