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after Hayes and Mary Turner, Valdosta, Georgia, May 1918
The rope, the tree,
the tired comparison to Jesus on the Cross. Avoid the tropes.
This stands for that, but if no one black ever says that, how would
someone white learn
this? How would any of us? I desire the surprise of intellectual,
Yet here I am, refusing refusal. Calling the mob out by name.
Not even safely —
as with an anonymous South — but uncomfortably. As with white
man by white man.
(I'm scared just saying it.) And locating each in case
you have trouble.
(My People are exceedingly patient.) There: the expected
poor, drunk one,
neck darkened in the field. He's a nice cliché. But not the next:
a churchgoer and father. A man who believes in Christ and the love of a virtuous
woman who fries chicken for picnics and stirs up lemon cakes. After the lynching
he will continue to believe and live his life in a good fashion. Beside him, his little boy,
smiling, his teeth only beginning to loosen as he moves from baby to heir. He will grow,
remember his father's beauty, the godly meat in that chest. In the back of this crowd,
a young scholar home from college, brought by his friends who wanted to see
if what their science professor said was true, that niggers did not feel pain the same
as better men.
Too old for the rowdy festival, someone's grandfather
remains at home.
An educated-in-the-North patrician who owns the newspaper
that later will run the story. A savage raised his voice to a man. (One tenor
singing counter to the other.) Or, he asked for his pay on Friday. Or, he
did not dance when desired. Or, he did not step off the sidewalk for a lady.
(Should I explain the Southern Anthropological Equation of lady plus race?)
Her flowered honor required protecting. The imperative of her womanhood:
ax and gasoline and black blood. Pig-like screams of what is not a man to the mob,
but a side of meat. What never was in this place. I will admit these things
in my contemporary time, but not out loud. My white friends and colleagues
(who are not My People) would feel indicted by my saying, I look at you and yes,
I wonder if you would have sliced off my toe as I hung there, roasting over
the slowest fire the mob could build. And later, killed my pregnant wife, the baby
still inside her.
I'm a sinner. I fear what I crave. Or love. Part of the falling,
is a quandary keeping the present here. The past there.
A liquid-filled jar of sex in a general store: before that day, its name was Hayes.
He made the mistake of calling to her. Mary answered, her hand resting on her belly.
DRAFT OF AN EX-COLORED LETTER SENT HOME FROM THE POST-RACE WAR FRONT
A soldier in Baldwin's Country & I can't even dance
I say you can't beat me Each day I get up to face fear
I made money & fixed my credit I escaped you dear my shame
Yet how to escape white space It's impossible
to return to your embrace to rough-trading sweet vowels
to brothers on corners visiting my dreams I hear your whistles
smell collard greens on suburban wind I love you with deception
I'll be back I'll lift as I climb My remorse goes deep
to the whiteness in me my bones Forgive me You don't know
the trouble I see I can't tell these folks the truth
They don't understand me & they don't try Or try too hard
I want my birthright a mutual sight my own ancient rime
In the bright trenches of the office I open my mouth but choke
on bottled water Last week I returned for your wake
but left before the Home-Going I miss our surviving dark ones
The familiar is trivial & profound The strange a charge
in my blood I clutch & shriek at these strangers I left drums for
I sing B.B.'s mean old song
I END THE WINTER
Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer ...
I end the winter,
discontented and frightened —
an evil child facing the coming blues,
the weight of glory, of expectation.
This never-ending war.
Every blade I sharpen is sure of its intentions.
This war and that —
every one God has commanded.
I'm speaking a true word —
when it's true that any bone can explain why Samson carried it into another's hinterland.
Them bones, hambones,
my-Lord-what-a-morning trombones —
oh please, come with me to smite the weak.
I know that I know what God knows, because He lives in my scripture-singing self,
and since I command the babble stirring the bricks of their tower,
I am made a godly God and can piss oceans to replace dead men's salt —
but if I were human, I would know this:
the soul has a body of its own and will walk left or right.
The soul's flesh will turn,
its sweetness no longer nectar but unbearable kindred.
This war today:
APOLOGIA FOR SOMETHING
Fall in love with someone's poetry and thus, fall in love with that someone. How many times can I explain this?
I'm running out of water. I'm not a child anymore.
I'm talking to you.
I'm talking to myself, repeating a harpy's creation,
the chatter of disappointed women.
Child, get yourself together.
I'm closing a book as my father's door was closed, as he locked himself in a small room. This is not a metaphor. It was nearly a cell.
How did I know? Daily, I sneaked in there.
He was gone.
The times he was present, maybe he was locked inside. I can't say for sure. I can say what he forbade me: his presence.
