964: abundance of light

964: abundance of light

964: abundance of light


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Once, preparing to introduce one of my poems, I stood in front of a gallery audience in Philadelphia, telling a story about meeting the ghost of Betsy Ross in Elfreth’s Alley, how an apparition of a woman in a bonnet with an American flag emerged out of a mist that covered cobblestone streets.

As I talked, I emptied my pockets in search of the handwritten poem: loose change, café receipts, a #2 Ticonderoga pencil. I looked bedraggled. I wore a wrinkled gray suit. I had spent the previous four days traveling on a rickety tour bus with a dynamic group of poets, the east coast leg of Wave Books’ infamous Poetry Bus tour. When not in hotels or homes of relatives or friends, we slept in parking lots, imbibed, and talked through the night.

The bus traveled through the country, picking up poets who then read in cafes, museums, bars, even a prison . . . something like a P.R. stunt for poetry. But, to me, it was a great excuse to gather a merry band of pranksters, who shared a love of language and understood its powers.

I couldn’t locate the poem about Betsy, so I continued emptying my pockets; a pair of scissors, two fake eyeballs, a lobster claw, and a postcard from New York. The audience laughed. I kept my impromptu comedy act going, saying Until my dream, I had never met a colonial ghost before, but maybe living in Olde City had its perks. Then, I reached into my back pocket and touched a twice-folded piece of paper. Aha, here’s the poem, I said, about the woman who sewed the American flag.

I hear in today’s poem a similar haunting, reckoning, and nostalgia, dominant themes among the poets on the road. On stages and podiums, we traded poems about heartbreak, childhood memories, and personal loss. What emerges is a triumphant questioning spirit that overcomes grief and uncertainty.

abundance of light
by erica lewis

plain face
same instrument
the holy prophet
referred to agarwood
as a distinct item
found in paradise
how the heartbreak
i’ve gone through
recently also clouds
my way of seeing the world
i save me for a parable 
our parents die
and this is how
we get our houses
and here i am
grieving, on edge
trying to make sure 
you don’t think
i am making 
some sort of pass at you
it is the year of being
a spiritual illness
she must cure herself
my great aunt chris
introduced me
to the rolling stones
when i was three
let me jump on her bed 
to “miss you”
i want to say to myself
i won’t miss you child
i grew up watching 
the price is right
press your luck
tic tac dough
and what’s my line
that’s still my favorite
everybody that raised me
is dead
i feel as uncertain
about everything
now as i did back then
i am once again reduced 
to my condolences
george floyd
a metaphor for all these things
i don’t know how
to talk
to anyone
who is not
i am enjoying
how the wreckage 
can take you home

"abundance of light" by erica lewis, from MAHOGANY copyright © 2023 by erica lewis. Used by permission of the poet.