Street poetry: Selma at the Crossroads

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Town of Selma, North Carolina Sesquicentennial 1867-2017

 

On May 1, I had the honor of reading a poem I wrote for Selma, North Carolina’s sesquicentennial. Museum volunteers held a brief Founders Day ceremony with a few costumed citizens and refreshments in a pocket park on Anderson Street. There at the podium, with modern trains and traffic in the background, I read this:

Selma at the Crossroads

Weekday morning, Selma stirs

With railcars rumbling from the feed mill.

Gates descend; Amtrak slows into Union Station.

Commuters wait as each train

Rolls out past farmers turning the gray soil.

 

We are Selma at the crossroads

Measuring the past in wars;

From land parcels sold at Civil War’s end

To the blast of munitions at Catch Me Eye

That smashed 900 window panes three miles away.

 

Every fall we march a pageant of what we hold dear

Down Raiford Street, waving at the pretty girls

In their sparkling crowns

Praying our own children grow up and stay here

To raise families, to own homes, to run businesses.

 

We are Selma at the crossroads, between those

Hungry for knowledge and those for food;

Between the hard choice to pay bills or buy medicine.

It takes courage to smash apathy like a glass jar

Of “Selmalaise” from the shelf of the market store.

 

To do more than just pass each other

On Pollock, Anderson or Webb.

To mentor young leaders, to revive our faith,

To reach down to the tangled roots

And aerate the soil with reconciliation.

 

To pull the weeds of despair and doubt,

Prune the dead branches of pessimism

And let new growth have room to flourish.

Don’t just hum that lingering Sunday hymn

Join the choir. Take part in outreach.

 

We are Selma at the crossroads,

Between what was and what we will become,

Between labors ended and labors begun.

Between buildings vacant and those awakening

To red awnings, fresh paint, new lumber, nail gun to shingle.

 

Stand at the cornerstone laid 150 years ago

See the Selma that rises beyond

Linear tracks and street grids

With a vibrancy that moves in panorama

And soars spread-winged like an eagle above.

 

See Selma as if you had to leave her tomorrow

And carry her in your heart.

What would you take?

Would you come back?

We are Selma at the crossroads.

 

Cindy Brookshire

Town of Selma Sesquicentennial

Founders Day, May 1, 2017

 

If you want to see a short video, it’s posted on Facebook here (look in the video section or scroll to May 1, 2017).

As a backstory, I’d been working on the poem several weeks. The only person I showed it to, besides my husband, Curtis, was my pastor, Rev. Jim Melnyk of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield. Priests are like doctors, they have this cowboy code where they are compelled to tell you stuff straight up. I knew if it fell flat, he’d let me know. And he’s a poet, along with his brother. Father Jim came through. He gave me some good editing points, especially this:

My brother (who is better than I am at this – much better) always tells me I have too many words… I need less to say more. 

Less is more.

I edited the poem, mowing away the overgrown prose, and leaving room for the reader or listener to call up their own images of Selma, not mine. Here’s the earlier version, for comparison. Have a wonderful May, remember “less is more” and take your poetry to the streets!

Selma at the Crossroads (an earlier draft)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Psalm 118:22

Weekday morning, Selma stirs

With the rumble of rocking railcars

Leaving the feed mill. Gates descend;

Amtrak blasts and slows into Union Station,

Disembarking travelers. Each train’s freight

Of soybeans or passengers rolls past

Farmers turning the gray soil of North Carolina,

Rotating collards, sweet potatoes, tobacco.

Commuters, compliant at the crossings,

Tap iPhones, sip coffee, bite into a sausage biscuit.

 

We are Selma at a crossroads

Measuring the past in wars; when land parcels

Sold at Civil War’s end and roads were

Packed by wagon dirt and mule-pressed mud.

Seventy-five years ago, a blast of World War II

Munitions leveled the Talton Hotel at Catch Me Eye

And smashed 900 window panes

Of the Selma Cotton Mill three miles away.

We fought to preserve this small town,

So our children would grow up and stay

To raise families, to buy homes, to run businesses.

 

We are Selma at a crossroads

Between those hungry for knowledge

And those for food; between pride in our property

And those so beaten down by low wages,

Long work shifts and doctor bills

They can’t see up from the bottom rung.

 

It takes courage to smash apathy like a glass jar

Of “Selmalaise” from the shelf of the IGA.

To do more than just pass each other

On Raiford, Anderson or Webb.

To mentor young leaders, to revive our faith,

To reach down to the tangled roots

And aerate the soil with racial reconciliation

Pull the weeds of despair and doubt,

Prune the dead branches of pessimism

And let new growth have room to flourish.

