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Let’s Just Say I Hope

Today, I read Marilyn Nelson‘s “how i discovered poetry” a “sequence of fifty unrhymed sonnets” that use personal and political events from the time she was four in 1950 to the time she was fourteen in 1960 to build a picture of the life for a girl in a military family. The author never denies or hides the racism experienced by the Speaker (the author’s term), but those experiences are threaded deftly through stories about and images of families and dogs left behind and Red Scares and bomb shelters and Civil Rights struggles and playgrounds and friends and mothers who work versus mothers who stay at home and moving over and over again.

from Thirteen-Year-Old American Negro Girl
My face, as foreign to me as a mask,
allows people to believe they know me.
Thirteen-Year-Old American Negro Girl,
headlines would read if I was newsworthy.
But that’s just the top-of-the-iceberg me.

At my library, this book is cataloged as a Juvenile Biography. But the beauty of Ms. Nelson’s work is that poems reward younger and older readers. There is quite a bit of humor, some of it punning, which will entertain middle grade readers. “Why did Lot have to take his wife and flea” from Church. And there are complicated bits. In Safe Path Through Quicksand “Do I believe? Well, let’s just say I hope./I think Jesus is an elder brother/whose footsteps mark a safe path through quicksand” is juxtaposed with “I do hope to God there is a hell/waiting for some people. For racist cops.” Adult readers can make comparisons and connections between the Speaker’s observations/opinions of her time and the events of our time.

I won’t quote anymore because I want you to find Ms. Nelson’s book and read it. Read it all the way through in one sitting and then wait a day or two and read it again. That’s my plan.

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