MANA's BLACK LIT ALIVE! podcast is a special segment on literature produced by African American writers.
While previous podcasts focused on writers in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, this podcast features the work of contemporary poet and author, Jessyca Mathews, the 2013 MANA Passion for Poetry winner. (Go here to read an interview with Mathews posted on our blog.)
Mathews is a high school English teacher in Flint, Michigan. In addition to Simply: A Collection of Poetry, Mathews wrote 318: A Chubby Chick's Tales of Weight Loss. Mathews co-wrote the play Appointments: A Flint Water Crisis Account to bring community and national attention to Flint's water crisis.
Mathews was selected by the Michigan Department of Education as a 2019-2020 Regional Teacher of the Year and was a finalist for Michigan Teacher of the Year in 2019-2020.
Enjoy MANA’s DR C reading of selected poems from Simply: A Collection of Poetry:
• In Front of the Church
• Prison Letter
• Grandpa's Michigan Jacket
• No Regrets
I saw the nurses in white who had just placed their elegant white gloves on their wrinkled, dark hands, fall to their knees crying out to the Savior.
I saw men wearing their Sunday best covered in the gray dust, down on their hands and knees, digging for something, anything that showed signs of life.
I covered my ears to suppress the sounds of mothers with voices trembling and creased brows with absolute despair. They call the four little girls' names:
"Denise, where are you, baby?"
"Cynthia, answer me, honey."
"Addie Mae, please call to me."
"Carol, your mother needs you."
They don’t answer.
The blast took them away.
I open my eyes in front of the church.
I stood in front of history.
It happens when I realize the one for me can never be with me forever.
He called me, filled with cheerful greetings, then says, cautiously, quietly: "I got married today."
Yes, married, as in "forever-hold-your-peace" married.
He didn't invite me to come. He says that it was just last minute, just family, and he didn't have time.
He had time to call me many nights at forbidden times, he had time to share fantasies, his thoughts of “what-if-we-dids” with me.
He had time for sweet, passionate rumps in the car, when windows fogged from the heat between both of us, but not enough time for this announcement.
I sat, teeth clenched, tears falling, and emotions raging, feeling every ounce of those sacred memories melt and fade like a candle’s last life in a dim, dark corner.
He apologizes more and admits it finally, "You couldn't be there. If you were, it would have been hard to say those words."
He wouldn't have said, "I do."
I say, "Congratulations" and sink forever into the abyss of loneliness.
It came in the mail today, the prison letter from a foreign place that you will never visit.
It’s written by a person that has made more bad choices than good, has done damage to everyone in his path that has once again landed him behind bars.
There are times that you can't stand what he has become and think about the pain and neglect he has caused to loved ones;
the times you hid your purse when he entered your home,
the times the phone rang with grandma crying to mom because he had stolen her jewels once again,
or was standing at the door, higher than the clouds.
You learn not to be surprised by his actions, to shake your head in disgust with every crime and complaint about him.
You found it better to turn your back, and not think of him.
But lately, you've been writing him letters. Maybe, to help him pass the time while in his small, cramped cell. Or maybe in hopes that he will see that life was worth living for those who work hard to make the world better. Maybe the ramblings about your day's adventures would inspire him to do better, if, and when, he returned.
The truth is, you don't know why you sit and write. But deep down you know that it is essential to talk to him.
Maybe he can change.
One can only hope.
Grandpa's Michigan Jacket
Today was the day that dad decided it was time.
The wind was strong and crisp with cool air, and wearing just his coaching Polo would not suffice.
Today was the day he would wear my grandpa's Michigan jacket.
Grandpa had got sick a year ago and it was a moment that changed the family, especially daddy.
Grandpa had pain in his hip in early September. They determined he needed surgery next week.
Later, cancer changed him and all the family on Halloween.
I'm sure dad thought back on those events when he reached for that jacket in the closet. It was time to be wrapped in his father's warmth once again.
Grandpa's jacket would keep him warm, keep him secure, give him the strength to coach, and the strength to just go on with life.
It fit dad perfectly.
I have no regrets on my decisions in life, no feelings of failure in the men I've chosen, and the pain each has caused me.
I have no regrets in losing my thinner figure that used to make men swoon with every hip twirl and shirts that exposed my bountiful breasts.
There is no sorrow in seeing gray hairs start to peep through the crown of my head, the crows feet developing at the corners of my almond eyes, or sagging of the skin in my upper arms.
There are no regrets because I am supposed to change, to age into this older creature of admiration.
I am just fine.