…not just during the 28 days in February.
Anson County Black History Month, 2014
I have said it many times before: Black History for me is 365 days a year not just during the 28 days in February. I was booked in Anson County this year for a few days in February, but it summed the whole month up for me, because everywhere I turned I noted synchronicities that related to my ancestral and poetic lineage.
After my first workshop at Anson High School, I went to The Forever Inn B&B where I was staying and the owner said, “ The NC Poet Laureate is giving a reading at South Piedmont Community College.” Because I knew Joseph Bathanti and sat on the board to select him as our poet laureate, I zoomed over to the reading even though I was exhausted from my day. Joseph’s poetic roots go back to Anson County and he addressed these connections in his poems. He and his wife Joan lived there in the 80’s. Here is a link to some of his Anson County poems which won him Linda Flowers Award in 2002.
It was a small but warm gathering that night. After, I went over to Oliver’s to eat and who walked in? Joseph and Joan Bathanti. We ended up eating a meal together. We talked about poetry and all else in between.
He told me about an essay that he wrote about The Color Purple. Last time I was in Anson County, I was told that Mister’s house in The Color Purple there. I had made my sojourn there because Alice Walker’s work means so much to me as a poet, writer and woman. Here is a poem that speaks to how The Color Purple is embedded in my walk.
The Color Purple
The color purple is deep,
an ancient mantra deep.
A royal ribbon rolling deep,
rippling across the ages
carried by knowing seas deep
spitting out centuries of lost bones deep
held in the womb of the Atlantic deep
washing waves of where I come from deep
trouble I have seen,
felt, lived in, fought through, and
daily trying to keep my head above deep.
Flashing back lives
visions of my former selves
projecting futures of what I can be.
The color purple is a serious deep
a blue black deep getting at the source of disease deep
seeping way down beyond roots
to undo what’s been done in evil’s name.
Fingering black on black shame.
Shug looking at Celie spouting,
“You sho’ is ugly.”
The power of purple is necessary
The power of purple is contemporary.
It glorifies the black woman
“Sophia, Sophia, Sophia
ain’t she pretty daddy?”
It is not Gone with the Wind.
It don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies
just Celie pointing her hoodoo finger
at Mister on that buggy riding north
“‘til you do right by me ain’t nothin’ gonna go right for you.”
I pledge my allegiance to this color
because it takes a stand,
does not sit down on the job,
does not flinch,
change its color,
straddle the fence,
but tells the whole story.
The flag I fly on my porch, bumper
and over my heart is human.
I pledge my allegiance to this flag
for every nation
is under God
when we overstand this lesson,
we will be indivisible
when every person is respected,
there will liberty and justice for all.
My flag was not made with man-made hands.
It don’t know nothin’ about division, derision or lies.
My flag is about belief, about dignity,
about beauty growing rich in a springtime field,
budding a hue so strong human eyes
can’t help but capture this soul rippling
purple tide of truth,
resonating in a realm, all things are possible.
This purple anthem blares blues, struts jazz
chants in West African tongues
backed with the brown mouth of Mahalia’s gospel.
This purple don’t walk, don’t jog, it runs
bleeds true because it is on a mission.
It don’t need no permission to dance
it does a victory stomp
the south African Toyi
championing for the underdog
because purple is queen
of the disenfranchised,
the falsely accused,
the motherless child,
children with no daddies.
The color purple is a blue black badge of courage
carrying a history lesson an endless ribbon
shouting truth to all lies.
We did not begin at the cotton crop.
And we don’t end at hip-hop.
This ribbon does a crisscross
double backs into joy
rooted in a strong song
beginning in the motherland
carried deep in the griot’s heart.
How we were once stars
and carried this sky wisdom in our hearts
and mother earth’s knowledge in our souls,
while a common language blessed our tongues
and graced the carriage of our tired feet
crossing over padding the message
we will always go through
but we will always get over
the color purple is a story written
in the sky
in indelible ink
you can’t enslave a wave
there’s no end to its flow.
My time in Anson County was productive; I conducted three poetry workshops and a poetry reading at the Ansonian.
