I feel sometimes that my blog has become a running obituary. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Jorge Macchi, for example, used the obituary pages from the Buenos Aires newspaper to construct a city of paper in which stars and crosses were all that remained. And loss is part of life. It’s all that strange ying/yang cycle of creation. But I am surprised by how easy it is for me to not visit this place, to forget to chronicle life’s thoughts – I’ve been so busy. I never thought I’d hear myself say that.
In any case, I’m going to stop beating around the drum. I’m very sad about the death of Ana Sisnett, tocaya, artista, poeta, activista, elder, grandmother, drummer, Scorpio.
She was to be featured in the Austin Salon this past November, but was ill. We drummed for her instead. She’s been fighting ovarian cancer since 2006, when she was diagnosed. Like most artists, she was uninsured, and like most artists, was at the mercy of her community’s goodwill. Luckily, the City of Austin provided good services for her and her community has loved her very much.
My friend K.M. first told me about Ana, and that I should meet her. That she too is an Afro-Latina artist and writer. S.B. showed me a painting she had done of two mermaids. When I was first in Austin in Spring 2006, there was a poetry reading and fundraiser for her, but I didn’t get to go. And so it was that I met her in the Fall of 2006. We met at Chango’s and had tacos together and learned about each other’s work and history. At a fundraiser for Ana later that Fall, I first heard Lourdes Perez – an extraordinary Boricua folk singer with a long history in Austin and I first saw how much Ana is dearly loved. She started freenet – an organization devoted to providing access to technology to low-income people. She believed, deeply, in the power that art has to give life. Not to save it but to give it. Her paintings and poetry alike are bright collages of color and flavors, of energy coming together in a dance of memory, place, love and body. Ana was an elder. She always made a point of showing me her daughter and her granddaughter’s paintings, of listening to their music, of understanding the importance of the generations.
When we first met, we laughed about being tocaya – connected by name, and thus by spirit. I recall how many times, J.M. has told me she was sending me a text that ended up going to Ana Sisnett instead or vice versa. That is the tocaya essence – it is easy to be confused.
Last Saturday, as I stood next to her, I said Tocaya loudly, whispered into her ear, “I love you, Ana.” and kissed her goodbye. In that moment, I realized that I was also saying goodbye to all the women ancestors in my own family with whom I did not have that opportunity. And that soon, Ana would be joining them, and maybe, just maybe she could carry some of that love to them, too. Here is a poem for Ana.
Baila the rhythms of Panama and Barbados
Caribbean salsa dancing in your bones
as smoothly as mainland heat
as easily as sweet plantain
ta-ta tata ta-ta
and rice and peace
Baila the rhythms of paint on canvas
of pen on paper
of hand on drum
of laughter and a raised eyebrow
step back, shake a shoulder
shimmer and shine with that sexy groove
Tun-tun tuku-tun Tun-tun tuku-tan
Takiti Takiti ta
Tun-tun taka ta
Takiti Takiti Takiti
Ta Ta Ta.