A CLOSER LOOK: Afaa Michael Weaver



Photo: Lynda Koolish

I can never convince my father
that my best work is done in naps,
in the greenest of grass, near the smell

of manure, in the song of neighing
and snorting, in the infinite music

that fills the word with bright meaning.

 

—Afaa Michael Weaver

    from “The Poet Reclining”



Each issue of Innisfree takes a closer look at the poems of an especially accomplished contemporary poet with a significant body of work. Even such poets can be, if not unrecognized, then under-recognized, at least in your editor’s estimation. Such a poet is Afaa Michael Weaver, whose vision and voice are surely among the most distinctive and compelling of our time. Imagine my pleasure, then, when just days after inviting Mr. Weaver to be the subject of this closer look came the announcement of his winning the 2014 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award—one of the awards most coveted by American poets (not least for its $100,000 prize)—for his twelfth collection, The Government of Nature.

 

A native of Baltimore, Mr. Weaver was for fifteen years, like his father before him, a factory worker at Bethlehem Steel, writing poems all the while. This sustained effort was rewarded with an NEA fellowship in 1985, which freed him to leave factory work; his first collection, Water Song, was published by Callaloo Poetry that same year. Many more books, honors, and other achievements have followed, including three Pushcart Prizes and the May Sarton Poetry Prize. Also a playwright, he has received the PDI Award in playwriting from ETA Creative Arts Foundation. He has been awarded a second fellowship from the NEA, as well as fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Pew Foundation, and a Fulbright award to teach in Taiwan. As a translator, he works in Mandarin Chinese. Mr. Weaver completed his graduate work in creative writing at Brown University. He also acted in the film A String of Pearls. He teaches at Simmons College, and is a visiting faculty member at Drew University.


Poems may well tell us what it was like to be alive at a certain time and place, but they also embody the sensibility of a single artist who emerged from a particular socio-cultural heritage and so viewed and experienced that time and place in a singular way. In the May/June 2014 issue of The American Poetry Review, Mr. Weaver published an essay entitled "The Aftermath and Malcolm X" (based on a paper he gave at the 2013 Boston AWP Conference), in which he addresses, movingly and with transcendent insight, two of his older poems and the issues of race and personal trauma that underlay their writing. In so doing, he gifts us with an appreciation for one man’s origins as a distinctive artist:

 

http://www.aprweb.org/article/aftermath-amp-malcolm-x


More information and poems are available here:


http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/content/view/3710/28/

www.afaaweaver.net

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/afaa-michael-weaver



A Selection of Poems

by Affa Michael Weaver 蔚雅風



I.  from The Plum Flower Dance (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007),

first volume of the Plum Flower Trilogy:

 

American Income

 

The survey says all groups can make more money

if they lose weight except black men . . . men of other colors

and women of all colors have more gold, but black men

are the summary of weight, a lead thick thing on the scales,

meters spinning until they ring off the end of the numbering

of accumulation, how things grow heavy, fish on the

ends of lines that become whales, then prehistoric sea life

beyond all memories, the billion days of human hands

working, doing all the labor one can imagine, hands

now the population of cactus leaves on a papyrus moon

waiting for the fire, the notes from all their singing gone

up into the salt breath of tears of children that dry, rise

up to be the crystalline canopy of promises, the infinite

gone fishing days with the apologies for not being able to love

anymore, gone down inside Earth somewhere where

women make no demands, have fewer dreams of forever

these feet that marched and ran and got cut off, these hearts

torn out of chests by nameless thieves, this thrashing

until the chaff is gone out and black men know the gold

of being the dead center of things, where pain is the gateway

to Jerusalems, Boddhi trees, places for meditation and howling

keeping the weeping heads of gods in their eyes.

Pushcart Prize, 2008


Blues in Five/Four, the Violence in Chicago

 

In movies about the end of our civilization

toys fill the broken spaces of cities, flipping over

in streets where children are all hoodlums, big kids

painting themselves in neon colors, while the women

laugh, following the men into a love of madness.

