Ramadan Day 7 – Faith Time, remix feat. Sekou Sundiata’s “the 51st (dream) State” and “A Kiss in Deep Time”

“He even wrote a character named Mason-Dixon in his stories. Now Mason Dixon’s job was to stop you at the line and search your car for weapons. And when Sekou studied the 48 states in school he followed the national debate about whether or not Alaska should become the 49th state, and he felt proud when Hawaii became the 50th state because it meant that we as a nation were getting bigger and better.

Then the question was what would be the next state? Some people said the Phillipines and some said Puerto Rico. Now Gilbert, one of Sekou’s schoolmates, said that his father had said “Que me matin primero.” Over my dead body.   And the teacher said all of us had to go into it with our eyes open because the decision would create a permanent state.

But nobody in those days dreamed

that the next state

would be war.

Not until now.”

– Sekou Sundiata from “the 51st (dream) state”

*

The passage above is from Sekou Sundiata’s 51st (dream) state. I first heard this with two friends, Essence and Zahra, at the Schomberg Center as part of the “Sekou Sundiata Revisited” celebration. Two years later – plus hours last night and again today – I desperately searched for the text of Sundiata’s mixed media radio play/ poem/revolution.

I patchwork transcribed these lines above because in the moment that I heard them, Sekou Sundiata changed my life forever. He transported me through time and space with words.

Late last night, during the search, a phrase describing Sekou’s work startled me: “lyric time.”

*

In honor of ________________________ and

Depayne Middleton Doctor

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lance

Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Tywanza Sanders

Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Jr.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

Pastor Myra Thompson

*

Narrator: I forgave the racists the ones who did nothing the helpless father and denying mother who could not save me forgave the white women who took from me my color the white men who took from me my humanity forgave the intimacy of the dark that ever after betrayed me and hated itself forgave my empire and the brutality of its soul forgave the fact that heartbreak did not save me.

Sekou:
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I write to you a kiss in deep time.
The kiss we been believing in
is no longer just a kiss.

Lover:

The mountain is crystal and wish

I climb without binoculars

The mountain is peril like

lovers who dare to kiss when

there are more important things

when the pressure is to close ranks

Sekou:

As time goes by, the kiss is this: You
and who you
not only loved but opened your nose
throat raw flash across the teeth into
who and if
they skin popped took or gave blood.

Lover:

Her lover becomes a convert, faithless

that she possessed herself before conversion

the other lover becomes a soldier

she leaflets the hallways of Flatbush

jealous that they cannot pretend

their love endures this conflict of time

of race of war by virtue is virtual

Sekou:

This cannot be the kiss to take us
into the next century.
Let the old kiss strip, search
slip and shed skin
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I’m going to write you a kiss in deep time.

Lover:

True greatness is spread inside/outside

so thin like paper of her skin is written

a love story unlike any I’ve ever known

what two people will do to each other

is so terrible I think they do it to forgive

or at least to one day forgive themselves

it’s like an act like fresh shower and Change

Sekou:

What is to be understood about the unknown
is already known
it is on our side and traveling
in this direction, like the ancient starts
we hear but cannot see.
Let the Art of the Future Kiss be
a perfect mess
jumping off the pages of the late 1900’s
a bridge, a circle
a map back to the first mack.
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I write to you a kiss in deep time

Narrator:

One of the hardest lessons I ever learned was to save my energy. That is the true gift of Ramadan. I save it. I savor it. When I encounter any sort of difficulty like rejection or, more commonly, carelessness, I am reminded to be present to myself. Instead of continuing to ask for more and more from the person who hurts or angers me, I turn to another source. Practically, this means re-focusing on people and actions that are kind and responsive. If I were to persist in the face of stiff opposition, it really is like trying to pull quarters from an empty bank. Instead, I walk through the doors that are open. I have learned that this is not denial. I do not give up. I go around. Also, I do not stop, or forget. I simply go about doing what I need to do, which may be to attend a protest, to donate money to a worthy cause, to go to work, to exercise, to attend a Quran study, to read, and often, to write. These activities are helping me. These are things that nourish me, and even (or especially) things that nourish or salve the difficult feelings, like anger or pain, are worthy. I’m accepting that the difficult exists. But, what is terrible/hard is not mine to control. Instead, it is a beseechment. It is a call to Faith. This Faith relies on the possibility of change.

For me, lyric time is how Sundiata emphasizes the reader’s temporal sensation in his work, and also in the movements of each poetic container/stanza. So, at one point, I’m thinking what would it be like to drive from North to South?  That immediately fills my head with overheated engines, fruit stands, chips, and gummy cola bottles, plus lots of hot hours without the a/c. In another instance, I’m transported by Sundiata to our current state, the state of war.  The two states both require me to be keenly aware of the time it would take to travel between the states.  (Read Sundiata’s work at top of blog to feel full effect of lyric time travel.)

Faith Time is lyric time’s neighbor.

Faith Time hast two movements.

1.)  It’s transformative, wiggly, jiggly, all over the place.  Chaotic, if you will, and paradoxical at its core, fast and slow.  Its a sense of time moving spastically, jerkily, all over the place, then rapidly forward, and sometimes shooting backwards.  It’s experiential.

2.)  It relies upon the agreement and existence of an oppressed peoples to ascend from the impoverished state or condition, together.  Faith Time has, if you will, a clock, and we are that clock.  Faith Time is collective.  By its definition, faith time: collective as change: Allah.

Instance of Faith Time in the Modern Age:  One instance of Faith Time unfolded recently within the context of Black lives, and especially the state-sanctioned murder of Black people on the pretext of criminal activity.  In response to these state-and-society sanctioned murders was the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and now during Ramadan.  Many fast in honor of Black lives.  Many carry the weight of the massacre in Charleston to the mat on the ground.  With the advent of the outpouring of support for #BlackLivesMatter in key centers, the people began to experience the past differently.  Of course, LAPD, for instance, was busy gunning down Black and Brown lives for decades, unjustifiably.  But, re-framed in the context of #BlackLivesMatter, there is more outrage, there is more memory, and it seems as if the weight of the past which was previously singularly experienced is now rushing forward to meet the present.  The river flows both ways because it is joined in the middle.

By fasting during Ramadan we are flash-forwarding, if you will, to the consequences of Faith Time’s group quality. We are imagining the future you want, which takes courage, even and especially if, you know you’re not there. Yes, FT is a yearning to be free. But it’s more than a single, self-serving wish because it’s fundamentally interactive with other people, like Sundiata’s work.

Faith Time is the infinite yet finite shift of conscious that allows you while you’re daydreaming to move from one space to another.  You become one ant carrying a crumb, or a colony of ants carrying one larger biscuit.  Faith Time moves a people, so that they see their power over their own constructs.  You’d think we wouldn’t be blind, but we are.  That is our reality.  In short, you can travel vast distances in Faith Time, and it will feel like a minute.  It will also feel like yesterday and all the days before were the same.  Nothing is happening, but then it is.

Wouldn’t that feel critical? Wouldn’t that feel like breaking down and crying?

So yes, Faith Time is accompanied by a feeling of smallness of unimportance, very much like a series of lines, poetic gestures, deliberative – as if you are going nowhere. You get up to pray Fajr so early, or not. What difference does it make? In the reality, we the people are engaged in acts of letter-writing, of organizing, of conversation, polemic, education, protest, prayer, and gathering (not to mention the subjects of resistance, of fighting back against: beat, kill, lynch). These are small things, but they are direct.  People who’ve entered Faith time aren’t treading water.  They are face-to-face with the realization that the current structure of white racism will never magically heal itself; it will never give up its power like charity.  Faith Time wakes people up because they realize that power is something they give ourselves.  Faith is something that Allah, or God, gives.  Not power over (the construct), as Hannah Arendt understood, but Power To (do something).  It’s a different power, the power to make Faith itself.  In the present, you enter a state of Faith Time if you live as if your beliefs themselves are actions.

Small things can seem without meaning, and hopeless, but the opposite is true:  we create the structure for time to shift. Because when our consciousness finally does change, when we have as a people of color reclaimed, in the name of righteousness and imagination, our own power — it will feel as if something momentous has happened. This great feeling and belief is made by our little steps.

Don’t worry – we really are going somewhere.  In the Time of Faith, we believe in the process and not simply the destination. In the Time of Faith, we feel very badly that we have accomplished so little or mean so little, but we stay awake, we persevere, we find that

we see in all directions

labor, strive, yearn, and nobody in those days dared to dream

a state of peace

*

A KISS IN DEEP TIME

By Sekou Sundiata

I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I write to you a kiss in deep time.
The kiss we been believing in
is no longer just a kiss.
As time goes by, the kiss is this: You
and who you
not only loved but opened your nose
throat raw flash across the teeth into
who and if
they skin popped took or gave blood.
This cannot be the kiss to take us
into the next century.
Let the old kiss strip, search
slip and shed skin
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I’m going to write you a kiss in deep time.

What is to be understood about the unknown
is already known
it is on our side and traveling
in this direction, like the ancient starts
we hear but cannot see.
Let the Art of the Future Kiss be
a perfect mess
jumping off the pages of the late 1900’s
a bridge, a circle
a map back to the first mack.
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I write to you a kiss in deep time

*

A performance of Sekou Sundiata’s “51st Dream State”

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