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Maria Eliza Hamilton Abegunde

Website
Years: 2000, 2001, 2004

Biography

Maria Eliza Hamilton Bispo de Jesus Abegunde is an egungun (ancestral) priestess in the Yoruba Orisa tradition and Reiki Master with a focus on the recovery of ancestral memory from the Earth and human body. Her ongoing research is on embodied memory of the Middle Passage and slave trade for African Americans and black Brasilians.

She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including Wishful Thinking. Excerpts of her award-winning novel-in-progress, The Ariran’s Last Life, have been published in Best African American Fiction 2010The Kenyon Review, Margin Magazine, Warplands, and Best African American Fiction. Excerpts from her memoir, Arroyo, detailing the retracing of the Middle Passage routes by sailing from Puerto Rico to Brasil, have been published in nocturnes.

Abegunde has received fellowships from Norcroft, Sacatar (Brasil), and Ragdale foundations. She has received awards from the Poetry Center of Chicago Discovery Award series, Illinois Arts Council, and the Chicago Cultural Center.

Her poems have been anthologized in Gathering Ground, Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry for the 21st Century, Knowing Stones:  Poems of Exotic Places, I Feel A Little Jumpy Around You, and Catch the Fire.  Her poetry has also been published in journals and literary magazines, including Lorraine and James, Wicked Alice, Janes Stories, and rhino.

She is co-founder of Jane’s Stories Press and Foundation. JSPF offers workshops and retreats on writing and publishing for women. She is the co-editor of Jane’s Stories III.

She has taught poetry workshops for the Chicago public libraries, Evanston School District 65, and various community organizations throughout the country, with a focus on the reading and writing of poetry as a meditative act. Abegunde has also been a panelist at various conferences, including the Gwendolyn Brooks’ conference for writers and AWP.

 

Between 2001-2009, she was the libation pourer for the UNESCO Transatlantic Slave Trade Route-USA Project. She has also been a research associate for the Illinois Transatlantic Slave Trade Commission. She has presented her work on slavery and memory at ASWAD (the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora).

She is currently pursuing a PhD in African and African American Diaspora Studies at Indiana University.

Poem

Prime Directive  #1

©2004, M. Eliza Hamilton Abégúndé

Do not let the smell of your own feces distract you.

Roll the toilet paper tightly after each use and discard

in the thin blue bags Dete changes every Monday.

Roll your tampons and sanitaries into the black bags

you have brought – so afraid someone will find them,

and pick the dried blood into a stew.

 

Do not chase the lizards around the wall.  Let them rest.

All night they have listened to your breathing,

the sobbing you haven’t heard yet, the heaving your body

prepares for by tightening muscles, damming oxygen

into tight spaces that explode into your brain

siphoning your dreams.

 

Do not let the sight of starving horses drive you insane. 

When you see them, convince yourself that someone takes

care of them, that they eat the garbage because they don’t

like the grass, that they are sentient but not human.  Look

away when the next one rolls his head towards you.  Cross

the road when he follows you to sniff out your hand.

 

Do not let hot water run down your back for five minutes.

Wash yourself as if the hibiscus watches you during a drought.

If you need more, go to the ocean outside your door.

Scrub yourself raw under a trickle, forget you are American,

forget your own name, forget you are afraid of mosquitoes.

Remember why you chose to be born here.