A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

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PORTRAIT OF A POET
By Aba Taylor
Yvonne “Fly” Onakeme Etaghene, also known as I am my mother’s daughter” is a Nigerian dyke performance activist, poet, dancer, essayist, playwright and actress who was born with a mouth full of dynamite and sugarcane.  Fly uses her poetry to chisel a verbal sculpture of her soul for listeners while addressing issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, war, imperialism, love, self esteem and family. 
“I am my mother’s daughter” – how did you come up with the self-title?
It ground me, reminds me of where I’m from. My culture, my language, my food. Because her love for me is so strong and of goddess, when I say I am my mothers daughter, it reminds me of my purpose on earth. It’s always going to come up in my work, it’s the simplest way to describe myself.
How does your identity as an African living in the Diaspora impact your poetry?
Only the child of an immigrant would ask a question like that!
That is my poetry. That is it. My work is a narration of my world. It’s also a creation of my world. My work is about expressing who I am. It’s been frustrating to not see my stories. I know other Nigerian dykes, but none that are artists,…
I can’t always communicate myself through language. For a poet not to be able to have words, it’s like you took away my soul.
When I’m here, I identify as Nigerian and I identify as Black. I identify with the African-American. Through hip-hop, through dancing…then there are spaces where my Nigerianess is left out. Even though the Black American culture draws so much from African culture.
I look for home in women. When I got to Nigeria, I realized that that’s what I was chasing. I miss Nigeria. This is home, and I’ve wanted to go home for 20 years, but I am a stranger sometimes. I have to prove myself at times. I feel like I’m straddling the ocean, one leg in Nigeria and one leg in New York.
When did you start writing and performing?
I started writing when I was 9. It’s been 20 years. I’ve been performing for 10 years. I was so lonely. I was really isolated. So I created a world where I could have friends. And that’s when I started writing.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I get it from everything that happens to me, or what I see. Watching the world unfold and witnessing what happens to people. Lately I’ve been writing for people who have gone through violence, especially queer people of color. Things happen and they strike me. My life happens and it strikes me. Poetry is my church. When I write things down, I figure out things that might have been hidden in my subconscious. Writing is my church. Dancing is my church. Anything that is a question. Anything that is beautiful. Anything that is ugly. It could be in the simplest thing. When you can feel someone is making time for you, and taking time for you, that’s magical. And magic is inspiring to me.
What other poets, writers or artists inspire you?
I would say definitely my friends inspire me a lot. Whether or not they are poets. The things that they say are poetry. I would definitely say Climbing Poetree, T’ai Freedom Ford. My friend Sunu Chandy. Also Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, Pamela Sneed, Kay Barrett, Khalil Gibran, Queen Godis, Pat Parker, Sharon Bridgeforth, Barbara Smith, Chrystos, Jewel Gomez, Octavia Bulter, Saul Williams. Frank Leon Roberts. Lenelle Moïse. Wunmi also inspires me. Blogs that I encounter. I think the common thread that inspires me is people who have a huge imagination, and people who talk about multiple things.
If you could compare your poetry to another form of artwork what would that look like?
Visual Art. I would say, I am a canvas with frayed edges, no frame, with bright colored paint splattered across, with graffiti, cowry shells, and video installation in the corner. Colorful and exciting for your eyes to look at.
What do you do when you are not writing or performing?
Let me keep it G rated! Cooking or dancing or watching movies or sleeping, or hanging out with friends…I like to spend time with people that I love, and to remember love.
If you were not a poet what would your alter ego be doing with her life?
She would be a poet! She would be a dancer who sometimes wrote poetry. Maybe a carpenter, I love building things.
Tell me about your one-woman show.
My one-woman show is a lot of what I’ve wanted to do in one place. It’s multidisciplinary. I definitely consider myself as a poet, primarily as an artist. But there are other ways that I express myself when I write as well as when I perform. So the show gives people different ways to experience other forms of my writing. There’s improv, there’s comedy there’s satire, there’s monologue. There’s audience participation, there’s dance and music and costume changes! Its multimedia, so there’s me performing and there’s video work and sound recordings are played of me. There’s also text animation when you put words on the screen and project it
The show takes you on a journey of who I am as a Nigerian dyke, and my insecurities of performing. It’s very important when I started writing this piece three years ago. I had to write about my insecurities to overcome them. Then it talks about when I go back to Nigeria. It includes a love story. Then the piece ends with folks learning that we are the heroes we are looking for. I take pictures of the audience before the show and show them after…it’s really a love poem to the audience.
Yvonne has self-published three collections of poetry, released a CD, toured nationally and performed in over 25 U.S. cities. To read more of Fly’s poetry check out www.myloveisaverb.com.
Below find some of Yvonne “Fly” Onakeme Etaghene poetry:

