“How can black people write about flowers at a time like this?” So whispered a woman (white) at a poetry reading, where a poet (black) was reading poems about flowers. The query inspired this poem by Hanif Abdurraqib, who also writes, on the same webpage, about the experience of overhearing it.
Artists must follow their calling, and it is particularly troubling for a white person to question how a black artist uses their creativity and relates to the world. I’ll let Abdurraqib’s response speak to that question, since he’s black and I’m not, and he’s a poet, while I’m just a reader and appreciator of poetry.
However, all of us who “rejoice in beauty,” as we say in our benediction, and also grieve for the world and rage at its injustices, may be troubled by the tension within. Can we raise a fist with one hand, caress a flower with the other, or will the attempt leave us doing very little of either? Should we put the contemplation of beauty on hold until this crisis is past? (Is the crisis ever past?) Is the contemplation and celebration of flowers a breather, our way of restoring ourselves before we go back into the ring, or is it more than that?
The Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale spoke to this dilemma beautifully in her sermon on June 14. (You can see the whole service here, or listen to just the sermon here.) Like Stefanie, I think that all of it, the beauty and the pain, are part of the “sacred ground of now.” Life is too short either to permit injustices to go by unchallenged, or to permit flowers to go unnoticed for too long.
Thank you for calling our attention to these, Richard Heydt, in the midst of the struggle.