 

Still shots show emptiness tearing the eyes of the last

of us who grew to be old, the ones the hoodlums

prop up in shadows, throwing garbage at us,

taping open our eyes, forcing us to study the dead

in photos torn from books in burned down libraries.

 

Chicago used to be Sundays at Gladys’ Luncheonette

where church folk came and ate collard greens and chicken

after the sermons that rolled out in black churches, sparkling

tapestries of words from preachers' mouths, prayer books,

tongues from Tell Me, Alabama, and Walk On, Mississippi.

 

Now light has left us, the sun blocked out by shreds

of what history becomes when apathy shreds it,

becoming a name the bad children give themselves

as they laugh and threaten each other while we starve

for the laughter we were used to before the end came.

Pushcart Prize, 2013


II.  from The Government of Nature (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013),

Kingsley Tufts Award, second volume of the Plum Flower Trilogy:


To Those Who Would Awaken 
        

it will happen like this for many of you,
the house suddenly too much, the garden so full
you go out, maybe thinking of the way the earth gives
under your feet, the water making circles around them
if you have to cross a river, leaves and branches lift
up and then brushing against you when you have
crossed, these things or the very structure of things,
the making of the hip joint, electrical plots in the
heart, thalamus sending reminders to the moving,
you looking up into the still wings of gliding crows
on this day when you know in one second there
is the power to give things new names, so you decide
this is not leaving but returning, that ends are
middles or that there are no points, no time,
so by the time you are miles away from leaving
it is only the eternal very first moment of anything,
making a pound cake from scratch, moving your
hand across the hem of a new skirt, the slight fear
and tremble when a sudden sound hits your wall, like
children throwing the ball against the fire escape
until it rattles like an empty skeleton, the hot shower
where you are alone until the memories step
in with you, deep solitude of living alone, falling
to where you are connected with everything, and
it happens, the stepping out, mind full of seeing
yourself move out into the world without difference
so you can see every move you make is a change
in the current, the arrangement of patterns under a brush,
a twisted calligrapher's stroke, all these things, walking
while the bones of who you are become roots.



The Ten Thousand


The rain comes late, draws the afternoon into darkness,

no light where there should be light, no way to be but drenched
until it curves down over your lips.  The taste of every living thing
is in the rain drop the way all things open their eyes inside
a single bloom in the garden that is now hushed in a robe.
 
Whatever you feel about it, whether you live for it or pray
for the rains to die, the water joins with all of us, tendon, bone,
artery, vein, saliva, everything that melts and goes hard, escapes
as air.  The water brings a reunion for a moment with what we know
each time we breathe ourselves here or are forced to breathe.
 
If I write without color it is to obey the gray way rain brings
the past to us.  The ten thousand are one giant palace with a room
for remembering, where you must stand alone, touch and believe
while it seems you are touching nothing and have gone all mad
in this life, this gift.  We are sitting on a rock in the thick falling
 
of water, purple lilies are growing in the sun’s ocean shadow,
sheep with golden wool are flying in the trees, a patient monkey
is bandaging a wounded blade of grass, the garden is a mesa,
seeds are mountain caves, the moon has gone infinite, made
two of its own selves for each of our palms.  Now we have faces. 

 

Weigh


The ecstasy of being eaten is more than the fear

in the teased air between pine needles and red lilacs

where we take turns shooting through the thin circles

made on the edge of the hawk’s wings, the tiny space

it cannot come back to except to arc up again,

navigate, draw once more the line from her eye

 

to a place where we have no escape.  It is the way

the heat pumps the whole mountain until it is drunk

with sun, so full of it that its stone heart melts

to make its own waters trickle down the slopes

to gather in the gullies, softening the ground

for the snakes who have lost their envy of dragons.

