All posts by Opal Palmer Adisa

Diverse and multi-genre, Opal Palmer Adisa, is an exceptional talent, nurtured on cane-sap and the oceanic breeze of Jamaica. Writer of both poetry and prose, photographer, curator, professor, educator and cultural activist, Adisa has lectured and read her work throughout the United States, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Germany, England and Prague, and has performed in Italy and Bosnia. An award-winning poet and prose writer Adisa has fourteen titles to her credit, including the novel, It Begins With Tears (1997), which Rick Ayers proclaimed as one of the most motivational works for young adults.

Happy Birthday Jawara, My Amazing Son

They Will Not Take Youjajachampaign
by Opal Palmer Adisa


April  29 – May 4,1992 marks the LA’s riot as a result of the acquittal of 4 LAPD officers recorded beating  and using excessive force on Walter Rodney.  My son was almost one year old, and police brutality and the lynching and abuse of Blacks, but specifically African American men, had been institutionalized and normalized. I decided that my son would not be a victim to this system. I wrote, “I Will Not Let then Take You,” then as a pledge to him, but now with the wave of protest over the killing of George Floyd, and other African American men and women with deadly force by the police, I’ve upgraded the poem by reaffirming my commitment to my son who is now thirty one years old and living in LA.  I have also changed the title.


Tell them

Tell them loud and clear

your mother is a crazy Jamaican woman

who will wage war for you

who refuses to sacrifice you

to racism


You will breathe

You will breathe

your ancestors breathed for you

to live with dignity

unafraid that your life-breath

will be kneed-out


Tell them

Tell them

I will not surrender you to distressed streets

I will not leave you for dope dealers

I will not abandon you to the police

who  targets you –a black man


You will breathe

You will breathe

We all breathe for you


What is the language of tomorrow

that we mothers and sisters

and lovers and wives must speak

words seeped in future years

words that raise you

to soar beyond the heavens

to dance in the lap of life

and sleep in the belly of laughter


Tell them

Tell them

you have a mother

who remembers

she endured

in getting you here

and she will not give you up

will not give you up

to no one


Your breath is filtered

through rosemary water

and eucalyptus oil

so you can leap

you are heir to the next generation

whose path has been cleared

by the blood of your forefathers

who were silenced


whose present were usurped

from them

but still they insisted

on being men so you

could leap


You will breathe

You will live

for all those


You will live



Tell them

Tell them

Your motheropaljajb 2

will not give you  up

but to love of

your own dreams


Tell them

your mother

insists you breathe







In this photograph I am not yet 2 years old. My mother’s bicycle is leaned next to the bench where I am sitting.

IMG_8144My mother doesn’t remember the occasion or circumstance under which the photo was taken or where my sister and other siblings were.

I often try to imagine what this little girl –me– was thinking.

I am not smiling, rather it seems my attention is focused keenly, else where, rather than at the person taking the photo. Yet, I seem very  intense. I don’t have a memory of myself at this age, but I see myself, much younger in my crib, very self-absorbed and feeling as if I don’t need anyone. My imagination is active and I love being alive in that moment.

How do we connect to who we were when we were born, to who we have become?

How do we know or remember which dreams were important to us and when we let them go, or why we let them go or do they still live somewhere else?

How do we know if we have realised more than we had hoped for as a child or less?

How connected or disconnected are we to our little person self?  I feel strongly that I am connected to little Opal, that we walk side by side, that she nudges me and says good going, that she is so proud that I have not abandoned her or our dreams.


Honour Your Child Self

In this photograph I am not yet 2 years old. My mother’s bicycle is leaned next to the bench where I am sitting.IMG_8144

My mother doesn’t remember the occasion or circumstance under which the photo was taken or where my sister and other siblings were.

I often try to imagine what this little girl, me was thinking.

I am not smiling, rather it seems my attention is focused keenly, else where, rather than at the person taking the photo. Yet, I seem very  intense. I don’t have a memory of myself at this age, but I see myself, much younger in my crib, very self-absorbed and feeling as if I don’t need anyone. My imagination is active and I love being alive in that moment.

I believe I have always honoured  my child self, perhaps sometimes to the determent of  missing opportunities, but I love this child that is me.  All the stories my mother and other relatives told me about my child-self indicate that I was happy, loved to laugh and always had a mouth, a rejoiner for everything anyone said to me.  Perhaps I knew I would become a a writer.

I do see myself as a little girl being very curious about the environment, and wanting to know everything.  I was called a Tom-boy because I enjoyed the outdoors and doing things that supposedly boys did –go off on my own in the woods, climbing tree, scrambling through barbed-wire fences, shooting birds with my sling shot, and lighting and tossing fire-crackers even after a few times they busted in my palm, swelling  and staining them with the sulphurous gun-powder.

This little girl is still alive, still curious, still planning adventures and still looking intently at life… I love and celebrate her

Grow To Eat

unnamed-1I am not new to growing.  As far back as I can remember to my childhood all the people around me grew things.