A knock at his black man's hour.
He had a soul. I know that. It was lined with the approximation of tears. It was a hunger for scabs and scars. For life to finally be over. He couldn't take his children and wife with him.
He wrote so many poems.
I believe I've read them all. I read so many others. I've tapped the covers,
lifted a weight to my ear, hoping it would grow light in my hand.
Congratulated the catharsis,
but catharsis isn't healing and my love isn't love. It's something else —
I'll get it together and I'll reopen the book. You'll reread this poem and fall in love with me. Drive someplace I'm not. Cry one, two, three tears.
MY FATHER AS WALTER LEE YOUNGER
Here I am a giant — surrounded by ants! Ants who can't even understand what it is the giant is talking about.
He is the giant.
We are the ants.
He wears the pants.
Remember, he wears the pants.
We are the ants.
We wear the smiles of women in training.
Explaining to him
that we love him. Smiling when now, the weather changes —
our sunny explanations when his rage hails down.
Oh now, the weather changes,
so he's dancing mad and growing.
The ceiling hits his head.
The rage comes through the hole.
He is dancing mad, growing cold.
A daughter? Who cares?
Rage comes through his holes as we quickly maypole 'round him.
Are you my daughter? he asks,
the nights he crawls the house.
Our minds blank, travel to spring the nights he joins our beds.
The nights he crawls the house?
Here I am.
The nights he joins our beds?
Here I am: my father, my master who wears the long pants.
I am his little ant.
He is the giant —
please, do remember that.
TRY TO HIDE
The mind pulls a sheet over the face,
the opaque mercy of zero memory —
the body won't return the favor. Though it
& the highest crazy song
worships at The Shrink's long couch,
its ear tuned to her calm leeching,
hands plucking at the full box of paper handkerchiefs, the body
this corporeal idiot
will ignore the mind's kindness,
& our mistress
we're in church a field of scripture
God is grabbing up dirt
i know what comes
God will lift up my face
for a slap &
instead suck the knowledge.
The mind will try to hide God's
gift of knuckle
my body will fall
on its back
opening for the rack
not my daddy
night is daddy
not my daddy
a cuckold, a thought, the two-timing,
alive entity and though unsatisfied with life's slow-pouring mud, it dearly
after a half-plate daguerreotype of a slave woman and her young charge, by Asa C. Partridge, c. 1840s
no paycheck in this year this year black something is free
free wine after Jesus rebuked water water sweeter than milk
love in the hour before turning turning this body this much
come back to a year twice millennium
be still auction block dues due this woman a charge's sharp teeth
teeth on the nipple teat of Confederate need
need let my people & her nipple go go tell old Pharaoh to pay her
who knows the centuries' possibility years of heirloom cat o' nines
whipping humping a constructed tale amnesia for sale happy spayed slave cat
littered mother's milk don't leave me know me (no me)
what Cause will rise rise again southern monuments
wench contentment & other lazy miracles wonderful the hands full of Daddy's whip
cruelty estate frozen in a frieze free unchecked
PORTRAIT D'UNE NÉGRESSE
after a painting by Marie-Guilhemine Benoist, oil on canvas, c. 1800
I should emulate you: a pretty bare breast suckling Enlightenment, a quiet object,
subject of a logic's time.
need, to understand the tension between fancy and pain,
but no one tells me who captured
how you went from beloved to body:
a la Négresse —
face down, rump up,
remastered. When I see your wrapped head,
gaze tentative, careful with your remaindered modesty —
I wonder where your mama is.
Is she aware of this moment? Would she snatch you from
or push you to take bits of sublime? Wherever she is —
with you or across that water —
her the least I can.
I'm tired of beauty now,
these typical acts of light.
for and after Lucille Clifton
1. The House That She Built
Did not stand on a hill.
It was hidden behind the trees of memory.
Inside were six children,
one strong, weirding woman,
and fingers and fingers and fingers —
then the husband and one son and one daughter
were gone, coaxed away by candy and hymns.
I walked North toward a voice.
My woman was singing,
Here is freedom —
toss your quilt to catch it.
I stood outside in a field far away.
I came and knocked at her door.
She opened and held out a scarred knuckle that I grabbed with one hand —
my other held onto my mother's.
Once I was a child unaware of womanhood sneaking up
on me like rain.
I arrived at the truth in her house today,
but before that,
I lied so nicely to myself.
2. Good Woman Remix
This is my after-girl time,
the fire from the red tree extinguished.
(No matter God's promises there are ashes arranged prettily on the ground.)
I walk through my house naked on ordinary days, slips and hips
on dramatic mornings.
I eat porridge for supper and look about
for named objections.
No one claims me.
