On my two-hour drive to Roanoke, I planned my day: see if I can check-in the hotel hours before what was listed on the reservation, find a coffee shop, write poetry and write poems, maybe nap. Surely, I can finish a manuscript in 24 hours if I'm away in a city I've not been before! But here I am, towards the end of my day, sitting under a covered patio listening to the rain. I have riffed one poem by ink on page but that’s it.
It’s been four years since I began this journey. Let that sink in. Four years of me visiting rural, Southern African American churches and cemeteries. Not every Sunday or every month, but still, I’ve been on this path for four years. That seems to be a long time to hold stories of the dead and of the past. Untold stories. Buried stories. Stories that carry more than my weight.
So why hasn’t it come pouring out of me like the rain is pouring out of the clouds? Today, I have no distractions, no opposing deadlines, no previous obligations. No place to be. No one who needs my attention. It’s me and the page, as I’ve dreamed for weeks. I have everything I need. I've done the research. I’m here. I’m ready. I’m waiting.
That’s when the interview I had a few days ago with Hillary, a freelance writer who is working on a piece for a magazine, seeps through my desperate thoughts; and how I wished I could have provided clearer answers for her – what exactly I’m doing, hoping for, expecting, planning with this poetry project.
But, here is when I realize that just as the work itself, is me – all over the place, beautifully complex, undefined, contradictory, nuanced, still in process. And just as deeply rooted and buried are the stories is the time it takes to unpack them.
I am learning to give myself mercy. I am remembering the energy it takes working a full-time job in addition to contracting as a corporate trainer, and having my own business, which includes running and editing a small yet international quarterly journal. I believe in a God that would want me to grant myself mercy and patience.
This isn't excuse making, nor is it procrastination. This is the creative process. And as of now, I’m enjoying this time away to be a poet only. That includes more than writing poems. It means reading, studying, seeing, resting, wrestling, aspiring to hone the craft. From that, the collection will continue to shape itself. Through it all, is mercy. Mercy and patience.
I'm a poet in love with oral history and stories of the ancestors. Here, I will record what I discover and contemplate on my journey into historical African American churches and cemeteries in the South.