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Archive for November 20th, 2020

[with three poems by Glenis Redmond]

She wanted you to have this to remember her by. Callie’s niece hands me a simple paper gift bag, pink with a heart, like you’d give your sweetie on Valentine’s. It’s heavy. I lift the thick book from inside carefully because the front cover has already fallen away. Onionskin leaves are curling. A Holy Bible.

During my forty years as a small town family doctor my patients occasionally gave me little gifts and mementos. The tomatoes and squash and sacks of Brushy Mountain apples I shared with the staff then took the rest home, but the knickknacks piled up on my desk and bookshelves. Handcrafts and little painted figurines, usually of an old time doctor. Inspirational plaques. Paperweights and ornaments. Bric-a-brac.

I retired September, 2020. What to do with all this stuff? If it’s flat I file it in a scrapbook: crayon drawings kids made while they waited, photos, thank-you’s (and a few angry letters – I saved those, too). The most interesting, which I remove from its frame, is the February 20, 1927 Honorable Discharge from the Army of Ellis, who died November 20, 2005, age 100. His niece thought I should have it.

Callie’s niece enclosed a sweet card with the well-read Bible. It sat under my desk at the office in its pink bag for years and now it’s nudging my right foot under my desk at home. All my shelves are packed, stacked, stratified. Most of that other bric-a-brac, after girding my loins, I threw away. How do you throw out a Bible? I certainly don’t need another one – I’m not going to try to count all the versions and editions on my shelf (and there are eleven Bibles in an app on my iPhone). Callie’s Bible doesn’t include any inscription, not even her name, no family births and deaths recorded, nothing personal. Except that from Genesis to Revelation there are small x’s penciled along the beginning of each chapter, maybe to mark how far she’d read that day. And the pencil is still there, stuck between the pages.

Is it even possible to throw away a Bible? Not today. Back under the desk you go.

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I’ve just read Glenis Redmond’s book, What My Hand Say (Press 53, 2016). Its eighty-some poems seem like a lifetime’s work, a generation’s, a civilization’s. She picks, plows, pushes and pulls memory, history, lore, wisdom until they glow with heat, danger, pain, joy. She doesn’t hold back. To read these poems is to walk in the dust with the little black girl from Fountain Inn, South Carolina. To read these is to have a grandmother who teaches you hard, hard lessons. To read is to open your heart to the suffering we all share as humans but also to be welcomed into the circle that offers each of us human family, community, inspiration, love.

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From What My Hand Say, Glenis Redmond, Press 53 © 2016

Benediction

We took back roads cutting cross-country
traveling from one small road to another
snaking from Moonville to Mauldin.
My big brother Willie and I rode
while the blue Duster began stuttering a dubious rattle,
sputtering to a stop on a small rural track of road called Conastee,
a quarter-mile stretch riddled with seven steeples,
each pointing a path to God:
First Baptist, Church of God, Deliverance of God,
United Methodist, Reedy River Presbyterian,
Conastee fellowship Hall and McBee United Methodist.
Sure we were cloaked in the protection of the Lord
as we knocked on the first door we saw,
a sweet grandma-looking lady
opening her door like a smile
granting us a Samaritan’s Act
by letting us use her phone.
Her words spilling over us like gospel,
we heed even today.
Hurry, night’s about to fall. You two
are not safe around here.

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Bruised
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 that 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 three brothers
and growin up I never saw them show love,
except in that one on one – man on man dunk in you 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 y’all 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 boy 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 our pens
and write.

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My First Poetry Teacher
for Carrie McCray

Teach like the congregation
at Bethlehem Baptist Church yells Preach
and she did. Said, Poets look back.
Mine the memory.
Find the journey work taking.
Don’t dismiss the coal.
Go down the dark shaft.
Go down into the danger.
Go down into the lives lost.
Plummet. Clear the smoke.
Wipe your eyes and the grime.
Write.
Polish the rock
that made the past
till all facets
come to light
shine

 

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[author bio from Press 53]

Glenis Redmond travels nationally and internationally reading and teaching poetry so much that she has earned the title, Road Warrior Poet. She has posts as the Poet-in-Residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, South Carolina, and also at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. During February 2016, at the request of U.S. State Department for their Speaker’s Bureau, Glenis traveled to Muscat, Oman, to teach a series of poetry workshops and perform poetry for Black History Month.

In 2014-16, Glenis served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poet’s Program to prepare students to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education, and for First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House. Glenis is a Cave Canem Fellow, a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient, and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. She also helped create the first Writer-in-Residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Glenis believes that poetry is a healer, and she can be found in the trenches across the world applying pressure to those in need, one poem at a time.

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2016-10-17b Doughton Park Tree

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