- Poetic License
After All That Happened
(for Charlotte, who survived rape)
You have come back to meThrough legends, rumors, wars of the self, analysis, tears,And real blood, the agony of operations incalculable,The severing of heads and tearing of flesh.The enormity of your suffering is beyond questionOr doubt.When they pushed you beyond what mind could bearYou hid outside skin, voyeured their sick violence.
I was bound hand and foot beneathAshes of despair.
I heard your tears but could not move.The sun next day rose without effort.But your blood was a screen across it.My eyes were the color of milk.You touched my forehead, but cringed when I reachedTo caress your face.You knew it was no longer there.
Now you have come back to me through caverns of despair,Unafraid of man monsters whoProwl midnight streets, waving flags, killing womenAnd children across the old city's moons.
You have come back through deserts of loneliness and depressionsSet in stone. Now you move across gleaming mirrors,Your image rejoined to solid flesh.Your mind is a flowering garden.And I love you more than ever, I love you more, more,More than ever beforeAll that happened. [End Page 285]
Conjuring Hyssop and Moving Once More
(After Exodus XII; Deuteronomy XVI)
We gathered the full bunch and dipped it in the blood of basins.Midnight rituals painted doorframes and hidden corners crimson.We were always greatly alarmed at motion, sounds of terror.
(Our son slept—unaware of our walking home-earth in the darkness.)We were not accustomed to going out until morn.
We knew the Word by heart:When you enter the land the Lord will give you , observe this ceremony.And when your children ask: "What does this ceremony mean?" then tell them:"It is the Passover sacrifice" to all that has passed over spared homes,Where we have not been abandoned forever.
On anniversaries of violence, we sing:Observe this month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God,Because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night!
These are secret holy thoughtsBy which we move,Even, yes, in the darkest of times. [End Page 286]
Houston A. Baker is university distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University and past president of the Modern Language Association of America. Baker began his career as a scholar of British Victorian literature, but shifted to the study of Afro-American literature and culture. He has served as editor of American Literature, the oldest and most prestigious journal in American literary studies. He has published or edited more than twenty books. His most recent books include: Turning South Again: Re-Thinking Modernism, Re-Reading Booker T, and I Don't Hate the South: Reflections on Faulkner, Family and the South. His critique of black public intellectuals, Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era, won a 2009 American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation.