Quote by Aberjhani with original digital MLK poster: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was a manifestation of hope that humanity might one day get out of its own way by finding the courage to realize that love and nonviolence are not indicators of weakness but gifts of significant strength.” --Aberjhani
Different roads provide diverse routes to freedom. For many, the path is an interior one. It first requires an individual to the clear from the landscape of inner beingthose areas overgrown with woody thickets of doubt and trauma or buried beneath swamplands of self-imposed limitations.
There are others––like the Americans who struggled for civil rights in the 1960s, and citizens of the Middle East and various African countries currently battling for basic human rights–– who take a more public journey to freedom. Their sense and experience of liberty is defined by interaction with the external dictates of history, evolving cultural persuasions, and dominant political trends. Individuals such as these inspired the article Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech.
Whether the journey is undertaken within or without, the impulse to demand, claim, and exercise freedom ––not just as a politicized human right but as a fundamental tenet of human existence–– is as automatic as gulping air when first leaving the womb. It therefore is not particularly surprising that the King Center in Atlanta has chosen to conclude its 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech with a “Let Freedom Ring” international bell-ringing event at 3 p.m. on August 28.
“We are calling on people across America and throughout the world to join with us as we pause to mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech with ‘Let Freedom Ring’ bell-ringing events and programs that affirm the unity of people of all races, religions and nations,” said King Center C.E.O. Bernice A. King in a news release from the Center.
When considering in 2013 the horrendous number of people who have died in Syria’s civil war over the past several years, those who have lost their lives to domestic gun violence in the United States over the past several decades, and writers and artists who are persecuted daily in different countries for “speaking truth to power,” the idea of ringing bells in the name of freedom might strike some as ludicrous. It is, however, this insistence upon liberty in the face of weighted oppression that has always given self-determination its strength and value.
Freedom rings bells because throughout history silence has too often served as an accomplice to genocide, slavery, and other forms of barbarity.It rings bells to remind humanity that the most precious gifts in life––like children and love and time––must never be taken for granted. Freedom rings bells to wake us from the comfort of beautiful dreams and empower the efforts that turn them into reality.
In July 2006, I sat down to write a short simple thank you note to fellow poets and writers who had graciously wished me well on my birthday. To my surprise, the intended short simple note came out of my pen in the form of the following poem:
ANGEL OF GRATITUDE
Each, shaped from a heart
divine—such is the nature
of your humble wings.
Love, Mercy, and Grace,
sisters all, attend your wounds
of silence and hope.
You are the good twin
and the bad. Not arrogant,
With grief or without,
your flight commands awareness
of joy beyond pain.
Holy starbright of
infinite heavens, for these
tears––I do thank you.
Just the fact that it was a poem was the first big surprise. The second was the style in which it was written, a variation on the haiku that I had never used before. Had my muse taken on the form of an angelic presence to gift me with a unique way to say Thank You? Or had an angelic presence paid me a visit to play the role of my muse? I smiled at the possibilities, posted my Thank You poem, and life went cautiously on about its modern-world business.
So how astonished was I when another angel poem materialized just a week later? Very! This one called itself Angel of Grace. I don’t recall a specific reason for its composition, only afterwards feeling deeply inspired—almost pressured in fact—to dedicate it to the English poet Kate Burnside and her family. Since we have never met nor even chatted, this dedication stunned Burnside at least as much as it did me.
These angels of poetry, I thought, have a nicely wicked and scary sense of humor.
Angel of Grace forced me to confront the possibility that even though I had no intentions of writing additional poems about the influence or presence of angels, some additional poems might nevertheless have every intention of making themselves known to me. It turned out they did. Most were written down but some were not simply because I could not always hold the words or images long enough in my mind to do so. They would come in bursts of intense energy like exploding butterflies, dazzle me with their depth and light, then vanish.
The manner in which the poems continued to manifest intrigued me to no end. Predictably, the most violent among them was Angel of War. I did not like the concept of an Angel of War—probably because of the ongoing atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—so tried to resist the act of physically writing a poem about one. This struggle not to pick up a pen and write clashed head-on with an intense compulsion to do exactly that. For more than a week I found myself engaged in this psychic battle. Any time I wrote a stanza in one notebook, just to get it out of my head, I would later write somewhere else a question challenging the nature of war. This tugging back and forth eventually gave the poem its final form of haiku-like stanzas followed by angry questions.
The Angel of War experience was a weird one that I did not have time to contemplate long because—talk about some serious irony—the next week the Angel of Peace showed up during a storm that knocked all the lights out. Every time I went feeling through the dark to do one thing, I would grab a candle or flashlight along with a pen and paper then stand wherever I was and write instead. Both Angel of War and Angel of Peace were featured in the July 2007 online issue of Poetry Life and Times.
By the time I wrote The Poet-Angels Who Came to Dinner , which turned out to be the thirteenth of the angel poems, in early 2007, I no longer had energy or room to doubt that I was involved in the creation of something at once singular and abstruse. The intensity of the writes continued to bug me a bit. Or maybe even a lot. Sometimes the words came like ecstatic utterances, sometimes like songs whispered from another time, like actual angelic possessions, or like mental files that had been downloaded while I slept and then printed via my pen as soon as I got up. I began to wonder how long they would go on.
As often happens when puzzled by something on the level of ordinary consciousness, the answer to my bafflement came on a higher level of dream consciousness. In what I described as a dream-vision, I saw dozens, or possibly hundreds, of angels above an ocean lined up across the sky in the form of an arc while I stood staring at them from the shores of a beach. The tops and tips of their wings glittered with the brilliance of silver starlight. The pulse and glow of this light seemed to hum a song that I was sure I had never heard before and yet that I recognized immediately, despite being unable to say what it was. Suddenly, the spirit of my father appeared beside me in the dream––pretty much the way fathers are known to do. I asked him if all those angels lined up across the sky in the shape of an arc meant that I was going to write a lot more about angels?
“That’s part of what it means,” he said, then added, “but you’re thinking too educated.”
“Thinking too educated? How?” I noticed the silver of his hair was similar to that of the angels’ wings and that his speech was more fluid than when he had lived in his world.
“You say they’re forming an ‘arc,’ like something beautiful but not with practical purpose. They’re really making a bridge. Wait a minute, that’s not the way to put it either. They actually are a bridge. You only see the angels on one side of it. There’re just as many on the other side. Now, Son, you know you ought’a recognize that bridge.”
“Ummm, really, why should I?”
“Because you were born at the foot of it and you’ve been walkin’ across it all your life. If it wasn’t for all those silver wings spread out to help you on your journey, you would’a been dead or someplace screamin’ in a nut house a long time ago.”
“Well that makes sense. Why didn’t you tell me this before you died?”
“It wasn’t for me to tell. It was for you to make it to this point in your life so you could see it for yourself. That way you can’t argue against it because the truth is a living part of you.”
Before I could ask another question, I woke up.
In that soft haze between full consciousness and fading dreams, I saw something else. There was my father standing on one bridge paved with feathers of gold; and there I was standing on another paved with feathers of silver. From where he stood, he smiled and waved. I woke up completely. Sitting up on the side of the bed, I grabbed the pen and notebook on my nightstand. Remembering the image of my father upon that bridge, I wondered if he had been a poet and never told me. Getting a better grip on my pen, I started writing.
(excerpt from The River of Winged Dreams)
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.