Purple

By Claudia May

Poetry

Heather is dead

On Saturday

Breath seeped from her body

Heather is dead

On Saturday

Her life found its way home

Heather is dead

 

Pumped with steroids of terror

A man armed with many weapons

A man driven by histories of hate

Shoves his foot into a pedal fueled by rage

Rams his car into an unarmed crowd

Reverses

Fast

And leaves Heather and others

For dead

For dead

For dead

Like rag dolls soaked in blood

They lie on cold concrete slabs

He leaves the injured and maimed

Slumped and crumpled

On ground speckled

With fragments of human life

 

On Saturday

The masked and unmasked

Snatched the heartbeat of Heather

From our hands

Our hands

Our hands

 

Mobs robbed Heather

Of the gift of breath

They stole

Her life

Her life

Her life

 

A daughter is dead

A granddaughter is gone

A sister is dead

A friend is gone

A colleague is dead

A relative is gone

A woman is dead

A human being is gone

Gone Dead Gone

Who will cry out from the wilderness?

Who will call Heather by name?

 

A Mama cries out

A Mama weeps

 

Susan Bro

The mother of Heather

Calls her daughter by name

She promises “to be the voice”

Heather “can no longer be”[1]

So Susan Bro speaks with Heather

She channels the voice of her child

And embraces the truth

That “Heather's passion

Extended to her ideas

Her thoughts”[2]

 

They find roots

In the histories of the despised

They blossom into action

Through the voices

And presence of diverse peoples

They breathe life

Cherish justice

Celebrate peace

 

In this unified voice

Susan Bro

Holds Heather

Hugs her

Laughs with her

Gazes at her “infectious smile”[3]

And sighs when she recalls

That Heather was not a morning person

Mama Susan chuckles when she remembers

The “ordeal of listening”[4]

That accompanied dinnertime meals

When her gloriously feisty, opinionated daughter

From a long line of strong women

Raised her voice

She knew her own mind

She knew her own self

She wore her own skin

She was the daughter that “was hard to raise

Because everything was a negotiation”[5]

Oh “she loved to talk”[6]

Heather also “paid attention”[7]

She “talked about anything that caught her eye

That she felt was fair, unfair”[8]

Mama and daughter listened

They learned to disagree

Again and Again and Again

They learned to love

In the midst of their differences

They learned from one another

 

As Susan Bro lives through

The voice of her daughter

She debates with Heather

Nods when she thinks of her own father

Heather’s Grandfather

Who Heather used to call “GranGaDaddy”

Recalls that Heather

“Was a lady of happiness and great joy”[9]

And still

“She could tell

When somebody wasn't being straight”[10]

As Heather’s voice lives in you

Yes you beloved Mama Susan Bro

You will cup the face of your daughter

Stroke the cheeks of your child

Again and Again and Again

Because the life of Heather counts

 

“We’re going to make it count”[11]

 

 

 

 

Hand in hand

Arm in arm

Our voices

Will protest

Just as ocean waves flow

Vessels of hate

Cannot shut down

That which refuses to shut up

Silenced is not Heather’s name

Silenced is not our name

Speak up is our name

Making a difference is our name

Changemakers is our name

Love is our name

Empathy guides us

Hope stands with us

Our voices speak truth

Heather’s  “death”

Will “be a rallying cry

For justice

And equality

And fairness

And compassion”[12]

 

We will pursue the “achievable”

Even as many mock us

And deem our vision unachievable

“By golly” we will “go the extra mile”

We will “take that extra step”

We will “find” in our “heart

That small spark of accountability”[13]

And face down injustice

We will “speak up”

We will be outraged

We will pay attention[14]

We will initiate difficult conversations

We will expose that “the word hate” is “real”[15]

And emphasize

That “the word love” is “even stronger”[16]

We will “talk back”[17]

We will listen

To the perspective of another

Even when it is hard

Some of us will become childlike

And wave our hands

And dance when we talk

Just like Heather did when she was a child

Some of us will “curse like a sailor”[18]

We will learn to laugh together

We will live in the tension

Of joy and difference

We will acknowledge these differences

And channel our anger

Not into hate

Not into violence

Not in fear . . .

But into righteous action”[19] 

 

Wednesday 

As she stands with her family and friends and allies and strangers

Heather’s Mama will lay her beloved daughter to rest

Alongside the multitude she wears purple

She walks with Heather

She speaks for Heather

She is “the voice” Heather

 “can no longer be”[20]

 

With one diverse voice

We “too” wear purple in our heart

And “magnify” [21] 

Love

Love

Love

And in that moment

Rainbows in candle lights flicker

The aroma of heather fills the air

While butterflies paint the sky with purple

And fly with the wind

 

© Claudia May, 2017

[1]  Rebecca Shapiro, “Heather Heyer’s Mom Has Powerful Message For Driver Who Killed Her Daughter.” Huffington Post, August 8, 2017.

