Legacies by Nikki Giovanni

her grandmother called her from the playground
“yes, ma’am”
“i want chu to learn how to make rolls” said the old
woman proudly
but the little girl didn’t want
to learn how because she knew
even if she couldn’t say it that
that would mean when the old one died she would be less
dependent on her spirit so
she said
“i don’t want to know how to make no rolls”
with her lips poked out
and the old woman wiped her hands on
her apron saying “lord
these children”
and neither of them ever
said what they meant
and i guess nobody ever does

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Sonnet 30

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

White Privilege by Kyla Lacey

This week at my school each class will be giving a cultural presentation on a country for the annual International Thanksgiving Showcase. As luck would have it my class got Africa as a continent (mind you, I’m the only African-American in my school). I suggested that we present on Tanzania since I’ve been there before and could offer a small dose of information.

Sounds like a great opportunity to share knowledge with my students, right?! NOT.

Not only have I been working with clueless students, I’ve also been working with a clueless teacher whom believes that all of the input she has must be true because she has one African friend… from Nigeria.

Weeks and weeks of  watching them just type in “African ________” instead of “Tanzanian _______” because ALL Africans must dress, eat, and dance the same; Google half-naked pictures of tribes men and parade the pictures around, turning the class into a zoo of animal noises; dance wildly in a circle and chanting nonsense language; laugh at Tanzanians Africans: what they wear, how they dance, how they look; assume anything remotely primitive, made out of sticks and dirt would do because that’s how Tanzanians ALL Africans live, weeks and weeks of this crap, of trying to undo all the ignorance that has plagued their minds for years has me emotionally worn out.

Weeks and weeks of trying to tiptoe around cultural corrections among students and teachers so as to not come off too strong, because as one student said: “It’s just for fun.”

But culture should never be a mockery or some 5 minute act in flamboyant costumes. It should be respected and treated with decency.

So when Kyla Lacey opens up with the first words of her poem: We learned your [insert numerous languages]” it’s not just clever words in a line for me, I’ve seen this truth lived out for weeks and weeks. My students had no idea what Swahili was, they thought that all people from Africa spoke “African”.

I kind of get it. Why? Because during rehearsal even the MC, an educated teacher, told one of students to “say something in African.”

I’ve been staring in the face of white privilege for weeks, worn out, and counting down the days until all of this ends, when they step off the stage and the curtains close.

The Sun by Mary Oliver

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Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed–
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

Waiting For My Life by Linda Pastan

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I waited for my life to start

for years, standing at bus stops
looking into the curved distance
thinking each bus was the wrong bus;
or lost in books where I would travel
without luggage from one page
to another; where the only breeze
was the rustle of pages turning,
and lives rose and set
in the violent colors of suns.

Sometimes my life coughed and coughed:
a stalled car about to catch,
and I would hold someone in my arms,
though it was always someone else I wanted.
Or I would board any bus, jostled
by thighs and elbows that knew
where they were going; collecting scraps
of talk, setting them down like bird song
in my notebook, where someday I would go
prospecting for my life.

Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon

Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Early in the Morning by Li-Young Lee

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While the long grain is softening
in the water, gurgling
over a low stove flame, before
the salted Winter Vegetable is sliced
for breakfast, before the birds,
my mother glides an ivory comb
through her hair, heavy
and black as calligrapher’s ink.

She sits at the foot of the bed.
My father watches, listens for
the music of comb
against hair.

My mother combs,
pulls her hair back
tight, rolls it
around two fingers, pins it
in a bun to the back of her head.
For half a hundred years she has done this.
My father likes to see it like this.
He says it is kempt.

But I know
it is because of the way
my mother’s hair falls
when he pulls the pins out.
Easily, like the curtains
when they untie them in the evening.

Petition by Traci Brimhall

Traci-Brimhall

In the temple, a pear blackens in a statue’s palm.
Birds steal the grain. A man climbs the steps
holding his severed hand, but no miracle occurs.

His body refuses to reach out and claim what it lost.
A woman in a white dress waits to be overshadowed
as she plucks her eyelashes—one for the horses,

one for the rain, one for the hair on the back
of her lover’s hands. She wants her virtue
restored, to return to a morning when her skin

was new and unwounded, when her mouth still fit
her mother’s breast. You came to ask if it’s true,
if angels weep until their faces become human,

and if the dead can escape their tombs, then—
You trap wind as it enters the statue’s mouth,
and command it to rise, walk.

Sleeping in the Forest by Mary Oliver

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I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.