Archives for posts with tag: African American

Romare_Bearden_-_Patchwork_Quilt._1970._Cut-and-pasted_cloth_and_paper_with_synthetic_polymer_paint_on_composition_board,_Museum_of_Modern_Art
Patchwork quilt
by Patrick T. Reardon

     Patchwork of earthwork, see the pattern of soil,
      life force of black dirt, sweat and toil.

What do I have in common with Romare Bearden
except a last name that may or may not have come
from the same root?

Back in Ireland, Reardon was originally Riordan.
The spelling was changed in the USA to cope with
frequent mispronunciation.

Romare was an African-American from the South,
and I have no idea how his family got the name Bearden.
Maybe, once, it was Riordan.

     The cornstalks in flat fields are a fabric of trial,
      the lifework of dead men mile after mile.

His paintings had much to do with the African-American experience.
From a distance, as a newspaper reporter, I wrote much
about the African-American experience.

One of his great works, now at the Museum of Modern Art
In New York, is “Patchwork Quilt,” a 1970 collage showing
a flat, deeply black figure as if on a bed
next to a quilt of brightly diverse patches.

In 1968, on an airplane, I looked down at the flat, gridded
Midwestern landscape and wrote a short poem called
“Patchwork of Earthwork.”

     Hard times in good times, and the ageless cloth is torn.
      Dust unto same dust, and a new baby is born.

If we had ever met,
Romare and I
might have
talked
about
patchworks
and
last names
and
the African-American experience.

IMAGE: “Patchwork Quilt,” collage by Romare Bearden, 1970 (Museum of Modern Art).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: For a long time, I’ve felt that the names Reardon and Bearden probably came from the same root, but never had much of a sense of what to do with that idea. Writing the poem enabled me to dance around with the thought.

Reardon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick T. Reardon, the author of five books, is writing a history of Chicago’s elevated railroad loop and its impact on the development of the city.

PHOTO: Patrick T. Reardon in 1967.

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).

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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.

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I am Seven on the Train from One World to Another
                                                                                          — 1961
by Gabrielle Daniels

I could not sit still long in coach
—the cheapest seats—after I had
read and reread the few books brought
for a moment’s preoccupation
I wanted to go up and down the aisle
on any pretext,
searching for any other kids
searching for where the brakemen went
finding the cafe or even the bar
close enough to just look
Only to the bathroom where
I could not really rest. Or play,
because Mamma always
brought me fro and to our seats
under the eyes of the conductor
if I strayed too long and too far
even the picture windows
with clacking scenes
of Texas and Arizona
could not restrain me
no matter how many rows of cropland sped by
no matter how slowly we crept by
the occasional train that had jumped its track
spilling its guts from every wrecked freight car
eliciting oohs and ahhs
even from the grownups

It seemed other travelers boarded and disembarked
except for us, but we were not alone
Like them, we were on a longer journey,
from what had been home
and it could have been to the moon
I cannot recall the stops where
Mr. Robinson helped me down,
not the conductor,
with his strong, older arms
and his gray-flecked mustache
his kind teeth edged with gold
like an invitation
from the high steps of the carriage
and we stretched our legs, drank hot sodas,
ignored the drinking fountain,
ate chocolate bars, and waited
for what? Another set of passenger cars,
or another locomotive running in daylight
or with a bloody nose, I didn’t know
I was too young to know
these things yet, except that
we were on our way
even standing still.

Behind us,
swallowed up by hours and miles,
there was always color
Color in the divided want ads
and in the neighborhoods.
Color on the placard in the shop windows.
Until I dreamed in color:
I lathered my face in white suds
and paid the cashier
so that I could see The Three Stooges
with Snow White
the sound of the projector clack drowned
by the overture
and as the white foam melted
revealing my brown face
by the light of the screen
someone towered over me
asking for my ticket, and I awoke
No matter that
my mother’s silver did not bend
and red faces on Canal Street
yelling over Ruby were reduced to black
and white footage on Huntley and Brinkley.

For days, my grandfather kept the watch,
waiting for us to come home, no matter
how many times my grandmother reminded him
that we had gone. For him, his ribs—his daughter
and granddaughter—had gone missing.
Between three and five, he knew,
Mr. Tejeau ferried me and Meemsy and
and Kitty Kat from upstairs
home from Catholic school, and then Mamma
from the Freret Street bus, reception for a Jewish doctor,
learning to type faster and faster—clack, clack.
It was too much for him
to go to the station,
only my grandmother was there to send us off,
perhaps this is why he could not believe it,
could not trust her word.
I see her full figure under her hat not looking
in the window to see me wave
for the last time, pigtailed and barretted,
four-eyed with the new glasses my stepfather said
I needed to see clearly at a distance,
not pretty any more.
I see her not looking,
but going straight ahead
like the rails but behind
through the waiting room and
into the street where
I could not see

And I became like prattle,
daring a whipping under
my mother’s narrowed eyes
her good dress wrinkling by the second
when nothing else filled the hours
not even coloring books or napping
I was singing my song with no melody
to the clack; it did not relieve the heat
but added to the boredom
and the sleepiness and the stiffness
We had air conditioning
that came and went like the sandwich vendors
and the news “boys” that sold comic books
like Peanuts and Dennis the Menace
and ham and cheese and potato chips
but they could not silence me for long

I was going to California
where Disneyland was only a block away
from San Francisco
where everything, everywhere was new
And I wanted bacon and eggs and toast
in the dining car
like Mamma and Mr. Robinson
because corn flakes and Tang were the food
of another time, sitting on a drawer
with a torn phonebook on top
to come up to the kitchen table
In the dining car, the vinyl cushions
made me grown on this journey
I could reach for the salt and pepper
I could touch the napkins
I could eat with more than a spoon

And when we finally reached gold,
the houses tilted close together
on what I learned were forty-four hills
I thought they would smash into each other
like dominoes when the Big One finally hit
but they held on like my mother’s tightening hand
in mine, surrounded by all those Robinsons
my stepfather’s uncles and aunts and cousins
who had come and stayed because of the War
and had made something of themselves
in The Fillmore
and had fetched us up
with their smiles and in their good clothes
and the occasional Cadillac

Then I was shy, all words
full inside me, like Stephen
small and fluttery in Mamma’s womb,
because there were so many smiles
to meet and so many wet kisses to get
from people I didn’t know yet
and when we drove through Yerba Buena
there was sky at the end of the tunnel,
and The City spread before us, glorious at first sight
shimmering in late summer afternoon
brighter than the blue bay water kissed
by suicides, but when I turned
on my knees to see
where Treasure Island might be,
there were no pirates or evidence
of three-masted galleys but lanes
of cars behind us, people
riding in the same direction

I was introduced to Aunt Eva’s clawfoot tub
that night in the house on Broderick Street
and given a towel and a washcloth
and lots of time to explore what was new,
while all the grownups in the living room
smoked and talked and called out for more ice
clicking in their drinks before dinner and
I closed the door;
the mysteries of her medicine cabinet
and pink vanity chair with thin, gold metal scrolls
could wait one more day
Instead, there was Mr. Robinson’s manly treasures
in his crocodile travel case sitting on top of the toilet
–Old Spice, a can of Duke, and some
Colgate tooth powder, and brushes
and his watch and his safety razor by Gillette
that had currency everywhere

However, I couldn’t stop moving
still acclimated to the train’s rocking and
dips and jerks and starts, I could break
something in my admiration, and I wanted
no evidence of wrongdoing
so early with Aunt Eva
I couldn’t walk straight
for a day or so without
holding onto a wall,
I was clumsy in a house
that would not fall over,
roaming in one place
When my new Daddy arrived
and I was banished to the guest bedroom
that night, the world heaved and shuddered
laboring all night in the rain to crack open the earth,
and I dreamed of telephone receivers
that smoked blue mist when they rang
and no one was there for me to answer

Between dreaming and shaking
I would wake over and over
up and down the hall I would go to one door
and then another, from bedroom to
bedroom, but no one would wake
from my soft rapping
to comfort me amid the trembling,
and when I gave up
and crept back to that big empty bed
the blankets and sheets rippling like
troubled waves
the house still rolled like a passenger coach
but I was on my own with my own baggage
and nothing settled down until light,
a mournful, foggy day with no sun
and Mamma didn’t believe my story
until the evening news

That journey was ahead of me,
but all Mamma talked of the trip
it seemed, after taking off her high heels
was how I crushed her sunglasses
that slid over after much shifting
and dropped into my seat. Years later,
I think it wasn’t about being
pretty, but scared
that she wasn’t ready to face
that bright Sunday afternoon
and the glasses would have allowed her
to hide in the way that I could not with mine
because the moment had finally come
and she was compelled to see
everything that we came and hoped for
and everything we would miss

                              — March 11, 2015

© Gabrielle Daniels

PHOTOGRAPH: The author with her friends in the fall of 1959, New Orleans, Louisiana.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is only the second I’ve written in several decades, and about the singular event of my childhood. One could call it an escape: a seven-year-old African American girl and her mother, lately remarried, traveling for three days and two nights on a train, the Sunset Limited, which had already brought thousands of Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi blacks to California since the early 1940s. For me, the relocation was about embracing the new, the different (like comic books), and saying goodbye to the old life.

gabrielle_daniels1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gabrielle Daniels was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gabrielle began as a poet before switching to fiction writing. Her poetry was featured in This Bridge Called My Back, a classic anthology by feminists of color, which is now in its fourth edition. Gabrielle is a 1999 graduate of the University of California, Irvine’s Creative Writing Workshop. She has been a resident at Yaddo, and her work has appeared in magazines like Sable and The Kenyon Review. Gabrielle was a recipient of a Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation Grant in 2004. She was the 2005-2006 Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, University of Wisconsin. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin, but wants to go home to the Bay Area.

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BUTTER
by Elizabeth Alexander

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite
historical revision, despite
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. Currently the chair of African American Studies at Yale, Alexander is a founding member of Cave Canem, an organization dedicated to promoting African American poets and poetry. Her accomplishments within academia include a Quantrelle Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Chicago and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard and the Alphonse Fletcher Foundation. Alexander’s books include American Sublime (2005), shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and recipient of the 2005 Jackson Poetry Prize. When Barack Obama asked her to compose and read a poem for his Presidential inauguration, her poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” became a bestseller after Graywolf Press published it as a chapbook.

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…OF RIVERS
by Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. (Read more at Wikipedia.org.)

PHOTO: Langston Hughes by Gordon Parks, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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BUTTER
by Elizabeth Alexander

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite
historical revision, despite
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

Image

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. Currently the chair of African American Studies at Yale, Alexander is a founding member of Cave Canem, an organization dedicated to promoting African American poets and poetry. Her accomplishments within academia include a Quantrelle Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Chicago and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard and the Alphonse Fletcher Foundation. Alexander’s books include American Sublime (2005), shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and recipient of the 2005 Jackson Poetry Prize. When Barack Obama asked her to compose and read a poem for his Presidential inauguration, her poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” became a bestseller after Graywolf Press published it as a chapbook.

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…OF RIVERS
by Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.  
 
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
 
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
 
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
 
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. (Read more at Wikipedia.org.)

PHOTO: Langston Hughes by Gordon Parks, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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POETRY
By Nikki Giovanni

poetry is motion graceful
as a fawn
gentle as a teardrop
strong like the eye
finding peace in a crowded room
we poets tend to think
our words are golden
though emotion speaks too
loudly to be defined
by silence
sometimes after midnight or just before
the dawn
we sit typewriter in hand
pulling loneliness around us
forgetting our lovers or children
who are sleeping
ignoring the weary wariness
of our own logic
to compsoe a poem
no one understands it
it never says “love me” for poets are
beyond love
it never says “accept me” for poems seek not
acceptance but controversy
it only says “i am” and therefore
i concede that you are too
 
a poem is pure energy

horizontally contained 

between the mind 

of the poet and the ear of the reader

if it does not sing discard the ear 

for poetry is song

if it does not delight discard

the heart for poetry is joy 

if it does not inform then close 

off the brain for it is dead

if it cannot heed the insistent message

that life is precious
 

which is all we poets 

wrapped in our loneliness
 
are trying to say

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni, Jr.,(born June 7, 1943) is an American writer, commentator, activist, and educator. She is currently a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech.

PHOTO: Nikki Giovanni, 1980.

…and a happy June 7th birthday to Nikki Giovanni.