The other day, roam reading my way through Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, I found myself reading a delightfully powerfully poem by Frank X. Walker. I liked the poem, titled Homeopathic, so much that I googled him to see what I could find out.
Homeopathic - Frank X Walker
The unripe cherry tomatoes, miniature red chili peppers
and small burst of sweet basil and sage in the urban garden
just outside the window on our third floor fire escape
might not yield more than seasoning for a single meal
or two, but it works wonders as a natural analgesic
and a way past the monotony of bricks and concrete,
the hum of a neighbor's TV, back to the secret garden
we planted on railroad property, when I was just a boy.
I peer into the window, searching for that look on mamma's face,
when she kicked off her shoes, dug her toes into dirt
teeming with corn, greens, potatoes, onions, cabbage, and beets;
bit into the flesh of a ripe tomato, then passed it down the row.
Enjoying our own fruit, we let the juice run down our chins,
leaving a trail of tiny seed to harvest on hungry days like these.
Here is his artist's statement:
"I have accepted the responsibility of challenging the notion of a homogeneous all-white literary landscape in this region.
As a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets and the creator of the word Affrilachia, I believe it is my responsibility to say as loudly and often as possible that people and artists of color are part of the past and present of the multi-state Appalachian region extending from northern Mississippi to southern New York.
As a writer/observer/truth teller, I choose to focus on social justice issues as well as multiple themes of family, identity and place.
I also accept the dual responsibility of existing as a teaching artist and making a commitment to the identification and development of the next generation of young writers and artists."
Looking around his website further, I discovered that he wrote two books from the perspective of York, an enslaved African brought along on Lewis & Clark's expedition. Being very interested in connecting history to poetry (and vice versa) both as a reader and author, I immediately became excited and ordered three of his books (listed below).
Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate this Ride:
In this new collection of poems, Frank X Walker immerses himself in the story of legendary African American jockey Isaac Burns Murphy (1861-1896). The son of a slave, Murphy rose to the top of thoroughbred racing to become the most successful Jockey in America.
Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York:
This collection of persona poems tells the story of the infamous Lewis & Clark expedition from the point of view of Clark's personal slave, York. The poems form a narrative of York's inner and outer journey, before, during and after the expedition — a journey from slavery to freedom, from the plantation to the great northwest, from servant to soul yearning to be free.
When Winter Come: The Ascension of York:
A sequel to the award-winning Buffalo Dance, Frank X Walker's When Winter Come: The Ascension of York is a dramatic reimagining of Lewis and Clark's legendary exploration of the American West. Grounded in the history of the famous trip, Walker's vibrant account allows York — little more than a forgotten footnote in traditional narratives — to embody the full range of human ability, knowledge, emotion, and experience. Knowledge of the seasons unfolds to York "like a book," and he "can read moss, sunsets, the moon, and a mare's foaling time with a touch."
For more information about this poet and his books, visit the author's website.