Poet Marilyn Buck
I was Marilyn’s poet sister friend for the last fifteen years. And she was mine. Our relationship began with me as her teacher of poetry as a young student teacher poet with June Jordan’s Poetry for the People, teaching writing workshops on Sundays at the Dublin Federal Correctional Institution in 1995. Since then, she became my teacher of how to live one’s poetry; to embody fearlessness; to struggle for justice with commitment and discipline. Over the years, we spoke often of haiku, hip hop and ghazal; of India, Kenya and South Africa; of transnational women’s organizing; of my relationships and heartaches; of the crab nebula that I had studied as an undergraduate; of her writing projects. We celebrated birthdays with poetry – her hand-made cards would arrive with a new poem in progress or clippings of a news article that she thought I’d enjoy in subjects ranging from Bangladeshi microcredit to astronomy to poetry. Marilyn’s stack of letters filled with humor and insight have captured for me a tremendous and transformative relationship of the last 15 years. I met Marilyn when I was only 19 and it is no hyperbole to say that she changed the course and character of my life. Her wisdom, compassion and incisive analysis of the world around us, in and out of prison shaped my political and personal development. Marilyn taught me what it means to be the most generous of mentors, the most caring of listeners and the most feeling of poets, outraged by injustice and in love with humanity.
I knew she was a prolific writer of letters but it was such an experience to open the mail and see her thank you note after a visit. I was always moved by her impeccable Southern ways. Marilyn – busier than most people; luminous in intellect and instinct; a hero of our times; and here she was, thanking me for visiting her! It never ceased to amaze me that through letters and conversations, she managed to deeply inquire, connect and love people. Once Maria and I were leaving with our long goodbyes from a delightful visit with Marilyn, she held our faces in our hands and said, you are June’s daughters. You are doing her proud. We cried all the way home. This was Marilyn – knowing when us younger comrades needed to be reminded where we came from; understanding that encouragement came in the shape of seeing people beyond their masks. Marilyn also changed forever my expectations from white folks. She embodied what it meant to be an anti-racist white person in a racist world.
On my last visit with Marilyn in Dublin to celebrate her birthday in November 2009, over vending machine coffee and sponge cake, I mentioned that I had finally completed my manuscript of poems and I could not wait to have her help me edit it. She was so excited that after almost ten years of working on it, I had finally done it and asked me to mail it right away. The very next week, she was moved to Texas. The next time I saw Marilyn in person was in Brooklyn on Saturday, July 17, 2010 two days after her release. I saw Marilyn free! Time stopped for me in that moment. It was indeed historical to see Marilyn out of prison for the first time in 27 years surrounded by loved ones, being cared for and celebrated. It was awesome to hold her in a hug too long, uninterrupted by any armed guards and intrusive head counts.
We made plans for writing, in spite of her sickness. She wanted to hear music in the park and savor rice and peas with just a touch of hot sauce. She talked of writing short stories and essays. In between her naps, I got to stroke her hand and listen to her plans for opening a bank account, cook a meal from scratch, wear a new outfit and take a long walk. She had me share about what I was learning from the global justice movements that I get to support in my day job. She asked me about love, my heart, work, community. She indulged me by putting on a Kenyan necklace of shells that I brought her and smiled when I told her about the Swahili coast and the women’s cooperative that made these objects of tremendous beauty.
Marilyn was under no illusion about how sick she was. She was simply doing what Marilyn did well – imagine what is possible; craft a poem from the ordinary; inquire deeply about those that may not seem important; articulate her immense unwavering vision for social justice; delight in meaningful conversation; love and inspire all of us to live and struggle fiercely. To Marilyn Jean Buck, thank you for the poetry of your life. Onwards.
– Rajasvini Bhansali