Poems by Annette Jones White

Mass Meeting in Albany, Georgia
To Bernice Reagon (Revisited)
Looking Glass Self
The Patio Fishio
On Voting

MASS MEETING IN ALBANY, GEORGIA

People of all denominations, bonding
Coming together in Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Arriving early to get a good seat
Pressing their bodies close to fit
A sanctuary too small to hold them
Or their excitement and expectations.

People in all voices, raising prayers and songs
Responding to deacons lining hymns
Joining voices with singers of freedom songs
Swaying their bodies, clapping their hands
In reaction to words that mirror their needs
And make them feel good about the energy/power they create.

People from all walks of life, leaning forward, straining
Straining to hear every inspiring word from the leaders
Punctuating the speeches with bursts of applause and amens
Crying out in joyous affirmation, overwhelmed
As they rise to share painful personal histories of injustice
That strike familiar chords in everybody's song of discontent.

People taking from a symbolic collection plate of hope
Giving in return their committment to fight for freedom
Pledging to wage a nonviolent war on segregation and discrimination
Believing in themselves and in what they can do together
By putting their very minds, hearts and bodies on the line
In the struggle to remove their bonds of injustice and inequality.

People leaving the meeting late, slowly, hearts pounding
Wanting to hold on to the momentum of the night
Pausing to make conversation with any available listeners
Trying to keep the spirit-born-of-togetherness burning
Not yet aware that each night's meeting
Will be all that it takes to stoke the fires within.

Copyright Annette Jones White, 2013, all rights reserved

This was written in 2007 about the first mass meeting in Albany, Georgia in 1961.]

 

TO BERNICE REAGON (REVISITED)

Now, we are at noon of the new day your song foretold decades ago.
That song gave us the promise of America, of unity and opportunity.
We heard your song and saw how far reaching its effects could be.
Your song gave us the courage to fight for justice and equality
In a world that sought to run roughshod over us at every turn.
Your song celebrated victories won and anticipated victories yet to be.

We had been pushed at birth onto individual treadmills of segregation
That were designed to keep us running hard just to stay in the same place.
But your mind, imagination, and spirit were destined to be free,
And, somehow, you were able to intuit this and to act accordingly.
You changed the direction of your treadmill and became our moral compass.
You gave us your song as a beacon of hope when we felt dark despair.

In a defining moment at a mass meeting in Albany, Georgia, you sang a song
And "changed the space around you:" instead of "Music in the Air,"
You sang "Freedom in the Air" and changed the people around you as well.
We, too, saw freedom in the air; but we saw it as a will-o'-the-wisp, unattainable.
Your song made us see freedom as a tangible goal within our reach:
Our souls hungered for it; our voices cried out for it; our bodies filled jails for it.

Despite strides forward, our now sick world needs your song more than ever.
In a time when people have again forgotten that we all are different yet the same,
In a time when people seem bound to turn upon themselves and self-destruct,
In a time when our only home — earth — has been put in harm's way by our greed,
In a time when war and terror have become permanent residents in our realities,
Your song is needed to initiate the healing of a people unaware of their illness.

You possess strength of character that is evident in your song/deeds.
Not confined by self-imposed boundaries or intimidated by obstacles put in your path
You have always sung/lived a life that is free, focused and beautiful
Just as a winding, raging river coursing to the sea is free, focused and beautiful
Or a couple loving for the first time is free, focused and beautiful
Or a newborn breathing on its own for the first time is free, focused and beautiful.

More than just music, your song is you, the life you lead, the example you set.
Your song is the battle cry that leads and sustains us in our public and private struggles.
Something quivers and shivers inside of us when you sing;
Something way down inside of us begins to awaken when you sing.
Your song invades dormant areas in our beings, rousing them to an urgent hunger,
Not for food but for truth, knowledge, direction and commitment.

Your song touches the secret true self that lives in each of us
And brings it from behind the image of the "looking glass self" we face daily.
For many your song is an atlas for living, filled with routes to a meaningful life.
For others your song is a Klieg light of exposure focusing on the stages of their lives,
Illuminating the placeholder roles they have chosen to play
And revealing their repertoires of complacency, bigotry, avarice and fear.

This powerful surge of awareness that your song delivers to the heart and mind
Has the ability to adjust attitudes, reveal hidden talents, alter plans, change lives,
And provide the opportunity to enhance other lives by sharing newfound capabilities.
Your wisdom is acknowledged, sought and accepted by the masses;
Your genius is recognized regionally, nationally and globally.
You are a gift and a treasure that we need in order to alter the chaos of the times.

