National Poetry Month – Al Black

I met Al Black just over a year or so ago. He was one of the driving forces, with poet Len Lawson, of the Poets Respond to Race Tour. That alone should tell you something about Al. He observes, reflects and is bold in his response to the world. His poetry jabs at injustices, pokes at people who need a bit of deflating, but just as often reflects those times he holds himself to the mirror.

Al hosts a weekly poetry reading and open mic, Mind Gravy, at Cool Beans in Columbia, SC, Wednesdays at 8:00. He’s an advocate for all the arts so musicians are apt to be part of the evening as well. His newest collection, Hand In Hand, is a collaboration with Len and area poets and their Response to Race poems. The great cover is a photo of the hand cast Al and Len made – the hand of one white and one black poet clasping and making a difference through poetry. This collection is also available through Muddy Ford Press.

From I Only Left for Tea, published by Muddy Ford Press, posted with the poet’s permission.

It Lingers

This morning, watching mist rise off the lake

No wind, the water is motionless

Clouds float above my face in a liquid mirror

I am an interloper and a voyeur

Someone who does not belong here

O’ the air hangs heavy over the ‘Land of Cotton’

It lingers in the streets, in the fields

In the air above still water

 

I was born on the banks of the Wabash

Where winds blow hard

Coming down off the Great Lakes

Like a speeding semi out of Chicago

Barreling over the plains of Calumet

Heading south on 165 towards Indianapolis

Winds that build snow drifts in the winter

Winds that change the seasons

Winds that cool the summer heat

 

Yesterday, my wife came home from college

She had given a lecture on racial identity

Showing a series of photographs of people

She asked the students to identify race

Some were of our grandchildren

A white student apologized for calling them black

A black student asked if she went

Out in public with our grandchildren

. . . a culture still shackled . . .

O’ the air hangs heavy over the ‘Land of Cotton’

It lingers in the streets, in the fields

In the air above still water.

 

A Generation of Mad Hatters

In 1961, before we knew

That mercury would make you crazy

My friend and I used to collect

Mercury from broken thermometers

And bring it for show-and-tell

 

At recess we would smash it

Just to watch it explode

We would collect the drops

Let it roll about in the palm of our hands

The drops would find each other and become whole

 

Then Viet Nam exploded on our TV screens

McNamara’s lie – Johnson’s Waterloo

All the thermometers were broken

We no longer knew the temperature

But we were hot as hell

 

Alice beckoned us through her looking glass

She fed us on magic mushrooms

While the Mad Hatter chattered on

Laughing at our madness – watching us

Chase mercury and hold it in our hands

 

Today, we again are invited to sit at a tea party

As the Cheshire Cat keeps grinning

We fear their madness

But still we chase the mercury across the floor

Try to hold it in our hands –hoping to become whole again.

 

 Blankets

I love the peace of a snowy night

That falls as a sky tossed blanket

Over the nakedness of our town

Each flake laughing – oh, so quietly

About a myriad acts of kindness

 

I love the peace she brings me

Covering my shivering soul

With our quilted marriage blanket

Each fold a joy – a pain – a challenge won

Forty years and counting

 

Memories the threads that stitch the fabric

Covering our nakedness

 

Al’s response to my questions ~

I was 8 or 9 and for the life of me I don’t know, but I really liked Emily Dickenson, Edna St. Vincent Millay and the poem that had the line, ‘I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree’ at that time. My mother had a book called 101 Famous Poems from when she went to school and I would read that.

On different days I want to talk with Emily Dickenson, Carl Sandburg, Ann Sexton, or Langston Hughes – it all depends on my mood.

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