I’ve mentioned the short story “Free White Woman and Her Poetry” in earlier blogs. I wrote this story many years ago and have often thought of turning it into a novel with each chapter from a different character’s point of view. I read this summary with poetry excerpts at the Southern New Hampshire University winter residency. Each participant is allowed five minutes to share which gives you enough time to read about two pages. So I thought I’d share this on my blog because it’s short and it is still April, poetry month. I hope you enjoy it.
“Free White Woman and Her Poetry” presents a black woman who discovers her sense of worth and value to society through the art of poetry. While serving a prison sentence for murdering her abusive husband, the woman learns to express her feelings through this emotional art form. Her character grows when her initial feelings of disdain and dislike toward her poetry teacher turn to love and respect. Her life begins again because of a free white woman and her poetry.
In poem No. 1, the woman, angry and full of bitterness at her prison existence, is challenged by her prison teacher. For the first time she begins to define and express in poetic terms her feelings about prison life.
I spen time here lookin at white walls
With dirty cracks leakin smells
Of death and despair
I see white, black, red, yellow, and brown faces—
All sad eyes, dull eyes, dumb eyes, dead eyes.
No sunshine here
Jus bars—plenty of bars
But ya don’t drink anything good here,
Only the blood of your life leakin away
Through cracks on white, ugly walls.
No longer cry myself to sleep or
Cry myself awake.
No more tears
And my brain don’t even wake up no more.
Don’t know what day it is—
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday?
Don’t care really neither cause
Nothin gonna happen in here
Nothin gonna change in here—
Not even me.
In poem No. 2, a second prisoner, whose first poetic effort was designed only to shock her teacher, is able to put aside her cynicism and express her real feelings in a love poem.
Take my hand
And I’ll lead you
To the land
We’ll throw wild flowers around
And get so high
We’ll never come down.
We’ll live through eternity together
Protect each other
Through all the stormy weather.
Take my hand
We’ll grow old together,
Slip away like sand.
In poem No. 3, the main character, now wiser and more mature, writes about her children, whose childhood is slipping away while she is in prison.
My children grew up
Like wild weeds in the alley—
Tall, thick, and strong.
They came one after another
Barely remembered before forgotten
And tossed in a den of babes
All bawling and biting—
There were no teething toys.
Two girls, two boys.
What made up my heart
Was divided into fractions
So large, so small.
I tell them that I love them
But they don’t hear me—
I’m stuck in here.
I wish they could see
My face now.
Oh, what could be joy,
My two girls and two boys.