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Jacqueline Johnson

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Biography

Jacqueline Johnson, is a multi-disciplined artist creating in both poetry, fiction writing and fiber arts.  She is the author of A Woman's Season (Main Street Rag Press, 2015) and A Gathering of Mother Tongues (White Pine Press, 1998), winner of the Third Annual White Pine Press Poetry Award.   Ms. Johnson has taught poetry at Pine Manor College, City University of New York, Poets House, Very Special Arts, Imani House, the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center and African Voices.   Works in progress include: The Privilege of Memory and How to Stop a Hurricane, a collection of short stories.  She is a graduate of New York University and the City University of New York. A native of Philadelphia, PA., she resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Poem

“Here is the poetry of proclamation and purification.  Jacqueline Johnson claims not only language but also the ground beneath her feet.  She gives birth to herself and restores her own memory.  I believe this poet comes out of the stars.  She reminds us why the sky is so beautiful and African American literature so rich.  Johnson asks a very important question which must be answered:  “Where do black women go for freedom?”

 

– E. Ethelbert Miller

 

 

Soul Memory

 

(for Renisha McBride)

 

 

Forgive the grandmother who found you

barely conscious mumbling, stupid drunk

walking circles around your car, who thought she

could leave you and go back into her house.

Forgive the loss of mother wit; the

inability to grab you and bring you – daughter,

you babygirl on into the house.

Forgive her– lost in the disconnect of centuries,

to not call for an ambulance to get you help.

Forgive her return to the street to find

you gone out of sight.  Too old to follow you,

to get someone, anyone to go look for you.

Forgive yourself for going out that night

of all nights to party and drink,

to hang out like any normal nineteen year old,

to know inebriation’s high; to believe you were

in control. Forgive the lost ones of you.

Forgive the night so dark your brownskin

self could not be found.  Forgive your ori

so blindly drunk and in shock from a car crash;

forgive the incoherent selves wandering only

knowing to seek help.  Crying for help.

Forgive this moment, day that you went

into that an all white woods and neighborhood.

Forgive yourself so lost, mother wit and father

wit gone.  So lost, so shocked.  So drunk you

ring that man’s door and all of your last

moments lost in the horror of shots

to your head, heart and soul.

Forgive the night you wanted to party so,

wanted to live so; forgive all the wrong turns,

the last four drinks you had.  Forgive yourself

for thinking somehow you were in control,

had done this how many times before.

Forgive the cursed moment of speed,

of all the wrong turns, of walking and walking

on the longest walk that would never end

until you were nothing but soul.

Lost black woman, lost black girl

on a white man’s porch, in a place

so bad he never gave you a chance.

Came out shooting at your blackness,

black woman blackness seeking help.

Forgive this time, the moment that never

gave you a chance. Forgive all the wrong turns,

the speed, the drinks, the desire to party.

Forgive this time that never gave you a chance.

 

 

The Last Rain Queen

 

Your life was community property.

Your will a kind of “nkisi” meant to

serve other interests, never your own.

Your actions were to be dictated by elders.

 

Decreed to bring coolness, water, fertility

to a land, a people. Even if you had to fill

the horizon with your own tears.

To make rain — water the skies was your destiny.

 

You were the rain queen who ruled hot.

Getting an education for a job that did not require it.

Choosing your own lover and whom you would marry.

Upturning the patriarchy like a hurricane.

 

Going and coming as you pleased.

You brought the modern to their faces

and flaunted it; driving your lexis across

the countryside and running off to Europe.

 

No Isangoma or princess but Rain Queen

at twenty seven.  Yet a woman still, wanting

a way of life that blazed and blossomed in you.

You refused to be their instrument.

 

What are the secrets of bringing rain, coolness

to an intemperate, always hot people?

Hungry for jobs, healthcare, technology.

How could you assuage needs generations long?

 

When you fell unconscious

a culture of priests cut with cruelty

so desiring a new rain queen —

kept you, a dying woman alive

 

six months while your fetus thrived.

You paid the highest human price.

Same ones that crowned you sent

you to join the ancestors prematurely.

 

Is it true the father snatched his daughter away

at birth before the priests could claim her?

The intra tribal infighting is still going on.

Rumor has it the next rain queen will be a man.

 

 

What Grace There Is

 

1.

At the corner of William and

God knows — a turbaned man

stands in front of an SUV.

Maybe thirty years ago –

he still walked narrow path of a

Bombay country road.

Today he is my traffic guide.

Reddish hair cascades over his brow.

 

What to make of a raucous blue sky

asserting and pushing away

yet another grey November.

A tip of green between mounds of

wet leaves turning into a kind

of urban compost, fertilizer

for a time different from now.

 

I remember the gaze of the man

holding his body, talking on a cell phone

looking up as I passed by; we almost nod

at each other but don’t. That is the way it

is sometime. To live with change.

How to understand muscles that

inflame like parting flowers.

2.

With gratitude I hold

this black man’s hand, life line

to lifeline. How many times

have I come to this small place to be saved.

Some mother’s son writing a lullaby

across my back with his finger tips.

I crave a home back in music,

my first true language. Muse.

Silence like a prayer beckons.

Summons me.

 

 

3.

To face the worst of days

size up both enemies and lovers

and walk, run victorious, and

if not that, mysteriously onward.

 

 

4.

Six southern sisters

hands upon each other’s waist;

youth’s echo in the world.

 

All I wanted to be

was a woman, a mother.

My arms a living cradle.

 

 

5.

Teal green sea – true

mermaid water, tastes of salt and love.

 

This day starts with three men

on a boat fishing for fresh algae.

They hack away at spirals miles long.

 

How would we know back in the city

this algae may one day sit on a shelf

along with Himalayan sea salt selling

for some high prices, despite its

all too common origins.

 

 

6.

How to begin again in the middle

of my journey? To harness courage

and a child’s eagerness standing

at the rim of a vast canyon.

To be willing not to implode,

instead explore that volcano inside.

 

How to cut away the vines of fear to reveal

a powerful daughter anchored in truth.

 

What if the moon and I are kissing cousins;

deep silvery friends

crackling, rising earth of that volcano?