In elementary school, our teacher, Mrs. Geraldine Hawkins, introduced us to the poetry of Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and other black poets. The poems made us laugh, cry, reflect, and reminded us that we were identical to whites, all of us Americans.
We were required to learn each poem line by line, reciting them with feelings and emotions, not just monotonous recitation. So the words entered the deep places of our souls, bringing healing and peace. Just read the words of Langston Hughes’ I, Too, Am American, and see what I mean.
I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes. But I laugh, and eat well, and grow strong. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table when company comes. Nobody’ll dare say to me, “Eat in the kitchen.” Then, besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed. I, too, am America. Langston Hughes
Mr. Hughes’ poem reminded me that, regardless of where I lived or whom my ancestors were, I was valuable. That spoke volumes to my soul. To me, the soul is the part of us that our medicines cannot access.
It represents the place where our emotions reside, from which we feel the deepest losses or joys. Even though I cannot tell you where it is located in the body, the soul is vulnerable, easily damaged by the thoughtlessness of others or the intentions of people who need to control and have power over others.
In the 1990s, I spent 28 days in a mental facility, suffering constant panic attacks. My body seemed to be always in flight mode, adrenaline flowing all day and night. Sweat poured, as fears mounted in a darkness so deep that no light could enter in.
It was in remembering the poetry that I had learned as a child that the light started to infiltrate the darkness and the lies that my mind tried to make my soul believe were defeated. The words brought me respite from the fears that made it nearly impossible for me to find peace and feel wholeness of mind, spirit, and body.
I had stopped reading poetry for a long time. But, when I started blogging, I found poetry and started reading it, following many poetry sites. Once again, I cried, laughed, reflected, and was reminded of my connections to others. The poetry of Judy Dystra-Brown especially moves me. I marvel at the wonderful poetry available free in the blogosphere! Nothing is lackluster in many of the poems that touch my soul each day.
A couple of weeks ago, I purchased my first volume of poetry in nearly 30 years. It is called This Day: Sabbath Poems Collected and New, 1979-2013, by Wendell Berry. Mr. Berry’s poems are spiritual, so they speak not only to my soul but to my spirit and the love of God for me and in me. In one of the poems, he begins with a sentence, “Hate has no world.” (Wendell Berry, page 144, Counterpoint, Berkeley).
The wonderful medicinal effect of poetry is needed even more now. Let’s teach our children poetry that will bring healing to their souls and ours. Doesn’t matter if the poems rhyme or not, just let the emotions that flow from the poet’s pens seep into our souls, erasing the darkness and illuminating the light that we all possess, through Jesus Christ the Lord. It is healing long overdue.