 

It is the teeth, sometimes the sweet juice of the mouth,

the belly flesh of the jaws, the eyes falling back

into themselves with relief from hunger.  We think

ourselves invisible but still the lure of going in

is greater than the fear of never coming out, so we give

ourselves to the joy of change.  Time always ignites

 

again, even from the great time of nothing that spat

the world from the long sleep, that too a hunger

like this way we ache to know desire lives in the eye.

 

 

Tsunami


Do not rush to know the difference as that will be a door

too large for those who rush.  Take instead the slow touch

of bamboo.  Come each morning to the same tree and rub

it slowly the way you would rub a limb of your own.

Know that you may lose it to a surgeon’s knife and touch

every thin line.  Feel the color of a single shaft of the thing

the way you would find the smallest places on a finger.

Put your lips against the leaves the way you would kiss

the hair on your own arms.  Embrace it with all of you

and promise to keep the farmer’s axe away.  Promise to shoo

away the poison air of the cities.  Ask the earth to bless

it with children that are bamboo.  Come at night and wait

for the bamboo to sing in the wind, wait until the song comes,

until hunger makes you angry.  Think of the lines of bamboo,

how they shoot up and then bend with their accomplishment.

This may take more years than you have, or you may press

the bamboo into a heartless fear of its own beauty.

If so, start again, more slowly this time.  After each step,

pray for the children who went back into the sea without

enough time to learn the songs of bamboo, or to remember.  



Flying


A hand pulled me open, down on the bed,

down on the bed, looking up, holding the covers

while the soft soul of me like a crab’s inedible meat,

lifted away, meat with thick strings that hold together,

then elongate themselves to keep me tied,

bound in the body until this lifting, the soul’s ugly meat

becoming wings and I flew, above the house, the graves

behind it in Baltimore Cemetery with grandma’s

marker holding our names.  The ceiling was the law

saying stop! . . . until the hand gave me the gift

of flying . . . in my heart, yes, it is the heart.  Night

became a magnet of my craving to be one thing

forming in the womb of my mother where

nascent nubs of self take shape, the brain still

asleep in its mysteries until the heart awakens,

thumps itself into beating with a drum song we know

in the endless connections of intestines and brain,

mind of gut . . . mind.  Sages say we can fly

when God falls asleep, his arm hitting the floor

we call Earth so the touched can dream of home.

 

If You Tell

If you tell, the stars will turn against you,

you will have not night but emptiness.

 

If you tell, you will live in an old house

in the desert all alone with cactus for friends.

 

If you tell, people will hide their children

from the monster others say your kind are.

 

If you tell, the police will add you to the list

of people who might have killed the albatross.

 

If you tell, you will walk in a hollow room

full of the sound of liar, liar, pants on fire.

 

If you tell, poets will call it marketing,

a ploy to get ahead in the game.

 

If you tell, women will think you are trying

to steal a place that is not yours.

 

If you tell, you will become a stinky thing

no aromatherapy will ever make sweet.

 

If you tell, all the therapists you ever saw

will claim you in reports to some conference.

 

If you tell, you will see the wounded everywhere,

shuffling legions, the murdered souls of children

 

under angels’ wings beating a prayer in a place

with no night, no day, no palladium of lies.



The Government of Nature
Dear body of mine . . .

Rosetta stone of my soul, familia vascellum,

I have brought you to the arbor of memories,

in the clinging vines, playing negro spirituals

for parakeets with mouths turned upward,

as we were when we came into the world,

me a sheaf of unwritten contracts, you a chemistry

wrestled out of love and fate, dear body of mine,

organs and nerves, vessels, pineal window

to inner space, the intersections of visions.

 

What abbreviated paternoster do we summon

in the night when the hand upturns the sacred portion

of a child and mixes the nerves to make monsters,

uses them for what feels unnatural, abridges

and aborts the will, or is it the will itself come down

to the only path that will let us be the difficult unknown

in the calculus that is our test along the way

to forgetting, as we agreed to this, to the pain,

the crying out for mother as trusted hands molest

a child split from the herd to bind it with karma

until the Dhammapada nods the way to nirvana.

