Musings from My Younger Self: Somewhere Along the Way

I intended to share a different “musing from my younger self” today, but cannot remember where I placed the sassy poem. As I was looking through one of my poetry notebooks, I happened across the short poem below. It was hastily written on a sheet of paper from a yellow legal pad and was dedicated to one of my high school best friends and her sweetheart. They were inseparable and shocked all who knew them when they ended their relationship.

You ask of me what you cannot give,
and I do not understand.
I walked with you.
I held your hand.
You became a part of me,
and now,
it’s over–
not because I stopped loving you
or because you stopped loving me
but because somewhere along the way
you forgot who I am. 

I do not recall the details of the breakup, but the line that ends the poem is telling. I’m sure my friend and I talked about the whys and hows of the relationship’s ending, and the point of his “forgetting” must have compelled me to write the short poem.

I wrote this when we were teenagers. I am slightly awed by our youthful understanding of the complexities of love. What really strikes me is that my friend–as young as she was at the time–realized the soul-damaging potential of remaining in a relationship with even a man she loved when he no longer valued her.

Light and Miracles

My friend Kemi gave me a handout on navigating grief written by Chrystal Evans Hurst. One of the tips is to “keep going;” another is “get to work,” to keep doing life. Although it seems easier to curl into a ball and hide under the covers till the worst of the grief passes, the reality is the longer I stay down, the more difficult it will be for me to get up. Besides, too much life requires my actual presence. In an effort to “keep doing,” I’m at work seeing students and working on a report that’s due in less than a week.

In that same effort, I’m blogging today because “Microblog Mondays” are part of my normal, and writing and blogging provide healing and escape, when necessary.

As part of our “Brothers’ and Sisters’ Tribute” at my sister’s “Celebration of Life” service, I read an excerpt from e.e. cummings’ poem, ‘i carry your heart with me’ and a brief “statement” about Lori’s gift. Many people asked for a copy, so I decided to share here so that they–and any others–can read it whenever they wish to do so.


Photo by Soorelis

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;

[…]

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) –e.e. cummings

After I told Ramona, one of my colleagues, about Lori’s being moved to hospice and my utter despair that her situation had so progressed, she suggested that I focus on the gift Lori gave. That instead of focusing on the possibility of her end, I hone in on the gift she gave me.

This was apropos because Lori loved giving gifts. She was particularly tickled by finding unique sister gifts. But, of course, I was to look for Lori’s intangible gift to me and to the world. As I contemplated Lori’s gift, I came face to face with it during our last visit with her, mere days before she expired. Lori’s cancer had metastasized and covered 90% of her brain, but there was so much light emanating from her that it gave me pause.

Throughout her entire ordeal, Lori kept her mind stayed on Christ. There were times when I’d check in on her and she’d tell me she’d just had a high time in praise and worship.

She was so filled with the light of Christ that I firmly believe that though we didn’t get the miracle we prayed for, we received a miracle of light. It was no less than divine intervention that allowed her to have such peace throughout her trial, no less than a miracle that she clung so fiercely to Christ, no less than a miracle that she trusted His Sovereignty above all else. No less than a miracle that with only 10% of her brain spared this dreaded disease she recognized us, acknowledged our presence, and responded with the little physical strength she had. No less than a miracle that as the life was waning from her body, she still reflected light. She still reflected Christ.

Lori’s gift was her light. She taught us how to walk in light through impenetrable darkness.

Raindrops and Perfection

He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. –Matthew 5:45 MSG

It seems appropriate to talk about rain today–this 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina–but I have no desire to revisit that horror today. The photo above features my favorite line from R.H. Peat’s poem “Perfection.” When I “encountered” it on the blog Sightseeing at Home a few months ago, I decided to create a series of photos using lines from the poem.

Every oak will lose a leaf to the wind.
Every star-thistle has a thorn.
Every flower has a blemish.
Every wave washes back upon itself.
Every ocean embraces a storm.
Every raindrop falls with precision.
Every slithering snail leaves its silver trail.
Every butterfly flies until its wings are torn.
Every tree-frog is obligated to sing.
Every sound has an echo in the canyon.
Every pine drops its needles to the forest floor.
Creation’s whispered breath at dusk comes
with a frost and leaves within dawn’s faint mist,
for all of existence remains perfect, adorned,
with a dead sparrow on the ground. –“Perfection” by R.H. Peat

The photo above is the first in the series. I even photographed a dead sparrow I happened across one afternoon. There was nothing poetic about that image, so we can probably forget about adding the last line to the series–unless I approach it less literally.

