Poet's Choice: Angel with a Pocketbook

By Elizabeth Spires
Sunday, April 12, 2009

William Edmondson, a Nashville stone carver (c. 1874-1951), was the first black artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1937. The son of freed slaves, he said he carved by divine inspiration. By the end of his life, over 300 of his remarkable stone carvings of humans, animals and mythological and Biblical figures were in public museums and private collections. This poem is one of 23 that I wrote about his life and work.

(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox.)

Angel with a Pocketbook (a sculpture by William Edmondson)

I never thought I'd get to heaven but I did..

I closed my eyes and died, then flew straight up

through clouds that looked like cotton candy,

clutching my pocketbook. The angel at the gate

said I wouldn't need a pocketbook in heaven,

but I held on tight and said I would.

We argued for a while and then he let me in.

Which proves that stubbornness must be a virtue...

At least sometimes.


As you can see, I'm not the airy, wings-aflutter sort.

I'm a two-feet-on-the-ground, no-nonsense type

who can't carry a tune for trying, and heights,

even a choir loft, make me dizzy.

But Heaven, I'm told, is interested in goodness,

not sameness, and though it's not for me

to judge how good I was in life

somebody must have thought I was

or else why would I be here?


Of course, I'd rather be in heaven

than you know where, but I'll confess

sometimes I miss how real the earth was,

miss lipstick, hairdos, the sound of my high heels

click-click-clicking on the sidewalk,

pocketbook swinging at my side.


It's foggy here, and every time I take a step.

I sink a little into cloud, then bounce back up.

They say, just give it time and my memories

will fade like a dress left hanging in the sun.

That soon I'll throw a choir robe over my head

and, with a Hallelujah!, sing as good as anyone.

Until that happens, I'm keeping my pocketbook!

From "I Heard God Talking to Me: William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings," by Elizabeth Spires (Frances Foster/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009). Used by permission of the author.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company