A Lament for America

On this third day after our most recent presidential election, I remain sorrowful and deeply disappointed (both in and for us as a nation). I am gravely concerned about what this next season will look like for individuals and communities who are dear to me. And, frankly, I am grieved and ashamed that so much of the white American church has either embraced or accommodated truly hateful, un-Christlike rhetoric and behavior from the person who is now poised to fill our nation’s highest elected office.

I am moving into the “we have work to do” camp—because we certainly do. As has ever been the case (only now amplified and validated in a devastating way through this election process), racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and a host of other discriminatory and violent ideologies are alive and well in our society. Those of us who recognize the harm and evil in that fact (whether we have long been painfully aware of this reality or have just had a very rude awakening) have an ongoing responsibility to fight for transformation in how members of various oppressed groups are viewed, valued and treated.

But while gearing up for what lies ahead, I have also felt the need to lament what we have witnessed this week and in the months (and decades, even centuries) leading up to November 8, 2016. And so, with the words of Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah ringing in my ears (and very much aware of how guilty I am of not loving all my neighbors and how much I still need to learn and grow), here is an attempt to communicate some part of the anguish, anger, and sorrow, as well as the (sometimes very fragile-feeling) hope I carry in my heart in these days:

A Lament for America

Oh, America.
So beautiful in myriad ways:
land of innovation and imagination
a place where dreams run wild
     and many that are chased are caught
a lofty experiment
     boldly declaring the possibility
          of unity in diversity
adopted home of many a weary sojourner
     desperately in need
          of a safe place for a fresh start

But we have been that whitewashed sepulcher:
externally shiny and bright
adorned with every form of advanced technology,
     with breath-taking talent
     and jaw-dropping wealth
self-proclaimed greatest nation in the world
self-righteously pointing the finger
     at those we deem less moral than ourselves
but on the inside, stained with every “ism” in the book
prejudiced and prideful
fearful and furious
willing to take out our anxieties and disappointments
     on those already vulnerable in our midst
the privileged among us feasting on the forbidden fruit
     of stolen land
          stolen labor
          stolen lives

And now here we stand, with our feet in a most precarious place
for God has been down this road before
     with many a generation of stiff-necked people
and His anger burns white-hot
when the poor find no justice in the courts
when the foreigner is not welcomed,
     the widow and orphan not provided for
when people who bear His Name bow down
     before those who have no claim to their allegiance

Lord of mercy,
be near to the broken-hearted and bind their wounds
bring the oppressor to justice—
     and contrition
stand in the gap for those whose worth and dignity are denied
     whose health and well-being are recklessly cast aside
teach us, O God, to search our own souls
     and lay them bare before you
then fit us for the crucial work ahead—
     the never-ending labor
          of loving our neighbors—
               and (Lord, help us!) even our enemies—
               as ourselves.

© 2016
Alexis Spencer-Byers

Another’s Treasure: Kindle Version

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Greetings, friends!

Just a quick note to let you know that I have dragged myself ever so slightly closer to the 21st century, and Another’s Treasure is now available as a Kindle e-book (check it out here). I would not recommend trying to read it on a phone (the line breaks in the poems become pretty chaotic), but it seems to work okay on various larger devices/screens (iPad mini pictured).

For those who have purchased and/or read and/or shared responses to the paperback version, thank you so much for your support of this project! For those who have been biding your time in the hope that this announcement would eventually be made, apologies for the long wait, and happy e-reading!!

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Books!

AT & UV

Well, it’s official—Another’s Treasure exists! Here she is, getting acquainted with her “big sister,” Urban Verses.

I remain overwhelmed with gratitude for/to all the people who helped nurture this project—and me—along the way! I could never have gotten this far without your support, encouragement, talents, and prayers.

Now, of course, comes the part of the process where I invite anyone who thinks they might enjoy reading this collection of poems about my adventures in cross-cultural urban living in Jackson, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to nurture the project further by acquiring a copy. Books can be purchased on Amazon.com or from me directly (use special pricing code UVB1410 for a little Early Bird discount if you order from the Urban Verses website).

Meanwhile, here is what I know so far about upcoming book-related events:

Jackson
Koinonia Coffee House (136 S. Adams Street, Jackson, MS 39203)
Friday, November 7
5:00-7:00 pm

Los Angeles
With Love Community Market & Cafe (1969 S. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90007)
Saturday, December 13
5:00-7:00 pm

San Francisco
location & date TBD—cast your vote for 11/30 or 12/21…

If you are in or near any of these areas, I do hope you will come out to visit, enjoy some poetry and snacks, and support a couple of the small businesses nearest and dearest to my heart.

Thanks again for accompanying me on this writing & life journey!

Another’s Treasure

This latest blog silence has been a long one indeed, and I apologize for that. I don’t know if the excuse/explanation will seem like a good one, but here it is:

For the past few months (okay, let’s be honest—the past couple of years), I’ve been working on putting together Poetry Collection #2, now officially known as Another’s Treasure.

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cover design by Talamieka Brice, Brice Media

As I’m sure most of you can imagine (or know from your own experience), this has been a time-consuming, emotionally intense, and all-around terrifying process. Much of the time, the prospect of actually completing the book and sending it out into the world seemed like a taunting mirage that was always on the horizon, but never actually got any closer.

Now, though, I am told that I will have books in my hands in just a couple of weeks! (Which means, of course, that anyone who is so inclined can have books in his/her hands not long after that…)

If you live in or near Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Jackson (Mississippi), stay tuned for information about book-related gatherings in your area. It will be my pleasure to share with you in person some of the poems in this collection, a few of which may be familiar from this blog.

For those of you in other parts of the country/world, I will of course be honored if you choose to acquire a copy of the book (ordering information will be forthcoming), peek into my life and mind through its pages, and share any responses you might have to these reflections. Writing about bits of life is always a great help to me in understanding and appreciating my experiences; engaging in discussion with others makes the whole process so much richer and deeper. I look forward to the conversation, and as always I am deeply grateful for the gift you give to me by reading!

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