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Abiodun Oyewole is one of the most important voices of his generation and my own. He opens up his heart and allows us to be one of the branches of a tremendous tree he has planted inside this revolutionary language called poetry. A mentor, a critic, and an inspirational voice of truth, he is a poet that shares his life with the world, and I am forever grateful for being one of the flowers he helped bloom. — Jessica Care Moore Award-winning poet and publisher In Branches From the Tree of Life, Abiodun Oyewole, best known for his lifelong membership in The Last Poets, takes a well-deserved solo turn. He informs us that he is equally the product of his mother (with her unconditional love and encouragement) and his father (with his emphasis on competence and personal responsibility). And indeed, Abiodun’s collected poems faithfully shift gears one after the other, from praise to revolutionary exhortation and back again. A gift from a venerated lion in winter, they’re meant to fortify and inspire us, to remind us to treasure our history and to do the work necessary to create the future of our fondest dreams. Like their creator, then, these poems are not unambitious, but they succeed. — Bill Adler, co-author of Def Jam: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label When we can’t escape the echo of our own suffering, it is our storytelling that saves us, and it’s Abiodun Oyewole’s voice in the shadow of our forgetting that beckons us out from the depths. While there are so many ways we can destroy each other, how do we lift someone up, how do we lend a hand and reach out to a spirit, an ancestor, a child in search of answers or arms or imagination? If prayer is a petition for presence, then Abiodun’s poems will always be in a heart, on a tongue, in our palms reaching to exist. These are words, placed as strategic as songs, laying for us the blueprint to being empowered and fearless. — Aja Monet, poet and lyricist I have been listening to Abiodun since middle school and have had the honor to grace many stages with him. He is truly a pioneer. He attacks topics with the ferocity of a lion and has the compassion of a Grand-


father. So much respect for him and his body of work. He will go in the archives for centuries to come. — Etan Thomas, poet, author and NBA champion Branches of The Tree of Life is a literary treasure. Abiodun Oyewole is a living legend who speaks truth to power and celebrates the life, struggles, triumphs, beauty and realities of being African in America. He carries the baton of the traditional African oral historian and is the great grandfather of what became hip hop. His works are universal in that they speak to the hearts of human beings everywhere. His works capture the heart of lovers as well as the passion of the revolutionary. For the past five decades Brother Dune has challenged all of us to be better, to treat each other better, to treat ourselves better and to live life with purpose, joy and integrity. Kudos to this magnificent collection of one of the world’s foremost poetic giants. — Linda H. Humes storyteller and educator, African Studies Dept. John Jay College/CUNY Founder, Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc. I met Abiodun as a young poet in my twenties but his voice has been a part of my life since I was a small girl. Shhh, I “borrowed” The Last Poets albums from my mom when I left California for college. Imagine the shock of coming to New York and finding myself seated on Abiodun’s couch getting a creative healing at his Sunday Salon. Dune is a one man poetic army, his word and that big, booming voice of his are his weapons, but that his heart and his love for poetry and people are the healing salve. — Toni Blackman, Artist/U.S. Hip Hop Ambassador


Branches of the Tree of Life


Branches of the Tree of Life The Collected Poems of Abiodun Oyewole 1969-2013 Introduction by Betty J. Dopson Edited by Gabrielle David

new york www.2leafpress.org


P.O. Box 4378 Grand Central Station New York, New York 10163-4378 editor@2leafpress.org www.2leafpress.org 2LEAF PRESS is an imprint of the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS), a NY-based nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes multicultural literature and literacy. www.theiaas.org Copyright © 2014 by Abiodun Oyewole Cover art and photographs: Richard “Vagabond” Beaumont http://nothingtobegainedhere.wordpress.com/ Book design and layout: Gabrielle David Library of Congress Control Number: 2013953940 ISBN-13: 978-1-940939-03-2 (Paperback) ISBN-13: 978-1-940939-04-9 (eBook) 10

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Published in the United States of America First Edition | First Printing 2LEAF PRESS books are available for sale on most online retailers in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. Books are also available to the trade through distributors Ingram and 2LP Distribution. For more information, contact 2lpdd@2leafpress.org. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopied, recorded or otherwise without the prior permission of the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS). The Publisher would like to thank Vagabond Beaumont for all of his efforts, including photographing and designing the front cover, and his great author videos of Abiodun; and to Angela Sternreich for doing such a great job typing Abiodun’s catalog of poetry. Special thanks to Betty Dopson for a fantastic introduction and to Judy for her input and great advice. Finally, thanks to the great man himself, Abiodun Oyewole, for allowing 2Leaf Press to edit and publish his life’s work; we are forever grateful for the opportunity.


For my mother, children, brothers, sisters and friends, with a special dedication to Ace.


Ní inú ofíì àti òláà ọmọ páńdòrò ńgbó Despite being blown hither and thither in the gale, the fruits of the sausage tree survive to maturity. — Yoruba proverb


That each day I may walk unceasingly on the banks of my water, that my soul may repose on the branches of the trees which I planted, that I may refresh myself under the shadow of my sycomore. — Egyptian tomb inscription, circa 1400 BCE And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good everything. — William Shakespeare Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper, That we may record our emptiness. — Khalil Gibran


Contents

INVOCATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VII TRIBUTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . XI FOR AMIRI. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . XIII PREFACE: THE JOURNEY OF A LAST POET by Abiodun Oyewole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xv INTRODUCTION: ON A PATHWAY TO REVOLUTION: BRANCHES OF THE TREE OF LIFE by Betty J. Dopson . . . . . . . . . 1

ROOTED IN THE SOIL Weeping Willow Tree . . . . . . Two Little Boys. . . . . . . . . . . I Want to Feel . . . . . . . . . . . What is Your Thing Brother . . When The Revolution Comes Party and Bullshit. . . . . . . . . A Picture. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Role Playing . . . . . . . . . . . . Black Rose . . . . . . . . . . . . . Our Song . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alabama . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Our Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Contrast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Another Mountain . . . . . . . . Gashman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sometimes . . . . . . . . . . . . . Black Rage . . . . . . . . . . . . . For The Millions . . . . . . . . . Run Nigger . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Winter of 1982 . . Time Out . . . . . . Brothers Working. Harlem Lives! . . . Tomorrow . . . . . . Changes . . . . . .

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The Cycle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . To Struggle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . My People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Thanks Taking Day . . . . . . . . Harriet's Train . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Cottonfields . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Emancipation Proclamation . . . . . Marcus Garvey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Malcolm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Crime . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . How Many Bullets . . . . . . . . . . . . Reparations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Bonfim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Return To Greatness . . . . . . . . . . Affirmation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Fight The Power. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Full Moon Over Harlem . . . . . . . . Pelourinho . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Soul Reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Harlem. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Voodoo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A Woman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New York New York The Big Apple If We Only Knew . . . . . . . . . . . . . Stop the Violence . . . . . . . . . . . . The End of the Beginning . . . . . . .

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. 55 . 56 . 57 . 60 . 61 . 64 . 65 . 67 . 69 . 71 . 73 . 75 . 77 . 78 . 79 . 81 . 82 . 83 . 85 . 86 . 90 . 91 . 93 . 94 . 95 . 97 . 99 101

THE SEEDS OF CHANGE

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Branches Br r anch h es e of the Tree of Life


BRANCHING OUT The Wind Speaks . . . . . Black Is So Beautiful . . . Our Legacy The Language of Sound . Dance With Oya . . . . . . Chamique . . . . . . . . . . Brown Sugar . . . . . . . . . Blessed Moments . . . . . Skyview . . . . . . . . . . . . Sunpeople . . . . . . . . . . Cloudy Illusions . . . . . . My Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . Culture. . . . . . . . . . . . . Dread Brother . . . . . . . . Festival . . . . . . . . . . . . . Grenoble . . . . . . . . . . . Paris Moon . . . . . . . . . . African Ball. . . . . . . . . . Come With Me . . . . . . . Son's Rising . . . . . . . . . The Pledge . . . . . . . . . .

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107 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 117 119 120 122 124 125 126 129 130 132

Ode To A Dead Tree . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . You Are The Light . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Goree . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Delta . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jesus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pharoah . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Aunt Baby. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A Tribute To Joe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Malcolm Shabazz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Basu Farm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Hey, LiL Brotha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New York New York The Big Apple (part II).

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137 138 139 141 143 146 147 149 151 152 154 155

THE HEALING SHADOW OF THE TREE

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Blink . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Obama . . . . . . . . . . . . . Occupy . . . . . . . . . . . . . Brother Gil Noble . . . . . . Who Are You . . . . . . . . . Louis Reyes Rivera . . . . . . Sonia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Understand Black . . . . . . Jayne Cortez . . . . . . . . . . Oba and Rae . . . . . . . . . The Road . . . . . . . . . . . . My Four Suns . . . . . . . . . For Aina . . . . . . . . . . . . . JITU . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . All Hail Hal Jackson . . . . The Walk . . . . . . . . . . . . They Killed Troy. . . . . . . . Sylvia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A New Dawn For Trayvon . The Return To Goree . . . . Mumia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Happy Birthday Mom. . . . Grandmothers . . . . . . . . Something Beautiful. . . . . A Revolution . . . . . . . . . .

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RETURNING TO THE ROOTS A New Day . . . . . . . . . Us Before B.C. . . . . . . Technology . . . . . . . . . Me On TV . . . . . . . . . Awakening . . . . . . . . . The Library . . . . . . . . . Miss Moon . . . . . . . . . Been Done Before . . . . What I Want To See . . . Saturday Night In Paris. Come With Me . . . . . .

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Body And Soul . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . You Don't Know What Love Is (For The Players) . How I Got Wings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Older I Grow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Caribbean Sunset . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rain of Terror . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Poem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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LAST RITES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 225 AFTERWORD: THE POETIC TRUTHS AND HUMILITY OF ABIODUN OYEWOLE by Gabrielle David . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229 ABOUT THE POET . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235

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Invocation And a South African poet named Kgositsile said: “This wind you hear is the birth of memory” When the moment hatches in time’s womb There will be no art talk The only poem you will hear Will be the spear point pivoted In the punctured marrow of the villain The timeless native son dancing like crazy To the retrieved rhythms Of desire fading into memory Therefore, we are The Last Poets of the world Said David Nelson, Gylan Kain, Felipe Luciano, Umar Bin Hassan, Jalal Nuriddin, Suliaman El Hadi, Abiodun Oyewole, and The heartbeat Nilija (Obabi) The Last Poets were born on May 19, 1968 In Mount Morris Park in Harlem, New York It was a birthday celebration in memory and honor of Malcolm X The Last Poets were on a mission We became the voices of the East Wind Blowing away the West with our sound The Last Poets, men who knew In their youth the truth must be told The lies must be revealed And we got to be sassy and funky and sincere About it The Last Poets are individuals Who don’t flock together well Who don’t follow orders too much And when we do there’s a reason When we infiltrate the madness It’s not for love; Our lives are mirrors of the world Our people have lived and died in For four hundred years


We, The Last Poets, are the seeds For the rap artists to grow a garden And yet we are only a branch From the tree called Griot Crossings is the road we’ve traveled To come to this point The Last Poets have become a fraternity Of those who know The mystery of a moon glow And the wrath of each flame of the sun The Last Poets are back And that’s a fact No more time for bullshit raps Let’s get back on track


Tribute

For Amiri Baraka

WHEN IT CAME TIME TO DECIDE who was going to write the introduction to my first book of collected poems, Branches of the Tree of Life, Amiri Baraka was the only person I had in mind. Why? Amiri Baraka was my mentor. I learned a great deal from him. He was the first person I ever saw perform liberation poetry. He was the one who laid the foundation for the Last Poets to exist. I first met Amiri in 1968 when he had a Black Nationalist cultural organization called The Spirit House Movers and Players located in Newark, which he renamed “New Ark.” Yusef Iman was his right hand man and we had been friends from Brownsville in Brooklyn where I got my first job working in an antipoverty program. Yusef invited me to Newark and that was when I first met Leroi Jones who would later become known as Imamu Amiri Baraka. I loved the time I spent with Amiri. He was witty, had a great sense of humor, and was also easy to understand and talk to. I would often sit at his feet to listen to him and learn what a young Black poet needed to know. Over the years, we had some great moments. I would visit Amiri and Amina on quite a few occasions with Umar Bin Hassan, my working partner for the past 25 years, and Felipe Luciano, another Last Poet. Sometimes we collaborated on stage at our place at The East Wind in Harlem, or at Amiri’s place on High Street in Newark. Actually, one of the Last Poet’s classic poems was inspired by Amiri. We were sitting in my car on Broad St. in Newark, and I was getting some valuable information from him about culture and revolution when I noticed his eyes were not looking at me but rather at a shapely sister walking down the street. I remember I felt disrespected and said to Amiri “you ain’t no revolutionary You’re a gashman.” Amiri laughed and said “you’d better use that. If you don’t, I will” So I ended up writing a poem about brothers who use certain body parts for greed and malice and not love. I named the poem “Gashman.” These past few months, Amiri and I spoke on the phone trying to setup a time to meet and discuss the introduction to this book — he wanted to see me in person, and I was anxious to see him as well — but conflicting schedules prevailed. In fact, I spoke to him the day before he went into the hospital for a procedure to help his blood circulation. He told me we should be able to get Abiodun Oyewole Oye yewolee ye

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together after the 5th of January, because he felt he would be up and ready by then. Instead, I went to his Wake. I hugged Amina and Ras, told Amina anything she needed me to do, just ask; and I pledged my support to Ras in his bid for Mayor of Newark. I will miss Amiri. We will all miss him, with that Bebop walk and that all knowing smile, but his body of work will allow him to live forever. I am pleased and proud that I knew him in my lifetime. — Abiodun Oyewole January 11, 2014 Harlem, New York City

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For Amiri We be because he was We be black poets punching America in her face With black power strapped With the weapons of our ancestors Hurling balls of fire From rooftops at this white thing That stands in the doorway of our freedom With blood dripping from her mouth From eating our young ones whole We be because he was The blue note that made jazz live The be bop that stepped on sheet music The painting of a kinte cloth landscape Of African people Who know they is cool Walking through flames of injustices We be because he was We be language turned inside out Outside in Kicking verbs in the ass Making pronouns the subject of conversations With razor blades on our tongues And silver bullets for words Shooting American lies in the heart Resurrecting the truth with our pens We be because he was Black mass creating white maggots That prey on our freshness Rotting our morals Gnaw at the sweetness of our soul’s marrow

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Leaving us bitter to our own taste And dumb as to how beautiful we suppose to be We be because he was A giant in a humble body With a street swagger And all knowing smile Can’t nobody out do us but us Can’t nobody hurt us but us Cause we be badddd Slapping high five on the face of your god While angels sing harmony how who We be because he was.

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Introduction

ON A PATHWAY TO REVOLUTION: BRANCHES OF THE TREE OF LIFE by Betty J. Dopson

I SHUDDER TO THINK OF A WORLD without poets or poetry. Who would clarify the mysteries of life that assail the existence of every Brother and Sister? Confrontation, resistance, healing and comforting expressions delivered by poets, both ancient and modern, would have gone unuttered. A huge degree of our humanity would be swallowed up into a hollow void of self doubt and indifference to a vital element of life. Branches of the Tree of Life is cool, hot, racy and heavily laden with diamonds of truth and challenge. Praises are due to The Last Poets who really were the first. The first to speak our truths to the rising sun. The Last Poets have been with us for over thirty years, so I share Abiodun’s sentiment as he dances across the stages of life. A verse in “Last Rites,” proclaims that “The Last Poets shall live / And grow stronger.” Since meeting Abiodun many years ago, I have sustained a curious admiration of him, particularly his ability to quickly absorb details of his surroundings; and mentally adjust to the higher purpose of a situation and drop some vivid knowledge before leaving a room. I have friends who have known Abiodun long before I met him, and my curiosity led me to ask one of them, “What do you think of Abiodun’s poetry?” The response was “This Brother is something else. He ain’t one to give fake praise or unsolicited instruction. This cat is a multitalented emancipated Black man running uphill on the pathway of revolution.” When my telephone rang and I heard Abiodun’s deep resonating voice ask me to provide an introduction for his first publication, Branches of the Tree of Life, my level of flattery could not be measured. Upon reading this poetic masterpiece, I was able to glance into the deeper recesses of his mind, no longer left to wonder what long term consequences of his life molded his unique character. What a book! Containing poetry that pulls you into the moment, you identify with the measured rage, tenderness and clarity in his “Party and Bullshit” bullet. “A poet said long ago that this would stop the revolution.” Was he that poet? Clearly, Abiodun is immersed in a protracted bitter sweet battle to wake up his people. On the other side of his complex character he martyrs himself to the African world and begs, “Break my branches gently and build a fire for everyone to enjoy.” This work, all 236 pages, must be read with patience in orAbiodun Oyewole Oye yewolee ye

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der to absorb Abiodun’s soaring sonnets and meaning of being a driven black man with unconditional passion for his people. I discovered a wordsmith warrior swimming against the tide to connect with the drowning masses. Abiodun is undoubtedly one of the most important griots of the time. His preface, “The Journey of a Last Poet” was flavored with simplicity, elegance and gentleness when he reflected upon those who loved him. In direct contrast, when reflecting upon the horrendous treatment of Native Americans, he used terms laced with razor sharp condemnation. His ability to graphically describe divergent episodes adds to his mastery of the written and spoken word. During the sixteenth century there lived a Franciscan Monk who wrote poetic dramatizations under the name Chiado. When Chiado became disillusioned with the hypocrisy of the monastery, he fled into exile. He was hunted down, arrested and mercilessly flogged for doing so. While imprisoned, he maintained his sanity and dignity by regularly hammering out savage criticism against his captors in spite of the harsh punishment that was certain to follow. Five centuries later, Abiodun exposes the suffering and the irrepressible spirit of our great African leaders: Malcolm X, murdered; Harriet Tubman, hunted like an animal; Marcus Garvey, vilified and deported; Gil Noble, renowned journalist disrespected and underpaid (he transitioned while fighting to own his priceless work); and Amiri Baraka, stripped of his position of Newark, New Jersey’s Poet Laureate for speaking the truth. All of them were Chiados of their time. Abiodun pays homage to Mumia Abu Jamal, whose flow of potent freedom messages are the worst nightmares of prison officials. In his melodic tribute to this human dynamo of Black resistance, Abiodun writes “Mumia, Mumia, Your name alone will free us all.” The cruelty of imprisonment and strength of Mumia’s character are projected with the laser accuracy of description germane to Abiodun’s poetry. While serving as director of the Southern Queens Park Beacon School, I had the privilege of witnessing the instant and efficacious bonding that children experienced with Abiodun’s poetry. Not just average children, but, children whose lives have been a hardscrabble of hunger, denial and rejection. At the school’s summer camp Abiodun’s challenge was to provide literary enrichment to 300 children. Since poetry was not taught in southeast Queens’ schools, most of the children had no idea or vision of poetry and its power. With agility, sincerity and determination he set about transforming listless and indifferent children into highly motivated students of the written word. This master poet regularly challenged an auditorium filled with rejected and socially injured children to commit to memory a poem in one setting. They devoured his challenge with a vengeance. Although I cautioned the students not to do so, large groups of them would recite Abiodun’s poetry in unison to the delight of folks riding the subway. Abiodun laid the groundwork for his young and eager students to replace their pain with poetry.

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I saw an illumination of eagerness appear in their eyes. Grimaces and frowns on their innocent faces were soon replaced with smiles and laughter. Within a short period of six weeks, Abiodun was able to develop their interest in poetry that resulted in increased attention to reading and a significant reduction in misbehavior. Children, whose lives were incarcerated in Special Ed, blossomed into lovers of poetry, proving that many of them had been misdiagnosed as slow learners. The debilitating labels of underserved, at risk, slow and deprived mysteriously disappeared like vapors in a windstorm. Almost a decade later, many of the children, now young adults, continue to remember and recite poetry taught to them by “Brother Dune.” Clearly his level of success was heightened by his generous demonstration of honesty, energy and unconditional love. He taught the children that as a master communicator, poetry can open doors to world travel and exposure to many cultures, enabling them to envision and taste the unlimited capacity of the genre. If all things were fair in the universe everyone would have an Abiodun in their lives. They would not have to live with him, but just follow him around to observe the mastery, mystery and movement of his storied life. This self taught master poet creatively and literally questions everything. There is no emotion, action, rule, belief or standard that escapes Abiodun’s probing, inspiring, affirming inquisitive mind and power-packed pen. In this collection, the reader will find poetry that sets fire to the soul, that brings calm and reason to chaos, and that develops a consciousness that could fill a void in one’s life. How fortunate we are that, despite his earned PhD, his unique style and scorching delivery was not contaminated or diluted by the stultifying effect of university protocol. His mastery of the spoken word flows from a fount of universal thinking outside the box, living and loving without condition and being baptized in his blackness. Abiodun’s poetry has special meaning for me. I was able to better understand the potency of the word portraits that he flings at us with an urgency that warns and warms as it soars like an eagle to the pinnacle of our lives. For me his poetry is a moving plea, based on his vision, seeing beyond the shimmering rainbow of society’s lies, deception, treachery and contradictions. Having lived through a time of revolution and change, having witnessed the desperate conditions of his people, his gift of eviscerating the vulgarities of this society is sheer and unadulterated word mastery. Look for Abiodun in the whirlwind; he is comfortable there! Aluta Continua. — April 2014 Elmont, New York Betty J. Dopson is Co-Chair of CEMOTAP, Inc Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People Abiodun Oyewole Oye yewolee ye

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Rooted in the Soil In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways and they’re still beautiful. — Alice Walker


Weeping Willow Tree Have you ever seen a weeping willow tree A tall sturdy tree With green leaves hanging down Like corn row braids Swaying gently in the breeze On a summer day Have you ever watched it closely Sat on the grass at its feet And looked into its eyes Yes, trees have eyes Like yours and mine And a smile to let us know we’re on time A weeping willow tree A fro in the crowd That has no need to yell for help For she has learned to blend in And be different all the while Weeping willow tree Oh how regal you stand Like my people Who know the blues is part of the joy And laughter and sweet juicy love And warm sunlight and blue skies And rich Black earth and red clay And brown babies bursting out like daybreak Flooding my heart with your tears Weeping willow tree Oh how regal you stand Like my people shedding tears Of diamond crystals To be worn around the necks Of those who are unable to cry Weeping willow tree A fro in the crowd The strong but gentle love Abiodun Oyewole Oye yewolee ye

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You can feel it moving around you Through you Soothing your soul with its palms And I can hear you humming Weeping willow tree Humming a song about our love And the joy we bring to others.

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Two Little Boys Have you seen the skinny little boy Chasing the white ghost at night Face puffed up Tracks in his arms Eyes popping out of his skull And his mind is blown His momma’s somewhere drinking And talking about survival Pops in jail or downtown at the Y The little boy chases ghosts with his friend And they get high And they get high Like cloud nine Where everything is fine And no responsibility Have you seen two little boys Running past you with a lady’s purse They stole a Black woman’s purse The other day yesterday today tomorrow Talking about tripping Talking about flying Talking about getting high Have you seen two little boys sitting in Sylvia’s Stuffing chicken and cornbread Down their tasteless mouths Trying to revive a dying heart Shrinking lungs And a wasted mind Have you seen the sickness of our people And all the while We parade around In robes of our ancestors And wisdoms of the universe And there are children dying Chasing the white ghost Abiodun Oyewole Oye yewolee ye

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Whitey is dying And his fucking ghost is killing us Oh beautiful Black hands Reach out and snatch the death out Of the youth of our nation Oh beautiful Black minds Create a world where children can play with life Not with death Oh beautiful Black brothers and sisters Come together and create love Come together and create life Come together and create Create create come together. NOTE: This poem was written in Sylvia’s Soul Food restaurant in 1968. It was inspired by two little boys who actually ordered and ate food, then ran out without paying. I started after them, but Sylvia stopped me and said, “They’re junkie kids. I’m just glad that [they had] something to eat.”

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I Want to Feel I want to feel like The morning sun A bright warm glow in the sky The first light of a new day Standing strong and steady Like a rock Seeing all things With his third eye I want to feel the calm of dawn Flow through my body And ignite my soul with joy Caress my heart with a smile And share a happy song With everyone I want to branch out Like a tree And be a sweet melody in the wind Let the spirit possess me Let the spirit explode Inside my mind And leave my body here As a temple for those who are non-believers I want to feel the breath Of the Gods When they whisper to my soul Life is everlasting and You are a sunny day.

