By: Loretta Diane Walker
Witnessing the Lynching, from the Sky’s Diary
Account 1: Sky
Curses of the first born, the archivist of the all-in-all.
The receptacle of every act and uttered secret.
Born before time itself, I am predicated to this position
of witnessing hobbies of cruelty based on certain men
worshiping the pale pigmented temple of their skin.
Longevity is cruel; I can never unremember blood dripping
through history from frenzied clubs, lust filled blades
for the taste of a negro’s plasma and the long drop
and snap of a black life.
Account 2: Justice
Fashioned with fair hands to hold sword and scales,
balance morality, I am ignored.
Guilt, innocence tastes the same
on hate’s singed tongue.
Truth is a nuisance;
accusations kindles for fires
to destroy what is different.
I am a blind amputated woman.
Account 3: The Rope
Beneath a jungle of stars, darkness stings with disdain.
I cradle an innocent neck, whisper I’m sorry, I’m sorry
as I look down at a venomous mob,
stare at long blonde hair snake down
the thin channel of a teenage girl’s back.
Death knots a century of screams
beneath the moon’s weeping white eye.
The Alphabet of Survival and Sailing
in the Deep Ocean of Pandemic
Over one hundred days we ride harsh waves
of the unknown on an ocean of dis-ease.
Some of us in: auxiliary ships,
Some of us in dhows, electric cruisers, ferries,
gondolas, hovercrafts, amphibious beings
skirting one another's breaths.
Some of us in ice, junks, kayaks, liners,
missile cutters, unwilling weapons
aimed at the innocent and vulnerable.
Some of us in Norlands, optimists, on pontoons,
Q-ships, rafts, primitive propellers of arms
shoving through fear’s deep waters.
Some of us in skiffs, tankers, umiaks,
slender vessels, wave-piercing crafts
stabbing through the rough sea of indifference.
Some of us in wherries, xebecs, yachts,
Zillen—stable, secure from tipping
into lack or want.
Some of us on dollar store floaties,
in punctured life jackets, raggedy garments,
Who among us can survive a damaged hull?
Who among us take their eyes off the bow?
Who among us loved one is a numbered tick
on a death toll clicker?
Loretta Diane Walker, a multiple Pushcart Nominee, and Best of the Net Nominee, won the 2016 Phyllis Wheatley Book Award for poetry, for her collection, In This House (Bluelight Press). Loretta is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. Her work has appeared in various literary journals, magazines, and anthologies throughout the United States, Canada, India, Ireland, and the UK. She has published five collections of poetry. Her manuscript Word Ghetto won the 2011 Bluelight Press Book Award. Loretta received a BME from Texas Tech University and earned a MA from The University of Texas of the Permian Basin. She teaches elementary music at Reagan Magnet School, Odessa, Texas.Naomi Shihab Nye states, “Loretta Diane Walker writes with compassionate wisdom and insight—her poems restore humanity.”
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I started writing poetry in grade school. In the beginning, I wrote the typical “Roses are red” scenarios. I graduated from those types of poems and started writing poems in my diary as a mode of journaling. As far as writing poetry and extending an invitation for others to view my reflections, I have been writing poetry for over thirty years.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
The first poem I read that made me fall in love with poetry is “If” by Rudyard Kipling. I was in the fifth grade; it was required reading. We also had to memorize it. I was utterly smitten with If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. Honestly, I did not understand what the poem meant at the time, nevertheless; the first two lines reeled me in.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I have so many poets I admire. Some of them are Natasha Trethewey, Tracy K. Smith, Langston Hughes, Naomi Nye, Mary Oliver, Larry D. Thomas, Karla K. Morton, Alan Birkelbach, and Katharine Coles. “Kindness” by Naomi Nye and “Mother to Son” by Langton Hughes are two of my favorites.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Because of the reciprocity between reading and writing, my writing process involves reading at least ten poems before I write one of my own. Sometimes I may read more than ten; it depends on what I am reading. I like to read anthologies before I write because of the diverse voices. On rare occasions, I sit down, start writing because a poem demands my attention and wants to come forth. Before COVID, I used to walk and record/reflect on my observations.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I do not start writing with a form in mind. My poems are rather authoritative. I listen to them if I want to complete one.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
The best advice I can offer a poet who has yet to find their voice—do not “compare” yourself to other poets. It is a subtle occurrence. In my early stages of writing, there was this small voice deep within me saying, “If only I could write like this person or that person.” That voice became a hindrance. I finally silenced it when I tried to imitate the styles of various poets and failed miserably. My poems are products of my experiences and personality. I think when a person/poet taps into who they are, their writing voice will naturally emerge.
What is your editing process like?
I read my poems aloud. If the rhythm of the poem is interrupted, I earmark the troubling spot. Afterwards, I tease out the problem. If I am still not satisfied, I do what my mentor termed “an evil edit.” This involves taking out something that is weighing the poem down. This includes a word or two, a sentence or two, or maybe a stanza or two. What I take out might be good, but not good for the particular poem I am working on at the time. If I am still not satisfied, I take out what I “like” and then write around what I “love” most in the poem.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
I think poems are like people—there is always room for growth and development.
However, I stop writing when the last lines states everything I want to say about a matter at that time.