Monday, December 22, 2014

After Sterling (version 6)

This poem continues to evolve.  Version number 5 was too wordy, too detailed.  I completed draft number 6 on the morning of Sunday, December 21 and read it at the Spiral Staircase Poetry Reading and Open Mic.  The comments I received led to further revisions and version 7.  Version number 6 is below.  Version 7 will follow in a separate post.


(with acknowledgment to Sterling Brown’s After Winter)

Somewhere in these North Laurel woods,
I imagine there are butter beans,
radishes and lettuce, eggplants and beets
appearing after each winter
to remind us of you, Sterling Brown,
and the words that you found
in the fields and the streets
giving dignity and voice to hardworking folks.

Grass grows where plows once cut.
Buildings rise from the fields where you ran.
The rural place you knew is gone.
Harmony Lane (or what remains)
no longer leads to the Freedman’s town,
its small frame houses lost
to the rising value of land.
The old colored school, demolished
to make way for luxury townhomes.
In this county, history lives
to the north and the west.
Down here, memories 
have been bulldozed and paved,
signs of the past left only in the names of roads,
including the one they named after you.

There’s still much that you’d recognize:
People making their way
through the weariness and joys
of day-to-day life,
the defeats that grind some of them down,
determination and will that push some to rise.
And the old divides of race and class,
though in more subtle forms,
that still push some to the margins,
and keep us all from being whole.

It’s all here, Sterling, same as your day.
But, where is our poet
bringing baskets of words 
in from the fields?
Who will sing the stories
that get hold of us 
way down deep in our souls?

Ah, Sterling, each of us is the poet.
We sing the calls that demand a response.
But isn’t that what you already knew?
That a poet is more than a name on the road
that leads to where the butter beans grew.

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