Afaa Michael Weaver: "Thelonious"

The Somerville-based poet Afaa Michael Weaver, who is a professor of poetry at Simmons College in Boston, made headlines last week when he won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. I guess that one reason that the story made headlines is that being a poet is one of the least lucrative careers there is. All the articles framed the story the same way: Former Baltimore factory worker wins big prize. It is a good story line, made even better because the only life experience poets have now is being in school. So, yes, he is a poet of the working person, and also a poet of the African-American experience. I did a post on him a few months ago. Here's a good article about him in the Boston Globe from December 2007.

Let's let his poetry do the talking. This is from The Plum Flower Dance: Poems 1985 to 2005, a really good collection.

for Gene F. Thomas

It's as if you are given the sky to carry,
lift it on your shoulders and take it to lunch,
sit in McDonald's with it weighing you down,
this business of being black, staying black
until the darkness of some eternity kisses you.
Birth gives you something other folk thank
God for not having, or else they pray for it,
to have its gift of a body inclined to touch,
inclined to sing. Yet they will not give back
to God the paleness of being able to touch
absolute power. They envy only for so long,
as being black is being bound to danger.

Among us there are masters like Monk,
who understood the left hand stride
on a brick. In his rapturous dance beside
the piano, he was connected to knowing
the scratch and slide of the shoes leaving
the ground, the shoes of the lynched men. 
He carried this thing that we are,
as the mystic he was, reveling in its magic,
respectful of its anger, mute and unchanged
as the hate and envy surround us.

One day we learn there is no sky above
this trapped air around the earth.
The sky is but a puff of smoke from
this giant head smoking a Lucky Strike,
pretending not to know the truths.
We learn sometimes in the life,
sometimes in what comes after, where
there is really nothing but everything
we never knew. We learn in silence 
the dance Monk knew. We find
secrets for pulling the million arrows
from our soul each time we move
to sleep, to forget that we are both
jewel and jetsam, wanted and unforgiven.


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