Prayer for Assata

Prayer for Assata

By Walidah Imarisha

Face wiped clean of age
Cheekbones you could fall off of
Body that flows like water over worn rocks
Dreadlocks splayed out and open
Trailing the scent of soothing aloe and sage

I wish Assata
Many beautiful lovers
Lovers who smell
Of earth
Warmed by the sun
Rather than despair that stinks
Like urine-stained tenement halls

She has known love
On the run
As sweetly intense
And dangerously fragile
As life at the barrel of the gun

Kiss twin scars directly beneath
Her breats
Where two bullets
Are nestled still –
Sleeping infants.

I wish her lovers
With mango pulp between their teeth
And grape-stained hands
That soak into her

A lover with shango in the hips
And the other orishas under the tongue
Their love fried platanos for breakfast,
And freshly cut coconut before bed

That lean over her body
As hands move
Reading signs and songs
Etched in bark and cloth and skin
Praying dancing worshipping
The length of her arms
And the heft of her flesh
Cowry shells pressed hot
Between two bodies with ancient souls

I wish Assata
Who lets her be
Simply solely wholly
Comrade mother neighbor
That strong limbed sista
Who can sure move those thighs
At a house party
Not a face on a wanted poster
Not public enemy number one
Joanne Chesimard
Dead or alive
One million dollar bounty on her head
To this day

Thunder storms
Beat palm trees
And peel Che Guevara posters
Off the sides of Havana buildings
In the middle of the night
The screams of
Comrades pull her dreads back
To lick her neck
Tongues dripping defeat
Until they deafen her

But silence scars as well
Wounds left by over two years
Of solitary confinement
Of only hate-filled guards
Day in and day out
Day in and day out
Day in and day out
Days where she forgot what a kind word was
When she almost forgot she could speak
The wounds of silence
Silence can cut deeper than a machete
Cane stalks bleeding
Sugar blood

In prison
It was fugitive love
They were slaves
Catching a taste of sweetness
Bore fruit ripe and swollen
This child
Of hope and wings
Of water and wind
Of thundering bars and stinging darkness
Let us caress freedom
And kiss it deeply on its full lips
Let us be human for an hour
For these snatched seconds
Let us remember
What we look like in loving eyes
And Assata always now look
Into loving eyes.



By Walidah Imarisha

Today I met a prophet
getting off the Q train
the smell of piss and pot smoke
succulent and heavy.
My heart was torn and swollen.
Today I needed a miracle
to make it through.

For so long
I have had no religion
save the love we are able to steal.

His laughter cackled crackled curled
punctuated scriptures
pierced my self-righteous disbelief
in anything more judgmental than myself.

Crucified in new york
stoned in south central
or shot 41 times in jerusalem.
The only things I held sacred
were the laughter of children
the scream of rebellion
your body moving beneath my hands
sweet sacrament.

My temple was obliterated
burned to the ground.
Our stolen love
ran dry
like god’s forgiveness
like Palestinian children’s tears.
I am drowning in this flood
sent to purify.

It was we who bled
in jerusalem and tiennamen vieques east harlem
and my bedroom
I was left hanging from your barbed wire cross.



By Walidah Imarisha

“shit, you gotta tag trains”
he said, twirling a spray paint can like a six shooter.
“yo, walls are nice and all,
but how else people as far as st. louis and cali
goin to see your name?
now that's fucking immortality.”

traintracks cross cross this country like the river lethe
where truth is what is remembered,
imbedded into the soil and into our minds
into our history
as mighty engines rumble over
uneasingly sleeping ground.

outlaws used to rob trains,
conquering symbols of the expanding force of civilization
that carried them to the west
in its belly,
like unwanted children,
vomiting them onto unfaimiliar ground,
only to have them return in a prodigal blaze of bullets
and perform manifest destiny
on the cargo that slept in its belly,
where they had refused to sleep.

one graf artist said
“i can't afford no billboards,
this is my billboard.”

one slave said
“here is your freedom,”
holding a loft a gun…
but others preferred to make their voices heard
through the soles of their feet rather than the barrels of rifles.
their feet
which metamorphisized into wheels
as they rolled through the underground railroad
liberating property
not as outlaws
but as contraband.
they stole themselves in plantation hold-ups.

and wasn't john henry trying to hold up progress
when this big ole black man challenged a train to a duel?
they had to use that steam-powered powerful engine to push his dead body
off of the tracks
he laid
with his two
they dumped his body on the side of the road,
imported asian labor to drive rails into his still warm shell,
the blood from his burst heart
seeping into the ground,
mixing with the culture and screams
of stolen land
stolen red land
while chinese exclusion laws were forced to build
the industrial revolution
on john henry's corpse.
riding trains over him untilhe disappeared, 
until he became a breathing part of the earth
rails expanding like lungs,
breathing out locomotive trains,
which during the depression transported hoboes
from one end of the country to the other,
in a period where times were hard for everyone…
and a whole lot harder
for some.
ask the scottsboro boys
or the one remaining
because when these black men tried to ride the rails
to escape crushing southern poverty,
laced with sharecropping destinies,
they ended up at the end of a court room noose.

freedom of movement comes with a price
for those who are still
just as spray paint cans are contraband
for those who live in a place with no free walls,
only blank walls,
only prison walls,
so static and lifeless you long to see paint
and words and pictures fly by
you long to see your self fly by in a blur,
flying off box cars and coloring the countryside and cities at every stop,
dripping pieces of sweat and fear and pride
onto the blood-soaked stolen land
where once outlaws dared to defy
the unquestioned faceless authority of the train tracks,
which cut this nation like a surgeon's blade…
just as nightly train yards are defiled
by voices screaming to be heard
from tags that rumble across the country
etched into the sides of manifest destiny..
now that's

by walidah imarisha