PHYLLIS ODESSEY

to swim in a heartbeat of clouds

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Marilyn Nelson

Getting up at 5 AM for 11 years, makes sleeping late on a weekend difficult. My body is programmed to wake at 5 AM no matter the day of the week. One of the benefits of getting up early on a Sunday morning is listening to Krista Tippet’s radio show, On Being,  Krista talked with poet, Marilyn Nelson on Sunday, February 26th.  In the course of their conversation, Nelson mentioned she was asked to teach a course on poetry and meditation to cadets at West Point.  She asked them to meditate for 10-15 minutes.  “…they kept journals.  And their journals showed so much growth during the course of that semester.  And I loved them.  I remember we made up mantras to meditate with.  One of them made up a mantra, “To swim in a heartbeat of clouds.”
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What I enjoy about listening to Krista Tippet, no matter who she speaks with, challenges me….it’s generally outside my wheelhouse.

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The gravestone of Venture Smith in Connecticut

The following poem was written by Venture Smith in 1795.  Smith was captured as a boy and brought to this country as a slave.  For approximately 30 years he served many masters.  He purchased his freedom, then he purchased his children and wife and then saved up money to set other people free.
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“By the time I was thirty-six I had been sold
three times. I had spun money out of sweat.
I’d been cheated and beaten. I had paid an enormous sum
for my freedom. And ten years farther on I’ve come
out here to my garden at the first faint hint of light
to inventory the riches I now hold.
My potatoes look fine and my corn, my squash, my beans.
My tobacco is strutting, spreading its velvety wings.
My cabbages are almost as big as my head.
From labor and luck, I have much profited.
I wish I could remember those praise-songs
we used to dance to, with the sacred drums.
My rooster is calling my hens from my stone wall.
In my meadow, my horses and my cows look up,
then graze again. My orchard boasts green fruit.
Yes, everything I own is dearly bought,
but gratitude is a never-emptying cup,
my life equal measures pain and windfall.
My effigies to scare raccoons and crows
frown fiercely, wearing a clattering fringe of shells,
like dancers in the whatdidwecallit? dance.
My wife and two of my children stir in my house.
For one thirty years enslaved, I have done well.
I am free and clear; not one penny do I owe.
I own myself—a five-hundred-dollar man—
and two thousand dollars’ worth of family.
Of canoes and boats, right now I own twenty-nine.
Seventy acres of bountiful land is mine.
God or gods, thanks for raining these blessings on me.
I turn around slowly. I own everything I scan.”

Venture Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

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