Giants

In honor of this being the last week (but I’m hoping not the last day!) of the 2010 San Francisco Giants’ reign as World Series champions, I thought I’d share this little tribute to them (which also serves as an expression of appreciation to the hometown that helped teach me the value of embracing those who have been rejected elsewhere).

Giants

They were a merry band
of cast-offs, misfits and the Freak—
the ideal ensemble
of orange- and black-clad characters
to bring that gleaming, flag-lined trophy
to our heart-snaring City by the Bay,
proving beyond a shadow of a doubt
that being different
doesn’t mean
being less,
and that anyone,
no matter how misunderstood
underappreciated
or flat-out written-off
they may have been
in the places they inhabited
before,
can come here
and be a hero—
unconditionally embraced by millions
and paraded down Market Street
in a Cable Car
never fearing confiscation
of a rally thong
or mandatory landscaping
of a beard.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers

Mississippi Mud

On the lighter side…this poem isn’t about life in the city, but rather about what can happen when you take a city girl and plunk her down “in nature” (and by nature, I mean the edge of the Mississippi River, about a mile and a half from downtown Memphis).

This piece appeared originally in the 2009 Poets Anonymous collection, Bending Toward the Light. If you’d like to hear a dramatic reading of the poem by my dear friend and fellow poet, Jennifer Merri Parker, click here.

Mississippi Mud

Up to my kneecaps
in Mississippi mud
it slowly sinks in
that I have chosen
the wrong dock—
not the one,
well-paved and hospitable,
from which we’d set out
one short hour before,
but another,
similar in appearance,
yet different in nature—
treacherous, slippery
and not at all where I want to be.

Amid squelches and squeals
I am able to salvage
one of my shoes
but not the other
and, chalking the loss up to “tuition,”
I mark this lesson as learned:
that, absent an invitation to tread atop the waters,
we mortals must be selective
about the times we elect to
step out of the boat.

© 2009
Alexis Spencer-Byers

Public Transit Epiphany

Thinking about the Montgomery bus boycott last week reminded me of my own life-changing bus moment. Though the two incidents are as different as can be in terms of the scopes of their impacts, they both have something to do with human equality–which is perhaps why I dare to mention them in the same sentence.

The actual moment described below occurred years ago, in San Francisco, but some of the reflections have evolved since then, as I’ve moved from a city where transit ridership is diverse in many ways, including socioeconomically, to places where public transit is often regarded as a dividing line between haves and have-nots.

I’m going to go ahead and confess that I’ve struggled a bit with this piece. It’s been difficult to get the tone right, and to communicate a bit of the awe I felt in the face of such a specific and unexpected reminder of a principle I believe but don’t always think about during day-to-day interactions: the notion that each human being, no matter their circumstances, has significance and a story–whether that story is consumed and shared by millions or largely played out before an audience of One. I’m still not sure I’ve got it right.

One more preliminary remark… I believe in God, and these reflections incorporate that belief. However, I recognize that belief in God is not a prerequisite for belief in universal human value, and I am grateful to know many people who, while they do not share my religious convictions, embrace and act upon (often better than I do) the understanding that all people matter equally. Now, without further stalling…

Public Transit Epiphany

I look around—
surreptitiously, of course—
at two dozen or so
fellow travelers,
and I am struck by the thought that—
bluntly speaking—
they mean nothing to me.

I have never met any of them before
(technically, I haven’t even met them now),
it’s unlikely I’ll encounter any of them again—
or recognize them if I do—
and I haven’t the faintest idea
what their respective stories
entail.

What twist of plot
brought each of them
to this time and place
where our paths have aligned
for the briefest
and seemingly least consequential
of chapters?

Scanning again—
and this time registering
the mismatched outfits,
missing teeth,
and matted hair
of several of these late-night riders—
it saddens me to think
that some of them
may not have anyone
to whom they do mean something.

That’s when my perspective veers
onto a different course,
and suddenly these nameless strangers
come to mean a great deal to me—
for they are living reminders
that, if there is truth to the belief I profess,
each soul aboard this bus
matters beyond measure
to the One who watches over all of us.

Regardless of our anonymity
to one another,
each of us is known to Him
as the protagonist
of a most important tale,
living an arc
just as crucial
to the ever-unfolding
narrative of humanity
as those traveled by the bravest explorer,
the most brilliant scientist,
the wealthiest businessperson,
the strongest athlete
and the most talented artist.

As our coach lurches forward,
I am simultaneously comforted
and challenged
by the conviction—
long held, and now poignantly illustrated—
that each of us is cherished equally
by One to whom value is not relative—
whose esteem can neither be increased
by fame, fortune or beauty
nor decreased
by obscurity, poverty, decrepitude
or even the need
to make use
of public transportation.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers

Mrs. Parks’ Bus

This is the poem I meant to share today…

During the years I spent in Jackson, I made several visits to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. There are any number of powerful, painful and poignant stops along the tour of this museum (housed in the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated), but for some reason the Montgomery bus boycott exhibit often grabbed my heart in an especially personal way.

Perhaps it was because I could literally get on a bus and imagine myself in the situation faced by Rosa Parks and so many other African-American riders back in the day. Perhaps it was because, growing up, I had spent a lot of time on buses and streetcars, and I’d had the luxury of viewing a seat up front, near the driver, as a safe and accessible place.

Whatever the reason, the memory of the moment described below has stayed with me—and it continues to contribute to the admiration and respect I have for the courageous, persistent and patient women and men who participated in that era’s struggle for human rights.

Mrs. Parks’ Bus

Inside the Lorraine Motel,
a relic from a bygone era
invites me to take a journey
back in time—
or perhaps it is a replica,
merely an imitation of that now-infamous
public transit vehicle
on which an ordinary citizen
did an extraordinary thing—
asserting her humanity
and declaring it to be of a value
precisely equal
to that of the lighter-skinned passenger
who presumed to take her seat.

Sitting on a cushioned bench
at the back of the bus,
I observe as two vivacious teenage girls
bound up the steps
and take stock of their options.

They flop into seats near the front,
activating the recorded voice
of an increasingly irate driver—
who demands, in no uncertain terms,
that they move to the rear—
and it occurs to me,
as hot tears slither down my cheeks,
that progress comes
in the most mundane of arenas,
and that sometimes a year’s worth of walking
must precede one small step
toward the destination
that matters.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers

It Rains in Southern California

This isn’t what I planned to post today, but I’ve been led to believe such a piece won’t be timely very often…

It Rains in Southern California

The rain in southern California
made the news last night.

Weather forecasters
and anchors alike
offered detailed analysis
of the storm’s projected path
as well as helpful hints
and earnest exhortations to drivers
to respect this show
of nature’s force.

The man-on-the-street
from Michigan
mocked the locals
for their seemingly disproportionate fear
of inclement weather.

They, in turn, derided him
for bundling up
against a sub-seventy-degree
chill—
the entire exchange
serving to prove
in pithy, sound-bite fashion,
that while climate may change
human nature
does not.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers