Seneca Village and Sacred Sisters: A Visit From Poet Marilyn Nelson

Photograph by Jenny Spinner
I've long been a fan of poet Marilyn Nelson--of her adept use of traditional forms, her extended explorations of history and personal spirituality, her desire to reach a wide readership that includes middle- and high-schoolers and not just the usual, insular adult audience sought by most poets.  

Marilyn is also impressively prolific, with two new collections published in quick succession--American Ace:

Earlier this week, Marilyn paid a visit to Saint Joseph's University, to read in our Writing Series.  

Among the poems she shared were a couple of very striking newer ones from Sacred Sisters, a collaboration with visual artist Holly Trostle Brigham.  Marilyn's poems and Holly's paintings depict the lives of nuns who also were artists. 

This one was first published by the Academy of American Poets in their Poem-a-Day program

Hilaria Batista de Almeida, Provider

Sisterhood of the Good Death, Bahia, Brazil
August 14, ca. 1850

Tomorrow, after we’ve led the procession
following Our Lady of the Good Death
back to our chapel, two hundred Sisters,
in our white eyelet headwraps and dresses
and the company of the Ancestors,
will dance a Glory samba, with our neighbors
like us redeemed, and those we work to free.
We’ll dance as if we don’t know aches and pains,
to celebrate the best death of all time.

No death is easy, but some deaths are good.
The free die good deaths. The people we free
will be put down with honor and music.
The best death was the one Our Lady had,
passing directly from breath to glory.
Glory is ours, too, just one death from now.
What dies lives on no longer slave, but free:
The same essence, wearing another face,
like an orixa changed into a saint.

Tomorrow is Our Lady’s Assumption Day.
Today we sit in our rooms to prepare,
searching the dark silence to find glory.
My still hands, thick from cutting sugarcane…
and there it is, that flood of thanksgiving.
These nimble fingers that can tell from touch
the best tobacco leaf and when to stop
rolling a cigar smooth on the table,
this year helped free thirty Yoruba slaves!


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