artist: kaki clements
poem:"Gospel Salt" by andrea/andrew gibby
I've spent countless hours pouring over poems this week (what a treat!), and it has taken me forever to land on a poem that really spoke to my soul. I knew I wanted to talk about grief. As someone with an abundance of experience with grief and the grieving process, it continues to strike me that the climate in our country (and world) right now feels like we're living in one of those classic American family dramas where the whole family comes together post-funeral and chaos ensues because everyone is focused on the self as a result of the grief they're feeling. We're seeing so many people coming together to love and support one another right now, while simultaneously experiencing the divisiveness of people who feel unheard or unseen in their pain. As a nation, and as a planet, we're grieving the loss of the lives we once knew. We're grieving fundamental cultural rites of passage like weddings and funerals and graduations, grieving time lost with our elders out of concern for their safety, grieving concerts and theatre and movies. Life as we knew it is over, and we're regularly confronted with the reality that "life as we know it" isn't coming back any time soon...if at all.
That is the foundation of grief- the human reaction to a permanent disruption of the norm. The only problem is, we're able to recognize and forgive grief when it comes to death, but for some reason we refuse to recognize it right now. In choosing a poem, I wanted to highlight and explore the experience of grief (something I think poetry does better than many art forms) in attempt to draw attention to our current experience.
I tried all the classics (Poe, Dickinson, Angelou), bought 3 different books of poems to peruse (recommendations below), and finally I remembered my introduction to poetry in the 10th grade through spoken word. Andrea/Andrew Gibson was the first poet I truly fell in love with, and their poem "Gospel Salt" finally zeroed in on everything I was hoping to express with my contribution to 52x52 and then some.
In addition to grief and our responses to it, I've been having a lot of conversations with friends about Southern culture and how/if we can maintain a celebration of the aspects of Southern life some of us (white, black, and in between) love so dearly while recognizing that culture is built on the backs of slaves. To me, "Gospel Salt" is in and of itself an expression and an acknowledgement of that. The expression of religion in the South is an art form like no other, and, ironically, faith is how a large portion of people reconcile their grief. When I hear the word "Gospel," I am overcome with images of black bodies in colorful robes lifting their voices, hands, and eyes in praise, a form of expression that originated on Southern Plantations via the African-American or Negro Spiritual. Gospel music was a rejection of the current church establishment, a rise of the merging of secular behaviors and a "commonization" of the Church. In some ways, you could compare it to the development of "nondenominational" churches, and I feel it's an interesting parallel to many of the conversations we're having in our political climate now.
I love the ways this poem pulls in Gospel, New Orleans, grandmothers, and music- all elements of "the South" I wonder how/if we continue to hold onto amid this national awakening- or if they're even right to hold onto. I also think that's a part of the national anger and outrage we're seeing now- we've lost so much in such a short time to this Pandemic. It makes sense to feel a strong sense of opposition to any more change in our daily lives. When you've had your job, your events, and your sense of "the way things are" pulled right out from under you, it's reasonable to be upset that someone has the audacity to bring up changing/taking one more thing (ie. monuments, your police force, etc).
I get it. I lost my father a little over a year ago, less than five years after burying my mother. A friend, at the start of my grieving process, told me "it takes 13 months to start to process a grief like ours," (she had just lost a child), and around the 13 month mark, I could tell she was right. Though, just as I am beginning to adopt a sense of newfound normalcy, we're hit with a pandemic. Feeling like you've been 1-2-punched makes you want to vehemently resist any and all other things that could cause you to be thrust back into the undertow of grief. "We can deal with this just as soon as I've processed the first round of grief, okay?" But life doesn't work like that, and we're all forced to confront grief on top of grief right now. It sucks. It hurts. I wish I could fix it for all of us. But what I want to encourage right now is the conversation of grief- collectively, we need to acknowledge (the first step is acceptance) that we, as a nation, as a planet, are grieving. And in grief, we respond from this animalistic place of fear, and in some ways we should forgive each other for not acting in the most "appropriate manner" to the events of now, but with that comes the responsibility of acting with a kindness toward one another. We have to acknowledge both our inner pain and the pain of everyone else struggling through this difficult time and do our best to accept that everyone is scared, hurting, and feeling alone right now. We must grant ourselves the kindness of recognizing and forgiving our own pain, while also extending the same listening ear and levels of support we are so desperately demanding ourselves.
The moment I knew I was going with this poem was when Gibson referenced Katrina. From Katrina to 9/11 to the 1906 earthquake, Gibson cites terrible moments in American history where we collectively grieved, and we came through it. Sometimes (lots of times) when we grieve, we reach a point of "I simply can't keep going. I can't do this anymore," and I am personally finding that if you can remind yourself you've done it before, lived this grief before and come out on the other side, you'll somehow find the strength to do it again. Because the pain, fear, and suffering isn't forever. And, as Gibson reminds us, "...sometimes/ it is the metal in the wind chimes that reminds us/ how soft the breeze is."
suggestions on further reading from kaki:
Poetry books I bought in attempt to select a piece for this project (that I did not use, but are actually very good):
- Smear (Poems for Girls), Edited by Greta Bellamachina
- The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, Edited by Kevin Young
- A Strangely Wrapped Gift, by Emily Juniper
The history of Gospel music: