free da diva


Samantha Zimbler

in our institutional-yellow classroom, there are peeling words
painted above our heads:
beauty, growth, inspiration, meditation…
but we are shouting: free da diva!
free her BaBa Mali from his grave
to see his Queen dance in the open springtime cinder streets
with her hands unchained and her panther blood boiling.
free the diva from solitary, from grizzle-headed guards
who call her crackwhore when they can’t get their way
with her. give her nothing but a composition book and ask her to fester,
and she will fly.

we are shouting for j———, who knows that she was never alone back there,
who slipped her final boiling words under the shadowy cellblock door
so that we could finish her story,
who taught us how to sign a heart in prison-talk, how to communicate
under the eye of callous cow-hearted guards;
j———, who says she lives on a modern slave plantation but the massa’s whip
ain’t thick enough for the Queen.

j———, whose blood will be the perfect pigment for the set of wings
she’s sewing behind the ad-seg lock and key
she will emerge from her cinderblock soup-smelling cocoon
with wings of fire and inkblots and blood;
she has threaded herself back to the dollhouse,
where we bow as she enters the room,
that chick has arrived, the Queen is alive, the Queen is back.

we shout for our wise women, who have taught us that the time
we have in these bodies, in these atoms, these cells, is transient,
as transient the time we serve in prison cells—
in turn, another woman will come to inhabit the
same cage, the same life, in the same waiting room,
and we will discard the wings we have sewn
for those imprisoned sisters, and for those after them.

there is a constant burning vigil, a third eye always open for you,
from our institutional walls, from our memories,
from cuba, where assata watches on in asylum,
from the pages of books written and to be written,
the eye of the world itself is beginning to open for you,
our silenced sisters, burning at the wombs and wounded flesh
and beautiful, delicately tattooed necks.
we chant the mantras that hang over our heads in our classroom:
patience, strength, beauty, grace…
and we dream you hear us from your iron beds.


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