Once I found my English-Hall family in 2001, for the first time since I gave birth to my son, Justin, I could finally see Me in the faces of others. I learned that I came from a family of writers and poets. People like my Grandmother Ellena and my Aunt Yuvonne Brazier who are both poets and writers, not to mention some of my cousins like Ellena Balkom who is also a talented writer and motivational speaker.
However, I still see Me in the hearts of my Jackson kin. Through and through, I am a Jackson. I am, and will always be, M.C. Jackson’s little girl. Daddy was the first person to say to me, “you’re going to be a writer someday.” He also taught me the value of working hard at whatever job I had whether it was flipping burgers in the food court in the dining hall at Auburn University or standing in front of a classroom at Ball State University teaching and engaging with students.
I am also a part of the men and women who helped nurture me along the way. People like my cousin, Frankie Key, who mothered me and showed me the value of standing up for myself no matter what. People like Miss Addie Haynes and Mr. Paul Reeves, who first taught me how to speak loud and proud and enunciate my words when speaking in a public forum. People like Mrs. Beatrice Miller and my Aunt Lenora Key McClendon who helped me to see that being a strong woman, yet a caring woman, are not contradictory to each other. People like Uncle Raz Casey, who lived beyond 110, and taught me growing old is not something to fear but something to celebrate. People like my Uncle Lonnie B. Jackson who taught me storytelling is a gift and if you are going to tell a story, you better “tell it straight.” And finally, people like Mrs. Eveline and Aunt Mary, who taught me there is strength in being quiet and observant.
I could name so many more people who touched my life, and taught me the value of being a strong woman, and over time, I will, but for now, here is a poem that expresses who I am and where I came from.
My Song of Me
When you look at me, you see not just an
adopted baby of unknown pedigree.
but a baby shuffled from one
Front Porch Monarch to the other,
each trying to mark me, massaging their
imprint into my skin with gnarled fingers
in an effort to make me their own.
a love child cradled by my daddy’s callused hands,
hands that were rubbed soft with Jergens Lotion and Vaseline
after long days of toiling for what seemed like at times
only a few dimes and nickels.
A country child begat by country folk who often got pecked
by the beak of Jim Crow but who occasionally
got the chance to peck him back.
A blues child who jooked just as hard as the grown folks when
J.W. Warren plucked blues harmonies
in the guise of gospel tunes in order to satisfy
both the tea drinkers and the shine sippers who
all congregated under the Saturday night altar
of stars and vast, Alabama skies.
A sometimes fearful child who was warned about
the Billy Bobs, Joe Nathans, and Cooter Lees
who whooped it up on back country roads and side streets--
screaming racial epitaphs that burned crosses into
the souls of the hearer, but in a pinch these men
would do you right – whether you were white or black.
But most of all
I am a storyteller who is tied to generations of
other proud storytellers whose
stories I carry in my belly like unborn babies, waiting
for the day when Emancipation comes, so I can
be one of the first to set our stories free.