Archive for August, 2011

Reflections on the Race: Ecstasy of Victory

August 30, 2011

This morning as I was reflecting on the Verse of the Day for July 3, 2014, I was somehow led to a blog entry that I had posted a number of years ago. I was once again moved to tears as I viewed “The Derek Redmond Story,” an account of what occurred in the 1992 Olympics. I am re-posting the blog entry and trust that it will be a blessing to all who read it as well.

In the Race of Life, we are encourage to run that we might win.

In the Race of Life, we are encourage to run that we might win.

In reflecting upon an event that occurred when I was a rising sophomore in high school, I almost forgot about something else that occurred at the Presbyterian church camp where I made my debut as a teacher of the Bible. I relate this experience in the previous blog entry Faith: The Foundation of My Life.

Following the message that I delivered, we participated in a cross country race, and guess who came in first place? I won the race and later ran cross country and track throughout my high school career, where I experienced both “the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat” on numerous occasions.

In my time of prayer and meditation this morning, I reflected upon those times of triumph that inspired this poem “Ecstasy of Victory.” The epigraphs or introductory selections include a verse from the well-known athletic passage from 1 Corinthians 9 and the closing lines from “Barter” by Sara Teasdale, a poem that I was required to memorize as a junior in high school. I still know the poem by heart.

Ecstasy of Victory

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete,  

but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race]     

that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours.

I Corinthians 9:24 [Amplified Bible]

And for a breath of ecstasy

Give all you have been, or could be.

 Sara Teasdale

 

In this time of unsettling tremors and diverse earthquakes,

I boldly declare in song that “I Shall Not Be Moved.”

I am steadfast, unmovable, though my whole world shakes.

Having endured many fiery trials, I now stand approved.

I experience hardness that a soldier must endure.

Though I may not understand, there is always a reason:

For the refining process assures that the gold is pure,

Hence the trials and testing that abound in this season.

Strengthened by the Spirit of Might, as I finish my race,

I fulfill all of God’s will, all that He has planned.

With a surge of energy, I lunge to come in first place,

Then at last I stand upon the bema, the victor’s stand.

With hands upraised in total praise, a bondslave now set free

To savor ecstasy of victory for eternity.

As I was preparing this blog, I came across a YouTube video that moved me to tears, as it unfolded the inspiring account of Derek Redmond, Olympic sprinter from Great Britain. During his run the quarter finals of the 400 meter competition in Barcelona, he pulled a muscle and fell to the track in agonizing pain. When track and field officials came to help escort him off the track, Derek refused their help, for he was determined to finish the race. As he hobbled and crawled toward the finish line, someone came down from the crowd to encourage him and support him—Jim Redmond, his father.  In a commentary from Deeper Still, Phil McCallum relates the entire episode in a most inspiring manner:

There was a commotion in the crowd and a man ran down from the grandstands. He pushed his way through the security guards and ran on to the track towards his son. It was Jim Redman, Derrick’s father. He placed an arm around Derek.
“You don’t have to do this” Jim told his son.
“Yes I do” Derek replied.
“Well then” said Jim, “we’re going to finish this together”

Just before they reached the finish line, with the crowd screaming in support, Jim Redmond let his son go, so that he could cross the line on his own.

After the race Derrick Redman was interviewed and he said “My father was the only person who could have helped me, because he understood everything that I had been through.”

Here is a video capturing the inspiring “Derek Redmond Story.”

Although we all would like to make that final surge and come in first in a photo finish, but that may not always be the case. Regardless of the final outcome, we all want to finish our race and finish strong. Certainly the last leg of the Apostle Paul’s race was less than glorious, so some would say. Nonetheless, he was able to proclaim at the end of his ministry:

 6For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

 8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

The olive wreath is a symbol of victory, a crown given to those who “run their best race and win it.”

Hebrews 12:1 in the Amplified Bible exhorts us: “. . . let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us.” With these words we are strengthened and encouraged.

 

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Faith: the foundation of my life

August 26, 2011

The foundation for my faith was laid when I was a youth, and I continue to build upon it, as I move from faith to faith and victory to victory.

“When you are in a difficult situation, go back to the first word; it still works.” Recently I thought of those words from Apostle John Tesola, as we began a series of teaching on faith at our church, Equip U Ministries in Columbus, Ohio. My mind went back to a Wednesday Youth Night at Camp Gray, a Presbyterian camp in Saugatuck, MI. When the request came forth for a young person to deliver a short inspirational message, I volunteered, and I put together my first Bible teaching, choosing the topic of faith. Using the Bible and study material of one of the camp counselors who was a seminary student, I focused on Hebrews 11:1, 6—two verses that have contributed to the foundation upon which I have built my life as a teacher and minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Since that time 54 years ago, I have discovered the Amplified Bible, and I especially appreciate how these verses are rendered:

Hebrews 11: 1, 6:

 1NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].

    6But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out].

In a recent teaching on faith we examined a number of accounts in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus Christ mentions faith. Two of the most notable examples occur in the encounter with the centurion who comes to Jesus Christ with a request that he heal his servant and the account of the Canaanite woman who seeks Christ’s healing presence on behalf of her daughter who is “grievously vexed with a devil.” In both of these instances, Jesus Christ responds, describing both of them as having “great faith.”

I recall a similar designation when I received a personal prophecy from Dr. Kingsley Fletcher in 2000 regarding the dimension of faith in my life. A personal prophecy or prophetic words are inspired words from an individual operating the gift of prophecy to speak to a specific individual or group. These insightfully penetrating words are revealed from God and provide edification, exhortation and comfort to the individuals to whom they are addressed. On this specific occasion when Dr. Fletcher ministered at our church, he called me forth and spoke a message from God to me. I transcribed those words and added them to my prayer journal/scrapbook. Numerous times I read and re-read those words as I prayed after being diagnosed with prostate cancer that same year. I especially concentrated on this excerpt:

 The anointing of the Lord is upon you. You shall walk through doors, and you  shall bring the people of God behind you. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Mighty man of faith! When you declare, it shall be done. You shall affect many through your faith, for out of the faith you shall see my faithfulness. . . . And you shall declare this is the way of the Lord, and they shall follow. For you shall stand and declare just as Caleb declared. You shall stand and say, ‘If God said it, it shall come to pass. If God declares it, I believe it. If God points the way, I will follow.’ And the people of God shall be inspired by your humble faith. For you are a man that has pleased me, and I’m delighted in you. This is the word of the Lord to you, Lonnell. To Lonnell, the word of the Lord. You shall walk in faith and not by sight.  

I used that particular prophetic word as a contact point for focused intercession regarding my particular situation with the prostate cancer, which proved to be a time of the testing of my faith.

At times when my faith seemed to be diminishing, I would recite Scripture, listen to teaching tapes, in many cases my own messages whereby I taught myself over and over again. During this time of intense prayer, God was teaching me a valuable lesson about faith: “Prayer is the key . . . but faith unlocks the door.” I was reminded of these lyrics from an old gospel song, as I prayed fervently throughout this situation which seemed to be drawing from within me to become the “mighty man of faith” that God called me to be.

The renowned folk artist and minister, Elijah Pierce, completed this painted bas relief woodcarving entitled “The Power of Prayer” in 1960. It is from the private collection courtesy of Keny Galleries, Columbus, Ohio.

A woodcarving depicting the Power of Prayer with Faith as the key that unlocks the doors to God and His Son Jesus Christ.

John Starnes offers a powerful rendition of “Prayer is the Key to Heaven.”

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xomn5SMDSlw&feature=related]

            One of the poems that I wrote regarding faith makes reference to the Centurion with “great faith” and my designation as a “mighty man of faith.”

Will He Find Faith?

When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed

“Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith,

not even in Israel!

Matthew 8:10

 

As servants of a king assess his vast treasure,

When the Lord returns will he find faith on the earth?

When He appraises my faith, what will it be worth?

When all is said and done, may I add my measure,

Though small as the grain of a tiny mustard seed,

A faith so pure in essence that nothing defiles.

Should the Lord come during the Age of the Gentiles,

May I be walking by faith in word and in deed,

For God is ever faithful and His Word is true.

May such great faith descend from the centurion

To a faithful son who bears this criterion:

Whatever God shall speak, this shall He also do.

I press toward the mark, reaching toward my destiny:

As the mighty man of faith you called me to be.

In the New Testament the word faith is translated from the Greek word pistis, one of whose synonyms is “trust.” In thinking about faith and its relationship to “trust,” two songs related to “trusting God,” came to mind.  I was introduced to the hymn “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus” almost forty years ago. As I was driving toward my first ministry assignment, the lyrics rang in my head:

I am trusting Thee, Lord, Jesus,
Trusting only Thee;
Trusting Thee for full salvation,
Great and free.

