#NaPoWriMo – Day 24: Event planning (9 of 15 heroic crown)

It had to be a total work of art.
A half, a third, a fourth of a movement
would not suffice. A huge splash was required
to capture Americans’ attention –
enslaved and free – to rock a boat steering
on a faulty course. He knew it would be
all or nothing, a tiny mustard seed
planted in a rocky soil – without hope
for immediate success. A symbol –
political, spiritual – for future
generations when freedom’s wind would blow
to every compass point across the land.
With no chance of victory he labored,
meticulously planning each detail.


#NaPoWriMo – Day 23: Sonnet

I subscribe to the obituary
page of my hometown daily newspaper.
Obviously black people do not die
in the city of my birth – I never
see their faces. I know it’s just not true.

I left my hometown many years ago,
but never stopped hoping for a return,
wishing her well. Every poet wishes
he could play guitar – the grass is always
greener on the other side of the road –

or whatever it is that divides us
from our origin, the root of our being.
Life continues, the struggle continues,
as long as a ray of hope lights the path.

#NaPoWriMo – Day 22: journey inside NaPoWriMo (blackjack haiku)

Ran completely out of gas
on the promised Nat Turner
hero sonnet crown project.

Dude just stopped talking to me.
Went total silent after
so much partying chit chat.

Spirits be like that sometime.
On and off like a light switch.
Digital, not analog.

Then my pen ran out of ink.
Talking ‘bout catastrophe.
Hope he comes back soon or late.

Don’t care that much about theme
and unity anymore.
Just want to complete it.

#NaPoWriMo – Day 21: evolution of Psalm 23

I will fear no evil
No evil will, I fear
I will, no evil fear

(The unknown, the unknowable, the future)

He restoreth my soul
My soul, he restoreth
Restore my soul

(Not my knees or my hips, but my soul)

My cup runneth over
My cup is overflowing
My overflowing cup.

(Not a bucket, mind you, but a cup)

These are the lines I most remember,
and how they have mutated over the years.


#NaPoWriMo – Day 20: Narcissus

We stare into our computer screens –
it’s retina display, of course – clearer
than one’s reflection on a still pond.
The image we see of ourselves is sharp
and well defined – in Facebook and Twitter
and Instagram, and all the rest.

Even in the poetry we write and post.
We fall in love with that image,
that reflection we see. We worship
the likeness we have created, validated
by likes and shares from all our imaginary
friends. We think we are godly, all knowing.

We believe we now know all of beauty.
Entranced, we cannot move away
to eat or sleep or love. We waste away.
We die. A drooping daffodil marks the time
and space, a date stamp of our delusion.

#NaPoWriMo – Day 19: Stories for Jahari

Stories for Jahari

I remember stories my father used to tell me on fishing trips and electrical jobs he would take me on before his drinking got out of control. Stories about Grandpap Rankin running moonshine, stories about Papa Caswell and his sister Minerva farming tobacco, stories from forgotten times.

As he carried me though the branches of the family tree (his favorite story type), I would wonder out loud why Great Grandmother Emily’s brothers and sisters all had differed last names, and why so many of the ancestors on my mother’s side all had the same last name (no, it wasn’t incest, that’s for white folks, he would say.).

About the branch of the family that moved to Pittsburgh, the branch that moved to Ohio, the branch that moved to Chicago. About that time he moved to Washington, DC, but there were no jobs in the Depression, so he hopped on a truck to Florida to pick oranges. But he hated it so much he soon returned to North Carolina. You can always go back home, he would say.

I learned from my father the deep structure of slavery, how it was different on small family farms in Guilford County and on large plantations in southwestern Virginia. How some of my enslaved ancestors had very limited freedom, but how others had limited freedoms within bounds. How Papa Caswell would drive the horse-drawn carriage to Greensboro to deposit the master’s money in the bank. How great great grandmother Rhodie kept trying to escape from the plantation, until they shot a hole in her foot. Then she settled down. So the story goes. She jumped the broom with Nelson Keen, they had Sallie Ann (my mother’s grandmother and namesake), who married Tom Douglas Hairston, a full-blooded Indian, they say. That’s where my middle name came from.

How some could read and write, and how others were forced to remain illiterate, by law, but smuggled pages from the Bible to teach themselves and others how to make and use words. How generations kept the family intact despite the daily hardships of enslaved life. How his father Walter would write songs, hymns for the Methodist church in Jackson, words and music notes, all.

Daddy said they thought slavery would never end. But it did. Then they thought Jim Crow would last forever. But it didn’t. During redevelopment people lost their businesses and the electrical jobs started drying up. When he lost his driving license from too many times getting caught “driving under the influence,” the fishing trips ended. Soon there was only drinking, no more storytelling. His world came crashing down and I was too young to figure it out.

#NaPoWriMo – Day 18: Found poetry from the West Corridor ceiling vault (LoC)

“For a web begun, God sends thread.” — Old proverb

“This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope” — Henry VIII

“The web of life is of a mingled yarn,
good and ill together.” — All’s Well that End Well.

To-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him.”

“Comes the blind Fury with th’ abhorred shears
And slits the thin-spun life.” –Milton

The third day comes a frost, . . .
And . . . nips his root,
And then he falls.”