Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Judy's desk with cosmos late last summer, computer to the left. 


 I associate Martin Luther King with flowers. Also with living in Chase Park, an interracial apartment complex set up following the Civil Rights push in Chapel Hill, by the Interfaith Council. It was new when we moved in January 1975, seven years after King died. He was only thirty-nine when he died in 1968. And all he did for us!

My children and I were in the white minority in Chase Park. I learned more about what lay under the surface of the black experience in the South than I had before. Later, I asked my children what they had learned from the three years we lived there.

Not all their experiences were good. Sometimes the black kids picked on them, but they also formed friendships. I remember when I heard Tim, then in first grade, talking with his friend outside the front door in black dialect. I smiled. Tim was already bi-lingual. All my kids said they learned that there were good and bad people of every skin color. A good lesson.

Here’s a poem I wrote in the 80s, thinking back to 1968, Spring, Berkeley, California. It’s from Sun-Blazoned, Sunbury Press Books, Bronx, N.Y., 1983.

Sun-Blazoned VI.2.
I never knew cherry blossoms
until I lived in Berkeley.
I never felt them until the spring
that Martin Luther King died,
and Amy’s babysitter, whom she called her grandma,
died of cancer. I hadn’t known
she was ill, but Amy knew, and said
how she hurt, and aspirin didn’t help.
Her back hurt anyway, nothing helped.
Drifting petals on the warm air
were spring’s tears.
Just as Christmas is green
in a barren month,
so cherry petals tell of loss and hurt
in the most optimistic one, in April.
Now you tell me–every time the subject
comes up–that you are sure
the cherry blossoms will no sooner open
than a hard freeze will come along
and turn them to brown plastic.
Is it so hard for you to believe
that loveliness may escape harm?
That cherry flowers may have their time
of full and eager openness,
that day after day of easy breezes
and benign air may waken all their senses,
until they grieve naturally,
losing what they must lose
to fulfill their time
and their place in that time?

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