Monday, February 27, 2017

Marilyn Nelson*

Marilyn Nelson is the author of more than twenty books, including such poetry collections as Magnificat (1994) and Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems (2012). Her newest poetry collection is The Meeting House (2016, Antrim House). It is the history of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut — but is more than that, for it does not shy away from concerns of slavery and racism within this historic Christian community.

She has written books for young adults, and for young children, and has translated poetry, including the nonsense rhymes of Danish poet Halfdan Rasmussen. In 2012 she won the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal. She is the Poet-in-Residence of the Poets Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and served as Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2001—2006.

She is one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, which came out in November — (available here) and through Amazon.

The following poem is from Carver: A Life in Poems (2001)

Watkins Laundry and Apothecary

Mariah Watkins, Neosho, Missouri

Imagine a child at your door,
offering to do your wash,
clean your house, cook,
to weed your kitchen garden
or paint you a bunch of flowers
in exchange for a meal.
A spindly ten-year-old, alone
and a stranger in town, here to go
to our school for colored children.
His high peep brought tears:
sleeping in a barn and all that,
nary mama nor kin,
but only white folks
he left with their blessing,
his earthly belongings
in a handkerchief tied to a stick.

I've brought a houseful of children
into this world, concentrating on
that needle's eye into eternity.
But ain't none of them children mine.
Well, of course I moved him on in.
He helped me with my washings,
brought me roots from the woods
that bleached them white folks' sheets
brighter than sunshine. He could fill
a canning jar with leaves and petals
so when you lifted the lid
a fine perfume flooded your senses.
White bodices and pantalettes danced
around George on my line.

He was sweet with the neighbor children.
Taught the girls to crochet.
Showed the boys
a seed he said held a worm
cupped hands warmed so it wriggled and set
the seed to twitching.
Gave them skills and wonders.
Knelt with me at bedtime.

He was the child the good Lord gave
and took away before I got more
than the twinkle of a glimpse
at the man he was going to be.
It happened one Saturday afternoon.
George was holding a black-eyed Susan,
talking about how the seed
this flower grew from
carried a message from a flower
that bloomed a million years ago,
and how this flower
would send the message on
to a flower that was going to bloom
in a million more years.
Praise Jesus, I'll never forget it.

He left to find a teach that knew
more than he knew.
I give him my Bible.
I keep his letters
in the bureau, tied with a bow.
He always sends a dried flower.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Marilyn Nelson: first post

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.