Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Monday, January 18 2021

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

Word
But let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Amos 5:24

Poetry

Interpretation of a Poem by Frost, by Thylias Moss

In searching for a winter blessing on Martin Luther King Day, I discovered Thylias Moss’ poem Interpretation of a Poem by Frost in this essay on Snow Days. If you are in any way familiar with Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, you will immediately sense how Moss recycles Frost and rehearses a history that was hidden just below the icy surface of the world Frost conjures. Frost’s poem was published in 1923, deep in the heart of Jim Crow era, where even northern states like Frost’s hometown of Massachusetts were not free from the realities of racial discrimination, socially and economically, and so Moss’ critique is poignant, turning a seemingly racially-neutral (if that’s possible) poem upside down.

Moss is one of those boundary-pushing poets who is unafraid of the contrasts between bitterness and abiding joy, unbearable seemingly-unending historically-embedded racial tension and the elusive experience of life’s fleeting impermanence. Her artistic orientation has a mystic quality to it. She says, “The past is not permanently past, but may be transformed into the present while it lasts, and then return to a different past also available for activation in a temporary iteration of a now-present encounter” as if to remind us: yes, as a black woman I can rewrite Frost’s poem, because it is imperative that I cut through the undercurrent of race and gender that as a white man he so naturally ignores, forgets, or keeps silent.

But what is the blessing here? What blessing can be extracted from a poem about uneasy inequality on a day honoring a champion of equality? For me at least, the ease with which Moss critiques Frost gives me hope that voices other than white voices can find a way to be heard through the loud echo of the past, despite the history of white supremacy that elevated one race above another. As we continue to pursue the self-evident truth that racism is incompatible with the Christian faith, Moss’s instinct to see what is hidden, and reveal what went unsaid gives each of us tools to critique our world, our worldview, and our everyday lives.

See the way our Racial Justice Committee is inviting you to celebrate Martin Luther King Junior Day today.

Blessing
God of justice, of long-hidden truth, give us the blessing of vision—seeing systemic racism in this world—and give us the blessing of wisdom—the impulse to seek lasting change. Amen.

Interpretation of a Poem by Frost By Thylias Moss
A young black girl stopped by the woods,
so young she knew only one man: Jim Crow
but she wasn’t allowed to call him Mister.
The woods were his and she respected his boundaries
even in the absence of fence.
Of course she delighted in the filling up
of his woods, she so accustomed to emptiness,
to being taken at face value.
This face, her face eternally the brown
of declining autumn, watches snow inter the grass,
cling to bark making it seem indecisive
about race preference, a fast-to-melt idealism.
With the grass covered, black and white are the only options,
polarity is the only reality; corners aren’t neutral
but are on edge.
She shakes off snow, defiance wasted
on the limited audience of horse.
The snow does not hypnotize her as it wants to,
as the blond sun does in making too many prefer daylight.
She has promises to keep,
the promise that she bear Jim no bastards,
the promise that she ride the horse only as long
as it is willing to accept riders,
the promise that she bear Jim no bastards,
the promise to her face that it not be mistaken as shadow,
and miles to go, more than the distance from Africa to Andover,
more than the distance from black to white
before she sleeps with Jim.