Friday, February 3, 2012

Poetry Friday: Black History Month

I want to celebrate the first Poetry Friday in National Black History month with one of my favorite historical figures--George Washington Carver. On my list of "people I'd like to talk to when I get to heaven," this sweet man is in my top ten. In my county, students study Carver in the first grade and again in the fifth grade. Last year I wrote a first grade level biography of him for State Standards Publishing, but I loved him long before that. I think he must have captured my imagination when I was in elementary school. Maybe it was the flower in his lapel or the kindness in his eyes or the fact that I love boiled peanuts and parched peanuts and peanut butter. Or maybe it was simply the genius of the man.

I recently discovered Marilyn Nelson's book, Carver: A Life in Poems. It is a beautiful tribute to marvelous life. I know I came to this book late. It was a Newberry Honor book and a Coretta Scott King Honor book in 2002, but somehow I missed it back then. I was back in school that year and busy writing papers and being a good non-traditional student. Nelson's poems capture the essence of Carver's life.

Here are a few excerpts I especially liked:

from "Watkins Laundry and Apothecary"

He was the child the good Lord gave
and took away before I got more
than the twinkle of a glimpse at the man he was going to be.
It happened one Saturday afternoon.
George was holding a black-eyed Susan,
talking about how the see
this flower grew from
carried a message from a flower
that bloomed a million years ago,
and how this flower
would send the message on
to a flower that was going to bloom
in a million more years.
Praise Jesus, I'll never forget it.
He left to find a teacher that knew
more than he knew.

from "Chemistry 101"

A canvas apron over his street clothes,
Carver leads his chemistry class into
the college dump. The students follow, a claque
of ducklings hatched by hens.

from "Coincidence"

He looks down at the brown road map
printed in his yellow palms.
Your life may be the only Bible
some people will know.

from "Mineralogy"

He showed Ford his phosphate pebble,
found in an Iowa creek bed,
his microcline feldspar, found
in the Alabama woods, his smoky quartz,
kicked up by his boot toe
in a Kansas wheat field, his fluorite,
sent by a Kentucky spelunker, his
marcasite, sent by an English mineralogist
in exchange for a piece of information,
and here it was, his diamond, the gift
of his dear friend, Henry.

Pages before the book ended I was wondering how she would manage it, how she would close the door on  this remarkable life. In the final poem, entitled "Moton Field," Carver is still living. His "palseyed right hand/stutters answers to letters heaped beside his bed" while pilots of the Tuskeegee Airmen train--"a P-40 zooms in at five o'clock/ high as a Negro has ever been./.../and makes a sky-roaring victory roll." It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. I wanted to write her a letter and say thank you for her work, for the way she captured his heart, for showing how much his life counted.For ending with that victory.

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen has been told over and over. Made into movies over and over. It's been made into movies over and over. It's just such a great story, people will keep on telling it over and over. I went with my dad last wee to see "Red Tails." We both loved it.If you haven't seen the new George Lucas version yet, it's worth seeing.

I live about an hour and a half from Tuskegee on the Georgia side of the Chattahoochee River. It's been a few years since we drove over and went through the museum. My hubby was cleaning out some drawers in is office this weekend and brought me a pamphlet he had picked up while we were there. It's called "How to Grow the Tomato and 115 Ways to Prepare it for the Table." by George Washington Carver. Maybe if I followed his advice I could actually grow a tomato. See my post "No More Veggies" for my history with tomato growing.

Stop by The Iris Chronicles for more Poetry Friday.


  1. Terrific post, Doraine. A perfect way to begin the month. I bought the Marilyn Nelson book a couple of years ago. What a tribute to an incredible gift of a man. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Robin. It's always good to see your smiling face here. Have you read any of Marilyn's other poetry collections?

  2. I know this book too, but enjoyed your review & will return to re-read the book. We have several Tuskegee airman living here in Colorado & they have been interviewed several times lately because of the movie. Good stuff. Wasn't Carver amazing? So gifted!

    1. Yes, Linda. He was an amazing man. So humble. So committed to his faith and his calling. Loved by all.

  3. Oh dear, I haven't heard of this book nor this film yet, this is the reason why I love participating in Poetry Fridays - it opens my eyes to all these wonderful wonderful things. I just put this book in reserve from our community library. We are also celebrating Black History Month for eight days over at GatheringBooks, will try my best to include this one. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Myra, I'm so happy to introduce you to these two wonderful stories. I agree with you. I've discovered so many new books and poets here on Poetry Friday. I know you'll enjoy this one.

  4. Great post, Dori! Both of these are new to me as well. Will you share the rest of your "people I'd like to talk to when I get to heaven" list with us someday?

    1. Thanks, Tabatha. Well, I wasn't expecting that question! A few others I'd like to talk to when I get to heaven: Moses, George MacDonald, Madame Guyon, Ella Fitzgerald, Hudson Taylor, Clara Barton, Robert E. Lee, Allison Etha.