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Myesha Jenkins – Tribute

Botsotso would like to pay homage to Myesha Jenkins, the poet and promoter of poetry who died on Saturday, 05 September 2020. Myesha was a founder member of Feelah Sistah, the all-woman poetry group that in its time made such an impact. Thereafter, she was indefatigable in organising and strengthening poetry platforms on radio and for live performance/readings. Myesha’s work was included in two Botsotso productions – the anthology Isis X and the recording Roots and Branches. Her spirit as a politically conscious, jazz-loving artist lives on and is well expressed in her seminal poem Autobiography which was included in both these projects.

Myesha Jenkins

It was too early
Blood, blood, everywhere
mother hemorrhaging, the priest gave her last rites
sorry father, no hope for baby
Nineteen forty-eight
I was born a rebel at birth
I never had a good relationship with my mother.

I grew, played rough, was smart, had friends
sprouted hair, grew tits and started bleeding
By eight I knew my body was
fearful, shameful, dangerous
That year my brother got married
I was raised like an only child.

I grew into a tomboy girl, achieving girl, woman girl
My first political march at 14 for four black girls just like me
blown up in a Birmingham church.

I loved, married, divorced, lived on stages pretending to be whatever you needed me to be and I drank
College, Black Power, sexuality, a new name, given two months “in Africa” and I drank
Became a communist, studied Marxism Leninism, thought I was a revolutionary
went to meetings, led marches, learned to shoot, organized events, went to Cuba, to Nicaragua and I drank
Women’s Day, AGMs, demonstrations, speaking tours, pamphlets, summations, fundraisers and I drank
Jesse Jackson campaign, Black Community Task Force, Women’s Building, Bay Area Anti-Apartheid Network, Venceremos Brigade, Somos Hermanas and I drank
LA, DC, San Francisco, Atlanta, Berkeley, Oakland and I drank
Bill, Fred, James, Tony, Leon, Ralph, Andy, Vicki, Joy, Michelle, Sandi.

And I drank into insanity
denial, secrets, convulsions, hopelessness
weed, pills, cocaine
Couldn’t be there in my skin
At the bottom there was only up.

Born again at 38.
The goodness of life
began in my struggle to stay sober.
to change my outlook on life.
I have survived earthquakes, fires, floods and tornados
nearly drowned in Hawaii
Touched an ancient religion
Met revolutionaries.

I left that home at 44 and made a new one
South Africa’s spirit of freedom absorbed me
I found a poet’s voice, enjoy young lovers, shout in jazz club and cry for beauty.

There are things that I’m not proud of –
abortions, infidelity, rage, dogmatism, adultery, violence
but I have come to accept what I am.

Worked for rich people and poor people
mostly to change the circumstances of women and black people
Sadly never had children.

Still other memories –
tree-lined beaches, abandoned cars with names, road trips, hot tubs, the friendship of women.

I remain a sucker for a jazz musician or poet.
Conscious of politics but no longer active
Obatala and the ancestors light my path
Discovered flying
I find much to be happy about.