Category Archives: Ancestors

My Aunt Norma in Puerto Rico circa 1955

My Aunt Norma in Puerto Rico circa 1955.

Her name was Norma Giraloma Congilosi.  She had jet black curly hair, olive skin, sloe green eyes. She was the epitome of culture, style, and grace.   She could also curse like a longshoreman and saw no contradiction in that.

Norma
Norma Giraloma Congilosi, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1955.

Almost entirely self-educated and no sufferer of fools, she started her post-secondary education at a community college only to leave, disappointed, because she was more well-read than her instructors.

She worked for United Airlines and traveled the world, often alone, which was considered unusual at that time.  She spoke French, Spanish, and Italian, including the Sicilian dialect her Sicilian/Ethiopian/North African father spoke at home.

She was a poet, a feminist, activist, and fighter for civil and equal rights way ahead of her time.

I was fascinated with Norma and her stories of beatniks, revolutionaries, poets and playwrights in San Francisco and NYC.  

Her contemporaries were white, black, brown, straight, lesbian, and gay.   She wrote poetry under the pseudonym Nya Gailord Carver. 

I loved how she simply took her freedom; she didn’t wait for it to be granted or sanctioned.

The nasty comments sometimes thrown her way were a small price to pay for autonomy.

Somewhat surprisingly, her mother, my grandmother Maria Grazia Amato Congilosi, a devout Catholic Sicilian paired in an arranged marriage with her father’s tinsmith apprentice, my grandfather Alfonso Congilosi, not only did not judge her iconoclastic daughter harshly, but seemed to vicariously enjoy her adventures.

She worried about her unconventional daughter, but she never tried to clip her wings–not even when she fell in love with a Jewish doctor and began classes to convert to Judaism after he proposed.

Norma  packed a whole lot of living into her first twenty-seven years.

She was stricken with MS at age twenty-six; she stayed independent as long as she could.

She weathered abandonment by her Jewish fiance, the loss of her spectacular San Francisco apartment, her job, and her independence,  with a feisty spirit and a salty tongue.

By age thirty she was confined to a “rest home” where she continued to curse, laugh, smoke a hookah, and shake her fist at God.

As a child, I both loved and feared visiting her there. She lived to age sixty-two; I had a hard time forgiving God for her thirty-two years in a hospital bed.

As happens in families, I was often mistakenly called by her name by my mother and grandmother.

  In our family, her name was synonymous with style, verve, and a sensibility on a first name basis with originality. 

I took it as a compliment. 

moxiebeesignaturephp

 

Author’s Note: I wrote a poem, Sweet Revenant, to her memory,  and paired it with Kristin Fouquet’s gorgeous photos of Ingrid Lucia.

 

 

Looking for Clues, a poem by Maura Alia Badji, with Art by Leonardo Benzant

BENZANT
Mayombe Magik In The Urban Jungle.

 

Looking for Clues

I am a mother anxiously waiting for her son past curfew.  I am his wary lope beneath floodlights.

I am the hoodie draped over the deejay’s freshly shaved head.  I am the brassy highlights in the bartender’s curls, I am the obituary of the old love shoved in her back pocket.

I am the neighbor making excuses to talk to you at dusk, lingering at the mailboxes.  I am the midnight whistle of the cross town train.

I am the dented trombone played by the scholarship student in New Orleans. I sing the music of the Spheres trailed behind the second line.

I am the love you make with the lights on. I am the dance you chance when you forget your cares.

I am the breath you exhale after paying your rent.

I am the last time you rode the bus, the seat you gave up, the elderly woman, the steel gray of her braids, tenderness in her stare.

I am the Ancestor murmuring in your blood.

I am the curve of the crescent moon Iman and Yasmeen spied last Ramadan. I am the prayer that broke your heart at dawn, just before it was answered.

I am the undrawn gun in the church, the moment before it was too late. I am the mother quieting her child hidden beneath a desk.

I am the unending grief unraveled.  I am the unimaginable, audacious forgiveness we somehow can’t forgive.

I am the broken teeth of the veteran sprawled across the median at rush hour.  I am the wave of wayward stardust thrown from a mermaid’s tail.

I am the tension released from your bones as day succumbs to twilight. I am the moan that escapes your lips, that spirals into the night.

–Maura Alia Badji

 

The Artist:  Leonardo Benzant, Brooklyn, NY

BENZANT
LEONARDO BENZANT, NYC

 

Artist’s Statement 

I create art connected in terms of a single vision emerging in various forms including: sculpture, painting and performance. Growing up in the 80’s, as Hip-Hop was flourishing, I felt an inner void prompted by the lack of an African-perspective in mainstream America. I began to investigate identity and spirituality. Being aware of the divide/conquer strategy of colonization, I initiated in my formative years during Catholic school, an investigation into African retentions, continuities and points of connection among the people of African descent throughout the African Diaspora for the purposes of healing, transformation and empowerment, both individual and communal.

Explore More of Leonardo Benzant’s work at his web site: http://www.leonardobenzant.com/

Recent Exhibition:

BENZANT

POWER, PROTEST, AND RESISTANCE | THE ART OF REVOLUTION

Sept 24th – Oct 31, 2015
Curated by Oshun Layne and Daniel Simmons

Rush Arts Gallery
526 W 26th St # 311
New York, NY 10001

The show took place at three venues at the same time and Leonardo Benzant’s work  was exhibited at the Skylight Gallery in Brooklyn.
Current Exhibition:
BENZANT
Rose Gallery
“The Cosmology of Resistance and Transformation”     Leonardo Benzant
Opening Reception: November 6, 2015

 

The Poet: Maura Alia Badji

benzant
Maura Alia Badji

Maura Alia Badji’s poems and essays have appeared in Barely South Review, Cobalt, ArtVoice Buffalo, Switched-on Gutenberg, Exhibition, convolvulus, Spillway, teenytiny, Signals, The Buffalo Times, and The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal. Her themes include multiracial identity and families, female ancestors, social justice, female sexuality, and the discovery and creation of mythos. Maura has been a contributing writer for The Buffalo Times, Soul Music of The World, and LivingSocial.com.

She is a member of The Watering Hole collective, an online community for poets of color and is grateful for the excellent online classes, and mutual support of‪ #‎tribe‬ she has found there.