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James & Dodson – November 2017

Laura Dodson and Juyanne James traded art and words. Laura shared this image with Juyanne, titled “Springfield”:

In response, Juyanne wrote this piece:

Our Own Society

At a CC’s coffee shop on Magazine—one of two old friends is coming out, the other is going in. One is wearing old New Orleans boutique, the other department store sales items. One is still married after many years, the other long divorced. One has been a high school teacher, the other is retired military. One is white, peppered gray, and the other black, with a well-packed afro reminiscent of the 70s.

“Oooohhhhhh!” both women exclaim, as they wrap each other in an ageless, satisfying hug. One entreats the other to “come back inside.” They have a lot of catching up to do. Coffee is ordered, reordered. Then the women adjourn to the courtyard—where the sun will shine on their faces, where they can grab an out-of-the-way table and speak at ease.

From the moment they sit down, they are transported back in time, to the mid-80s, “Purple Rain” and “We Are the World” days. Cheering at basketball games, running up and down the bleachers. All those bad hair years, the bus rides, the angst being squeezed out of their young high school souls.

“What on earth have you been doing with yourself,” one of them asks.

Before the other can answer, a young black female in dreadlocks inserts herself at their table. Apparently, the Poets are loose and spreading their wares today—they tumble out of a bookstore, into crevices such as the courtyard. Some remain on the street, accosting tourists and passersby. This young woman looks the women in their eyes. “Listen up son,” she says, then recites her lines:

We are still chained to our sad memories,
Still locked in ships that came ‘cross that vast sea,
Know that our veil sometimes feels like a shroud,
Hearts, forever dirtied, awesomely fouled.

The young poet removes herself from the women’s table, then moves quickly to another.

The two women know not what to make of this—intrusion. One understands moreso than the other and appreciates the poetry on this pure, poetic day. The other woman thinks the young woman should mind her manners, stay in her place, or at least go home to mama.

“I’m doing good,” that woman says. “How ‘bout you? How long has it been?”

“It has to be twenty years now, right?”

“Yeah, I think so. I remember your marriage to Steve.”

“And I remember the birth of your son, Nicholas.”

“Yeah, he’s in college . . . .”

Another Poet is suddenly at the women’s table; this one a black male, clean-shaven, a fade, and perfect white teeth. He looks into both women’s eyes, and speaks slowly, purely, from his heart:

No one wants to see us whole and set free,
They belittle us, if we take a knee,
They hide from our dark faces in a crowd,
We are the ‘wet, black bough’—we must be loud.

The young poet removes himself from their table, then moves quickly to another.

Again, the two women know not what to say, of what is going on around them—a frenzied spirit has surely overtaken the courtyard. Even the one, fine tree is shaking in its leaves, as if stirred up by a changing wind.

The white one then says, “Remember when we were both on cheerleading squad, and I was always asking you to braid my hair?” Jeremy Lin flashes across her mind.

“Yeah, sure,” the black one says.

“Yes, exactly. That’s what you used to say!”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“No, really. You never said no, even though you must have gotten tired of me asking.”

“It was easy for me. I was black, you was white. It didn’t cost me anything—a few minutes spared for a teammate.”

“I’m not sure I ever thank . . .”

Another Poet stops at their table—this one a young white woman, in a pink dress; she’s a young Brittany, sporting her own tough spirit. She sits very close; and yet, she shouts these words,

’Neath the darkness, the beauty we perceive,
Little girls, shaken, taken, forced to leave,
As women, we say, “Me too”; who’ll hold her?
We’re draped in the work of the world’s shoulder.

The young poet removes herself from their table, then moves quickly to another.

The women are stunned, silent—both are wondering, “Which of the fates has placed me here today?” Neither knows what to say to the other now. What kind of world keeps two friends apart? They live in their own varicolored worlds, note their own hardships, love their own successes and never accept their own failures—under their own unassailable terms.

“Perhaps we can get together, for coffee, soon,” one of them says.

“Yeah, sure,” the other says, but immediately knows she does not mean it. “Yes, let’s do it, Sandra,” she says, meaning every word this time. “Let’s not wait so long.”

“No, Toni, let’s not wait . . . .”

The women are stunned to see yet another Poet at their table—this one a young Native American woman. She wears her native colors: a buckskin dress, beaded jacket, and moccasins—an outfit that must have cost a fortune in time to make. She kneels before the women, and imploringly says,

“Society, light a candle, save our world,
Not self, only Justice, with her hands unfurled.”

The young native woman removes herself from their table, then moves quickly to another.

* * * * *

Juyanne shared this poem with Laura:

Her Winter Coat

Ours is a strange love—
This is true.
She tolerates my humble spirit
And sits beside me
After long days of searching
The world
For peace.
She does not bed me, nor
Wish to take my simple hand
Nor place hers in mine,
Nor wish to
Dine in dark corners
With me—where,
If we were alone,
Our hearts might embrace.
But she looks upon me
From those same dark corners
From eyes that
Go searching
For a sign
That I am human like she once was—
Now, she is refined—
It’s her still arms,
Clasped together inside
Her winter coat
A coat that must
Tell the world
We can never come together.

In response, Laura made this image, titled “Her Winter Coat”: