Saturday, May 6, 2017

"I'm On My Way..."

On April 14, 1978, while teaching at Creighton University, I wrote this poem for the Creighton University African American Student Association’s “Recognition Night.”  As I prepare to do a blessing for the Southern Illinois Black Pre-Commencement Ceremony this spring (May 6, 2017), I find that this poem still has some strength to share.  And the time is always appropriate to hear Mahalia Jackson declare, “I’m falling and rising, but I’m on my way....”


Mark the eternally
Redeeming fact
                              when
the shadow suffocates
your hope
                     act
past the lightning terror
of the demon days
unremembered passage
from home to hell
shackled
mute of drum
fashioning banquets from
glacial wrongs
                            Eden was
redeemed in songs

an arthritic alien
hungering greed    ripped
families apart
                            the soul
was mastered by the shadow’s
need
to deny    and    shatter
to garble and grind
truth into ashes
the verdict of death:
make them blind
                                 transfer
the blanket of the crime
to the shaking shoulders
of the bent and broken
let the shadow haunt   and   terrify
let all decency be deprived

until   freedom   spoke   in
the raining of a gun

the delusion of the shadow
was seen as fog
stinging fear     retreated
and the sweat-tasting hymn
of jubilee
                   caught the rhythm
of the drum

in spite of death
still we come
                           we choose
to shed the curse laid
on our back
                        and when
the shadow threatens
                                           act





Friday, April 28, 2017

On My Journey Now

[Federal District Judge J. Phil Gilbert invited me to provide an Invocation for the Naturalization Ceremony that he conducted at the Lesar Law School on April 27, 2017.  Judge Gilbert is also a member of the SIU Board of Trustees. I find that Invocations are tricky performances, and never more so than at a Naturalization ceremony during which 49 people from about 20 countries pronounced the Oath of Naturalization.  It has frustrated me for a very long time that many who are called to pronounce an Invocation are either unable or unwilling to be truly ecumenical in their prayers, expressing, sometimes, a denominationalism that might be exclusionary more than it is inviting. Each presenter must be allowed the benefit of their sincerity, their desire to give witness to their faith. And I find myself being tolerant, even when I cannot be personally engaged in the sentiment being offered to the assembly.  What follows is my effort to be embracing of the moment and the community. The ceremony touched my heart in unexpected ways, and the power of the joy radiated in all directions. I was proud to be a part of this ceremony. And I am grateful that the ceremony will now be a part of me.  The quoted passages from Martin Luther King, Jr., are taken from Strength to Love – a book that is the subject of an early entry of The Sankofa Muse.]

From the thoughts of Martin Luther King, Jr., we are told that “fear is mastered by faith.”

And so it is. 

Fear of the hunger that steals the lives of our children and breaks the bones of our elders.

Fear that causes the oceans to swell and drown the innocent and that causes bombs to rain down
on the just and unjust, alike.

Fear is mastered by faith.

Out of the darkness, there is a light. And we were told this in the soothing whispers that blessed us at our birth.

Out of the screaming chaos of the midnight nightmares, there is a song that only the heart has ever heard.

Faith. What have we held onto, in darkness, storm and doubt?  That the horizon is defined by God,

and by God alone. 

That our ancestors, who dreamed of us in their fevered times, knew that we would complete the journey that they could never make.

They told us, “Call upon the light. The light, the light that will guide you. From here, to everywhere. Seek and find, and know that seeking the light itself  is where faith takes root. You must believe in light,” they said.

King also tell us: “We are consoled that God has two lights:  a light to guide us in the brightness of the day when hopes are fulfilled and circumstances are favorable, and a light to guide us in the darkness of the midnight when we are thwarted and the slumbering giants of gloom and hopelessness rise in our souls.”

And I call upon light. I name us, “Light bearers.” Let us rejoice that we are here. Each bringing his and her light; each murmuring a “yes” to be part of the song of faith. Let us continue to be the light that others hunger for. 

Let us be the beginning that we have long sought, the beginning that will make this world forever new.





Sunday, April 9, 2017

Say Yes, and Say, Now

[A student asked for a favor. Could I find a poem that he could read at his aunt’s wedding? I looked. And then I listened.  And then I wrote. Something about the miracle of remaking the earth with our imaginations, which is the behavior that God requires of us as our part of the work of creation. Nothing is ugly if we choose to truly see. That’s something Ignatius of Loyola managed to pass down to us, through these centuries]

Look at that nasty field
weeds everywhere    you look
and see  thorn bushes  wasps and
kudzu vines
               looking away and up you
can still smell the clotted earth   wet
from days of rain     ain’t nothing
to see  no
                   where you look matters

But   (he said)    I will gather  just a few rocks
that seem to have veins of glitter and shine
and stack them pretty
                            And I (she said)
will bend into the overgrowth   and find lonesome
flowers struggling  to fight the wind  and
be beautiful
                    Just for me (she said)
make the stones stand one atop another
til they mark this place   as   ours
and
       I will  (laughing in my heart)
root a flower  here  and there
                                     and
somebody walking by someday in the
early evening  
                 will say  “My, two pairs
of hands and eyes and more than one
singing heart

stopped
          here to make us
look
        how  Pretty can rise up
anywhere  you
                  choose to look”

See Yes
         and say   Now
and flowers and twinkling stones
will
     show us who you

Be
        -- 4 April 2017