Short Takes: Escape Artist by Maura Alia Badji

Escape Artist

Unknown Black Escape Artist, 1924.


Escape Artist


Each act escapes,

stripped of ribboned rubber masks,

husks our circus smiles, greases our trickster strides.

Protective coating melted, ringed

around blue tables, we sip the milk of she-wolves.

Wisely, we count ourselves

lucky, survivors forever

tickled by Fortune’s

fickle gaze.


~Maura Alia Badji


The Poet:

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

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.

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



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:

Recent Exhibition:



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:
Rose Gallery
“The Cosmology of Resistance and Transformation”     Leonardo Benzant
Opening Reception: November 6, 2015


The Poet: Maura Alia Badji

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

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.

Raven Bland, Youth Poet Laureate, Norfolk, VA: The Moxie Bee Interview

Raven Bland: The Moxie Bee Interview



Raven Bland describes herself as someone who doesn’t seek attention, but there is a directness and a strength in her voice which makes one pay attention to her words.   Raven Bland, featured on The Moxie Bee earlier this week,  is Norfolk, VA’s first Youth Poet Laureate.  Despite a very busy schedule packed with college courses at ODU, part time work, and her YPL duties, Raven agreed to an interview last week.

The Moxie Bee:  Do you find time to write as a working college student?

Raven Bland: I don’t have those moments that I used to have where I’d sit down and say, “I’m going to write.”  If something happens or I’m feeling a certain way,  I will write it out.  But, if I’m not inspired I don’t very often.

The Moxie Bee:  What are you reading right now?

Raven Bland: *laughs* Text books! I’m a History/Poli. Sci major, so there is a LOT of reading.  My sister got me this app called Watt Pad where new writers who aren’t yet famous can upload short stories or even a chapter of a book.  In between things I can just read a couple short stories or part of a novel.  

The Moxie Bee:  What was the first poem you ever read?

Raven Bland: Mine or someone else’s? 

The Moxie Bee:  *laughs* Both.

Raven Bland:   *laughs* OK.  The first poem I read of my own was at my church.  I belonged to the youth group and we had just changed our name to “THIS”, which stands for Totally His.  I wrote a poem about the name change and the meaning behind it.   I read it from the page. Now I like doing spoken word performances better.

The Moxie Bee: Better than reading the poem from the page?

Raven Bland:  Yes. I was very nervous. But that was an amazing day. 

The Moxie Bee: How do you deal with nerves when you perform now?

Raven Bland: I just try to relax. I don’t think about . I look over my poems a little beforehand, and that’s it.  Usually, my family is there–so I talk to them. 

The Moxie Bee: What about the first poem you read by another writer?

Raven Bland: Well, it wasn’t really a poem, but when I was younger, maybe 11 or 12, I read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, and how she overcame silence by reading books in the library and then expressing herself through writing–that really spoke to me.  I wanted to write, too. 

The Moxie Bee: And you did!

Raven Bland: Yes!

Raven Bland, Norfolk, VA, Youth Poet Laureate.

The Moxie Bee: Who are your favorite poets?

Raven Bland: Maya Angelou! *laughs*  I really love what she did. 

The Moxie Bee:*laughs* Yes, I read her around the same age you did. She made an impression.  Any other poets? 

Raven Bland: There are a couple of my friends who are poets in TWP (Teens With a Purpose).  I really like their work.

Raven Bland, Youth Poet Laureate, April 2015.

The Moxie Bee: What are your duties as Norfolk, VA’s Youth Poet Laureate?

Raven Bland: I’ve done a lot of functions , especially during the summer. I spoke and did a reading for Norfolk Public Library’s Summer Reading program at the new library downtown. One of the poets from TWP turned one of my poems into a song. She sang the first stanza and then I read and she sang the last stanza. 

The Moxie Bee: I would’ve loved to hear that! This was at the Slover Library?

Raven Bland: Yes. It was very nice. Also I do a lot of work with the Norfolk Police Department. I spoke and read at an anti-bullying rally.  Also anti-gang programs. 


The Moxie Bee:  That’s great to hear. They keep you busy?

Raven Bland: Yes, you know Norfolk has a lot of issues with gang and gun violence.  So we need programs like that.

The Moxie Bee: Yes, I taught in Norfolk.

The Moxie Bee: What has been your favorite part of being Norfolk, VA’s Youth Poet Laureate?

Raven Bland: I meet lots of new people. I’ve made some good connections, especially at the non-profit organizations. After college I’m interested in a career with  a non-profit, or maybe with the government.  

The Moxie Bee: Since you were the very first one, what advice would you have for the next Youth Poet Laureate?

Raven Bland: Know yourself. Know what you’re passionate about, because you’re going to have a chance to reach a lot of people. It really makes it easier if you know your passion and have a plan. 

The Moxie Bee:   What, specifically are your passions? We talked about your work with the NPD on anti-gang/anti-bullying initiatives. Are there other areas you are passionate about?

Raven Bland: My passions are history, political science,religion, and social awareness for the most part.

I’m passionate about compelling people to educate themselves and read up on issues themselves and not depend on generational sentiments about race, or the government, etc. Learn for yourself by listening to various media outlets, newspapers, and magazines. Learn how the government works and not just complain about it. No one can argue with facts, but any one can argue against emotions.
So I said all that to say, I am passionate about education and awareness with anything that you can possibly learn about and form an opinion on.
I hope that answers your question, at least a little.


The Moxie Bee:  Yes, that was a very thoughtful answer.


The Moxie Bee:When does your book come out?

Raven Bland: Right now I’m sorting through poems. I have a big binder of poems going back to 2007. I’m picking out the ones I feel belong in the book. The goal is to have it ready by the end of January.  Mr. Nathan, is helping me with it; he’s really my mentor for the book project. 

Nathan Richardson

(Editor’s note: Since 2010 Nathan Richardson has served as the lead coach for the Hampton Roads Youth Poets Slam Team. HRYP is a division of the youth empowerment organization – Teens with a Purpose.)

The Moxie Bee:  I know Nathan Richardson through Facebook and his writing.  We’ve spoken a couple times. Great guy.  And busy!  Wonderful that you’re working with him on the book. When will it be released?

Raven Bland: We’re aiming to get it out in April 2016, before the next Youth Poet Laureate is chosen.

The Moxie Bee: I can’t wait to read it.

Raven Bland:  Thank you! 

The Moxie Bee:  Thank you for making time to talk with me. I know how busy you’ve been, so it’s appreciated.

Raven Bland:  Oh, you’re welcome! I enjoyed it. 


Raven Bland and I corresponded a bit by email after our interview.  Those of you who know me will recognize that when it comes to young writers and poetry, sometimes I can’t help myself.  Dismayed that such a talented writer as Ms. Bland was not currently reading or being exposed to more contemporary poets, I apologized for being a ‘Poetry Busybody” and sent her a list of poets, books, and poetry video links.

She assured me that I was “perfectly fine” to send her the list and that an older cousin who is also working on a book often encouraged her to widen her literary horizons.  She told me that although she does not have a lot of time she would check out the list.

For now, my work is done.



Just In Time for Domestic Violence Month : A look back at Mary “Unique” Spears’ murder

Just In Time for Domestic Violence Month:

A look back at Mary “Unique” Spears’ murder

 Last October, while reading artist and scholar Bettina Judd’s account of at the hands of a man to whom she would not give her phone number in a club, I realized that I’d unconsciously put my hands over my heart.

Last October, while reading artist and scholar Bettina Judd’s account of Mary “Unique” Spears’ death at the hands of a man to whom she would not give her phone number in a club, I realized that I’d unconsciously put my hands over my heart.

One hand over the other, across my heart, a gesture of protection and comfort. I felt heart sick in a way that my hands couldn’t soothe, straight through my core.

I stopped to look up the case online and realized the stinging irony that Mary Spears was murdered during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.


Mary Spears should not be dead. She was 27, engaged to be married.    Her three children should not be motherless because a man thought she owed him attention.


There but for the grace of God go I, and every other woman who dares to enter this world and claim her space.

There have been countless, yes, countless times when I have been publicly harassed, followed and hounded by a male who believed he had the right to refuse to accept no for an answer.

It isn’t because I’m some raving beauty; attractiveness has nothing to do with it.  It isn’t about attraction, it’s about power.


Any female is fair game around a toxic male who believes the ownership of male genitalia entitles him to the type of response he demands.

Every woman I know has a grip-full of war stories such as mine, some mundane, some much worse. I thank God that I survived all such encounters with body and soul still connected, if worse for the wear.

One incident in my early 20s, that devolved into a bar brawl between the harasser and a male classmate with whom I was dancing, left me so scared and scarred I did not go out alone at night for two years.  Oddly enough, it was not the worst incident

I had put the drunkenly persistent man off, over and over, that humid summer night, and then sent him away with a false phone number.

He left the club only to come back minutes later to see me dancing with my friend and subsequently lose his grip on reality. He grabbed me, screamed obscenities in my face, swung at me and missed.

