Monday, February 07, 2011

The Negro Speaks of Life and Death

In one of his essays Howard Thurman, an eminent theologian, mystic and civil rights activist wrote the following:

In an essay included in a little book of meditations on Negro Spirituals published under the title Deep River, I located three major sources of raw materials over which the slave placed the alchemy of his desiring and aspiring: the world of nature, the stuff of experience and the Bible, the sacred book of the Christians who had enslaved him.

Thurman suggested that death is an inescapable fact but what concentrates our attention is the manner of that dying.  Nature does not owe us a living, but when death comes at the hands of a human being.  Well that's another matter, especially when one's own humanity has been denied.

Consider this offering from Yusef Komunyakaa


Mossville Horse
When the plowblade struck
An old stump hiding under
The soil like a beggar’s
Rotten tooth, they swarmed up
& Mister Jackson left the plow
Wedged like a whaler’s harpoon.
The horse was midnight
Against dusk, tethered to somebody’s
Pocketwatch. He shivered, but not
The way women shook their heads
Before mirrors at the five
& dime—a deeper connection
To the low field’s evening star.
He stood there, in tracechains,
Lathered in froth, just
Stopped by a great, goofy
Calmness. He whinnied
Once, & then the whole
Beautiful, blue-black sky
Fell on his back.

from Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems, 1975-1999, Wesleyan Press, 2001

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