Burning Bush Publications
is proud to announce the three honorable mentions of
the People Before Profits Poetry Prize 2003:


Minnette Coleman: "About the Work"
Ellen Stern: "The Gravity of Combustion"
Ann Folwell Stanford: "Metallurgy: Symbol Ag"

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Minnette Coleman is an actress, writer and Grants Administrator for The New World Foundation. She has written and toured a one woman show "Hand-Me-Downs" about the civil rights movement. About the Work was inspired by the collective and ongoing work and experience in social justice of NWF's Board and staff.

About the Work
(inspired by those who labor to make life better for others)
Minnette Coleman


You ask me how I come to this work, how I got here
And I tell you it’s a belly issue.
You see I run this place and sometimes I was the first-
The first woman on the job
The first in my family to graduate
The first black to win the local essay contest.
I followed my heart.
I knew after I met the children of the Bushes and the Gores of this world
That there was something wrong with
What I was told to do and where I was supposed to be.
There were some in my early life committed to destroying the passion that was me
So my therapist could get rich
From listening to all the voices that I store inside of my head.
But I survived
This teaching that tells you have to un-follow your heart.
When they told me not to worry about others getting theirs
As long as I had mine
I decided not to give them my weekly 80 hours of slave labor
For big pay and things that I could never enjoy.
I decided that everybody else making it was my job.
I grew up in poverty- now that’s a belly issue-
But didn’t know it because there were people poorer than me.
I watched my parents struggle with discrimination
Crime lords and drug barons.
I wondered many nights if they would ever get home.
I wondered many years if anybody ever gets out.
I grew up over a candy store
And hated the chocolate and the nuts and the cigarettes
That other people wanted and that kept us open forever
Morning, noon, night and entire wars.
When would I get to rest?
My parents worked so hard to get from poor to middle class
That "looking to eat" is still a job for me.
I preached the gospel on the subway,
The story of the loaves and the fishes.
And I am still working on turning polluted water into wine.
I did it not for the dollars people shoved in my pocket to quiet me
But because I decided to follow my heart,
The only thing that I trust more and more.
I come to this work on the backs of my parents
Who taught me
Molded me and
Cared for me
So that I would learn that I was supposed to care for someone,
Sometimes everyone, besides myself.
This is how I have built my house.
I had no training and no warning on how this life would be.
But I do everything.
My house is an old house.
It is where survival and enough to eat –the belly of the issue- began.
When my father came home from his deliveries
I had the honor of removing his shoes.
When my father came home from cooking in the kitchens
I tried to soothe his struggle by giving him my music.
He kept the history of other people in his head -he did not take notes.
When my father came in from covering the latest lynching
I gave him the first glass of lemonade
Poured over freshly cracked ice-the nectar of the gods.
It’s all downhill from there.
Because where he came from
The German prison camp, delivering coal and feed and pigs and chickens,
Editing a newspaper, being a houseman then a waiter at a fancy hotel,
There was no understanding that people – all people need help.
So this is my house now.
The blueprints are written on a napkin
And the work is done with passion and friends and family.
It’s not a new house, I don’t want one of those.
I am just trying to take it to a different place.
And I keep learning –
I’ve done the plumbing three times, once with a plumber.
Sometimes I don’t always work well in a group.
I don’t believe in mass behavior-
But I build one on one relationships in order to get these rooms done.
And sometimes that is a problem
Because I become volatile when I’m disillusioned.
I knock down a wall and I ask you
What am I contributing now that I am taking something away?
And you look at me and tell me:
"You aren’t supposed to be here.
Remember, you’re supposed to be the head of a fortune 500 company."
And that’s when I remember that I wanted to be
A musician, a critic, a travel agent, an actor, a salsa dancer.
But I discovered feminism and marxism and communism
At an early age.
I met elders who taught me how they had lived through the game,
And I put them with notes-always musical-with the voices in my head.
So I come to this work
Because I am not supposed to be doing this work.
I bring into this work the value of my heart.
I bring you heroes and sheroes and heroines unknown.
I have had the cross burned on my lawn but not in my soul.
I remember Fannie Lou Hammer singing
"This little light of mine"
And not knowing what the light was.
I know now.
And its on.
I’m gonna let it shine in my house.
Fixing up this place that I am not supposed to be
Has been hit or miss
So I’m resigned and inspired by the fact that it will never be done
But baby,
Its coming along.

