To Commemorate the Passing of Inamu Amiri Baraka

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By Adrián Arancibia

I’m writing to commemorate the passing of Inamu Amiri Baraka. I live in San Diego, California. In many ways, the furthest point from the east coast geographically, but also culturally. I grew up here in San Diego and faced the travails of integration as the first Chicano/Latino child on the block.

I became politicized at an early age through the stories my parents would relate to us, young immigrant children, about our homeland, Chile. And then there was Baraka. I first really learned about the life of Baraka through my mentor Quincy Troupe. He would always point out that Baraka was one of the first people to publish Ginsberg, Kerouac and a host of other Beat writers.

There was the Baraka I managed to steal on a cassette tape with David Murray performing live. Then there was the Baraka I met in San Jose, California when Quincy was nice enough to comp us some tickets if we made the seven-hour drive up the coast. I remember shaking his hands, which seemed frail at first. But as he shook your hand, it had a vibrancy all its own, almost mirroring images of his eyes–always inquisitive and incisive.

There was the Baraka that accompanied me home on the drive from my pop’s best friend’s funeral. Phrenology’s song, “Something in the Way of Things” resonated in such a way, “Standin’ there bein’ dissed and broke and troubled…” It was, in many ways, the end of the life of that man. There was the Baraka that I teach, the Baraka of the poem “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note”. And then there was the Baraka that read at the book fair of my first book release. The one who, when I told him I was from Chile, asked me about Allende. The one who remarked on the editions of collected books. The one who took the time to explain the importance of, and his solidarity with, the Chicano struggle and Chicano Park.

The one that congratulated me for publishing my first book. The frailer and older hands. But still, the eyes, inquisitive, incisive. And the voice that demanded that we, the audience, remember that, “At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean there’s a railroad made of human bones…”

What an incredible sense of loss today. What a profound death. I found out from a friend in poetry circles living in Virginia. I sat in the cafe, in shock. I packed up my things and drove home, crying, listening to his work.

San Diego, Ca