Peace with open arms

Noara Dines was a promising young wordsmith whose way with language galvanized the local poetry community. Then, last month, a drunk driver silenced her voice.

Noara Dines

Noara Dines

When Sacramento poet Noara Dines went onstage to recite her work, everyone would stop what they were doing and listen up.

“At Luna’s, I know that it is an incredible reading when you can hear the refrigerators humming,” said Tim McKee, a local author, poet and Sacramento Poetry Center board member. “Everyone is that silent. And it’s such a busy [place], with people eating food, the latte machine going in the background. It’s pretty rare when that happens—and Noara could do that to a room.”

Dines died on January 18, 2003, when a drunken driver—going the wrong way on I-5 south of its junction with State Highway 152 near Santa Nella in Merced County—crashed into her 1985 Honda Accord. Dines recently had moved to Upland in San Bernardino County to be with her soulmate, LaRoy Smith, who had been accepted at Pitzer College in Claremont.

“One thing that I want people to know,” said Smith, “is that she went out of her way to make people’s lives better.”

A lot of other people agree.

“She was a loving person, super-sweet and kind of melancholy,” said SAMMIE-nominated poet and folksinger Ruebi Freyja. “Her poetry was dark and erotic. She was soft and dark, but her delivery was strong.”

“She was one of those people who were really, really willing to fight for anything that was right,” said Abrina Abraham, who had known Dines since high school.

Dines was born March 12, 1982; she grew up in Midtown. She attended Natomas Performing Arts School, where she got involved in every activity she could find. A born overachiever, Dines was in all of the school productions and, as a devoted Christian, was actively involved in her church camp. But Dines’ specialty was debate. After high school, Dines attended Sacramento City College, where she met Smith.

“I was on the college debate team at Sacramento City College, and she was new to the team,” Smith said emotionally. “I was pretty successful as a college debater, and most people were really impressed with my intellect. And she was the first person in a really long time that wasn’t at all impressed with me. I went out of my way to be impressive, and she wasn’t all that enthused. She would frequently disagree with things that I had to say, when most people would never dare to challenge me. I respected and I liked that.”

A romance soon blossomed. “It began as a really good friendship, and from there, we started to spend more time together,” said Smith. “I was crazy about her inside of a month.”

Dines’ college education exposed her to ideas that had not occurred to her before. She started reading the works of such writers and political commentators as Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, the latter a Sacramento native, and it opened the floodgates to her political activism. The former member of Jews for Jesus became aware of injustices in the United States and the world. She became disgusted about the percentage rates applied to countries by the World Trade Organization, the U.S.-led embargo against Iraq and the treatment of Palestinians in Israel.

“She was sure that she was going to change the world,” said Abraham. “She was always like, ‘Abrina, are you going to go to this rally or this protest?’ ”

Dines also started writing poetry, with emphasis on performing live. She bent her debate skills like forged steel into outrage vented in poetry.

“She was a warrior,” said McKee. “A warrior of love—and what I mean is, she embodied and believed in such basic, beautiful things and that she felt justice was an illusion here and a historical myth. In the pursuit of justice, she raged out against the parts of America that pretend to be just but aren’t.”

“She flowed from passion or something that she believed in or something that she was strongly motivated about emotionally,” said Smith. “Not typically anger, although that did motivate [her] poetry. She would write about the experience of women in the world or America, the experience of children. It was typically rooted in some kind of injustice that was leading to pain and suffering of people. Her advocacy was always reflected in her poetry.”

Her strong presence and hard-hitting verse knocked the socks off the veterans of Sacramento’s poetry scene. “She could speak powerfully about political issues in such a way that would make people look up and listen,” said McKee.

“I met her at Luna’s Café,” said poet Felicia McGee, who wrote a book titled Voice in the Wind and has had her work published in numerous poetry anthologies. McGee was flabbergasted by Dines’ powerful poems and delivery. “That’s when I first heard her read,” she recalled, “on the first Saturday in March. It was a Women’s History Month celebration, and she closed out the evening with a poem about placing people on different levels. And this poem, I don’t want to say that it convicted me—'Oh the show is on a different level now,’ we have to step it up.”

Dines was not just a coffeehouse activist; she stood up for her values and sense of right daily. When the bank at which she worked (while attending Sacramento City College full time, with a 4.0 GPA) ordered all of its tellers to wear red, white and blue clothing after 9/11, Dines refused, even when threatened with dismissal. In another incident at work, Dines posted an Ani DiFranco poem—“We hold self-evident that George Bush is not my president”—next to a patriotic poem written by a fellow employee that included a line about hunting the turbans out of caves.

“She was a ray of information,” said Abraham, who also worked with Dines. “She really changed my life the way she opened my eyes to so much. I was thankful for it, and I was sad for it because sometimes I wanted my little bubble back.”

When Smith was accepted at Pitzer College, Dines was up for the move to Southern California, even though it meant leaving her friends, school, work and local notoriety in the Sacramento poetry scene.

“[Smith and Dines] were an incredible balance,” said McKee. “Noara told me that he was really good at seeing what was wrong with things and that she brought him the beauty of the small things.”

“I never thought that she would pack up everything and move out with me,” said Smith. “But without question, she transferred jobs and came down to be with me.”

Dines was returning to Sacramento in the early-morning hours on January 18 to be at her dying aunt’s side when the accident occurred. Her friends and family were stunned by her sudden demise. It was a triple tragedy for her family; her aunt died shortly after Dines’ accident, and the poet’s father had died a few months earlier.

“The world truly lost something when she died,” said Smith. “I stand committed to the same causes, but I know that I’ll probably never be able to reach people on a personal level the way that she could. I give talks and engage in open debates as a means of activism, and she did the same. But she changed the lives of people she met every single day. She just had a way of reaching out.”

“Every time when I see a flier about a protest or something,” said Abraham, “I feel that she’s there saying, ‘C’mon girl, go! Go put your fist up and go!’ ”

LaRoy Smith and Noara Dines, embracing in happier times.

Dines’ life will be celebrated between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 8; at Luna’s Café, 1414 16th Street; in a tribute entitled “Love Cries and Battle Scars: A Tribute to Noara Dines.” Poets honoring Dines include McGee, McKee, Freyja, Anne Blackshaw, Krishna Munoz, Stephanie Freeman and Smith.

The following is the end of Dines’ poem “Powder Pink.”
… if i am to be reborn, let it be as bastard child to joan of arc

that i may suck blood from her nipples in order to quench the thirst i

sustained on my most recent jog down memory lane

that i may fill my anemic veins with her ambrosia, nourishing me to birth my

daughters in her passion and shroud them in her strength

nevertheless perspiring the compassion this lifetime around has brought to

boil up through my pores war with words

peace with open arms

worship only each other

the dust is settling powder pink

cologned with the blood of the children our mothers wept for

under the scope of the universal slogan that the blood runs less crimson on

the other side

if my blood runs pink to your eyes, it is through rose-colored lenses

affixed to dry sockets where thinly draped pride

has withheld cleansing tears

it is not, as it may appear, petty circumstances for which i cry

i weep for my generation

i mourn the massacre at the end of the barrel of the hands we shape like

guns as we point fingers in each other’s faces as we point fear away from


my only lineage is womyn

my only name is the eyes through which i see

an inkblot on a picture that keeps getting bigger

my only dream, the womyn i want to be

… within it all