Glenis Reading on Beach, 1990
How I Summer (Read) Simmer
by Glenis Redmond
I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background. Zora Neale Hurston

I summer like bare feet on hot streets: uneasy.
Circa 1990 on the beach I am hiding
as always in the pages of a book.
I am a Sesame Street song gone wrong:
one of these people is not like the other,
one these people is not quite the same.
My heart is a bruised peach even at Myrtle Beach.
South Carolina is a weighted history that I keep reliving.
This photo does not capture how I got there.
I married white. I married into family vacations.
This is my first holiday at age twenty-eight.
Dressed in flip-flops and magenta Lycra.
I am black and blue collar uncomfortable.
I am from vacations never taken.
We played endless games of spades–
not going to the lake or amusement park rides.
We were in a tribe of I Declare War.
On school breaks we drank soda like water
down bags of Doritos and ran the streets
until the street lamps came on. We busied ourselves
while our parents worked minimum wage jobs. Vacation?
more like Vacation Bible School.
We made multi-colored God’s eyes
from yarn and popsicle sticks.
We were quizzed on books of the bible.
I knew verses by rote: God is our refuge and strength,
and a very present help in trouble.
The Atlantic is beautiful, but troubled.
I am troubled too even when I know
that the sea is a healer holding salt.
My wounds resist.

I look up and out and instead of water,
I see acres of land black backs wavering
curved like scythes.
Field hands they called us.
Our hands are made of fields.
I am red clay and cotton
especially at the water’s edge.
Back on the beach, I am overdressed
in my mama’s You don’t have nothin to do?
I’ll find you somethin to do
The doctor says, Adrenal Fatigue
And Learn to rest and breathe. Take a Vacation.
Get a way and just play, but I haven’t a clue
of how to plastic shovel my way out of this.
Build sand castles for what?
I am busy digging with a purpose
Audre Lorde wrote: We were never meant to survive.
Everyday I nail-climb and knee-scrape dreaming
scheming of ways for my dreams not to be deferred.
Be Here Now, on this beach, but I am an empath of the past
White Only signs hang over me.
I am a black pearl ghosted by every bump in the water
Shark bite or jellyfish sting haunted,
but empowered by how my people got ovah.
My spirit knows millions did not.
Under the Atlantic they sit,
a divination of bones
that sing to me.
I come to the shore,
but, I vacate nothing.
This summer is hot in me.
I am full of this past present,
an ever-present heat that I carry.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 1990.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In “How I Summer (Read) Simmer” I use the perfect/imperfect vacation prompt as a starting point­ –­ more specifically, I use my first family vacation experience. Ironically, my first holiday trip was not with my family, but with my white in-laws at the time. In the poem I address class and racial issues from my personal lens of being a black woman who married a white man in 1987 in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. During this time, laws against miscegenation were still on the South Carolina Law books. ¶ Though I loved the ocean, the cognitive dissonance that I experienced did not allow me to fully participate in the vacation. I was not able to fully relax. I was weighted by alienation and guilt, because I am walking into worlds that my family could not afford. Even though as a military family I/we traveled all over the world from Texas, Washington, New York, Italy, New Jersey, Africa to France. We never vacationed, though. The word vacation was not in our familial lexicon. As an elementary student in Aviano, Italy, I was able to witness Rome, Venice, Pompeii, and Florence, because of class field trips. ¶ As I grew older, I understood that there are many ways to travel: geographically and psychologically. My parent’s had a difficult time leaving behind their sharecropping mentality of South Carolina. I inherited many of their psychological pathways. This is not to say that I did and do not love where I come from. This is just to say that poetry is how I deal with battle scars and imprints of the past.

Black Beach Town

ANOTHER NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: On my first vacation I had a lot of wonderful firsts: body surfing, going to my first real seafood restaurant, and also seeing my daughters experience vacation as a natural event and not an oddity.  ¶ Yet, in my bones, I understood that Myrtle Beach was once segregated without ever reading about this racial division in history books. Also, I was sharply conscious of the Middle Passage crossing as evidenced in the poem. This psychic imprint always speaks to me wherever I go. It was not until I got older and more in tune with how the land speaks that I understood that history is stacked on top of history. As a poet and as a sensitive my worlds are always colliding. It is my life’s work to figure out how to dance between those worlds.  As the old adage states: Wherever you go, there you are. (PHOTO: Black Pearl Beach historical marker in South Carolina, AP photo by Mary Ann Chastain.)

Myrtle Beach, 1990

PHOTOGRAPH: The author with12-month-old  twin daughters Amber and Celeste (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 1990).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Glenis Redmond lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has traveled to all over the state and the country as a Road Poet with two posts as the Poet-in-Residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, South Carolina, and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. This year she served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poets Program. She prepared student poets to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education, and for the First Lady, Michelle Obama at The White House. ¶ Glenis is a Cave Canem Fellow and a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. She helped create the first Writer-in-Residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Glenis is also a full-time road poet, performing and teaching poetry across the country. She believes that poetry is a healer. She can be found across America in the trenches applying pressure to those in need, one poem at a time.