Summoned Mother | Tameka Cage Conley

All mothers were summoned, when George Floyd called out for his mother. —Rachel Costa

Every mother heard him. We heard George Floyd. We hear him. —Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo who was murdered by New York City police officers in 1999.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, I invite you to view a three-part series presented by the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. The project features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, an artist I initially met many years ago when she was a student–an English major, of course. 😉 I am so very proud of her and her work.

The museum describes the “Summoned Mother” series as:

a memoir of a particular American motherhood: Black and uniquely precarious. This three-volume video series features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, a literary artist and mother to a six-year-old Black boy, as she responds to George Floyd’s breathless call on motherhood. Conley juxtaposes the works of Elizabeth Catlett with those of contemporary Black poets, bridging the visual and literary arts in a meditation of Black artistry’s longstanding eye on injustice.

Dr. Tameka’s masterful weave of poetry, art, story, and song achingly reaches that primordial place in all mothers that compels us to protect, to rescue, to do something.

The project was spearheaded by Kwadwo Nnuro; the entire series is approximately 42 minutes in length.


About the image: The image that leads today’s post features a favorite photo of my son and me–modified for the post.

Other posts in the “Black Lives Matter” Monday series:

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”

There seems to be a lot of “hoopla” over the NFL’s decision to have the “Negro National Anthem” sung before every Week 1 game. This holiday weekend is a good to revisit the history of the anthem. Here’s a post I wrote 2.5 years ago about the song. Happy Weekend!

Pics and Posts

James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1938. Poet, novelist, statesman, civil rights leader, lawyer. Artist, Winold Reiss (1886-1953). Pastel on artist board.

The song dubbed “The Black National Anthem” should need no introduction, but I learned last October–moments after I posted an article focused on the University of Florida’s playing the song at the arrival of white supremacists on campus–that many Americans are not familiar with the song. In fact, one (Euro-American) friend uncharacteristically responded by declaring UF’s actions “racist.”

[We’ll save discussion about how that action could not have been “racist” for another time].

My friend’s judgment was based on the title of the article. She had never heard the song.

That surprised me. I’m pretty sure I initially learned the song at the majority white elementary school I attended, so I assumed it was standard for elementary kids in the U.S. Not so, I guess.

So what is the “Black…

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The Blessing of the Interim

“Sunset Glow over Leifeng Pagoda.” Photo by Hu Xiaoyang

I’m sharing a poem today that Tee, one of my besties, sent to me two weeks ago. “In the Interim Time,” written by Irish priest-poet-philosopher John O’Donohue (1956-2008), carries a timely message.

Corona times are challenging in one way or another, and many of us want to get past these moments so we can get on with our “normal lives.” But what if we can’t or, more importantly, shouldn’t return to our normals?

We fight and fret trying to hang on to what is old when something new is being born. Donohue’s poem shows us there’s something we need in the “interim,” something hopeful, and something that prepares us for the new.

In the Interim Time
John O’Donohue

When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,

No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.

In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems to believe the relief of darkness.

You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.

“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”

You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.

Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.

What is being transfigured here in your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.

from To Bless the Space Between Us (2008)


About the image: The postcard above was sent to me in 2011 from Jiayi, a postcrosser in China. The card shows a view of the West Lake in Hangzhou.

“Beyond the Gates of Sight”

“At the School for the Blind.” Poem by Shari Wagner

I received this poem on a postcard today! My Love Notes friend Fran sent this gem, featuring the poem of an author from her beloved state, Indiana. It got a little scratched during its travels, but the postal tattoos add a bit of artistic flair. Don’t you think?

The poem, “At the School for the Blind,” was written by Shari Wagner, Indiana’s fifth Poet Laureate. In case you find it difficult to read the “enhanced” postcard, here are the words:

“Poetry is a river,”
a boys says, his fingers
skimming the rippled
surface. A girl enters
her dream, a boat
to lift us over fields.

It’s natural as a dance
how students guide
each other to the mike

and back. So many
journeys from this
stone castle to the hills

where Sun dwells,
a house beyond
the gates of sight.

For Bonnie Maurer

According to the notation on the back of the postcard, the poem was part of Shared Spaces/Shared Voices, a public art project that infused Indianapolis’ public transportation system with literary art and spoken word performances. The poetry and prose were written by writers living in Indiana. The project was managed by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and funding was provided by the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission.

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.

