| General

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.

http://nchumanities.org/sites/default/files/Bathanti%20Dec%202002.pdf

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,

takes stock,

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

not invisible

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 poor,

the homeless,

the raped,

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.

Newfound Grace

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…

Love.

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

reflecting.

 

Fueled us

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

never tiring

into our deepest selves.

 

You spinner of light

honeycombed us –

heated us whole.

 

You cooked

with your whole heart

and stirred us well.

Taught us

 

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.

| On The Road

I am sure this is the beginning of a poem. Everything in my life seems to be. When my predominantly black class did not know who Maya Angelou was this week, it broke my heart, but not enough for me to not use it as a teachable moment. I wore my Maya Angelou shirt the next day. I just happened to have it packed for this week long trip. It reads:

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.” Maya Angelou.

Read more

| General

At first glance “1,968 Winters” appears to be purely a humorous poem. At least, that is what I thought as a 5th grader, when I heard it performed by Yolanda Walker, the coolest black girl that had ever lived. She stood on stage dressed in all black clothes and sporting an Angela Davis ‘fro at Aviano High School, during a Black History Month Program in 1973. She opened her mouth and rocked my elementary school world.
Read more

| General, On The Road

Reflection of State Theatre Poetry Residency
February 4-15, 2013 New Brunswick New Jersey

Everywhere I go my heart obviously goes with me, but mine accompanies me as a palpable beacon. After all, I am a highly sensitive person and a poet. Is that a redundant statement? During the last two weeks in New Brunswick mi Corazon flashed signals more than usual. How would you know my heart is signaling? You would only have to ask my twin daughters: Amber and Celeste. They would testify to the copious amount of tears I daily shed and the clutching of my chest, when I witness beauty and also me saying, that speaks to me. Read more