I am trusting Thee for pardon;
At Thy feet I bow;
For Thy grace and tender mercy,
Trusting now.

I am trusting Thee for cleansing
In the crimson flood;
Trusting Thee to make me holy
By Thy blood.

I am trusting Thee to guide me;
Thou alone shalt lead;
Every day and hour supplying
All my need.

I am trusting Thee for power,
Thine can never fail;
Words which Thou Thyself shalt give me
Must prevail.

I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus;
Never let me fall;
I am trusting Thee forever,
And for all.

Here is a rendering of the song by Matthew, Jeffery and Andrew Waldvogel along with Chi-en Chen and Frank Constanzo of the Ridgewood Pentecostal Church:

The second song is a contemporary gospel song that has come to mean a great deal to me.  “I Trust You” by James Fortune and Fiya conveys the same message but with a different flavor:

(verse)
Even though I can’t see
and I can’t feel your touch
I will trust you, Lord
how I love you so much
Though my nights my seem long
and I feel so alone
Lord my trust is in you
I surrender to you

(bridge)
So many painful thoughts
travel through my mind
and I wonder how
I will make it through this time

(chorus)
But I trust you
Lord, it’s not easy
sometimes the pain in my life
makes you seem far away
but I’ll trust you
I need to know you’re here
through the tears and the pain
through the heartache and rain

I’ll trust you

(verse 2)
Everything that I see
tells me not to believe
but I’ll trust you lord
you have never failed me
My past still controls me
Will this hurt ever leave?
I can only trust you
no one else like you do

(bridge)

(chorus)

(vamp)
***I can
I will
I must
trust you **repeat**

***I will
trust you ***repeat***

(modulate)

***I will
trust you ***repeat***

(modulate)
***I’ll trust you (x3)
I will***repeat***

God will make a way (x4)

Recently one of the messages delivered on a Sunday morning focused on the practical dimension of faith, as Pastor Michael Spears of Equip U Ministries expounded upon the subject “By Faith” which inspired this poem with that title:

 

By Faith

Look at the proud; his soul is not straight or right within him,

but the [rigidly] just and the [uncompromisingly] righteous man shall 

live by his faith and in his faithfulness.

Habakkuk 2:4 [Amplified Bible]

The practical aspect of faith is a walk, a lifestyle:

Moment by moment, we walk by faith, not by what we see,

Knowing that this kind of faith propels us to victory.

Even though some may misunderstand and seek to revile,

The shield of faith counters fiery darts of the enemy’s thrust.

We trust God, despite all the hinderer might do or say.

Being fully persuaded, we learn to trust and obey.

We persist and obey: signs of our perpetual trust,

For faith directly reflects our relationship with the Lord.

Walking from victory to victory will not seem odd,

For whatever we desire according to the Word,

We shall have when we pray and put our trust in the Lord.

For true faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God.

God is faithful and always comes through, just as the scriptures saith:

Obey, persist and sacrifice—the just shall live by faith.

I conclude this blog on faith with this amazing YouTube video that provides a living illustration of the creative power of God with the lyrics to the familiar hymn “Trust and Obey” as a backdrop that expresses the simplicity of our walk by faith.

God is able

August 22, 2011

Despite the severity of the challenges we face, never forget that "He is able."

In a recent series of messages taken from the Book of Daniel, I have been strengthened and encouraged by examples of those like Daniel and others who exercised astounding faith, reaping the benefits of their strong convictions. Yesterday’s message by Apostle Eric L. Warren at Equip U Ministries centered on “the three Hebrew children.” “In the Fiery Furnace” was the title. In reviewing my notes, I was inspired to write this poem:

 God is Able 

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us  from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.

Daniel 3:17

                                 

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly  

above all that we ask or think, according to the power    

that works in us,

 Ephesians 3:20

                                   

God is able to do far above all we ask or think.

Life’s greatest challenges will not prevail, but they will shrink.

Although threatened on every hand, we refuse to back down.

In the midst of what seems to be defeat, we will still rebound.

If we have to, we will walk on water and will not sink.

 

Surrounded by disaster, even at the very brink           

Of total defeat, so the enemy would have us to think.               

Though confronted and intimidated, we stand our ground:

God is able.                                    

 

 

We have learned that God’s Word and God’s will are always in sync,

That His Word nourishes and sustains us more than food or drink.      

Our confident trust in God is nothing less than profound,

As we rise untouched, not singed, even from a fiery showdown.       

Renewed in the spirit of our minds, we can now rethink:

God is able.        

As I completed the piece, a couple of songs came to mind: “He is able” expresses the same truth, as powerfully rendered by Wintley Phipps:

The entire discussion of God Almighty who rescues those in danger brought to mind a blog written after the dramatic rescue of the Chilean copper miners who were saved in a miraculous manner. Featured in the commentary and poetry are a number of musical entries that also make reference to Daniel in “To the Rescue“:

All this reminds us “that the God that lived in Daniel’s time is just the same today.”

Red, White and a Taste of the Blues

August 8, 2011

 

Red, White and a Taste of the Blues: Poetry in Celebration of Summer and So Much More is a collection of original poetry and commentary combined visuals and music offered as a blog.

The opening photo displays the artistry of Jim Darnall in a vibrant display entitled “Red White and Blue,” three favorite colors of the summer season.

The opening selection, “I Sing in My Garden,” brings to mind the joys of gardening when I was in graduate school and planted a vegetable garden in the vacant lot next to our home in Bloomington, Indiana in the early 1980s. Metaphorically speaking, I still sing in my garden.

I Sing in My Garden

Oh, sing unto the LORD a new song!

Sing to the LORD, all the earth.

Sing to the LORD, bless his name;

Proclaim the good news from day to day.

Psalm 96:1-2

 

 

I sing in my garden and reap the good,

The bounty of living sixty-nine years.

Each note seems to evoke a stream of tears

That fall, not because of some somber mood

But flow from a heart filled with gratitude.

The folksong of the farmer thrills my ears

Each time plowing, planting or harvest nears.

I compose my song, having understood

Lyrics I did not know when I was young,

When life was uncertain, my song unsure.

Now from my green garden I garner truth.

 A song of conviction flows from my tongue.

 I am seasoned and strengthened to endure,

 Knowing the best lines are yet to be sung.

From Stone upon Stone: Psalms of Remembrance

An instrumental version of “Summertime” accompanies the poem:

Red

From 1985-94 I taught at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, where I continued to hone my skills as a poet.  In 1994 I completed the manuscript Sacred Jazz: Music, Mood and Mind, containing “Red” and “All Blues”, two poems inspired by paintings on the FSU Campus.  Celebrated artist and Professor of Art, Terrance Corbett in a series of murals entitled “Roccoco Bugaloo Beat” produced a collection of visual art inspired by African American music–jazz, the blues, and rhythm and blues.  One of the paintings in brilliant shades of red seemed to leap off the canvas and swirl around in my mind as I “saw red” and wrote a poetic description of what I saw and heard. The accompanying photo is taken of one of the late Professor Corbett’s paintings which is similar to the one that inspired “Red”

Red

red

blood red

red

I said

blood red

red

red dress red

                                    See de gal wid de red dress on,

                                    she can do de birdland all night long

what you say

Brother Ray

what you say

red

red

blood red

red

I said

blood red

red

redhead red

fiery top

of one hot mama

wig wearin sister

lips cherry red and

auburn dyed head

red

red

red-hot red

hot stuff

show nuff

Tampa Red

crooning his red-hot blues

red

cryin from cayenne,

chilli pepper red

bring a tear to your eye

cajun creole gumbo

red snapper red

Laissez les bonnes temps roulez

 from Baton Rouge

red

red

stop sign red

hot tamale

got to be

more careful red

candy-apple red

ragtop red

fire engine red

watch out red

dangerous red

red

sunshine red

watermelon red

good time red

blushing zebra red

black and white

and red all over

red

lollipop red

hip hoppin

finger poppin

thigh slappin

fun-time red

red

red

red clay red

Adamic dust red

red man

red

yearning

to return to Eden

red

red

blood red

red

yes, Lord, red

Lamb’s blood

red

precious blood

red

blood-stained banner

red

like the crimson flow

that cleanses scarlet sins

and washes white as snow

red

Amen red

red

blood red

        blood red

               blood red  

                        blood red

                                 blood red

                                          blood red

                                                     blood red

red   red    red   red     red    red    red  

red

blood red

I said

Red 

From Sacred Jazz: Music, Mood and Mind

 This lively musical treat with Dave Koz  entitled “Together Again” goes together well with “red.”