When I broke free and ran, he turned his attention to my friend, a pacifist who somehow found the wherewithal to defend himself until the club’s security intervened.

One of my female friends, who witnessed the fiasco and helped me escape out a side door, said, ‘We can’t take you out. You’re not safe to bring to the club!”

She was genuinely angry, as if I had done something to provoke that man’s loud and sloppy attention that devolved into violence when he didn’t get what he thought he deserved.

No woman accosted in public has ever done anything to provoke unwanted attention, brutality, or death. I tried to calmly explain this to my friend, because I believed it, then and now.

Yet, for a long time I felt guilty of somehow causing the trouble. Did I have to wear that short, tight dress? (No, but I wanted to.)   Did I wear too much make-up? (No. I wiped most of it off after the first hour of dancing.) Was I flirtatious without intending it?  (No.)

But I felt guilty.

Just as I had felt guilty every time I was followed at night, bothered while out walking in broad daylight, while riding the subway with friends on the way to a party, and later in life, while pushing a stroller, while watching a parade in a crowd, while buying my son a Slurpee at a 7–11.


A long while later I learned, or rather unlearned, enough to stop feeling that way.   Yet, it took more time, and intense self-defense classes, to feel brave enough to occupy the outside world at night.

Notice I said brave enough, not safe enough.

I’m certain the fact that I’d been raped during my last year of high school played a part in my reaction to the incident at the club.  I’ve spoken to many other survivors of sexual violence; nearly every one spoke of going into “survival mode” when dealing with street harassment and violence post initial assault.

The UN Women;s organization reports that worldwide 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime [1]. – See more at:


I admire how in her essay, Mary Spears’ Death Reminds Us The World Is Not Safe for Women, Bettina Judd so strongly and clearly, acknowledges the reality of what women, especially women of color and lesbian/bi/transgender women, face every day.

Take the burden of “keeping safe” off of women. We aren’t safe. That’s done. We were unsafe before we left the house. Sometimes we are unsafe in our homes.” ~Bettina Judd

She proclaims the true state of affairs—”Women are not safe. That’s done.”, and maps out the real cause of this troubling truth: hegemonic masculinity.

I will pause here to be explicitly clear that there are good, strong, mature, self-actualized men in the world who stand by women as we protest street harassment/street violence/domestic violence and other forms of male-directed violence against women.

These men understand a woman’s right to bodily integrity, privacy, self-determination, and safety. These men do not make excuses, mansplain the issues away, or blame women for not keeping themselves safe.  Onward. 

Even when women learn to defend ourselves, with martial arts, or a loaded gun, we quickly learn that the dominant culture does not often support our right to defend ourselves, our children, our lives.

This is especially true if we are any variation of Black or Brown, or if we are LGBQT.

Ask Marissa Alexander, who was jailed for firing a warning shot towards her abusive ex.

Ask CeCe McDonald, a Minnesota transgender woman, who found herself imprisoned for second-degree manslaughter in the aftermath of a violent racist and trans-phobic attack by a group of men, one of whom later died.

A study conducted in 2013 found that black females were murdered by males at a rate over two and a half times that of white females.

That’s 2.61 per 100,000 v. 0.99 per 100,000.

The overall rate is just as dismal: this year’s study reported in the new Violence Policy Center Report titled When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2012 Homicide Data, found that in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available for study, over 1,700 women were murdered by men in the U.S.

Of those women who lost their lives, over 90 percent knew their murderer.

If you think those numbers are not so very high, consider this: a 2002 study of 25 high income nations, conducted by Harvard University, found that while the United States accounted for only 32 percent of the female population worldwide, it also accounted for 70 percent of murders of women and 84 percent of female murders via firearm.

A change is seriously overdue; a change must come.

The Violence Poverty Center (VPC )released their report in September of 2014 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was signed into law on September 13, 1994.

Gwendolyn Brooks was oh, so right when she said, “Leaving my house is a political act.”


Even when we find the courage to venture out alone— with our invisible armor in place — often accompanied by the inner voice that tells us–You can do this–we can never know what we may encounter around the corner, around the way, at the whim of a male steeped in the corrosive brew of toxic masculinity.


Acknowledging the problem first is a given;  all groups involved working together intersectionaly, including male allies,  to solve the problems of street harassment, violence, and the perpetuation of rape culture, is the next step.