The incongruity between the poetic lines and the actual image of the sparrow reminds me of our tendency to use language to “pretty up” some really “jacked up” aspects of life. I’m learning that such language doesn’t minimize the ugliness and does little, if anything, to help. In some instances, what appears to be encouragement or inspiration is actually damaging. There’s nothing glamorous about struggle. Nothing to celebrate in being strong enough to withstand the blows. People who struggle with mental and/or physical illnesses don’t need platitudes. They need help. They need support. They need love. It is easier to come to grips with life when we realize, no matter how hellish, life is just that. . .life.

Isn’t that the point of Peat’s poem? Life with all its “stuff” happens to us all–whether we’re good, bad, nice, nasty, or somewhere in between. That is part of our messy, perfect existence in this world.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Chase the Light

Chase the light,
whatever
and wherever
it may be
for you.
Chase it.

Tyler Knott Gregson, Typewriter Series #586


Since I must “consider the trees” regularly to preserve my sanity, I am joining Parul Thakur every second and fourth Thursday for #ThursdayTreeLove. When I’m too exhausted for words, the trees speak for themselves.

About the Image: “Look to the Light,” New Orleans (my parents’ backyard), iPhone Photo

“Sunning” with Poetry

“Das Sonnebad. Sun-Bath. Bain de soleil.” Artwork by Anne Freidank, artist turned gardener and fundraiser.

“Sunflower” by Frank Steele

You’re expected to see
only the top, where sky
scrambles bloom, and not
the spindly leg, hairy, fending off
tall, green darkness beneath.
Like every flower, she has a little
theory, and what she thinks
is up.  I imagine the long
climb out of the dark
beyond morning glories, day lilies, four o’clocks
up there to the dream she keeps
lifting, where it’s noon all day.
——————————————————————————————————–
Note about the postcard: The Anne Freidank postcard above graced my mailbox yesterday.  It was sent as a “random act of kindness” by swap-bot Geraldine aka Nannydino who lives in Canada. How thoughtful of her to think of me. How cool that the mail gods had the postcard arrive during “Sunflower Week.”

“Montgomery on My Mind”

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in –Rosa Parks

My colleague, Dr. Ramona Hyman, always has “Montgomery” and its rich Civil Rights history “on [her] mind.” Thanks to her, I have Montgomery, Alabama on my mind too as I prepare to spend a couple of days there with her and several Huntsville educators “Revisiting the Montgomery Bus Boycott.” The educators are working on integrating this piece of history into their K-12 classes. I have a different research agenda–as I’m thinking through a project on women’s involvement in critical moments in history.

Today is a perfect time to share some of the Rosa Parks postcards in my collection. I’ve had them for quite some time, but now that I’m thinking about Montgomery, it’s an appropriate time to share.

Many people know about her contribution to American civil rights and history, but just in case you don’t know–Rosa Parks is considered the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” Her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955 “triggered a wave of protests that reverberated throughout the United States.” The boycott lasted for more than a year and ultimately catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into national prominence. The boycotts led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation on city buses.

Here are three related postcards from my collection:

The “Rosa Parks Bus” at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan

From the postcard back:

Montgomery City Bus 2857. Originally built in 1948 in Pontiac, Michigan, Bus 2857 was operated by the Montgomery City Bus Lines in Montgomery, Alabama from 1954-1971. Rosa Parks was riding this bus on the evening of December 1, 1955 when she was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man. This incident sparked subsequent civil rights protests, especially the boycott of Montgomery’s bus system. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the beginning of a revolutionary era of non-violent mass protests in support of civil rights in the United States. The yearlong boycott kept Montgomery’s [black population] off all buses until December 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of public transportation was unconstitutional. Bus 2857 was retired and sold in 1971. After sitting for 30 years in a field, the bus was purchased by auction by The Henry Ford [Museum} and has been restored to appear as it did in 1955. The bus is now on display in the Henry Ford Museum.

You can find more details about the purchase and restoration of the bus here: Restoring the Rosa Parks Bus.

Rosa Parks arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a white man.

The postcard, featuring the familiar image of Parks being fingerprinted, comes from the Women Who Dared collection sent to me during Women’s History Month several years ago. The sender added a Parks quote:

Each person must live life as a model for others. –Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago (2010, maybe?). If I remember correctly, each banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

You can find out a lot more about Rosa Parks by reading her biography on the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute website. You’ll find that she was much more than the woman who refused to give up her seat.

“A Hymn for Montgomery 55” by Ramona Hyman
from her collection, In the Sanctuary of the South

Holy, holy, holy: a hymn of praise
For prophets framing freedom
In Montgomery 55: Strange fruits marching–some
Walking, some crawling–some…

Holy, holy, holy–a hymn of praise
Emptying itself
Americans: black and white; hand in hand
Saintly sighing a freedom song of praise

Holy, holy, holy–the march raises
Into victory: freedom swells, the flag: separate
And unequal shreds into the face of anxious
Soldiers–black and white jumping the broom
Into a new day–the Civil Rights Movement begins

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: