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Burgess, Gloria

Burgess, Gloria


Gloria Burgess’ poetry celebrates the evocative oral traditions of her African, Native American, and Scotch-Irish ancestry. Her poetry appears in diverse anthologies and publications, including Fire on Her Tongue, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South and Gathering Ground. Gloria works at the nexus of the arts and leadership. A poet, actor, director, and leadership practitioner, she is one of the few artists who integrates poetry and other arts into leadership development and education. She teaches transformational leadership at Seattle University, University of Washington, University of Southern California, Indiana/Purdue University, Howard University, and for diverse corporate clients. A dynamic speaker, she has presented keynotes on six continents impacting lives around the world. Her clients include the Kenyan Parliament and South African Embassy. She recently appeared in the role of Hafsat Abiola in SEVEN, an award-winning documentary play. Gloria lives in the Pacific Northwest and is currently working on two books, Flawless Leadership: Connecting Who You Are to What You Know and Do, and a children’s picture book, The Gift, about her father’s life-changing friendship with Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winning author William Faulkner.


for my father, Earnest McEwen, Jr. and William Faulkner*

Between the brush of angels’ wings
and furious hooves of hell, two mortal men
fell down. How you must have looked—
white shirt stained, khakis fatigued,
smelling of sweat and smoke,
hair at odds with itself and the world.
At the threshold among your restless dead
in echo and shadow of ancient oaks,
providing sanctuary, offering shade,
you had many worlds behind you,
few yet to be born: stories of insurgence,
scorn, decay—theme and variations
of a vanquished South.

Leaning against a jamb
of antebellum brass, you watched, waited,
raised weary arm and hand, saluted
the familiar stranger. Come. Enter. Sit. Sing.

You reached each other across the grate.
What you two must have known of heaven and hell.


*William Faulkner was my father’s benefactor, paying for him to attend college at a time when he had few prospects of earning enough money to pay for it himself. This was Faulkner’s way of dismantling institutionalized racism long before desegregation was mandated in the South.

blessing the light

after blessing the boats, by Lucille Clifton
for our young people and their teachers

may the stars
that shimmer even now
beneath the surface of our knowing
light your way
beyond the valley of fear
may you open your arms
then pull them back
assured that another’s will shelter you
from any storm may you
lift your face to the sun
sun that favors you always
and may you in your brilliance shine
a beacon for others from here to there


for my ancestors and our children

i wasn’t there i didn’t stand at the threshold
of the open door my back wasn’t wracked
beneath a ceiling so low even children lay prone
my spirit wasn’t riven i wasn’t cowed
bloodied shamed no one stripped me
of my name i wasn’t there i wasn’t at Goreé
or anywhere along that shore

i was born inside the golden door
and i’m here by grace standing on the shoulders
of women and men stout in spirit fierce in soul
and oh by the blessed sanctity of God
though i wasn’t hounded through that open door
or driven to cross a merciless sea i still
have the sting of salt in my soul nightmares
of a watery grave i still search furtively
for signs of my tribe outstretched hands a cool
drinka water calabash smile i still tread softly
muted by the glare of ghostly strangers i still push back
the rising bile when a glassy-eyed elder looks too long
or wide i’ve learned to question all kinds of kings
to stand firm on the laps of queens some days
i can’t tell the difference and fall to my knees
dragged down by the tide all over again

The Open Door, Red Oak Press, 2001
Journey of the Rose, Jazz Media, 1998
A Yellow Wood, Red Oak Press, 1998 [chapbook]

Avery Hopwood Award
Redbook Magazine Award