You see all we have is this garden. These bare, raw, hardened hands. All we have is this garden. This earth to grow with, these plants to root for. All we have is this gathering of brother, sister, father, son. They come here to garden together, To break bread and sip water in the dusk. In this garden, love was made. Children grew and learned the flowers, And grew some more and learned to plant. The old woman with her white, white hair Comes here to work the corn. She sings to the children as they gather at her feet. They can recognize the sound of her deep, husky voice. “We shall overcome, we shall overcome,” her voice embraces the night air The children memorize the song until they can sing it back to her. You see they want to call this land real estate. They think they can split it apart at the center, Destroy its twisty paths, willow tree. They think more of a community can be made by Gutting the earth and slapping concrete over it, charging per square mile. They imagine that the love this garden was made with can be uprooted, Tossed to the side. They have forgotten the feel of fresh corn in hardened hands, How the sun strokes your back as you work the tomatoes. They have forgotten that a child’s wisdom isn’t always found in books. This garden was a refuge for the children In the hustle of this crazy city, To try to prevent them from running wild on the Lower East side When the streets are layered with drugs, syringes, anger. Maude with her white hair and bustling energy Has spent hours tending to this sweetness. She knows the way to create with plants, How to tend to them, Caress them with her fingertips, even sing to them. She won’t let anyone hurry her. She is stubborn with her blue cotton scarf on And a tunic that contains her gardening shears, her winterized gloves. The men with the bulldozer have come. But Maude saw them from down the block, long before they arrived. She just sits down, planting herself on the earth, Rooted as a wizened tree She blocks their passage at the garden’s entrance “They cannot enter” she sings to herself “They cannot enter.” The children sing behind her, echoing her. And then she lets out a big belly laugh, She cackles at them, not saying a word. In her firm, rooted place, nothing and no-one’s going to move her now, Not even their big engine.
Harriet’s Last Photograph
In the last year of your life, they took a photo of you. It was a formal picture. You were seated outside in a large wooden chair, You were seated upright, the green lawn falling away behind you, The trees marked a background in the distance. Your eyes looked out far beyond the camera lens. Your eyes looked away from the camera's eye in defiance, You were not going to smile in that moment. You were not going to pretend happiness: It was impossible for you, Not after the years of fighting. You were not going to let the viewer of that photograph forget your journeys, The way your hands had lifted up young slave children from the floor, Pulling them onto your back, Stepping out into the cold winter night, with no possibility of going back, Finding a way to keep going forward. In this last photo they took of you, You were dressed all in white, with a shawl wrapped around your thinning face, White hair cut close to your head. You were strong, yet a model of peace. Looking out beyond the camera, what did you see? Perhaps you still carried within you Those old journeys to freedom, hiding behind newspapers, Lodging yourself between cars on trains, When they set dogs on you, you disappeared. You had a way of knowing how to find the shadows of walls in the middle of sun-light. It was a power that they could never know or pull apart. Harriet, you were born different from the other girls. Less passive, you carried yourself upright, When the other girls giggled or looked down at the ground. Araminta was your birth name, it meant defender of the people. Once you crossed the line to freedom, you could have remained North, But each time, even though your hands were worn out, your feet were calloused from miles of walking. You determined to go back again to rescue someone. You said, “I never lost a passenger” You were 94 years old in this photograph. Even though you were aged, you gripped the chair's arm firmly. The toughness was still inside you. It allowed you to journey forward No matter what came your way.
Manhattan Lock Down Blues
Woke up this morning with the Manhattan lock down blues Said I woke up this morning with the Manhattan lock down blues Something came over this country And I can no longer lace my shoes Someone has stolen the economy and sent it out with the rain Someone has stolen the economy and sent it out with the rain Companies are starting to crash, jobs going down the drain He’s a mad magician pulling feathers from his hat But has the Doctor told him where the rabbit's at? The narcissist has taken over His twitter feed has gone wild Now even more journalists must fact check his lies The police have become the military Shooting at random with no restraint The police are now an army And they are starting to look insane Woke up this morning with the Manhattan lock down blues Said I woke up this morning with the Manhattan lock down blues There’s a Mad Hatter in Washington Who is out on another tirade Meanwhile, the sirens in New York city soar And a thousand homeless people are not rescued from their shelter Don’t mention the unemployed who must decide between rent or hunger And the person who doesn’t have a voice to express his anger As the virus numbers peak Mr 45 says he is not so sick And he breathes heavily outside the White House front door Mr 45 claims there’s an easy cure Perhaps he wants to distract the public with his talk of greatness again But he’s left his medicine in the Hospital with his hydroxychloroquine brain
©2022 Dorothy Johnson-Laird
All rights reserved
…is a poet, social worker, and activist who lives in New York City. She received a B.A. in creative writing from New School University and an M.F.A in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Dorothy also works as a music journalist with a passion in African music. She has published journalism with Afropop Worldwide and World Music Central, among others.
A recent poem was accepted for publication by Evening Street Review.