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Itations for Faybiene
“You’re just human, I don’t have time for human frailties.” Sun Ra
Most of Saturday night was digging through folders in search of one photo. A picture of Sister Janet and you. You two are at the beach, in the ocean, your backs against each other, holding hands and smiling. She had enough of you studying and drinking cerasee tea. The mosquitoes were definitely not thinking about you. Her words: “You need to have some fun.”
These are your last days in Jamaica. For three months you were on a pilgrimage to learn about Rastafari and become a good Rasta woman. In another version you were heartbroken and fled to Jamaica. You were judged and dumped for dancing in a cage. How could you possibly be righteous and half-naked at the same time?
It did not matter how many love poems you wrote inside your sketchbook, or the letters written on yellowed loose-leaf paper and mailed to him. It did not matter how much you coveted the book Itations of Jamaica and I Rastafari, that aside from heartbreak, this book would—in part—be behind your decision to live in Jamaica.
Rastafarianism, along with Islam, was semi-practiced among some of the crews that rolled in Washington Square Park. When you all decided to become vegetarians, you first ordered fries instead of chicken McNuggets at the McDonald’s next to Unique Clothing Shop (now NYU bookstore). You got smarter and devoured falafel on Bleecker. Then soy burgers at Dojo’s on St. Marks Place. You ate a lot of soy. You smoked biddies. Your first cookbook was the Rasta Cookbook. You mastered carrot fritters and Ital soup. And the book Itations? All of your crew owned a copy or several. You carried it in your backpacks and African shoulder bags. You were unaware that those very bags were camel hump sacks. You adored Itations not so much for the biblical scriptures, but for the photos of Black people surrounded by nature. Of black babies cradled by smiling fathers under waterfalls. Of black women adorned with Coptic crosses, head wraps and colorful skirts. Dreadlocks. Dreadlocks. More dreadlocks. The weekly reggae/roots party that went down at Sticky Mick’s Frog Bar (The Fez) used many of these images as flyers. It was the book that always disappeared from your crib. It was borrowed and never returned. It was sifted through so much that the odd binding would fall apart. You believed in its beauty and dreamt of it. The book told you that living as a Rasta in Jamaica meant living as these people did in Itations. Ital. Unconventional. Godly. Harmonious. Just. You really did believe Rastafari was for you. So much so that the universe made it possible for you to travel to Jamaica to celebrate the Centennial for Haile Selassie.
Itations included poetry by a number of well-known Caribbean poets. Of them, you often returned to the poetry of Faybiene Miranda. Her words, like Sonia, like Maya, like Niki and Audre were rooted in the liberation of oppressed people as well as the uplifting of women. Here, on these pages, bright scotch bonnet peppers surrounded her. Green leaves and flowers you had no name for became her backdrop and crown. She was fierce and graceful. She was breath. She was connected to a way of life you knew nothing about. You had not known it yet but she was more than just your juvenile rendering of a Rasta woman.
None of us back then knew Faybiene’s story. You now know that her first recording “Prophesy” was banned from airplay by the Socialist Government in Jamaica around 1975. That it is considered a classic from that period. When you meet Faybiene some years later in New York, you purchased a poster from her. In the photo, she was wearing sunglasses and swinging her locks. She also wore strings of cowrie shells. Underneath the photo is the poem “This Morning.” Back then, you nailed the poster to a wall in your home. You revered the image but the poem did not resonate until another heartbreak. You ripped away old floors and painted the entire apartment Sun God. As you cleaned house, you read her words over and over…
“This morning, I woke up.”
While looking for the photo of Sister Janet, you realize that Faybiene’s poster has disappeared. You cannot find your copy of Itations either. You wake up Sunday morning dreaming of possible places they could be. In a box in the hallway closet. No, that box in the smaller bedroom. No, the green storage container in your bedroom. The yellow bag with the drawstring. The yellow plastic manila folder. You find a handful of pictures from Jamaica but not the one you wish to tell this story. There are two pictures of you and Boom Donovan, the reluctant guardian angel who appeared in several parishes you visited. There are images from several of the Centennial concerts you attended. One of Peter Tosh’s son. They do not illustrate the connection between Faybiene’s poems and the kindness and strength Sister Janet taught you. All they can tell you is that your wore head wraps made out of African fabric from 125th. That a woman who owned a booth in Mart 125 taught you how to make simple skirts with a yard of fabric. That you wore Malcolm X t-shirts and Indian tunics from a little shop owned by an elderly South Asian couple in LES.
The picture you are hoping to tell this story is missing but this is what you do find…
This is your big sister outside the home of your great aunt in North Carolina. The home that was once your great grandmother’s. The home that was once your mother’s. Though much of the color has faded—it has lost its colors quicker than you would like—the narrative you’ve always treasured is this:
1. She was tall and slender.
2. Her complexion was dark and smooth.
3. She smoked cigarettes.
4. She had a lovely smile.
5. Sister Janet and Olivia favored each other.
The other parts of her story you store away, deep beneath the clutter of recall. Other parts, you will never know about. Remember writing about the dead is arduous for you?
You did eventually meet Faybiene again, this time at a holistic clinic near Grand Army Plaza where she assisted Dr. Kamau Kokayi, a holistic practioner. He was recommended to you after an accident. You were unaware that she was the co-host and co-producer of Global Medicine Review on WBAI 99.5 FM. That she wrote poems for each segment. You were also unaware that she was an arts administrator for the community based organization Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy where your goddaughter took African dance classes at age 4. When you entered Kokayi’s office, she is the first face that received you. You were not heartbroken this time. Just broken. Why does she keep appearing whenever you are feeble?
The artist and mathematician John Sims hit you up on Saturday. Faybiene had traveled on. You did not know her personally but what you knew was incredible. A poet. A teacher. An artist. An activist. A social critic. An herbalist. An agent of consciousness. A reggae artist. A healer. That was Faybiene. She called herself a Word Tactician and Truth Teller. You call her fire and air and ocean and rivers and joy.
You continue looking for the picture, the poster and book. The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm comes to mind. It pops up now because you are remembering all those despondent, sad ass love poems you wrote. Experimental poets ain’t suppose to be reading shit in the self-help section or at least admitting it to right? Love poems? Vanzant? Escandalo! Nowadays, you fool yourself into writing about love in other ways. You can never be lonely in the company of so many tongues. At one point, you begin to cry. What exactly are you mourning here?
Discouraged by everything there was in Montego Bay, you journeyed alone to Spanish Town, Kingston. You are a Yankee. You are a brownin’ traveling by minibus to Kingston at night alone with three bags. You did not care about the “danger.” You felt unease by everything in Mo’Bay and you bounced. You just got on the bus and left. Boom Donovan who happened to be in Kingston at the time is of course in shock. You are put into a cab and driven to the home of a TV producer who is off to Negril but has offered his place to you. The next day, you visit the home of Bob Marley because you are of course, a Marley fan. You get to eavesdrop on a conversation between Mutabaruka and an elder Rasta concerned with the youth shaving the sides of their heads. We called them back home a Gumby or Fade with locks. And when you return to Mandeville via mini bus, Sister Janet is awaiting you at the market smiling.
In the picture you cannot find, you’ve shown more courage than you knew you had. Now you walk up and down the hill to the market with little worry. In the picture you cannot find, you have traveled with Sister Janet to a waterfall. She has taken you by the hand and led you across Alligator Pond River somewhere in St. Elizabeth and to a beach. You don’t have to look at pictures and imagine beauty. It has been around you the entire time.
For Sister Janet, you paid your respects to the sons of Prince Emanuel, you’ve studied, you left her to debate those men (and women) on what a Rasta woman can truly do, independently, on her own. You don’t need to be so serious all the time. And when you are, you can open your mouth. Enough with all this writing and meditation and drawing and abstinence. You can attend a Sound Clash and not be any less a Rasta woman. You can live. You can dance. You are a woman. You need to remind yourself of this over and over.
That morning, you woke up.
And then your best friend called. She has your copy of Itations.
Tarot for the Day: The Fool (Reversed), The Emperor, Death (Reversed), Temperance
Song for the Day: Pharrell Williams “Happy”