Today I thought I would share an excerpt from my new book, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery(Summer 2009 – iUniverse, Inc.). I decided to post the quotes that introduce Chapter 1 and two poems. Note that I use six-word memoirs (http://www.smithmag.net/sixwords) as chapter titles. I fell in love with six-word memoirs last year. They really helped me climb out of a serious writer’s block. Author Lori Tharp (www.loritharp.com) introduced them to me during a memoir writing workshop held at my church, All Souls Church (www.all-souls.org) in October 2008.
Let me know what you think about Chapter 1’s six-word memoir title, quotes, and poems.
Peace and Creativity,
Excerpt from That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery(Summer 2009 – iUniverse, Inc.)
Copyright 2009 by Madelyn C. Leeke
Chapter One: Honoring Ancestors. Family. History. Cultural Legacies.
“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, activist, and author
“I feel like the ancestors brought us here and they expect great things. They expect us to say what we think and live how we feel and follow the hard paths that bring us near joy.” Drew Dellinger, European American poet, teacher, and activist
“Family represents a collection of individuals who are committed and bound together always and forever to provide love and support to one another.” John F. Leeke, African American educator, organizational development consultant, and entrepreneur
“I think knowing one’s history leads one to act in a more enlightened fashion.” John Hope Franklin, African American historian
“We are deeply, passionately connected to black women whose sense of aesthetics, whose commitment to ongoing creative work, inspires and sustains. We reclaim their history, call their names, state their particulars, to gather and remember to share our inheritance.” bell hooks, African American author, poet, professor, and cultural critic
“Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.” Malcolm Gladwell, British-born Canadian author
Two Poems from Chapter 1
Me praying to the ancestors at Elmina Slave Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana – December 2003
Me praying to my female ancestors who were enslaved in the female slave cell located in Elmina Slave Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana – December 2003
Me standing in front of the Elmina Slave Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana – December 2003
Elmina: Homage to the Ancestors
In the middle of the night Spirit woke me and instructed me to do two things.
Cut my locs and go home to sit, pray, release, and renew on holy ground in the midst and comfort of my ancestors.
So the next morning, I made two phone calls.
One to my hairdresser.
The other to my travel agent.
By the end of that week, my locs were cut.
My head resembled that of a Tibetan monk who had gone four weeks without a shaving.
My travel itinerary was confirmed for Ghana and a day was planned for a visit to Elmina Castle, the holy ground where my ancestors’ spirits reside.
I was going home.
How can a slave castle built in 1482 by the Portuguese traders as the first European slave trading post in all of sub-Saharan Africa be my holy ground or my home?
How can one of the many slave castles holding horrific memories of the African holocaust called the Maafa, a disaster, a terrible occurrence be sacred space for me?
How can I separate the inhumane acts and suffering of more than 10 million people of African descent who passed through Elmina’s door of no return?
The answer is two fold – Spirit and Ancestors.
They call me home.
I came seeking renewal and release.
As I walked through the Castle, looked out into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, and prayed in the dungeons, I heard their voices.
They urged me to give them my burdens.
They lovingly assumed my pain.
They reminded me of Sankofa, the Andinkra symbol that represents learning from your past in order to chart your future.
They are my past.
I am their future, grateful and humbled to reap and enjoy the benefits of their love, faith, greatness, strength, humility, and wisdom.
Because of their living.
Because of their suffering.
Because of their dying.
I am free.
They Want Me to Hear Their Songs
Inspired by artist Elizabeth Catlett’s I Have Given the World My Songs (1948, linocut).
Their voices are buried deep in my belly.
When will I let them out?
They want to sing their songs, but I fear their voices may be too loud for me to hear.
They speak to my spirit and remind me that their songs are my legacy.
Yes I know.
Yes I know.
Yes I know.
But I’m not sure I want to hear what happened to my great-great-grandmother Millie Ann Gartin before she was freed.
The rest of my womanline rises up in my gut and demands that I allow them to sing their stories – the good, not so good, and in between.
They refuse to leave me alone.
I try to run and hide, but they won’t let me escape.
They surround me and begin telling me about the sacrifices they made so I could be free.
Before they disappear, they say a prayer.
“Beloved one, so much has happened. We don’t mean to frighten you, but our stories must be told. You must tell them. In telling them, you will access wisdom from the way we lived and what we learned from our elders. Our voices will become your voice.
You will begin to carry our full legacy. It is our gift to you. We pray that you accept it.