Which Me Will Survive

President Elect Joe Biden

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
 
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
 
Langston Hughes

Who Said It Was Simple

By Audre Lorde 

There are so many roots to the tree of anger   
that sometimes the branches shatter   
before they bear.

Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march   
discussing the problematic girls   
they hire to make them free.
An almost white counterman passes   
a waiting brother to serve them first   
and the ladies neither notice nor reject   
the slighter pleasures of their slavery.   
But I who am bound by my mirror   
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex

and sit here wondering   
which me will survive   
all these liberations.


And so it begins, my long slow exhale, the beginning of a release of four years of stress and tension. For the majority of the record number of Americans that voted for Biden, voted for change, his victory is one of enormous proportions. It is historic. For the 70 million plus that voted for Trump it is a disappointment. The reality of this day is not one of decisive healing in this nation, rather it is the stark chasm left from this long divisive campaign that exists as a scar in this country and it is not going to be washed away easily. Trumpism’s rejection of political norms, rejection of science, rejection of decency and his four year assault on the idea of the historical role of political leaders at the federal level to provide a leadership of care for all, rather than just your parties special interests, I fear is going to remain long after Trump leaves the White House. The map of dots of urban blue surrounded by a sea of red counties, red states, that are the homes of good people, people as convinced their vote was correct for Trump as the path to the future of America, as the people like myself that voted for Biden. I am not naïve. I know that the next four years is going to be difficult globally in terms of the health pandemic, the state of the global economy and the political turmoil and societal turmoil that will inevitably ensue. I am only glad that a professional is once again headed into the White House to help deal with this mess we find ourselves.

For today, I will be a humble victor, take a minute to relax, enjoy some poetry and remember we have a lot of work to do as a nation and as individuals to address the systemic issues of racism facing our society and the world. Presidential campaigns mark the passage of time. Whether the next four years are more or less critical than any other four in the past 40 years depends on whether we are capable as a society to actually begin to work on issues in a substantial way. If we let politics play pin the tail on the donkey once again, Republicans blocking potential solutions so that they can blame the Democrats in the next election cycle for failure, we will squander this opportunity for change. At some point we will have to work together at the federal level, just like we do in our places of business, in our schools, in our communities. And to view our parties that we vote for as having a mutual sense of obligation to do more than just obstruct the other party’s agenda on the opposite side of the aisle but to start constructing solutions together. To do that, I suspect we will need a mixture of good will, good science, good policy and bit of prayer mixed with hope to be successful.


Prayer

by Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

I Am The Darker Brother

langston hughes 2
Langston Hughes

 

“I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?

~ Langston Hughes

 

I, Too

by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.
Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.


Dreams were a constant theme in Langston Hughes writing from his first published poem, Weary Blues, to one of his most famous, Harlem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load

Or does it explode?

When Elmer Rice, a playwright, sent out a questionnaire to others on the black list from Senator McCarthy’s investigation into “Anti-American” activities, Langston Hughes, who was at the top of the list replied in a 1952 letter:

Dear Elmer,

Here are my answers to the questionnaire re the FCC and blacklisting in TV and radio:

  1. The publication of my name in RED CHANNELS has not affected my employment in TV or radio. Being colored I received no offers of employment in these before RED CHANNELS appeared, and have had none since—so it hasn’t affected me at all.

He goes on to give a more thorough scorching of the racism and lack of opportunity he has faced in career, because of racism. I am always drawn to Hughes for his honesty. There is a righteous anger that runs through the back bone of his verse, even in his poems of joy, that gives it validity and strength. I have shared other Hughes poems in earlier posts, including his poem Let America Be America Again a much more compelling vision for change than our president’s red MAGA hat – which represents to me when I see it, a buffoon puffing his chest to “Make Assholes Great Again.”

Hughes’ poem below, As I Grow Older, brings the imagery of walls into focus. It is a powerful reminder that walls have symbolism far beyond their physical presence. Walls can serve a purpose in making peace between neighbors and providing physical security. But walls that are meant only to keep people corralled in ways that prevent them from seeing their hope for the future serve no one’s best interest and will eventually be torn down with time.

Let’s spend our money wisely.  Let’s support the arts with federal tax dollars with equal zeal with which we invest in the military and border security and see which one in the end moves us further forward in meeting the ideals of what America can be, with a just, strong and safe, civil society.


As I Grew Older

by Langston Hughes

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

 

 

Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Audre lorde.jpg
This is a print of a painting by Molly Crapapple of the author Audre Lorde, originally released as part of PEN America’s #writersresist campaign.  Check out her website if you would like to purchase a copy.  https://mollycrabapple.com/product/audre-lorde/

“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.”
Audre Lorde

 

A Woman Speaks

by Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992)

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
mourning.

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.


I can definitively say that I do not have any insight into what it is to be black in America or a black woman. But to quote her;  “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”   

The opening two sentences of her biography on the Poetry Foundation website speak to Lorde’s mission of using poetry as a change agent and a healing force.

“A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.”

Poetry Foundation

In many ways, the two of us could not be more different, I am a white male, born into a middle class family, have experienced all of the benefits and priviledge that those two facts impart.   And yet in this short video below, Audre Lorde articulates exactly the same thoughts that I have on artistic expression and legacy and a concept of what we do in this life and what we leave behind. And since those are the answers that hold the most weight in my world, then are we not brethren?  Are we not more same than different? If we have arrived at the same answers by way of a very different roads do we not share the same view of the sunset?

 

Audre Lorde had to live fast and full and make an impact.  She died of breast cancer at the age of 58 (1934 – 1992), the median age of me and my siblings presently, something that feels much too short for a woman with as big, and important voice as hers.  If you read Lorde’s poetry you might question why I have included her on Fourteenlines, as sonnets do not appear as part of her legacy.  Yet her first published poem was a sonnet, (which I have yet to find a copy, if you have one, please share.)   She said of her writing:

“I learned about sonnets by reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s love sonnets and loving them and deciding I was going to try. I learned to write love poems by reading poems I never understood but the words would get me high. I remembered all of these particular things. I started writing because I had a need inside of me to create something that was not there.”

Audre Lorde

Lorde had too many things to say to stay confined within the walls of a sonnet.  Thank goodness she pushed through and found her voice and created her own world.  Below is a lovely sonnet by Allison Joseph, a poet, an educator and editor.  Enjoy.


 

Apologies To My Hair: A Black Woman’s Sonnet

by Allison Joseph (1967 –

So why’d I torture you for years, so long,
inflicting chemicals on scalp and skin,
pulling hunks of you through fiery combs
so you’d lie straight and stiff? I only thinned
your numbers out, made sure you couldn’t grow
strongby shocking you with lye, a dryer’s din
and heat to fry my follicles, then hair spray or foam—
thick mousse to make my hair obey, make it akin
to cotton candy. Now, I let you roam
wherever you want. Couldn’t leave you be
before, but now I’m awed by all I find
in you: a stray feather, leaf shed from a tree,
a strand of my husband’s hair, a texture we
don’t share. Somehow, we still end up entwined.