64 Parishes

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Poetry by Sunni Patterson

Selected by Louisiana Poet Laureate Mona Lisa Saloy

Poetry by Sunni Patterson

Wikimedia Commons user Infrogmation of New Orleans

De Saix Bridge over Bayou St John, New Orleans, August 18, 2020.

It was the end of the 1980s or early 90s when I first heard Sunni Patterson perform her unique verse. Originally entirely a spoken-word poet, Sunni Patterson gives enlightening and moving performances that touch hearts old and young. I was thrilled that a home-girl poet from the next generation was informed about ancestral strength and struggle and delivered her verse in such powerful performances. Now readers can hold her poems on pages that echo the storytelling and musings on the path of struggle and strength of the Black experience in America and the world. Her new book, We Know This Place, is now available from the University of New Orleans Press.

 

*19 

And when they read of this moment…

They will see how we endured

And they will wonder how we made it

How we could live through such a time & still smile & create & celebrate

Even though walls of panic & loss continue to build up around us

They will shake their heads in astonishment

They will question how we survived without hugs & secondlines & community gatherings

They will drum up every conspiracy theory & most of them will be correct

They will feel the anger of the era

The frustration of the season

They will pick apart the science & discover to their surprise

There was so much more hidden

This virus was a disguise

They will tremble at the revelation

Tears will come to their eyes

For they will see the essence of being in the living & those who died

Oh, when they read…

They will see

How this time provided a shift in foundation & frequency

How it challenged outdated systems & let go of antiquated beliefs

How we were forced to grow our courage & practice care in the midst of grief

When they research about these days…

From the uprisings to the downfalls

They will unravel the knots & connect the dots

& they, too, will heed the call

With dignity & integrity

Ancestral wisdom & pride

Where creativity & imagination move head & heart to alignment

They will know…

Because they will feel

The power & presence of devotion & will

Of culture

Of spirit

Of justice

Of light

Of oneness

Of harmony

Of divinity & insight

Oh, when they read of this moment…

They will see how we endured

& they will still question how we made it

& we will say…

How could we not?

 

New Orleans native Sunni Patterson began her career as a full-time high school teacher, and much of her life since has been devoted to serving as a cultural worker and activist. Patterson deliberately uses art, poetry, and ancestral veneration to encourage dialogue, connectivity, spiritual awareness, and healing. Patterson is a 2020–2021 John O’Neal Cultural Arts Fellow and currently serves as a resident artist for both the City of New Orleans’s Claiborne Corridor Cultural Initiative and Junebug Productions. She is co-founder, along with scientist and atmospheric chemist Cherelle Blazer, of the environmental arts and public health organization Breath is Lyfe.