…I am a wish in the skies
spun out from celestial space to be poor,
to be covered with black skin, a felt
quilt of a map with only one way to China—
through pain as big as hogs squealing
at killing time on black farms in Alabama—
the noise of death, the shrill needle
that turns clouds over to rip the air
above the cities where people are young
and all that is given is never taken away.~~ Complete poem available online at Poetry
By sheer coincidence of timing, I just finished the portion of a 10-part mooc on Chinese history introducing ancient Chinese philosophies, including Dao. Although there are many approaches, I was quite drawn to both Laozi (who is echoed in Whitman) and, especially, Zhuangzi who tells intriguing parables about butchers and butterflies (one of the marvelous supplementary lectures, by Michael Puett, is available online). I can’t say I come close to understanding this in any depth, but I don’t despair: Afaa Michael Weaver has been studying Dao for years, and he’s still figuring it out. One of the ways he figures it out is through his poetry.
This poem is found in his collection City of Eternal Spring, the third part of a trilogy outlining his journey from suffering to recovery. I confess, this poem is beyond me, but the echoes are so beautiful, I can’t help but listen. In a reading at Carthage College, he prefaces the poem (13:35 mark) with the remark, “When souls change genders”. I’m not sure how that fits, but it’s part of the intrigue.