Rigorous
Volume Five, Issue 3



Michael Anthony Ingram


Shelling Beans


In a small Southern town,
not too far from the one that you no longer claim.
I recently visited my mama.
I needed to get away from the madding crowd and the boastful talking aloud.
The “I am no longer what I once was . . . I left that back there - just because,”
I needed to see my mama's face and behold the originator of a race.
You see in the grand scheme of life, mine was clearly without strife.
I had overcome the small-town mentality and embraced big city formality.
I was a giant among men. Degrees and all too big to fall.
I wanted to let my mama know, I had become all that and more.
In the kitchen, there she sat, big, beautiful, black, and fat.
Smiling from ear to ear; her baby was home; too long had he been gone.
"God's done come." Ole' Cousin Essie snickered.
You see, some of her boys were in jail, so her jealousy often flickered.

"Mama!" In a loud voice, I proclaimed. "For you! The world I have tamed!
I am bigger than big! Bolder than bold!
When I walk, my way is paved with silver and gold!
So, ask me, mama, about the places I have been and the people I have seen!
Do you need some money? Hey, it is yours! My pockets are filled with green!"
"Come, son," she said in a voice both nice and sweet.
"Come sit here at the table and help your ole' mama while she is still able.
Chile', what a day I've seen! Grab that sack and help shell these beans!"
"Mama!" I said, with an incredulous voice.
"I came back here . . . By choice!
I have been out walking with kings and queens.
I do not remember anything about shelling beans.
Shelling beans is for the common man,
I gave that up when I left the land.
So, ask me, mama, about my plate of riches!
Do you need a new dress? I'll buy you one inlaid with gold stitches!"

She looked at me in her wise old way.
Although I did not know exactly what she would say.
I knew that it would contain the wisdom of the ages.
You see, she had lived a good life; therefore, her life's book was full of pages.
She said, "Son, don’t ever forget, no matter how big you get,
that life's about more than being able to walk with kings and queens.
Life's about remembering how to do the common and simple things like - shelling beans."
"You see, shelling beans is a time honored task and if you do not remember how then,
I should have never asked. For it means that you have forgotten that true wealth comes
from the fruit of the earth. From any place else, what is its real worth?"
"So, my son, tell me your story. Is it only of the riches and the glory?
Or is it also remembering how to do the common and simple things like shelling beans,
in addition to all that you have seen?"

"Mama," I said in a sheepish voice that trembled, but not by choice
"I do remember!"
"I do remember!"
So, I grabbed that sack and helped shell those beans!
We shelled for what went on like hours, it seemed.
Yet, on that day, I did not mind shelling beans,
because I shelled them at the feet of a queen!




The Mechanics of Aretha' Round Midnight

When I was young and misunderstood, I would often close my bedroom door and sit on the floor. I would drink ice-cold cherry Kool-Aid from a white paper cup and eat large spoonfuls of peanut butter on crackers. I would also listen to music, music that softly played on the wobbly, old, brown record player stored in the corner of my room.

Sitting in the dark, alone, I would listen to cadenced sounds and voices carved into disk-shaped, black vinyl. 45 rpm speed records that skipped forward and backward deliberately, yet playfully, repeating the same 1.8 seconds of the track.

These disk-shaped records produced sounds and voices that spun like whirling dervishes under the dull edges of a rusty turntable needle:

Motown hailed to be the epicenter of the new sounds of young America. Philly Soul served fresh from the city of Brotherly Love, the jazz of Coltrane, and my favorite, the Queen of Soul, Miss Aretha Franklin, the gospel, and soul siren who crossed over the chasm that is the land of the free, a sun-kissed mockingbird whose cavernous voice created new routes to the moon.

The strange mix of audio clicks/pops/warps and "locked grooves" transported me into three whole minutes of love, pain, and sadness, three soulful minutes that 'round midnight soothed the parts of my young, misunderstood, already broken heart.

"Go to bed!" "You better not scratch that record!" Loudly, breathlessly, I would often hear outside my bedroom door, evil words spewed by my younger sister, a bad-mannered girl who regularly wore crimson and cream-colored hooped earrings with mama's sapphire jeweled scarf to bed each night.

"This ain't the weekend!"
Two tired voices from two doors down the hall yelled in unison:
“You've both got school in the morning!"

Lights turned off quickly.
Music turned down squeaky low.
Still entranced:
I would stay upmoved by the dust scratches/audio clicks/pops of the Queen's soulful strength and other heartfelt crooning carved into disk-shaped black vinyl,
healing my weak and wounded beating heart.




Black Alice in Neverland

Black Alice was never perfect,
although she had perfect thoughts growing up in a small town, North Carolina.
Thoughts of her mama's sweet potato pie; and hot water cornbread sitting on the kitchen stove.
Thoughts of what the world would look like when she reached the perfect age. Now, she has
reached the perfect age. Where did her perfect thoughts go?

Alice's life was never perfect either,
although she would proudly tell any new listener she'd greet that it was. She would share
heartfelt stories about her perfect children and her perfect husband, who worked the perfect job.
Never a day of concern, she proudly shared with those who would listen.

Those who knew her well shook their heads, chuckled in disbelief and watched how that perfect
lie would slowly become like a pair of old shoes forgotten on the front porch during a hard
Southern rain.

Black Alice never sang in the choir,
although she was often overheard singing softly in the back of the church, singing in perfect
pitch and swaying proudly in an imaginary, perfect, long white robe trimmed with gold, sacred
hymnal in hand, reading musical notes she did not perfectly understand. The glory of her uplifted
voice made up for this small indiscretion.

Yet, in her mind, thoughts of perfection are what saved her each night her perfect husband
walked in, mad and swinging at the world.
Fists were flying like fury, striking her face like lightning.
Soon, the storm would pass.
A quick, "I love you, baby. You know, I do,"
Her perfect husband would softly whisper in her ear as he'd nibble on her neck and plant a wet
kiss on her raw, bruised, yet no longer perfect cheek.

Black Alice sang on.



Michael Anthony Ingram: “I am a retired university professor. I am also the Executive Director and Founder of the DC Poetry Project, Inc., and I host the Quintessential Listening: Poetry Online Radio podcast. A Pushcart Prize nominee, my work has been published in scholarly journals and other publications. I am committed to raising awareness about issues related to institutionalized racism. I live in Washington DC.”




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