Give Me Love Or Nothing

muriel-rukeyser
Muriel Rukeyser (1913 – 1980)

Islands

O for God’s sake
they are connected
underneath

They look at each other
across the glittering sea
some keep a low profile

Some are cliffs
The Bathers think
islands are separate like them

-Muriel Rukeyser

I’m Really Very Fond of You

by Alice Walker

I’m really very fond of you,
he said.

I don’t like fond.
It sounds like something
you would tell a dog.

Give me love,
or nothing.

Throw your fond in a pond,
I said.

But what I felt for him
was also warm, frisky,
moist-mouthed,
eager,
and could swim away.

if forced to do so.


Give me love or nothing; there’s a sentiment I can agree with.   Muriel Rukeyser was a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and a mentor of Alice Walker.  I also agree with Walker, Rukeyser is an under appreciated poet of the 20th Century.  Sometimes greatness is not in what we produce as art.  Rukeyser produced lots of great art, but she also produced greatness by her  example, by her teaching or by her encouragement. Alice Walker was deeply inspired by Rukeyser as a mentor, feminist, thinker and artist.  As Black History Month comes to a close on this leap year day February 29th, take a leap backwards with me from Walker to Rukeyser.  Walker, who is by her very nature well spoken, has some profound insights into poetry in the video below.  I highly recommend taking a few minutes and watching it.


Song, The World is Full of Loss

by Muriel Rukeyser

The world is full of loss; bring, wind, my love,
   .            ,  my home is where we make our meeting-place,
        .       .  and love whatever I shall touch and read
     .         .  within that face.

Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes;
 .        .  peace to look, life to listen and confess,
       .      freedom to find to find to find
     .       . that nakedness.

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.