At the age of 37, and five kids in tow, I went back to school. I ended up becoming an R.N., however it was not what I set out to do. I wanted to be a writer and sociologist. I still want to be a writer. In an English Lit class required for my original degree; I met Karyl Anne. She is the most remarkable poet. We had both taken seats midway in the room that invariably ended up being right next to each other. I was a hijabi and she was struggling with her faith; this was the spark for our first conversation. We both had a love/hate relationship with the professor. We admired his talent and loathed his pompous arrogant attitude. We both enjoyed reading for the class. I felt pure joy when I read the part of Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House. The professor even suggested that I act in plays due to my “outstanding reading.” I think he was quite shocked to have a hijabi read so well the part of a woman finding liberation. Karyl Anne though seemed to know more than anyone else that I was more than just the fabric on my head. She would share with me her beautiful scrapbook of her poems. I shared with her my homework before turning it in to my various classes. I envied her style of writing and confidence as a writer. She was a writer. I was just someone who wanted to write.
Despite my insecurities, Karyl Anne–and even the professor–saw something in me that I did not. She saw me as a writer. To this day, nearly five years later she still says I am a writer. I still love to write. My twin sister says I am a good writer. Something in me though is not fully convinced. I still write and still remain unsure if it is a waste of time. Karyl Anne told me recently that it is only a waste of time if I do nothing with my writing; as in share it with the world…submit it to publisher or contest or something.
That last conversation happened last night. Karyl Anne is now in the prestigious MFA program at Spalding University. The same program that gave wings to the first person to coin the term “Affrilichia” (the historic poet Frank X Walker) along with the delicious sounding Kentucky author, Silas House. I say “delicious” because his Appalachia twang is like fresh butter on sweet bread… yum! Both these men have words that make life more real; bringing all those sentiments lurking deep in the dark up to the surface for air much like a wound needs air to heal.
I got to see both men last night because my friend Karyl Anne invited me to come to Spalding’s Festival of Contemporary Writing. She knew I loved Frank X’ Walker’s work and she was having to attend his reading as part of her residency. It was being held at the Brown Hotel (an exquisite hotel built in 1923 and home to the infamous sandwich “Hot Brown”). She was already staying there so we decided that I would meet her there in the gallery. Louisville is inundated with many one way streets, so getting to the only parking lot nearby was an adventure that I did not leave time for which made me a few minutes late. Needless to say, everyone was already seated and the poet was at the podium. I rushed in to the open doors and turned a corner to keep at the back wall to spy a place to sit. I turned the corner swiftly and quietly (I can move as quiet as an native hunter stalking a deer). I stopped abruptly. I was face to face with Silas House!!! I controlled the urge to behave like a starstruck teen girl, but had he opened his mouth to say a word.. even “crazy bitch”, I would have surely lost all control. I moved quickly around him once my starstruck daze waned and started searching for my seat. I could only see a few in the very front row.
I was mesmerized by being in such a gifted poet’s presence. He read from his book Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers. It is a collection of historical poems done in the voices of Medgar Evers, Myrlie Evers-Williams (his wife), Byron De La Beckwith (his killer), and Thelma Neff (the wife of the killer). My eyes welled and tears fell as he read words that could very conceivably been their own true words. My mouth gasped involuntarily when Frank X Walker preluded one poem (in the voice of the bullet that tore through Medgar Evers) with the fact that Byron De La Beckwith had stated that killing Medgar Evers was easy; just like when women give birth. The poet said that he was compelled to write the poem due to the utter gall of Byron to compare taking a life with giving a life.
Frank X Walker treated us to poems that he has written in his black leather bound artist sketchbook. I recognized it because I have seen my artist twin with one. He said there was probably about four books worth of poems written in it. One poem, Sacred Dance, was inspired by winning Dancing with the Lexington Stars with his wife. The line that left an indelible impression on my mind was “dancing to the music of my lover’s hips.” Words like that permeate even the hardest of women’s hearts.
After the poet fed us with words to make us think and make us feel, my friend and I walked down Theatre Square to a 145 year old seafood restaurant, Cunningham’s. Karyl Anne and I talked about our dreams, struggles, and the weight of our book collections over plates of fish, shrimp and oysters. She had said that she was not focusing on poetry any longer, but was doing creative non fiction. Things were finally quiet enough for me to pick up the pure exhaustion she was feeling; the toll of producing written word. To be a writer, I gleaned, was much like being a mother. Those words swim, grow and flip inside you like an embryo to a fetus does and much like a fetus, it sucks the blood, nutrients and life out of you to become worthy of pen to paper. Once pen is set to paper to birth their craft they struggle to get it all out. Then they have to nurture it with proofreading and editing and feel perhaps an empty nester’s loss when they put it out there for the world to read.
I am not anymore sure if I am a writer, but I am a mother and it is the same difficulty, labor and fear. Even still, I feel inspired by the night of words, conversation and communion with other creators of beauty and truth. The Louisville Review was available at the the reading and a copy made it’s way to my home. I got the kids ready for bed and prepared myself too. I placed the book on my bed near my cell phone. I got under the blanket tired from being a mom and the incessant introspection of the day. I opened the book and with the light of my phone and found five more poems of Frank X Walker to read. This time I could read them in his voice.
After Lucille Clifton
all praises to anything traditionally built
–a diamond studded crown should be so wide
no such thing as a skinny rocking chair
or a skinny and comfortable porch or bed
no place else has enough lap room for children
or a hungry man
any tea kettle, mason jar, hand-stitched quilt, garden
or heavenly body worth its salt
smiles wide like you and your hips
–where else God gone keep an ocean?