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.
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)
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
I’ve forgotten that
it’s also necessary
to be dying
I have neglected this obligation
or have been fulfilling it
everything will change
I will start dying assiduously
without wasting time
Tadeusz Rozewicz (From The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry)
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
hero of peace.
May these names
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
I look into your brilliant eyes, whose gaze
each common thing, and hope
that inner vision
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)
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.