The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
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.
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
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
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth’s reckoning;
no longer far
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us.
Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.
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.
In haste one evening while making dinner
I threw away a potato that was spoiled
on one end. The rest would have been
redeemable. In the yellow garbage pail
it became the consort of coffee grounds,
banana skins, carrot peelings.
I pitched it onto the compost
where steaming scraps and leaves
return, like bodies over time, to earth.
When I flipped the fetid layers with a hay
fork to air the pile, the potato turned up
unfailingly, as if to revile me—
looking plumper, firmer, resurrected
instead of disassembling. It seemed to grow
until I might have made shepherd’s pie
for a whole hamlet, people who pass the day
dropping trees, pumping gas, pinning
hand-me-down clothes on the line.
Happy Thanksgiving. I hope this Thanksgiving finds you surrounded by friends and family bound together by gratitude, sharing food and fellowship. Will you say a prayer of thanksgiving as you sit down together to eat? Aloud or silently? What are you grateful for and to whom do you want to bestow a prayer gratitude? Gratefulness and thankfulness are founded on awareness. Without being aware of how we are connected to our communities, our families, our co-workers our friends, we can’t be thankful.
Is not prayer also a study of truth,–a sally of the soul into the unfound infinite? No man ever prayed heartily, without learning something. But when a faithful thinker, resolute to detach every object from personal relations, and see it in the light of thought, shall, at the same time, kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections, then will god go forth anew into creation.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
In an increasingly secular world, where talk of God and gratitude make some at our tables uncomfortable, invite everyone to speak their truth on what they are thankful for, regardless if the only divinity is desert and your personal prayer of thanksgiving is said in silence with eyes wide open smiling at each of the people present at your table.
Take the time this holiday weekend to give thanks. Pick up the phone and call an old friend. Touch base with the elderly family member that might be feeling isolated. Commune with nature and talk a walk of thanksgiving – thinking about all you have to be grateful for in your life.
The Bean Eaters
by Gwendolyn Brooks
They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair. Dinner is a casual affair. Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood, Tin flatware.
Two who are Mostly Good. Two who have lived their day, But keep on putting on their clothes And putting things away.
And remembering . . . Remembering, with twinklings and twinges, As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
That is the way God made you.
And what is wrong with it? Why, Nothing.
Except that you are cold and cannot cook.
Merdice can cook. Merdice
Of Murdered heart and docked sarcastic soul.
The bolted Nomad, on a winter noon
Cook guts; and sits in gas. (She has no shawl, her landlord has no coal.)
You out beyond the shellac of her look
And of her sill!
She envies you your fury
That enfolds your silver skill
She thinks you are a mountain and a star, unbaffleable;
With sentient twitch and scurry.
Time flies by like a great whale
And I find my hand grows stale at the throttle
Of my many faceted and fake appearance
Who bucks and spouts by detour under the sheets
Hollow portals of solid appearance
Movies are poems, a holy bible, the great mother to us
People go by in the fragrant day
Accelerate softly my blood
But blood is still blood and tall as a mountain blood
Behind me green rubber grows, feet walk
In wet water, and dusty heads grow wide
Padré, Father, or fat old man, as you will,
I am afraid to succeed, afraid to fail,
Tell me now, again, who I am?
What shall I give my children? who are poor,
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,
Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand
No velvet and no velvety velour;
But who have begged me for a brisk contour,
Crying that they are quasi, contraband
Because unfinished, graven by a hand
Less than angelic, admirable or sure.
My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.
But I lack access to my proper stone
And plenitude of plan shall not suffice
Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone
To ratify my little halves who bear
Across an autumn freezing everywhere .
It’s Ground Hog Day. A perfectly silly tradition with no less than pomp and circumstance surrounding the formal process of observing Punxsutawney Phil either see or not see his shadow. I think the Pennsylvania Dutch who came up with this quaint tradition were suffering from vitamin D deficiency at this point in the winter and couldn’t think straight, because I have always thought they got it mixed up. If the ground-hog sees his shadow and retreats to his burrow, (is it because he is afraid of his shadow?), then its six more weeks of winter, but if it’s cloudy and he ventures out then spring will arrive early. Doesn’t it make more sense if the sun is out that spring is coming early? In Minnesota, only six more weeks of winter, means spring has arrived way early. So I guess according to this tradition we’re a winner winner, chicken dinner no matter which way things go down with Mr P. Phil Ground Hog today.
It is a pleasure to revisit Gwendolyn Brooks at the start of Black History month. I love the playfulness in the word selection of Brooks’ poetry, even in the most serious of subject matters. It creates an odd tension, a contradiction that conveys a complexity. In the sonnet this playfulness says to me that being poor is not one thing, and not all bad, but that her “little halves” are whole people who still know the feel of velvet. As a friend of mine reminds me it’s not a crime to be poor. Although we treat it as such sometimes with ways we penalize those without adequate means.
I was tempted to share Brooks’ poem “The Boy Died In My Alley” as it fits the Ground Hog Day theme of repetition, from the Bill Murray film by the same name. Brooks’ captures in that poem the senselessness of gun violence in our communities that is no different today than when she wrote the poem. Gun violence is a scourge in our country in all our communities, not just communities of color. But I decided against it. We’re all a little short of vitamin D after being cooped up for several weeks of cold weather, we may not be thinking straight, so let’s think about love instead. Better to be confused by love than anything else. Valentines Day is right around the corner and it’s not too late to make a date and ask that someone out who already has your heart or maybe has just caught your eye.
To Be In Love
by Gwendolyn Brooks
To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?