[2]  The testimony of Heather’s father, Mark Heyer, delivered during Heather Heyer’s funeral service. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[3]  Heather’s cousin’s testimony delivered during Heather Heyer’s funeral service. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[4]  Excerpted from eulogy delivered by Susan Bro during the memorial service for her daughter Heather Heyer. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[5]  Ibid.

[6]  Ibid.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  Testimony of Elwood Shrader, Heather’s Grandfather delivered during Heather Heyer’s funeral service. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[10]  The testimony of Heather’s father, Mark Heyer, delivered during Heather Heyer’s funeral service. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017. Here he references an observation made by her grandfather.

[11]  Susan Bro, eulogy during funeral service. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[12]  Rebecca Shapiro, “Heather Heyer’s Mom Has Powerful Message For Driver Who Killed Her Daughter.” Huffington Post, August 8, 2017.

[13]  Quotes from the first section of this stanza excerpted from the eulogy delivered by Susan Bro during the memorial service for her daughter Heather Heyer. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[14]  Heather Heyer’s slogan “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” posted as her cover photo on her Facebook page.

[15]  The testimony of co-worker Feda Khateeb-Wilson delivered on August 16, 2017 during the memorial service of Heather Heyer. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[16]  Ibid.

[17]  The testimony of Alfred A. Wilson delivered on August 16, 2017 during the memorial service of Heather Heyer. Wilson was Heather’s supervisor. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[18]  The testimony of co-worker Feda Khateeb-Wilson delivered on August 16, 2017 during the memorial service of Heather Heyer. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[19]  Eulogy delivered by Susan Bro during the memorial service for her daughter Heather Heyer. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

[20]  Rebecca Shapiro, “Heather Heyer’s Mom Has Powerful Message For Driver Who Killed Her Daughter.” Huffington Post, August 8, 2017.

[21]  Excerpted from eulogy delivered by Susan Bro during the memorial service for her daughter Heather Heyer. Charlottesville's Paramount Theater. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 16, 2017.

Yesterday, Today, and Forever? 

A Poem For Charlottesville

 | By Claudia May 

On Friday . . .
We remember the men, women, and children
Who wear their Sunday Best
They stand on crates
They straddle branches
They stretch out on grassy fields
They wave flags
They enjoy their picnic
They fan themselves
They pass around the apple pie
While one or more black beautiful souls
Hang from one tree after another

On Friday . . .

We recall the eagerness of those

Who cannot wait for dawn to break
These “mixed crowds” have come “to view
The ghastly body swaying in the sun”[1]

They arrive in their droves

They ride horses

On roads riddled with rocks

They steer their carriages

Across paths stubbled with stones

They drive cars

Of all makes and sizes and colors[2]

Across roads charred

By the horrors of time

They cycle

They walk

They run

Their mouths water

They relish the sight

Of burnt flesh

And between each bite

Of their food

Their eyes widen

As fire devours the skin

Of black bodies

Strung on trees

 

On Friday . . .

We gather in a church

As people of different beliefs

Community speaks our name

Individuals

Generations

Cultures

Identities

And we sing

We sing because we can

We sing because we must

We are the dreamers

Who dare to dream dreams

With no end

We dare to dream

Beyond the American dream

When Rev. Traci Blackmon

Gives voice to 1 Samuel 17

And preaches the sermon

“Where Are The Dreamers?”[3]

We dare to say yes

We are the dreamers

We cry out for justice

We cry out for love

We cry out for peace

We cry out for equality

We channel our ancestors

And sing

“I woke up this morning with my mind

Stayn’ on Freedom”

Freedom rings through our voices

Freedom pounds church floors

Freedom strides out of church

And takes to the streets

For all

For all

For all

Friday night . . .
Children cannot leave the church
Elders cannot leave the church
Peoples of all hues and identities
Cannot leave the church
We the people
We the beloved
We the image bearers of God
Are “held hostage inside of the church”
We cannot leave this sacred building
For 30 minutes
30 minutes[4]
And yes some of us weep
And yes some of us are angry
And yes some of us are afraid
And yes some of us do not know what to do
Still, we are moved
But will not be moved
Even when those who despise us
Would gladly remove us from this earth

Friday night . . .
Unmasked
Unhooded
Unrobed
The new bearers of the white sheet
Wear clothes stamped
With modern day brands[5]
They adorn themselves
With “Polos and Oxford button-downs
with neatly coifed hair”[6]
They wear caps emblazoned
With “Make America Great Again”[7]
Like a crown

They arm themselves with ammunition
Forged by their predecessors
“The women thronged to look, but never a one
Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
And little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee”[8]
We witness this same “fiendish glee”[9]
The same un-hooded sneer
On the faces of those carrying symbols of hate
As they alight Charlottesville, Virginia
With their fury

We wonder what clothes did their ancestors wear
Under their bright white sheets?
A shirt and tie?
A tailored suit?
A uniform?
A vestment?
A stole?A skirt?
Shorts?
A shopkeeper’s apron?
A dress?
A judge’s robe?
The costume of a politician?
The attire of a teacher?
Dungarees soiled by the sweat of misery?