 

I come with you to places I cannot go alone, as alone

I would be only the decision to be, not the things

I cannot explain to anyone, except in the privacy

of a piety I have had to own, a profane saintliness

that came to me in places too foul to remain buried

in me, these places—lotus ponds, mountains, waterfalls,

divine insignia in closets, bedrooms, bathrooms—

these places a carnival I now name as redemption,

sins multiplying, lifting the eyes of cumulus clouds

praying over the urges that rise from memories

of rape, the loneliness kept in Grace’s silence.

 

Dear body of mine, I push off from a knowing

that tears my eyes into a steady stream, leaving

the medulla, a tuft of grass on a hill looking up and out

to the wise fool in the center of the mind, as wishes

fall back from the perimeters of the skin, beneath to

the bone, inside the marrow to pierce the centers

of selves until knowing leaves us, tender and mortal,

desire a river longing itself into being, lost in mirrors.


   

Remember

for my granddaughter

If I forget to plug the sun,

let me know

 

If I forget to tame the sharks teeth,

let me know

 

If I forget to stop the tsunamis,

let me know

 

If I forget to tie up the bears,

let me know

 

If I forget to chase away the viruses,

let me know

 

If I forget to clean the unclean foods,

let me know

 

If I forget to stop rushing cars,

let me know

 

If I forget to tame the lightning,

let me know

 

If I forget to melt the slippery ice,

let me know

 

If I forget to outlaw nightmares,

let me know

 

If I forget to put perverts away,

let me know

 

If I forget that the divine thing

moved inside me to write this,

the thing that can do all things,

let me know

let me down easy

into the earth.

 

 

Evensong at Christ Church

 

In the ceiling is the miracle,

the stone locking to stone, holding

up the place, and when the priest

strides over in his garments, I want

to join the sanctuary, be settled

in the common book of prayer, tied

into the histories of wills to power

inside the single strand of my soul,

be a foreigner visiting the inexact art

of wanting to breathe, wanting to test

the lives between earth and nothing.

Not the unlettered blood or its least

atom of difference move my knees

too stiff to kneel, prayers and tears

edging out of forgotten closets.

 

Holding the seam of my split self

out into the aisle, I make a wish

no one can see in their chanting,

as I pray over the Messiahs naked

body, our unlikely communion,

to summon the least bloodied atom

of what can be whole again.

In Oxford the evenings are order

to our unordered eyes, the left right

backward origin of English, choirs

of stares when we pause at corners,

the whole place my extended self

turned inside out as a child, spun

into the cruel search for a truth

of what I was intended to be,

my own flesh to my own bones.

 

 

Washing the Car with My Father

 

It is the twilight blue Chevrolet,

four doors with no power but the engine,

whitewall tires, no padding on the dashboard,

the car I drive on dates, park on dark lanes

to ask for a kiss, now my hand goes along

the fender, wiping every spot, the suds

in the bucket, my father standing at the gate,

poor and proud, tall and stout, a wise man,

 

a man troubled by a son gone missing

in the head, drag racing his only car

at night, traveling with hoodlums to leave

the books for street life, naming mentors

the men who pack guns and knives, a son

gone missing from all the biblical truth,

ten talents, prophecies, burning bushes,

dirty cars washed on Saturday morning.

 

He tells me not to miss a spot, to open

the hood when I’m done so he can check

the oil, the vital thing like blood, blood

of kinship, blood spilled in the streets

of Baltimore, blood oozing from the soul

of a son walking prodigal paths leading

to gutters.  Years later I tell him the stories

of what his brother-in-law did to me, and

 

he wipes a tear from the corner of his eye,

wraps it in a white handkerchief for church,

walks up the stairs with the aluminum

crutch to scream at the feet of black Jesus

and in these brittle years of his old age we

grow deeper, talk way after midnight,

peeping over the rail of his hospital bed

as we wash the twilight blue Chevrolet.