The grand love is absent in the scripture's scheme,
my never-gone prayer.
It's a quiet resentful time,
but a life, whether that light is bright or dimmed to every sinner but me.
3. She Left for the Party without Me
I can hear scattered roots and new words at play.
I can hear a ghost and spirits on this day.
They are going and coming,
each grabbing the other
on the way in and out of this too-clean house.
The door opens and my old lady curtseys to God.
I hear His saying,
You looking good, Lucille.
You gone steal the show.
My old lady stops to search
the mirror, fixing last minute wrinkles.
Soon her girl will look back when heaven has its way.
I try to follow.
I try to bar the door.
The spirits and the Lord ignore me.
My old lady says,
You wait here, baby.
I'll be right back.
I know she's jollying me along.
I'm ready to fight —
I can't stand when I'm mad and nobody's home.
4. The Train Bound for Glory
Moves forward while someone moves away from and to,
as in my people leaving behind the frightening South to enter the frightening North.
As in, I am shaking the dust of this place off my clothes and walking through that talking door.
Hey hobo, brother of my spirit,
make room there beside you,
if you please.
This train takes you away,
maybe in the night —
I'm not sure of the time.
It writes poems as it is going,
to keep your journey light.
It calls out to Harriet,
We almost there, girl.
Y'all wait up for the rest.
It chugs for a Promised Land where I can't follow.
It crosses some sorry,
grasping River Jordan,
bound for a heaven I'm not sure I'll ever know.
I am angry,
but I suppose I agree with this train.
Water: I wish him to be clean,
and next to a father's love.
Have you seen the man You know where he's walking
Oil: he needs anointing,
as is seemly and right.
Have you seen the man I heard tell he was here
Bread: he must eat.
Meat but no blood.
Have you seen the man Peace done gone with him
Soon he will be passed down a highway of tongues.
Have you seen my Jesus Tell me pretty please
MAGDALENE BEGINS TO SEE JESUS
No seam joining prophet to almighty —
river of blood,
secure and bright.
In the mud of vessels cracks patched with spells.
Watching his face take on doubt.
Call out to Him, I want to say.
Jesus, you taught me how.
Some things he can't learn,
but if he asked a woman I know he could be whole.
I ran from the soft
place I knew, came here for apostles to call me whore.
You think I did that so he could stand
a simple man?
Turn on his word —
the god he said he'd be?
WHAT JESUS SAID TO MAGDALENE AT THEIR LAST MEAL
I want a good death.
A peaceful escape.
Then dipped his bread,
shaking off excess.
His peace he leaves by leaving me here.
And goodness —
but death? That's no gift.
And why men believe women love to clean house —
that we love suffering —
it's beyond me.
Times find a woman left on the road,
her skin shouting bait.
I've traveled alone,
slept in the day,
hid with God at night.
I came to this life —
and now some good death?
I left his table growing cold,
his voice choking me.
Come back, my Magdalene —
Bread is good.
Water is good.
I wish he'd stop calling my name.
We prayed for death to take him His mother beside me the other Mary screaming loud
She wouldn't stop Oh I wanted her to stop
We hoped those twelve brothers would show They scattered like rain forgetting the day their god had made
When he cried out in thirst
& hollered Daddy & Mama
& I don't deserve this
& See what they did to your baby boy
When they stuck that knife in his side we prayed
& didn't it rain
& that woman wouldn't stop God knows I wished she would stop
MAGDALENE ON THE THIRD DAY
You are buried inside me,
a sharpening stone.
Five growing wounds.
I heard you weeping,
Father, take this away.
I waited, impatient until you walked one last time on dirt.
Were you God?
Were you Son?
Were you my lover
with eyes turned away?
No, a sky's breech birth,
crowned in discord.
Touch me not, you told me —
& then, I knew you for a man.
MEMORY OF A VISION OF MARIE LAVEAU, THE VOODOO QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS (1996)
A painting of the Renaissance:
girl backed against a wall,
done over by the Holy Ghost.
Before those levees cracked open I was supposed to drive
to the Crescent. Instead,
I built an altar topped by a china cup
and cheap bric-a-brac in shades of blue.
Katrina's waters came and rose —
they're finally gone
and so are the graves.
What remains —
the lake and river innocent now —
never was blue,
and in that painting, Marie,
Queen of Salt-Tears,
the girl should be fat and brown.
No one can see the sound
of the drum or understand she is unfaithful.
