Come! Come and draw your loose lines
of light against and into my open mouth
like the fine lines of a web being built
along my heavy face; led bellied, blood
clotted clouds of night’s sleep borne
brooding of your bright breast keeping me
from rest while you lay onto my chest—
the weight of your body spread,
your coarse beard presses into my neck.
Give me leave. Leave me like this night
of my marriage to the moon’s urgent flight;
leave me outright for the day’s light—I can’t
bear to close my eyes tonight because
I may not wake to see the end of this night.
by Ruben Quesada
We were given a curfew on the second day.
Clouds filling windows were replaced by soot
and ash from the burned out market on the corner.
We lost the smell of buttered beetroot, Wissotzky tea
and kishke; a tendril of root infiltrated a crack
in the floorboards. We kept our distance and let it grow
in disbelief. Someone said we should kill it
before it gets too strong. Hours, maybe even days,
went by as we hid waiting for attacks and looting
to end. At times, when the door opened, a waft of wind
made its way to those unfolding leaves
waving like the curtains out of blown out windows.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Take me. Take this. My wasted life and all
its bliss—the sea of your waking body
dawning with its warm grip on night’s wrist.
Your lips once curled into me. Your eyes
set me loose in a foggy lake. Loons call
to fill my deadened heart. To know
what loss is like you must lose everything,
you must lose even yourself, you said.
I am alone. Each night I lie and learn
to sing the dead back to life. Only they
can see what has been taken from me.
You are the bloodied cracks in my skin
so deep; I keep my hands together to hold
you in. Hear the damned prayers I reap.
Among the chaos of the 24/7 news cycle this week was this little gem: the 3M corporation raised a rainbow flag to honor Pride on Wednesday at their corporate headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. If we are looking for small signs of change on how we treat each other as humans across the entire spectrum of our diversity it may seem a bit trivial, but it was in my mind none the less significant. That the flag will hang there for less a week is not important. This small step is not something that would have happened 5 years ago. It sometimes takes pain to foster change and healing. 3M is in the spotlight for providing masks to the world to protect ourselves during the pandemic and with the Twin Cities metro area in the global headlines for the wrong reasons, George Floyd’s murder, it is reassuring to see one of our corporate citizens do the right thing, take a risk and acknowledge in a public way the contributions of its LGBT scientists, employees and customers. It is a modest milestone that should be saluted.
Today’s poems are excellent examples of why not to read poetry literally. When I read the poem below it is obvious its about how readers take his poetry into their conscious and subconscious. How Whitman’s words are the essence of his best self. How poetry is sublime in ways that can cross metaphysical boundaries, but in the end, no matter how conjoined you become with a poet’s words, Whitman commands his independence and asks you, the reader to do the same. Even if you have been intimately moved and changed by what you have read and considered, you stand apart from the poet. Poetry can be a penultimate act of intimacy between two human beings but it remains personal in what we give and take as writer and as reader. Poetry in my opinion is procreation with our own souls. It is part of what I would consider essential living, the fulfillment of an exciting, passionate and considered life, whether writing it or reading it.
Another milestone this week: John Prine hit the charts with his first Billboard #1 hit with the last song he recorded before his death called I Remember Everything. He recorded it in his hotel room in London while under quarantine during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly isolation wasn’t enough and this insidious virus took his life. Prine’s song writing has always been a source of solace and inspiration to me. I smile that he is going out on top. Enjoy.
Whoever You Are Holding Me Now In Hand
by Walt Whitman
Whoever you are holding me now in hand,
Without one thing all will be useless,
I give you fair warning before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different.
Who is he that would become my follower?
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?
The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive,
You would have to give up all else, I alone would expect to be your sole and exclusive standard,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life and all conformity to the lives around you would have to be abandon’d,
Therefore release me now before troubling yourself any further, let go your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down and depart on your way.
Or else by stealth in some wood for trial,
Or back of a rock in the open air,
(For in any roof’d room of a house I emerge not, nor in company,
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill, first watching lest any person for miles around approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss or the new husband’s kiss,
For I am the new husband and I am the comrade.
Or if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart or rest upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus merely touching you is enough, is best,
And thus touching you would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.
But these leaves conning you con at peril,
For these leaves and me you will not understand,
They will elude you at first and still more afterward, I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.
For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
Nor do those know me best who admire me and vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love (unless at most a very few) prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only, they will do just as much evil, perhaps more,
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit, that which I hinted at;
I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.
Knowing there is no one measure of compatibility in human relationships, I still offer this: in my experience it is the quality of sleep that I achieve next to a partner that cements the bond between us as strongly as anything in the waking realm. Sleep can be messy; drooling, bad breath, restless legs, periods of wakefulness and brief conversations in the middle of the night in which one or the other partner has no waking memory. It is an anti-dote and mirror to our wakefulness and when it is gentle and accepting it makes the messiness of consciousness more accepting.
It is Pride Week. Pride festivities are likely to be a bit more subdued this year, social distancing and all, but I hope the momentum towards social justice keeps marching on, seeping into all the cracks that need to be filled in our social fabric, still allowing it to stretch into a bigger and bigger tent. Adrienne Rich is an important voice in LBGQT poetry and politics. Her poetic genius was not so much political it was an expression of love. I have several of her books from the 1970’s, relatively early in her career, her voice is one of confidence, one of courage, one of power; the power of love.
What are you doing to mark Pride this year? Marching? Dancing? Calling old friends? Doing something that celebrates we are all wonderful shades of the rainbow?
What kind of beast would turn its life into words?
What atonement is this all about?
—and yet, writing words like these, I’m also living.
Is all this close to the wolverines’ howled signals,
that modulated cantata of the wild?
or, when away from you I try to create you in words,
am I simply using you, like a river or a war?
And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars
to escape writing of the worst thing of all—
not the crimes of others, not even our own death,
but the failure to want our own freedom passionately enough
so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem
mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?
She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightlest bondage made aware.
I have used this time at home to continue the purge of belongings I began 10 years ago. There is something healthy about going from 3,000 square feet to 710 square feet of living space. It puts a premium on prioritizing what belongings have value. In cleaning out my garage this week, I came across the REI six man tent that was my car camp tent when my children were small. It accompanied us on many adventures. It is now 30 years old and despite multiple attempts at re-water proofing the fly, the last few times it has been used it has proven disappointing in its ability to function as a tent should. It also is bigger than I need now and weighs more than I want for hiking, so I decided it was time to part ways. I ran a CL list ad basically giving it away to a family as a kid fort in the back yard, to serve as some outdoor summer fun. I had an immediate response and it has found a better home where I hope it can create for another child some of the memories I have of the family tent as a fort in the back yard for daytime adventures and the occasional fair weather sleep over with a friend.
It is surprising to me there are not more poems written with tents as a metaphor for something grand and mystical. But then I have to remind myself that those of us that have been lucky enough to grow up with tents as part of their summer adventures are not in the majority, too many families either weren’t capable of vacations or parents ideas of vacations did not include biting insects, sand in your underwear and burned hot dogs over a fire. I am so grateful my parents did.
Do you have a favorite memory regarding a tent? What’s happened to your family tent? Is it still serviceable? Do you have plans to use it or is it time to let it find a new home and another purpose?
by Naomi Shihab Nye – 1952
When did hordes of sentences start beginning with So?
As if everything were always pending,
leaning on what came before.
What can you expect?
Loneliness everywhere, entertained or kept in storage.
So you felt anxious to be alone.
Easier to hear, explore a city, room,
mound of hours, no one walking beside you.
Talking to self endlessly, but mostly listening.
This would not be strange.
It would be the tent you slept in.
Waking calmly inside whatever
you had to do would be freedom.
It would be your country.
The men in front of me had whole acres
in their eyes. I could feel them cross, recross each day.
Memory, stitched. History, soothed.
What we do or might prefer to do. Have done.
How we got here. Telling ourselves a story
till it’s compact enough to bear.
Passing the walls, wearing the sky,
the slight bow and rising of trees.
Everything ceaselessly holding us close.
So we are accompanied.
Never cast out without a line of language to reel us back.
That is what happened, how I got here.
So maybe. One way anyway.
A story was sewn, seed sown,
this was what patriotism meant to me—
to be at home inside my own head long enough
to accept its infinite freedom
and move forward anywhere, to mysteries coming.
Even at night in a desert, temperatures plummet,
billowing tent flaps murmur to one other.
“When the wound is deep, the healing is heroic. Suffering and ascendance require the same work.”
― Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
Snow For Wallace Stevens
by Terrance Hayes
No one living a snowed-in life
can sleep without a blindfold.
Light is the lion that comes down to drink.
I know tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk
holds nearly the same sound as a bottle.
Drink and drank and drunk-a-drunk-drunk,
Light is the lion that comes down.
This song is for the wise man who avenges
by building his city in snow.
I know what he said in his poem.
“Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery.”
How, with pipes of winter
lining his cognition, does someone learn
to bring a sentence to its knees?
Who is not more than his limitations,
who is not the blood in a wine barrel
and the wine as well? I too, having lost faith
in language have placed my faith in language.
Thus, I have a capacity for love without
forgiveness. This song is for my foe,
the clean shaven, gray-suited, gray patron
of Hartford, the emperor of whiteness
blue as a body made of snow.
Is it not true that if we were to assemble enough of our life’s work and thoughts in one place, and dug through it carefully, we would find it would be an erector set of contradictions, or at least an odd creation with parts of it out of place? Are we to throw out everything a person creates because the worst of it is worse than we expect of them or that they expect of themselves? Is that not the nature of being human? Maybe it’s impossible to walk a straight line on a round planet forever twirling endlessly in two trajectories, one a slanted axis; the very nature of it dizzying, causing us to lose our balance once in a while and go akimbo.
One of the purposes of art is to hold ourselves and other artist’s accountable, for their genius and their failures or limitations. One of the sins of white privilege, particularly in the realm of poetry, is the reverence placed on the tradition of affluent white men of means who are held up as the pantheon of poetic tradition, without recognizing their legacy of poetry is tainted by the ease with which they found a publisher and an audience, the ease they were afforded recognition, while there were equally as many gifted voices of people of color that went unnoticed, unrewarded, unpublished, unheard. We best be careful as we venture back in literature to not let the whiteness of the page on which the words are set blind us to the whiteness of the privilege of the writer’s life that for many have persisted into the present.
Terrance Hayes has a knack for connecting the present to the past, for wading in the pools of literary history, feeling their swirling eddy’s, but then making the current his own. I love his lines; “I too have lost faith in language have placed my faith in language. Thus, I have a capacity for love without forgiveness.” These are the words at the core of how we might find a path to heal as a nation. Have we the people, lost faith in the words of our founding fathers? Words like “freedom” and “justice for all“? Maybe, if we can as a nation, hold on to love, we’ll find our way forward, even if the sins committed by our founders, in allowing slavery on these shores, and institutionalizing racism by that very act and suppression of rights under Jim Crow and segregation will never deserve forgiveness.
The Brave Man
By Wallace Stevens
The sun, that brave man,
Comes through boughs that lie in wait,
That brave man.
Green and gloomy eyes
In dark forms of the grass
The good stars,
Pale helms and spiky spurs,
Fears of my bed,
Fears of life and fears of death,
That brave man comes up
From below and walks without meditation,
That brave man.
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even I
Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.
Lord Byron – Prisoner of Chillon
Sonnet on Chillon
by Lord Byron
Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;–
For there thy habitation is the heart,–
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar, for ’twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.
I have slept terribly in recent weeks. I don’t think I am alone in that predicament. What little sleep I get appears to be at least restful enough to have the energy I need to be productive. I am eager for life to get back to normal but I fear that what was once my “normal” maybe a thing of the past. And I fear even more, that if and when we have the tools to resume the lives we expect, that we will have all grown so accustomed to being isolated that we will be fearful to venture into the rock and roll concert mosh-pits of our existences again.
Lord Byron’s poetic voice can feel a bit antiquated, but the ideas of state sponsored suppression of minority freedoms, injustice, unfair incarceration, and in spite of those opposing forces, hopeful dreams for a better future are as relevant in his verse from 200 years ago as today. I look to poets to help me make sense of the senseless in times of grief and loss and fear. Which poets do you find inspiration from right now? What emerging new voices have caught your attention?
Life is Twofold
(From The Dream)
by Lord Byron
Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
a boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence. Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality;
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy.
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight off our waking toils.
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity.
They pass like spirits of the past—they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain.
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of their own,
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh….
Said the chair unto the table,
“Now you know we are not able!
How foolishly you talk
When you know we cannot walk!”
Said the table with a sigh,
“It can do no harm to try.
I’ve as many legs as you.
Why can’t we walk on two?”
Edward Lear – Excerpt from The Table To The Chair
by T. S. Eliot
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.
I have a confession. I hope you will find it as funny as I do. I live in a small one bedroom condo and the distance from my desk to my Lay-Z-Boy is about 15 feet. I have on occasion during the age of COVID-19 and working from home begun taking long teleconferences from the comfort of my recliner. This is one of those well built, real leather clad behemoths that can stand the test of time. It has been tanned a second time by the sweat and oils of my skin, a patina leather furniture takes on with their owners essence over many years of use. It also has a certain voice, a low squeak and bark that leather makes when your body settles into it, particularly in the summer. It makes that sound of leather rubbing on leather when you move about in it changing positions. It talks to me in a pleasant greeting telling me; “settle down, get comfortable, put your feet up.” It has talked to me so long in that leathery low voice that I cease to give it a second thought.
I was chatting with my girl friend the other night from its comfortable confines and she said, “What are you doing? What’s that sound?” I said, “What sound?” She said, “It sounds like you have terrible gas tonight.” I laughed, “this sound?” and I raised and lowered the recliner’s foot rest a few times continuously, suddenly realizing that the microphone on an Apple I-Phone picks up that leather squeaking as exactly like a huge fart. My recliner has become a giant whoopee cushion. We both started giggling wondering how many people on group conference calls with me recently were wondering who was in such distress. We laughed and laughed. It’s reassuring to know that neither of us have out grown a good fart joke. But, I think I need to rethink taking conference calls from the recliner. I have a certain professional decorum to uphold….
The Chair She Sits In
by Albert Rios (1952
I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—
The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.
It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in
But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one
And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.
There’s no mystery—it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.
It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,
The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years—that’s how I understand.
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
One of the blessings of writing a blog is the opportunity for connection with people in the world you would never have had the opportunity to cross paths otherwise. Such is how I have come to have a copy of Scott Newstock’s new book How to Think Like Shakespeare. Newstock is is a professor of English and founding director of Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College. Newstock is a follower of Fourteen Lines and graciously sent me an advance copy.
The entire premise of the book is simple; if we could understand how genius arises, deduce where the ability to reshape the world through new ideas gestates, could we be more successful in opening doors into the vast potential of our own minds? Could we reshape education to greater assist the learning of every student’s inner Shakespeare? Hundred’s of years have passed since Shakespeare laid down his pen and yet what do we really know about his creative process? All we have is the evidence of his genius. Isn’t that true of every great writer, innovator, architect, scientist and artist? How much do we really understand where and how inspiration is conjured? It does not come from logic, or a sequence of numbers and equations to be added up, even when the outcome may look somewhat rigid or mathematical as in the form of a sonnet. Great art and science and innovation comes from a place beyond reason to inform and inspire reason. And in that way there are no formulas for learning it, but there are interesting insights to be had to step back and we think about thinking.
Newstock’s book is fourteen chapters on the essence of thinking. It is a playful, quote filled romp into the mind of Shakespeare. It is also an indictment on the failure of outcome based education and a plea to students and educators everywhere to remember one thing; the purpose of education is to learn how to think, not just to learn facts and process. For facts become irrelevant nearly as fast as they are minted.
If you would like a quick primer on some of aspects of the book, check out how Newstock playfully uses the metaphors around sonnet structure to help us look at the world differently. I have provided a link to his recent article below. And if you are a teacher or student and looking for a fun read this summer, check out his new book. I will close with another genius, William Wordsworth, who laid down his own thoughts on how to think like a sonnet, in a sonnet. Enjoy.
Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
“You are not just the age you are, you are all the ages you have ever been.”
by Arthur Rimbaud
Translated by Kenneth Koch
On blue summer evenings I’ll go . . down the pathywas
Pricked by the grain, crushing the . . tender grass –
Dreaming, I’ll feel its coolness on . . my feet.
I’ll let the wind bathe my bare head.
I won’t talk at all, I won’t think . . about anything
But infinite love will rise in my soul.
And I’ll go far, very far, like a gypsy
Into nature – happy, as if with . . a woman.
There are certain June evenings that are most suitable for time travel here in Minnesota. The blue light of the evening sky, the greenest green that Minnesota is capable of producing everywhere I look, the light fragrance of peonies punctuating the breeze, a temperature in which few clothes are needed except for protection from mosquitoes all combine for a state of bliss that allows for transport to all kinds of destinations. All that’s required is a campfire crackling into the edge of darkness, the embers beginning to roll with reds and oranges and the occasional green or blue flame, to hypnotize you into a state where your soul can be transported. It is on those nights that I can become like Koch said, “every age I have ever been.” I can relive June nights playing kick the can in the back yard, or riding my bike to nowhere in particular or sitting on a dock on a lake with my legs in the water, an evening tending bar for a wedding along the Mississippi river or playing with my children and the dog in the yard, or dancing with a partner at an outdoor music festival with reverie. It is all there for the traveling.
Where are you headed this week one June night in your mind? Are you bringing a friend?
You Know All This
by Kenneth Koch
The first, violent year . . I could not swim or float;
A dark and balanced fear . . Hung on me like a coat.
The second year it rained, . . The rain was strict and odd;
The fur of fear remained . . But I whistled Scheherazade.
The summer of the third . . I stripped with some dispatch:
Still finding me absurd . . You struck me like a match:
Flaming, naked, stung, . . I held you for a year,
Persistent as a tongue, . . Infecting you, my dear.
My hands, somnambular, . . Have kept you like a vow:
No matter where you are . . We touch each other now.
Emmett Till’s name still catches in my throat,
like syllables waylaid in a stutterer’s mouth.
A fourteen-year-old stutterer, in the South
to visit relatives and to be taught
the family’s ways. His mother had finally bought
that White Sox cap; she’d made him swear an oath
to be careful around white folks. She’s told him the truth
of many a Mississippi anecdote:
Some white folks have blind souls. In his suitcase
she’d packed dungarees, T-shirts, underwear,
and comic books. She’d given him a note
for the conductor, waved to his chubby face,
wondered if he’d remember to brush his hair.
Her only child. A body left to bloat.
It’s a fair question to ask, how far have we really come as a country in 65 years? It’s a question that haunts white Americans, those of us that would like to believe we are not part of the problem, which means, we are part of the problem. For when the privileges and dividends for being white are so pervasive that they cease to be visible to us, we have to ask the question to ourselves again, how far have we really come? I don’t know how far we’ve come, but its obvious to the entire world, we have a long, long, long way to go here in Minneapolis.
“What is gentlest in love is love’s violence.
Losing yourself in love, you reach love’s goal.
Love makes you suffer, as love makes you whole.
Love steals your everything and makes you rich.
Love is both meaningless and poetry.
Captured by love, by love you are set free.”
― Marilyn Nelson
Marilyn Nelson’s award winning crown of sonnets titled A Wreath for Emmett Till is a masterpiece of writing. Nelson has had a long and successful career as a writer and educator; everything from novels, to children’s books, to historical fiction, translations and poetry. In 2014 she published “How I Discovered Poetry” a book dedicated to her love affair with words. I would encourage you to seek out the entire text of A Wreath For Emmett Till. It is one of the finest sonnet sequences ever written. Here’s a video of her reading the two sonnet excerpt on today’s blog.
Your only child, a body thrown to bloat,
mother of sorrows, of justice denied.
Surely you must have thought of suicide,
seeing his gray flesh, chains around his throat.
Surely you didn’t know you would devote
the rest of your changed life to dignified
public remembrance of how Emmett died,
innocence slaughtered by the hands of hate.
If sudden loving light proclaimed you blest
would you bow your head in humility,
your healed heart overflow with gratitude?
Would you say yes, like the mother of Christ?
Or would you say no to your destiny,
mother of a boy martyr, if you could?