Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Music: "Mary, Don't You Weep"

An article from Wikipedia describes this song as, a Negro spiritual that originates from before the American Civil War– thus it is what scholars call a "slave song," "a label that describes their origins among the enslaved," and it contains "coded messages of hope and resistance." It is one of the most important of Negro spirituals.

The song tells the Biblical story of Mary of Bethany and her distraught pleas to Jesus to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. Other narratives relate to The Exodus and the Passage of the Red Sea, with the chorus proclaiming, “Pharaoh's army got drown-ded!”, and to God's rainbow covenant to Noah after the Great Flood. With liberation thus one of its themes, the song again become popular during the Civil Rights Movement.

The following video is from Dust-to-Digital:

Travel back to Augusta, Georgia in 1929:
A group of farm workers singing the spiritual, "Mary, Don't You Weep."

Thanks to the University of South Carolina for preserving this rare footage.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bearing Witness to the times: Guardrails

Damaged headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, St. Louis, MO
Photo by Nick Schnelle for The New York Times
At Jewish Cemetery, Seeking Answers Amid Heartbreak


They served as boundaries for common decency.                          
We learned to recognize them
By stories told –
Stories of darker times in our past.

We heard stories of discrimination
When people shouted,
Labels to keep those outsiders in their place,
They seemed relics of the past.

We learned thereby
To live in a moderated peace
In spite of our inclinations,
Gut reactions,
And lingering prejudices.

Later we learned the hard lessons of racism.
Even in our white flight
We knew we had to drop the “n-word”
And allow everyone a seat at the table.

Still there were other words of exclusion.
That justified hatred and displacement:
These words,
By hard work and diligence,
Became history in a progressive workplace.

A moderated peace –
Setting guardrails
To remind us of civil behavior,
To strive for an equitable society,
To mark those boundaries
Of common decency.

Within that moderated peace,
All are welcome
To live their traditions
Within a broader society.

Texas mosque destroyed by arson (photo by
Barclay Fernandez/The Victoria Advocate via AP)
A moderated peace –
Establishing a functioning community,
Even if only by a tenuous
Begrudging obligation
For some.
There are expectations of behavior –
A tacit agreement
That public prejudice is taboo
Even if private emotions fall short.

Guardrails have kept us on course.
For all of our failures,
At least we were civil
And making an effort.

Is there now nothing to remind us
Of how far we have come?
Are we left once again
To face our own prejudices,
To live with the consequences of hate?

A moderated peace is never perfect
Yet it requires constant vigilance
To preserve our gains.
We thought we had moved beyond
Spray-painted swastikas
And vandalism.

Let down our guard
And our racism
Comes in full view; 
Our corroding prejudice
In full flower.

Places of worship are torched,
Bomb threats are made,
Graffiti is scrawled on walls,
And cemeteries are desecrated.

Hatred is exposed
And fears confirmed.
Death and destruction
Are their natural end.
Damaged gravestones
Become their metaphor
When guardrails are down.

                                       ~ Charles Kinnaird

Jewish Community Center in Birmingham, AL ( photo)
"Birmingham police and firefighters responded Monday morning to the Levite Jewish Community Center 
on Montclair Road. The hoax threat was one of nearly a dozen throughout the U.S. Monday."

*    *    *    *

The best thing that poets can do is to bear witness to the times – articulate what is happening in the moment; speak to the real life experiences of your people.  I am setting myself a goal to write a poem each week that reflects what I see and experience in the life of our nation... if I can write one poem a week there will be some chronicle of our sacred/tested/doubtful union.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday Haiku: Spring Bunting

indigo bunting
hops quietly in springtime
morning eye's delight

Listen to the indigo bunting's song at


Photo: Indigo bunting in a meadow
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bearing Witness to the Times: The Why of Daffodils

Photo by Lars Kasper

The Why of Daffodils

This week
The daffodils began to bloom,
The first few opening up
Across the lawn.
In some way
I know why –
I planted the bulbs myself
A few years ago.
They will continue to rise and bloom with the season
Long after I have left this place.

Whoever comes to live here after I'm gone,
Whether they live in strife or bliss,
Will witness the bright yellow flowers
That show themselves each spring
Like the crimson poppies in Flanders fields
Where soldiers fell,
Or the lilacs of lavender that bloom in the dooryard
In spite of grief over a slain hero.

It is that tenacious and enduring "why"
To which I confess no knowledge,
And claim no understanding.
Why are we comforted
By such recurrent beauty
In the presence of our sorrows?

Does nature’s hand
Speak soft reminders
In the wake of every tragedy
To bind us to some grander purpose?
When politicians speak madness
And armies pound cities to rubble
Will springtime daffodils
Call hearts to the essence
Of a life lived in beauty?

