Mama Was a Negro Spiritual
She was a goodnight prayer, a moon that
Shined down on me through her bedroom
Window. She was the alphabet, a Sunday
School verse, a third Sunday gospel song to
Rehearse, a mostly misunderstood exchange
Of power, responsibility & commands.
She was a black '73 Ford LTD, a Nottoway
River crossing, a house filled with too many
Other folks' children, an orphan that life &
Death left behind to find some joy. She was
A funeral going, everybody in Southampton
County knowing, bad manner destroying
Pillar of strength.
She was a Friday evening ride to town, a
Saturday morning cleaning, a Sunday-go-to-
Meeting kind of human being. She laughed
Louder than Jim Crow's law & cried softer
Than God's peace. She was the secret I never
Told, sworn & born for the claiming, the
Carrying of some other man & woman's burdens.
She was rare & uncut, unpolished & ripped from
Some earthen mine, placed beneath a
Sharecropper's vine to bear witness, to bear it all
Deep down inside. She was a black hearse, a
Deaf man walking, a raising & waving of both
Hands. She was thunder; she was lightning,
A heavy rain that fell in spring.
She was an informal education, small town
Syndication. Her house a book & she the words
Penned fervently, permanently on all its pages.
She was a Ridley Road scholar, a kitchen where
Cooking was always done & well. She was Ms.
Shirley, the lunch lady, the bus driver, Daddy's wife,
Giver of too much self.
Mama was a Negro spiritual, a hymn hummed from
Inside a Baptist Hymnal in her old rocking chair,
From a corner of our living room. She was a
Wisdom no man could whistle, a fancy no woman
Could fake, a journey nobody living in the now
Could take. She was an old fashioned lyric
Everybody could lift their voice & sing.