White

A number of my poems are brushed with white and depict scenes from winter, such as “Frosted Wood Scene”

 Frosted Wood Scene

“Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD,

though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Isaiah 1:18

 

The stark nakedness

of the dark bark

blooms with crystal leaves.

Where death once reigned,

blossoms now flourish,

even as grace

did much more abound

and flower as

graceful almond trees.

 

I stand enraptured,

surrounded by

the fragile beauty

of the landscape

etched in a fuller

white than any

angel’s bright raiment.

 

The frosted wood scene

shows God’s design

to cleanse and make whole

the soul of man

that he might surely

know the pure love

that cleanses, covers

whiter than snow,

Lord, whiter than snow.

 From Stone upon Stone: Psalms of Remembrance

 

Accompanying the poems etched in white are photos of falling snow—a collage winter scenes with music:

Another depiction of snow and ice against the backdrop of a photo by Curtis Blake highlights this amazing reminder from Luke 1:17 that “With God nothing will be impossible.”

Even in Winter

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

That brings forth its fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also shall not wither;

And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:3

 

Mournful dark notes of the wind’s contralto solo

Pierce the heart and chill the soul with its somber tones.

Shrouded in widow’s weeds all of creation groans,

Bemoans winter’s wilderness, lifeless and hollow.

Tall stark naked trees where nothing appears to grow 

Bend in the wind, vacant lodges closed for the season.

To find life in this dead time seems beyond reason,

Yet tender buds sleep in blankets of ice and snow.

Though leaves once green have faded, fallen to frostbite,

Leaf buds cluster in secret places to keep warm;

Buds wrapped in snow are stronger than before the storm.

Soon the voice of the bridegroom will ring in the night.

The time nears when the turtledove returns to sing,  

When ice-covered buds will blossom: firstfruits of spring.

More music and visuals of winter scenes:

A year or so ago during a poetry reading in celebration of Black History Month, I read several original works along with poetry by other African American poets who had influenced my writing. I had a similar kind of revelation regarding Winter and Spring, after reciting “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes, resulting in this poem:

 Winter is a dream deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

              Langston Hughes

 

Covered in ice,

winter is a dream deferred.

Like frozen vistas

unfolding before us

in the pre-dawn morning chill,

we look up

with our faces toward the rising sun.
 

Suspended in freeze frame,

 dormant hope waits,

as a cold-blooded vertebrate

 withdraws to hibernate.

Here death confronts us

and smacks our faces.

Though we reel and feel the sting,

we know that someday

ice-covered buds shall blossom

and explode into Spring.

The poetry in winter white brings to mind a familiar piece of classical music: the 1st movement of Winter from Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons.

Blue

The colors red, white and blue come to mind on the Fourth of July when I recall an experience during the time that I lived in Washington, DC, and my parents came to visit me from Gary, Indiana. On that particular weekend I discovered that I my father really enjoyed blues music. That experience inspired  

Quiet as it’s kept, Daddy loved the blues.

I remember the time back in the day when Dad could still drive,

and drive he did most of the way, not the whole way, but divided in half,

stopping to spend the night in a motel in Pennsylvania

somewhere about halfway between Gary, Indiana and DC

“Madear and Daddy” drove down to visit me one weekend over the 4th

and we went down to festivities off Constitution Avenue

in that “grassy as if it wanted wear” area near the Smithsonian.

Strolling like nomads in and out of blue and white striped tents,

seeking relief from the relentless blazing summer sun,

we sampled the chicken and rib tips and fresh squeezed lemonade

and finished off the feasting with a taste of the blues:

a folk festival of sorts, featuring local blues singers

and a quartet from Dad’s home state of Arkansas.

We followed the crowd into this one wide tan canvas expanse,

flaps raised and rolled up, wrapped all around the sides,

like a revival tent without the sawdust.

On the plywood stage covered with carpet remnants

in a rickety wooden folding chair sat old Flora.

She wasn’t blind but thick wire-rimmed glasses

magnified her dark orbs that closed like doll’s eyes

when she reared back her head and hollered.

Flora was good, but she wasn’t quite like Robert,

old Blind Robert that sang down in front of the Riggs Bank.

He was blind for sure(think he was born that way),

strumming and humming, and sliding that metal bar up and down the guitar strings

to lure folk into the tent to taste that thick authentic down home sound.

Blind Robert show could sing. . . .

       

Wonder why so many good blues singers be blind?

Brother Ray and Stevie. . . Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell,

Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake n’nem;

All the Blind Boys, from Mississippi and Alabama,

All yall, I know yall see what it takes to show nuff sing the blues.

Of course, my Daddy got the same name as a famous blues singer,

Lonnie Johnson. I wonder what all that means, if anything.

While the brothers from Arkansas was playing and singing,

I’d glance over and catch Daddy nodding his head in agreement

or see him smiling or simply breathing a sigh,

like a tacit Amen or inner response that seemed to say,

“You got that right.”

We stood and watched and listened a good while

before we left and continued to stroll from tent to tent.

After a while, Daddy wanted to go back just one more time.

My Daddy show did love him some blues that time in DC.

 

Some say the blues is an acquired taste that you appreciate as you age.

As I have mellowed in the autumn of the years, I have come to enjoy the blues too.

I just wish I could have shared this newfound fondness for blueness

with my father back in the day, in my younger boppin doowop days,

but I just couldn’t get into them down in the alley sad songs back then.

I just didn’t know why the blues always be so sad.

What did I know? What did I know?

   

Now I know it takes a whole lot of living and

a lot more loving and losing to appreciate the blues.

Like the Lady say,

        You don’t know what love is
        Until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues
        Until you’ve loved a love you’ve had to lose
        You don’t know what love is

Now I know just what Daddy meant when he nodded his head

and sighed and wanted to go back just one more time.

Quiet as it’s kept, my Daddy loved him some blues.

 

With regard to The Blues as Music, we find a whole range of emotions expressed in musically. Just as the color blue has wide variety of shades, so does the blues in terms of their intensity.  Kandinsky, the noted philosopher and artist, comments about the color blue and its various shades.  ”Blue is the typical heavenly color: deep, inner, supernatural, peaceful.  The ultimate feeling it creates is rest.  The more intense it is, the more it calls us to the open sky, and demands purity and transcendence.  Light blue is like a flute, a darker blue a cello, a still a darker the double bass, and the darkest an organ.  When it darkens to black, it evokes a profound grief.  Sinking toward black, it has the overtone of a mourning that is not human.”

“All Blues” is a poetic expression of my impressions of the blues as inspired by one of the paintings of Terrance Corbett, a massive mural in shades of blue inspired by the music of the blues.

All Blues

pitch-black blue

bluer than

the toothless gums

of a black

blues singer

screamin

moanin bout

how his baby

done left him

 

  Mm mmm soon one mornin

  blues come fallin down

  Mm mmm soon one mornin

  blues come fallin down

  Said they fell so heavy

  Till it caused my heart to moan                       

 

can no anodyne soothe

this state of mind

can no elixir elevate

this mood indigo

 

midnight blue

this thick

blue funk rises

etherizes

swirls, eddies

makes folk giddy

done stunk up

they minds

with stinkin thinkin

suffocatin in self-pity

dazed, crazy  from

this haze of blue funk

 

I got these blues  

Reason I’m not satisfied                                                    

 I got these blues

Reason I’m not satisfied                                                    

That’s the reason why                                                       

I stole away and cried  

 

freight-train blue

trailin down the track

lonesome echoes blowin

from a steel blue

dark harmonica

navy blue notes

wailin for Miles

from that long gone train 

 

Took my baby

to meet the mornin train

Took my baby

to meet the mornin train

And the blues come down

Baby like showers of rain 

 

pastel blue

lighter, brighter

subtle twinge

of powder blue

like Betty Lou

hop-scotchin

up to sky blue

and back

 

peacock blue

glimmers, shimmering

like the lining

of Queen Esther’s

royal blue robe,

penetrates this thick

blue upon blueness

in a lighter vein

bright sea-blue

swirling like burgundy blue

new wine

springing from an

inner fountain blue

from the soul of a man

who swapped his low-down blues

for pure turquoise joys

 

Trouble in mind I’m blue

but I won’t be blue always

Trouble in mind I’m blue

but I won’t be blue always

cause the sun’s gonna shine

in my front door someday

 

just what is the blues? 

is it somethin you get

a show nuff dis ease

like de rheumatiz

or de rockin pneumonia

and de boogie-woogie flu

or is it like Lightnin said

somethin you just borned with

whatsonever it is

somethin gets a holt of you

dis mornin    dis evenin    soooo blue 

just what is the blues?

maybe Lady Day summed it up

when she said,

“The blues is everything.”

The sea, the sky,

the blues and I

know all colors;

sea and sky,

the blues and I

know all colors:

all shades

all hues

all blues

                                                      

“All Blues” is published in Sacred Jazz: Music, Mood and Mind. 

Accompanying the poem is the music of the unmistakable Miles Davis. performing “All Blues” from the album “Kind of Blue” recorded in 1959.

Once I reached my forties and beyond, I seemed to appreciate the blues as a musical and poetic form. The noted poet Robert Bly remarked, “It is easier to go through suffering if you have a name for it.”  I learned the reality that suffering is a part of life; indeed, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  As the old folks used to say, “Ain’t no harm to moan. . . sometime.”  

Ralph Ellison offers this penetrating definition of this evocative musical form:

The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger the jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by consolations of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.  As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically.

In 2003 while on sabbatical from Otterbein College, I made my first trip to West Africa, where I visited historic Goree, Island, one of the centers of the transatlantic slave trade.  The trip by ferry to Goree Island proved to be one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life thus far. The impact of that particular part began with a lecture at the Goree Institute on the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Senegal by Dr. Ibrahima Seck.  Because of his interest in Africa American music, Dr. Seck discussed and illustrated specific connections between the Blues and African music.  As a poet who infuses the blues into my poetry, I was especially fascinated by his discussion and sampling of video clips of African musicians and singers.  As a result of Dr. Seck’s lecture as well as the total experience on Goree, I now “understand” and appreciate my poetry to a much greater degree, especially those works that include blues lyrics.  “Down Home Blues” was written after reflecting upon Dr. Seck’s lecture at the Goree Institute. 

Down Home Blues

A Transatlantic Connection

 

sitting in my rocking chair

on the front porch

of my shot-gun house

with my face to the rising sun

strumming my moolo,

strumming my xalan                                               

strumming my “good-tar”

 (with a soul all its own)                                                                                                                                  

“strumming on the old banjo”                                                                                            

strumming my kora 

strumming my ko ko ko ko kora           

Corrina, Corrina,

Crrina, Corrina,

Corrina, Corrina,

Where you been so long?

strumming my ko ko ko ko kora

 

KoKo ’nem, this where yall come from 

Ma and Bessie and Mamie and Alberta and Victoria

and all them ladies leading up to Lady Day;

Dinah and Esther and Etta and Nina,

all them blues singers, sisters of note,

all the way beyond Ms Sippie and way Down South,

all the way Up North, way Down East and way Out West

all the way up to right now

 

All the   men folk too,

this where yall come from                                                          

Leadbelly and Robert Johnson

and Lonnie Johnson, man with my Daddy’s name,

Blind Lemon and Lightnin and other brothers,

Mr. B. and B.B. King, Joe Williams

and Big Jimmy Rushing through Muddy Waters, 

all the way to Brother Ray and Stevie,

all the Blind Boys, from Mississippi and Alabama,

I know yall see

 

All yall, this where yall come from

 

. . . from huts of Mali through Senegambia,

 

all the way West and back 

and forth to Taj Mahal

 

Mother Africa first felt the birth pangs

and screamed, Walaay!

“Lord, have mercy. . .”

“ Hmph! Hmph! Hmph! I tell you the truth.”

long before the Southland gave birth to the blues

 

Ali Farka Toure, the late guitar-playing farmer

from Bamako, Mali, on the River Niger 

(up and got hooked on John Lee Hooker

and ain’t never been the same since)

. . . anyway, he say

”The blues has no African name. . .

The word for the blues does not exist.

I say

the blues

by any other name/ or no name at all/

the blues

was,

yet and still is

. . . show is. . .

 when they gets a holt of you… you know it. . . don’t matter where you from

 I woke up one morning and wondered,

 ‘Where these blues come from?’

 I woke up one morning and wondered,

 ‘Where these blues come from?’

 I scratched my head and kept staring

 . . . staring at the rising sun.

 . . . staring at the rising sun.

A blues piece with lyrics by Lonnell Johnson, composed and performed by Dan Haas

The blues comes in all shades, as intimated in “All Blues,” and here is “.  .  . a lighter, brighter, subtle twinge of powder blue”, a pastel, bright and bubbly blues piece called “No Mo Blues.” I wrote the lyrics and my longtime friend, Dan Haas, put the words to music and offers his rendition of the song. 

No Mo Blues

You have turned for me my mourning

into dancing; You hast put off my sackcloth,

 and clothed me with gladness;

 Psalm 30:11

I use to be a big-time blues singer

 In the union for singers of the blues.

 I use to be a big-time blues singer

 In the union for singers of the blues,

  But I turnt in my union card,

  Ain’t gonna pay no mo union dues.

 When I was a full-time blues singer,

Doin whatsonever I choose–

 When I was a full-time blues singer,

 Doin whatsonever I choose–

 Drinkin and smokin and screwin round

 I was payin my blues singer’s dues.

 When I use to sing the low-down blues,

 I could show-nuff cry and croon.          

 When I use to sing the low-down blues,

 I could show-nuff cry and croon.          

 Then I met my pretty baby,

  Now I’m hummin a brand new tune.

  I gotta go find my agent

  And tell him, “Say, Man, you been fired!”

  I gotta go find my agent

  And tell him, “Say, Man, you been fired!”

  Since I met my pretty baby,

  This old blues singer’s done retired.

  I’m gonna tell everybody,

  I want the whole world to see.

  I’m gonna tell everybody,

  I want the whole world to see.

  I just gotta testify

   What my pretty baby done for me.

  The day she stepped into my heart,

  The sun shined in my front door.

  The day He stepped into my heart,

  The sun shined in my front door.

  And since I met my pretty baby,

 I ain’t gonna sing the blues no mo.

 

no mo bluesRecording of Dan Haas singing the lyrics:

“Final Victory”, an original blues poem, speaks of “Old Man Crab”, referring to cancer, the dreaded disease that takes its name from the constellation Cancer, the celestial arrangement that appears at the beginning of summer  from JUNE 22 – JULY 23. I was first inspired to compose the poem after the death of my father, Lonnie Johnson, who died of complications from cancer in 1996. My mother, Jessie Marie Johnson, survived two bouts with “Old Man Crab” and after another valiant fight, died of cancer in 2002. I make reference to her first two triumphant battles against cancer in the third stanza. I revised the poem in 2001 after my brother-in-law, Elliott Thompson, passed away from liver cancer. The next year, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the entire poem took on even greater significance, especially this stanza from which the title of my book Watch, Fight and Pray: My Personal Three-fold Strategy to Combat Prostate Cancer was taken:

Final Victory

I Corinthians 15:53-57

Romans 8:37-39

 

Old man crab is mighty sneaky,

            always creepin and up to no good,

Old man crab, is mighty sneaky,

            always creepin and up to no good,

That low-down dirty rascal,

            Messin with folk all round the neighborhood.

One dark day old man crab came callin,

            Crawlin in like some uninvited mouse,

One dark day old man crab came callin,

            Crawlin in like some uninvited mouse,

That nasty dirty devil,

            Sneakin in the back door of my sister’s house.

First you first attacked my mama, old man crab,

            You tried to pinch her with your greatest fears,

First you first attacked my mama, old man crab,

            You tried to pinch her with your greatest fears,

But she didn’t want no she-crab soup,

            You tried to served with pain and bitter tears.

You may have come to our house, old man crab,

            But I’m sorry, you can’t stay.

You may have come to our house, old man crab,

            But I’m sorry, you can’t stay.

Whatsonever in the world you may do,

            Everyday we still gonna watch, fight, and pray.

Nothin’ low down on earth, old man crab,

            Or nothin high up in heaven above,

Nothin’ low down on earth, old man crab,

            Or nothin high up in heaven above,

Not even death, your creepin pardner,

            Can ever separate us from God’s love.

So git out my face, old man crab,

            I got your number, don’t you see.

So git out my face, old man crab,

            I got your number, don’t you see.

You may win this li’l biddy battle,

            But we show-nuff got the final victory.

Some say our Savior’s comin in the mornin;

            Some say in the midnight hour or high noon

Some say our Savior’s comin in the mornin;

            Some say in the midnight hour or high noon

 

I got a feelin He’s comin back

            To gather us together soon . . . and very soon.

From Stone upon Stone: Psalms of Remembrance

The last line of the closing stanza brings to mind the gospel song “Soon and Very Soon” performed by Andre Crouch: