Benin Lemus

USA

My parents hail from California’s Central Valley, but before that, South Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Georgia. Before that, Cameroon and Guinea Bissau, and before land had names, my people were Tikar and Fulbe. Before that, I do not know, but I am in conversation with all of my ancestors before me, people like my grandmothers and their grandmothers. I am a radical, rooted woman. I am a woman from other women and men whose dreams I never knew, but through my poems, readers hear their voices and feel their presence; perhaps those dreams will serve a higher good through our shared communion.

Villanelle From Alice, Last Name Unknown

Artist Notes

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Transcript of Villanelle from Alice, Last Name Unknown by Benin Lemus

Dear child, I see you. You are my Beloved one.
Do not cry for me. I am at peace beneath the palm tree.
I kept my name in my heart when they stole my tongue.

Slavers wanted my secrets- I would give them none.
From the bloody trails to the ocean floor. I did not lose sight of me.
Your future was my secret, Beloved One.

Emancipation did not come for me. I left this earth a man’s possession.
In this afterlife, my feet dance, and I praise Jubilee.
I kept my name in my heart when they stole my tongue.

How are you, child? Do you grow young?
I pray you have a life you do not need to flee.
I see you child, my Beloved Dear One.

I dreamt of you free, reading letters, feeling the sun.
Do not cry for me. I sing sweet hymns from the sea.
Beloved child, do you know you are my Dear One?

Glory! No man owns you. You will live to be an old woman.
May you swim in open waters. May your children be born free.
You have your heart and your tongue.

I send you songs, ancestral hymns unsung.
Do not cry for me. I was stolen but not broken, even in captivity.
I kept my name in my heart when they cleaved my tongue.
I see We. You are my Beloved One.

Benin Lemus

Benin Lemus

Biography

 

Based in South Central Los Angeles, Benin Lemus (she|her) published her debut poetry collection, Dreaming in Mourning, in November 2022 on World Stage Press. A poetic meditation on grief, loss, and finding one’s way back to the resting place of radical love, Benin’s poems — rooted in social equality in all its forms — stem from her engagement with her world as a Black woman of the African Diaspora, poet, educator, and activist. She is a 2022 Inaugural Workshop Fellow with Obsidian Magazine’s O|Sessions: Black Listening–A Performance Master Class and the 2022 Honorable Mention in Furious Flower Poetry Center’s annual poetry competition. Her work is published online and in print, most recently in Márọkọ́: Journal of African Poetry and TORCH Literary Arts, for which her poetry submission received a Pushcart Prize nomination. An engaging panelist and performer, Benin has participated in multiple literary festivals, including LitHop Fresno in California’s Central Valley, Boca de Oro, LitFest in the Dena in Southern California, and FreeVerse Festival in Charleston, SC. Benin’s work as a poet intersects with her vocation as a public school teacher and librarian. She believes, as Toni Morrison said, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

 

I dedicate this poem to my mother’s grandmother. A Presbyterian minister called her Alice. But that was not her name. English was not her mother tongue. Alice, who were you before you were kidnapped and renamed? In my moments of quiet, you spoke to me from the ancestral realm, and I listened. She sent this poem to me. She wanted me to know she saw my daughters. She wished me love. I want her to know I am grateful for all she and all my ancestors endured. This poem, and this movement, are for her.

Black Listening's website front page header art and Obsidian 49.2 cover art were  created by Nettrice Gaskins

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