Enslaved potter-poet

Edgefield, SC

 

First time I see a jar rise up,

I be midwifed into life.

 

Understood how these pots and I be kin

––dismissed to what’s under foot.

 

I learned to turn and turn––

people the world with pots.

 

I pour my need into the knead

until forty thousand around me crowd,

 

but everything I love, I lose

so I want what I mold  to hold.

 

Even my empty pots

be full. One say:

 

I wonder where is all my relation

Friendship to all and every nation.

 

There are lanterns in my words––

every story got another story.

 

Some call me Dave the slave, if that’s all they got,

I say leave the rhymes to me.

 

When people look at me, a slave be

the first excuse they use not to see me.

 

I say praise me.  It won’t fall on deaf ears.

I catch praise like most people catch naps.

 

I am a 6-foot vessel of anything, but ordinary

a one of a kind with a Carolina shine.

 

I stepped out of the rows of cotton

to master the potter’s wheel.

 

I take the wind out of can’t.

with my mark, I make a mark.

 

I sign my name Dave.

I don’t write slave.

 

See if my pots and me put a spin on history.

See if we   hold   hold   hold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

after Sean Hill

 

With Carolina on my lips, I sing a quilt,

a crooked stitch that weaves its way around

my pie-shaped state that conjures food—

too sweet like amber iced tea or cake, red-velvet rich.

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.

There’s always more in the South, like the twos and threes

coming out of grandma’s mouth, Hush your mouth, chile.

These words not a command for silence but a signal for the teller

to keep on spinning cause her words hit bone.

Grandma’s words were codes—lit lanterns:

We gwine down yonder in the merrnin

Not a pronouncement to a destination

but a place where she’d teach a lesson

at her favorite fishing spot. By 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 patience

just stood live oak–like,

grounded in her own wisdom,

a Baptist Buddha woman teaching

Be Here Now.

Her uncanny ways taught me

how to wait on the spirit.

Hunched in her favorite recliner,

King James Bible on the left—

her eyes forward, soaking in wrastlin.

Her faith rooted in the Lord and Ricky Steamboat.

I was rapt in how she’d contort herself,

as if she were head-locking demons,

choke-holding them in Jesus’s name.

Simultaneously burning tufts of her hair in a glass ashtray,

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

Grandma taught me the truth was a complex helix rising.

From her I learned how to watch as well as pray,

and how the shackled speak in double tongues.

As second daughter of a second daughter, I began life

as a shame-faced girl too shy to string together words.

I did not open my mouth until I had something to say.

I was busy looking in grown folks’ mouths,

collecting the old ways, placing them on my tongue.

My first language was scratched from the land:

sweet potatoes, collards, and black-eyed peas.

As a second daughter of a second daughter,

I straddle the abyss of the diaspora and the church pew,

where I learn to speak Afro Carolinian fluently.

Some call it a backwards tongue.

I call it a knowing, a spiritual

that will carry you forward

if you listen and learn how to sing it.

For Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates

Some people got two good feet
and still don’t know what to do.
My smoothness makes the argument
for just one. My other leg be long gone,
sacrificed to the cotton gin god.

They pinned my mangled mess down
to the kitchen table. Made me suffer more
under the hand of an unsterilized knife
with only a cotton bit to bear the pain.

I got up and spit out that terrible taste
of Jim Crow and pity. Spun my mama’s guilt
and worry into a dance that twists past
the neighbors’ prayer, gossip, and stares
of how he gonna make do with just one leg?

I strap on my dreams with tux, tails ,and flair.
Turn can’t into can without losing time
not even in my mind. This Fountain Inn son
done good, I knock beats on wood.
I’m a worldwide showstopper all right.

Shout rings around all those two-footers.
I’m the master of my own fate,
when the world cut me at the thigh
I don’t shuffle off in misery,
I get up on my one good leg and fly.

Dear you, make no apologies for yourself

because you are covered in a listening skin

Because every ache you feel is not your own

Because of the bowl of sorrow your mother carries

Because of your father’s wildfire moods

Because of how many rivers they crossed

Because of the lynching tree

Because when you enter bookstores

volumes fall off shelves into your open palms

Because you ask questions of the universe

and it answers and opens before you like a page

Because you can read the sky: those clouds

and that murder of crows

Because poets are your wounded idols

Because the truth even if it hurts

it is to be cherished and held

and just because people die

does not mean they don’t walk with you daily

Because the river has a mouth that speaks their names

Because the river flows with stories

Because you sit on the shore and listen

Because alone is more comforting

than being together

Because your pen is oceanic

Because you are eyes wide

equipped with outer and inner sight

Because you suffer from what you see and hear

Because you have sinus arrhythmia, and your breath is short

Because asthma is one of the monkeys on your back

Because your heart is the vehicle you choose to ride this go round

Because it can go forward and backwards in time

Because bookstores are your oracles

Because poetry is your greatest archeological tool

Because you plummet even though you can barely swim

Because you trust the ride of journal and journey

even if you do not always float

Because your heart beats to your breath

Because of this music you dance raw and wild

Click Here to hear Glenis Redmond’s poem, “Pieces of the Dream” commissioned and delivered at the Greenville City’s the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast in January 2022.

For the Asheville Art Museum Appalachian Now By Glenis Redmond

The opposite of remember is not to forget, but to dismember.

To know the now, we must understand the then–

not just the beauty of the blue ridge,

the majestic lumbering greens,

the eye-catching vistas,

but how the past crumples purples into a fist

that draws a line that severs–

keeps us one from another.

Ask the Cherokee, the Coosa, the Choctaw

the Muskogee and the Algonquin.

Ask the poor white pioneer

and the manacled and shackled slave.

It is in bruised notes they sing

in the ballads and the blues–

the haunting strum of the dulcimer

and the echo tongue of the drums.

They draw you in and tell you

how the cruel axe falls.

Or, how tight the rope is strung.

The artist enters into the now

and nothing and no one escapes their eye–

nothing evades the heart–

no matter how troubling–

no matter how terrific.

The artists finds a way to show us on canvas, in clay,

with metal, with glass, with paint,

with tools, with camera or a brush and pins.

Pushes us beyond.

The artist did not come to make

anyone comfortable not even themselves.

So, they wake us with each piece they make–

hoping we enter into these halls

able to see ourselves–

in each piece reflecting what’s been dismembered.

Follow the spiral of the clouds, the river and the road.

They never ask are we one?

Because even when halved by the horizon

they know we are whole–

the struggle is in the stitching.

We radically defy with love,

when we tell our stories in these halls.

The nugget is in everyone–

to see ourselves in each other:

We Rem-mem-ber.

We Member.

We become one.

This is our task.

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.

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.