I Was Meant Truly To Sing

Alice Walker
Alice Walker

“Until you do right by me, everything you think about is going to crumble.”

Celie in The Color Purple

Turning Madness Into Flowers #1

By Alice Walker

If my sorrow were deeper
I’d be, along with you, under
the ocean’s floor;
but today I learn that the oil
that pools beneath the ocean floor
is essence
residue
remains
of all our
relations
all
our ancestors who have died and turned to oil
without our witness
eons ago.
We’ve always belonged to them.
Speaking for you, hanging, weeping, over the water’s edge
as well as for myself.
It is our grief
heavy, relentless,
trudging
us, however resistant,
to the decaying and rotten
bottom of things:
our grief bringing
us home.

 


There are voices in poetry that seem connected, as if arising from one spirit.  Alice Walker’s poetry strikes me as prayers that are deeply connected to a broader literary pantheon while being at the same time distinctly hers. I remember when The Color Purple came out and the book and the movie were resplendent in its story telling.  So different is the experiences depicted from my own, I was inspired moved, but was I changed? Were we changed as a society?   I believe so.  Literature and poetry have the ability to change our perspectives.  But at the same time, I realize simply seeing racism or the lasting scars of slavery, or being moved by the courage of individuals that stand up to unfairness doesn’t change the institutions that still perpetuate inequality.   Black lives matter is a movement to remind us we have not arrived at the destination, we are still on the journey and have a long way to go.

I was sitting on a plane from Tampa to Minneapolis recently next to a thoughtful experienced educator and we were discussing the achievement gap in public schools in Minnesota between students of color and their white counterparts.  Neither of us had an answer or a solution, other than let’s not be afraid of the conversation and the reality of what the data says and be open to ideas on how to do better. It’s a frustrating thing that when despite good intentions and focus, societal and educational problems get worse, not better. The human experience is a humbling one.  Thank goodness we have poets like Walker to pull us together and remind us to sing.


Before I Leave The Stage

By Alice Walker

Before I leave the stage
I will sing the only song
I was meant truly to sing.

It is the song
of I AM.
Yes: I am Me
&
You.
WE ARE.

I love Us with every drop
of our blood
every atom of our cells
our waving particles
-undaunted flags of our Being-
neither here nor there.

To Change The World Enough

alice-walker
Alice Walker  b. 1944

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

A song in the front yard

by Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.


To Change The World Enough

by Alice Walker

To change the world enough
you must cease to be afraid
of the poor.
We experience your fear as the least pardonable of
humiliations; in the past
it has sent us scurrying off
daunted and ashamed
into the shadows.
Now,
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
fresh light
you do:
the same high place
and ample table.
The poor always believe
there is room enough
for all of us;
the very rich never seem to have heard
of this.
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
however few;
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth’s reckoning;
no longer far
off
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
revelations;
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us.

 

I Hold My Honey And I Store My Bread

Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000)

Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Hydrangeas

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Great-Mama took such care tending
the teal hydrangeas – their massive heads,
full of petals like impulse thoughts,
could fly apart in any spring breeze
and they would be left scattered, half
of themselves, and still appear full-headed.
Great-Mama nursed them with formulas,
whispered names and lullabies
under her breath, patted and cooed
the soil at the roots until her palms
were caked black. Oh, how they blossomed
and sprouted, framing the front yard
as if to say, she is ours, ours, to touch her
you must cross from flesh to flower.


Brooks combined a mastery of language and movement in her poetry with a distinct voice for the African American community.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in  1946 for her volume  of poetry titled, Annie Allen, becoming the first African American to win the award.  She built on that recognition to eventually promote smaller Black owned presses and to tirelessly advocate for education and encouragement of students and young writers.  In 1985, at the age of 68 she became the first Black woman serving as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.  She used that position to sponsor and host literary awards and prizes.  She took her advocacy of literacy and literature to the people by visiting schools, colleges, universities, prisons, hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers. She took poetry out of the realm of elites and made it relevant in the everyday world.