afrobeat heartbeat

excerpt from Volcano’s Birthright{s} one woman show

© Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene

we wear our jeans beneath colorful wraps, no bras, rock afros, mohawks, frohawks, dreadlocks, eat hamburgers and fufu, potato chips and plantain, help each other move, share recipes, tell our mother’s stories, rock out to hip hop & hip life & high life & afrobeat.  we are mixtures and hybrids, culture jugglers, american-born African dykes and African immigrant dykes eat curry tofu, curry chicken, make smoothies, drink mango juice, wear wrappas, skin sometimes blisters from holding onto our herstories, mythologies, choreopoems, biomythographies, prayers, desires 

we be: quick-tongued, soft-hearted, with a temper, with patience, read about our homelands

on the internet, hear about home

on the news, and we don’t know

which kernels of information

to pluck out from biased, propagandizing news reports and hold close to us as truth, as news, that effects us and our families, overseas, over there, abroad,

right here 

we make art out of nothing,

don’t fit in—except with each other.  we scared to go home to be dykes

so we flock to major cities like new york and kiss our girlfriends in public on Brooklyn street corners,

blessed to be in new york shitty,

cherishing the luxury to be a dyke,

knowing the moment we call home it’s all “when are you getting married?”

and I hesitantly say to my brother across the atlantic, “I don’t know that I want to get married”

when what I mean is, “I’m gonna marry a woman, will you be my best man?”

my beautiful, beloved brother, what would you say if I told you that I eat women raw

with my bare hands and adore it? 

our homes are shrines, temples, holy lands, sacred spaces, altars.

when you enter our homes, it feels like another world,

like our great grand mothers painted the walls

inch by inch with their fingertips,

the air feels different, looks red & orange,

place mats made of bamboo sticks,

we eat & drink out of coconut shells,

burn candles in the names of humility, love, grace, each other 

I share the precious painful vulnerable

hoping my efforts make breathing and loving easier for the other other-nation-claimin dykes comin after me

and they may not be born from this womb

but they will be my descendants

nonetheless 

we play

songs that send us deep into trances/enchanted

with beats our blood recognizes

the bass line drops at the perfect moment

and we lose our minds, catch spirits,

have fun

in the midst of bombs.dropping.where.we.from

first world-sponsored genocide starvation massacre hatred

but

we do not see our home as a collection of grim statistics,

flies/in the eyes/of our cousins,

we see home

as home

as foods familiar

memories warm

smiles genuine

mango sweet

feet bare 

we are walking, breathing works of art

without ever trying

our bodies testify to where we hail from

Cairo Morocco Soweto South Africa Accra

Abraka Bahia Botswana Haiti Patani Togo The Congo Antigua Trinidad

Zimbabwe Nigeria 

we recognize each other in the street easily

smiles exchanged,

eyes say I know you,

I love you

my immigrant women

we long for home

and feel so at home

on these crowded,

dirty,

city streets.

 


a love poem for each of your bruises

© Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene

this was performed at the 6/6/09 rally in Bed Stuy demanding justice for 2 lesbians of color brutally beaten by the NYPD 
 
{for Tiffany & Jg & all survivors of violence} 
 
a love poem for each of your bruises 
a love poem for all of our rage and confusion 
every knee to your back, for every contusion 
a love poem for every butch, every trannie, every b.o.i, every lesbian, every femme, every person not into labels 
a love poem for the days when the activist work seems neverending  
the police sirens are loud & they are chasing our babies and our angels 
and enough  
already
 
I just want to write about lovemaking, mangoes & my homeland  
I want to live my life unhampered by the oppression of a police state that denies my heartbeat 
as human and beautiful 
sometimes 
I don’t give a fuck about whether you support gay marriage 
I’m not married; I care about having good health care 
I don’t give a fuck about whether you voted for Obama 
I don’t give a fuck about whether you like how I choose to dress 
I did not come into this store for fashion tips son 
I just want my cinnamon raisin bagel toasted light brown with butter, thank you 
 
I want to hold my woman’s hand in the street at midnight  
at 2pm, at 10am 
I want to be able to go party with other women who eat pussy 
then go to the after party with those same women 
grab some food 
walk home if I choose 
feel safe 
I want to feel safe 
I want to feel safe 
I want to be safe 
I do not want to wait for June to celebrate my pride in the street 
 
I’m not interested in whether you can quote Audre Lorde or Assata Shakur 
I’m not interested in how many degrees you have 
what I care about is that you see injustice and you ain’t having it 
I’m interested in whether you will fight beside me for this love beating in our chests 
I’m fighting for a life worth living for 
I’m fighting for the dykes coming up after me 
I want us to live our lives so we are the legends our descendants will need to find in their herstory books 
breathing these words so we can make a world we’re proud to pass on 
I know you may not remember that one phrase I said that shook your soul—don’t worry about that shit 
remember how you feel right now in this moment 
and don’t you ever/don’t you ever/don’t you ever 
settle for less 
than every fuckin peace of justice we came for
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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