Three Postcards from China and “The River Merchant’s Wife”

“Katydid,” New World Press, Beijing China

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
Ezra Pound

After Li Po

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chōkan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.
At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.
 

“Dragonfly,” New World Press, Beijing, China

 
At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever, and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?
 
At sixteen you departed
You went into far Ku-tō-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.
 

“Silkworms,” New World Press, Beijing, China

 
You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.
I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Chō-fū-Sa.
 

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.

Creative Prayer with Maya Angelou

No Weapon

One of the most beautiful books in my extensive collection is Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter. In the collection of short essays, Angelou, ever the sage, dispenses wisdom and inspiration with snippets from her life and experiences.

In a passage entitled “Mt. Zion,” Angelou reflects on the precious moment when she realized that God loves her:

There was a possibility that God really did love me. I began to cry at the gravity and grandeur of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things. I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me, since one person with God constitutes the majority?

It is always amazing when we enter this moment of knowing God is absolutely enamored with us. Nothing can thwart our purpose when we encounter that profound love and allow it to possess us. We can walk in confidence that “come hell or high water,” through the Divine, we will win every.single.time.


About the Image: I promised myself that I would participate in Sheila Delgado’s 30-Day Creative Gathering this month. I create doodle art or photo art to “highlight” a passage of scripture [almost] daily, so to make my participation in “the gathering” easier [and more likely], I decided to pair the daily verse with my “art of the day.”

Today is Day 1.

I thought of Angelou’s words when I read the “Verse of the Day” in the Bible App (YouVersion) this morning. They seem connected to me.

Student Post 7: Wisdom from The Magician’s Nephew

Sunflower PhotoArtStudents in my course are encouraged to shape their blogs in the way that serves their blogging purposes, but there are obviously some skills they must exercise to become strong non-fiction writers. To that end, we do some workshopping and writing exercises in class that help them stretch their writing muscles. Some of these exercises are developed into blog posts. Some are submitted to literary journals. Some remain in the students’ writing journals while they continue to work with them.

One of the exercises required students to reflect on a significant quote. In today’s post Markus of Mark’s Art Stew talks about a quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, “The Magician’s Nephew”, and its recent impact on his life. Be sure to read his post and follow his blog. He offers a little something for everyone.


About the Image: The image above is one of the [far too] many pieces of sunflower photo-art hiding in my files. I might have to compile them into a book or start a sunflower blog. 😉

“In This Here Place…”

Emilio Cruz. Figurative Composition #7, 1965, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson Memorial Collection, 1980.137.21

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”

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!


Focus on Black: Click the link and learn a bit about Priscilla Jane Thompson.

Love of Freedom

In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.

–18th century poet, Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), in a letter to Native American ordained Presbyterian minister, Samson Occom (1723-1792)


About the Image: The gorgeous portrait of Phillis Wheatley is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I received the collection as a gift from my hubby. Thankfully, the box includes two sets of the postcards–I send 50 out into the world and keep 50 for myself! 😉

Tired like Langston

“Langston,” Lynita Solomon. Used by Permission of the Artist

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post by a woman who denigrated Vice President Kamala Harris for no good reason. The woman asserted that Harris is not a role model and no one should have their daughters look up to her.

The post and responses were hateful and extremely disrespectful. I can’t figure out how people can stir up so much hatred for a person they don’t know just because they don’t agree with the person’s policies or positions on certain issues.

Beyond this illogic, some made lewd remarks and [like the original poster] claimed Harris did “anything” to reach the VP position. The whole thing was disturbing. And to make matters worse, the post was “liked” thousands of times and shared more than 17,000 times!

The comments played into the hypersexualized view of Black women that was written into the narrative of American history to cover the multitude of white men’s violations against Black women’s bodies and personhood. The narrative is hurtful and just as dangerous as the one that gets Black men and women shot for just breathing.

Like the speaker in Langston Hughes’s poem, I’m so tired.

Tired
Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting.

Aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two —
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.

About the Image: The art above is the work of graphic illustrator, Lynita “Elle” Solomon. She posted the image on Instagram in honor of the day Langston Hughes was born, 119 years ago. Lynita has an amazing way of presenting her subjects “without faces,” but we know exactly who they are anyway. You can see more of her work by clicking the image above.

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

John O’Donohue, “Fluent,” Conamara Blues

#ThursdayTreeLove | Robin Hood’s Tree

So passed the seasons then, so they pass now, and so they will pass in time to come, while we come and go like leaves of the tree that fall and are soon forgotten. –Howard Pyle, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

Thanks to sheer exhaustion, I missed #ThursdayTreeLove last week, but I’m making up for it today by taking you on a brief trip to Sherwood Forest to get a glimpse of the magnificent  Major Oak.

I went to Sherwood Forest many, many moons ago and fell in love with the famed tree which the legendary outlaw Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men used as a hideout. I probably don’t need to tell you that this English professor loves visiting the actual places made famous [in my mind] by literature, so this was definitely a treat!

The [800 to] 1000-year-old tree is the largest tree in England. It is supported by stilts and has been so since the Victorian Age.

The original images [below] were shot with a film camera–a Canon Photura–in the days before digital cameras, but I had the roll digitized. It seems the digitized images lost their integrity over the years, so I edited them [above] for the post. [Click below to see larger images of the originals]

You can see better images and find out more information about the Major Oak of Sherwood Forest by clicking this link.


I am [usually] joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. [This is the third Thursday. Forgive me].  If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

“I Am Looking at Music”

National Poetry Month is nearing an end and as I fretted [earlier today] over which poems I should share for the remaining three posts, I realized I haven’t shared a love poem. Gasp!

Love poems are tricky. There are many, many absolutely beautiful love poems, but I have a tendency to steer clear of  poems that overly romanticize love and ignore its complexity. If I am to enjoy the poem, the writer has to avoid cliche but still evoke some feeling and truth with which readers [or listeners] can identify.

I first heard the poem I’m sharing today as “Nina’s Song”–recited by Nia Long in the film Love Jones. The poem is actually the work of Louisiana’s first African American Poet Laureate, Pinkie Gordon Lane (1923-2008). Her skillful use of imagery–light, sound, color–to capture the subtle nuances of love is astounding.

I Am Looking at Music
Pinkie Gordon Lane

It is the color of light,
the shape of sound
high in the evergreens.

It lies suspended in hills,
a blue line in a red
sky.

I am looking at sound.
I am hearing the brightness
Of high bluffs and almond
trees. I am
tasting the wilderness of lakes,
rivers, and streams
caught in an angle
of song.

I am remembering water
that glows in the dawn,
and motion tumbled
in earth, life hidden in mounds.

I am dancing a bright
beam of light.

I am remembering love.


About the image: The image above is one of my own pieces. I crafted the original last summer with “leftover” paint. All the colors seem to pair well with Lane’s poem, so I’m sharing it today.