In Memory of Irare Sabasu
The words of Irare Sabasu, January 30th, 2019: “I arrived in New York, found the women of the Archives, also found the women of Salsa Soul Sisters. The rest is history. These women consistently encouraged me in my writing and suggested other venues to which I should submit my work. To the women of those two groups, I thank you.” In her 1970s bio for the Jemima Writers Collective, Irare described herself as a “West-Indian Amazon”.
Irare left us on February 6, 2021.*
As a first organization of its kind, Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Women, Inc., created a revolutionary environment that promoted a new existence for lesbians of color. Salsa Sisters spoke their truths, boldly, against discrimination of all kinds including oppression, racism, homophobia, classism and sexism. The organization became a catalyst for lesbians of color to emerge as writers, poets, African dancers and drummers, educators, non-traditional workers, artists, activists, mothers, entrepreneurs and leaders in their own right. Irare was, and still holds, a special role in the work and legacy of Salsa. She will be remembered by many as a beloved artist, writer, poet, dancer, extraordinaire. The work that marked her legacy will continue to be enjoyed, and remembered. We all send up prayers and blessings, each time we think of her and call her name, Irare.
*Her mortal remains were interred at the Forest Green Memorial Park in Morganville NJ on March 10, 2021 by members of her community family at the Lesbian Herstory Archives and Salsa Soul Sisters.
Selected Writings of Irare Sabasu
Poem 1 (1979
(Written inside the symbol for women. No title.)
I be the words
But you be the
Sounds and Meanings
I be the thought
But you be the
Touch and feelings
I be the music
But you be the
Singer and Dancer
I be seeking the
Thank you for
Being the answer.
Poem 2 (1979)
She deals in games
And dreams and schemes
She’s a fine white powder
And needlepoint sharp
She’s a church next door
To a liquor store, she’s
A knife or a gun in the dark
She’s a deaconess on Sunday
She’s a hallway 4-bit whore
She sleeps on the subway
Her whole life in two bags
Can’t find no reason to try anymore
She’s a school where they
Major in kicking ass
She’s an area where you
Can’t get a taxi to pass
She’s a wino that don’t
Never use no glass, she’s
5 flights up, and no hot water
She fits 6 in a kitchenette
She watches a father molest
His daughter, guilt hasn’t
Quite stopped him yet
She’s a broken wife that
Can’t fend off his fists
She’s a radical with
Handcuffs on her wrists
She works for the mafia
Killing brings a good buck
Sweetheart she’s gonna
Make it big, she knows
Just who to fuck.
She goes to the mailbox
Her welfare checks gone
So she has to go thru her
Stuff for something to pawn
And both her grandparents
Are mugged by youths
Scarcely out of her womb
While the cops, courts and
Politicians dance to that
“Promise the suckers anything” tune.
And she beats her kids
Because she’s frustrated
So she gets sterilized
Cause she’s liberated
And she’s into survival
She takes karate
And she’s into grass
Cause it makes her happy
And she’s into soul food
Cause its sweet and greasy
And she’s into living…
Cause dyings too friggin easy
And her folks call her
Ghetto, with a capital G.
Poem 3 (1978)
Got to reprogram me
Got to learn not to
Say Bitch, so
Easy to my sisters.
Got to learn to let
The smile reach up
My eyes again….
We used to doubledutch.
Got to not let the man
Explode his plan…
Separate the women
From their warmth…
Their sister warmth.
Got to get me back
To the goddess
Got to go back when
Took care of her own
Got to find an oracle
Let her send me back home.
Got to catch
The amazon express.
Got to reprogram me
Got to re-turn relearn to
Touch my sisters softly
right now…there are too many smiles
too many distractions
and hour-eating situations
for you to even call or
but, it’s cool….
But it’s fine….
And I understand.
And in time….
I suppose I’ll find
That I have surreptitiously
Crawled into some corner of your
Sentimental hardly opened closet
To be stumbled over in mid-search
For something, someone else….
But….it’s still alright….
I do so understand.
