An African-American Love Story

I have been writing poetry since I was 8. My journals are filled with little Black girl poems…often sad and sorrowful at the time. My mom sent a few of my poems to Gwendolyn Brooks, and she gave me a little poetry primer. I took my love of poetry to the University of Iowa in 1985 as a freshman. And at Iowa, in the Black Poetry class taught by Professor Melba Boyd, I learned by painful lessons of editing. I was so hurt the first time Professor Boyd handed my little poems back full of red marks. I wrote a poem about it. I wrote on December 8, 1985:

Don’t reject me

Any part of me

My Poems

Speech

Laughter

Body

And Love.

Just don’t.

….

Accept

My poems, with or without sounds and imagery

My speech, with our without dalect

My laughter, nervous or real

My tears, with or without purpose

My body, pure or used

My love, fresh.

Don’t shove back my poems

Engulfed with red marks of

Hatred and coolness

Don’t hand it back

Don’t.

And so, throughout my life, at different moments, I’d be inspired to write a poem. Poems need space and inspiration. A few years ago, I was inspired to write a poem for Jarvis Christian College, where my mother went to school — a small historically Black college in Texas. They had invited me to be a keynote speaker for their Founder’s Day.

For Jarvis

May the grace and goodness of God guide you

May the alums and ancestors anchor you

May you always feel the love of the Negro Mother

And remember her passionate plea:

Don’t sit down; don’t turn around; don’t give up

Because you finds it a lil’ hard

You have seeds of survival and strength that have been

Watered by your ancestors’ tears of sorrow

Cherish those seeds within with compassion

Even as you water them with your own tears

Of struggle

So that you can be a tree

Proud and powerful

Strong, yet sensitive

Tough, yet tender

Able to bend and not break

with branches

Upon which others will

Climb

To their destinies of greatness.

And, then Nikki Giovanni, always inspires me. And so, I had to write poems for her. I wrote 4 poems: The Only One; Courage; Tears for Humanity; and Walking the Talk. I shared them with Nikki and she sent a wonderful handwritten thank you note. She is so gracious and kind. (You can read the poems at the post below called “A Tribute to Nikki”).

A Tribute to Nikki Giovanni (blog post)

And so, for this Black History month, I felt inspired to write a poem. It is called An African-American Love Story

I, I am an African-American Love Story

Birthed from the Ultimate Mother – the Divine Mother

The Motherland of Africa

A place of old wise ways and wisdom

Pyramids and temples,

ancient ancestral energy

I, I am an African-American Love Story

From the Motherland to the Fatherland

From Africa to America

Baptized in the Middle Passage through trauma and trials

Through rape and ravaging

Required to recreate a new language.

I, I am an African-American Love Story

And every love story needs a song – a love song.

A love song, bathed in rhythms from slave ships, cotton fields,

Plantations of tobacco and paddies of rice.

A love song to comfort and caress.

Spirituals, gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, reggae, rap, and hip-hop,

Soulful and sometimes sorrow full

Drums pulsing to my beating and bleeding heart.  

I, I am an African-American Love Story

Fed with soul food, leftovers made magical,

Reviving and restoring my soul’s empty spaces

I , I am an African-American Love Story

Shielded

Shrouded 

Shored Up  and

Sheltered in the Secret Place of

the Most High

A God of my weary years

A God of  my  silent tears

A God who has brought us thus far on the way

A God who resurrects unborn hope.

And so let’s lift every voice and sing

Let’s sing,

A song full of faith

Let’s sing,

A song full of hope

Let’s sing

A song full of love

For the greatest of these is love,

And We

We are an African-American Love Story

The poem recitation is excerpted below, but the full video as part of Menah’s Matinee: Music and Musings, is available on Menah Pratt-Clarke YouTube channel and included at the end of this post.

Poetry Recitation of “An African-American Love Story”

I do think of myself as African-American because my father, now an ancestor, was born and raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa. My grandmother took me to visit my ancestors in the cemetry in Freetown and she introduced me to them and poured libation for them. I have a deeply spiritual and personal connection to the Motherland. But, as an American, I have a loyalty and pride in my American identity. As the great granddaughter (my mother’s grandmother) of enslaved ancestors from Alabama, I feel that connection to the legacy of slavery in America. But I also feel the power of a people who have survived and are surviving, and trying to thrive in this land. Our country.

And, so the African-American Love Story is a testament to the hill we have climbed so far, and are still climbing as Amanda Gorman so eloquently shared at the inauguration.

Let us keep marching on. Ever forward.

Menah’s Matinee: Music and Musings, including a piano solo of Lift Every Voice and Sing

1 thought on “An African-American Love Story”

  1. Your poetry is beautiful. Thank you for sharing something so personal. I happened upon your blog because you mentioned it in a webinar I watched. Your work and outlook on life and people is inspiring to me. Thank you.

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