Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press, 1999); Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums: Love Poems (1998); Does Your House Have Lions? (1995), which was nominated for both the NAACP Image and National Book Critics Circle Award; Wounded in the House of a Friend (1995); Under a Soprano Sky (1987); Homegirls & Handgrenades (1984), which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems (1978); A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1973); Love Poems (1973); Liberation Poem (1970); We a BaddDDD People (1970); and Homecoming (1969).

Among the many honors she has received are the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Peace and Freedom Award from Women International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

Sonia Sanchez has lectured at more than five hundred universities and colleges in the United States and had traveled extensively, reading her poetry in Africa, Cuba, England, the Caribbean, Australia, Nicaragua, the People’s Republic of China, Norway, and Canada. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University, where she began teaching in 1977, and held the Laura Carnell Chair in English there until her retirement in 1999. She lives in Philadelphia.

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 1998

An Anthem

for the anc and brandywine peace community

Our vision is our voice
we cut through the country
where madmen goosestep in tune to Guernica.

we are people made of fire
we walk with ceremonial breaths
we have condemned talking mouths.

we run without legs
we see without eyes
loud laughter breaks over our heads.

give me courage so I can spread
it over my face and mouth.

we are secret rivers
with shaking hips and crests
come awake in our thunder
so that our eyes can see behind trees.

for the world is split wide open
and you hide your hands behind your backs
for the world is broken into little pieces
and you beg with tin cups for life.

are we not more than hunger and music?
are we not more than harlequins and horns?
are we not more than color and drums?
are we not more than anger and dance?

give me courage so I can spread it
over my face and mouth.

we are the shakers
walking from top to bottom in a day
we are like Shango
involving ourselves in acts
that bring life to the middle
of our stomachs

we are coming towards you madmen
shredding your death talk
standing in front with mornings around our waist
we have inherited our prayers from
the rain
our eyes from the children of Soweto.

red rain pours over the land
and our fire mixes with the water.

give me courage so I can spread
it over my face and mouth.

From UNDER A SOPRANO SKY (African World Press, 1987)

Depression

1

i have gone into my eyes
bumping against sockets that sing
smelling the evening from under the sun
where waterless bones move
toward their rivers in incense.
a piece of light crawls up and down
then turns a corner.

as when drunken air molts in beds,
tumbling over blankets that cover sweat
nudging into sheets continuing dreams;
so i have settled in wheelbarrows
grotesque with wounds,
small and insistent as sleigh bells.

am i a voice delighting in the sand?
look how the masks rock on the winds
moving in tune to leave.
i shed my clothes.
am i a seed consumed by breasts
without the weasel’s eye
or the spaniel teeth of a child?

2

i have cried all night
tears pouring out of my forehead
sluggish in pulse,
tears from a spinal soul
that run in silence to my birth
ayyyy! am i born? i cannot peel the flesh.
i hear the moon daring to dance these rooms.
O to become a star.
stars seek their own mercy
and sigh the quiet, like gods.

From I’VE BEEN A WOMAN (Third World Press, 1978)

Present

This woman vomiting her
hunger over the world
this melancholy woman forgotten
before memory came
this yellow movement bursting forth like
coltrane’s melodies all mouth
buttocks moving like palm tress,
this honeycoatedalabamianwoman
raining rhythm to blue/black/smiles
this yellow woman carrying beneath her breasts
pleasures without tongues
this woman whose body waves
desert patterns,
this woman wet with wandering,
reviving the beauty of forests and winds
is telling you secrets
gather up your odors and listen
as she sings the mold from memory.

there is no place
for a soft / black / woman.
there is no smile green enough or
summertime words warm enough to allow my growth.
and in my head
i see my history
standing like a shy child
and i chant lullabies
as i ride my past on horseback
tasting the thirst of yesterday tribes
hearing the ancient/black/woman
me, singing        hay-hay-hay-hay-ya-ya-ya.
hay-hay-hay-hay-ya-ya-ya.
like a slow scent
beneath the sun
and i dance my
creation and my grandmothers gathering
from my bones like great wooden birds
spread their wings
while their long/legged/laughter
stretched the night.
and i taste the
seasons of my birth.  mangoes.  papayas.
drink my woman/coconut/milks
stalk the ancient grandfathers
sipping on proud afternoons
walk like a song round my waist
tremble like a new/born/child troubles
with new breaths
and my singing
becomes the only sound of a
blue/black/magical/woman. walking.
womb ripe.  walking.  loud with mornings.  walking.
making pilgrimage to herself. walking.

From HOMEGIRLS AND HANDGRENADES (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1984)