Shonda Buchanan, Poet

This poem, and much of the poetry I write that deals with family, illustrates to me how the lack of knowing our Indian heritage and legacy led to family dysfunction, and in many cases, abuse. I traced my heritage to the Coharie Tribe of Sampson County, North Carolina and Eastern Band Cherokee in Halifax, North Carolina. On my father’s side, I have Choctaw. My family poetry is a way for me to reconnect with the past and move towards a better future.

VelmaJean

i remember nights when
you pushed my skin
into a blue corner
fanning the Michigan moon
into a white fire

my youth in your fingers
like candle wax

the clock forging ahead
there wasn’t much time

you worked quietly
diligently against the famous
bruises you grew deft at hiding
from your own sisters, unaware
that they were hiding theirs
from you
gifts of hard love, no
gifts from hell

but still, i grew to something

it was that flame you pushed
into me, smoothed it down
seeded it in my navel for later

knowing that i was young
you were older. wiser.
married a third time
seven children from virginhood
one father from innocence
one mother from forgiveness

i remember nights
when you rubbed my back, singing
swing low
sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home
sweet low, sweet chariot

you spilled vicks over my
chest, my mosquito bumps
dime-thin back
humming long into
the dusk
forcing the bronchitis
that almost killed me twice
into a soft wheeze

i lived
bred off plantation prayer
menthol

later, forgetful
i never knew your stiff back
held me
at the kitchen sink
your fingers soapy with dishwater and tears

all the knowing of a woman
in that water as you sniffed, moved
away

i thought you were making it all
look harder then it really was

men, love, holding things
raising us
i said nothing

but i was a child
it was alright
i grew into something

theses memories come
i am folding them away
for my daughter
into her like all good
mother spiders do
while they wash dishes
spin white flames
watch, hum

family reunion, fourth of july in kalamazoo, 1999

i.
tina laughs, hands on belly
crow-black and hard

like her husband didn’t just paint his toenails
red ‘on a dare’ and leave her for another man

rochelle sits cross-legged on ground rocking
back and forth into a sulfur breeze
wrapped in a thin blanket
and her backwoods dreams of peace
bound in a ceremony of missing sons
already begun

firecrackers scatter dust
at her feet, grinning, she tell bobbie ann
‘shut the hell up, trick’
as whistlers pierce air, sing last breath song
pulsing siren goodbyes, finally jumping curb
extinguishing in street

breeze kicks up

children race around us like black dandelions
willowy fingers douse alleyway with inch-worm secrets
hide-go-seek screams reach out
reminding us of other willows and dandelions
in posthumous fields

bobbie ann’s smile spreads wide across her face
like the sahara, she folds all forty-one
years of her life / her famous left hook
her two women into a round planet on her chest
letting no one in
chain smoking the night away

ball up her fist, shake it, tell rochelle
‘das ya mama, ugly’

cigarette smoke settles on my locks like a caul

everything i know about love i learned from them and
mama
seen twisted wrists / noses clotted with blood
their laughter burning a hole in god’s palm

seen tender dark corners their hearts20have held up
like last stands / in waist deep snowdrifts
like the color of rain depended on it/ yes, seen war

ii.
bobbie’s son, david, eats up our small town
in desperate lurch at freedom before
he marries nashville preacher daughter

at twenty-two swaying like ypsilanti timber
above us, determined to remain uncut, all his clippings
his two a.m. love-making with men he has forgotten
the names will be swept neatly under a rock

my youngest brother
popeye’s toffee-hued skin has sprouted a garden of tattoos
as if the paper he usta draw on wasn’t enough

i spin when i try to read their indigo treaties
binding his flesh all at once agreements he made with
manhood before i could save him / agreements broken

under night’s charade of falling i see his eyes winking
in and out of view/ stars behind clouds

he sells weed to pay bills and buy special size shirts
to drape his salty mammoth body
he has been hurt by women
clenching and unclenching
his hannibal fists marching against the air
his brow carved into a totem
i know life isn’t kissing him back

at three hundred pounds a piece
he and my nephew jason
are the proverbial town giants
with hands that could swat us down
like african flies but these two, they hug us instead
in the end, no matter
how much the women yell

iii.
this july fourth night / we shift positions
chill kisses ankles, we move to warmth
congregate on yvonne’s
yellow porch on south side

produce pomegranate stories from
folds of our clothing and breathe

my daughter’s nine-year old legs
float across hazy lawn in game of tag

she, cousins, neighbors’ kids all chant
what children chant when they are
young lions
and it is summer and an undulation of fireflies
have risen for them
in the crushed sapphire
blue dusk

i always / forget how beautiful
kalamazoo is

again, tina’s crow laughter
piles out of her mouth like mama’s
in the darkness/ thinking she has slipped
in among us, unnoticed
i search for the one who pushed
us into this world, wondering if
she knew it would be like this
black indians in a zoo/ no heritage/ no men

we women / howling

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8 Comments

Filed under poetry

8 responses to “Shonda Buchanan, Poet

  1. R Pilola

    I’m going to apologize before hand for what I’m about to say but I say it in frustration. The poetry I grew up with bears no resemblance to what passes for poetry today. An article I read at a poetry web site from someone who was a poet, an author, a columnist, had literary degrees, so on and so forth mentioned a lot of the things that I’m frustrated about. It basically said that there was more poetry being written today than there were people actually reading them and that a lot of poetry written today were nothing more than excercises to impress other people with advanced literary degrees. A lot of the poems out there pretty much like the ones offered on this web site are pretty much incoherent to the average reader. You won’t find too many people making a living writing poetry. If you go to a bookstore or library, the only people you see at the poetry section are the ones doing research or a report. Like the poems at this site which I would say are typical have the following characteristics: contain symbolism only meaningful to the writer, doesn’t hold anyone’s interest, has nothing of value to the reader, doesn’t entertain, doesn’t inspire, etc. Perhaps if the reader had a code book to decipher what the writer was trying say there might be elements of insight that could be gleaned. All these poems seems cut from the same gibberish cloth which seems to impress the hell out of the academia set.

    • readers do not need code books to decipher poetry. that is the work of one’s heart. if you do not understand, then it didn’t speak to you, and that is no more a reflection of the art itself, than it is of you.

  2. Keela Boose

    I find this poet’s work exceptional. I need no cipher to understand her words, allusions, or images. Her poetry is beautiful and speaks to me in the language of our ancestors, black and brown and other people whose spirits contain such power that you can hear their songs long after their physical selves cease to be.

    I smile reading these two poems and marvel at this poet’s ability to construct a scene, mood, feeling I can step into.

    Thank you.

  3. I love her tapestry of ancestral storytelling. I especially like the mother spiders spinning white flames. Powerfully written poetry.

    from the author of Being Frank with Anne

  4. The heart of poetry is truth. The appearance and apparel of truth is the poet’s prerogative. Shonda gives us a kaleidoscope of vivid and touching images that shine through darkness, pain, loneliness, courage, irreverence, and sisterhood – with sparse and cutting language. Some poetry is soon forgotten. Shonda’s poetry has burrowed itself into my being.

  5. Bklyn

    Emotional language is as valid as any other and is usually remembered longer. Everyone is entitled to a personal preference.

  6. Gene

    I have no problem with free verse. In fact, I think that free and blank verse are the natural poetic media for English. I do make exception to a poet’s refusal to use standard English mechanics. If the poet is a cockroach banging out verse on a typewriter by jumping on each key and then climbing back up to jump on the next, I can accept this. But this is not the case here and it bothers me.

  7. Bklyn

    Gene, what do you mean by standard English mechanics? Are you referring to things like capital letters & full sentences, in which case you probably don’t like E. E. Cummings (or ee cummings) or poets of the 1920s either, or is it something else?

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