for Carl Sandburg

We learned “Fog” in English Class

and how it moved on little cat feet,

a tenderness crept across me then

touching a place I could not name.

When our teacher recited “Chicago”

The Big Shoulders of that city held me

lifting me up above Piedmont, South Carolina

allowing me to see the town with new eyes;

and though we never field tripped to Flat Rock,

that 6o minute minutes north to his home

my compass found it later, The Carl Sandburg Home,

Connemara alive with books, trails, music and yes goats.

I found a haven,

a house perched on poetry’s solid foundation,

a sacred dwelling filled

with the remnants of Carl and Lilian’s’ love.

On a boulder off to myself, I found the man still there

plucking that fierce instrument, his heart,

a tall mountain singing a much needed song.

On this mountaintop the cat leapt from the mist

into my pen inking a blue flame lighting a way

that caught hold.

My mama is magic.

Always was and always will be.

There is one phrase that constantly bubbled

from the lips of her five children,

“My momma can do it.”

We thought my mama knew everything.

Believed she did, as if she were born full grown

from the Encyclopedia of Britannica.

I could tell you stories

of how she transformed

a run down paint peeled shack

into a home.

How she heated us with tin tub baths

from a kettle on the stove.

Poured it over in there like an elixir.

My mama is protection

like those quilts her mother used to make.

She tucked us in with cut out history all around us.

We found we could walk anywhere in this world

and not feel alone.

My mama never whispered the shame of poverty

in our ears.

She taught us to dance to our own shadows.

“Pay no attention to those grand parties

on the other side of the tracks.

Make your own music,” she’d say

as she walked,

she cleaned

the sagging floorboards of that place.

“You’ll get there.”

“You’ll get there.”

Her broom seemed to say with every wisp.

We were my mama’s favorite recipe.

She whipped us up in a big brown bowl

supported by her big brown arms.

We were homemade children.

Stitched together with homemade love.

We didn’t get everything we ever wanted

but we lacked for nothing.

We looked at the stars in my mama’s eyes

They told us we owned the world.

We walked like kings and queens

even on midnight trips to the outhouse.

We were under her spell.

My mama didn’t study at no

Harvard or Yale.

The things she knew

you couldn’t learn in no book!

Like…

How to make your life sing like

sweet potato pie sweetness

out of an open window.

How to make anybody feel at home.

How at just the right moment be silent

and with her eyes say,

“Everything’s gonna be alright, chile,

everything is gonna be alright.”

How she tended to all our sickness.

How she raised our spirits.

How she kept flowers

living on our sagging porch

in the midst of family chaos.

My mama raised children like

it was her business in life.

Put us on her hip and kept moving,

keeping that house Pine-Sol clean.

Yeah, my mama is magic.

Always was and always will be.

Her magic?

How to stay steady and sure

in this fast paced world.

Now when people look at me

with my head held high

my back erect

and look at me with that…

“Who does she think she is?”

I just keep on

walking

with the

assurance inside.

I am Black Magic!

I am Jeanette Redmond’s child.

After Sean Hill

From my lips I stitch a quilt,

a crooked song that weaves its way around

South Carolina, a pie shape that conjures food —

ice tinkling in glasses of  amber tea  or heat rising

off rich red velvet cake layers too sweet like the words I was raised on,

words that say, if you don’t have nothin nice to say, lace it with sugah.

Where I from there’s always more, like the twos and threes

that rolled out  my grandma’s Gullah mouth, Hush your mouth, chile.

wasn’t a command for silence but a signal for the teller to keep on spinning

‘cause their words hit bone.  I studied her lit lantern codes,

We gwine down yonder in the merrnin.

Not a pronouncement to a destination,

but a place where she’d teach a lesson – Patience.

At her foot a coffee can full of night crawlers,

in her mouth a cigarette she barely puffed,

in her hands a homemade fishing rod.

Line steeped in the water waiting for hook tug.

She never said the word, just stood live oak like

grounded in her own gnarled wisdom.

Waiting for me to catch hold.

Root myself. I studied her every time I got a chance.

Hunched in her favorite recliner,

King James Bible on the left —

her eyes forward soaking in wrastlin.

Her faith steady in her Lord and Ricky Steamboat.

I was rapt at how she’d contort herself,

as if she were choke holding demons in Jesus’ name.

while burning tufts of her hair in a glass ash tray,

raked from her comb, so no one could work a root.

Grandma taught me to, Watch as well as pray .

See there’s always more to words than their saying.

Some call it  a backwards tongue, I call it a knowing,

If you listen and learn how to sing it.

For Middlesex County Academy in New Brunswick, NJ — Alternative School
and Damon House — Alcohol & Drug Treatment Facility

They banter back and forth like boys do:
You charcoal, son. You so black you purple.
I tell them, hol’up in defense of my mahogany skin
and the boy they’re putting down. I say,
You know what they say? In cue as if we rehearsed it,
we both chime, the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.
We flash twin smiles. There’s a moment when the air
gets less complicated in the room. The space is large enough
for me to ask, why y’all hate on each other so hard?

Oh, he? He my boy. See, that’s how we show love.
They crush so hard I want to weep —
I’m so tired of everybody being gangsta hard,
but they are being real. I know ‘cause I got brothers
and growin up I never saw them show love,
except in that one on one  — man on man dunk in yo face.
Call you ignant ten times a day kind of way.
Their talk swags like their walk.
I follow the conversation as it dips and drags.
We end up talking about how we were punished as kids.

I lead with, I’m from the South and ya’ll don’t know
nothin about a switch — havin to go ‘round back
fetch your own hickory, the same stick use to beat you.
I say these words and I still feel the sting of the switch.
See welts raising into an angry language of graffiti on my skin.
One says, don’t bring back no skinny one neither.
I shake my head in solidarity—the blood we’ve spilled makes us kin.
Another boys says, what about those belts?
I hear my mama’s beating cadence,
a belt whip with every word, I—told—you—not — to…

Another says, extension cord.
I’m brought fully awake, cause
I don’t know nothing ‘bout that kind of whippin.
We only heard of Cedric down the street gettin beat like that.
Then, we did not know the word, Abuse
or the phrase Child Protective Services.
We just said his mama was MEAN.

Jicante, another says, I say huh? Rice.
You kneel on raw rice for hours.
We walk down alleys; I listen as they go deeper
into the shadows farther than I have ever been,
but we don’t skip a beat. We laugh —
joke about our beatings and nobody mentions
the pain, but it’s all understood — we are all battered.
We bump up against each other’s wounds before we brainstorm.
I pick up the marker and they bicker blue versus red.
I read between the gang signs. It is not lost on me,
that when these colors mingle, they make purple.
I muse in my mind how violence for them still continues.
I come back to the poem, that we are here to write;
the ones that saved my life. I know this detour we took
down old roads is a place we had to go,
places where we have been loved so hard it hurts,
so hard we are still bruised.
We bear our scars,
then we pick up our pens
and write.

 

 

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Glenis Redmond is a native of Greenville, South Carolina. She resides in Asheville, North Carolina. She graduated from Erskine College and obtained her M.F.A at Warren Wilson College. She is a full-time performance poet and published in literary journals across the nation.

For great-grandpa, Will Rogers

Born in the 1800’s

 

My hand say, Pick, plow, push and pull,

‘cause it learned to curl itself around every tool

of work. The muscles say, bend yourself like the sky,

coil yourself blue around both sun and moon.

 

Listen, my back be lit by both. My hand

got its own eyes and can pick a field of cotton

in its sleep. Don’t mind the rough bumps —

the callused touch. I work this ground

 

like it was my religion and my hands

never stop praying. Some folk got a green thumb,

look at my crop and you’ll testify my whole hand

be covered. I can make dead wood grow.

 

I listen to my hand, it say, Work.

My hand got its own speech. It don’t stutter

it say, Work, Will. Though it comes to mostly nothin,

this nothin is what I be working for.

 

Come harvest time I drive the horse

and buggy to town. Settle up.

This is where my hand loses its mind,

refuses to speak.

 

Dumb-struck like the white writing page.

The same hand fluent on the land,

don’t have a thang to say around a pen.

The same fingers that can outwork any man

 

wilts. What if I could turn my letters

like I turn the soil? What if I could

make more than my mark, a wavery X

that’s supposed to speak for me?For great-grandpa, Will Rogers

Born in the 1800’s

 

My hand say, Pick, plow, push and pull,

‘cause it learned to curl itself around every tool

of work. The muscles say, bend yourself like the sky,

coil yourself blue around both sun and moon.

 

Listen, my back be lit by both. My hand

got its own eyes and can pick a field of cotton

in its sleep. Don’t mind the rough bumps —

the callused touch. I work this ground

 

like it was my religion and my hands

never stop praying. Some folk got a green thumb,

look at my crop and you’ll testify my whole hand

be covered. I can make dead wood grow.

 

I listen to my hand, it say, Work.

My hand got its own speech. It don’t stutter

it say, Work, Will. Though it comes to mostly nothin,

this nothin is what I be working for.

 

Come harvest time I drive the horse

and buggy to town. Settle up.

This is where my hand loses its mind,

refuses to speak.

 

Dumb-struck like the white writing page.

The same hand fluent on the land,

don’t have a thang to say around a pen.

The same fingers that can outwork any man

 

wilts. What if I could turn my letters

like I turn the soil? What if I could

make more than my mark, a wavery X

that’s supposed to speak for me?