Published in Heresies #12—The Sex Issue, 1981
she is tongue-deep inside me
sucking syrup from the
softness of the split-slit door
fingernails across my breasts
splinters piercing from the floor
the sunbeams squirm across the walls
even door closed, I hear the waves.
she’s become vampire-bold
her teeth cuts through her smiles
and she pierces every pleasure with some pain.
she proceeds to hurt me till I shimmer
inside pretty pleasure prisms
spaced between the coming and the come.
even shutters closed, I reel, I feel the sun.
she said she’s scorpio rising
that West Indian women really turn her on
and that I am just what she is here for
a pleasure trip, open lips,
tropic clit, a nipples tip….
a two-week summer slip-away….away
even legs closed, she ignites me
……..and I implode.
I am a freelance writer, artist and Taurian, residing in NYC via the Caribbean. Into sister strength, open minds, and communication via all our senses.
First published in Sinister Wisdom # 47, Summer- Fall, 1992
O she says:
I am her conch stew, fungi and callaloo
I am her ginger beer and mauby brew
I am her tamarind and soursop
her mango meat, when the sun’s too hot.
She says I am her sustenance
I am her guava girl… papaya pearl
her smooth, raw honey colored, lover girl
indeed, I am the most favorite fruit
on which her woman hunger feeds
and all my juicy-sweetest parts
where her hot tongue hungrily darts
are deep, banyon-root deep … inside
I am her roast fish and johnny cake
her tripe soup, and well done steak
her pigeon peas and rice, king fish slice
I am her opened up green coconut
I am her head flung, drink down, cool
smile-sweet sip … that I fill
her mouth, and ooze on out her lips
brazen, wet down to her nipple tips
says I am her supple sugar cane
shouldn’t nobody be so sweet so
make her body heat so, bush-tea burn
beg … for kisses … to kill the pain.
I am her fig, her cinnamon stick
tongue flick, salt lick, sweat slick
legs on her bare back grip … wild
beast sounds from her throat rip
ahh … she says I am her flan
her lozenge, her triple-layer …
chocolate cake, her cherry apple-raisin bun
and any part of me she tastes
she always have … big fun
says I am her fate, her life’s plan
I am her woman … the rest be damned.
She says, I am her sustenance.
I feel very lucky to have met a large number of people over the past few years who’ve influenced me deeply, even if we weren’t close friends…these women have formed the ground on which I stand. Irare Sabasu was a charming volunteer at LHA in New York City. I’m not sure how a woman can be both soft spoken and boisterous but Irare was that. A tall, full bodied, brown-skinned woman, she was proud of her connection to LHA. I used to march with her and the LHA contingent every Pride when I was in NYC. When Irare passed away this year, friends understood that she touched everyone who passed through the doors of LHA looking for our history.
I have tried to write about Iraré and what she meant to me but it keeps coming out more about me than her. Of course, I met Iraré in 13A , really through Georgia Brooks. Her wonderful deep laugh, low contralto voice and smile always reminded me of the women in my extended family group of ‘calabash cousins‘ who I knew as a child—the friends of my parents from New Rochelle. When our group marched together under the LHA banners I could always hear when she was nearby. I was still working out east on the Island back in those days and saw Iraré mostly around LHA and community events so we were not close then. But when we started looking for her again in 2018, it was Saskia and Maxine of LHA who found an old email that led me to her at the Split Rock Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx. This is where Deb and I first visited her in November 2018. A place where she had lived without any outside contact since 2005. A place where COVID-19 kept us apart physically almost just after we had reconnected—but it was also there that we became ‘best friends’ for what turned out to be the last years of her life.
Beautiful smile, bright eyes, sweet energy.
Lady Irare was a beautiful, talented woman. I remember her collection, her incense, oils, poetry and dance. Most of all, her genuine friendship shared with her Salsa Soul family. RIP, my friend.
