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Burgess, Gloria

Burgess, Gloria


Gloria Burgess’s poetry celebrates the values and evocative oral traditions of her African, Choctaw,Cherokee, and Celtic ancestry. Her poetry appears in diverse publications and anthologies, including Fire on Her TongueThe Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean SouthWorld Book of Healing, and Gathering Ground. In addition to poetry, Gloria also writes books on transformational leadership, which she teaches in various universities around the world. Her recently released children’s book, Pass It On! (Two Sylvias Press, 2017), is also about transformational leadership. This book features the true story of her father, Earnest McEwen, Jr., and his life-changing relationship with Nobel Laureate William Faulkner. She holds a MBA and PhD the University of Southern California. While pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Michigan, Gloria was mentored by one of her favorite poets–Robert Hayden.


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, Poetry
Redbook Magazine Award, Story Story
PNWA, Children’s Literature