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and sometimes i hear this song in my head - Harriet Jacobs

In the introduction to her anthology, What have you lost?, Naomi Shihab Nye writes about the peculiar relationship between “friction” and art.

“…I was reminded of something a teacher told us when I was in school: The things that cause you friction are the things from which you might make art. Surely losing is one of the most endemic frictions of our journey.” The poem I’m sharing with you today is from this poignant collection of 140 poems. This is the note Nye shares on the poet:

“Harriet Jacobs lives and writes in Los Angeles, California… “when we leave, we will take only what we brought to this world, what we learned from it - so what can we ever really lose?” Jacobs’ poem rings with the defiance of an entire community. The cadence in her lines deftly carves out a “heartspace”, a kind of existence that finds music in every little thing, every act of resistance, every mundane interaction with space and time. We come to learn what it means to survive, to share a history of oppression, of anger and pain, to rise above it all, with the blues for wings. She writes about a space that is beyond the imagination of those who haven’t lived it, who don’t know that there can be music in the “slap of oar against water” (a reference to the slaves inhumanly being transported into America), and there are riffs in the “snap of cotton breaking from stem” (a reference to the work of the slaves in the cotton plantations). How beautiful and uplifting it is to see, in this outline of loss and resistance, a coming home to oneself, an experience of catharsis, in music.

“…but we keep finding our way back to that clearing at the center of our selves where the trees still talk to us…”


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