It's been a bit overwhelming to see all of the interest in Juneteenth on the national and international levels this year. For decades, if not longer, Juneteenth was first a regional holiday celebrated by Black East Texans and their descendants in different places, then the Black community throughout the US. It was underground except for us.
While the insularity of the event has changed, the spirit of the event has not. This is shown by the conflation of Juneteenth with the protests and other forms of activism that assert the human rights and dignity of African-Americans. Juneteenth is a celebration of our resilience as a people and how we have continued to make this country and this world better. It highlights the fact that there was a series of legal actions that led to completing the formal end of slavery in the US and Juneteenth/Jubilee Day has become the central organizing time of celebration for the end of that inhuman "institution. "
I learned a great deal about Juneteenth when working as an AD on a small, beautiful documentary on the celebration by East Texas transplant and filmmaker Carolyn Y. Johnson. She's passed on a few years ago, sadly, and it's very hard to find the film. However, there is a brief and powerful clip on youtube from the documentary that was shot in a Black community space/museum in East Texas (and you can hear Carolyn's sweet voice very quietly saying "thank you" at the end). It gives you a sense of what the motivation behind the celebration is for the folks who started and maintained this holiday that is now being observed across the nation.
Thanks for your film Carolyn and thanks for igniting and keeping the flame bright on Juneteenth, East Texans. Your community has made this nation better on 6/19 and ever onward.
A Poem-Song for the first days of June:
As helicopters whirl incessantly overhead, I kept hearing this artistic work by the late, great poet/activist/performer and teacher Sekou Sundiata,
"I could wake up in the morning without a warning, my world could change. Blink your eyes. Blink your eyes"/ "All depends on the skin, all depends on the skin you're living in." -- S. Sundiata's "Blink Your Eyes"
-- June, 2020
Two Poems for the end of May, 2020
Like many of us, I'm left speechless.
There are others who've said it so well. Here are two poems, over a century apart from two different types of people, one with us, one long gone. I see them as examples that say, show, this country's enduring legacy, pain and urgency to make this place live up to what it should be, at least that's how I'm reading them today. These poems are via the website poetryfoundation.org. -- TM, 05/31/2020
We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives.
We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions.
We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for handouts.
We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.
Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honor your reservations.
In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on.
Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments.
If you cannot understand English, you will be moved out of the way.
In the event of a loss, you’d better look out for yourself.
Your insurance was cancelled because we can no longer handle
your frightful claims. Our handlers lost your luggage and we
are unable to find the key to your legal case.
You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile.
You are not presumed to be innocent if the police
have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet.
It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color.
It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights.
Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude.
You have no rights we are bound to respect.
Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible
for what happens to you.
Harryette Mullen, "We Are Not Responsible" from Sleeping With The Dictionary. Copyright © 2002 by Harryette Mullen
BY WALT WHITMAN
Enough! enough! enough!
Somehow I have been stunn’d. Stand back!
Give me a little time beyond my cuff’d head, slumbers, dreams, gaping,
I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake.
That I could forget the mockers and insults!
That I could forget the trickling tears and the blows of the bludgeons and hammers!
That I could look with a separate look on my own crucifixion and bloody crowning.
I remember now,
I resume the overstaid fraction,
The grave of rock multiplies what has been confided to it, or to any graves,
Corpses rise, gashes heal, fastenings roll from me.
I troop forth replenish’d with supreme power, one of an average unending procession,
Inland and sea-coast we go, and pass all boundary lines,
Our swift ordinances on their way over the whole earth,
The blossoms we wear in our hats the growth of thousands of years.
Eleves, I salute you! come forward!
Continue your annotations, continue your questionings.
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself" from Leaves of Grass (: Norton, 1973)
Re: Whitman, not sure what he meant by these lines, but I'm deciding how I'm applying them to this moment. Whitman was a man of his time, and those times had their limitations as do ours.
A Song and a Poem
I happened to come across two very different creative works that felt right to set the tone as we ease into the Spring-Summer of Coronavirus 2020. Before sharing these selections though, I'd like to: congratulate my wonderful students and colleagues at the Iowa Writers' Workshop who got through a challenging semester with grace, thoughtfulness and determination.
Overall I want to thank those from all walks of life who keep this world going through their daily work. I'm also grateful to the many who in their individual, personal ways, keep us all going with their care.
I also wish to express sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones at this time and my heart goes out to those who continue to suffer because of this pandemic.
The first selection on offer is a song. I happened to come across it just before adding this page to the website. It’s from one of my all-time favorite artists, Prince, and will probably be my “theme song” for this part of my site (I’ll be humming it in my head at least): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUYJi_IFUCM
The second selection is a really lucky find for me. Through a few internet off-ramp turns, I happened to come across this lovely poem. Even though Richard Wilbur is (probably) addressing the sign-carrying “end is near” types that used to be all over the place in major cities, I think this poem could apply to anyone who seeks to manipulate us into despair and thereby undermine progress. I love the traditional approach to this poem. It reminds us that people have always had these naysayers in society and that we know better. Wilbur’s “argument” is also great to read through. There’s also audio of the poet reading it, further down the page: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43044/advice-to-a-prophet
Hope you enjoy these. I wish you a wondrous Spring even if its just from your window. -- April, 2020
Website Copyright © 2018 -2020 Tracie Morris - All Rights Reserved.