“Fierce People”

When asked about how she talks to her sons, navigates with them, on topics such as being black in the violent world, Poet Elizabeth Alexander said this:

That the life force we have as a culture that has survived against all odds is extraordinary and beautiful. That is why I teach African-American studies. And my babies—two tall young men, walking around in these tall bodies, made vulnerable by their skin color, that is a parent’s nightmare. You teach children to be safe and smart in the street. But you need to teach them to stand up straight in themselves in their gorgeous, mighty culture. That they are fierce people from fierce people. The worst damage racism can do to our children is to raise them up to be fearful.

There’s much to learn in these words.

Read her full interview in “On the Healing Power of Words” on the Root here.

“Grief” by Stephen Dobyns

Trying to remember you

is like carrying water

in my hands a long distance

across sand. Somewhere

people are waiting.

They have drunk nothing for days.


Your name was the food I lived on;

now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.

To say your name was to be surrounded

by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,

I touch glass and barbed wire.

Your name was the thread connecting my life;

now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.


I was dancing when I

learned of your death; may

my feet be severed from my body.


(Posted in remembrance of our father, Mardell Culley, Sr. on the second anniversary of his death)

Among Many Tasks

The fall will bring a slightly different schedule for me.  The whole thing holds together and will open me to new ways of deepening my vocation and the little works which make up my vocation.  I’ll be doing a lot, and I’m looking forward to it.

Perhaps it seems inappropriate to hold this poem on this blog, but it seems a striking reminder for me as a parent.  In the end, as I see it and believe it and imagine it, all our small works turn to one task of continued self-surrender, continued dying.

That dying sits at the bottom of my faith, though that bottom would quickly, almost too effortlessly, be named as living.  That eternal life only comes after one has regularly and daily passed through the gates of death.  Life comes from death, says the One we follow.  May this poet’s words be a reminder of these things to me:

Among Many Tasks

Among many tasks

very urgent

I’ve forgotten that

it’s also necessary

to be dying


I have neglected this obligation

or have been fulfilling it


beginning tomorrow

everything will change

I will start dying assiduously

wisely optimistically

without wasting time

Tadeusz Rozewicz (From The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry)

The Year of the Child

And you have come,

Michael Ahman, to share

your life with us.

We have given you

an archangel’s name–

and a great poet’s;

we honor too

Abyssinian Ahman,

hero of peace.

May these names

be talismans;

may they protect

you, as we cannot, in a world that is

no place for a child–

that had no shelter

for the children in Guyana

slain by hands

they trusted; no succor

for the Biafran

child with swollen belly

and empty begging-bowl;

no refuge for the child

of the Warsaw ghetto.

What we yearned

but were powerless to do

for them, oh we

will dare, Michael, for you,

knowing our need

of unearned increments

of grace.

I look into your brilliant eyes, whose gaze

renews, transforms

each common thing, and hope

that inner vision

will intensify

their seeing.  I am

content meanwhile to have

you glance at me

sometimes, as though, if you

could talk, you’d let

us in on a subtle joke.

May Huck and Jim

attend you.  May you walk

with beauty before you,

beauty behind you, all around you, and

The Most Great Beauty keep

you His concern.

By Robert Hayden (For his Grandson)

Countee Cullen’s “Dad”

His ways are circumspect and bound

With trite simplicities;

His is the grace of comforts found

In homely hearthside ease.

His words are sage and fall with care,

Because he loves me so;

And being his, he knows, I fear,

The dizzy path I go.

For he was once as young as I,

As prone to take the trail,

To find delight in the sea’s low cry,

And a lone wind’s lonely wail.

It is his eyes that tell me most

How full his life has been;

There lingers there the faintest ghost

Of some still sacred sin.

So I must quaff Life’s crazy wine,

And taste the gall and dregs;

And I must spend this wealth of mine,

Of vagrant wistful legs;

And I must follow, follow, follow

The lure of a silver horn,

That echoes from a leafy hollow,

Where the dreams of youth are born.

Then when the star has shed its gleam,

The rose its crimson coat;

When Beauty flees the hidden dream,

And Pan’s pipes blow no note;

When both my shoes are worn too thin,

My weight of fire to bear,

I’ll turn like dad, and like him win

The peace of a snug arm-chair.