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What is Your Thing Brother What is your thing Brother Is it a Black Thing Will it save Black women and children Will it build a Black nation What is your thing Brother Will it help us come together and do good for the hood Will it show us how to share and care for each other Will it build better schools Will it create safer streets What is your thing Brother Is it a join hands thing Or I’ll do it myself thing Is it a love my people thing Or is it I’m just out to get mine thing What is your thing Brother So what you ain’t got no thing You ain’t got no cause to fight for You got no movement thing No Malcolm or no Martin thing You better get a thing brother Before everything you got is gone.

*Updated and revised.

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When The Revolution Comes When the revolution comes Some of us will probably catch it on TV With chicken hanging from our mouths You’ll know it’s revolution Because there won’t be no commercials When the revolution comes Preacher pimps are gonna split the scene With the communion wine stuck in their back pockets Faggots won’t be so funny then And all the junkies will quit their noddin’ and wake up When the revolution comes Transit cops will be crushed by the trains after losing their guns And blood will run through the streets of Harlem Drowning anything without substance When the revolution comes I hope pearly white teeth fall out of the mouths That speak of revolution without reference The course of revolution is 360 degrees Understand the cycle that never ends Understand the beginning to be the end And nothing in between but space and time That I make or you make to relate or not to relate to this world outside Your mind my mind speak not of revolution Until you are willing to eat rats to survive When the revolution comes White death will fall off the walls of museums and churches Breaking the lie that enslaved our mothers Jesus Christ will be standing on the corner Of 125th St. and Malcolm X Blvd. Trying to catch the first gypsy cab out of Harlem When the revolution comes Afros will be tryin’ to straighten their hair And straighten heads will be tryin’ to wear afros When the revolution comes Men will look like men Abiodun Oyewole Oye yewolee ye

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And women will look like women once again And pride and respect will be as natural as nature When the revolution comes When the revolution comes But until then You know and I know and we know Niggers will party and bullshit Party and bullshit party and bullshit And some might even die before the revolution comes.

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Party and Bullshit So you wanna party and bullshit Turn the music up real loud Shake your ass in the middle of the crowd Talk zeroes have fake heroes And this is something that makes you proud. Party and bullshit party and bullshit Was the strap in the closet To whip you into shape You done turned the strap into a belt But you don’t wear it So your ass is in my face. Party and bullshit a poet said A long time ago That this would stop the revolution And the movement would move no mo The circus would come to town And everybody would be a clown Whether you got paid or not Being black and proud Is something many have forgot. Party and bullshit party and bullshit Is all some want to do Forget the fact that the deck is stacked You can be a joker or you can be a jack You can be a monkey and jump on my back Ride me through the hood Or fall through the cracks Or choke to death from an overdose Of the blues I hope you’re amused And not just abused.

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Party and bullshit party and bullshit Is a hit in every city A big fat black titty Like if you naked you pretty You don’t even have to be witty Maybe a little loud and giddy But it’s all about the pity We try to hide. Party and bullshit party and bullshit Serious has become a joke told on stage Got you laughing at the truth Always making another excuse Your life ain’t nothing but a spoof You got the book but you haven’t read a page. Party and bullshit and party and bullshit Just how wild and crazy Do we want to be Forget respect have no regrets Keep nothing in check Your world’s a wreck And you do everything you can To escape responsibility. Party and bullshit party and bullshit Is fuel for a nigger’s ride Race through the streets Acting real dumb Like they have never heard of pride. Party and bullshit party and bullshit Party and bullshit party and bullshit Let’s turn the party into panthers And give the bullshit to the planters To fertilize the soil

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And to each other let’s be loyal Unite like the stars in the sky A celestial symphony Of our love realized We need to party with a purpose And wipe the bullshit off the surface of our lives.

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Afterword

THE POETIC TRUTHS AND HUMILITY OF ABIODUN OYEWOLE by Gabrielle David

AS THE PUBLISHER OF 2LEAF PRESS, I am usually pretty low-keyed about what I do behind-the-scenes when working on the publication of our books. I’ve always figured that since I am the publisher, it’s really not necessary for me to take credit for everything I do, but every once in a while, I take on a project that requires my special attention. Such is the case with Abiodun Oyewole’s book, Branches of the Tree of Life. Working as the editor of this poetry collection has been a joy. It was also a complete surprise. If someone told me a year ago that I would be editing and publishing forty-six years of Abiodun Oyewole’s poetry, I would look at you in utter disbelief. Not because I don’t believe that myself or the press is not worthy or capable of heralding such a project, just surprised that a book of such historical significance has never been done and that it fell so easily into my lap. Prior to working on this book, there was nothing particularly special about my relationship with Abiodun. I have known of Abiodun and The Last Poets for years. I remember the release of his albums, and the commotion he caused when he mounted his play, Comments, as a response to Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls during the late 1970s. By the time I got into the poetry scene in the early 1990s, I had heard about his Sunday get-togethers, but never got around to attending any of them. In fact, our paths did not officially cross until I was producing our television program, “phatLiterature” in 2004, when we decided to do an episode called “The Politics of Poetry” and Abiodun’s name came up. I did the research and found out some interesting things about Abiodun. Besides his affiliation with The Last Poets, he is an activist, he went to jail, and has a PhD in biology. By the time I called Abiodun to invite him to participate in the program, we talked like old friends. When he appeared on the program, Abiodun blew everyone away with his post 9-11 poem, “Rain of Terror,” which was censored on “Def Poetry Jam” and other broadcast outlets. Since then, I would contact Abiodun every once and awhile, but sadly, in the past few years we lost touch. Then last year, I had heard rumors that he had been very ill, so I hunted him down. When I finally spoke to Abiodun, after he assured me he was alive and well and his illness greatly exaggerated, he sang

