The More Things Change…

Poets.org daily poetry emails are a welcome start to my day. They are usually thought-provoking and usually introduce me to someone new.

I was recently struck by The Puppet-Player by Angelina Weld Grimké:

Sometimes it seems as though some puppet-player,

A clenched claw cupping a craggy chin

Sits just beyond the border of our seeing,

Twitching the strings with slow, sardonic grin.

What caused me the most pause was how applicable this felt to the hot mess that is 2020, yet it was published in 1923 in Negro Poets and Their Poems. Beyond my own personal feelings about how applicable it felt to *gestures at everything*, it caused me to want to know more about life for the author, a Black woman, writing in the 1920s.

According to her bio on Poets.org, Angelina Weld Grimké, a journalist, playwright, teacher, author, and poet, was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1880. She was one of the first African-American women to have one of her plays publicly performed, and was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. She died in New York City in 1958.

Further digging shows Angelina was 75% white — her mother was white, and her father was the son of a white slave owner and a mixed-race enslaved woman of color his father owned. Her paternal grandparents became involved after he was a widower, and they raised three sons together; her grandfather taught her grandmother and their children how to read.

Well, by this point, I was fascinated and placed a library hold request for Lift Up Thy Voice: The Grimke Family’s Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders by Mark Perry.

The very next day, the poem was After Robert Fuller by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor.

Will the new aunt Jemima have dreads?

Why did Susan Smith kill her children and blame a black man?

Would a black man hang himself from a tree with his backpack still on?

Is it justice or revenge we are seeking?

What does justice look like?

What else can I do to feel safe?

Several times a day I stab my fingertips to threads

Looking for something more than blood as a reminder of life

An angry rain whips the window

We lay quiet in bed

Invite Kimiko Hahn to serenade us with her new poems

When she’s done      my lover says

Give me something      something to munch on

I offer her my wrist.

How much nothing has changed.

Angelina’s play Rachel protested lynching and racial violence. And while nothing was ever said explicitly, it is extremely probable that she was a lesbian.

And now we have Cheryl, also a Black poet, also a lesbian, still writing about lynching and racial violence.

I have no doubt this is why this week’s guest editor Mahogany L. Browne curated these poems on neighboring days. She says of her work this week: “I curated my allotted section with folks I’ve been reading and learning from for years. Some of them had yet to be published in the Academy of American Poets, and all of them are changing the canon in the classrooms, during protests, and on stages throughout the nation.”

I am very grateful for this opportunity to read and learn from new authors and poets. To add to my TBR list works from these women who uplift both the fight and other writers. May we keep learning from those who do not look like us. And may we keep fighting for those who do not look like us.

I mean, we can’t even get lynching listed as a federal crime because of racist white legislators hiding behind semantics (looking at you, Rand Paul). And this is just one instance of our criminal justice system not working for the victims: see also how Brock Turner served three whole months after being caught raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and how none of the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor have been charged with a crime.

Keep calling, keep working to get new faces in the legislative arena, and keep reading.

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