Loretta Bascombe (The Coconut Woman)
A salty wordsmith
Lover of the drums
Spirit dancer of the divine
Such beauty to behold
Such a connoisseur of the sublime
See you on the other side, dear one
Irare was usually laughing in a high pitched voice. On the other hand, in the early days of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Irare was seriously committed. That’s when they were organizing at Joan Nestle’s Upper Westside apartment.
I always remember when she would speak her poetry. She would always make me smile.
She was a wonderful writer. I just loved listening to everything she had to say.
Griot Queen in Movement…
Irare’s laughter and smile, infectious…
When Irare danced, WOW!!! It was as if she was gliding through space, effortlessly.
The energy she emitted touched my whole soul
Roberta Stokes (Oloyade)
I remember Irare looked deep into you. Never past. Or aside. She dared you to be present.
A. Sayeeda Moreno
When I think of Irare’s multi-colors, it permeates my senses. Not only was Irare colorful externally, her garments were always royal, but her spirit was filled with the curiosity of a playful child. Irare exuded joy and I felt it each time she hugged me. Yet, Irare was deeply mysterious, almost, other wordly, hence I see in her name, I RARE, and yes she rare, indeed. What a divine gift we had in this legend! Soar, rare one, soar!!!
When Irare danced with “A Piece of the World,” it was a beauty to see. She was a big woman, but so very light on her feet. I loved watching her dance.
I remember you, Irare, grieving for your passing and celebrating your life.
I recently found a holiday card Irare sent me in 1997. I have very fond memories of working with her at the Archives and hanging out together. May her memory be a blessing.
I remember Irare from the archives when it was on 92nd Street. She was a large woman, with a warm smile, an enveloping hug and a deep full -bodied laugh. Irare spoke little about herself, her life or her history. She appeared to move through space unencumbered, yet I imagine often pursued by unspoken troubles. Irare was quite self-effacing, a talented artist and poet whose work appeared in newspapers and journals, but she played down her talents. Irare left her mark on the Archives and in our community history.
Irare Sabasu was a traveller and one of her ports of call was 13A on 92nd Street, the then home of LHA. She arrived with hugs and laughter that embraced all around her but her reserve about her own histories was as deep as her laughter. She told me once that her parents had been killed in a car accident in her island home of origin. In a way the coming together of voices here is our way of following Irare’s gifts to the communities she so valued. I find her name among the artists presenting at the 1985 NCBLG’s National Conference to Address AIDS in the Black Community; on the cover of Azalea, in 1978; her artwork and poems on varied pages of lesbian, feminist journals of the 70s and 80s with her hard to see name printed in the shadows. What I remember most deeply was Irare presenting her poems to the archives, carefully typed up and mounted on cardboard, a preciousness of giving, of honoring her own art, created sometimes in very difficult circumstance, but we came together often in joy, particularly when celebrating our Taurean birthdays at LHA. We can lose each other in the passage of years, but we can also bring each other home.
Irare, you moved among us, mysteriously, joyful, lovable, captivating us with your smile and dance that was as musical as your poetry, and soulful. Our memories are everlasting, just like yesterday, young, hopeful, courageous, and wondering what the future will hold.
Sharon and Cassandra
First published in LHA Newsletter # 6, 1980
Our talk—Lesbian talk
Woman to woman to
Woman woman talk.
We really ought to
Legacy our talk
Before it is too late. Our words should be
Gathered, shared, strong.
They ought to be unhitched
Unshod, unsaddled, ought
To be let loose…
Ought to gallop free like
Wild mustangs surging
Powerful across the mesa
Trembling the very earth
Beneath their unity, their
Too long…unsure, unsaid
Unmentioned, untapped, unreal.
Our woman-Lesbian talk
Should not be weak, whinnying
Words that can be whipped,
stumbled, subdued, corralled,
Slaughtered and shipped out
To end up in factories as
Gobs of flue, sluggish in
Assorted shatterproof bottles
Shut up in a drawer somewhere.
There are more of us out there
Let them know we are here
Let the next she-generation share,
Compile the visual, the tangible, the audio.
Let another Lesbian know,
Let her know!