My mother comes from Flemstead a rural village in St James, and her people were farmers.  Although my mother left there and was reared in Kingston from the age of 10, she also grew things.  It was not unusual for people of my mother’s generation to grow things.

I tend a garden of flowers and herbs and vegetables from watching my mother. I have introduced my children to growing, and am happy to say my daughters have taken this on even though they don’t have a yard. I am always thrilled when I go to my garden and see what I have produced.  I am even more thrilled when I eat it as I know it is free from pesticide and it is healthy. Here I have Bak Choy that I have grown.  Red callalloo, yes red the first for me; I’ve also planted green, and kale, herbs, beans and peas, pineapples, cane and banana…each day I learn more and expand for myself and my relatives and friends.

The Story of My Face/Our Faces

IMG_8058It is said the eyes are the window to the soul, but what is the face?

I love my face. I guess being told I was pretty when I was a child has helped me to feel good about my features. But I also know that I wear different faces depending on how I am feeling and the circumstances in which I find myself. During meetings I try to wear a professional face, meaning I try to not let my emotions show openly on my face.

When I am reading  or performing my work, my face is very expressive and I try to display the specific emotion of the work I am sharing.

When I am with friends, just having a good time, my face is open and I do not try to conceal or project anything but myself and what I am feeling at the moment.

I try to imagine what my face looks like  during labor and child-birth.  I think  about how my face feels when I am making love.  Does it emit a different smell when I am cooking?  When I take a shower and soap my face or my eyes sting from the salt of the sea or the chlorine in the pool, how do these elements change my face? What is my sad face, when my mother died and I was flying from Jamaica to California to see her before she issued her last breath.  I did not want to see my mother’s death face.

This is my COVID 19 face.  I don’t think it shows that there is a pandemic? It is a selfie and I only wanted to capture part of my face, and the words reflect who I am and who I always want to show up as — I want my face to announce this creative resilience.

What does someone mean when they declare, “Say it to my face.” ? Often it is when something negative is said behind one’s back, and the person saying whatever they are saying  is being called out as a coward. “Say it to my face, damn it!”

Maybe it is akin to what Eleanor Roosevelt means in this quotes: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”  How does one look fear in the face?  What does that mean really? To be brave? To push through?

I like face-to-face events. I love the intimacy that these opportunities afford us. This way I get to hear and see, and therefore feel more apt to evaluate the merit of what’s being said. I suppose face-to-face is like eye-ball to eye-ball, although this latter term seems more aggressive as id a dual is taking place — who can out stare whom?

Some people refer to their face as their  mug, this usually suggests a criminal element.

This is my profile indicates a pose, a decided presentation. What about your features? Here again, it tends to be an assessment of supposedly one’s best `side.’

“Keep your face always towards the sunshine — and shadows will fall behind you,” says the poet Walt Whitman.  Do we really know what he means seeing that the quotes is lifted out of context. This is what I think happens when the sun is out, and one faces the sun, but I suspect Whitman is speaking in poetic terms, metaphorically.

J.D. Salinger’s quote is clear, and we don’t have to second guess what he means  when he says, “She was not one for emptying her face of expression. ” Here is a woman who does not attempt to hide what she is feeling –joy or contempt or anger or livid disdain. But look at how the writer puts it, `emptying’…can one also say filling up?

The Roman orator, statesman and writer, Marcus Tullius Cicero, offers a quote which I find to be profound and accurate to a point;  he says “The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.” Let’s ponder this for a moment — the face reflecting the mind and the eyes interpreting.  How accurate is this?  What about a seeing impaired or blind person?

How about this, “Every face, every shop, bedroom window, public-house, and dark square is a picture feverishly turned–in search of what? It is the same with books…”
from Virginia Woolf.  What is it that you face is seeking?  Where is it looking?  What is it telling others?  What is it concealing? How open or close is your face?  When is it most vulnerable?

Finally, think about this term, “Blackface” popularised  in the United States as a form  of theatrical make-up used predominantly by mostly white performers to represent a caricature of a black person. Imagine that, to blacken the face to poke fun or misinterpret that actions and/or mannerism of a Black person. A racist act.

Side Bar 1: Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892), a humanist,  and an American poet, essayist, and journalist work incorporates transcendentalism and realism; Leaves of Grass, his major work, he self-published in 1855

Side bar 2: J. D. Salinger is best known for  his novel, The Catcher in the Rye.  He ended up being a recluse after this success, and published very little upon till his death, novel The Catcher in the Rye

Side Bar 3: Did you know that Virginia Woolf is considered to be “one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors and also a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device?”

An Ackee Eating People

IMG_8032There is something to be said about a people who have nationalized a poisonous fruit —our resourcefulness at transformation.

Brought from West Africa, Ackee also known as Akan, if eaten before it ripens and opens its pods naturally  produces toxins– hypoglycin A  and B, that when converted into the body are lethal, and can result in what Jamaicans call vomiting sickness.

