Southern Honor

For Ashley H.

Though she be but little, she is fierce.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

She commands a ship with one tiny frame, the rutter a finger pointing…

She solicits respect and reverence from peers and elders with a simple “sir” and “ma’am”…

The thick skin of determination built

through tears in times of weakness

did not stop her compassionate heart.

Generations of Celtic pride

and roots burrowed deep in Southern soil

can only describe her

they can’t define her.

She is beauty that doesn’t know it:

She’s unpretentious

but the pride of those that love her.

She is elegant and graceful

in a hoodie on the South side of town.

She doesn’t reserve her strength

for the glitz of a ballroom.

The road rises to meet her

Her burdens, now, are light

Favor opens doors before her

And all her futures are bright.

A Poetic & Auditory Response to A Silent Night at Museum of the Bible

The bleak midwinter settles

in layers of flurries without and within

Crackling fire and a boy hold

a protected book in a one room cabin

Creaking floors and hinges, rattle open

Footsteps in the snow lead

lanterns to a stage floor

where percussion explodes…

Lift up your head! See

the percussion army dance, swing

wide from the shores of burning ships, sink

deep to the lost and hopeless, feel

the heart beats of hope again, watch

footsteps cross continents to bow

on National Mall in Washington DC, dare

to imagine a world where history

comes alive

celebrates The Word of light, the babe

born king, unpretentious, sets

the world ablaze with purpose.

No pit of darkness stands,

when Jesus Christ is in command.

Your army of artists surrender

Pens–Voices–Sticks–Vessels to Your hand.


For King and Country’s Christmas Special is a Partnership with the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Tickets give you 4 hour access to the 1 hour performance. The show is available for a short time only from December 10-17.

It is a show that blends all the arts–music, theater, writing, and more–to bring to life one of the most important events in world history. Pick up a ticket online before this opportunity passes and grab your headphones for a repeat show. You don’t want to miss this in surround sound.

Why You Should Block Your Ex

Poem read by author, Rebecca Whitman

You told me every word on your mind, no filters–

And nothing that I needed to hear

You filled silence with your incessant need for attention–

And nothing that asked about my life

You made countless promises, filled my heart with hopes and dreams–

And nothing that took action in five years of waiting

You called and claimed you changed, threw a bone at my wants and interests–

And nothing that reflected them as your own in your voice or character

You left me second guessing my best decisions–

And nothing but a wound so close I’m left…

bleeding out…


I phone a friend and find life–

He binds my wounds and gives me hope again

but his heart

is closed to mine.


I think of all the love I shared with you, and I realize it wasn’t nothing–

but it ended in nothing.

I’m tempted to pick up the phone and try again–

then I read about the eight years we tried and failed and know…

there is not enough life left to repeat it.

For all the love we shared that was real, I wish you well–

May you find a heart that gives you rest and welcome; May her love for you be warm and ready

May you give her the best of you–healed and whole because that’s all a new love deserves

not the ghost of regrets with mine.

Green Acorn: A Prayer

We certainly associate Spring with growth, but Autumn is the start. We have to shed our leaves and let things die for them to grow anew.

Millie, editor of Sylvia magazine
Reading by author, Rebecca Whitman

What will you start in me today, Lord?

What gentle bud will cocoon its life and wait for Spring? What leaves will shed and rot to feed the root of this dream? What branches will You prune from me because they bare no fruit? Will it be a wandering branch of thought or a whole arm out of touch with the mission?

I wait and listen…but I’m a little scared too.

It’s been a fear unsettled since I returned here, yet I want You to unearth it. Uproot it like the weed it is and water me with the Miracle-Gro of Your presence. I feel like I can’t hide away enough in You. Isn’t that part of the evidence here of transformation?

I give you…everything.

I surrender everything I have because I know it is a gift from You–a resource given to use not hoard. I know you will take care of me and get resources to me if you know you can get them through me.

I work through my waiting.

I pursue greater trust in You. I write down my dreams, and I’m not afraid to dream big with You! I make plain the steps to fulfill what I can, but, ultimately, it all falls apart without Your hand.

I have looked up at the sky through a world full of acorns.

I have seen the light through the leaves and let them fall on me. I have let brown acorns root and take residence where they should not have been, while the good green ones fell away from me. Why was my soil not good enough for their seed? Why did some other woman grab them with her earth, become their lover–their mother of children?

My ground, though aged and weak, has rested. The once stripped soil is fertile ground once more. I wait–with thanksgiving and expectation–for tomorrow’s planting and harvest. I thank You, Lord, for the green acorn You have chosen and are preparing for me today.

