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.
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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.