Do I really know why there are daffodils in my yard
Even when hate divides a nation?
Can we join with lilacs and poppies
To hold that poignant hope
Found even in war-torn communities?
Can those wounded in body and spirit
Open their eyes to see
The natural rhythm of spring
When blossoms break forth?

In as much as they turn our minds
To the underlying wholeness of being
The daffodils evoke
Thankful hearts
Even when reason
Evades the mind.

Perhaps this is the why of daffodils –
That in the midst
Of our inflicting pain upon one another
And our bringing desolation upon the land,
The earth is ever nudging us
Toward an unspeakable gratitude.

                                              ~ Charles Kinnaird

CNN Photo

*    *    *    *

The best thing that poets can do is to bear witness to the times – articulate what is happening in the moment; speak to the real life experiences of your people.  I am setting myself a goal to write a poem each week that reflects what I see and experience in the life of our nation... if I can write one poem a week there will be some chronicle of our sacred/tested/doubtful union.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Music: Georgia on My Mind (Ethel Waters -1939)

Known to many primarily for her appearances with evangelist Billy Graham, Ethel Waters had a long career in blues, jazz, singing with big bands, performing on Broadway, cinema, and television. She was the first black actress to receive an Emmy (for a performance on Route 66 in 1961) and the first black person to receive top billing with white actors on Broadway.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Haiku: Towhee Visits

through every season
the towhee graces the world
in beauty and song

Listen to the towhee's song, "drink your tea" at


Photo by Don Johnston (Getty Images)


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bearing Witness to the times: System Partially Down

 (Photo by Rob Schumacher / AP)

System Partially Down

In the midst of a busy day
Conflict arose.
We have a system in our workplace
To make things more efficient.
It mostly works
Except when it doesn’t.
Conflict arose
When I needed that space
At the same time my coworker
Needed that space.
He did not like
My taking the space.
I could have waited
But my work was important.
His work was important, too.

Hard feelings that day.
No one’s fault
But a flawed system
Putting us at odds.

And so we live
Within flawed systems –
Sometimes thwarting our plans,
Sometimes placing us at odds
With one another.

I fall back to an old zen story about an empty boat:
A man sitting in his boat was rammed
By another boat.
Anger immediately arose within him.
He saw that the boat was empty,
Simply adrift.
With no person, no motive, no agenda to rage against,
The man’s anger completely dissipated.

I try to see our flawed system
As an empty boat
When I’m placed at odds
With colleagues.
It helps me navigate my day.

But I still feel great sorrow that
A flawed system
Separated a young mother from her family,
Deporting her to Mexico.
This is not just a case of an empty boat.

                                                          ~ CK

*    *    *    *

From my introductory post:

The best thing that poets can do is to bear witness to the times – articulate what is happening in the moment; speak to the real life experiences of your people.  I am setting myself a goal to write a poem each week that reflects what I see and experience in the life of our nation... if I can write one poem a week there will be some chronicle of our sacred/tested/doubtful union.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Interfaith Trialogue Celebrating Mutual Respect and Kindness

I am always happy to hear about interfaith dialogue. Last month there was an event at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Hoover, Alabama Leaders held a "trialogue" in which Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders discussed their common heritage. As reported in the Roman Catholic diocese newspaper, One Voice:

"Three local faith leaders - Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim - discussed their common heritage as children of Abraham at a recent public forum held at Prince of Peace Church in Hoover. A standing-room-only crowd of over 550 from throughout the Birmingham area filled the church’s Deasy Hall to hear Father Ray Dunmyer (St. Thomas Church), Rabbi Jonathan Miller (Temple Emanu-El) and Dr. Sameh Asal (Birmingham Islamic Society) present “An Interfaith Trialogue Celebrating Mutual Respect and Kindness” on Jan. 26. All three of the panelists, as well as forum moderator Sister Mary McGehee, are active in interfaith outreach." Read more here, and see the event for yourself on the video. It is a little over an hour in length.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"My Love Walked Through"

On this Valentines Day, I'm re-posting a love poem from my Masterworks Series (from August 24, 2015)

My Love Walked Through 

It was on a summer’s day
When all the world was still
My love walked through the market
With longings to fulfill.

She placed into her basket
The fairest fruit and flower
And set them on her table
To wait the trysting hour.

“When can you come to see me?”
She asked when last we spoke.
My mind was gladly willing,
My heart was full of hope.

Through all my years of struggle
While striving for a name,
I’d never found a resting place
Or joy that I could claim            

Until she graced the morning
With bountiful delight.
Her eyes spoke only welcome
To set my world aright.

So when we sat together
And spoke of days to come,
Our careful hearts were learning
We’d found our lasting home.

