Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fish Fried in an Old Wash Pot

A good friend asked me how I came up with topics to write about each day. I thought about it for a second. Then I realized where most of my material came from—other bloggers. Daily I am inspired by the thoughts and musings of my fellow laborers in the blogosphere. Daily I am asked to question my own opinions and look at things from a variety of viewpoints.

One such moment of inspiration came just recently. I ventured over to The Soul Poet’s Journal just to poke around a bit. I instantly felt right at home. Who could not love a lady who “like[s] [their] fish fried in a wash pot, outdoors, over a fire between two cinder blocks.”? That’s exactly how I like my fish!

But anyway, the resident poet, one Ms. Lesli Corbin, took me back, way back. She took me back to a time when I truly loved poetry. I loved hearing and feeling the rhythms and cadences of the language of my community. I loved hearing the verbal acrobatics of self-taught street poets, as well as the vivid prosaic pictures of those old country preachers.

When I heard my uncle, the late Reverend Harold Gentry of Memphis, Tennessee, give a reading of Etheridge Knight’s “The Idea of Ancestry” and “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane” when he was a student at then Memphis State University, I knew exactly what I was going to study in college. His reading was so penetrating that for years following, everyone simply referred to him as “Hard Rock.”

But after eight years, college all but stole my love for poetry and literature. It is one thing to love something, but when that object of your desire becomes your job, the joy somehow is wanes. But slowly and surely, that joy is returning. And Ms. Corbin’s place reminds me of just what I have been missing all this time.

So, Ms. Corbin, this is my offering for you, Etheridge Knight’s “Idea of Ancestry.”


Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black

faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-

fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,

cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare

across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know

their dark eyes, they know mine. I know their style,

they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me;

they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,

1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),

and 5 cousins. I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece

(she sends me letters in large block print, and

her picture is the only one that smiles at me).

I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,

and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took

off and caught a freight (they say). He's discussed each year

when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in

the clan, he is an empty space. My father's mother, who is 93

and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates

(and death dates) in it, always mentions him. There is no

place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown."


Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown

hills and red gullies of mississippi send out their electric

messages, galvanizing my genes. Last yr/like a salmon quitting

the cold ocean-leaping and bucking up his birth stream/I

hitchhiked my way from LA with 16 caps in my pocket and a

monkey on my back. And I almost kicked it with the kinfolks.

I walked barefooted in my grandmother's backyard/I smelled

the old land and the woods/I sipped cornwhiskey from fruit jars

with the men/I flirted with the women/I had a ball till the caps

ran out and my habit came down. That night I looked at my

grandmother and split/my guts were screaming for junk/but

I was almost contented/I had almost caught up with me.

(The next day in Memphis I cracked a croaker's crib for a fix.)

This yr there is a gray stone wall damming my stream, and when

the falling leaves stir my genes, I pace my cell or flop on my bunk

and stare at 47 black faces across the space. I am all of them,

they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children

to float in the space between.


Unknown said...

Thank you--because sometimes, the simplest phrases are the most profound. You made my day (& my Top 10)! Sort of at a loss for words (does NOT happen often).

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