(for Addie Mae Collins, after Alabama, September 15, 1963)
If Addie Mae Collins’ spindly legs
had not been licked and swallowed
by flame and smoke, flesh splattered,
frail ashes amid funeral fans,
and white tithe envelopes
charred to debris
would her feet follow the familiar
march to Zion, ample ankles springing,
while she stepped this Easter morning,
palms turned upwards, cupping the black
hymnal close, cupping the white
cross engraved above her heart?
—Come some Sunday—
would the years age her, carved
crow’s feet edge her eyes, kettle
colored lashes thickly curl as her skin
must have when the fire of white heat
burned white crosses on black lawns,
singeing grass to ash?
—Come sweet Sunday—
would she pull open the door
to the Sixteenth Street Baptist
Church, step onto a burnished
ruby runner bleeding
up to the birch
—Come this Sunday—
would she waltz down the warm, rose aisle,
melodies rolling through a mouth agape
for an agape love greater than the fire burning
through the bush, the fire burning the church,
singing: Come Sunday . . . Oh Come Sunday . . .
that’s the day . . .
Tripping on Dix Hills in Wonderland
If flying cards could shroud
leaves, then fallen stars could
mushroom desire in Alice.
No wonder landing,
with mystical handling,
her black and starred knight
took training. A rood
for the Father. Does sainthood
require rolling sevens?
Even giants misstep, tend to brood
for lost chords, like lost childhood.
A triad an odd Trinity. Body, soul,
orange vibratos inspire Alice’s organic
wonder. And her light: God’s gigantic
hand raised in a fist-ball of black fire,
blessing, burnishing those translinear
trips down the rabbit hole, arcing. Nearer,
my God, to the sea, to the sound, she respires.
Seven seas of giant arpeggios’ half-steps
should quell any slips where he slept
on the yellow slick opium road.
Pizzicatos lament a spurned liver.
Whose lyre? Whose fire? The river
of sound’s ground to a fine essence
by Alice. Wonderland’s nescient
paradise is pathway for her crescent
knowing. Her healing holds. Still.
She’s taken seven steps to heaven, Lord,
found childhood in sainthood.
Graphs: Photos From a Traveler
scents: burned maple
syrup, apple-smoked fat
back; sudden smell
trips, road slants
tall tarred tales
a swollen black
sour on the tree;
burst flesh pulp
of chickened wing
while pickaninnies fry
treed by coon dogs hunting
in an inglorious spot
america: proverbial chicken
the road to freedom,
why? couldn’t fly
from fated middle
passage: pustuled bark,
sharks, sea black
valley of dry sulphurous
bones: blacks caught in a crack
scour these sour snaps,
shoots: this flowering
this groove print
this last lash left
this southern script
this hatred’s hieroglyphs
this knot not a freedom
story this slavery post-
narrative: written on
the author, herself, no
edible fruit tree: bleeding
choke-cherry, carcass, carrion
negative: nightmare begins
can’t find what you can’t see
no dream variations here
scanned visions of nightmare:
black as tarred skin, blinding
as bone-white feathers
“Black Hymnal” and “Graphs: Photos From A Traveler” originally appeared in The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, A Cave Canem Anthology (University of Georgia Press, 2007). Reprinted with permission of the author.
Meta DuEwa Jones is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Howard University. She has taught previously at the University of Texas at Austin and George Washington University. She is the author of The Muse is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to the Spoken Word (University of Illinois Press, 2011) and served as co-editor, with Keith Leonard, of a special issue of Melus. Her articles, essays, interviews, and poetry have been published in English Literary History, African American Review, Souls, Callaloo, The Writer’s Chronicle, The Ringing Ear, Rattle and PMS: (Poem Memoir Story). She is currently working on a series of poems, "Timbral and Harp," chronicling the music of Alice Coltrane, Turiyasangitananda. Her current book manuscript, "Mapping The Poetic Image: Memoirs of the Black Diaspora" examines contemporary Black writers’ visually expressive aesthetics and Black visual artists’ literary engagements.