Brook Water Breaking Over Rocks

Afaa M. Weaver

It is not easy for a poet to stand inside his/her/their self/selves and speak truth to power, or to know what that power is. Reality has alternates in this digital age, alternates that are humiliating, and dehumanizing. For me consistency is in the reality of the soul, and the existence of a center, the decentered nature of which does not preclude the existence of a resting point in stillness, a precise blending of the real and the imaginative that lets the soul’s music resonate from the origin of stillness. I hang up from making my resistance calls to offices in Washington, electrified as I usually am, only to realize it is not easy to sustain prolonged movements of resistance.

Politics, change, constancy, stillness. Now poetry. When the Golden Age of Capitalism ended in the early Seventies, I went into factory work to support myself as a poet. I looked out at the landscape of American poetry, and did not see much reflection of the personal lives of people such as myself, so I set that as my project, unaware of the potential for deep change if people like me wrote poetry without the hegemonic bonds of canonicity, or the exigencies of class among our own racial and ethnic groups. I began to write with an early aversion to Wallace Stevens based on a fear of a shared sense of isolation, and a love and loyalty to Langston Hughes and the Black Arts Movement, knowing somewhere inside myself a loneliness made even more singular, ironically, by my uniqueness. That is still my dynamic, filled as it is with my internalized experience of Chinese culture that began in my twenties.

Maybe it’s my age, but I see possibilities in today’s chaos. For me those possibilities begin with less of my attention to the larger workings of America and its extended ego. My materials? History, the smallest and most personal, the largest and most impossibly infinite. Time, with the illusion it shares with the Mind, namely the stubborn insistence on being real, despite the evidence to the contrary. Imagination, its purest and most implausible form where it intersects with psychosis, and its most necessary presence in every facet of our being alive, which might be a truer origin of things. My materials. My acceptance of the transience of every moment in which I now breathe against the idea that some day none of us will be read with any regularity. Or is that true? I must ask the question. Questions beg the life, so we can begin again.

In this age, I go deeper inside myself and home to Baltimore in my work, while living in the New England countryside. In that frame, I can see all things from the prism of what I see as my working class sensibility, knowing from experience that we are capable of such things. The Plum Flower Trilogy completed several realms inside my soul space. A Hard Summation enriched my soul’s marrow, while Spirit Boxing dances above the place where the soul leaves the body. It does that dance and returns me to my first book, Water Song. What I’m saying is I continue to try to articulate my spirit in my work, rooted as my poetry is in the ordinary with an eye to transcendence.

When Nixon channeled the conservative push toward more solidly entrenching property owners, mostly white and male, as the rulers of a more tightly controlled democracy, he also launched an attack on African Americans. The Sixties Rebellion forced a loosening of the vestiges of slavery, and the backlash began in earnest. America was always hampered by a white patriarchal yearning for a society with classical structures of wealth and labor. Southern slave owners supported the American Revolution in order to avoid what they saw as an inevitable dismantling of slavery under the hands of British abolitionists.  Today’s takeover of the White House by white nationalists has its seeds in colonial times.  In the Sixties, those more concerned with the neoclassical version of America began to pour into the Republican left, and the Republican right deserted their party for right wing extremists, of whom the John Birch Society was a kinder club.

Much of what we see now is the dynamic of this our conflicted America in an advanced state of its crisis that began with its inception and the constitutional support of the enslavement of black people. My hope is that some poets are looking deeper inside themselves for a change in their own soul spaces that can potentially resonate, even as we all work against the prompting of a careerism that did not go unaffected by conservative projects for shaping this country.

As Noam Chomsky points out in his “Requiem for the American Dream,” the Trilateral Commission’s liberal answer to the Sixties Rebellion was essentially the same as the conservative, namely a more controlled democracy. Such an intersection between conservative and liberal seems broad enough to me to be seen as a common unwillingness to question how much of the American good life is had at the expense of the suffering of black and poor people, keeping mind that there are some black members of these conservative and liberal communities.

The poet’s journey into the soul space is as perilous as ever, although with the gathering of humpback whales, the turning of arctic ice into slush, and Baltimore’s stubborn tragedy of homicide among blacks alongside police murders of black people, the journey seems more perilous than it was for Amiri Baraka writing “An Agony. As Now,” or for Adrienne Rich writing “Diving Into the Wreck.” However, in the simultaneity of the eternal present, those agonies must surely have felt as urgent as they feel now for those of us who see the journey as necessary.

It is raining here now. The brook outside the house is so full the flow of water is breaking with small edges of seeing white, a tiny version of how rapids behave. The bears got into the garage the other morning, lifting the door with their paws, obviously. It’s where we keep the trash and what little garbage we have until the days we can go to the local transfer station. Around here everything is a little bit of a drive, so we go to the dump on dump days and then go to the next item on the to-do list. Some days it’s just the transfer station, where we can linger and talk with the managers. I look at the sky some days and count the white streaks from military aircraft, streaks that have increased since the election, white edges much more unsettling than the way the water in the brook hits up against the rocks and then changes so as to pass over what would stop the its flow.

I must be, as a poet, both water and rock, pondering the nature of each, so that I can try to experience it fully as well as everything that contains it and all life.

Nature, What Governs Us

Mornings are different now,
The place I call home a broad
Stretch of farm, a few houses
Empty in winter, filled more
In summer with privilege,
Winter air thinner, colder,
More of a promise of health
While the thick umbrage
Of trees filling with leaves
Gives no clue to root songs
Binding networks underneath,
Where something touches me
Inside my nerves as I call
Down to the elected offices
To say what I think of this
Or of that, wondering why
The secret wish for black slaves
Lives in a democratic heart,
Nothing like the battle
Of meter against the magic,
The syntax of the poetic,
A mystery that pulls me
To the precise balance
Of real and imaginary
So that this spring morning
I think of loud cities in silence,
As somewhere the black cat
We hold close has left us,
Hidden herself in the moon.

West Cornwall, Connecticut. May 2017

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