i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother’s itch
took it to breast
and named it
she is more human now,
learning languages everyday,
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will.
– Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton’s poetry is marvelous for so many reasons, but I’ve always admired her dynamic range, the way she could craft the playful “Homage to My Hips” in one verse and the deep philosophical questioning of “slaveship” in another, all the while remaining grounded in the loving affirmations of a communal self. Carleen honors Clifton’s life with “New Bones”; Susan has a video clip of “Won’t You Celebrate With Me”; Tayari Jones remembers the poet with “here rests”; and a year ago, Consuela listed “Homage to My Hips” as one of the Black Things We Love.
“Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.”
– Zora Neale Hurston
Think on Zora’s expertise about the mating habits of bees,
And how forcefully a hurricane could uproot the Florida trees.
We expect our writers to be ethereal and carefree,
Not matriculate with degrees in Anthropology.
She never quite fit in with the New Negro crowd;
Her gaze lingered too long,
She laughed a little too loud.
But Zora insisted that the unvoiced speak for themselves;
Their souls belonged on life’s highest shelf.
And here is something else that Zora knew –
Geeks are hopeless romantics and dreamers too.
We blast to the moon
… build iPods
… believe in the audacity of hope,
We make mules talk.
In our creative hands, words without masters walk.
Today’s Zora is a Trekkie;
I’ve read about it on her blog,
Wild natural hair has replaced her 1930s bob.
She tweets with Langston while solving crossword puzzle problems,
And arrives late for her own signing at Hue-Man’s in Harlem
This week’s Totally Optional Prompt encourages participants to write a poem that is inspired by a quotation. I decided to play around a bit with the popular image of writer Zora Neale Hurston as a sassy, free-spirited sophisticate. I mean, c’mon – only a geek could have written one of the greatest southern novels of the 20th century in seven weeks! Like most gifted artists, she was brainy, easily wounded, and her country-girl swagger sometimes disguised nagging insecurities. The Harlem rent parties and ‘Bama juke-joints were probably a blast, but more often than not, this woman had to have her head in a book or her fingers on the typewriter. As a fellow geek, this is the image of Hurston that I can relate to and admire.
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The Blackened Alphabet
While others sleep
My black skillet sizzles
Alphabets dance and I hit the return key
On my tired But ever jumping eyes
I want more I hold out for some more
While others just now turn over
shut down alarms
I am on I am on
I am pencilfrying
sweet Black alphabets
in an allnight oil
— Nikky Finney
For this week’s C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call, participants are asked to post and discuss a poem by a woman of color. I’ve chosen to spend some time with “The Blackened Alphabet” from Finney’s 1995 collection, Rice. The book takes its name from the abundant staple crop that enslaved West Africans first cultivated in Finney’s home state of South Carolina. The food serves as a bridge between her African ancestry and black cultural traditions, particularly among women, in the American South.
Now the steely gaze of a Female Cop,
(too tough to love)
will begin to soften and linger a moment longer
on the District Attorney’s back.
A newborn baby is about to be stolen, but
Mr. T is coming by,
and the gang has just touched down in
Now come the time slots
the twists and turning points.
The evil twin.
We stay tuned to the changing seasons
and to each other, knowing
we’ll be right back.
This catchphrase, this commercial break away
This is my first contribution to Totally Optional Prompts – a site I discovered through Black-Eyed Susan’s – where participants are asked to write a poem based on a weekly theme. This week, in honor of Spring, the theme is “season change.”