 

Petunias

for my mother

The cement border kept them on one side,

On the other bricks pushed down in the lawn

while they outgrew and spilled over the lilies,

far away from my sweet potatoes, the food

from roots I started in glass jars in the window.

 

You came in the quiet moments, in one of your

old dresses, walking side to side on old slippers

in late spring, days before we built the awning

that made shade where there was no shade,

added the tapping sound of the rain to our ears.

 

In the rain the petunias held up, the strangeness

of fragile stem and bright petals, the violet inviolate

it seemed, under the rain that fell until the slurping

was like a tongue going up and down some part of me

I will not name here, not on this page, not in this light.

 

The slurping like the slurping today, here in this place

where I have barricaded myself for ten years, the bars

on the windows, the back wall a solid stack of giant

stone bricks set before your mother was born, secure

now, I listen to the rain, how it is kept away from me.

 

If I choose to walk in it, this glory as natural

as undisturbed sex in undisturbed lives, it will feel

and smell like something welcome, something I want —

had I not been undressed, had I not been handled

in the dark and made to know an evil wetness.

 

At night I wonder how deep my sleep would be

had you known I was in danger and saved me.



Cold Mountain


It is not the stone or the cave’s hollow way

without heat, or the dead stillness in a tiger’s eyes

turning to dig razor claws deep into soft flesh

 

the way death aligns itself with life, none of this

is what Cold Mountain means, leaving the city,

climbing up into the hills to pull time away

 

from itself.  It is the way spirit reveals itself

in the bones, where spirit lives, dances into bright

sparks of electric in the trail it uses to travel

 

in us with lines that have no map except

what poets make, the dream vision, the film

of mucus over the baby’s face, a veil

 

seeing into our other worlds where allies

root for us, give us a slight chance when we go

up to the wall to sit in silence, to remember

 

nothing from nothing leaves the rise and falling

away of breath.  At Cold Mountain I found dirty

mirrors where I hoped to see my own clean face.



III.  from City of Eternal Spring (University of Pittsburgh Press, September 2014), third volume of the Plum Flower Trilogy :


The Workers in Beijing

spring 2005

It is lunchtime, say the feet clomping out from

tarpaulins, metal riggings, walls in progress, men

with blue hats in their hands, clothes thick with work.

 

In China this hard march to uplift and wealth

is called the time of cruelty, mandatory twelve

hour shifts, a mouth of a gift horse for the poor.

 

They pass me frozen in the intersection,

it is time for lunch and I reach for my brown bag,

fried chicken sandwich, sweet potato pie, a cup

 

of coffee on the top of the heater in the steel mill,

somewhere in my pocket a hidden book speaks

Three Negro Classics, DuBois looking ahead

 

of me to now, my mecca to China, the math

of fifteen years of factory life coming to a dance

between three and five, the three the way things

 

come to be as the immortals dream of the Yijing

way to reality, the oracle of all change, a thin

Howling Wolf looking for peace inside the blues,

 

where five is the flattened fifth or the five tones

of this language of hand and ache, the rhythm

of my life, my worker heart a lotus pond

 

in Hainan, the water murky, the sun an unsure

but steady nuclear fume that breathes a sting into

spring, with daffodils, with children who do not die.

 

Some whistle blows, I go back down under

with these men I do not know, singing a song

my father sangfifteen years aint no long time

 

I got a brother somewhere got a lifetime.



Being Chinese

 

In Los Angeles airport I sit

stunned by the English, letters

harsh things with no stories

I know.  The food smells dead,

metal forks and knives set

for making war against food.

 

I am undone and done again,

broken off from narratives

of birth and being, of limits

broken by the genius of slaves.

