An Introduction to Maria Hamilton Abegunde by Cassandra Cleghorn


I first encountered this poem in its embodied performance by Abegunde. In my mind’s ear, I hear the poet’s aching voice gaining strength as she addresses Diamond Reynolds, Philando Castile’s girlfriend who witnessed and recorded his killing and his dying. When Abegunde watched the dash cam video, she knew she would be writing about this experience, and only this experience, for a long time — “with students, in essays, in classes,” she says. “His killing and dying are a meditation for me.” Abegunde’s poem has become, in turn, a meditation for me. Through the poem’s measured cadences of brutality and tenderness, I find a way into the inconceivable.

Of Reynolds, Abegunde writes, “I want to hold this woman. I want to bathe this woman. I want to sing to her. I want to mourn with her.” Of the poem, Abegunde writes: “I wanted to speak to Diamond Reynolds, Black woman to Black woman.” And: “I am writing a ritual for a woman I do not know, a ritual on how to re-member this man she loved while the world is consuming him.”

The poem carries the shadow presence of Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter who was in the backseat of the car that night. The list of instructions both narrows and broadens in its address. How may each of us, in our particular, racialized and unequal relations to power, take in the violence we observe and experience everywhere around us? The poet quotes the Yoruba saying, “Bit by bit we eat the head of the rat.” As a reader, I am immensely grateful for Abegunde’s gift of this poem’s harrowing movement into traumas of body, heart, soul.

Read “Learning to Eat the Dead:  USA” by Maria Hamilton Abegunde >>