From Gravity Comes the Grief
There is a language in silence you must use in communing with the living, the dying, and the dead. Time ordains that you deal with the gravity and brevity of manifest being. Humility demands that you accept legacies from word spirits with grace and respect. Time appropriates words from Amiri Baraka’s 1987 eulogy for James Baldwin, forcing out of your mouth “the intelligence of our transcendence” and forbidding you to traffic with bad faith in “retelling old lies or making up new ones, or shaping yet another black life to fit the great white stomach which yet rules and tries to digest the world.” Time and Baraka ignore your reluctance to speak and the dread in your saying the world is not white but pale brown pink. You have no choice but to close your eyes, open your mind, and let your fingers play respect for Marguerite Annie Johnson (April 4, 1928 –May 28, 2014). Baraka smiles at you wisely and says “I know your parents reared you to stay more in the tradition than that!”
Your mind back flips to an iconic photograph of two people dancing on a marker for Langston Hughes at the Schomburg Research Center. That is your clue. Speak of Maya Angelou. Toni Cade Bambara, Alvin Aubert, Lorenzo Thomas, Audre Lorde, Tom Dent, John Oliver and Grace Killens, Margaret Walker, Wanda Coleman, Albert Murray, Louis Reyes Rivera and others and others nod approval. They give you the gravity of words from which comes the grief and its resolution. The heart that does not belong to your body pumps words.
You walk in the rivers of glass from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy.” You feel with Maya Angelou why the caged bird sings, why inevitably the bird flings its spirit into the limitless cosmos. You regret the myopia of the New York Times headline that begins “Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South…” Balderdash. There is a Jim Crow North, West, and East, a Jim Crow Earth. Maya Angelou was the phenomenal woman she said she was. Birth in St. Louis, Missouri and death in Winston-Salem, North Carolina did secure her temporal being, along with Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells, a woman of the South. But Maya Angelou’s fluent command of languages and her extensive work as dancer, poet, actress, writer, filmmaker and director, civil and human rights activist, singer, conscience of the grace that ought to obtain in earthly life ---all of this made her more than a mere witness to universal lynchings and human wantonness. She had a more powerful vision. She was the authority and author what all of us are existentially obligated to witness, existentially destined to do. As her friend and “brother” Eugene B. Redmond might put it, we must excavate a heavy lode and lesson ourselves in the lore she created.
At this moment, it is sufficient that you know Maya Angelou touched the world with her brave and radiant spirit. Documentation of her life in biographies, bibliographies, critiques, memorials, and writings seasoned with womanist theorizing is matter for a later moment. At this moment, ours is the work of spiritual renewal and creativity. Maya Angelou has gone, her “blood breath beating/ through the dark green places (Audre Lorde, “To Marie, in Flight”). Return to the language of silence and find peace in its embrace.
Jerry W Ward, Jr. May 28, 2014