Fresh Bread

The sweet and sour of the yeast comes first

Then the sound of the crack

as your hardened skin breaks

in my hand. I partake,

surround myself in memories of warm laughter and sticky dough in a ceramic bowl in grandma’s kitchen–6,000 feet above sea level

slice some butter and spread it inside you, take a bite and savor

till the bite melts away…

I cup my hands to my mouth, hold my breath, and try to keep the memories from fading.

The Tree

I remember when we planted you:

one small twig in an ocean of sand. You bloomed

where you were planted and stretched your arms into the sky, your feet into the sand. You left me

white flowers in spring and sweet fruit in summer. By autumn, you were yellowing but still offering me shade and a safe place to climb. You fill my yard with golden

shreds of yourself; I let them decay and nourish the earth where you left them. Winter settles in and you are stripped bare. I shudder

at the thought that you’re not here. I remind myself you are just sleeping; green life still oozes inside your warm, wrapped branches. I wait,

for spring to waken you and summer to harvest and share you with the world.

But if I’m honest

I’d be just as happy to keep you

all to myself: my special apple secret beneath a yellow moon.

A Life Interrupted

When you lose a loved one, it is hard to find the words to express what they meant to you in that moment. It is especially hard when they are young. Such was the case with my brother, Joseph Tallent.

You will hear more about Joey later this week, but today we want to share the poem written for his memorial. This terza rima is a celebration of his life.

by Rebecca J. Whitman

From the moment you entered the world,

you struggled for breath and light.

Life came to you unfurled

after four years of perpetual fight.

You looked around in awe and wonder.

The world–your oyster–now a beautiful sight.

You found joy in little things: sitting under

Yankees Stadium, traveling to see games, 

commiserating when they were torn asunder.

A second love took its claims

when you found the melody of strings.

You went to concerts, met famous names,

felt the inspiration and life that artistry brings,

and chose to perfect that skill as your own.

Playing music was a freedom that gave your heart wings.

Around NASCAR you had grown

faithful to the 3, 24, and 88

numbers your favorite driver had flown.

Managing numbers was your gifted trait.

You made financing dreams easy

by taking away the worry and weight.

You weren’t afraid to be cheesy.

You were fearless in frivolity–

carefree and breezy–

yet still a man of depth and quality

with deep convictions about faith and politics.

You invested time with shrewd equality

in relationships of trust not tricks.

You found happiness and love,

peace and rest from conflict.

You built a home and family to be proud of

but your dreams were cut short.

You’ve moved on to life in Heaven above

and we wait to reunite in that Heavenly court.

Winter Grizzly

Good poetry is bravery in ink.

the audacity to exist without permission

–Yecheilyah Ysrayl, The PBS Blog

The cold winter settles in, cracks

my brittle porcelain skin, streaks

grey glitter into my hair, then

I meet you.

Your deep eyes open, a blue sea

surrounds me: I am taken in.

The water rushes over me, warm;

my fractured heart begins to thaw.

No-shave-November blankets

your smile in golden red, your face framed

in grizzly brown curls. I swoon.

You pray for me while with me, tears

God has collected 3,650 times before.

My lungs collapse in awe and wonder,

disbelief that you’re for real, expressed

in one word: Wow.

You ask for a translation.

I send you this poem.

The Language of Oppression

The language of oppression hides

in bitterness and hate, cowers

beneath tables and folds

of a woman’s skirts, lowers

its head and hands

to the feeding trough, surrenders

its body while its insides

scream defiance and resistance

The language of oppression chokes

out Truth, stifles

what really happened

to our mixed race

American



I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. I’m wrapped up in poetry and editing books where I am taking the last classes of my master’s degree in English. After reading a lot of Native American poets like Layli Long Soldier, I was moved to respond to the way so many Americans are stuck looking backwards. Even though their narratives are stories happening right now, they are influenced by a perception that some Americans are victims who are owed something by other Americans who were oppressors. There is something wrong with that.

On this blog, I shared a very personal poem from my own struggles with identity and heritage. That poem went on to be published by Sylvia Magazine.

No one would imagine I would have such issues, though, because I am as white as white can be. In our culture, white is synonymous with oppression. In the South, I am particularly aware of the hateful stares of my “minority” neighbors. Everyone assumes that I have had an easier life because I am white and that my ancestors owned their ancestors. If they asked, I’d tell them the truth: my ancestors lived in tiny rooms with newspaper walls on land they did not own. They worked alongside former slaves; they didn’t own any slaves of their own.

Racial identity is a complicated thing in America. We want to claim a strand of our DNA like we are pure bred of that nationality. The truth is that we are all mixed. If it were not so, we would not have survived in this brutal, foreign land. For love or survival, we formed alliances with other cultures and mixed our blood with our neighbors.

I can look back on that and say my poor ancestors were taken advantage of by an oppressive majority race, or I can look back on that truth and say my ancestors made sacrifices to afford a better quality of life for their offspring. I believe both are true, but which one perpetuates peace and harmony in society today?

We can’t change the past. At some point, we have to make peace with what happened to our ancestors and be thankful for the sacrifices that were made to provide a chance for a new life for all of us. The American melting pot is not easy or beautiful to all groups of people, yet we all are that pot. We need to realize that it says more for our resilience and determination that we are still here despite all the atrocities of the past than it does to point fingers at others and claim we are better than them because we were victims. In every family tree, there are both victims and victimizers. Instead of more protests, insincere apologies, and tax-paid handouts, we should embrace our own life story and make the most of the days we are given.

Looking back on history is not where we find our identity; it is where we learn how to do better in our own lives. True identity can only be found in Christ.

A Thimble-Full of Native American Blood

I don’t need a DNA test to tell me who my mother is; I know who she was. –A.D.

I tell you that what you know is wrong;

                we are not natives, we are whites

                more British than the British, in fact

I tell you that your mother

              registered white on the census;

              she was never half Indian

I tell you that the memories of her chewing

a black gum tree twig, dancing

in circles with my father, laughing

while fry bread sizzles

in an iron skillet

are just country

I tell you that the only record remotely

                supporting this identity

                is the marriage record saying

                Colored

It never occurs to me to consider

                                          race was a perception

                                                                  not an identity

                                                                             and perception lies

It never occurs to me

                               that one culture

                                                    can completely erase

                                                                                              another

Yet there it is on paper:

              colored = powerless, vulnerable

                           White = Entitled To Own

There it is on paper:

               my native antecedents slipping

                                      off their indian skins, a thin layer

                                                                 of vanilla ice cream melting

                                                                                                  from their chins


In the mid-1800s following the Emancipation Proclamation and during reconstruction in the South, white plantation owners feared a loss of land to freed slaves and Native Americans. As a result, in North Carolina, the State Constitution made changes to label all non-whites as “colored” and designate that “colored” people could neither own land nor marry. Native Americans were encouraged to assimilate. If they could look white and pass for white, they claimed they were whites. It was the only way they could have a chance for a fair life in the new world, but it was also the way that many Native American tribes disappeared from history….including my own.

 

A Grown-up Christmas Morn

*Twas the morning of Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was resting, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung on the walker with care,

as it rolled through the house…everywhere.

Us grown-ups were waiting in our own recliners,

While visions of gift wrap filled trash can liners.

And dad in his blanket, and I in ice packs,

were switching the channels and eating up snacks.

When out in the yard, there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my seat to see what was the matter.

I flew like a flash, away to the hatch;

I turned the brass handle and opened the latch.

The sun on the breast of the sandy farm rows,

gave a lustrous illusion of Christmas’ snows.

Then what to my wondering ears did I hear?

But the curling of ribbon. Presents are near!

With a jolly ol’ lady so lovely and quick,

I knew in a moment she must be Mrs. St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles her scissors did fly,

As she lifted her voice in carols to the sky:

“Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more. Through the years we all will be together if the fate allow. So hang a shining star upon the highest bough, and have yourself a Merry little Christmas now.”

Her voice mingles with scissors, ribbon, and tape;

a melody of sweet holiday escape.

As leaves before a hurricane, she flies;

when faced with an obstacle she takes to the skies.

Surrounded by supplies she’s having a blast

of making grown-up wishes happy at last.

And then in a twinkling I heard from the room,

a crack and a clackle; a monstrous boom!

Just as I got up and began to move around,

Out of the room Mrs. St. Nick came with a bound.

She wore a simple gown with fur at the collar.

She looked frazzled and about to hollar.

A bundle of ribbons were stuck to her back,

and she looked like a jokester just stole her pack.

Her eyes–how they twinkled! Her dimples, how merry!

Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry!

Her droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

and the hair on her head was like silvery snow.

The stump of a pen she held tight in her teeth,

and the ink, it encircled her mouth like a wreath.

She had a broad face and a little round belly,

that shook when she laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

She was chubby and plump, a right jolly ol’ elf!

And I laughed when I saw her in spite of myself.

The wink in her eye and the twist in her head,

told me I had nothing to dread.

She spoke not a word, she went straight to her work;

filling the tree with presents then she turned with a jerk.

Then laying her finger aside of her nose,

and giving a nod, up the chimney she rose.

She sprang to the sleigh and to her team gave a whistle,

and away they all flew like the down on a thistle.

