“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 was thoroughly convinced a month ago that by the time World Book Day (April 23) rolled around I would have finished selecting material for my proposed book of quotations. That did not happen and I came close to getting frustrated over it. But I consoled myself with the thought that the next best thing to greeting readers and signing books at an event on World Book Day was working to complete a title already in progress.
My chomping-at-the-bit anxiety was also tamed by the kind of special gifts that almost always turn grown writers into overjoyed hand-clapping babies. One was a corresponding website for the book in progress, which has now been given the title Journey through the Power of the Rainbow. The reasons for the switch are noted on the site. The second reason my disquiet took a back seat to humility was an unexpected new book cover.
Yes, it more than likely was presented to encourage me to move a little faster on the job at hand. But even so, a new book cover for a forthcoming book is the kind of thing that helps give visual form and substance to something that is mostly an abstract idea until it rests in some tangible form within your hands. It also provides additional motivation to keep the flow going and serves to help validate the value of all the long hours spent in solitude to finally get the work done.
Who knows, the pages worked on so diligently during World Book Day 2013 may very well turn into the book that gets frequently signed, discussed, and placed on wish lists at World Book Day 2014.
24 April, 2013
“Hope drowned in shadows
One of the political jabs with which critics of Barack Obama used to attack him during his first run for the U.S. presidency was that his proposed platform was more rhetorical poetry than political substance. That charge has been largely reversed at this 2013 beginning of his hard-won second term.
The cry now––mostly from those frequently described as extremist conservatives, Tea Partiers, and the “New Plutocrats”–– is that the poet in President Obama has allowed power to exert its corruptive influence. It has, they charge, caused him to imagine that he is “a king” in a country where monarchy is not the law of the land. The supposed evidence is his successful passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and proposals submitted to Congress just last week to help end the loss of American lives due to gun violence.
As it turned out, the very quality for which Mr. Obama was ridiculed––his profound eloquence in print as well as in person–– has become one of his greatest strengths. It has also by extension become one of America’s greatest strengths. Again, as it turned out, his poetry was filled with a great deal of substance capable of steering the United States through its greatest economic devastation since the Great Depression, restoring the country’s status as a leader in world affairs, excelling when necessary in the role of commander in chief, and exhibiting extraordinary compassion for those battered by disaster. Poetry, it seems, had helped provide him with uncommon communication skills and an empathetic manner that has allowed him to simultaneously lead, steer, and guide.
Leadership and Followership
His achievements of course have not been solo events. Teams of very devoted individuals and the American people themselves have made the different manifestations of political visions possible in an extremely volatile––some might say antagonistic––climate. The poem below, Midnight Flight of the Poetry Angels, was written during the presidential campaign of 2008 as much to honor those whose followership have since made Mr. Obama’s presidency possible as it was to honor the man himself. It is presented here, in acknowledgment of the 57th inauguration, as it was when shared three months before he first won the office, with an introductory quote from Dreams from My Father:
Midnight Flight of the Poetry Angels
(by Aberjhani from The River of Winged Dreams)
“It was a savage scene, and we stayed there for a long time, watching life feed on itself, the silence interrupted only by the crack of bone or the rush of wind, or the hard thump of a vulture’s wings as it strained to lift itself into the current, until it finally found the higher air and those long and graceful wings became motionless and still like the rest.”
––Barack Obama, from Dreams from My Father
What once was blood streaks
your face with indigo tears
and lush midnight tunes.
Holding silver hands,
you compose a Tao of art
that heals broken wings.
Lips glow violet,
open to reveal tongues bright
with pearl metaphors.
A speckled halo
handcuffs the world’s best liars
to soft dark passions.
Music’s sweet labors
give birth to a springtime rush
of sighs rippling dreams.
Out of your mouth rhymes
blossom like warm paradigms
already in flight.
Golden, your songs,
and noble; spinning stars on
their axis of love.
On faith’s battered back
calm eyes etch prayers that cool
a nation’s hot rage.
Inside these scarred hearts
genius flows incandescent
waves of truth made real.
Hope drowned in shadows
emerges fiercely splendid––
(from The River of Winged Dreams)
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love
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.