Don’t just hum that lingering Sunday hymn

Join the choir. Don’t just wave back

At the pretty girl in her sparkling crown

At the Railroad Days parade.

Make sure every teenager in Selma

Has an opportunity for scholarship.

 

We are Selma at a crossroads

Between what was and what we will become

Between labors ended and labors begun

Between buildings vacant and those

Awakening to red awnings, fresh paint

New lumber, nail gun to shingle.

 

A strong town can’t happen

Without people who care

And understand what others around the state

Know: Place matters more than ever.

Come back to the cornerstone laid 150 years ago

See the Selma that rises beyond

Linear roads and railroad tracks

The vibrancy that moves like a Facebook 360

And soars like a drone above.

 

See Selma as if you had to leave her

Tomorrow and carry her in your heart.

What would you take?

The music from The Rudy?

An ice cold milkshake from Creech Drug?

I would take this: Sunrise service

At Greenwood and the way my heart beats

Under my hand when I rise

To say the Pledge of Allegiance

At a town council meeting.

The laughter coming from the barbershop

While swapping stories

Relay races at the Boys & Girls Club

Welcoming the stranger to town at the visitor center.

We are Selma at the crossroads.

 

Cindy Brookshire

Town of Selma’s Founders Day

May 1, 2017

 

 

I have a Quran in my home

booksThe recent Muslim travel ban, which has no credible national security rationale for it, reminded me of the ignorance and hate against immigrants and refugees that I encountered when I lived in Manassas, Virginia.

I was working the counter at a local government office one day, when an elderly white man came in. I can’t remember what set him off, but he went on a long-winded rant about radical Islamic terrorism, ending with “Read your Quran!” as the bell-jangling door closed behind him.

He didn’t know it, but I have a Quran in my home.

When my first husband, Martin, was senior warden at Trinity Episcopal Church, he visited Manassas Mosque with our rector, Rev. Stuart Schadt. On that visit, Imam Abu Nahidian gave him a copy of the holy book.

I know Martin read it. After his death in 1998 I found his bookmarks and handwritten notes on legal paper throughout its pages. I cherish it because he studied it. And while I didn’t read it at the time, I believe I see it revealed in the people who live its teachings.

Like Mr. Nahidian. When his mosque grew into a new location at an industrial park near I66, it was spray-painted with graffiti numerous times. In 2014, when it happened again and a glass door was also broken, he welcomed Unity in the Community, an outreach group of which I was a member, to come and talk about ways we could counter these hate crimes with education.

Or like Taalibah Hassan, the chair of Unity, who welcomed us to Dar Al Noor Islamic Community Center on Hoadly Road in Manassas for numerous community events, including the showing of a film about the rise and fall of Islamic culture in (now) Spain. I went there with a fellow writer, Adelaida Lower, a native of Morocco, who was working on The Red Ribbon, a novel set in 1491 Spain. I admit, I was anxious about the unfamiliar customs at the center – walking through a door separate from men, leaving our shoes in a cubby, covering our heads with scarves – until, once inside, we encountered the familiar – a Girl Scout troop selling cookies in the foyer. After the film discussion, we were invited to prayer and a shared meal of kebabs, pastry pies, vegetables, figs. Delicious!

Or like Afzal Nasiri and his wife, Marie Khalili. I met Al through the Prince William Chamber of Commerce. He hired me to help edit an English translation of Marie’s book, Memoirs of Khalilullah Khalili, An Afghan Philosopher Poet: A Conversation with his Daughter.

khaliliI sat typing on a notebook computer with Al – a former editor of the Kabul Times – while he translated from Persian. I was fascinated at how Marie’s father, an eyewitness to eight decades of Afghan history and the reign of four kings, from British rule to Soviet coup, could end up sitting in a lawn chair in New Jersey, talking into a tape recorder as she interviewed him about his life. He was once ambassador and secretary to King Zahir Shah. He authored 70 works of poetry, fiction, histories and Sufi studies. He had even been unjustly thrown into an Afghan prison at one point. In his words:

“It was evening and darkness fell. I picked up a few pieces of coal and wrote a poem on the wall of the prison cell … In the morning … as soon as [the guard’s] eyes fell on the wall he said, ‘Are you trying to have me killed? … Your right to write has been taken away. The investigators will come and I will be in trouble!’ He wiped my poetry from the wall and cleaned it, despite my pleas to leave it there. ‘It’s only a poem,’ I said.”

As a writer, I couldn’t think of anything worse than being confined without the means to write, and censored by a government. I learned Khalili died in exile and was buried in Pakistan, near the tomb of Pashtu poet Rahman Baba. In 2012, Marie’s father’s remains were finally returned to Afghan soil and re-interred in a place of honor near Kabul University.

In 2017, I am living in eastern North Carolina. Now the rants about radical Islamic terrorism are coming from another elderly white man in highest government office. His words, ringing in the House Chamber at the center of the U.S. Capitol, are as sharp as the spray-painted words and broken glass that confronted the children of Manassas Mosque that summer day. He protests he’s not talking about American citizens like Mr. Nahidian or Taalibah or Al or Marie, but his words stir up hate and fear, all the same.

The Rev. Laurie Brock, in a Lenten meditation on her popular blog, Dirty Sexy Ministry (because faith is…), suggests that we consider experiencing other faith traditions as part of our journey toward Easter this year:

The religious literacy of most people in this country is limited. Lent is a wonderful time to experience and learn about other faith traditions. Visit a synagogue or mosque. Attend another Christian denomination. Read the holy writings of other faith traditions. For a great primer on this, explore Stephen Prothero’s Religious Literacy. Further, offer yourself to experience other faith traditions not to feel superior about our own traditions, but to see the truth in their expression of God.”

One such opportunity is an open house hosted by the Islamic Association of Raleigh on Saturday, March 11. The event is 11 am to 4 pm and includes tours of the Mosque, lunch, and a keynote address by Imam Abu Taleb, PhD. The location is 808 Atwater Street in Raleigh.

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If I don’t attend the open house, I have another opportunity – to hear Nida Allam speak. She’s the newly elected Third Vice Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, and has been vocal about politicians who use the rhetoric that attaches Muslim to ISIL, which only feeds into the narrative of us vs. them. Nida will be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Democratic Women of Johnston County/Democratic Men of Johnston County, on Thursday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 218 S. Second St., Smithfield, NC. The group is collecting donations to Harbor, Inc. Use this link www.harborshelter.org/donate to see what items are needed.

And yes, I will read my Quran.

I was inspired to write this after reading Barbara Presnell’s “Muslims who have changed my life” in the Lexington Dispatch.

http://www.the-dispatch.com/entertainment/20170216/barbara-presnell-muslims-who-have-changed-my-life

the magic of giving away my stuff

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Billy Graham said, “I never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

Our church is having a sidewalk sale. I’ve been putting up flyers for it around Pine Level and Selma, so if you want to come, it’s Saturday, September 17 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 218 South Second Street in Smithfield, North Carolina. The parish did a similar sale a few years ago, and I hear it was a big success. 0903161153_resizedRecently I read “the life-changing magic of tidying up” by marie kondo. I’m taking her advice to get rid of the things that no longer bring me joy by donating them to the sale. I won’t miss the college-size refrigerator, hardly used. Or the cake mixer, the jewelry box, the picture frames, the “home accents,” the holiday decorations, the record albums, videos and CDs or the dozens of china plates with trains on them.

 

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It’s a win-win. Others will find my joy priced to sell. The church will take in money to spread joy with its ministries. I will move forward, light, free and joy-filled.

sidewalk saleP.S. – Recently I volunteered for the afternoon at The Goodwill Community Foundation in Durham, North Carolina. The day I helped out, they needed volunteers to pick okra in their vast community garden to be shared with local food banks, they needed volunteers to put together school supplies and backpacks for children, and they needed volunteers to sort donated goods to be sold at their stores in eastern North Carolina. If you’re looking for a place to donate your time, they need you! Check out GCF’s work at: http://www.gcfglobal.org/#intro

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Volunteers sorting school supplies at Goodwill Community Foundation in Durham.

Romance and Hope at a book club meeting in Pine Level

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As a writer, you’d think I consume book after book, like a chain smoker igniting one cigarette with the stub of another.

Not so. Much of my reading time is spent on digital and print news – The Washington Post, the News & Observer, the Smithfield Herald and the Selma and Pine Level News. How can I resist headlines like this one:

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Participating in the book club through St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield, North Carolina, forces me to read books.

This book club gathers once every two months, in member homes, after the eight o’clock morning service. We laugh, we talk, we eat brunch and drink coffee. We discuss the book du jour, from The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins to A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg. In the process, we share our lives with each other. The selection of the next read is by vote. Some books are challenging. Some are popular. Most are books I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, which almost makes it seem like a blind date with a book.

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On Feb. 14, it’s my turn to host the book club. Since it is Valentine’s Day, we voted to read the romance Irish Encounter by Hope Toler Dougherty.

Hope is a local writer, and I invited her to join us for the discussion of her work. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, but I met her through the Johnston County Writers Group, which meets Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Selma Public Library.

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Hope is a librarian in the town of Princeton, which is so small, the public library is housed in, and amplified by, the media center at the local high school. I have visited this library numerous times and have thoroughly enjoyed hearing presentations by other local writers, such as Alice J. Wisler, Cindy K. Green and Ellen Edwards Kennedy.

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I’ve also attended two of Hope’s presentations. One was the launch for her book, Mars with Venus Rising, which takes place in the town of Mars, Pennsylvania. The second was a craft talk, about things like using the software Scrivener to organize your manuscripts. Writing is hard work, and often a thankless endeavor. Editing, publishing and marketing your books is even tougher. Hope has worked hard to get two books published, and is currently working on a third and fourth manuscript.

I’m hoping the Valentine’s Day meeting of the book club will bring us all a good time, with lots of laughter, as we discuss Hope’s work.

I wonder what book we will read next?

A-mazing New Labyrinth at St. Paul’s in Smithfield, NC

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Our letter of transfer arrived this past week, the one that clears the way for us to become members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield, North Carolina. The letter came the same week a labyrinth was being installed on the church grounds and of course, I took it as a good sign.

We had a labyrinth ministry at our former parish, Trinity Episcopal Church in Manassas, Virginia, where I worshipped for 33 years. A succession of hearts and hands keep that ministry going – the ones I knew were Pamela, Dexter, Christina, Jane. They would pull the bin that contained the bulky canvas mat out of its storage space, roll it out on the floor of the parish hall, set up music, luminaires, socks if you needed them, a flyer with directions for newcomers, and stones or pieces of cloth to carry with you. At the center there might be a small stand with a bowl to place stones, personal notes or anything you wanted to let go of. After a Friday night or Saturday walk, they would re-roll the canvas and neatly tuck everything away in the bin – including freshly washed socks. The portable bin was available for loan-out.
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Trinity’s labyrinth was unfurled in the sanctuary during a time when pews were removed for floor repairs and restoration.

One spring Christina set up a garden labyrinth outside. Jane has several times drawn chalk labyrinths on the surface of the church parking lot, for solstice walks.
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In nearby Bristow, Virginia, there’s a labyrinth at the Benedictine Monastery.

There’s also a stone labyrinth at Shrine Mont, the Episcopal retreat center at Orkney Springs, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Mountains.
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There’s a special pilgrimage and labyrinth walk planned there in October 2015.

So it was with joy that I learned a labyrinth was being installed at St. Paul’s. Thanks to The Rev. Jim Melnyk’s photography and the wonder of Facebook, I could tune in daily for the pictures in progress and even videos of the local landscaper, Matthew Creech, using a plumb line to measure the circuitous layout, dig out the dirt space with a backhoe loader, and his crew, laying down the stone pavers.

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Photo of the completed labyrinth at St. Paul’s by The Rev. Jim Melnyk

He posted that it was designed by The Labyrinth Company in Connecticut in a seven-circuit design, like the fourteen-circuit labyrinth at Chartres.

I also learned that memorial funds, given in memory of Beverly Jordan, the wife of parishioner, Dr. Lyndon Jordan, had made the labyrinth possible. I didn’t have a chance to know her – she passed away a few months before Curtis and I moved to the area. But this lasting gift especially touched me, as I was widowed in December 1998.

After my first husband, Martin, died, I discovered the labyrinth-like Old Rose Garden, part of the historic Ben Lomond Historic Site in Manassas, Virginia. While my daughter had dance lessons at the community center across the street, I would walk the garden’s paths. When I started in winter, everything was brown and dormant. By spring, I was walking in bare feet on the green grass paths, and all about me the roses were fragrant and beautiful. I learned from that experience how healing such walks can be.
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Photo from Prince William County’s website for the Ben Lomond Historic Site

What a beautiful living tribute to Beverly Jordan, to provide this sacred space where anyone in the community or visiting can lay down their burdens and concerns, and spend quiet time walking with God.
I walked it for the first time on Sunday, and I hope to walk it again today. It was breathtaking to stand at the center and get the wide-angle feeling of pointing true north, centered, with everything green and growing around me. I truly feel at home in this parish now, because we are part of something new. Thank you, people of St. Paul’s, for welcoming us.

The labyrinth at St. Paul’s is open to anyone who wants to walk it. There are brochures in the plastic tube near the entrance. The labyrinth will be dedicated in the fall.

Looking for a labyrinth in your area? Check the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator. If there is a labyrinth that you know of that isn’t in the database, please add it.

Link to an article in the Smithfield Herald — The Rev. Jim Melnyk explains the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/smithfield-herald/article27902770.html