18 October 2020

Happy birthday, Ntozake!

"Born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey to Paul T. Williams (namesake), a surgeon, and Eloise Williams, a psychiatric social worker and educator. The oldest of four children of an upper middle class family.

Moved to a then, racially segregated St. Louis at the age of eight (1956/57). Lived there for five years and enjoyed music, dance, art, literature, and opera. Was even bussed to a German-American school where she suffered blatant racism as a part of the Brown versus Board of Education decision.

As a part of a rich intellectual family, she was an avid reader of great authors to include Jean Genet, Herman Melville, and Langston Hughes. She also came in contact with great musicians and singers like Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Berry, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Josephine Baker, all friends of her parents. W.E.B. DuBois was also a family visitor.

Returned to New Jersey at age thirteen (1961/62) where she completed high school and became increasingly aware of the inequities of the American society on black females."

Ntozake Shange was born on 18 October 1948. Happy birthday to her.

Ntozake is isiZulu for "her own things," suggesting "she who brings her own things," when it is someone's name. By comparison, in Sesotho, my mother tongue, it is "Nthotsaka," which naturally sounds like its isiZulu counterpart.

with no immediate cause

every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
every five minutes a
woman is raped/every ten minutes
a lil girl is molested
yet i rode the subway today
i sat next to an old man who
may have beaten his old wife
3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago
he might have sodomized his
daughter but i sat there
cuz the young men on the train
might beat some young women
later in the day or tomorrow
i might not shut my door fast
every 3 minutes it happens
some woman’s innocence
rushes to her cheeks/pours from her mouth
like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn
apart/their mouths
menses red & split/every
three minutes a shoulder
is jammed through plaster and the oven door/
chairs push thru the rib cage/hot water or
boiling sperm decorate her body
i rode the subway today
& bought a paper from a
man who might
have held his old lady onto
a hot pressing iron/i don’t know
maybe he catches lil girls in the
park & rips open their behinds
with steel rods/i can’t decide
what he might have done i only
know every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes every 10 minutes/so
i bought the paper
looking for the announcement
the discovery/of the dismembered
woman’s body/the
victims have not all been
identified/today they are
naked and dead/refuse to
testify/one girl out of 10’s not
coherent/i took the coffee
& spit it up/i found an
announcement/not the woman’s
bloated body in the river/floating
not the child bleeding in the
59th street corridor/not the baby
broken on the floor/
there is some concern
that alleged battered women
might start to murder their
husbands & lovers with no
immediate cause”

i spit up i vomit i am screaming
we all have immediate cause
every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes
every 10 minutes
every day
women’s bodies are found
in alleys & bedrooms/at the top of the stairs
before i ride the subway/buy a paper/drink
coffee/i must know/
have you hurt a woman today
did you beat a woman today
throw a child across a room
are the lil girl’s panties
in yr pocket

did you hurt a woman today
i have to ask these obscene questions
the authorities require me to
immediate cause
every three minutes
every five minutes
every ten minutes
every day.
© Ntozake Shange
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