In Memorium: DCF Poet Maisha Baton... July 2,1938 - Dec. 27, 2009

Albuquerque poet Maisha Baton died on December 27th of cancer. She had spent the last few months with her daughter and family in Pittsburgh, PA. She was 71.

Maisha was featured in the Duke City Fix on April 19th in The Sunday Poem series. In that poem, FROM SHIPROCK TO ALBUQUERQUE, are the following lines:

And the only path open to us now
is this ocean of darkness, splattered with stars....

There was another poem she sent me at that time. I am printing it here.

My Men Folk Never Had
(for the black male poets)

My men folk never had
sweet bird calls on the edge of morning;
nor skies, nor lazy, golden silences;
not one flower garden love affair.
And so they wrote what was full in them;
dropping their load into the world
like bastard children of their seed
aching with memories and awful longings.

Poets in a foreign tongue
they tore at life
killing the sun;
killing dreams on the verge of evening;
bleeding vengeance of reality
on concrete cities
(and the women who loved them).
Later writing down their anger
in another place,
in another poem.

With burned out hearts and hands
they scaled the walls of hell
and lost themselves to reason and cocaine;
to find themselves in midnight waiting rooms
held/in three-day observation;
later breaking loose; breaking open
in the cement cellar of the world
looking for a sun that would not shine.

Her latest book, Sketches, has just been released by ABQ publisher West End Press. The following piece is the last poem in that book.


In the valley of my blackness
I hear music, marimbas and cowbells,
drum calls emanating from the depth of my dark longing
where I will dance in cosmic ecstasy
giving and receiving life
never ending.
Never more alive or less.
Hot blood spilled forever
on the earth for future generations
in the valley of my blackness.
Beautiful in its mystery.

Music and mystery growing
in flower gardens of
multicolored innocence
and endless waters of rebirth
where God wears many faces
and death sits like a lady,
on quiet river banks
to take her children home.

Good-Bye, Maisha Baton. So long. And may you find peace in those

endless waters of rebirth
where God wears many faces
and death sits like a lady,
on quiet river banks
to take her children home.

A full obituary was printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

(Note: the original banner photo was not of Maisha Baton, but of Viginia Hampton during a presentation of Baton's work taken last May.)

Views: 123

Comment by cathyray on January 5, 2010 at 8:59am
Rest with God
Comment by Margaret Randall on January 5, 2010 at 9:24am
John, how good to see this tribute to Maisha here. Thank you for doing this. And thanks to Maisha for her beautiful and productive life. We live on in our work, what we leave behind.
Comment by Richard V on January 5, 2010 at 9:55am
i didn't know much about maisha or her work, except for the fact that she is highly revered by lisa gill. (which says a lot.) i wanted to write today, but after reading her exquisite words, i have nothing to say that could shine as bright as the poems you posted today. for today, i will shut down my keyboard, and walk in the silence created when we lose a great poet.
Comment by jes on January 5, 2010 at 10:02am
Did you know Maisha was a historian, who taught at UNM, as well as a poet? For the New Mexico Humanities Council Chautauqua, she offered two programs, Black History of New Mexico and Black Women in Western Frontier History. The Chautauquans present their programs to not for profits all over the state; Maisha's programs were in demand and well received. She is a real loss to many arenas.
Comment by Joan Saks Berman on January 5, 2010 at 10:17am
Just for clarification, the photo at the top of this post is not Maisha, but is Virginia Hampton, who portrayed one of the characters in Maisha's play, Mitote. Maisha is the one in the photo at the right side of her poems.
Comment by The DitchRider on January 5, 2010 at 11:05am
The photo is from the Michael Datcher reading at The Outpost last May.

Comment by Richard Read Oyama on January 5, 2010 at 11:14am
Thank you for the correction, Joan. I noticed that too. In 2005 Maisha, Greta Pullen and I had volumes of poems published by Neuma Books. Maisha's readings always gave me pleasure. Others have written of her dignity and hawk-eyed acuity. Sketches is a report from the Other America, where Maisha lived--in ABQ's "war zone" off Gibson. She definitely walked the walk and talked the talk. But she was often hilarious. After her radiation treatment, I said she could do like Frida Kahlo and have a book party at home, where she could read from her bed and greet and sign books from petitioners. She chortled. Maisha's voice can be heard on a CD recorded by Mitch Rayes for Bryan Konefsky's installation at Harwood Art Center. The poems have no expiration date.
Comment by Poet Oishi on January 5, 2010 at 12:36pm
Maisha was like a stonehenge pillar among Albuquerque artists. I am so honored to have known her. She will be sorely missed, but her beautiful shadow will be cast for a long time to come. Buy her book!
Comment by Barelas Babe on January 5, 2010 at 1:18pm
Thank you for this lovely tribute to Maisha Baton, Ditchrider.

At first I was perplexed to see a photo of Virginia Hampton heading a tribute to Maisha Baton. (And then I cringed. And sighed. And shook my head...) The full photo is of Virginia Hampton and Stephanie Willis of Omnirootz Productions and the former Out ch'Yonda, btw.

And set all that aside to think about the first time I met Maisha. You see, it was Virginia Hampton who introduced us, years ago at a gathering at Out Ch'yonda in Barelas. Maisha and I spoke of the challenges of navigating university culture; her keen observations from that conversation guide me still. It wasn't until months later that I saw her read her poetry - equal measures of insight and incisiveness. What a woman.
Comment by The DitchRider on January 5, 2010 at 1:34pm
I apologize for the picture in the banner. It is indeed that of Viriginia Hampton during her performance of Baton's work at the Datcher reading. It is entirely my fault. I will note that in the text of the post, and will replace the banner.


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