Your preference for the long view was balanced by an exquisite attention to the ragged, beating heart of the impossible moment. You called history a long, bloody becoming toward what might finally be, this beautiful, terrible, needful thing, still stirring.
You were moved by the idea that against failure after failure, something wars, something goes forward, something lights a match, and remembered the winged man of the laughing, longing night.
You kept your eye on the sharp sails that flayed the albatross and on a promise that it was yet possible to walk back home over Galilee’s waters to be washed of the effluvium of living death.
Your own aches bent elsewhere, you trained your eye toward life upon these shores, to study the deep immortal human wish amid a timeless yearning for the good old days that had never been good.
You studied the choreography of spirit hanging on, dancing its own shelter with an intensity bright enough to shine through the sordid and cruel deniers of hearts, of lives, of life itself.
You argued that a poem is an action unto itself, a catalyst of compassion, a weight to bend the moral arc ever slightly toward a softer hand, toward community, toward home.
You knew despair could seed a song to raise the roof and the hard loving of laughter in bed with misery and as a constant reminder you drew heart-shapes in the constant dust, as if to mark this side of heaven.
Even as you mourned the moaning empress of the blues, four bullets in her heart, you lifted us up with ostrich feathers to feel her still shining forward, to look with you, through the transience of loss, to the way they would rise early next Sunday, even against the next fistful of snow.
What did any of us know, anyway, of love’s austere and lonely offices?
On this day in 1913, American poet Robert Hayden (d. 1980) was born. The title of this post is adapted from an article Frank Rashid published in the Winter 2001 issue of Callaloo, “Robert Hayden’s Detroit Blues Elegies.” This post is composed using ideas and phrases from Hayden’s work and interviews, as well as a line (italicized above) from Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body, a work that moved and influenced Hayden, particularly his historical vision. Where possible, I have linked lines above to the works from which they are adapted.