I stand here where I was born,

and the masks wait for me.



IV.  from A Hard Summation (Central Square Press, 2014):


The Kidnappers

 

A cruel silence in the night, the children’s songs

 

pulled under a rustle of leaves, mothers turning away

for a second to pick up toys dropped in shadows,

as hands cover children’s mouths, their heels

struggling in soft dirt, swallowed by forests,

birth turned to death, the yard empty, neighbors

hushed by wailing from houses where ache lives,

a cruel silence in the night, the children's songs

gone, mama pulled into the broad arms of papa,

dry womb of old sinew and bone, eyes glazed,

sons and daughters, hope against old age, swept up

by strangers to lie down in the music of deep water.

 

 

A Ship’s Log

 

Children who gave us life . . .

a family's seed on board the Jesus Maria

Who took you? Sherbro Mende  Portuguese?

Who took your name to your mother's ears

to whisper, child gone, womb of your grandchildren

gone?  Who set you free in Havana?  What filled you

in the ship of two hundred thirty-four mostly children,

half of them boys, half of them girls, eight, nine, ten

years into a language they will forget, what happened

to the crew listening to children cry for weeks

from Freetown to Havana, Freetown where slaves

begin . . . and did the crisp light of the moon curse sailors

who waited to ease below to prowl and touch at night?

Children . . . a ship full of mothers screaming where

these could not hear their names being cried out,

girls and boys shivering in the creak of wood

in the water, the forward dip and lean of sail to wind,

their names being cried out in languages they will barely

know if they live to think of what they know . . . ribbed

womb of ship belly, plank to plank, cog and nail, cupped

hands of demons moving in the Atlantic to progress

with children whose names have kept their power—

 

Mamboa Bunde  Sulu         Guebo   Mafoma  Janu

Boya       Daru     Maju        Cobre   Mafe       Ita

Dora        Duevo  Maqueni  Momo  Manene   Canundi

Cumba    Guenda Iacaye      Sese      Beilu      Colloma

 

sons and daughters, hope against old age, swept up

by strangers to lie down in the music of deep water,

a baptism in a melody of grief, the children praying

to be loved in a world their mothers do not know

in Africa where stars try to make  peace with death

 

 

In Charleston, the Slave Market

 

A mother speaks to a dream that speaks to her

on an Igbo bed, tell me where my children are,

she asks of the air that makes itself a door

beyond the door over the last touch, the last

smell of her children's hair full of sun, speckled

with dirt from playing, how do they eat now?

she asks of the dream, but the dream is too kind

to tell the truth, the markets where they stand naked,

white women poking at them, looking over places

only mothers should touch, shopping for black pets

for white children, for girls who can grow and make

more black children, as if they are gardens, and what

gardens they are to a mother on her Igbo bed who asks

her husband, old man who cannot make children,

what do we do? shall we stop speaking?  The dream

dries itself up, pulls away so grief can become death

and kindness to hearts too full to sleep, and they

sleep the sleep of wind over wild grass, the moon

over impotent prayers, the wild sounds of angels and

hyenas, they sleep until sleep is all there is, the grace

of the end of wondering, while in Charleston one child

is sold here, one child there, one swimming leagues

down under in the dark tongue of the ocean where

thunderheads in Charleston harbor cannot send the rain.

 

mama’s little baby got some something

mama’s little baby got a sweet potato pie

mama’s little baby got some something

mama’s little baby got a hot butter biscuit

gonna bring it to you mama, right now

 

 

Night Song for Missy

 

My bones tied up with his bones at night,

him falling asleep in my arm after wrasslin me,

calling it love in some kind of low whisper

no dog would believe.  I know his every smell,

every way the littlest corner of him be stinkin

underneath me, on top of me, while our children

snore in the corner, then he creep out the way

he creep in, before the cock crow at the sun.

