Left to my own devices at lunch time when I was in high school, I became a reader. Having already devoured anything in my literature text with meaning to me, I stalked the shelves for something more I might like. Mrs. Goss, my speech contest coach, suggested that poetry might be my performance milieu, and so I sought poems. The poet I found, read, and adored has stuck by me all these years hence. His words spoke volumes to me about the place I felt I dwelt and he dwelt.
In “Mother to Son” I learned perseverance and determination despite the denigration I felt daily being poor, lacking the clothing, opportunities, and social skills my classmates took for granted. I set out to excel in the three stained outfits and the rubber boots I sometimes had to wear because there was no more money for shoes.
In reading “A Dream Deferred,” I first had to look up the word “deferred” and from then on owned the term that explained how I felt looking in store windows. This is how I felt when my cousin Allen got my grandfather’s old car instead of me when we both turned 16 because he was a boy and that’s the way things are. This is how I felt when Ann spent her spring break lying in the Nevada sun and Lynn spent summer break swimming in the pool and reading books. I spent mine working on the farm doing both men’s work outside(no sons for my parents then) and women’s work inside. No summer camp, no movies, no sleepovers with friends. No friends, period.
Thanks to my poet, however, I held fast to my dreams. He had told me that if I didn’t, I would fester, stink, and explode. If I didn’t hold fast to my dreams, I would not fly. My life would be a barren field, frozen with snow.
So I held and held and am holding still.
When you dance to a poem, you never forget it. In my college modern dance class, I choreographed a dance to “Dreams.” Every word and movement is a part of me today. “Hold fast to dreams…” Realize that every closed fist does not signify violence but rather holding on for dear life to what feeds your soul.
Looking back after so many years, I’m amazed my poet was allowed on our library shelves full of old, white European writers. What rebel librarian chose to put him there?
In my rural Eastern Oregon town, his people and my people were kept separate by the railroad tracks. His people and my people were kept separate by accepted and (mostly, to my young ears) unspoken social expectations. So much I didn’t know when I took him off the shelf. I fell in love with his writing before I knew. I’ve never been so glad about my own ignorance since. Or so thrilled about what I learned and hold close to my heart even now.
“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.”