Maura Alia Badji is a writer, poet, artist, mother living in Southeast Virginia. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, Seattle; and an M.Ed in Special Education/Migrant Education from the State University of New York, New Paltz. Her writing has appeared in Barely South Review; Cobalt; The Buffalo News; The Woodstock Times; Soul Music of The World; Half Tones to Jubilee; convolvulus; teenytiny. ArtVoice, Eat.Drink.Memory/piquant; The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal; cups: a café journal. Her work was included in the anthology In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself (Volume 4) (Mw Enterprises May 15, 2002); This Far Together (Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, 1995); Go Gently (The Healing Woman, 1995). She is a member of The Watering Hole, an online community for poets of color. 

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman aka Khadijah Moon: Multifaceted and Deliciously Creative

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman aka Khadijah Moon: Deliciously Creative

Poet/playwright/producer/creative mid-wife/ budding film-maker, Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is also known as Khadijah Moon, singer.  Multifaceted and seemingly in perpetual motion, Khadijah inspires by example and dazzles in performance.

I’m pleased to feature two of her poems today.  Through language that is often both sensual and harrowing, Ms. Ali-Coleman’s poetry reflects the beautiful struggle of being a Black woman poet/artist in our increasingly fraught time,  while simultaneously fashioning a lifeline.  Her words are indeed often “like a lasso of unbreakable strength” as she describes her indispensable consciousness in “Out of the Barrel” .

Next week, we’ll catch up with the prolific DC-born artistic renaissance woman for an interview and a chance to hear her new smash single, “hunger”.

Khadijah Moon Press Photo

What they will say on Twitter when the police shoot me in the back

She was known to be militant

Organized people in parks to sing

And dance

Possibly riot

Although no violence was reported

There might have been.

Who is to really say?

The officer felt threatened

By her almost ten year-old car

With missing hubcaps and door handles

And her big hair

And bigger feet

And crooked eye

That looked at him the wrong way

That spoke profanity in every language to him

In that one look


Maybe it was the degrees he didn’t know she had

Or the gun she didn’t own

That made him suspicious of her

Maybe she ran too slow when he told her she was under arrest

For nothing

Cause something had to be the reason

He shot her


The police just don’t shoot you for no reason

And even

if there was no reason

Other than he said she was resisting arrest

We must do our best

To maintain

That in some way, she was insane

#She was fired from more than one job

And she had amassed tickets by the dozens

#She was poor and unmarried with one child

Known to have many lovers

She was raised by a single mother who had children with three different men



She was on unemployment less than a year before her arrest

And this was not the first time before being on it again

#lowlife #shedeservesdit #wegot2dobetterifwewantbetter

I’m sure

She had bad credit score and a whole lot of debt

Particularly from graduate school and education

Better yet,

it seems like she had the potential to cause a lot of trouble

Riling up others and causing a sensation

She was killed after a traffic stop

Causing the officer irritation,

No violation, but—he had a first of the month quota to reach

So what, she was supposedly on her way

to pick up her child and later teach

#slowdown #itsyourfault #shekilledherself

See, We  are not sure,


As we said before,

She has a history

Of potential criminality

You heard her history

Imagine her mentality


Fortunately, she did not survive

Or she would have been arrested

And who knows what other crimes she would have been charged with

If the officers hadn’t been tested

#End of the report

#Press conference

#Public statement

#The end.

Demonizing the dead is the current new trend

There is no honor in being a paycheck to paycheck living

Black woman wordsmith

You are not of value

You are not worth protecting

There is no virtue in your gifts


And, What would the news media say about me

when the police shoot me in the back

most likely


Because I am a woman and I am black

–Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman


Out the Barrel

Through all of the hate

Rotten and sour as clotted milk curd

I crawled upright, steadying myself

and clung there, at the top

Holding tight as King Kong in New York

My fists clinched fast around that peak


as piercing words & angry actions

wrap round my legs

like steel tentacles, heavy and void of feeling

Trying to drag me down yet

I don’t fall

My consciousness, like a lasso of unbreakable strength

Lifts me higher until my feet are no longer

bound by ground and my mind, unblemished and new

no longer

aware that confines once existed

by Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman


Khadijah Moon, hunger–the new smash single!

Passionately human and deliciously creative, DC-born Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is The Creative Midwife, a creativity coach and modern renaissance woman.  She helps creatives give birth to their creative dreams. A playwright, poet, singer & emerging filmmaker, Moon is founder of Liberated Muse Arts Group, the brand she brought to life in 2008 as an online digital community for artists.  Since then, she has produced book anthologies, music & theatrical shows through Liberated Muse, including her production In Her Words which, since 2012,  has been commissioned for performances at the Smithsonian, United States Peace Corps, DC Public Library System and other venues. She is a recipient of a 2015 Individual Artist Award for Non-Classical Music Solo Performance by the Maryland State Arts Council. She lives in Maryland with her partner and their daughter.

Learn more at

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman

Passionately human and deliciously creative, Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is The Creative Midwife™. Let The Creative Midwife™ Help You Birth Your Creative Dreams Today!


The Healing Music of Habib Koite, Modern Griot

Habib Koite

Habib Koite’,  of Mali by way of Senegal, with his band Bamada, is one of my most beloved and favorite musicians.  In the past I’ve bought doubles of his CDs because I wear them out with constant play.

He’s one of those externally beautiful people whose angelic visage seems to communicate the positivity flowing beneath the surface.

Habib Koite 2015

He plays his guitar in a beautifully unique way; he tunes his instrument to the pentatonic scale and plays on open strings, which is how one plays on the kamale n’goni,  N’goni are traditional West African rhythm harps.

The n’goni have been in existence since 1352, in the court of Mansa Musa, the great ruler of Mali.   It is believed to have evolved into the banjo in North America after Mande people were exported there as slaves.

There are three main types, the djeli, the donso and the kamale.

The djeli n’goni were traditionally used by griots to accompany singing.  The donso (hunter’s harp)  are larger than the kamale n’goni and have six strings,

The smaller kamale n’goni (young man’s harp)  have four or eight strings and are tuned a fourth higher than other n’goni.

They are a more modern addition to the West African stringed instrument family, introduced in the 1960s and made popular in the 80s and 90s in the Wassalou style of music,

Kamale n’goni

In Habib Koite’s songs and  style of playing you can hear a blend of  the Malian Wassoulou and dannsa musical styles, as well as African-American blues, and Spanish flamenco.

In fact, in 1999 Habib and American bluesman Eric Bibb toured in support of the Putumayo compilation Mali to Memphis, which celebrated and paid tribute to the connections between Malian and American blues music.

Putomayo’s Mali to Memphis

The predominant style played by Habib is based on the danssa, a popular rhythm from his native city of Keyes. He calls his version danssa doso, a Bambara term he coined that combines the name of the popular rhythm with the word for hunter’s music (doso), one of Mali’s most powerful and ancient musical traditions. “I put these two words together to symbolize the music of all ethnic groups in Mali. I’m curious about all the music in the world, but I make music from Mali. In my country, we have so many beautiful rhythms and melodies. Many villages and communities have their own kind of music. Usually, Malian musicians play only their own ethnic music, but me, I go everywhere. My job is to take all these traditions and to make something with them, to use them in my music.”–

Music critics worldwide have dubbed Koite a modern griot; this isn’t far-fetched as he hails from “a noble line of Khassonké griots, , traditional troubadours who provide wit, wisdom and musical entertainment at social gatherings and special events.” (


I’ve heard fans describe him and his band as “West African Sufis” for the vibrant spiritual quality of their sound.

I don’t know if there is some factual basis to that opinion, but I do know how uplifted and soothed I feel when I listen to, sing, or dance to their music.

The song I’m featuring here, “Sirata” is one of my all-time favorites.

It was featured on “Mali to Memphis” as well as Koite’s 2001 CD “Ma Ya”.

It’s not a lullaby, but can lull you with its spiritual, somehow healing beauty. This song, has been known to drive grown men to tears.  Yes–for real!

My son, Ibrahim, now 12, and I saw Koite’ and Bamada perform at Wolf Trap in the late winter of 2005. Ibrahim was under two years old then; it was his first concert,  other than those of his Guinean dancer/drummer/ fire-eater father’s, which he attended as an infant.

Our seats were in the front row.  He was transfixed!

At first Ibrahim sat next to me, but when the entire audience got up to dance and stayed up for the rest of the concert, he attached himself to me.

He spent the rest of the night dancing and swaying with me, his legs wrapped around my waist or hip, his eyes trained on the stage.

At one point Habib Koite and Ibrahim locked eyes as Habib leaned down and played his guitar directly to him.

He nodded to me and smiled, then moved on.   It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say I felt we’d been blessed.

Days later Ibrahim asked for both a guitar and a balafon.

Ibrahim at 18 months old. The young balafoniste, just like his Uncle Ibrahima Diabate, Master Balafonist of Guinea, for whom he’s named.

How could I say no?

They call him Gitar Badji. 2006– A year later he was still at it. He is wearing a traditional Malian boubou sent to us by a friend who lived in Mali at the time.

Habib Koite latest album,  Soô (which translates to home) was released in 2014.    Soô takes a direct and loving look at Koite’s homeland of Mali, a country torn apart by violence and terrorism over the last few years.

Habib Koite, 2014

The title of the CD also symbolizes the dream of home for a man who makes his fortune away from friends and family for long stretches of time.

Ever the touring road warriors, Koite and the new lineup of his band, Bamada, are in the midst of a world tour.

I hope to take Ibrahim to one of their U.S. shows in 2016, in either Washington, DC or Raleigh, NC.

In May of 2015 they performed at the Africa Festival in Germany.  The 90 minute video below showcases their performance.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The embedded videos below were removed because the Automatic Play option could not be disabled. Click the link below to enjoy the concert and the bonus interview in full.)


A bonus!: This interview with Habib Koite (in French) at Africa Festival 2015.

Enjoy!  Be well!

~Maura Alia Badji

Impresiones/Impressions, a poema/poem de/by Rafael Ayala Paz

Impresiones/Impressions, a poema/poem de/by Rafael Ayala Paz



La memoria está en la yema de los dedos
Los colores están en los ojos
La infancia está contenida en la columna vertebral
Los mundos nacen en cascarones rotos
Siempre habrá un signo en todo objeto
Una señal desdibujada en el horizonte
Un presagio de infinito en la noche
Un destello suspendido en la frente
Un viejo olor bajo los guijarros
Un sol rojo detrás de las colinas
Amaneceres en los parpados
Globos flotando en el cielo
Aldeas insospechadas en la planta de los pies
Anémonas gigantes en las nubes
Seres que caminan de cabeza
Soles como pupilas
Buzos ahogados en un vaso de agua
Náufragos de la desesperación
Locomotoras exhalando un enjambre de moscas
Árboles que entienden lo que decimos
Un reloj con brazos y piernas
Una torre sumergida en un charco
Ojos llorando aves
Sueños que conducen sus autos en la noche
Balsas que atraviesan las arterias dejando una estela de estrellas
Canciones buscando la luz
Cielos tensos como codos y brazos
Ciudades edificadas en mi mano izquierda
Soles entre los dedos
Mareas de oídos sordos
Pedazos de playas en la retina
Insectos acuáticos
Mapas de lugares remotos como las galaxias
Discusiones sobre asuntos que pronto olvidaremos
Islas que son sonidos nidos
Impresiones de todo lo soñado
de gustado


Memory is in the fingertips
Colors are in the eyes
Infancy is contained in the backbone
Worlds are born in broken shells
There will always be a sign in every object
made vague in the horizon
An infinite omen in the night
A sparkle suspended on the forehead
An old smell beneath the pebbles
A red sun behind the hills
Sunrises on the eyelids
Balloons floating in the sky
Villages unsuspected in the soles of feet
Giant anemones in the clouds
Beings that walk on their heads
Suns like pupils
Divers drowned in a glass of water
Shipwrecks of desperation
Locomotives exhaling a swarm of flies
Trees that understand what we say
A clock with arms and legs
A tower submerged in a puddle

Eyes crying birds
Dreams that drive their cars in the night
Rafts that navigate the arteries leaving a trail of stars
Songs searching for the light
Skies tense like elbows and arms
Cities built in my left hand
Suns between fingers
Tides of deaf ears
Pieces of beaches in the retina
Aquatic insects
Maps of remote places like galaxies
Discussions over matters that we will soon forget
Islands that are nests of sounds
Impressions of everything dreamed

— Rafael Ayala Páez, Zaraza, Guárico, Venezuela

Through the vague, yet intricately woven mysteries of the Internet, I virtually met Rafael Ayala Paez in September of 2012 when he wrote to me via Facebook. He found me through my author listing on the Poets & Writers website, read some of my work, as well as reviews I had written, and invited me to write a brief preface for his forthcoming collection, “La levedad de la materia/ The lightness of matter”.

He also asked if he could translate and publish a few of my poems in Venezuela through the online journal “Negro Sobre Blanco”. I was a little taken aback, because while I’ve had my work published over the years I’m not exactly well-known in the US, let alone Latin America. Yet, he sincerely enjoyed my poems and made it clear that the offer was not one of quid pro quo for writing the preface.

After immersing myself in the deceptively unadorned language of his manuscript I agreed to both requests. His book was published shortly afterwards; two of my poems appeared in the Oct/Nov 2012 edition of “Negro Sobre Blanco” in as translated by Rafael and Brooklyn-based poet/writer/activist Emanuel Xavier.( on page 8)

In my preface to “La levedad de la materia/ The lightness of matter”, I wrote:
“Rafael Ayala Paez has the enviable ability to write about the heaviest and deepest of matters —love, sex, death, longing —with the lightest of touches. His is a voice that informs without hectoring, seduces without cloying, convinces without shouting. In La levedad de la materia/ The lightness of matter, his images alight on the page; we can’t help but turn to see where they will lead us next. “

Rafael Ayala Paez’s work is a natural choice for me to include in my week of Virtual Dream Residency here at Ione’s Festival of Dreams; his poetry often seems imbued with the imagery of dreams. Unexpected metaphors and discursive word play accrete only to give way to a suddenly crystallized image imbued with pure though unsentimental emotion.

The Venezuelan poet Gregory Zambrano says of “Impressions”:
“In the poem there are worlds in movements that go from sleep to wakefulness and back, appealing to the confusion of the senses, finding sound and word play, revealing from apparent diversion, a great unease.”

With Rafael’s permission, I’m happy to direct you to a link where you may download a free e-book edition of his 2012 collection; I hope you will read, enjoy, and perhaps reach out to the poet who continues to live fully as a poet and writer despite a less than hospitable national climate of political upheaval, violence (25,000 murders in 2014 alone) and economic pressures.

Once you reach the site, click on the book cover for “The lightness of matter” for the free download.

~Maura Alia Badji

The poet: Rafael Ayala Páez was born in Zaraza, Guárico, Venezuela in 1988. He studied at the Universidad Nacional Experimental Simón Rodríguez (UNESR), and was a founding member of the Municipal Writers Network of Zaraza.
His collections include Bocados de silencio and The lightness of matter (both 2012), and his work was featured in The Blue Hour Anthology – A collection of poetry, prose and art (2013).
His poems have been translated into English, German, French, and Hebrew.

The translator: Roger Hickin (b. 1951) is a New Zealand poet, visual artist, book designer, and publisher.
Roger is the director of Cold Hub Press which publishes poetry in several languages, including bilingual chapbooks of poems by two Chilean poets: Juan Cameron (with translations by the celebrated US translator Cola Franzen) and Sergio Badilla Castillo (with translations by Roger Hickin and the author).

Painting: The Reality of Dreams by Carlos A. Soli, Venezuela, 2012

Raven Bland, Norfolk, VA Youth Poet Laureate

Raven Bland, outside library at ODU. Photo by Bruce Ebert, (Picasa)

Somehow I did not realize until last week that Norfolk, VA has a Youth Poet Laureate.  I found this happy news where I find quite a bit of my media updates–on a friend’s Facebook page.

The Poetry Society of America‘s website states:

The National Youth Poet Laureate initiative (YPL) is a program of Urban Word, an award-winning youth literary arts and youth development organization, that strives to elevate the voices of teens while promoting civic engagement and social justice.

Raven Bland an alumnus of Teens With a Purpose–The Youth Movement, is the inaugural youth poet laureate for Norfolk and the first in Virginia.  Other cities with laureates include New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Houston and Nashville.

A graduate of Granby High School, she’s currently a history major at Old Dominion University with a political science minor,

Ms. Bland was the subject of a Virginian-Pilot article, by Bruce Ebert, this past May,  in which she spoke about her literary  journey from unsure pre-teen to her state’s first Youth Poet Laureate, an honor she won in April, 2015.

In the Pilot article, Deirdre Love, the Executive Director of Teens With a Purpose, said of Raven Bland,

She inspires me. She embodies the best of what youth is about. She understands that words matter. Any city would be proud to have her as a representative.”

In addition to her title,  Raven Bland will have a  book of her poems published by Penmanship Books; the publisher will also arrange book signing a Barnes and Noble Booksellers.

Raven Bland, Norfolk, VA, Youth Poet Laureate.

Here are two of her poems. The first, Lady in the Curtains: Hallucination in the Jewish Square of Poland,  was originally published on the Poetry Society of America’s page.

Lady in the Curtains:
Hallucination in the Jewish Square of Poland

I glanced at a curtained window
Thin blue sheets
I imagined an aging analogy
With flowers and butterflies
Attached to thread
I seen a small grey haired head.

Ages were gray
Hair was gray
Skin was pale
Bones as thin as a nail.

I seen her bones grow
Seen her skin fatten
I seen her grin towards me
But nothing happened
I stood still,
Frozen, paralyzed
In wonder,
Curious even.
She glanced right, glanced left.
As she was looking for something.

After a single grin, her lips faded thin,
What was she looking for,
Why was she still here?
Doesn’t she know the attitudes
The hate, the disbelief
They consciously think: God choose you not me.
See, they’re jealous, get out of here, flee.
Go to the place God created you to be.

I stare into her eyes, she’s speaking to me:
This is my home, I created it to be.
They have robbed me of enough,
They won’t take all of me.

She glanced left, glanced right
With her head out her curtained window.
I seen her head then fade in between.

–Raven Bland



Your scent swallowed me

As I slide into my blanket. 

I’m laying here lame

I won’t move because

I’m afraid to blow your scent away.


It’s only been a couple of days 

Since your body laid underneath.

And yet your scent refuses to leave.

Figures, though

Your strong personality

Dominates and leads.

It doesn’t back down for nobody

And I mean nobody

But me.


I remember when you were underneath .

I was there too.

I remember how soft your eyes grew.

Like a turtle,

Hiding under that huge shell

And slowly peeping from beneath.

You didn’t think I saw you,

Because you quickly tried to push yourself back inside

Without the consequences.


Your secret is out though baby,

I saw it.

Your shell is just a cover,

You’re all soft underneath.

And I love it.

Don’t hide it from me,

Let me be soft with you,

Out here we can’t survive that way,

But let me come under your shell too

And we can discuss the ways

The stars make our eyes twinkle

And the moon molds our hearts together

How the silence sweeps our thoughts in loops and intertwines.

We can discuss our pasts’ hurts

And maybe even cry.

We can be soft together,

I don’t mind.


I remember when you held my hand here,

Them rough hands of man hood

Grabbed my delicate ones.

A piece of me died inside your palms

A layer of me unraveled.

You watched it,

I saw you,

And your eyes were baffled.


See if it’s only been about 3 months,

But our friendship has endured much longer.

You didn’t know this side of me,

Didn’t know how strong my gravitational pull was,

How I make your mind wonder.

Didn’t know I could see so deep into you,

In ways no girl before has.

And you grew scared,

I laugh, never in person though,

At how much you were amazed.

At how a woman could treat you in such good ways.


It all happened here,

And I can’t help but reminisce.

Your scent swallowed me 

As I slid into my blanket.

I’m laying here lame

I won’t move because

I’m afraid to blow your scent away.

–Raven Bland


***Look for an upcoming interview with Raven Bland later this month. 


Beautiful Release, a song by Jorges Mendez


Beautiful Release, a song by Jorges Mendez

I’m happy to share the work of Virginia Beach poet and spoken word artist, Jorge Mendez. Despite his currently crushing schedule, Jorge, who truly deserves the title of Hardest Working Poet in Hampton Roads, managed to answer my tenacious requests and submitted a song which he currently performs as a spoken word poem.

Jorge is the type of poet who holds communities of writers together by welcoming all, actively living the life of a working poet, and by coordinating events and performances on a regular basis over a long period of time with seemingly indefatigable positive energy.

Please read, listen, comment and share. Your participation is appreciated.

I had a super-whammadine case of insomnia during most of the week of my Virtual Dream Residency.

No sleep = no dreams. No dreams = unease. Not my favorite flavor of being.

My consolation has come from writing more often than in recent weeks, and in communicating and working with the poets, writers, and artists whose dream-related work I’ve been able to share here.

Today’s featured piece is a positively addictive song about insomnia, titled “Beautiful Release”, by Virginia Beach poet and spoken word artist Jorge Mendez.

Currently Jorge does a spoken word poem version of “Beautiful Release” in performance; he kindly agreed to share the song with us. The link below will download the song.

About the Poet:  Jorge Mendez is also host of “Monday Night Open Mics at The Venue”, which he has helmed for the last three years of the nine year old open mic, and Events Director for The Venue on 35th in Norfolk, VA. Jorge started writing poetry as a child, later putting the skill he gained as a page writer into Hip-Hop format releasing three independent albums. He has since graduated to Spoken Word and has been performing his poetry for 4 years. His next project is a book of his works titled “Keys & Crowbars”.

You can experience more from Jorge at his YouTube channel:


In Medusa’s Arms , a poem by Nicole Goodwin


Black Medusa, Fatoumata Diawara


In Medusa’s Arms (Inside the belly of fire and stone) Gas Leak chronicles Pt. IV


My love

I am fully aware

of your presence

the feel of your body

the heat from your/breath

revealing the fire

growing/inside your chest

and mine

we are one

in the same

under the distance

we are close

closer and closer


under the blue-black


a blanket/made only for lovers

such as you and I

and with every inhale

and exhale

that rises

and falls

my love/

I can feel you

I can still

feel you


now and forever.

–Nicole Goodwin


Nicole Goodwin is a mother, artist, and a wounded healer ever pursuing enlightenment.

where duende meets reality

where duende meets reality
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