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.

Irare Sabasu. Photo: Morgan Gwenwald


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

Questions….

Thank you for

Being the answer.

Azalea Cover Art, 1978


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

And touch….

My eyes again….

Like when…..

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

Earth mother

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

….softly.

right now…there are too many smiles

too many distractions

and hour-eating situations

for you to even call or

drop

a line

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….

And I…..

I do so understand.

Womanews, vol. 6, #9, Oct 1985. Illustration for an article on racism in the media, written by Jewelle Gomez.


Island Cabin

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.


Sustenance

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.


Community Memories

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. 
Jewelle Gomez

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.
Paula Grant

Beautiful smile, bright eyes, sweet energy.
Vejan Smith

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)

Sassy Irare

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
Phyllis Bethel

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.
Imani Rashid

I always remember when she would speak her poetry. She would always make me smile.
Asabi Davis

She was a wonderful writer. I just loved listening to everything she had to say.
Harriet Alston

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!!!
Juliette Bennett

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.
Joan Ashley

I remember you, Irare, grieving for your passing and celebrating your life.
Marian

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. 
Susan

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. 
Deborah Edel

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. 
Joan Nestle 

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

Irare Sabasu, From the LHA collection


Legacy 

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

Flying feet.

Too long…unsure, unsaid

Unfulfilled…unclaimed

Unorthodox…unexplained

Untraceable…unnamed

Unsolved…unhealed

Too long…unbanded

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.

Please…please

Let another Lesbian know, 

Let her know!


2 responses to “In Memory of Irare Sabasu”

  1. Hi there, thank you for your comment and concern. Please see the edit to the original post above. Members of her community family at the Lesbian Herstory Archives and Salsa Soul Sisters interred Irare’s remains in March. Those involved were advised that the government website will not be updated to remove her name. This is because Irare’s remains were not claimed by a blood relation. For that reason, her name will remain in the event that a relative doing research comes forward, they will be able to get in touch with the Medical Examiner’s Office to get information about what was done.

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