A long time resident of Chicago, she used her status as poet laureate of Illinois to share her vision of human rights and promote the arts.  A woman of modest means throughout her lifetime, she worked tirelessly to use her art to inspire, amuse and educate, to create a kinder world, to create a greater understanding of our common experience as humans.


my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

by Gwendolyn Brooks

I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

I Will Take It As A Greate Favor

 

532182897
Tracy K. Smith

“One of poetry’s great effects, through its emphasis upon feeling, association, music and image — things we recognize and respond to even before we understand why — is to guide us toward the part of ourselves so deeply buried that it borders upon the collective.”

― Tracy K. Smith, Staying Human:  Poetry in the Age of Technology

American Sonnet 10

by Wanda Coleman

.                after Lowell

our mothers wrung hell and hardtack from row
. .and boll.  fenced others’
gardens with bones of lovers.  embarking
. .from Africa in chains
reluctant pilgrims stolen by Jehovah’s light
. .planted here the bitter
seed of blight and here eternal torches mark
. .the shame of Moloch’s mansions
built in slavery’s name.  our hungered eyes
. .do see/refuse the dark
illuminate the blood-soaked steps of each
. .historic gain.  a yearning
yearning to avenge the raping of the womb
. .from which we spring.


 

Florence, Ala. December 7th 1866
From Wade in The Water

by Tracy K. Smith

Dear Sir  I take the pleashure of writing you
A fue lins hoping that I will not ofende you
by doing so    I was raised in your state
and was sold from their when I was 31 years olde
left wife one childe Mother Brothers and sisters
My wife died about 12 years agoe and ten years
agoe I made money And went back and bought
My olde Mother and she lives with me

Seven years agoe I Maried again and commence
to by Myself and wife for two thousande dollars and
last Christmas I Made the last pay ment and I have
made Some little Money this year and I wis
to get my Kinde All with me and I will take it
as a Greate favor if you will help me to get them

Just When Hope Withers

Rita Dove
Rita Dove

I was apprehensive. I feared every time I talked about poetry, it would be filtered through the lens of race, sex, and age.

Rita Dove

Found Sonnet: The Wig

by Rita Dove

100% human hair, natural; Yaki synthetic, Brazilian blend,
Malaysian, Kanekalon, Peruvian Virgin, Pure Indian;
iron-friendly, heat-resistant; bounce, volume, featherweight,
Short ’n’ Sassy, Swirls & Twirls, Smooth & Sleek and Sleek & Straight,

Wet and Wavy, Futura fibre, weave-a-wig or Shake-n-Go;
classic, trendy, micro-kink; frosted pixie, tight cornrow;
full, three-quarter, half, stretch cap, drawstring, ear tabs, combs;
chignon, headband, clip-in bangs; easy extensions and ponytail domes—

long or bobbed, hand-tied, layered, deep twist bulk, prestyled updo,
Remi closure, Swiss lace front, invisible L part, J part, U;
feathered, fringed, extended neck; tousled, spiky, loose cascades,
sideswept, flipped ends, corkscrews, spirals, Rasta dreads, Ghana braids;

Passion Wave, Silk Straight, Faux Mohawk, Nubian locks, Noble Curl:
Cleopatra, Vintage Vixen, Empress, Hera, Party Girl.

Published in New Yorker, 2016.


Exit

by Rita Dove

Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
“provisionally”—a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it’s gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world’s open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.

 

That Is What I am

Wanda Coleman_2
Wanda Coleman (1946 – 2013)

“Many have referred to Carroll’s rhyme’s as nonsense, but to my childhood world in 1950’s Los Angeles they made perfect sense.”

Wanda Coleman

Requiem For A Nest

by Wanda Coleman

the winged thang built her dream palace
amid the fine green eyes of a sheltering bough
she did not know it was urban turf
disguised as serenely delusionally rural
nor did she know the neighborhood was rife
with slant-mawed felines and those long-taloned
swoopers of prey. she was ignorant of the acidity & oil
that slowly polluted the earth, and was never
to detect the serpent coiled one strong limb below

following her nature she flitted and dove
for whatever blades twigs and mud
could be found under the humming blue
and created a hatchery for her spawn
not knowing all were doomed


Wanda Coleman, the self proclaimed poet laureate of Los Angeles, threw herself headlong into poetry.  She did what great artists do, they find a way to make a living from their creativity and Coleman had to hold down a myriad of odd jobs to accomplish her passions.

