This first Thoughtful Thursday of 2019 features parenting poems by a variety of African-American poets. Parenting is the initial 2019 topic for two reasons: I have spent a deliciously extended time with my grown-up children over this break, so I have been in everyday parenting mode more so than usual; and the year began with GCP planning, so I have been thinking a lot about parenting in general. Luckily there were great poetic offerings on this topic from which to choose.
We start with a “little prayer” from the award winning young poet Danez Smith, which could be a parent’s prayer for a young son. Then in James Weldon Johnson’s “A Poet to His Baby Son”, a poet cautions his infant son not to follow in his professional footsteps but worries that he may. Johnson (1871-1938) is best known for writing the lyrics to the Negro National anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (Hope you all are teaching your young ones this classic). Finally from Chicago poet, playwright and publisher Carolyn M. Rodgers (1941-2010) comes the poignant “Testament”, a mother’s frank and loving conversation with her older child.
Parents, may these poems delight, comfort and invigorate you as you start your 2019 parenting journey. Share with your parent friends and enjoy.
let ruin end here
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not let it be
A Poet to His Baby Son
Tiny bit of humanity,
Blessed with your mother’s face,
And cursed with your father’s mind.
I say cursed with your father’s mind,
Because you can lie so long and so quietly on your back,
Playing with the dimpled big toe of your left foot,
And looking away,
Through the ceiling of the room, and beyond.
Can it be that already you are thinking of being a poet?
Why don’t you kick and howl,
And make the neighbors talk about
“That damned baby next door,”
And make up your mind forthwith
To grow up and be a banker
Or a politician or some other sort of go-getter
Or—?—whatever you decide upon,
Rid yourself of these incipient thoughts
About being a poet.
For poets no longer are makers of songs,
Chanters of the gold and purple harvest,
Sayers of the glories of earth and sky,
Of the sweet pain of love
And the keen joy of living;
No longer dreamers of the essential dreams,
And interpreters of the eternal truth,
Through the eternal beauty.
Poets these days are unfortunate fellows.
Baffled in trying to say old things in a new way
Or new things in an old language,
They talk abracadabra
In an unknown tongue,
Each one fashioning for himself
A wordy world of shadow problems,
And as a self-imagined Atlas,
Struggling under it with puny legs and arms,
Groaning out incoherent complaints at his load.
My son, this is no time nor place for a poet;
Grow up and join the big, busy crowd
That scrambles for what it thinks it wants
Out of this old world which is—as it is—
And, probably, always will be.
Take the advice of a father who knows:
You cannot begin too young
Not to be a poet.
James Weldon Johnson
in the august of your life
you come barefoot to me
the blisters of events
having worn through to the
soles of your shoes.
it is not the time
this is not the time
there is no such time
to tell you
that some pains ease away
on the ebb & toll of
there is no such dream that
can not fail, nor is hope our
we can stand boldly in burdening places (like earth here)
in our blunderings, our bloomings
our palms, flattened upward or pressed,
an unyielding down.
Carolyn M. Rodgers