So continue to do what God and the Muses singled you out to do,
Sing, and let us hear our shortcomings and mistakes, our insecurities and fears,
Our dreams and hopes, and our compassion and goodness---our hearts and souls out loud.
Sing and give us the courage to do what is needed to make positive changes in our world.
Sing and never ever stop singing your walking, talking, living breathing song;
It will be needed for as long as there beats a heart that longs for truth, peace and love.

Copyright Annette Jones White, 2013, all rights reserved

This was written as an update of "To Bernice Reagon," a tribute I wrote to her activism in the sixties in southwest Georgia, which was published in Black World in 1970. This is a tribute to her accomplishments in and contributions to the national and global arenas.]

 

LOOKING GLASS SELF

Poised in the bathroom one morning
In mid-reach for jars on the shelf
I stopped and glanced in the mirror
To check on my looking glass self.

There in the brightly lit mirror
Upset and as mad as could be
Stood one I barely remembered
Let alone expected to see.

I smiled; her lips were held tightly.
I waved; she appeared not to see.
I dusted a jar; she whispered,
"My God, what has happened to me?"

She frowned, and her eyes were narrowed
Her voice was as cold as could be
"You forgot the things I taught you
About life and choices and me."

"Once," she said, "We were activists
With home life and civic work, too
You turned us into domestics
And that by itself will not do."

"In life you get only one chance
To be all the things you can be;
Don't bury yourself in housework
Do something for you and for me."

Then she waved and faded away
While I smiled and nodded my head;
I postponed the chore of dusting
And joined the Urban League instead.

Copyright Annette Jones White, 2013, all rights reserved

This poem was begun in 1969 after I had worked with SNCC, SCLC and The Albany Movement and was living in upstate New York. I had two children and was an activist-turned-housewife who was suppressing the need to be active. I put it aside, unfinished, when I became active with the Urban League, but finished it in 2008.]

 

THE PATIO FISHIO

In the early sixties, on a street named Cotton,
Dr. Martin Luther King was not forgotten.
In Albany, Georgia in a house on that street,
There lived a man whose respect for King was complete.

He had watched Dr.King on the television screen;
He had seen him in person on the Albany scene.
He believed in King and in his philosophy
So he thought he would honor him for all to see.

He built a memorial on the lawn of his front yard;
It was a labor of love — he worked very hard.
He displayed a picture of King and just beyond'
He put water and gold fish in a store-bought pond.

He tried to quote the man he held in high esteem
And above King's picture he wrote "I Has a Dream."
He added seats, lights and a printed sign to show
That he called his tribute Patio Fishio.

Many people came to see it both day and night;
They whispered about the quote with the verb not right.
Comments ranged from "Oh, he means well" to "Oh, how sad;"
Some said it made the whole community look bad.

When the man's tribute was shown on local TV,
The camera dwelt on the quote so all could see.
Critics found no fault with the tribute, it would seem;
They just wanted the quote changed to "I Have a Dream."

The man was never told why critics objected
And did not know the quote should be corrected.
Perhaps disheartened by the critics in the town;
One day,the man took Patio Fishio down.

Nothing was left on the lawn, not even a chair
It was as though the tribute had never been there.
So there was nothing to mark King's Albany stay,
Not a thing to showcase his non-violent way.

No, nothing to show that he had ever been there,
Not a plaque or a King school or King thoroughfare.
Later, the City was asked to honor his name;
But despite many requests, things remained the same.

In 1975, after years had passed,
Albany named a street for Dr. King (at last!)
Although that street sign is perfect to the letter,
Patio Fishio honored him better.

Copyright Annette Jones White, 2014, all rights reserved

ON VOTING

During the week we honored Dr. King,
I often found myself remembering
SCLC's Citizenship School — 
A proponent of the vote as a tool.

Many youths went there for a week-long class;
I learned how to teach my elders to pass
The registrar's reading and writing test
So their votes could be cast with all the rest.

I recall how back then youths took the lead
Voter registration or some other need.
With much admiration I'm proud to say
Youths are stepping to the forefront today.

Beginning in Ferguson, youths took command
Of a quest for justice that spread through the land.
That movement, multicultural in scope,
Is self sustaining and gives us all hope.

But lately, I heard some young people say
"I'm not going to vote, not ever, no way."
They say by voting nothing is won,
That riots and violence get things done.

Some who have not registered say they won't;
Some registered who can vote say they don't.
It is clear that they do not understand
What they can do with a ballot in hand.

Let us remind those youths that people died
So that we could vote and help to decide
The vital issues that affect us all
And not have others always make the call.

When you don't exercise your voting right
You forfeit your voice, diminish your might.
When those in office are corrupt without doubt,
Your vote could be the one to turn them out.

To all of those who look but do not see
The vote can be two things and so can we:
Nonviolent weapon when we choose it.
Potential world changer when we use it.

Copyright Annette Jones White, 2015, all rights reserved


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