Dear Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures

This is a letter poem messay maybe. I’m not sure yet. It’s love. I know that. Certain love.

I called Bonita today.

About you. She thought I was calling about BG and she joined the call right away to celebrate and to push away pain. After all these years we do that again and again. We had to have our round the way about that and then she saw in my face that…

That it was something else. She said “girllllll did you see him again? You know you don’t have to call me every time, right?”

She was talking about Kamaal. I haven’t seen him in years and I don’t call her anymore when I do. This call wasn’t about that. It was about you.

“No. Hanif Abdurraqib is coming to Pittsburgh in April.” She let that hang for a moment to consider more months.

Of me not coming home. My tri-state is NJ-NY-CT. She reminds me every time we talk. She reminds me that it has been forever. She reminds me that I have not made that six hour journey a top priority. That I haven’t walked on a Newark masjid floor or through the Westlands gates at Sarah Lawrence or from a coconut poori East side lalala to a dancehall East Orange one. She misses me. Friend. Sister. I am living in a strange singular nostalgia diaspora.

“So go see him.” she started “wait…who opens the show?” This. is. my. girl.

Does that seem odd to you? Because I kind of think you get it. I noticed when Clint Smith was here. It seemed like you get what Bonita is asking about. And I haven’t written yet about how much that talk moved me because I am still training for that Olympic event. Because there are still shot glasses for sale on the Angola web site. Because in 2019 a Black man was freed from his enslaver in South Carolina and we are *still* explaining how it was not that long ago. Still explaining the 13th amendment. Still explaining legalities. Still passing words. So…later but for now. I called Bonita.

“This nice lady. Reads a lot of our books. Committed to equity.”

“Equity is a low end theory” she said. “Does she know me?” Bonita asked.

Do you know what she means? I mean I know you know what equity is. But I asked her how I should explain what she meant to you and at first she was just like “Teeeeee, the ‘job of resurrections is to wake up the dead.’ remember?” I think she is worried that sometimes I write her or me or us for a job we were never meant to do. I don’t know. I’m not sure. She helps me anyway.

I asked her “Bonita, do you ever get tired of putting people on?” Her eyes settled into a sunset. Peaceful. Gazed away from the phone back in time across her cheeks. She lifted her wrist as if she was searching the palm of her hand for an answer and said…

“Sometimes. But I am not like you. I do get to revel in my present. Remember Hanif said that?”

Hemming the water. I’m trying to do that again with this letoemessay. Yona Harvey freed me from that. I don’t have to.

She means it’s hard to accomplish. Doesn’t happen often. She means it’s not about the stage or the spotlight. Equity is about the basement and the sacrifice. It’s not about knowing the names on the marquis and plates. It’s about knowing the ones on the liner notes and in the crates.

Equity is what happened when the one from the tribe who lost his wallet went back to El Segundo and found it in a jazz club. A jazz club founded by someone’s grandmama who had carried a Great Migration guitar under her left elbow when she first opened the door for opening night. The same night when Redd Foxx came in and lifted a glass to his older brother wiping a tear and saying he would never forget him.

Equity is quiet. Yet. Open.

Bonita said I should write to you. Open. And tell you who should open.

I’m not sure yet. Filling that list would be like pulling the l to the r from abdul to abdur or explaining why we move the alphabet from left to right. A lot.

I went over some possibles with Bonita. She said I always have good ideas. She said to just start the conversation with you. She said I didn’t have to have the answers yet.

So. Can I help you think about who will introduce Hanif Abdurraqib when he comes to Pittsburgh? Who will open. Can I ask them how they know Bonita or even see if they would love to meet her? Someone who knows the names in the crates? Some Black music poet essayist just waiting for their chance to go ahead in the rain?

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