How Jamaicans came to figure out when to eat the ackee, to wait until it ripens naturally, and how it came to be made our national dish beats me.  I think it is one of the most beautiful plants, its pear-shaped red colour, shiny black seeds and three pods fruit in each pot, with a menstrual red membrane that must be removed before cooking.IMG_8027

As Jamaica’s national disk, ackee is steamed with salt-fish and eaten with breadfruit, or boiled green banana, fried plantain, or cooked with rice commonly called seasoned rice as a one-pot meal, or now made into patties, or quiche or done in a variety of ways. I recently learned that it can be eaten raw or chopped and tossed into a salad.  Like any fruit, the numerous ways ackee can be prepared is yet to be discovered.

Its pods and seeds are tossed into compose, but the dried ackee pod is elegant, and its decorative abilities  has to be explored; I have long believed its seeds would make beautiful jewelry.

Jamaican are one of the most resourceful and creative people that I know, and I readily admit my bias as a fellow Jamaican.  But truly our creativity and ingenuity are limitless. What we lack is discipline and a spirit of Ujamaa, collective and cooperative economics.

I believe in us.  I believe that African Jamaicans will yet acknowledge and come together in the spirit of fraternity, and create a bright future for the African population. I await all the positives ackee vibes we will unleash as a result of COVID 19.

Stay safe and blessed.  Asè

Memories Pictures Hold: Her Own Woman

Tejucruisebday To say I love her is a lie.  What I feel for her is more than love, it is akin to selfishness, it is akin to the whole of life; it is life.

I know exactly when this photo was taken, but don’t know by whom.  We are on a Caribbean Family reunion cruise, and Teju is eight and was very specific about wanting to celebrate her birthday onboard with all her cousins and other relatives, so I rented a room for the occasion.  The red outfit was her choice as well.  We had gone shopping before the cruise and she spent a great deal of time, browsing and when she saw it, she declared immediately that it was the one, the exact outfit she wanted to wear to celebrate her birthday on the cruise.

From she was 3 years old, she was very clear about how she wanted to look, her style, panache!  We, mother and daughter, are captured at a time when we were still very much in love with each other, when she needed me, when I was her appendage — I was still trying to keep her from coming into my bed at nights.

But this is evidence that once she needed me; even adored me, and once we were so close, and she wanted to snuggle next to me.

I often wonder what causes us to move away from these moments? And how to compare them to the present?  We are still close, and still need each other in other ways –in a new grown up way.  Are these earlier connections grafted into our psyche? I want her to remember… that red dress and that moment with me?


Memories Pictures hold: Bath

I know this apartment where this photo is taken but I don’t remember what was so significant about the day or who took the photo, but I suspect it must have been taken by my husband at the time, my son’s father.


Why I am bathing Jaja, who was s chubby, happy baby in the kitchen sink, in that basin that is clearly too small for him I don’t know. I suspect his sister, Shola, might have been enjoying a bubble bath in the bathroom and he was still too young to join her. Or maybe I was in the kitchen and he had just finished eating and food was all over him or maybe…what?  He loved the water and he loved being naked. I just thought it was a good idea, a spur of the moment decision without agenda, hence the photo.

 I see me looking down at him with a smile, but his gazed is fixed elsewhere.  What has caught his eyes? A tree through the window?  A bird perched? The glare of the sun? His dream of what he wants to become?

When we have children we are stitching the fabric for dreams.  If we are lucky, and do parenting right, with as minimum of damage as possible, that fabric could become a star for whom we take credit and applaud ourselves.  Jawara, peaceful warrior, has grown into the meaning of his name, has become a star that shines, has become a man whose gaze is always moving him into tomorrow.  Asé!

Resurrect A New You


I’ve long felt there was something innately wrong with praying to someone nailed to a cross. It is a vulgar image, and made more vulgar if I am to believe that the allegedly most powerful person in the world would sacrifice his only son, when the power was in his hand to change the hearts and minds of the persecutors, to whisk away his son, or to eradicate violence all together.

How has this image of “god’s” son nailed to a cross inscribed for us that violence is acceptable? For me it portrays the father as untrustworthy, a man willing to let his son suffer — for the salvation oh mankind? I don’t buy it. Not a pill I am prepared to swallow. As a parent, I find the representation of such as father reprehensible, and certainly no one with whom I have any faith. So where does that lead me?

I read the story with its patriarchal endorsement of violence, and I shift my gaze to the mother going to the grave site and the resurrection — after all it is women who must always weep, and use our tears to wash away man’s violence and transform it into something palatable and hopeful.

Given the global pandemic, Resurrection at this time, is being called for — rising from our slumber into greed, rising from our disregard for the environment, for one another, and for the future we ought to be creating. How do we resurrect our vision? How do we imagine and begin to fashion a new way of existence and development? How do we climb out of the quagmire of mediocrity into which we have stumbled and become community again?

I believe we can. I know we can. I am pronouncing that we will. Our very survival depends on our resurrection from violence and wastefulness.

Let’s begin this new journey and create a cross, not to worship, but to step forth with a vision that is humane and equitable.