THE POEM: MOTHER'S LAMENT

by VINCENT DION STRINGER

Filmed by Houpla Studio, Baltimore, MD

Dedicated to Debra Blackwell-Cook & Dwight R.B. Cook in Memory of D’Roderick Jefferson-Cook

Mother’s Lament: So Many Names Unknown, So Many Sons Lost

From The Lamentations of a Prisoner of Hope (2015)

by Vincent Dion Stringer

 

 I couldn’t sleep last night:

My mind pre-occupied with worry;

I couldn’t reason why:

But it kept me awake all night.

 

I paced and paced the floor.

I prayed and prayed for peace.

I asked the Lord to calm my thoughts

And help me get some needed sleep.

 

But still my mind would not let go

No word from GOD.    No sleep, no, no.

Just worry.  Worry through the night.

And hope for peace in the morning light

 

I worry for his life,     my son;

Each time he leaves the house.

A Black man-child isn’t safe out there

In this angry world filled with hate and fear

 

There’s so much danger on the city streets:

With random violence far and near

My son, his life could be cut short,

If accused of crimes, this is my fear.

 

He could be crucified at twelve years’ old

On a playground with his toy gun

Like Tamir Rice in two seconds flat

Shot down by a Cleveland cop

 

He could be kidnapped at fourteen

And crucified in woods by a southern stream

Like Emmett Till whose hopes were killed

His dreams of summer float cold and still.

 

So many names unknown,

So many lost sons,

So many broken hearts,

So many lights dimmed.

 

He could be dragged behind a truck:

Dismembered limb from limb;

Like James Byrd Jr, crucified

By angry, hateful,racist men.

 

He could be murdered at seventeen

While walking home one night

Like Trayvon Martin while on his street

Confronted by a would-be cop

 

He could be crucified in broad daylight

Like Michael Brown, Shot down unarmed,

Assailed by a Ferguson police

That feared his brown skin and his might

 

So many names unknown,

So many lost sons,

So many broken hearts,

So many lights dimmed.

 

He could be crucified at twenty-seven

By a policeman on an L.A. Street

Who’d find his autistic movements threatening,

Like the ones of Steven Eugene Washington.

 

He could be killed at twenty-eight

Shot down right near a garden gate

Like D. Roderick Cook who never rose

On that Easter Sunday Morn.

 

So many names unknown,

So many lost sons,

So many broken hearts,

So many lights dimmed.

 

The threat is very real out there.

But who's the bigger threat?

My son, our community, the police

Where exactly does the danger lay?

 

My son could leave and not return

Except in a coffin, in chains or an urn

Could I lose my child, my flesh and my blood,

His life be cut down by hatred?

 

Dear Lord, protect my son today.

Keep him in your care, I pray.

Teach him wisdom to respond

And not react with anger

 

Show him Lord the way back home

To the love in his mother’s heart.

Preserve him for a long life filled

With mercy, justice, and courage.

 

Ye sons of Jacob, born of

Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah,

Let your light shine bright and strong

As a beacon through this darkened age

 

So many unknown names,

So many sons lost,

So many hearts broken,

So many lights dimmed.

 

And for those parents who’ve lost a son,

Give them peace within their hearts

Heal their wounds and soothe their pain

Guide them with your perfect light. AMEN

 

© Copyright 2015 by Vincent Dion Stringer All Rights Reserved.

 

POETS NOTES

"Mother's Lament: So Many Names Unknown, So Many Sons Lost" is the second chapter from my new work-in-progress, titled The Lamentations of a Prisoner of Hope. It is inspired by several events of a biblical, historic, cultural, personal and creative nature.  The composer Dr. James Lee III, my colleague within the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Morgan State University and with whom I have collaborated in the past, reached out to me to collaborate with him again on a new work. During his semester on Fulbright in Brazil in fall 2014, he had been keeping up with the developments in Ferguson, Missouri in late November. The events surrounding the grand jury ruling on the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police Darren Wilson and its aftermath evoked in him a need to use his art to respond. Lee inquired if I would be willing to write a text expressing a response to the events.  He suggested something in the form of a “Lament” as a libretto to set for a large musical composition and encouraged me to read the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Prior to his contacting me, I had already considered expressing something about Ferguson and the aftermath. His encouragement was the additional motivation I needed and helped me to channel my energy in to a response rather than a reaction. As I read and contemplated the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah, studied its structure, events and his hopes, I began to find voice and a model by which I could use to express my response for this work.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote his Lament in 5 chapters. Chapters 1-3 and 5 are written in 22 verses each; and chapter 4 written in 66 verses. Like Jeremiah, I too, am using the same structure. The children of Israel living in Jerusalem faced similar challenges to what the world is facing today. "Mother’s Lament..." is chapter 2 and also written in 22 verses from my new work. But unlike Jeremiah who is the speaker in Lamentations, I am using the voice of a sleepless mother pacing in the night, lamenting history and current events, worrying over the life of her son and asking GOD to protect him from the dangers of the world outside the home.

The prophet Jeremiah is responding to the invasion and destruction of the city of Jerusalem sent by the Holy GOD as punishment for her sinful ways.   He laments over Jerusalem’s hungry children begging their mothers for bread, her young men and women dying by the sword and her once compassionate mothers trading their children for food.  He even mourns the physical devastation of the once beautiful holy city. While Jeremiah is lamenting Jerusalem, I, like the Mother in this Lament, can see in our America a similar brokenness.

Another inspiration for this text is drawn from the brilliant artwork of my "brother-by-choice", Cape Cod visual artist, Joseph Vincent Diggs; who's contemporary paintings titled "Selfie"; Tribute to James Burke, Jr" and "Head", served as my muse for the completion of this poem. Further inspiration was drawn from the personal loss and tragedy of my dear friend and fraternity brother, Dwight R. B. Cook and his lovely wife and my spiritual sister Debra Blackwell-Cook and my journey with them through grief following the untimely death and murder of their son, D. Roderick Cook on Easter Sunday morning, March 31, 2013. Debra’s words to me as I shared a sketch of the first draft of this poem with her was " So many names unknown" as she spoke of the many young men who's violent ends did not make the local or national news and have been forgotten. These and other influences have been my inspiration and muse.

The compassion I feel for parents and families who have lost loved ones in such a tragedy drives me to this expression in poetic form. These modern-day crucifixions, Black-on-Black violence, and unarmed deaths at the hands of “Law Enforcement” we are experiencing in our America has brought pain to the hearts of many. We continue “over a way that with tears has been watered ... treading our paths through the blood of the slaughtered..."; we continue to be "Strange Fruit hanging from the poplar trees”. We are still unsafe in our communities threatened by those from within and by those who have taken an oath to protect and serve. Yet our mothers are still hoping and praying. We are still thriving as we stand on the shoulders of great men and women who laid down their lives so that we can be here free today. As a prisoner of HOPE, I will never stop living for a better day and a safer world for our sons and daughters.