 

 

We can only imagine
We can only imagine

The white sheets
Worn by their ancestors
Shadow them
Shadow us

Yesterday, today, and forever? [10]
We listen to the blood soaked lament of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”
And we wonder
We wonder
Whether this strange fruit
Is ever strange to those who fail to defend
The right of a human being
To live
And breathe
And move
In a ‘free’ stolen land

Yesterday, today, and forever?
Claude McKay’s poem “Lynching” resounds in our spirit[11]
We grieve for the many whose “spirit is smoke ascended to high heaven”[12]
Though these departed souls rest in the bosom of the Creator
Anger finds voice when we share with the One who never sleeps
And the Creator hears us
Sees us
Joins us


And so

We mourn

We rage

We lament

We weep

For those pried

From the hands of our loved ones

We see

Their bodies

Imprinted on the hands of those

Who snatched them from life on earth

 

Yesterday, today, and forever?

We read Natasha Trethewey’s poem “Incident”[13]

The stories of the past live in the present

We must “tell the story every year”[14]

We must

We must

We must

 

Yesterday, today, and forever . . .

Jesus calls us to remember him

And follow him

He “is the same yesterday and today and forever”[15]

We cannot recall a time when Jesus stood by

While someone ‘lynched’ another human being

This truth we must never forget or repeat

 

And yet

And yet
 

When the stench of history

Regurgitates its bile over all humanity

We note that for some

Its stench smells like cheap perfume
For others

Its stench fills their nostrils with burning human flesh

Others smell nothing at all

 

Hope never douses history with amnesia

Hope rebuffs silence

Love flourishes in the brambles

It weaves its way through a crown made of thorns

Love nourishes

Love heals

Love cherishes love

Even as batons created with gnarled tree limbs light up tiki torches

Even as wicks quiver “in their fonts of oil”[16]

Even as lights stoked with multiple hues blaze

Even as Jesus stretches out his hand

And invites the enemies of love

To abide in him and leave behind hate

Still “the awful sin” lingers . . .[17]

 

And still

 

Before
During
And after service
Many churchgoers stay silent
They close the church doors
Shut

Sing from closed hymnals
And follow the lyrics of songs
Without following their meaning

They sit up
They sit down
They sit up
They sit down

The sermon they hear
Remains cleansed of the stains of trauma
And unblemished by domestic terrorism

When they erase the despised from scripture

They divorce themselves from the disinherited

They absorb the sermon of their convictions

Because it allows them to live and move and breathe

As image bearers of themselves

They take pride in being good

 

Content

They clap politely

Their breath is but a whisper

As they leave church

On time

One by one by

One

 

Yesterday, today, and forever . . .

The moon refuses to be eclipsed

Stars embroider the night

The air caresses the earth

Butterflies soar

Seas roar with the wind

And the bruised reed remains unbroken[18]

While the sun refuses to be dimmed

The light remains eternal

Heather perfumes the air

The rain cries

 

And the smoke of a smoldering wick[19]

Buoyed by the breath of life

Rises

Rises

Rises

 

© Claudia May, 2017

[1] Claude McKay, “The Lynching” Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1922), p. 51.

[2] Inspired by the testimony of Rev. Traci Blackmon, Facebook. August 12, 2017. 7:15pm.

[3}Inspired by the article by Rev. Traci Blackmon, “The Dying Breaths of White Supremacy Witness to Charlottesville Outlines the Way Forward for Anti-Racists”, The St. Louis American, August 16, 2017.

[4] This stanza is inspired by the eyewitness account of Rev. Traci Blackmon, “The Dying Breaths of White Supremacy Witness to Charlottesville Outlines the Way Forward for Anti-Racists,” The St. Louis American, August 16, 2017.

[5] Inspired by the testimony of Rev. Traci Blackmon, Facebook. August 12, 2017. 7:15pm.

[6] Rev. Traci Blackmon, “The Dying Breaths of White Supremacy Witness to Charlottesville Outlines the Way Forward for Anti-Racists”, The St. Louis American, August 16, 2017.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Claude McKay, “The Lynching” Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1922), p. 51.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Inspired by Hebrews 13:8 (New Revised Standard Version).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Natasha Trethewey, “Incident”, Native Guard (New York: First Mariner Books, 2007), p. 25.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Hebrews 13:8 (New Revised Standard Version).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Claude McKay, “The Lynching” Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1922), p. 51.

[18] Isaiah 42:3 (New Revised Standard Version).

[19] Isaiah 42:3 (New International Version).

                                       

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2019 Claudia May                                                                                  

Website design by Jamie Hudalla 

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