Interviewing the Caribbean Special Tribute Part 1
KAMAU BRATHWAITE, historian and poet

Stretching Words

I heard the announcement of his death via a WhatsApp message.
I called for confirmation.
His death confirmed.
My heart hiccupped.
Another Caribbean giant gone.

I put my fingers to my lips to kiss him goodbye.
He was a mentor and a friend.
I had called him a few times in 2019 but he never picked up.
The last time we spoke, he said he wasn’t well and wasn’t up to having visitors, not even friends.
I had been in Barbados and had hoped to see him.
I hung up.

Emails were less frequent after that:


Opal Palmer Adisa <[email protected]>
Feb 22, 2019, 5:36 PM
to Kamau

Dear Kamau:
Confirming that I can print this poem in my journal, Interviewing the Caribbean, March issue.
I would love another one from you to add to this.
One Love
Walk Good,
Opal Palmer Adisa, Ph.D.


Kamau Brathwaite <[email protected]>
Feb 23, 2019, 9:59 AM
to me

My very dear Opal, yr voice, since Mona, is not so clear in my ears but Interviewing the Caribbean, the new book Words Meaning Life and what you must be doing as Director of the IGDS, assures that you blossom flowering to fruit, reassures me you are happy, more than well, cf The Basilisk this side wd you senn -me a copy of the poem you would like to use in March? (can’t seem to find it here). I wd then add the one-more you have asked me to


That was our last communication.

Kenya’s longest-serving President, Daniel Arap Moi, died at age 95 on the day Kamau Brathwaite died. Coincidence? Kamau was given his first name by Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s mother when he was a fellow at the University of Nairobi in the 1970s.

Kamau’s works have had profound impacts on many of us. This tribute is an opportunity for us who knew how he stretched language to make sure it spoke all of our stories, to use our voices to celebrate the life of this great poet and historian.

Even now I hear his voice, words elastic, stretched taut, his rhythm drumming in my ear, soft, solicitous, endless. A plea, a cry, a bleed for us and to us; his voice drumming, syncopated, nyabinghi, tuk, ragga-soca; words stretched to tears.

Opal Palmer Adisa
Mona, Jamaica, 2020