Last November after the presidential election and the fear and hate mongering that had been weighing heavy on my heart, I decided to defend hope and community by creating a little Poet Tree on our front corner. At the time our fig tree’s bare branches leafed with poems of joy, compassion, love, and life.
Now that the fig tree has its own famous leaves fully unfurled, we’ve re-configured the poems as a garland. As the figs begin to grow in the summer heat, and we hang our 18th round of poems, I’ve decided to also post a poem or two each week to share with the community beyond our neighborhood.
As Julia Alvarez explained in her author’s note at the end of her beautiful novel, In the Time of Butterflies, a novel about the freedom fighting Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorship of Trujillo – “Often when we read about brave women like the Mirabal sisters, we think that in order to advance the cause of freedom we have to do grand things. But in fact, if we look at the lives of these four sisters, we realize that all of them came to their courage in small incremental steps, little moments and challenges we all face very day of our lives. In some ways, we become brave, almost by accident. Something happens and we respond to that challenge courageously and compassionately. But really, all along the way to that something big happening, we’ve been cultivating a compassionate heart, a listening and big-hearted imagination. And one of the ways to cultivate such an elastic and inclusive imagination is by reading books.
“Think about it. When you read, you become someone else. Terence, the Roman slave and playwright, who freed himself with his writings, once wrote, ‘I am a human being. Nothing human is alien to me.’ That could be the motto of literature. Nothing human is alien to the novelist. And when we read, nothing human is alien to us either. We actually inhabit and become someone else. Nothing human is alien to us. Not a Danish prince trying to make a decision about what moral code to follow; or a young black girl named Maya Angelou growing up in the rural south in the 1930s; or a grief-strickenKing Gilgamesh searching for his lost friend, Enkidu, in the underworld in 2700 B.C.; or a beautiful young freedom fighter named Minerva Mirabal forming an underground movement in the 1950s in the dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic…”
I hope that reading these poems helps us foster “elastic and inclusive imagination” and human connection.