I’m walking this path cleared by Ntozake Shange

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Photo: Courtesy of the Barnard Archives and Ntozake Shange Literary Trust.

by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

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Dear Ntozake,

It took 18 days for me to allow myself to cry after you took leave of this here Earth. Eighteen days. Some days I carried a black-and-white photo of you in my backpack, other days I read your work; one day a friend and I set up an altar honoring you in our classroom, another day I watched snippets of interviews.

If I could dance this out I would, but it would be never-ending movement. What gestures for you? What gestures for you who were everything to my writer self? Everything.

These are the things I couldn’t say when I met you at 24 or 44 or at any of those encounters in between. It was what I tried to say in essays or interviews where I spoke your work or name. It was even what my life tried to say at times: I am walking this path cleared by Ntozake Shange. 

Let me make this plain: For Colored Girls moved me for true, but Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo, Nappy Edges and Liliane are my scriptures. I have reread them every year for the past  two decades and something new always jumps out. Revelation. Depth. Height. Layer. Always. How did you do that?

I say to anyone who will listen that you are a genius unsung. I am here now to sing you. Do people hear all that music you wrote? 

“The kisses they take a slow blues walk

back to me

in the palm of my hand

they spread out/scratch kick curse & punch

til my skin cries/

kisses raisin’ hell/ in my fists/

they fly out mad & eager

they’ll fly out mad & eager” 1

“I got 15 trumpets where other women got hips

& a upright bass for both sides of my heart” 2

And what did you say? 

“Daughters wantin’ to be women lick their wounds with their own spit” 3

“Whatever good there is to get/get it & feel good”4

Thank you for alla that. Because of what you wrote &  the way you wrote it, I knew my tongue was valid & I knew that pleasure was my right. I knew I needed to claim my passport & see Cuba, Brazil, Curacao. I understood it wasn’t just greens in my pot or okra in my skillet but a history. Who led me to Hector LaVoe, Anna Akhmatova, Eric Dolphy and Edna St. Vincent Millay? You. 

Riding The Moon in Texas taught me a book could be a community, the way you gathered art and engaged in conversation made me feel like an eavesdropper.

And do you remember when you sang backup for Nona Hendrix during “Word Life” back in 1997 or so? My sisterfriends and I made a mighty noise when you performed, 

“I had five nose rings

        a gold circle

        a silver circle

        a star


        & a half moon

they have fallen away” 6

And how about that gig where you walked around with a long whip? 

When I was 16 or 17 my friend Denise and I went to hear you read at one of the libraries in New York. You went back and forth between English, Spanish and French in some of the poems and I was in awe.

Always in awe.

Thank you for showing me through your work that I could break and not be broken, that I was indeed, “ A woman with a moon falling from her mouth, roses between her legs and tiaras of Spanish moss.”7

Thank you for encouraging me to find my selves across the Diaspora and learn the dances, languages, and foods of we. Thank you for letting me know lovemaking should make me say, 

“You make me feel like a cheetah

A gazelle/something fast & beautiful

You make me remember my animal sounds” 8

And then thank you for letting me, and us, see the woman behind all that written perfection. In your archive at Barnard I discovered your hurt, your missteps, your rage, your bravery, and your beauty and brilliance again of course.

Photo: Dominique Sindayiganza. 

Chances are that I will continue thanking you in one way or another for the rest of my writing life. 

Merci. Obrigado. Gracias. Asante Sana. Modupue.


Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Providence, Rhode Island

Nov. 13, 2018

8 “You Are Such a Fool”

1 “It’s Happenin/But You Don’t Know About It”

2 “I Live in Music”

3 “Resurrection of the Daughter”

4 “Get it & Feel Good”

5 “If I Can Cook/I Know God Can”

6 “I Had Five Nose Rings”

7 “Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo”

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is the author of Strut (Agape Editions), Dear Continuum: Letters to a Poet Crafting Liberation (Grand Concourse Press) and Karma’s Footsteps(Flipped Eye Publishing). She served as Poetry Editor of African Voices from 2013 to 2017. Her work has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Tallie is the subject of a short film “I Leave My Colors Everywhere.” Her first children’s book Layla’s Book of Happiness will be published by Enchanted Lion Books in 2019. Tallie earned an MFA from Mills College. She’s currently a Ph.D. student at Brown University. Visit: www.ekeretallie.com


  1. Brilliant on Ntozake Shangé

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