In 2020, Black Sparrow Press, Coleman’s longtime publisher, will release Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poem, a collection of Coleman’s best work spanning her career.   It is  edited and has an introduction by Terrance Hayes.  Both Hayes and Coleman have taken the sonnet form and pushed it into new territory,  relevant to their experiences and voice.  I have yet to pick up a copy of this compilation, but it is on my short list of poetry purchases for the new year.  What I enjoy about Coleman is her ability to incorporate profound metaphors with a sense of humor.  Most of her poems work on multiple levels of meanings and yet are not confusing or convoluted.  She worked with a deft ear for language and always entertained.   Do you have a favorite Coleman poem?   Please share.


 

Little Birds

By Lewis Carroll

Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell:
Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaiters –
I’ve a Tale to tell.

Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloisters –
That is what I am.

Little Birds are teaching
Tigresses to smile,
Innocent of guile:
Smile, I say, not smirkle –
Mouth a semicircle,
That’s the proper style!

Little Birds are sleeping
All among the pins,
Where the loser wins:
Where, I say, he sneezes
When and how he pleases –
So the Tale begins.

Little Birds are writing
Interesting books,
To be read by cooks:
Read, I say, not roasted –
Letterpress, when toasted,
Loses its good looks.

Little Birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
“Thanks!” they cry. “‘Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”

Little Birds are bathing
Crocodiles in cream,
Like a happy dream:
Like, but not so lasting –
Crocodiles, when fasting,
Are not all they seem!

Little Birds are choking
Baronets with bun,
Taught to fire a gun:
Taught, I say, to splinter
Salmon in the winter –
Merely for the fun.

Little Birds are hiding
Crimes in carpet-bags,
Blessed by happy stags:
Blessed, I say, though beaten –
Since our friends are eaten
When the memory flags.

Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.

 

There’s Much More To It

rowan-ricardo-phillips
Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Washington Mews

by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

I won’t ever tell you how it ended.
But it ended.  I was told not to act
Like it was some big dramatic moment.
She swiveled on her heels like she twirled just
The other day on a bar stool, the joy
Gone out of it now.  Then she walked away.
I called out to her once.  She slightly turned.
But she didn’t stop.  I called out again.
And that was when, well, that’s just when
You know: You will always be what you were
On that small street at that small time, right when
She left and Pluto sudsed your throat and said,
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche
Tú la quisiste, y a veces ella también te quiso.

 


For someone who is interested in words and language, I am ashamed to admit I am a complete failure in learning other languages.   Most of the rest of my family has decent conversational Spanish skills, something that I think all Americans should have, given the importance of our neighbors to the south.  If you are like me, then this might be helpful. A loose translation of the last two lines of the poem above is:

  “I can write the saddest verses tonight, You loved her, and sometimes she loved you too.”

The Super Bowl half time on Sunday was incredible.  I was pleased so many of the songs were sung in Spanish, quite a contrast to the political ads from President Trump and his constant attack on immigrants. Shakira and J. Lo put on a great performance and regardless of your opinion on booty shaking, there was no mistaking their power as performers and their impact on the pop culture of the United States.  The NFL never does anything by chance.  It was clear they were courting a wider audience and realizing that it didn’t matter what the bible belt felt about the costumes or the dancing, no one was going to turn it off and a whole new demographic might just tune in.   I loved the dancing brass back-ups for J. Lo.  Phillips poem below is a fitting commentary to the entire spectacle, that try and simplify it, or put it in a “category” and you are going to miss the complexity of what is really going on.   What the half time show said to me, is it’s more than one thing.  It was about life, about music,  about celebration.  It spoke to me, we are much more interesting in living life as a global multi-cultural experience than in courting isolationism and building walls.


 

Little Song

by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Both guitars run trebly. One noodles
Over a groove. The other slushes chords.
Then they switch. It’s quite an earnest affair.
They close my eyes. I close their eyes. A horn
Blares its inner air to brass. A girl shakes
Her ass. Some dude does the same. The music’s
Gone moot. Who doesn’t love it when the bass
Doesn’t hide? When you can feel the trumpet peel
Old oil and spit from deep down the empty
Pit of a note or none or few? So don’t
Give up on it yet: the scenario.
You know that it’s just as tired of you
As you are of it. Still, there’s much more to it
Than that. It does not not get you quite wrong.