Sharan Strange

Strange’s exquisitely observed poems take us into two Bearden landscapes, rural and urban.

 

Strange has published poems and essays in numerous journals and anthologies in the U.S. and abroad—most recently in Black Imagination (curated by Natasha Marin, 2020), Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry (edited by Joanne V. Gabbin and Lauren Alleyne, 2019), and Bearden’s Odyssey: Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden (edited by Kwame Dawes and Matthew Shenoda, 2016). She has also created sonic and visual art-based works for museum and gallery exhibitions in New York, Boston, Oakland, Seattle, and Atlanta, and her collaborations with composers have been performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, the American Modern Ensemble, and The Dream Unfinished Orchestra, among others. Her honors include the Barnard Women Poets’ Prize (for her poetry collection, Ash), the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and a 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Writers’ Association. She teaches writing at Spelman College.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/sharan-strange

Romare Bearden, Mecklenburg County, Daybreak Express

Train Whistle

            after Mecklenburg County, Daybreak Express

 

“You could tell not only what train it was but also who the engineer was

 by the sound of the whistle.” – Romare Bearden

 

He wails Hey, baby! trailing off in a moan

What train that is, whose whistle, she remembers

 

What claimed him, more than even he remembers

Still life with melon and model’s wistful pose—

 

Classic odalisque. He mirrored her repose

In drawings—teasing, indifferent, her every mood

 

Tracing her lines, sweet language of her moods

She’d slip through that blue that mimics a window

 

She’s left him free there beyond her window

His memories stir each time the train goes by

 

In his mind’s eye she’s there, waving goodbye

Sifting through pages he left behind and more

 

His sketches won’t mark their hours anymore

He wails Hey, baby! trailing his love that moans

 

 

Note: The poem is a duplex—a poetic form created by Jericho Brown that melds elements of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues.

00:00 / 01:19

Romare Bearden, Uptown Manhattan Skyline: Storm Approaching

The Rooftop

 

            after Uptown Manhattan Skyline: Storm Approaching

 

“In those days some of the best playgrounds were on the rooftops.”

  – Romare Bearden

 

1. The Women

 

On weekends, laundry snaps on the line—

and if we can we linger over this small

measure of our work. When the wind loosens

a sock from its wooden pin, we might

watch it drift six floors down to the alley.

We don’t know why the sight makes

us want to cry, or, rather, makes us tender.

Something about the past and present getting

mixed up…our part in it. All these women

in Harlem and back home, the constancy and heft

of us, domestic as history, as wisdom…yet

each of our stories pulsing, and flaring

at times like those thunderclouds.

Families are our labor, cities too…though  

only mopped floors render our footprints here.

We came up from the Carolinas—unyoked ourselves

from less yielding country—into this patch of sky.

Rooftops are higher than steeples, some

with chimneys and cisterns marking distance

across these buildings that huddle and jostle

like boats moored at port. There’s respite in a room

bordered by air that can be stirred to desire.

Come Sunday, that same straw basket filled

with the wash can carry our picnic pleasure.

The clothes flap like bright birds in a frisky breeze.

 

2. The Children

 

On Saturdays we are let onto the roof.

Today, there’s bright, pastel quiet. In the clouds,

greenish stirrings, like pea soup with ham in the pot.

The storm is coming from far off still,

although it seems to hover over us.

Our voices wing out to meet it.

We are the captains here…and this hulk

of brick and many windows holds us,

same as the ground our parents call "back home,"

but with edges that fall away and touch the sky.

We are children and keep at our play.

What do we know….

Our mothers say there is danger,

yet we see adventure, and more,

an endless world above us, hear only

the loudest sounds of the streets—sirens

or honking from metal things that can’t break

up our games or crack our bones up here.

Also, our neighbors are blobs of color,

buoys bopping or rushing along

the sidewalks in streams. Laundry flaps

like bright flags on our mast. The air

moves as it wants, and is all ours,

although we don’t own it so much as the birds do….

We laugh, opening our mouths to it—and to whatever

gravy the storm will make of these clumps overhead.

We hunger, too, for music that rises

from below—piano and trumpet notes drifting

into our rooms late at night, lingering

at the borders of our sleep, or sometimes

shutting a door, as if to guard our dreaming,

or keep inside memories of our life

down South—how the rain could drench—  

cleaning us a second time—  

but would carry off mostly the tiniest things.

So come, storm, wash our deck,

then leave us that light hiding behind your back.

00:00 / 04:20

Sharan Strange reading her poems at the High Museum's Bearden exhibition.