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"some part of me
lived here before
reincarnated ancestors
give me breath
urge me—live again"

bell hooks

In December, we lost the free Black girl, bell hooks.

Daughter of Kentucky, Scholar-Poet, Lover of Black people, poor people (see: Where We Stand: Class Matters), country people, and all people. Anarchist, Womanist (see: Ain't I a Woman), and Youthful Student of the Sacred (see: her conversations with Cornel West about Buddhism, Christianity, and the ethic of love.) 

It seemed no matter how much she (s)aged, she spoke with the indefatigable wonder of a backwoods Black girl running barefoot through the fields of their imagination (see: Bone Black.)

In a world where our understandings of love have become pat and edgeless, Salvation, The Will to Change, and All About Love are the razor. hooks' writings return to love its insurgency and its power as a subversive force moving us towards greater freedom and greater connectedness—but never against our will.

Listen to Alysia Nicole Harris' performance of Appalachian Elegy 1-6 at Scalawag's Winter Jubilee:

Read along with poems 1, 2, 3, and 5 via PoetryFoundation.org

bell challenged the will and the won't within all of us. She was a master of speaking the truth in love, accomplishing it with such simple conviction that even when she held unpopular views, we knew somewhere deep down she was telling a truth we were just too ruthless, or prideful to accept. Reflecting on her scholarship, we lament the distance between our words and our actions and the death of the joyful sprite urging us to close it. 

To lose bell is to lose. She was one of the rare folks who became an ancestor before death. As we prepare for Black history month, we're republishing these poems from her 2012 poetry collection Appalachian Elegy as our elegy to her. It's our way of mourning her transition while celebrating her life.

Appalachian Elegy

6.

listen little sister
angels make their hope here
in these hills
follow me
I will guide you
careful now
no trespass
I will guide you
word for word
mouth for mouth
all the holy ones
embracing us
all our kin
making home here
renegade marooned
lawless fugitives
grace these mountains
we have earth to bind us
the covenant
between us
can never be broken
vows to live and let live


4.

earth works
thick brown mud
clinging pulling
a body down
hear wounded earth cry
bequeath to me
the hoe the hope
ancestral rights
to turn the ground over
to shovel and sift
until history
rewritten resurrected
returns to its rightful owners
a past to claim
yet another stone lifted to
throw against the enemy
making way for new endings
random seeds
spreading over the hillside
wild roses
come by fierce wind and hard rain
unleashed furies
here in this untouched wood
a dirge a lamentation
for earth to live again
earth that is all at once a grave
a resting place a bed of new beginnings
avalanche of splendor


57.

fierce grief shadows me
I hold to the memory
of ongoing loss
land stolen bodies shamed
everywhere the stench of
death and retribution
all around me
nature demands amends
spirit guides me
to take back the land
make amends
silence the cries of the lost
the lamentations
let them sleep forever sublime
knowing that we
have made a place
that can sustain us
a place of certainty
and sanctuary


bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins), "Appalachian Elegy (Poems 4, 6, 57)" from Appalachian Elegy. Copyright © 2012 by bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins). Reprinted by permission of The University Press of Kentucky.

Alysia Nicole Harris

Alysia Nicole Harris, Ph.D. is a poet, performer, linguist, and charismatic Christian. She lives in Atlanta and serves as Scalawag's arts & soul editor.