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Poet of the Week: Jacqueline Johnson

Jacqueline Johnson, S. Sanviki ChapmanAWE  Photo
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Carolina Legato
(for Edna Robinson)

Most Saturday afternoons found you
in the parlor room. John Thompson piano
riffs resonating through closed doors.

Worked your magic on some young soul
who would rather be in the park playing
stick ball, volley ball, anything but music.

“Sit up straight,” you would shout
pushing the uncouth and lazy
out of every last one of them.

Form of the body as important
as sound making
like secret lovers doing a two step.

Worked in the black free schools
teaching the un-free
to imagine, write, and read.

Tried your best at a marriage that lasted
no longer than a season,
summer peaches rotting in the skin.

Later traveled to Illinois, then Buffalo,
and for a moment escaped predictability,
old south segregation. Back to Carolina coast

where you became “fundi,” turning out
a generation of preachers, doctors and artists
in whom you left music’s sacred imprint.

Lady of grace, whom elders called “refined.”
Soft spoken, yet a woman heard and followed,
you defied rules with chiffon dresses and

flowered hats; owned more property
than a city planning commission
deemed possible for a black woman.

You played music on an old upright piano,
keys yellowed, tuned to perfection
where you rescued children from mothers

who would cheat them of life,
bringing music
to their witless, sightless souls.

 

Jacqueline Johnson’s Poets Tour Profile