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)
One of the greater joys of my endeavors as an author and poet has been an occasional opportunity to compose poems, essays, and articles to supplement the vibrant works of visual artists with my own literary constructions.
That was the case in 2011 when providing panel text for paintings featured in the extremely gifted artist Michele Wood’s I See the Rhythm of Gospel exhibition. Previously, I had been blessed with a similar honor when composing ekphrastic poems for the art of Luther E. Vann in ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love. And I’ve written any number of essays reviewing the works or chronicling the lives of other contemporary artists such as Allen Fireall (who currently, heartbreakingly, is challenged by the need for a heart transplant), Jerome Meadows, Phil Starks, and Amiri Geuka Farris.
The year 2012 saw this scenario change in some unexpected ways. In recent months, various readers and inspired techno angels have shared with me a variation on the creative process of me producing words to complement the visual brilliance of fellow creators. Demonstrating Zinta Aistar’s observation (in her review of ELEMENTAL) that “art begets art,” they have employed quotations from my works to lend verbal articulation to specific images–– and vice versa. Their application of these quotes seemed a natural development following the increased popularity of social media sites like Pinterest, Twitter, and Tumblr.
It was an astonishing thing––at first––to experience. The reason was not because I had been unaware these inventive mergers were in progress (although in fact I did not know at the time). It was because the end results so often successfully expanded the original conceptions without excluding the original intent. Others provided fresh interpretations that generated new insights into my own work. How often does that happen for a dedicated pen-pusher who refuses to give up his inkwell and yellow legal pads no matter how awesome the latest generation of notebook tablets may be?
I have often stated that my own involvement in contemporary literature is my way of contributing to the luminous conversation sustained by readers and writers as we journey from one century to another. This new way of art begetting art (new for me at least) is both an expansion of and commentary on that conversation. One of its greatest gifts has been to inspire works like the illuminated phrase posted with this article, and taken from the poem “Holiday Letter for a Poet Gone to War,” published in Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black:
“You were born a child of light’s wonderful secret--
you return to the beauty you have always been.”
As it happens, the image used with this quote represents yet one more way that art has given birth to art because it is my understanding that it is taken from a forthcoming video.
So long as quotations or excerpts are not used for commercial purposes without authorization, I am more than happy to share them and actually feel they help me fulfill my work as an author. For that I am very grateful. After all, if one of the creative artist’s most important jobs is to address––through his or her specific medium–– the more pressing issues of the times, then surely a major part of any serious author’s role is to help compose a suitable vocabulary that accomplishes exactly that. Moreover, it should probably be one that further empowers fellow citizens of the Global Village to achieve such a goal in a way that proposes to heal lives instead of proposing to destroy them. That, more than anything else, may very well provide the greatest affirmation of art’s ever-commanding timeless value.
author of The River of Winged Dreams
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.