Guest Post| “A Garden Reflection” by Danille Taylor

We are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business:
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Photo by Photo AC on Pixabay

Today’s post was written by my colleague and friend, Dr. Danille Taylor. She wrote this reflection after working in her garden and seeing the connection between her work and the work in which we must all engage to undo the isms that are destroying humanity.
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I was in the garden yesterday in 90 degree heat digging out weeds. I put a perennial bed in an area where the builder planted bamboo. I contracted to have soil and new plants put in. It was much too much work for my new knees, but the bed wasn’t prepped properly. The bamboo is tenacious! I can neither stomp it out nor can I use poison because of the new plants. I have to dig down and extract the roots. This is tedious back-bending work that requires the right tools so as not kill the new plants–my beauties. I may have to keep weeding for years to rid the garden of the bamboo, but as the gardener, it is my responsibility to protect my beauties. If I get lazy or forget, the bamboo will take over again.
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Ridding this world of all the ‘isms, greed, and inequities requires that we all be gardeners. There is no quick medicine or vaccine. There is only consistent, diligent, hard, and loving work to destroy the roots. But we have to have the right tools.
Each period requires old and new tools, but we must understand the old to be effective now. The energy of Black youth has brought us to this moment much as it did fifty years ago. They are railing at the bamboo that has them in a chokehold.
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If need be, we’ll plant a new garden and properly prepare the bed making sure the soil is rich and nurturing. No poisons allowed. We must remember the “bamboo” may still be there, so we’ll have to be diligent in identifying and uprooting it. We have knowledge and lessons of the past and tools of the future. We will sweat. But the wonderment and beauty we cultivate will feed us. As we weed and dig to extract roots we must not lose our joy.  We see the beauty of the garden we are cultivating.
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Live, breathe, love, and work.

Photo by Photo Mix on Pixabay

Musings from My Younger Self: In a Grown Man’s Suit

Photo by ShonEjai on Pixabay

Sometimes, I look at my early poetry and wonder where in the world it came from. I led a rather sheltered life. I wasn’t on lockdown, but I certainly wasn’t allowed to run wild and free. Everyone had a telephone, so my parents knew where I was at all times. My subject matter came not only from what I experienced but for the most part from things I observed or heard–directly or indirectly.

I wrote the poem below shortly after I turned 16–or made 16, as we say in New Orleans.

All these little boys walking around
trying to be grown men.

Smoking grass,
shooting dice,
dropping out of school,
making love, unloving
makes a man.

Employed
by their egocentrism,
they are first
in the unemployment line.

Gambling in the streets
with ill-gotten money.

They are “kool,”
but their tempers are hott!

They have no goal in life,
not an aim
or a dream.

They only want to live
well enough to get by.

They know nothing of
struggling up
a ladder of success.

Success to them is survival.

Sure, I was aware of guys who hung out all day and didn’t go to work or school, but these guys didn’t have girlfriends, “lovers,” or “hott” tempers [that I knew of]. I didn’t know them to shoot dice or smoke marijuana, so I’m not sure where this poem came from–perhaps from the books I read. I was very much into Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin during my teen years, but I don’t think this came from them.

Now that I think about it. . .maybe the influence was Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool.”

My friend, Cy, “wishes [she] knew more of what [I] was thinking when I wrote this because it is not such a positive picture.”

wish I could go back and tell my younger self to take notes on the poems I write, so decades later I wouldn’t have to respond, “I wish I knew too!”

Gwendolyn Brooks: In Her Honor

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), detail of The Furious Flower Portrait Quilt, 2004. Mixed media collage on canvas. Artist: Malaika Favorite. Card from my collection.

Like the Rita Dove piece I blogged about several months ago, the Gwendolyn Brooks portrait above is part of a 24-poet/panel masterpiece by mixed media artist Malaika Favorite which honors the history of African American poetry. The work was commissioned for Furious Flower, a conference held every decade (since 1994), that celebrates, stimulates, and encourages African American poetry and poetic voices.

Brooks (1917-2000) was a prolific writer with one novel and more than 20 volumes of poetry to her credit. She was the first Black woman to serve as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, now called U.S. Poet Laureate (1985-1986), and the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Her book Annie Allen won for the best volume of verse published in 1950.

Sometime between the ages of 13 and 14, I fell in love with the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Nikki Giovanni, and Gwendolyn Brooks. I gained access to these poets (and many others) through the book collections of my older brothers and sisters.

Gwendolyn Brooks was my favorite. I still know by heart “To Be in Love,” the first poem I read by her:

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 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.

When he
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.

I was “mesmerized” by the way she crafted language. I recall being moved by particular phrases–

you are the beautiful half/of a golden hurt

free/with a ghastly freedom

the Column of Gold/into the commonest ash.

And I was intrigued by how she used opposites and negatives to convey the beauty and pain of love and evoke a powerful sense of loss.

My own (early) poetry was very much influenced by Brooks.

Brooks would have been 101 on June 7, so in her honor, I invite you to read about her contributions to American literature as well as some of her poetry. To get started, see the links below:

In Memoriam: Fallen Soldiers, Lost Love

Photo by Kai Kalhh

“The Sonnet-Ballad” by Gwendolyn Brooks

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?