Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first poet I ever slept with. His faded blue, tethered book worn white in some spots tucked neatly under my pillow. His words were exotic and romantic like foreign films. I was quickly and easily seduced even though and perhaps because I needed a translator. My mother had been the one to introduce us. He was not her first but one of her favorite lovers, so at around 10 years old she thought it time I met his acquaintance. I was in love.
After our introduction, my mother tasked my cousins and I to commit Dunbar's poem "In the Morning" (found here) to memory and to act it out. This meant we had to understand the poem's meaning and decipher its complex dialect. There was no bothering her to ask what this word meant or how to pronounce that. We were given an important assignment. She told us she loved the poem, and she knew we would do it justice.
We read and re-read--silently and aloud. Rehearsing and changing intonations to make it flow and match the meaning. We read other poems in that blue book to help us. It took awhile for us to all to be stage ready, but when the time came we performed our hearts out to unbridled applause.
That is the memory I have of my mother one year after her death.
She always challenged my cousins and I to be thinkers. As youngsters, we were unaware of the depth of the intellectual pursuits she challenged us with. We simply thought it was entertainment and we loved (as did she--being a true thesbian) to perform for an adorning audience which she always was.
I can still remember all the words and scenes we created for "In the Morning." To this day, I often breakout into poetic verse with ease ... we wear the mask that grins and lies ... but am not limited to Dunbar. Shakespeare's works, T.S. Elliott (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was one of her favorites), and lines from her beloved David Copperfield roll freely from my tongue. Every word of "The Raven" nevermore is in my lexicon because of my mother. She set the stage for my love of learning and words. It is because of her example that I am a teacher today. Her education of a world of words and characters inspired and challenged me. I never wanted to let her down in life and now in death.
Today, I recited "Lias, Lias, bless the Lord ..." in honor of the smartest woman I will ever know. She'd want to be honored no other way!
Documenting my evolution by filling in space and matter one word at a time.