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Haki R. Madhubuti

Killing Memory

For Nelson and Winnie Mandela

the soul and fire of windsongs must not be neutral
cannot be void of birth and dying
wasted life
in the path of vicious horrors
as progress and spheres of influence


what of mothers
without milk of willing love,
of fathers
whose eyes and vision
have been separated from feelings of earth and growth,
of children
whose thoughts dwell
on rest and food and
human kindness?


Tomorrow's future rains in
atrocious mediocrity and suffering deaths.


in america's america the excitement is over
a rock singer's glove and burning hair
as serious combat rages over
prayer in schools,
the best diet plan,
and women
learning how to lift weights
to the rhythms of
"what's love got to do with it?"


ask the children,
always the children caught in the
absent spaces of adult juvenility
breakdancing and singing to
"everything is everything" while
noise occupies the mind as
garbage feeds the brain.


in el salvador mothers search for their sons
and teach their daughters the way of the knife.


in south afrika mothers bury hearts without bodies
while pursuing the secrets of forgotten foreparents.


in afghanistan mothers claim bones and teeth from
mass graves and curse the silent world.


in lebanon the sons and daughters receive horror hourly
sacrificing childhood for the promise of land.


in ethiopia mothers separate wheat from the desert's dust
while the bones of their children cut through dried skin.


tomorrow's future
may not belong to the people,
may not belong to dance or music
getting physical is not an exercise but
simply translates into people working,
people fighting,
people enduring insults and smiles,
enduring crippling histories and black pocket politics
wrapped in diseased blankets
bearing AIDS markings in white,
destined for victims that do not question
gifts from strangers
do not question
love of enemy.
who owns the earth?


most certainly not the people,
not the hands that work the waterways,
nor the backs bending in the sun,
nor the boned fingers soldering transistors,
not the legs walking the massive fields,
nor the knees glued to pews of storefront or granite churches
nor the eyes blinded by computer terminals,
not the bloated bellies on toothpick legs
all victims of decisions
made at the Washington monument and lenin's tomb
by aged actors viewing
red dawn and the return of rambo part IX.


may not belong to the
women and men laboring,
determined to avoid contributing
to the wealth
of gravediggers from foreign soil
& soul.
determined to stop the erosion
of indigenous music
of building values
of traditions.


memory is only precious if
you have it.


memory is only functional
if it works for you.
of colors and voices
are locked in multibasement state buildings
stealing memories
more efficient
than vultures tearing flesh
decaying bodies.


the order is that the people are to
believe and believe
questioning or contemplating
the direction of the weather is


it is not that we distrust poets and politicians.


we fear the disintegration of thought,
we fear the cheapening of language,
we fear the history of victims and the loss of vision,
we fear writers whose answer to
maggots drinking from the open
wounds of babies
to cry genocide while demanding
ten cents per word and
university chairs.
we fear politicians
that sell coffins at a discount
and consider ideas of blasphemy
as young people world over bleed from the teeth while
aligning themselves with whoever
brings the food.
whoever brings the love.


who speaks the language of
bright memory?


who speaks the language of
necessary memory?


the face of poetry must be fire erupting volcanoes,
hot silk forging new histories,
poetry delivering light greater than barricades of silence,
poetry dancing, preparing seers, warriors, healers
and parents beyond the age of babies,
poetry delivering melodies that cure dumbness & stupidity
yes, poets uttering to the intellect and spirit,
screaming to the genes and environments
revitalizing the primacy of the word and world.
poets must speak the language of the rain,

decipher the message of the sun,
play the rhythms of the earth,
demand the cleaning of the atmosphere,
carry the will and way of the word,
feel the heart and questions of the people
and be conditioned and ready
to move.

to come
at midnight or noon


to run against the monied hurricane in this
the hour of forgotten selves,
forgiven promises
frightening whispers
of rulers in heat.



Madhubuti, Haki R. Groundwork: New and Selected Poems. Chicago, IL: Third World Press, Inc., 1996.