One picture … nearly a thousand words

I’m back. I’m sorry for disappearing when I live in the epicenter of the outbreak. I’m totally fine, still safely working at home.

I’ve written a couple of poems in this off-blog time. Most of them I think I’ll leave in my notebook. Last night I was busy, however, and I want to share. Last night, I was part of an hour-long writing group on Zoom. It was the everything’s-moved-online version of an ongoing writing workshop series that is run at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The facilitator was a woman I know from VONA, so that felt comfortable and made me confident that I’d enjoy myself.

I invited RedEmma to join me because I thought she’d like it and also because I’d had to cancel our writing date from last week.

We started with an image from The Outwin 2019 exhibit, a photo by Genevieve Gaignard called “Trailblazer (A Dream Deferred).” We were given some time and invited to write something using the image as inspiration. I’m not surprised that I was inspired by the photograph. It’s an interesting, lush, and beautiful piece. Its subjects are compelling. Being inspired by it almost seems like a given. I wasn’t expecting to be so inspired that I would write three poems, however. Three. Poems. Just like that. Three poems. All called “Foremother.” Here they are.

Foremother 1: Trailblazer

I see you
walking over that hill
with Abraham, Martin, and John.
What weight do they give you
what do you carry,
how long the road?
I want to tell you
don’t go.
Don’t take that path
Keep safe here
with me.
I know you’re listening.
I know you know.
But I see you choosing,
see you walking up
over that hill.
The light in your face is clear
is bright, is warm.
I want to hold you back
turn you away from the light.
They need you
of course they need you.
But stay.
I need you more.

Yes, I am that selfish,
I am that grasping.
Yes, I would hold you back
for as long as I could.
As long as I could.

The hill will always be there.
The path will always be there.
But stay.
I need you more.

∞ ∞ ∞

Foremother 2: Recognition

When I travel back,
I stop short of you
always stop short of you.
Yours is the story I can never see
will never tell.
How far from you do I need to be
to let myself look behind that curtain
to finally learn the whole story?
My past is your future.
The two cannot meet
and yet —
the two have always met.
You are still here, in me.

I know the story ends badly.
How else to explain my fear
my refusal to open my eyes.
The story ends badly
but without that end
there would be no place for me,
no me,
no place.

If I could write to you
I wouldn’t ask
would never ask.
But I’d want to know.
And I’d want to hold out my hand
offer a path, a way, protection.
Anything you need.
Anything to guide you home.

∞ ∞ ∞

Foremother 3: Treasure

They would have made you bind your hair.
You would have missed the good oils,
the butters.
They would have made you bind your hair,
told you it was dirty,
was ugly,
was wrong.
They would have made you bind your hair,
wrap it in rags
and made you braid and adorn theirs.

Was it the first thing you freed
when your journey ended?
Was it the first thing you freed
after you stole yourself from bondage?
Was it the first thing you freed,
letting water flow through it,
oil smooth over it?

How often in all the years since
did you run fingers through it,
glide your palm from crown to nape?
How often
did you buy a ribbon you didn’t need
a frivolous comb
a paste-jeweled circlet?
How often
did you detangle your tresses in the sunshine,
aware of that warmth
and the play of red highlights through brown?

They would have made you bind your hair
so you shook it loose
shook it wild,
every morning
every evening
every day for the rest of your freedom
the rest of your life.

It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.


2 thoughts on “One picture … nearly a thousand words

  1. I like everything about this. The writing together. The writing from a portrait. The three poems all called “Foremother” with a different angle: Trailblazer, Recognition and Treasure. It is good when an inspiration resonates and easily cascades into words.


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