MEMORY OF AN ANCESTRAL VISION (2006)
first i'm little then i'm big then the medicine come my way then i'm red and black and a little dot of white i try to find the white till i stop trying then i grow two new feet to match my four feet kin my name is deer nothing else just deer call me that i run till i reach the clearing i shed my outside skin i rear back on my legs then the medicine come again the medicine take me over and i talk all out my head and my belly turn round like water and the boat float in my blood and the people oh the people they keep crying out to me then the medicine take me over and the boat women dance with me then i put back on my skin my four feet kin run away then i cut off two feet but i don't bleed and the medicine leave me cold and i'm little and i'm little and i'm lonely and i'm screaming
ANGRY BLACK WOMAN IN ROOT WORKER DRAG
I love this earth to dust
I shout umbilical prayers
& they rise
into tornado I shake the spirit box
surrounded by shards
then fling back the scabs
Take my rivers all of you
& drink them
I need no permission
the gourd or split the hot
yam center of dirt
my sacraments walk
clothed in welts but you don't have to believe
In my throat
the clutch of blood
Take my rivers
all of you
& drink them
& I tear open the breathless
& blow the wall of wood
sailing on my lifeline
the nine streams of spit
dammed by flying stone
Now fall & call my name a welcome for death
& Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel
is an empty pocket
Excerpted from "The Glory Gets"
Copyright © 2015 Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents<P>fear<BR>Singing Counter<BR>Draft of an Ex-Colored Letter Sent Home From the Post-Race War Front<BR>I End the Winter<BR>Apologia for Something<BR>My Father as Walter Lee Younger<BR>Try to Hide<BR>beauty<BR>Mammy Know<BR>Portrait D'une Négresse<BR>Light<BR>blues<BR>Magdalene Brings<BR>Magdalene Begins to See Jesus<BR>What Jesus Said to Magdalene at Their Last Meal<BR>Magdalene's Wait<BR>Magdalene on the Third Day<BR>hoodoo<BR>Memory of Vision of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans (1996)<BR>Memory of Ancestral Vision (2006)<BR>Angry Black Woman in Root Worker Drag<BR>After, We'll Read the Bible<BR>Job to His Daughter Jemima<BR>[Faith is a virgin wrist]<BR>[Today you spoke to me]<BR>[Before I came to you]<BR>[And how does God come]<BR>[There is only]<BR>[I recall four words]<BR>[There is some blessedness]<BR>wit<BR>The Glory Gets<BR>Female Surgery<BR>My 4:15pm Shrink's Appointment on Thursday<BR>Memory of One Day in a Kitchen<BR>Birthright<BR>Patience<BR>If Free, Then<BR>Notes<BR>Gratitude<BR>Publication Acknowledgments and Credits</P>
What People are Saying About This
“This book is a miracle. The wisdom and the courage in these poems cuts straight into me. Jeffers is wrestling with what I thought I’d learned to put overthereand call History, and she brings it back over here where I stand. It is alive. It watches me. How much of what we are and what we run from is caughtheld, trapped, but also illuminatedby that gaze? These poems make clear how much we turn our backs to, trying to forget. This poet sings it beautifully and brutally back into being.”
“There is a clear emotional progression in The Glory Gets that expresses the poet’s gifts at their full power. Reading these poems, we travel from the historical trauma to the manifestation of that trauma in our relationships. This progression shows a new complexity in Jeffers’s oeuvre.”
“In The Glory Gets, Jeffers reminds us that very often ‘catharsis is not healing.’ Her poemsabout lynching, lost love, racism, the challenges of being a black womanare never simple, formless rants or indulgent confessionals, but witty, intelligent and sophisticated examinations of very complex issues. The collection is a wonderful wisdom book that is openly vulnerable, uncertain, and yet full of remarkable grace.”
"In The Glory Gets, Jeffers reminds us that very often 'catharsis is not healing.' Her poemsabout lynching, lost love, racism, the challenges of being a black womanare never simple, formless rants or indulgent confessionals, but witty, intelligent and sophisticated examinations of very complex issues. The collection is a wonderful wisdom book that is openly vulnerable, uncertain, and yet full of remarkable grace."Kwame Dawes, author of Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems
"There is a clear emotional progression in The Glory Gets that expresses the poet's gifts at their full power. Reading these poems, we travel from the historical trauma to the manifestation of that trauma in our relationships. This progression shows a new complexity in Jeffers's oeuvre."A. Van Jordan, author of The Cineaste
"This book is a miracle. The wisdom and the courage in these poems cuts straight into me. Jeffers is wrestling with what I thought I'd learned to put over there and call History, and she brings it back over here where I stand. It is alive. It watches me. How much of what we are and what we run from is caughtheld, trapped, but also illuminatedby that gaze? These poems make clear how much we turn our backs to, trying to forget. This poet sings it beautifully and brutally back into being."Tracy K. Smith