Romella Kitchens (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
African American Improvisational Quilt
African American Improvisational Quilt #1: The Cotton Fields
African Americans like all true Americans love America as if it were a wife given to them by God. They
Wash the feet of America. They pray for America when the dream of America goes away from them.
They sow seeds and grow and plant for her, to feed her and make her well.
At night, when she has not come home, they sit in the darkness in a chair waiting for her, their Bible
In their lap – hoping she has been faithful. Have you been faithful, America? With your beautiful
Slender waist and long, graceful feet?
Even in the times of sharecropping and lynching, my family Loved America and still loves America.
They wanted to be her only husband. Her one true love. Still, sometimes within the acceptance, there
Was rejection. The lonely hours. That time of retrospection after midnight.
Dutiful is the skin of a Black woman.
It tells no lies about her present or her history.
It says all things from the cotton fields on.
It tells of her grand father’s sharecropping.
It has the darkness of hunger and prayer.
It is soft like laughter and hymns of survival.
It is vigilantly beautiful beyond denial.
My father raised by sharecroppers.
His sisters black and comely.
Hide some wages in a burlap sack
In a hole dug out back beyond the shot
Through and read the Pittsburgh Courier.
Want to be that kind of colored person
Istead of one who can only hear the beauty
Of the world via a radio.
Hide some wages to dream of another life
Then bring it into fruition.
We Must Always Realize God Protects Us All
“If we tell the stories of our forbearers we tell
Some portion of the universal story of mankind.”
In my mind there have been dreams of a cotton field
In Georgia. The rows span out further than eyes can see.
There is a little girl in the cotton fields of Georgia, she is
Dark, brown with a red and beige plaid worn dress on.
She is innocent concerning those who think of her as a
Nigger, innocent of those who wish not to mix with her
And those who would hold her back.
The fields are wide but she is tiny yet strong and she
Sets off like a gazelle and runs through the rows.
This is where she plays. This is where she grows. No
Money for true toys. No spelling books or fancy games.
I see her running through many centuries. I see her running
Through forced labor, unfair wages, coal mines, factories
And steel mills to the graveyards. I see her
Enduring and still pressing forth towards God, still
Able and accepting of any love given. Her hair is
Fuzzy but caught up into three braids. Her knees are
But yet, she is beautiful. Beautiful are the anointed of
God. Beautiful are those who are held in servitude by
The world but protected by Him. May they always have
The power to survive and prosper.
African American Improvisational Quilt #2
I sat up late that night with coffee. There was happiness in my heart
But an understanding of my history, the history of my people
And my family inside of me. If you study your family you study life
As a whole. To study family is to study love – stitch it panel by panel.
I had been out that day in a sensual August and purchased material.
I laid it out on a clean white table and began to cut, my hands aging
But willing to tell the history of my beautiful childhood neighborhood
… Of a time of Black men with jobs.
I cut the forms and sang to myself about the Israelites and Moses.
About a people freed from Egypt by God. But, I knew that song I
Sang I was also singing for my people. Always sing for humanity.
Scissors and free hand cutting and I could see the images of
My Aunts beautiful and strong, I heard their laughter, scented their
Sweet skin. I could see my Grandmother and handsome uncles
And cousins. All of them with that charisma that kept them
In lovers all the days of their lives.
I could hear the whistle from the steel mill.
All those beautiful Black men and handsome Ethnic White
Men on their way home once more. No matter what the price
Paid in toil.
Exodus and Perspective
If we “migrate” but it is indeed an evacuation then, we have been
Forced even in our leaving to tell a mistruth under threat.
My grandmother had blue eyes.
My grandmother hitched and walked North.
Slept under porches and scrubbed tubs to make money on her way.
She met a good man up North. He had a “real job”. They
Married. Babies born like angels flying down from heaven.
Grandmother went South again, thinking it was home but they
Chased her out by lynching her nephew. They chased her by
Making her and the rest of her family watch his execution.
She fled back up North with all her children and husband.
They worked, cooked good food and loved. They grew in their joy and grace and tried not to think about it anymore.
But, a quilt came to me with it still on my soul’s mind.
We must share the difficult parts of our histories to insure
The truth does not disappear.
A Strong Black Woman Does All For God’s Children
“When we adopt the truly alone, we adopt
The most important element of what it is
To be human.”
Up North, Grandmother smiled more.
Took in a girl without a family saying
“I know what it is not to have any one.”
Family ties. Family strength.
Have you ever tasted milk and honey?
Make it and drink it and you will know
That joy when there are Black people who
Aren’t in poverty or estranged anymore.
Its Friday and her daughters come together
To talk about this and that. Some drink but
Some never touch liquor but they are sisters so
They love each other. Love flows from sister to
Sister and into the palms of brothers, life and
The world. Her son is on his way from Pittsburgh.
She will throw her arms around him in a hug that
Expands love past all histories into the future and
Thousands of years past the grave.
“My son, what wouldn’t I do for you? ”
Roads Like A Map
Aunt Lena did beautiful Black women’s hair in a
Beauty salon she set-up in her house.
It looked just like an actual salon and she turned-out
Heads even though her feet would swell and her legs.
She told them stories as she did their hair. Almost as
If they were two royals and they were back in Africa
And this was how they passed their time.
She played church organ and piano for funerals in the
Steel Valley. If she knew and loved the dead one, the
Music was so soul felt and the tears so deeply wept
I am certain God heard it.
Aunt Lena scrimped coins, scrimped pennies until she
Could use them for something. Pulled them together
And earned a doctorate degree.
Raised a daughter who needed her and was her only
Love even when society didn’t want anymore Black
Folks. When the world pushed Aunt Lena out, Aunt Lena
Kept pushing back in. This is an African story for you.
This is a tale to make you grow, a quilt with roads like
Libretto Of Truths
“To think of the past is to find
Sustenance for present and future existence.”
Sleep was difficult last night, I kept thinking about
The fate of our relatives before us…
Sorrow-weed, great poke of crop knows only its
Gather it, cut it, place it in a pot and call it life.
Brown and gray, my step-grand father and my
Grand father before him worked in the steel mills.
He, like many black men, was given the worst
Jobs there. Industrial genocide. That hatred of
Blacks, Italians, Jews, Greeks, Irish and Slavs
They find it hard to hide. The separation of even
Themselves, the newly rich. Black Lung filled him
But he was willing to die to provide, to protect his family,
A Black man who loves his family and wants them
To thrive is carved smaller and smaller by despair
Unless he forms his own truth and Mr. Martin
And the other men in my family did.- from the
Field on down to the deep dark breathless hollow of the
Coal mines and out again.
Romella D. Kitchens
Comments about this poem (African American Improvisational Quilt by Romella Kitchens )
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