Like me, many of you probably know some of the basics about George Washington Carver's life. You may know he was born a slave in Missouri about 1864, started the agricultural department at Tuskegee Institute, and developed new uses for peanuts, cowpeas, and sweet potatoes in his desire to help poor farmers combat poverty.
|Tuskegee Institute, 1916|
Here are a few of my favorites, but please note that I had difficulty formatting the second, third and fourth poems and had to skip lines. There are no line spaces in the original.
The Last Rose of Summer
The paper shakes so
the words are hard to read,
but what good is a singing range
from high D to three octaves below,
what good the bold step to a larger canvas
for the yucca on the easel now,
what good piano lessons paid for
with paintings, what good
a rosebud boutonniere if Jim
smallpox (p. 24)
Four a.m. in the Woods
Darkness softens, a thin
tissue of mist between trees.
One by one the day's
uncountable voices come out
like twilight fireflies, like stars.
The perceiving self sits
with his back against bought bark,
casting ten thousand questions into the future.
As shadows take shape, the curtains part
for the length of time it takes to grasp,
and behold, the purpose of his
life dawns on him. (p.25)
A colored man came running at me out of the woods
last Sunday morning.
The junior choir was going to be singing
at Primitive Baptist over in Notasulga,
and we were meeting early to practice.
I remember wishing I was barefoot
in the heavy, cool-looking dew.
And suddenly this tall, rawbone wild man
come puffing out of the woods, shouting
Come see! Come see!
Seemed like my mary janes just stuck
to the gravel. Girl, my heart
like to abandon ship!
Then I saw by the long tin cylinder
slung over his shoulder on a leather strap
and his hoboish tweed jacket
and the flower in his lapel
that it was the Professor.
He said, gesturing,
his tan eyes a blazing,
that last night,
walking in the full moon light,
he'd stumbled on
a very rare specimen:
the night-blooming wild petunia.
Said he suddenly sensed a fragrance
and a small white glistening.
It was clearly a petunia:
The yellow future beckoned
from the lip of each tubular flower,
a blaring star of frilly, tongue-like petals.
He'd never seen this species before.
As he tried to place it,
its flowers gaped wider,
catching the moonlight,
suffusing the night with its scent.
All night he watched it
promise silent ecstasy to moths.
If we hurried, I could see it
before it closed to contemplate
Hand in hand, we entered
the light-spattered morning-dark woods.
Where he pointed was only a white flower
until I saw him seeing it. (p. 73-4)
My Beloved Friend
Letter to Jim Hardwick, April 1924
Your letter touched me deeply. How I wish
I was more worthy of the things you say
about me. I love you more dearly because
you are of another race. God is using you
to teach the world the brotherhood of man,
the fatherhood of God. How sweet it is
to let God purge our souls of ego and
bitterness, and to have a little taste
of heaven here on earth. I trust you will pray
for me, that I get rid of my littleness.
I did not have to learn to love you: You
were chosen for me. I knew that the first
time I saw you. It was the Christ in you,
of course. (p. 86)
I read this book because I thought Carver could be an inspiration for Lillie, my African American character in Half-Truths. What I didn't expect, is how much Nelson's poetry and Carver's life would inspire me.