                                                     ~ CK

Image: Still Life with Pineapples (courtesy of WikiArt)
Artist: Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Medium: Oil on canvass

Date: 1925

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Music: Al Jarreau - Spain (I Can Recall)

In memory of the legendary jazz artist Al Jarreau, who passed away this past weekend after being hospitalized just prior to a concert tour. "Spain" was written by jazz musician Chick Corea. Al Jarraeau, famous for his scat singing, lent his own special talent to the song. Someone said he "played his voice like an instrument." Here you get a good example of his vocal art.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday Haiku: An Assurance of Sparrows

when sparrows gather
their voices proclaim the day
all are reassured


Painting by Yang Shanshen (Chinese, 1913–2004)


Friday, February 10, 2017

Bearing Witness to the Times: Bury My Heart

(Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Image)

Bury My Heart

“Bury my heart at Wounded Knee*.”
Bury our soul at Standing Rock.
Bury our children in the rubble of corporate greed.

In times past,
Those in power 
Sought to remove the indigenous people
By removing their primary natural resource.
Thus began a campaign of slaughter
That nearly drove the American bison to extinction.
It was the logical extension
Of violent disregard
And relentless acts of genocide
Exacted over 200 years of “New World” settlement.

A reprieve was granted.
The bison was ultimately spared
On small parcels of land.

The people were also spared extinction
To live on small parcels of land
Where their children would be robbed of their heritage,
Their elders would be ridiculed,
And their warriors would be doomed
To a life of alcohol and despair.

For 100 years thereafter,
The bison ran
And gained in number.
The people slowly shook off
The manacles of cultural oppression.
Today they make one more stand
At Standing Rock.

They stand as a witness
Against our penchant for destroying natural resources.
They stand as a witness
For human dignity.
They stand as a voice 
In support of the good earth.

While they stand,
They rally a nation.
Yet the well-oiled wheels of an industry
That cannot see its own end
Move to crush the resistance
           to exhaust our resources,
           to pollute the land
           to disregard the humanity it claims to serve.

One more stand
May lead to more burials,
Yet the good earth will remain
Long after our bodies lie in the rubble
Of our own recklessness.

The good earth will flower
After we are gone.
Nature will endure
With or without humanity.
Our song may give hope to the world
Yet the world may one day have to spin
Without our song.

Bury my heart.
Bury my soul.
Bury my children.

                                                ~ CK


* “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee” is a line from the poem, “American Names,” by Stephen Vincent Benet. It is also the title of a book by Dee Brown, subtitled “An Indian History of the American West.” Wounded Knee was the site of the last conflict between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. On December 20, 1890, the Wounded Knee Massacre at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (Lakota) in South Dakota was the culmination of the Ghost Dance Movement and ended the Indian Wars. 300 Native Americans died that day. Wounded Knee is also the site where the parents of Crazy Horse buried his heart in 1877.

American bison (photo by Skeeze courtesy of Pixabay)

*   *   *   *   *

From my introductory post:

The best thing that poets can do is to bear witness to the times – articulate what is happening in the moment; speak to the real life experiences of your people.  I am setting myself a goal to write a poem each week that reflects what I see and experience in the life of our nation... if I can write one poem a week there will be some chronicle of our sacred/tested/doubtful union.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Stand as One: Empowering Marginalized Voices in Birmingham

Everyone in the Birmingham area, please note the following announcement concerning the challenges we are facing in terms of forging an inclusive community that promotes justice and human rights for all citizens.

Stand as One: Empowering Marginalized Voices in Birmingham – Press Release

Individuals and groups throughout our diverse community are seeking ways to come together to address common challenges and make Birmingham a strong and inclusive community. A group of individuals representing different faith-based, community, and academic organizations has come together to plan a program that will identify our common challenges and begin to identify ways we can work together to address those challenges to create a stronger Birmingham. The program will be offered on February 16 from 6:30--8:30 pm at 405 Campbell Hall on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (1300 University Blvd, Birmingham, AL 35233). The program is entitled “Stand as One: Empowering Marginalized Voices in Birmingham."

Panelists representing the following organizations will discuss challenges faced by the groups they serve, strategies that they are implementing to address those challenges, and begin to plan ways to promote collaboration and hope in order to come together and Stand as One for justice and human rights.

Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice
Black Lives Matter Birmingham Chapter
Birmingham Islamic Society
Disability Rights & Resources
Greater Birmingham Ministries
Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama
Magic City Acceptance Center
National Organization of Women Birmingham Chapter

For further information please contact: Tina Kempin Reuter, PhD, Director, Institute for Human Rights, The University of Alabama at Birmingham; email:,  (205) 934-5643.

Program Sponsors include: Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Birmingham Black Lives Matter Birmingham Chapter, Birmingham Islamic Society, Birmingham Public Library, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Law Firm of John Charles Bell, Immigration Attorneys (sponsor for Spanish interpreter), Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Institute for Human Rights, UAB Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, and Magic City Acceptance Center

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