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Sample Poems by Lester Graves Lennon


My Father Was a Poet

I did not know my father was a poet
who wrote in Braille after he lost his sight.
He was a man of secrets.
The usual ones I knew: alcohol
and women. Poetry was his alone.
After his death I found them carefully
packed in the closet of his nursing home.
Page after page of tactile patterns lured
my fingertips. I had them translated,
if that's the term, from darkness into light.
There were no letters only poetry.
He wrote an ordered formal verse,
four beats always four beats per line.
It was a powerful uncompromising
line for a man who did not compromise.
He knew I wrote and never asked to hear.
I read each poem of his, placing the Braille
next to the flattened text. The pair revealed
verse maps of constellations from the star
atlas a son would follow to find his father.


The Father - Part 1
The Family Darkness


The family darkness reached for me
with its compulsive gripping need
to slowly lead each optic nerve
through graying streets as street lamps fade.
Three brothers and three sisters lost
their sight. We watched our daddy's squeezed.
I've seen glaucoma seize our light.



The Son - Part 1
My Father's Father's Children


My father's father, Mack, a rough shrewd son
of freed field slaves, owned a tobacco farm,
thirty years after slavery in Whiteville,
North Carolina. His wife, Aradella,
worked home and soil, gave birth to thirteen children:
D'Ossey, the first born who died at Shaw;
Ben, Quentin, Roscoe - the three who stayed and farmed;
Eva, the youngest all called Tiny Bee;
Bessie, Naomi, Minnie, Lillian,
the four whose high cheek bones and red brown skin
best showed their mother's mother's Cherokee
birth; Acy, at four hundred pounds the largest
and closest to my father; Shady Macon,
the youngest boy haunted by crying spells;
Early, the first through college; and my father.
Nine shared their field hand grit to earn degrees.
Seven had striking blue-rimmed eyes, the seven
who lost their sight. My father lost his last.



The Father - Part 2
I Used to See


I used to see from Sickles Place
all the way to North Avenue
where brightly dressed gals made men turn,
could almost see the white teeth grin.
I used to spurn the heart-matched eyes
until the future startled me
wearing the Sunday demure smile
my Frances shared when first we met.

I took my time to map my moves,
chose our tenth date to close the trap.
But when she cried as she said, "No,"
I knew she'd be my virgin bride
and knew I would not mind the wait.
There always was a late night gal.



The Son - Part 2
Reindeer


Late night gals were no problem for the strapping
football team captain coaches nicknamed Reindeer.
It stayed with him long after school at Shaw,
a poor black university in Raleigh.
Seventy-five years after graduation,
twenty-two years after his burial
I visited the cracking concrete campus
to find the ancient archivist amidst
the listless dust on stacks of yellowed pages
and slumping books. He listened to the question.
His ash-brown face of bone and clouded eyes
turned. Hunched in thought he moved from stack to shelf
to file returning with a photograph:
my father of broad shoulders, his head slightly
cocked, smiles at me as he never smiled at me.
He wears tank top and shorts on a dirt track.
A pert cheer leader's arm encircles his.
She's grinning up at him. The label reads:
'Captain of Track Team - 1929.'
"Reindeer, you said? Yes, I remember him."