 

In daylight he act like we strangers, on the edge

of the field, his little tan children of mine turning

brown, playing more than working cause they his

children, Missy look over at me while I look

over at her, both of us got some kind of papers

on this same man that say he own both of us,

the man who owes us even when he die cause

the Bible say you gotta look after the widow.

 

But when he die it will be cause Missy and me

locked eyes many days and hated him like one

wronged woman made out of two, him standing

up there on the porch studyin everything—

his eyes lit up like he the Lord of all creation.

 

hush now, night wind on my skin, hush now

bird lost in trees, hush now, hungry moon

 

 

The Little Rock 9

 

It is Monday, I am twelve years old,

summer still feel like summer to me . . .

 

                                    Ernest Green

 


My elementary school principal was white

I only had one white teacher, she was named

after the juice the astronauts took into space,

Tang, I got some Tang at home . . . did you hear

about the little girls who got killed while we was

in Sunday School yesterday?

 

                                    Elizabeth Eckford

 


I live in Baltimore and so do you,

your people the raw and stinky crew,

my daddy a big shot on the Avenue

your daddy can’t buy a pair of shoes . . .

 

                                    Jefferson Thomas



One little girl was named Addie Mae,

just like my aunt from South Carolina,

and when I come home from church

everybody was cryin about the news

from Alabama . . . I know Alabama

Alabama was on the math test today—

If you going 65 miles an hour leaving

Richmond near where my cousins live

and you drive for twelve hours straight

will get you to Alabama? hell no, cause

Alabama in hell . . .

                                    Terrence Roberts

 


The bus is hot, the white neighborhood

full of angry faces just two miles from where

we live, angry faces I see at night when I look

out the window and wonder why I have to sit

next to white children to be smart . . . I was smart

all the time, my mama told me so when I did

things the right way, extra things, good things,

smart is knowin when somethins missing . . .

 

                                    Carlotta Walls LaNier

 


I like Malcolm X because he looks like me

when I am so mad I cant stand myself, when

my cousins take my model car shelf down,

break up my cars and then dare me to fight,

when I have to walk from the white school

home through the white neighborhood when

I miss the bus or when I get a beatin for what

my friend did and he get a beatin, too, but

mine hurt more because he did it, not me, so

I like Malcolm X.  He so mean, Mr. Green,

he so mean . . . you got to be mean in Chicago . . .

 

                                    Minnijean Brown

 


When I was fourteen a boy kissed me

when we were walking to the movies,

he sneaked me, and I tried not to smile

because kissing is a sin and all the while

I was so full of hallelujah on the inside,

on the way to the movies we go to now

because somebody made a way somehow,

standing in lines with protest signs, dogs

barking all around, so I make sure I sound

educated when Henry sneaks to kiss me

on the way to the movies . . . we have

all kinds of movies in Philadelphia . . .

 

                                    Gloria Ray Karlmark

 


New York is faster than yesterday,

been here and gone before you remember

it ain’t here no more, we go downtown

in the middle of tomorrow when it still be

today, New York is faster than yesterday,

I got a quarter for your ten dollar bill,

give it to me Ill pay your cleaners bill

because New York is faster than yesterday,

and a high school diploma is all a genius

like me will ever need in a city where

a thrill is more to me if you will believe

me . . . and believe me you will . . .

 

                                    Thelma Mothershed

 


What a word will do, my mama used to say

at night when her work was done, rearing back

in that chair of hers with the stuffin fallin out

of the arms, what a word will do when you know

what words are for, she would say, layin her head

back, closing her eyes and settling down

inside some dream.  She never told us her dreams

when we asked her, she just said we would know

when the moon turned over three times and ghosts

rose up out of the sea.  Mama was half out

of this world, in California we all the way in it . . .

 

                                    Melba Patillo Beals

 

            Little Rock Nine,

            Shaking the line

            Between white no

            And black oh yes,

            Ill walk all over

            What is mine, thanks

            To Little Rock Nine.              












                                    

 

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