“Everything Is Waiting for You”

Last night I participated in a “Write Together” workshop with about 15 beautiful souls. The workshop was organized and hosted by Love Notes founder and coordinator, Jennifer Belthoff. I needed the time to write and think in the community of others, so I am grateful for Jennifer and her willingness and openness to offer the workshop during this challenging time.

After participants shared in response to one of the prompts, Jennifer read a poem by British poet David Whyte. I was not familiar with his work and I’ve had little time to process this poem, but it resonates with me.

Everything Is Waiting for You
David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Even though pretty much the entire world is going through the Corona Virus crisis together, we are disconnected from much of our normal. This might make us feel isolated and alone, particularly as we grapple–in our individual ways–with the toll this pandemic is taking on humanity.  I appreciate the invitation to tune in to everything [else] that is waiting.


About the image: The postcard above was sent to me by my swap-bot/book-lover friend Geraldine J (Nannydino). It is the work of Australian artist, Loui Jover. Needless to say, I love this piece, and am looking forward to learning more about the artist.

Poetry on Postcards | Ink wells up…

I’ve been sending and receiving poetry on postcards for almost a decade, so I was delighted when my Love Notes pal, Bianca, told me about Poetry on Postcards (PoP), a kindness initiative created by Rayna Hutchison.

Team PoP sends beautifully designed postcards with a personalized note written on the back. My note was inspiring and very much needed when I received it in mid-February:

Let the road steer your wheel. Go with the flow sometimes. Let things be. Smile your brightest smile. Go out there and seize the day!

I need these words today too–except I have to stay in and seize the day.

Want one?

All you have to do is request a postcard via the digital post office and Team PoP will wing one in your direction. You can read more about the project by clicking this link. To see more poetry on postcards, follow  PoP on Instagram.

Snail Mail Tip: While you’re waiting for your PoP to arrive, take the opportunity to send some of your favorite poems to family and friends. You can write short poems on the back of store-bought postcards or make your own postcards by cutting card stock into 4×6 pieces. You can type the poem directly onto the card stock and decorate the card in anyway you wish. The links below feature poetry on postcards presented in various ways:

You might also like the idea of pairing a poem (or excerpt) with a photograph. This is my favorite way of sharing poetry on postcards–as you can see from the blog posts below. If you’re not comfortable sending your own photos, see the many, many beautiful photos available for your use on Pixabay or Unsplash.

The weekend is here finally. I am on my way to my [current] favorite book of poetry and a piping hot cup of herbal tea. Won’t you join me?

“I Am Becoming My Mother”

“Flowers of North America” by Lou Paper

Today’s offering comes from Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison. I am currently reading I Am Becoming My Mother, her second collection of poetry. I struggled with the decision over which poem to share. I would have been satisfied with any poem in the book, but was literally torn when it came to works like “Guinea Woman,” “We Are the Women,” and “Garden of the Women Once Fallen.” I was driving myself crazy, so I decided on the one below on the basis that it is the title poem.

“I Am Becoming My Mother” by Lorna Goodison

Yellow/brown woman
fingers smelling always of onion

My mother raises rare blooms
and waters them with tea
her birth waters sang like rivers
my mother is now me

My mother had a linen dress
the colour of sky
and stored lace and damask
tablecloths
to pull shame out of her eye.

I am becoming my mother
brown/yellow woman
fingers smelling always of onions.

I am drawn to Goodison’s writing for a few reasons. Among them the cadence that makes me want to sing rather than just read the words and her masterful use of imagery, which makes the ordinary deeply striking.


About the image: The postcard above came from my swap-bot pal, EricB. I was randomly selected to receive this postcard via a giveaway on Instagram. Yay, me! The postcard was designed by Lou Papers, and was bedecked with even more flowers on the back.

“How to Live Your Poem”

April is National Poetry Month, so I’ve decided to share a beloved poem every day this month. The daily posting will add a bit of routine and balance in a moment when I feel a bit off center and out-of-sorts, and hopefully, my touching the works of other poets will also inspire me to get some of my own work out of folders and into the world.

Since April is also National Letter Writing Month, [starting tomorrow] I plan to share some of the snail mail I’ve received–recently and [maybe] not-so-recently.

Today’s offering is a piece created by Alabama author Irene Latham from the lines of other poems. Latham distributed the poem to readers and writers when she visited the University’s campus three (or so) years ago. I applaud the acumen and patience of individuals who do this kind of work–piecing together the beautiful words of others to create a new and still beautiful thing.

“How to Live Your Poem” by Irene Latham

Cultivate a secret life. Discover the fuel that feeds you. Eat peaches. Take the road not taken. Change your life. You do not have to be good. Go back. When the time comes to let it go, let it go. Reinvent. Identify what stays with you latest and deepest. Remember disobedience is the first right of being alive. Don’t think you’re better, stronger, or more important than you are. Pour yourself like a fountain. Come into the peace of wild things. Wait. Take the string you need. Forget-me-not. Believe morning is new sheet of paper. Don’t be polite. Go a-dabbling.  Let the rain kiss you. Allow yourself to be spelled differently. Feel the stars and sun and bells singing. Live with a full moon in each eye. Un-self yourself. Love still as once you loved, deeply and without patience. Know of nothing else. Know of nothing else but miracles.

The poem was created with lines from poems by Stephen Dunn, Naomi Shihab Nye, Li-Young Lee, Robert Frost, Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Walt Whitman, Paisley Rekdal, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wendell Berry, Marilyn Singer, Lilian Moore, Ralph Fletcher, Eve Merriam, Kenneth Grahame, Langston Hughes, Emma Mellon, Gwendolyn Brooks, Hafiz, Christine Deluca.

We’re living in a surreal moment, but even with self-isolation and social distancing, we can choose to live out loud and live our poem.


About the image: The unrelated and not-so-great squirrel “portrait” is from another time, when I could happily take daily walks through campus observing spring’s awakening. The squirrels and I had become companions; we were a little wary of each other, but they often remained posed long enough for the click of the camera. This little guy was enjoying an afternoon snack and “living his poem.” He’s visiting for #WordlessWednesday. 🙂

Woman Inspired! | Stella Gibbons and Carson McCullers

One of my favorite bookish swap series to host is “Literary Wisdom” on swap-bot. Through the swaps, participants select a bookish postcard and write on the back a quote which inspires them. The quote must come from imaginative literature (poetry, prose, plays)–not sacred texts, self-help books, or non-fiction. For Women’s History Month, I decided to dedicate the swaps to women writers, since, unsurprisingly, male writers often dominate the swaps.

I created swaps for the Cup and Chaucer and Book Lovers Congregate groups. Lucky me! My randomly chosen partner for both swaps was Geraldine J (Nannydino). I always enjoy receiving postcards from Geraldine. Not only are the postcards well-selected with my varied interests and tastes in mind but the presentation of the written side of the postcard is always clean and inviting–very neat handwriting and unique placement of stickers, stamps, and postage. Somehow, Geraldine packs a lot of information on the 4×6 postcard backs, always including the date and weather.  Bonus–we have some of the same postcard collections so I get back the very postcards I love.

Now, for the literary inspiration:

Stella Gibbons (1902-1989). Photograph, Mark Gerson/National Portrait Gallery, London

Stella Gibbons was a British writer with poetry, short stories, and 25 novels to her credit. The inspired quote Geraldine chose to share comes from her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, which is a parody of the “loam and lovechild” rural genre.

Every year, in the fulness o’ summer, when the sukebind hangs heavy from the wains. . .’tes the same. And when the spring comes her hour is upon her again … ‘Tes the hand of Nature and we women cannot escape it.

What seems to be most inspiring here–besides the hilarious novel itself–is “sukebind,” a word Gibbons coined. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “sukebind” is an “imaginary plant associated with superstition, fertility, and intense rustic passion.”

Check out two of The Guardian‘s reviews of Cold Comfort Farm:

If you’re interested in reading the novel, you should have no problems borrowing it from many of the e-libraries.

Carson McCullers (1917-1967). Photograph, Bettman/Corbis

Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, also wrote in many genres–plays, essays, short stories, poetry, and (of course) novels. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, her debut [though not first] novel (at the age of 23), remains her most popular work.

The inspiration Geraldine shared actually comes from McCullers’ commentary on her characters. “She felt her characters powerfully, once stating:”

I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.

And one of the inspired quotes form The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

My advice to you is this. Do not attempt to stand alone. …The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.”

For more about Carson and her works, see the links below:

The postcards come from the collection, Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics: One Hundred Writers in One Box. I actually have the collection and mentioned it [or its lack of diversity] in a post on Eileen Chang. Despite the shortcomings of the collection, the photographs are stunning, and I’m happy to have two of the women writers “return” to me

Before I go, I leave you with a little homework. On the back of the McCullers postcard was an equally stunning fierce and inspiring woman postage stamp–featuring Elsie MacGill. If you don’t know who she is, you must do a little “research” and come back and report [in the comments] three things you’ve learned about her.

Until next time…