 

 

Ellen Stern, Mosaicist, Assemblage and Installation Artist: Bronx, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Michigan. Story of My Life. Stuff comes together, stuff breaks: words, objects, people, continuity.  Finding the right adhesive is the biggest pain you should ever have. Voids are invitations to create. Appreciators are the reason to continue.

The Gravity of Combustion
Ellen Stern

Thank you, Oh Lord, our Heavenly Creator
For providing this lunchtime diversional crater.
Stockbrokers, hat-in-hand, wonder with endurance
Whether Acts of Allah are exempt from insurance,
Wearing black tie as they sit in the bleachers
Rubbing elbows with children and history teachers
Submitting proposals for use of this space
To best capitalize on the time and the place.
To flood it for skaters? to stock it with carp?
Or an al fresco orchestra: lute, drum and harp?

Where basic mechanics and nihilism meet
Theatre-in-the-Round is just begging a seat.
A sporting arena like Ancient Rome's
Is sure to draw people outside of their homes!
The Bronx Zoo will offer their lions with pride
Ellis Island a ship, immigrants still inside
From countries we've blackballed and highly berated
Unalphabetized, unnaturalized, uninnoculated.
Or the French Revolution might make a good show
Replete with can-can dancers all in a row.
Mme DeFarge will be knitting away
Free tickets to one politician per day.

***

 


Ann Folwell Stanford teaches at the School for New Learning at DePaul University and, for the last 7 years, she's been conducting creative writing workshops for women in Cook County Jail. Her book, Bodies in a Broken World: Women Novelists of Color and the Politics of Medicine, will appear this September from UNC Press.

                                        Finally, after 47 years, I have found a civilized way to                                                   polish my silver.
                                        --Mrs. E. M. Sherman, (ad for Cape Cod Silver,
                                        New York Times)


Metallurgy: Symbol Ag

Ann Folwell Stanford

I can see why you are relieved, Mrs. Sherman. I was three
       when you began worrying a
bout your silver. I believe I noticed my own
              creeping unease as well--a dark scrim obscuring the mirror beneath.

I imagined it moving stealthily on hands and knees, spreading across the surface,
       rooting at intervals, clinging with suckers and tendrils, shifting gradually across
              the surface of my world as I grew and worried and grew some more.

Bomb shelters, radiation leaks. And always communists. We crouched
       under little desks in Florida when the Cuban missile crisis came to town, certain
              they would soon bring godless bloodshed, totalitarian misery, to us all.

Experimental rockets exploded over Cape Canaveral’s coast,
       ripped the sky open, leaking liquid fire across the stars like a torn womb.
              Hurricanes whipped windows from houses, stole electricity from our lives.

Like mold, fear seemed to conquer most of life. And even worse,
       my mother’s silver. How to find a civilized way to fight and conquer
              the ugly, the brutal, (we might as well go ahead and say it) tarnish--

from teapot to serving tray, it spread across delicate scrolls and geometrics,
       sugar pot, cream pot, and even, God help us, to the cutlery, and maybe
              to the drawer itself (you never knew)--a suffocating, difficult dirt.

The maid fought back, dipped silver in water, rubbed smelly chemicals across every
       plane, inside each delicate whorl to conjure a temporary luster through the grime.
              And all the while cities were burning, busses boycotted, kings shot.

Alchemists called the metal Luna or Diana for the moon, but scientists know
       that sulfur and sulfides attack its shiny skin, as though to force it back to its
              origins: clumped, brown knots invisible under the earth’s great boot.

Mrs. Sherman, you’ve convinced me. It has a vanilla scent, you say? Send three.

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