“If There Be Sorrow…”

I’m sharing a poem today that I’ve loved most of my life. It is one of the first poems I scribbled into my inspiration notebook many moons ago. The poem, “If There Be Sorrow,” was written by Mari Evans (1923-2017), a writer-activist and major figure of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

I was and am drawn to the wisdom of the short verse, of living a life without regret.

If There Be Sorrow
Mari Evans

If there be sorrow
let it be
for things undone . . .
undreamed
unrealized
unattained
to these add one;
Love withheld . . .
. . . restrained


About the image: This is another photo card from the set  designed by my photographer/art journalist friend Diane W (midteacher on swap-bot). I shared a couple earlier this month with William Wordsworth’s “A Psalm of Life,” a poem with a message similar to Evans’.

“When Giving Is All We Have”

Terrance Osborne, “Front Line”

This morning as we began our final Shakespeare session for the semester (sad face), one of my students requested prayer for the nurses who are suffering under the strain of watching far too many patients die as a result of COVID-19. Just moments before that, I read a Facebook post in which one of my friends, Dr. Scharmaine Lawson, a Nurse Practitioner and author, announced that after prayerful consideration, she’s heading to New York City to help with the COVID-19 relief effort there.

I often think about the health care professionals who are on the front line of this thing day after day after day. No matter how well-trained they are, no matter how often they see death, it is still inexplicably HARD.  The connections between nurse and patient or doctor and patient–however brief–matter, and every death carries emotional weight. With COVID-19 doctors and nurses are bearing witness to far more than the “usual” and they are still out there, weighed down with the grief and burden of so much loss, fighting to save lives.

Some might wonder why someone like Dr. Lawson, a busy NP with a booming practice and a very full life of her own, would uproot and rush into this daunting challenge. Albert RÍos’ poem provides the answers—not only for why we give in the big ways but also why we do so in our smaller, daily interactions.

When Giving Is All We Have
Alberto RÍos

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

About this poem, RÍos wrote:

This is a poem of thanks to those who live lives of service, which, I think, includes all of us—from the large measure to the smallest gesture, from care-giving to volunteerism to being an audience member or a reader.  I’ve been able to offer these words to many groups, not only as a poem but also as a recognition. We give for so many reasons, and are bettered by it.  –from poets.org

Thank you to our health care professionals and to all our public servants and other essential workers for whom the stay-at-home order does not apply.  Thank you to all of you who give daily in your own spaces, outside your own spaces, and “in-between” spaces. We are making something new, something beautiful when we give.


About the image: The image above is the work of New Orleans artist, Terrance Osborne. He created Front Line—a nod to Rosie the Riveter—“to show the men and women on the front line that we love and support them.” [Did you catch the fleur de lis–symbol of New Orleans?] Osborne generously offered the image above as a free phone screen saver and gave 1000 posters to local hospitals. A lithograph ($75 signed; $40 unsigned) can be purchased via his website. To see more of this phenomenal artist’s work, please go to his website. You’ll feel like you’ve just taken a tour of my beloved hometown.

Soar, Sister!

Believe it or not–I actually made a general plan of poems/poets to share on the blog this month. However, I can count on less than one hand the number of times I stuck to the plan. Today, my plan for sharing a longish poem by Nikky Finney transformed to sharing the shortish poem below by George Douglas Johnson (1880?-1966).

Johnson was one of the writers featured in my [so-far-unfinished] Women of the Harlem Renaissance series a couple of years ago. The poem seems fitting for my present circumstance and mood–cooped up in a small space in my home office–cornered by books, research, notes, and creative projects–working feverishly toward freedom from all the demands, ready to fly.

Your World
Georgia Douglas Johnson
Your world is as big as you make it.
I know, for I used to abide
In the narrowest nest in a corner,
My wings pressing close to my side.

But I sighted the distant horizon
Where the skyline encircled the sea
And I throbbed with a burning desire
To travel this immensity.

I battered the cordons around me
And cradled my wings on the breeze,
Then soared to the uttermost reaches
With rapture, with power, with ease!


About the image: The postcard featured in this post was sent to me a decade ago by a swapper named Noni, an artist who seemingly no longer participates on swap-bot. I don’t know much about the art, but I assume Noni made the postcard. She wrote on the back of the card our beloved Maya Angelou’s poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,”–a poem that doesn’t feel as hopeful as Johnson’s but is nevertheless moving.

She Dances: Working on My Sway

“Flamenca Blanca”

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power; it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.  –Agnes De Mille

My friend Cy sent this amazing postcard a few weeks ago. She found this beauty in Madrid during her travels there. I fell in love with it. The lone woman dancing reminded me of my favorite part of Louis Delsarte’s mural “Spirit of Harlem.”

“Spirit of Harlem” [I was fortunate enough to be in residency at NYU the same time as the artist. Weeks after its unveiling, the whole group of “Scholars-in-Residence” took a trip to Harlem to see the mural].

I’m intrigued by these women who sway their hips without apology and dance solo in spaces obviously peopled by many. It seems the musicians—equally surrendered to their muses—play only for each woman.

I don’t have their gift. As part of the “rhythmless nation,” I’m not sure I will ever dance in public.

But—

I have been reaching for a metaphorical moment like this—of pure freedom—of yielding completely to the rhythms of life without fretting over consequences–“what ifs” or “therefores.”

I’m tuning in and working on my sway.

For Langston | Shatter This Darkness…Into a Thousand Lights of Sun

Today would have been Langston Hughes’ 118th birthday. Some of my Hughes books are in my [work] office; others are unfortunately buried in one of my many unpacked boxes, so I didn’t have the pleasure of revisiting my precious books and slowly inhaling the pages.

Like so many other Black poets, I fell in love with Langston Hughes through the books on my older siblings’ bookshelves. I took a course focusing on Hughes in graduate school and was sorely disappointed by the instructor’s style. He was knowledgeable but not an effective facilitator. He missed Hughes’ brilliance in his focus on the “celebrity” and ambiguity of Hughes.

I accidentally shot the “abstract” photo this morning while finishing up a letter to a friend. It pairs well with the closing lines of Hughes’ poem, “As I Grew Older.”

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!

–Langston Hughes, “As I Grew Older”

Many read this poem and see disillusionment. The speaker of the poem dismisses the idealism and replaces it with the realization that in America his Blackness stands as a barrier to his dream. However, there is hope here too…He has “almost forgotten” the dream, but he recognizes that thick walls of racism can be breached, toppled even, by his dark hands.

Moreover…

Dark hands united with other hands can “shatter the darkness…into a thousand whirling dreams of sun.”

A “New” Definition of Greatness: A Heart Full of Grace, A Soul Generated by Love

Jesus gave us a new norm for greatness. If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, February 4, 1968 [Based on Mark 10:35-43]


About the image: The image above features the pulpit from which Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and led a movement.  The passionate “How Long?  Not Long” speech was also delivered from this lectern on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery at the conclusion of the famous Selma to Montgomery March. The pulpit now rests in the basement of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. I had the privilege of placing my hand on this pulpit during a research trip with other educators a couple of summers ago.

“The Sun Hath Shed Its Kindly Light” | A Thanksgiving Poem

“A Thanksgiving Poem”
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

The sun hath shed its kindly light,
Our harvesting is gladly o’er
Our fields have felt no killing blight,
Our bins are filled with goodly store.

From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword
We have been spared by thy decree,
And now with humble hearts, O Lord,
We come to pay our thanks to thee.

We feel that had our merits been
The measure of thy gifts to us,
We erring children, born of sin,
Might not now be rejoicing thus.

No deed of our hath brought us grace;
When thou were nigh our sight was dull,
We hid in trembling from thy face,
But thou, O God, wert merciful.

Thy mighty hand o’er all the land
Hath still been open to bestow
Those blessings which our wants demand
From heaven, whence all blessings flow.

Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,
Looked down on us with holy care,
And from thy storehouse in the sky
Hast scattered plenty everywhere.

Then lift we up our songs of praise
To thee, O Father, good and kind;
To thee we consecrate our days;
Be thine the temple of each mind.

With incense sweet our thanks ascend;
Before thy works our powers pall;
Though we should strive years without end,
We could not thank thee for them all.

happy Thanksgiving!


About the image: The flowers in today’s post came from my Love Notes pal,  Arielle W. The image is a reproduction of a woodcut by Claire Emery. I have fallen in love with her work. To see more of her woodcuts, check out her website: Emery Art.

Ernest J. Gaines | The Artist and the Heart Surgeon

Ernest Gaines, San Francisco, California, March 13, 1975. Photograph from Black Writers. Photograph Credit: Jill Krementz. Postcard from my collection.

Without love for my fellow man and respect for nature, to me, life is an obscenity. –Ernest Gaines (January 15, 1933 – November 5, 2019)

I had a different blog post planned for today. but then I learned Ernest J. Gaines, my favorite Louisiana author, passed away today.

I’m pretty sure that Gaines was the first African American writer with whom I came in contact–through one of his earliest works, Miss Jane Pittman.  Much later, as a young professor, I began to include his A Lesson Before Dying on the reading list for my composition courses. After reading A Gathering of Old Men, my hubby was hooked. Gaines became his favorite author.

I don’t normally swoon when I meet “celebrities,” but I gushed when I met him at the Short Story Conference in New Orleans some years later–he was personable, wise, humble. I squealed when one of my colleagues gave me an autographed portrait of Gaines for my birthday one year.

I’m saddened over the loss of another elder, another critical voice in the American literary scene, but I am grateful for his life and works, his bringing to the fore the complications of personhood, race, life, and love in rural Louisiana.

Yesterday, I shared some brilliant first lines, but today I’m sharing literary wisdom from some of Gaines’ works:

Ain’t we all been hurt by slavery?  —The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

I think it’s God that makes people care for people, Jefferson. I think it’s God makes children play and people sing. I believe it’s God that brings loved ones together. I believe it’s God that makes trees bud and food grow out of the earth.  —A Lesson Before Dying

How do people come up with a date and a time to take life from another man? Who made them God?  —A Lesson Before Dying

Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.  —A Gathering of Old Men

The artist must be like a heart surgeon. He must approach something with sympathy, but with a sort of coldness and work and work until he finds some kind of perfection in his work. You can’t have blood splashing all over the place. Things must be done very cleanly.  —Conversations with Ernest J. Gaines

If you haven’t read any of his fiction before, I encourage you to add Gaines to your reading list. Click here for a list and overview of his novels: Gaines’ novels.

To hear Gaines talk about books, writing, and his own story, be sure to watch “Conversation with Ernest J. Gaines” produced by the National Endowment for the Arts:

Rest in Peace, Dr. Gaines.

Sunset: Stillness and Dreams

“Sunrise” by Lisa C.

Out of Sunset’s Red
William Stanley Braithwaite

Out of the sunset’s red
Into the blushing sea,
The winds of day drop dead
And dreams come home to me. —
The sea is still,— and apart
Is a stillness in my heart.

The night comes up the beach,
The dark steals over all,
Though silence has no speech
I hear the sea-dreams call
To my heart; — and in reply
It answers with a sigh.


About the Image: Today’s post features a photo by my Love Notes friend, Lisa C of Chasing the Sun. Lisa shoots gorgeous sunrises and sunsets as evident in this photo. This is a sunrise photo, but for some reason it makes me think of  William Stanley Braithwaite’s poem [above]. You can read a few more of his poems here: Poems by Braithwaite.

NaBloPoMo Note: November is National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and I’ve been figuring out how to squeeze in daily posting with all the general madness of end-of-semester and my “more serious” writing projects. I need the daily moment away from the madness, so for the fourth year in a row, I’m in! Besides, my “to be blogged” bin overflows and NaBloPoMo will [hopefully] give me a chance to empty it a bit. Most posts will be “short and sweet,” but I plan to be here every day, so I hope you’ll check in every now and then and cheer me on! 🙂

Joy Break 2 | Dance, Dance, Dance

“Allow yourself to trust joy and embrace it.
You will find you dance with everything.”

My Love Notes friend, Connie, sent the postcard above a couple of years ago. She found it and many others at an art fair, I think. Even though I searched “high and low” for information about the artist, I found none.

This is one of my favorite postcards because there is so much joy in the artwork–the colors, the movements, the expressions. The dance is part of the conversation between the women whose very souls seem to be possessed by joy.

Perhaps, that is the point of the quote above (attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson). When we release ourselves to joy, there’s a light in the step and mirth in the eyes. Our very beings are infused with joy.