Melba Joyce Boyd

Melba Joyce Boyd is a Detroit poet; the works she produced for the TAS Poetry Project reference Bearden as a presence in Detroit, beyond the scope of the Profile Series works.  She places Bearden in the company of the famous muralist and activist, Diego Rivera.  Doing this work made her curious about the possible connections between the Diego and Romare, not as artistic influences, but as men.  Boyd was especially taken by the photographs of Frank Stewart and references his camera lens for two poems. 

 

Melba Joyce Boyd is a Distinguished University Professor and currently the Chair of the Department of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit.

 

She is a filmmaker, biographer, editor and author of nine books of poetry. Her last collection of poems, Death Dance of a Butterfly, was published in 2012, received the 2013 Library of Michigan Notable Book Award for Poetry. Her book, Roses and Revolutions: The Selected Writings of Dudley Randall (2009), won the 2010 Independent Publishers Award, the 2010 Library of Michigan Notable Books Award, and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award and the ForeWord Book Award for Poetry. Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press received a 2004 Honor Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Her bio-critical book, Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Frances E. W. Harper, 1825-1911 (1994) was widely reviewed and praised by literary critics and historians.  She is also the author of 65 essays on African American literature and film, and is the editor of the African American Life Series at Wayne State University Press.

“Quilting Time”

Romare Bearden’s mosaic that

was commissioned by the Detroit Institute of Arts in

1986 for the museum’s centennial anniversary

00:00 / 02:29

Time.  A circle

never ending like

interlocking fragments

of cloth Grandmother

arranges in geometric

patterns interfacing

pale floral prints

worn in the springtime

with satin strips from

her grandmother’s

white wedding dress,

aligning black rectangles

clipped from a necktie

framing red/blue squares

accentuating borders

with the retelling of stories

about chopping tobacco

on plantations and

dicing green peppers

from backyard gardens

to flavor gumbo

in an iron pot,

simmering over

an ageless fire.

 

Quilting time is time

to gather children,

to recall kinfolk,

to summon ghosts,

who resemble newborns

and distant cousins,

to recall the ancestor

from another century,

arriving in Louisiana

with the French,

a “free person of color”

she reimagines with

the next stitch

before turning talk

to her

tongue dry as cotton

during the drought

and, who drowned

in the floodwaters

after the fierce

storm in ’26

when the

last generation

left the farm for

jobs in the city.

 

Uncle Dre

strums the guitar,

rephrasing a blues

refrain for each season,

giving and retreating,

revisiting and reflecting

as grandmother

links birth dates

with death dates,

recording legacy

as exactly inscribed

with black ink in 

the family Bible,

inside refractions of

a mosaic quilt  

of rainbow glass.

 

Not a single cloud

disturbs the

expansive blue

reaching for

the heavens.

No beginning,

no ending,

only layers of

life interfacing

flesh and spirit,

the surreality of

returning star dust

reimagining space

at sunset.

“Mirrored Vision”

              

Bearden collects

artifacts from

disparate paths

along migration trails

leading North

to Harlem,

Pittsburgh

Cleveland

Chicago

and Detroit

where a man can get

$5-a-day

to sling steel

in Mr. Ford’s foundry.

 

Buses and trains

go away from

bone weary,

broke down

plantation shacks,

where sharecroppers

wish and pray

white folks goin’

get better when

Jesus gits back.

 

Loss and longing,

refracted reflections

in mirrored memories

wrapped in familiar

fabrics attached

to dated newsprint,

still photographs,

and misplaced

postcards retrieved

and reconceived

into elsewhere as

colors giving shape

and forms rendering

something stepping

out of shadow,

out of echo.

00:00 / 01:04

“Diego and Romare: from a photograph

by Frank Stewart”

    

Romare poses

next to Diego’s

frescos of laborers,

metal workers,

engineers and

drafters painted

on all four walls,

a mural to enshrine

Detroit’s working

class.

 

Earth, wind, sun

and rain are

four women,

figures of four races

with one soul,

stretching across

continents and oceans,

connecting ethnicities,

imprinting power, hope

and aspirations of sons

and daughters of

serfs, slaves and

servants building

automobiles,

crafting dreams

from grit and

sweat rendered

as sacrifice

to breathe

a little freer

at daybreak. 

00:00 / 00:52

“The Dinner: from a photograph by Frank Stewart”

for Dr. Walter Evans

 

The photographer

frames the physician

at the head

of the heavy oak

dining table,

directly across from

Romare Bearden,

the esteemed artist

seated outside

the photograph,

but inside Romare

Bearden’s gaze,

the setting is like

a painting, he

arranges patrons

accordingly by

styles and shades,

amid expressions

about Jacob Lawrence

Elizabeth Catlett,

and other Black Art

distinguishing this

art collection of

a physician who

sees healing in art.

 

Bearden sits

where Sterling Brown

once sat and shared

stories about labor

struggles of “Strong Men”

with the city’s mayor,

Coleman Alexander Young,

who recites this poem

by heart to honor

the poet’s visit

and his poem that

inspired a generation

that refused to submit,

that could never quit.

 

Bearden admires

the doctor’s library,

and reminscences

about his generation

of poets, about

Langston Hughes’s

blues and jazz verses,

about Robert Hayden’s

“Elegies” of Black Bottom

and Paradise Valley,

and Dudley Randall’s

“Ballad of Birmingham”

and “Roses and Revolutions.”

 

Tomorrow,

Bearden’s “Quilting

Time” will be unveiled,

and refractions of lives

unknown, unseen

are recognized

in a mosaic made

from tiny glass tiles,

marking the centennial

of the Detroit museum.

and, in that moment

Bearden’s art

collects wonder sighs,

and his aesthetics spark

renewed purpose for

conversations framed

at dinner tables.

as visions of

Romare Bearden and

Diego Rivera converge

and their mutual

appreciation for

workers building

cars for their

annual drive South

for “Quilting Time.”

00:00 / 02:16