Tonight I’m dropping in to make good on a promise I made last month—to share some of the “country heartbreak” poems of my youth. I really have no idea what I was exposed to that made me write them. They might be based on songs I listened to, soap operas I watched, or even books I read. I repeat: I.have.no.idea. By today’s standards, I lived a pretty sheltered life, so even though the subject matter of the poems is not comical, my knowing I had little to no first- (or even second-) hand experience makes these poems pretty funny to me.
I wrote all three poems the same day, about a month after I turned 15. There was a note at the top of “Guilty” that “all grammatical errors were done on purpose.”
Chandra Lynn (Age: 15)
I turned my back
and you’re headed on another road.
Well, I’m glad you’re gone
‘cause I don’t want you no mo’.
Comin’ home late ev’ry night
wit’ whiskey on your breath;
I’m telling you now,
nothin’s happened, not jus’ yet.
‘Cause when I git started,
I’m gonna go rough,
‘cause it’s no-good punks like you
who make a woman’s life tough.
So when you’re found guilty,
don’t act like you’re surprised.
Your pathetic life
is gonna flash before your eyes.
Promises! Promises! Promises!
Chandra Lynn (Age: 15)
You promised you’d come back;
you said you’d be back quick.
You promised we’d get married;
you put me in a fix.
Well, now you are back,
only two years late;
now, you’re married,
and I’m not your mate.
You said you love me,
but how could you?
You’ve hurt my feelings
and double-crossed me too.
Now, here I am,
a heart as cold as ice;
I am so heartbroken
that I cry all night.
You made too many promises,
promises you didn’t keep.
You told me you love me,
but the love you had wasn’t deep.
Our Illegitimate Child
Chandra Lynn (Age: 15)
Life has no meaning now—
You have gone away.
I gaze out my window,
praying you’d come back some day.
Nothing seems to happen;
I guess, that’s how it’s meant to be—
I take two steps forward,
and you turn around and leave me.
Nothing or no one can replace you
or your smile,
only this one reminder—
our illegitimate child.
Yes. I know the poems are problematic and flawed, but as I told an Instagrammer who offered unsolicited tips on improving one of my “youthful poems,” adult me is going to let teenage me be who she was as a writer. If you’re not already following my Musings Instagram, click here to follow: Musings from My Younger Self.
In honor of World Poetry Day (yesterday), the first day of spring (two days ago), and Black Women’s Appreciation Day (March 1), I am sharing a surrealistic floral postcard and three short poems. I intended to write a post for each special day, but…life.
Here you are,
Black and Woman
and in love with yourself.
You are terrifying.
They are terrified
(as they should be). —Upile Chisala
I want to think that God smiles
when a black woman
is brave enough to love herself. —Upile Chisala
“i love myself.”
—ism, nayyirah waheed
About the Image: My literary twin, Gina B, sent the postcard for International Women’s Day. She included an Audre Lorde quote and a postage stamp that features a female German poet. I have decided each part of her woman-affirming gift deserves its own post. The art here is the work of digital collage artist, Frank Moth. I don’t know his reasons for creating this piece–or any of his “Bloom” pieces–but when I first saw this image I knew I had to pair it with these fierce Black woman-affirming poems! See Moth’s Instagram page for more of his “Bloom” artwork. See the links for more work by the poets.
Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. —John 16:22
My dad passed away February 12, 2022 at 86.5 years of age, and I have been struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into words. When my own words fail, I go to poetry. Having endured so much grief, the poem that speaks to my heart in this moment is Mary Oliver’s “Heavy.”
I adapted the poem for my purposes, but you can read the original poem here.
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
I went closer,
and I did not die.
has his hand in this,
Still, I am bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,
is nowhere to be found.
Then I remembered my father:
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I’ll go about practicing.
One day you’ll notice.
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth.
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
to which there is no reply.
This poem speaks to me not only because of my own grief, but because as I read it, I thought about the fact that my father had a lot of hurt in his life. To look at him–to even know him–you wouldn’t see it. Every now and then, it would eke out in small ways. He’d tell us about a painful memory from his childhood, a hurt that stung all his life. He wrote in the autobiography he started about being told the word “no” so much that he did not want his wife or children to hear that word. Despite the pain and disappointment he endured, my father found his way to joy. And his very soul was steeped in an infectious joy.
He never forgot those painful moments from his childhood. I believe he carried them with him his whole life, but “it’s not the weight [he] carried, but how [he] carried it, how [he] embraced it, balanced it, carried it when [he] could not, would not put it down.”
He parlayed all of that weight into beautiful gifts for his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and for generations to come.
They’re found in the music he gave us, the Sunday morning listening to everything from jazz to blues to ballads and everything in between that makes much of the stuff churned out nowadays intolerable.
The gifts are in the lessons about grit and hard work and striving for excellence, about making no excuses and owning our mistakes and allowing them to prod us toward growth.
The gifts are in the sometimes uninvited–a little too straightforward–but sound counsel that pushed us to do right and be better.
They’re found in the celebration of the good that life offers in all its forms, in the beauty of a deep, abiding appreciation for life and grace and a recognition that everything we have is gift and grace.
The gifts are in the joy in spite of circumstances.
The gifts are in his many unanswered questions about God and eternity, questions for which he left us to find the answers.
The gifts are found in the love with an answer, the way he loved and did life with our mother, a love not superficially crafted for social media, but one with deep roots and the abiding presence of the Divine. That autobiography I mentioned earlier, doesn’t start with “I was born.” It starts with “I began to live when I married my wife.” While I am incredibly grateful for my father’s joy, I know the love for our mom is the greatest gift he could have given his children. That love–that love with an answer–has made all the difference.
Sleep well, Daddy. We look forward to the “loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God” that will reunite us for eternity.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Written 2.22.22 for my father’s memorial service. Shared here for those who have asked for copies.
After two weeks of forgetting to check the P.O. Box, we finally went to retrieve the mail and found not one piece of mail in the box. Not one! I was devastated! Okay, I was not really surprised at all. I have not been the best snail mail revolutionary lately. In fact, my snail mail life has been so chaotic that I just read a letter that was sent to me in April. April!
The snail mail gods are apparently displeased, so I’ll have to do a little work to gain their favor again. In addition to sending good mail out into the world, I will take advantage of this lull and catch up on some mailbox “show and tell.” Even though my “to be blogged” mail file is stuffed with interesting pieces waiting to be shared with you, for the last few months, I’ve focused on the “Pics” part of my blog title and neglected the “Posts” [which is short for postal mail, not blog posts]. Thus, the empty mailbox can serve a positive purpose. 😉
For today’s post, I’m sharing three postcards my friend Cy picked up in China a few years ago. I love the delicate artwork of these pieces and did my best to imitate them–minus the insects. And since I am in a mood for poetry, I’m sharing them with 20th century American poet Ezra Pound’s (1885- 1972) translation of “Traveling to Chang-kan,” the first of 8th century Tang Dynasty poet Li Po’s (Lǐ Bái 701-762) Two Letters from Chang-kan.
The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter
After Li Po
I read this poem for the first time when I was in high school. I was drawn to the maturation processes of the couple and the complicated emotions of the poem. I remember discussing the poem in one of my high school classes (Literature or Creative Writing?) and falling so in love with the line “I desired my dust to be mingled” that I used it as the title of one of my own poems. Maybe, I’ll be brave enough to share it here.
If you’re interested in another translation of the poem, see East Asian Student’s translation here: The Ballad of Changgan by Li Bai.
I “found” the poem I’m sharing today “by chance” on novelist Alison McGhee’s blog. The poem, by 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz, reminded me of the conversation a friend and I had a few days ago about the narrow view of God as a docile, old man in the sky. Many of us “speak sweetly” of the gentle “Lamb of God,” but want to deal as little as possible with the Lion of Judah. We certainly don’t want to deal with a God who tires of human foolishness and foibles to the point that He might consider “drop-kicking” us.
Tired of Speaking Sweetly
Hafiz (Translation by Daniel Ladinsky)
Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.
If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.
Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,
Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.
God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.
The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.
But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.
Thankfully, despite how impossible we can be, God does love us enough not to harm us. I’m grateful–though He might shake his head or “fist” at me sometimes–His deep love for me and His mercy and grace override any inclination to drop-kick me. This doesn’t mean I get a pass or that He doesn’t get tough with me. He does. But His ways are not our ways. Again…thankfully.
Interesting Fact: Bobby Bare recorded a song in 1976 entitled “Drop Kick Me, Jesus.” Go figure.
I had planned to share poetry on the blog every day this month–as I did last year–but reality dictated otherwise. What was I thinking, anyway? Last April we were “sheltering-in-place,” so I had time to read and think about poetry for pleasure. This April, hmm…not so much.
However, I will take advantage of the last three days of National Poetry Month and share a few poems.
For today’s literary treat, I’m sharing one from Morgan Harper Nichols‘ book, All Along You Were Blooming, which I talked about in a previous post. She has a gift for speaking to whatever moment I’m in; I am sure many feel the same way. The poem I share today is a lighthearted reminder to love life in all of its simplicity and complexity.
Fall in love with the art of living.
Fall in love with letting things be.
Fall in love with listening.
Be still in the sun,
where the winds ever-gently blow,
knowing it is here,
in moments like this,
you are living,
and you will grow.
Morgan Harper Nichols, from All Along You Were Blooming
Tomorrow is “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” so let’s have a link party! Join me by sharing a poem on your blog–yours or someone else’s. Be sure to come back here and add your link to the comments. I don’t want to miss your poems! Maybe, I’ll “discover” a new poet!
Let’s share until the very last minute of National Poetry Month, 11:59 PM.
We are nearing the end of discussion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in one of my classes. My favorite part of the novel (and perhaps the reason I love it so much) is the sermon Baby Suggs, holy delivers in the Clearing. Instead of an actual Bible verse, love is her text. To those newly loosed [one way or another] from the chains and nightmare of slavery it is a reminder of their humanity and a call to release the atrocities of the past and imagine a new reality. After exorcising their demons through dance, laughter, and tears, Baby Suggs delivers a love letter to their beautiful souls. For me, this is the most powerful part of the book:
In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize. –Toni Morrison, Beloved
I cannot locate a quality clip of Beah Richard’s phenomenal [understatement] performance of the second part [above] of Baby Sugg’s sermon, but here’s the first part.
About the Image: The artwork featured above is the work of Emilio Cruz, an African American artist of Cuban descent. You can see more of his work by clicking the link. It is one of the postcards in Paintings by African-Americans from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
A Valentine (1906)
Priscilla Jane Thompson
Out of the depths of a heart of love,
Out of the birth-place of sighs,
Freighted with hope and freighted with fear,
My all in a valentine, hies.
Oh, frail little missive
Of delicate texture,
Speed thee, on thy journey,
And give her a lecture!
Fathom her heart, that seems to me, cold,
Trouble her bosom, as mine,
Let it be mutual, this that I crave,
Her ‘yes’ for a valentine.
Oh, frail little missive,
In coy Cupid’s keeping,
Oh! speed back a message,
To set my pulse leaping.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
We are each other’s
we are each other’s
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.