Sojourner Ahebee, aside from being a founding APIARY author, served the United States as a National Student Poet and bumped fists with Michelle Obama. Her chapbook, REPORTING from the BELLY OF THE NIGHT, examines Black femininity through the music and public persona of Black-American rapper, Azealia Banks, who inhabits an industry working to erase her. APIARY Poetry Editor Kai Davis reviews.
Upon finishing Sojourner Ahebee’s REPORTING from the BELLY OF THE NIGHT my first thought was, “Damn… She’s smart.” This book is not lengthy; however, there is no doubt that it is complete. As a Black woman, I felt intimately understood in ways that felt new to me. Ahebee takes the abstract pain and magic of Black womanhood and honors it by refusing to simplify it. We come from a complicated history and possess unimaginable powers. Ahebee speaks to the abundance that is the Black woman and refuses to make her plain or easy to digest.
like it’s hard in this city, how the woman in the metro
walked right through you, how if you weren't there the
black woman would have had to lug her baby’s stroller
all those flights of stairs, how to everyone else she was
not there, how the man by the river actually
thought he could just touch you, how every time they kill
you it looks really small
–"WOMAN IN AN ABSTRACT FIELD"
Ahebee closely examines the vulnerability of Black women. She takes care to devote special attention to dark skinned Black women, as they bear the brunt of damaging stereotypes, which deny them their femininity and emotional depth. Through this focus, she dismantles the lie of the invincible Black woman. No, Ahebee’s Black woman is gentle, subtle, always blooming with flower petals and blanketed in soft light. This is not to say that the women in her poems are stripped of their power. Instead, she reveals how we use our softness to care for one another, to understand one another, and to cultivate one another the way no one else will.
My beauty blooming from my head
because a black woman touched me
laid pink grease on my black head,
right on over the hurt
–“I’M REPORTING FROM THE BELLY OF THE NIGHT”
Ahebee seems to create a world in which Black women bear the same qualities of earth, in that there is a similar mysticism, a penchant to nurture, and the need to be nurtured in turn. Additionally, through this parallel she reveals the way we carry our history with us, the inescapability of our difficult past. Just think how earthquakes formed mountain ranges and volcanic eruptions gifted islands. It is something magical, yet painful. Ahebee gives Black women the power to walk in the air, to part seas, converse with the moon; however, she does it in such a way that our earth-like powers are intrinsically tied to the history of our enslavement. To be quite honest, it’s fucking brilliant.
Ms. Cherry spread my child-neck
‘cross the swan-white sink as she washed my hair
spread it so accute like so fierce as a cut like black girls
have memories of water as both grief
in the split of the neckbone & the desire
to be clean to leave the hair salon a wholly
new thing & elegance like i got you so
confused ‘cause I been through six different hairstyles
in the last 4 days elegance like allow me to rebirth
myself with the ease of several packs of kanekalon
a hot comb’s black sizzle black hands of a woman --
Black woman be the only living thing
who done reached for me
that perpetual gesture to refuse the world’s
almost-reach, then its caving in
These poems are sharp and intelligent, yet read like a song or a spell. Ahebee is informative without being didactic, intellectual without being boring, and accessible without being ordinary. REPORTING from the BELLY OF THE NIGHT is an affirmation of all the magic a Black woman possesses, a validation of her right to be complicated, and a condemnation of all that sought to destroy her.
Sojourner Ahebee writes poems about African diaspora identities and the eternal question of home and belonging. Her work has been published in The Atlantic, Winter Tangerine Review, and featured by The Academy of American Poets. In 2013 she served the United States as a National Student Poet, and was invited to the White House by former First Lady Michelle Obama to garner her award. She considers Philadelphia & Abidjan home. Purchase her chapbook at http://sojournerahebee.com