I hope readers here are staying safe & well. We are all mostly home these days. I’ll be posting a few prompts & exercises for writing poems here over the next days. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you again a poem I wrote in 2018. It was written on the occasion the inauguration of the first African American woman president of my alma mater in Chicago, NEIU. I was invited to read a poem at the inauguration ceremony. It was both my honor and pleasure.
In these times, you and I share,
amidst the air you and I breathe,
inspiration we take from day to day thriving,
opposition we meet,
the sacred conch shell calls us,
drums beat, prayers sent up,
aromatic smoke of the pipe are our pledge to the gods.
An all-night fire vigil burns
where we may consume the small cactus messenger
of the Huichol and of the Pueblo people of New Mexico,
red seeds of the Tlaxcalteca,
mushrooms of María Sabina,
tes de mi abuela
from herbs grown in coffee cans on a Chicago back porch,
tears of my mother on an assembly line in Lincolnwood, Illinois,
aid us in calling upon memory,
in these times.
In other days,
when memory was as unshakeable as the African continent,
and long as Quetzalcoátl’s tail in the underworld,
whipping against demons, drawing blood,
potent as Coatlicue’s two serpent face,
and necklace of hearts and hands
(to remind us of our much-required sacrifices
for the sake of the whole.
we did what we could to take memory
like a belt chain around the waist to pull off,
to beat an enemy.
In these times of chaos and unprecedented greed,
when disrupted elements are disregarded,
earth lashes back like the trickster Tezcatlipoca
without forgiveness if we won’t turn around, start again,
say aloud: This was a mistake,
we have done the earth wrong and
we will make our planet a holy place, again.
with my two hands,
palpitating heart; we can, and we will
turn it around, if only we choose.
In these times, all is not lost, nothing forever gone,
tho’ you may rightly think them a disgrace.
Surely hope has not abandoned our souls,
even chance may be on our side.
There are women and men, after all,
young and not so young,
tired but tenacious,
mothers and fathers, teachers and those who heal and do not
know that they are healers,
and those who are learning
for the sole purpose of returning what they know.
Also, amongst us, many who flounder and fall;
they will be helped by we who blunder.
All these and others must remember
We won’t be eradicated, degraded and made irrelevant,
not for a decade or even a day. Not for six thousand years
have we been here, but, millions.
Look at me. I am alive and stand before you,
audacious despite endless provocations
railed against an aging woman.
My breasts, withered from once giving suckle,
and as of late, the hideousness of cancer,
hair gone grey,
and with a womb like an overripe papaya
left in the sun; so,
my worth is gone–
value in the workplace, also dwindled,
as, too, the indispensable role of mother.
As grandmother I am not an asset
in these times,
but held against all that is new and fresh.
Nevertheless, I stand before you;
dignity is my scepter.
I did not make the mess
we accept in this house.
When the party is done,
the last captive hung — fairly or unjustly,
Children saved, others lost,
last of men’s wars declared,
trade deals busted,
others hardly begun,
police restrained or given full reign
upon the public,
and we don’t know where to run,
on a day the sun rose and fell,
the moon took its seat in the sky,
sacred conch shell called,
prayers went up,
aromatic smoke of the pipe—
pledged to the gods,
I will have remained
who stayed behind to clean up.