Today’s Thoughtful Thursday celebrates the work of Elizabeth Alexander–highly respected poet, essayist, playwright and teacher. Professor Alexander was recently named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, as well as the inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. She is the former Chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University. In 2009, she composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Alexander writes on a variety of subjects, most notably race and gender, politics and history, and motherhood. Her upcoming memoir, The Light of the World, will be released in April, 2015. Her poems “Apollo”, “Butter” and “Equinox” are presented below. Enjoy.
We pull off
to a road shack
to watch men walk
on the moon. We did
the same thing
for three two one
blast off, and now
we watch the same men
bounce in and out
of craters. I want
a Coke and a hamburger.
Because the men
are walking on the moon
which is now irrefutably
not green, not cheese,
not a shiny dime floating
in a cold blue,
the way I’d thought,
the road shack people don’t
notice we are a black
family not from there,
the way it mostly goes.
This talking through
static, bounces in space-
to cords is much
even than we are.
My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite
historical revision, despite
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.
Now is the time of year when bees are wild
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.
I have found their dried husks in my clothes.
They are dervishes because they are dying,
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze
a drop of venom or of honey.
After the stroke we thought would be her last
my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped
a nurse across the face. Then she stood up,
walked outside, and lay down in the snow.
Two years later there is no other way
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.