But I heard her exclaim ere she drove out of sight,

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”


*This poem was written this morning inspired by the activity in my home and by a few familiar classics. I hope you enjoyed it.

Christmas Time Blues, Doubts, And A Hard Lesson In Valuing Your Health

This Christmas is not setting itself up to be one of my best ones, and it’s not because of what I’m about to tell you. It’s because so far this Christmas season, I have bought all my presents but not wrapped a one. I never found an ugly Christmas sweater to wear to the party, so I was completely left out of the photos. I’ve missed almost every Christmas song on the radio, been too busy-or sick-to decorate, and lost out on all my Christmas parties (even the ones I planned myself). It’s warmer than Autumn, most days this December, it’s not feeling like Christmas at all.

Christmas starts to feel like Christmas to me when the first cup of cider is poured in November, and the craft bazaars start popping up everywhere for early shoppers. This is my favorite time of year, and it excites me almost as much as Christmas morning, because this is the time I get to support local artists and buy gifts for the ones that I love. When we gather and give thanks at Thanksgiving, it just preps my heart more for the appreciation and love to come. The bright lights, the displays, and the holiday specials all feel magical to me. Christmas music and movies on constant play while I’m swimming in hot chocolate and gift wrap is…well…divine. Without all this cheer, all I hear is, “I’ll have a blue…Christmas.”

A Serious Wake Up Call

In the middle of my bustling, busy life, I got a serious wake-up call. I walked out the door, ten days before Christmas, excited to finally be going to a Christmas party, and my leg gave way beneath me. I fall on the steps and cried out for help. Help comes running, and I got back up only to feel my legs crumble again inside the house. I rested a moment, and looked at the clock; I was missing the party.

The shades of blue deepened in my heart. Again I tried to get up and leave. This time I made it to my car and fell completely on the cold, hard ground. I could feel the cold but nothing more, and I got scared. This falling business could be serious. I pulled myself up with a cane and my car wheel, but couldn’t hold it. My right leg was complete jello. All the strength of my left side was not enough to pick up Humpty Dumpty again. This time my cry for help would require a team of EMS workers to lift me.

With the arms of EMS gripped around me, I thought of my students. So many of them have expressed a desire to be EMS someday. I held on to the man closest to me–a volunteer first responder, a neighbor whose name I still don’t know. I let him be my legs that would get me to the stretcher and the ambulance and the hospital while I text work and my students what to do while their teacher missed class.

All Too Familiar

Six months before this moment, I was doing the same thing only much more damaged and covered in blood. I was hit by a van and spun down the highway three times. My brand new car was totalled. My face was cut and permanently scarred. My back was severely shaken out of alignment. Yet, I survived.

I remember thinking, in those few seconds of white as I spun down the road, “God, is this going to be it? This can’t be it. I’ve got so much left to do in the world.”

Then I thought about the tractor-trailer. Where was it? It had been right behind me before I was hit. I closed my eyes and braced for a second impact. “Oh God, Oh Jesus, please help me!”

I knew I would most likely not survive that blow. As my car spun out, I thought about my loved ones and how it would hurt them. I thought of all the things I left unsaid. I thought about my job, my goals, and my dreams. I wasn’t ready for the end.

Then suddenly, the car stopped. I opened my car door and tried to get out as quickly as possible. If I was still in the road, I didn’t want to be hit again. But I was not in the road. Somehow, I had been spun around enough to put me facing oncoming traffic but resting safely on the side grass a few feet beside the road sign.

This was God’s answer: Not yet.

Temptation To Doubt God

Landing back in the hospital, my thoughts spiraled.

“Are you sure, God? If I have a purpose not yet done in this world, why bring me more pain and suffering? How can that further your cause?”

I questioned God, but I didn’t get angry. I didn’t understand the purpose in the pain, but I remembered that we were never promised a struggle-free life.

In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. –John 16:33 NIV

Four hours later lying immobile in the hospital bed, a CT scan revealed that I had a herniated disc in my lumbar spine. I left with heavy drugs, possible surgery, and weeks of required time off work. When it was all said and done, my body reset itself, and I learned a hard lesson in paying attention to my health.

But in the moment…all I had was the hope that God really was in control.

I wrote this poem:

Now my Christmas may be less active and bright.

I may be seeing your lights from a distance tonight.

I will be sending you gifts of hope and cheer,

while you celebrate with all who are near.

As you open your gifts, there’s one gift I hope we can share:

It’s the gift of the Christ child on Calvary’s snare.

What meant to kill and steal him from the Earth,

Gave to us our second birth.

Merry Christmas!