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to me songs from his forthcoming CD, and he has been singing his poems to me ever since. I really don’t remember exactly how and when we committed to this project, it just happened and it flowed organically. Abiodun was interested in what we were doing with 2Leaf Press, and shared with me his desire to publish his own poetry collection, which surprisingly, he’s never done. He wanted the book to be based on his chapbook, Rooted in the Soil, which he published during the 1980s, and expound on the theme of trees and nature. To get the ball rolling, I asked for and Abiodun entrusted me with all of his poems (many of them never before published), to produce this historical collection. We eventually named it Branches of the Tree of Life because the term “tree of life,” which has been used in science, religion, philosophy, and mythology, ties into Abiodun’s multifaceted life and is reflected in his poetry. What I found surprising is, as I read his poems, Abiodun always seemed to turn to the tree for the spiritual, the sacred and the mystical as a symbol of change and growth, whether he’s talking about people and places, or sociopolitical and cultural issues. Abiodun’s work is written primarily in a free-verse that’s lyrical, vocal, spontaneous, and profoundly moving that easily connects to readers. When reading this volume, the reader witnesses how Abiodun’s poetry re-branches into different directions and moves into unoccupied space in the economy of nature, yet like the tree itself, the poetry grows higher in parts, grander in its proportions, and more complexly diversified in its structure, like the poet himself. During the editing process, we both agreed that instead of presenting the work in chronological order, the book should be divided into chapters that would reflect different phases of Abiodun’s life. I also decided to use quotes relevant to trees as it correlates to literature to open up each chapter from writers, activists and historical figures. In order to honor Abiodun’s life-long commitment to Yoruba, its symbolism can be found throughout the book, including a Yoruban quote that opens this collection, Yoruba symbols found at the end of the Preface, Introduction and this Afterword, as well as a rendering of an Oxossi symbol which appears in Abiodun’s Preface. Oxossi, which is both the Orisha of the hunt and the forest, is one of the three warrior orishas referred to as the “Ebora” in the Yoruba religion. The initial cover idea for the book was a painting of a tree that would tie into the concept of the book’s title. When we couldn’t find an artist to render such a painting, out of my frustration and desperation I finally realized that we had the book cover in our possession all along: Abiodun’s new press photos that Vagabond Beaumont recently photographed in Morningside Park, across the street from Abiodun’s apartment. The cover photograph of Abiodun posing among the trees is a testament to Vagabond’s talent as a photographer because he truly captured the essence of Abiodun and Branches of the Tree of Life.

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We had a lot of fun working on this collection. While Abiodun and I would painstakingly go over every detail of the book, it also meant hanging out and having great conversations over delicious home-cooked meals complimented by Judy’s powerfully potent Bloody Marys. As time went on, whether it was Abiodun’s job to find missing poems, or find contact information for his blurb captions, he began to “lovingly” refer to me as the taskmaster with her “assignments.” This was not necessarily a complaint — Abiodun enjoyed the fact that things were falling into place rather quickly — this was merely his way of letting me know what the deal is, which we often laughed about. Our main inspiration was that when we started out, there was no book. Now we were thumbing through pages of a real book and Abiodun’s first comprehensive collection where a substantial amount of his poems could now call “home.” We were very excited. I think the “assignment” that turned into something totally unexpected is the Preface. I had chastised Abiodun about his bio for the book — he wanted me to take it off the internet — I wanted an updated version. What he gave me was a ten page essay. At first, I was annoyed, and asked myself, “What is this?” But as I poured over his manuscript, I found something golden: a revealing, interesting, informative and deeply personal statement that became the Preface of this book. Abiodun had unwittingly succeeded in sharing a lifetime’s poetic odyssey that set the stage for the poems that would follow. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that initially, the introduction of this collection was going to be written by Amiri Baraka, a choice that Abiodun made early on when we began this compilation. During the Black Arts Movement, as Abiodun and others of his generation were coming up the ranks they looked up to poets and activists like Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Larry Neal and Askia Touré. In Abiodun’s eyes, Amiri was an elder from whom he discovered the importance and urgency of uncompromising political poetry that drew on black perspectives and experiences. Over the years, as they both tackled the insidious nature of racism through political and social activism by teaching and writing poetry, Amiri was not only Abiodun’s mentor, he became his touchstone and a dear friend. We were to meet with Amiri in Newark to go over the manuscript and discuss the introduction, however, due to conflicting and busy schedules, we ended up cancelling and rescheduling a number of appointments. That Amiri insisted we meet in person instead of just sending him a copy of the manuscript was telling: I think he wanted to find out first hand what we were up to in terms of the publication of Abiodun’s book, coupled with a curiosity about 2Leaf Press, but of course we’ll never know this with any certainty. The last time that Abiodun spoke to Amiri, he told him he had to have same day surgery in a few days and that we could arrange to meet with him after January 5, but sadly, that appointment never happened. When Amiri passed away January 9, 2014, Abiodun Oyewole Oye yewolee ye

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we lost someone whose uncompromising stance on race as an artist influenced several generations of black writers, which, of course, continues to resound. But in the midst of this grief, we were also faced with a dilemma: who will write the introduction to this book? Who could possibly replace Amiri Baraka? The idea of this was so overwhelming in the midst of grappling the unexpected passing of Amiri, we felt it best to delay the publication of Branches of the Tree of Life. Asking someone to write an introduction to one’s book is a very personal decision and in the months that followed, Abiodun was forced to face this challenge. Finally, Abiodun had a name: Betty J. Dopson. An advocate for the civil and human rights of the disadvantaged, Betty served for many years as the Director of Public Relations at Harlem Hospital. She is the author of Shared Secrets of Elder Sisters, which was mounted as a play at the Queens Black Spectrum Theater. Betty continues to serve as a founding co-chair of CEMOTAP (Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People), a national organization in New York that, since 1987, actively confronts media for presenting negative portrayals of Black people. Betty also ran a summer camp in Queens, New York, where Abiodun and his son Pharoah worked for a number of years. In her introduction, Betty reveals to readers how she witnessed first hand Abiodun’s passion for teaching, which continues to impact many of those children who have become adults. Moreover, she concisely explains this collection as a bridge that transports the reader from their own lives into Abiodun’s space as a poet, educator and cultural worker. I thank Betty for stepping into some pretty big shoes at the last minute by providing this wonderful introduction to Branches of the Tree of Life. I think Amiri would be proud. Many people believe that the core of Abiodun’s being is this angry, unapproachable revolutionary from the 1960s, when nothing could be further from the truth. While he is well-versed in social, political and historical issues, he is actually a gentle soul who knows that he is a good poet, but is not in touch with his greatness. This is because Abiodun is one of those rare artists: instead of seeing himself and the world around him as a pompous braggart, he is humble yet confident, always willing to share and always willing to give. As we were going through his poems, I got a sense of that and at one particular meeting, I decided to read Abiodun’s poems out loud as we were making some changes and corrections. Don’t you know that Abiodun swore I edited them because he couldn’t believe he wrote them? For the record, I did no such thing. My editorial duties were relegated to the organization of the book, placement of the poems, tightening form, and correcting typos and grammatical errors. However, what I suspected all along was true — Abiodun had to be reminded of his greatness. Once I convinced him that I did not edit his poems; and he convinced me that he was not pulling my leg, we laughed like two silly kids. But after we finished laughing, I told him he should take

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time to read his own book — from cover to cover — to “rediscover” himself and the road his poetic life has taken. This is why Branches of The Tree of Life is such an important and vital monograph. There are poems here that on repeated reading will gradually reveal to readers some of their own experiences that are both personal and societal, or had lost sight of. There are poems that I have read over and over again, knowing that they contained some secret knowledge that I had yet to discover, but refused to give up on. Overall, this collection not only opens us up to wonder and make us think, it sometimes shows us the astonishing possibilities of language and how the oneness of the world is poetically bound. Ultimately, I think it’s the power of unifying our experiences that makes Branches of The Tree of Life a living testament to a stunning career that confirms Abiodun Oyewole’s place at the forefront of poetic achievement. I hope you enjoy Branches of The Tree of Life as much as I had in its making. Cheers and thanks to everyone who contributed to its birth. — October, 2013 Flushing, New York

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ABOUT THE POET

ABIODUN OYEWOLE is a poet, teacher, and founding member of the American music and spoken-word group The Last Poets, which laid the groundwork for the emergence of Hip-Hop. Over the years, Oyewole has collaborated on more than a dozen albums and several books. He travels around the world, performing poetry and teaching workshops.

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BRANCHES OF THE TREE OF LIFE by Abiodun Oyewole  

[Available on Amazon.com] BRANCHES OF THE TREE OF LIFE is the first comprehensive volume of poems by Abiodun Oyewole, many of them never bef...

BRANCHES OF THE TREE OF LIFE by Abiodun Oyewole  

[Available on Amazon.com] BRANCHES OF THE TREE OF LIFE is the first comprehensive volume of poems by Abiodun Oyewole, many of them never bef...

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