At the Early College on South Piedmont Community College we circled up and I did a few poems for the students. Then, we launched into the poetry workshop. I had them work on autobiographical poems: Where I Am From.
After my lecture they wrote. Then, I had them share. Four students chose to read and we were all in tears. Here is one of the poems that struck a chord in me.
Chautara D. Willouhby
South Piedmont Community College
I am from…
Two people in love so carefree so kind
So happy from a distance, no struggle
But from the inside looking out.
It didn’t work.
I come from…
Uno cards on a hot summer day.
We’d sit in a circle and she’d throw but the “bad hand”
Superstition; but it didn’t last.
She learned the eyes of God know no darkness we call (badluck)
I am from…
Schools where acting like a fool is cool
And being the wannabe gangster is your protection
There is no room for intelligence no kindness
I sand alone in my love for wanting more than money
I am from…
Being hated by strangers for not hating
I hate being around those haters
But I can’t escape them no one will help.
I guess God is my only friend: I am silent.
I am from…
A newfound sense of grace
Some strong love for myself
Not caring what people think.
I come from knowing that the grace of God: I got this.
I am from…
Being called fat and still enjoying my sundae.
Being called ugly and striving to hold my head high.
Being told to be silent my words are getting louder.
I finally freed at the heart.
I am from…
Forgiveness and being able to forgive.
I am finally breath. I’m not holding my breath
The negative things no longer touch me
I come from…
I told them that I was emotional that day, because I had just lost my friend, Laurey Masterton, the owner of Laurey’s Gourmet and Comfort Food in Asheville the day before.
I told them that I had joined 100happydays.com. every day submit a picture of what made you happy! It can be anything from a meet-up with a friend to a very tasty cake in the nearby coffee place, from a feeling of being at home after a hard day to a favor you did to a stranger.
I told the students that our writing circle would be my happy moment post for the day even though we ended our writing circle in tears. Here is the poem that I wrote for Laurey after I left them that day.
Spinner of Light
For Laurey Masterton
In the midst of mourning there is morning. Look for the light.
Like a Queen Bee
you set up shop on Biltmore.
To your hive we swarmed
savored what you stirred.
We sat on honey colored tables and chairs
washed in that same colored light.
Each mouthful we tasted the possibility
of our own dreams.
Outwardly we came for your Comfort Food.
I, for the Burrito of the Day,
and the sweet potato salad
just a little charred —
Just the way I liked it.
So good that I took it home for my mama to sample.
She nodded with the “uh huh” of approval.
We all had our favorites though
(Insert here): ________________
but secretly hoped for a glimpse of you
from your office tucked in the back,
because it was always you.
We waited for your touch,
and the fire in your eye asking us
about our day.
Your gaze like your wheels
always burned with compassion.
Each revolution spinning: Don’t Postpone Joy!
You did not postpone.
You did not disappoint.
You spread joy like jam — thick.
In your presence we felt the sweet
reverberation of it.
Art on the wall and blown glass globes
casting color through your space
felt like home.
We came not for the building standing tall,
but for you with your pillar of light self.
We thought you would always stand.
This is our human nature
believing all that we love
will always live…
and you will in another form of light.
You who cook-booked your way into our lives,
not with words, but flame.
Fired us up with your passion
in Asheville, in kitchens
and on the road across the world.
You always spun light
right back to us —
made us feel the warmth of the sun.
Made us feel that it revolved around us.
You were always that rare jewel shine
with all things organic
from the nectar of the bees
to the bluest of blueberries
but mostly light and love
and all things golden.
This is why we returned,
because of how you rolled —
with a power
into our deepest selves.
You spinner of light
honeycombed us —
heated us whole.
with your whole heart
and stirred us well.
how to come together
— we did,
we do —
the most whole
under the inescapable warmth
you always turned.
Black History is as I say is everyday American History. On my path there are many worlds and there are many levels. I do my best as a poet, woman, teaching artists and mother to tend to them all: From friends, to literature, to the past to the future to circles of poetry that seems to form where ever I travel. Poetry is everywhere especially during the month of February if you are paying attention.