In conjunction with The Poetry Coalition’s March 2019 joint programming exploring the theme “What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy,” The Common presents four weekly features this month, each addressing and extending this national—and international—conversation.
In this, our fourth installment, we offer Ron Welburn’s “Seeing in the Dark” and “Alternate Charles Ramsey” by Reginald Dwayne Betts.
Seeing in the Dark
for Francis Martin (Nauset/Nipmuc)
Blind at night in the forest,
you are right about fear and
what it does to you there,
how fluids and adrenaline fix the eyes
on what the mind cannot accept.
And this explains it all:
How when they came here
the thick forests unnerved them,
How they couldn’t find each other
in the pursuit of some theory of white.
How is it that grandmother moon’s face
is impenetrable, disembodied, inchoate
in spite of narratives launched bedeviled by poetics.
How they started a legacy against trees and brown people.
And you are right again about that fear,
right as rain and morning and frost on
the pumpkin waiting in the dark.
For why should we fear when we are
the bear, the fisher, deer and vole?
Even the owl is of our community.
REGINALD DWAYNE BETTS
Alternate Charles Ramsey
In an alternate universe where Charles Ramsey never gets five minutes of fame because he mentions slavery instead of McDonalds. Charles Ramsey did five years for beating on his wife and read Battle Cry of Freedom, Destruction of Black Civilization, some bell hooks, some Sonia Sanchez, some Fred Douglass, this book list he got from a feminist woman who came in to speak to the fellas about domestic violence and the ramifications of abuse and got serious counseling while confined. When asked on CNN why he helped Amanda he says: My wife don’t love me no more, man. You know what I mean? So I hear a woman crying and yelling for help and I think domestic violence cause I was that fool who beat his wife once and so I think maybe I can make amends by helping somebody, you know. And me and this cat kick the door in. When I look in ole girl face, when her daughter runs to me and the woman says “I’m Amanda, I’m the one from the news, I’ve been locked up in her for ten years.” First thing I think about is slavery, then I think about the gun I keep in the house. I mean check this, I’m thinking about Harriet Jacobs and in The Wake of the Wind and this woman has been a fucking slave for ten years and we don’t even understand slavery now and Amanda was standing there and we both called the cops and. . . . I ate barbecue with this sick bastard. Imagine eating a meal with a slave owner. How you do that and live with yourself? I don’t even sleep no more. Amanda said there are other women in there and . . .
Ron Welburn (Gingaskin Cherokee and Assateague descendant) has published in over one hundred literary magazines and anthologies, such as volumes I and II of Susan Deer Cloud’s I Was Indian compilations, Yellow Medicine Review, Callaloo, and The Best American Poetry 1996. His seventh collection of poems, Council Decisions: Revised and Expanded Edition, was published by Bowman Books of the Greenfield Review Press. An emeritus professor in the English department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he formerly directed the American Studies graduate concentration and also coestablished the Certificate Program in Native American Indian Studies in 1997.
Welburn’s poem, “Council Decisions,” was requested by Paul Laincz (formerly of Kutztown University) in July 2017 to be part of his photographic exhibit, “Dreams of a Blackberry Moon” series, under consideration at the Delaware Museum of Folk Art. Laincz included the poem in a brochure for the exhibit at the University of Delaware in the 1990s. He read at the 25th Anniversary gathering of the Returning the Gift Native American Authors Celebration in October 2017. He was also a reader in the Celebration in Words: Poetry Prose, Spoken Word: In the Spirit of Robert Abel (1941-2017) in November 2018. His jazz poem, “‘Did You Call Her Today?’: Ben Webster and Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison,” was published online and in print in January by Jersey Jazz.
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a husband and father of two sons. A poet and memoirist, he is the author of three books. The recently published Bastards of the Reagan Era, the 2010 NAACP Image Award winning memoir, A Question of Freedom, and, the poetry collection, Shahid Reads His Own Palm. Dwayne is currently enrolled in the PhD in Law Program at the Yale Law School. He has earned a J.D. from the Yale Law School, an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College’s M.F.A. Program for Writers, and a B.A. from the University of Maryland.