Obama’s Speech Heralded as Historic” contains major quotations from my friend Alton B. Pollard III, Dean of the Divinity School at Howard University. It was due to Alton’s influence that I went back to school and earned a master’s degree at Wake Forest, where I studied creative writing and African American history and religion. The course I took in “African American Religious Experience” was taught by Alton Pollard. And it was in this class that I wrote my first paper on Martin Luther King, Jr. It was through Alton Pollard that I first visited Emmanuel Baptist Church, where he preached with power and my heart remains.

[Please note: The Rev. Dr. John Mendez was the Senior Pastor at EBC both then and now.]

Race was never an issue that was going to disappear,” Pollard said. “It’s too much a part of our national fabric to think that we can gloss over it and move on without having to contend mightily with each other.”


Balcony Room
—for Alton B. Pollard, III

Rustling leaves welcome the breezes,
but tree trunks remain silent.
I recognize the cry of an owl,
not the scuffling: that I cannot explain—

nor Jesus in Alton’s face.
Both. Shining. From the dark.
It is not the day that holds the fire—
nor is there consolation in moonlight,

but rather: where time and place
don’t seem to matter,
nor the colors of skin,
falsely bleached by the bright sun

into a feigned harmony,
’til I’ve forgotten if it is hue or tone
of which we vainly speak. Yes,
the night embellished as it deepened,

enhancing, as the night will do,
that which by day remains shadow.
I know what I saw in the upper room:
what cloaked me in gooseflesh—

and beckons gently now.

from Gathering the Broken Pieces


Perhaps a King, Reincarnate
—for Alton

I remember you from the dream, Alton—
sitting in the quadrangle among the others
on the bleachers, unnoticed—

while the choir was singing
in those dark hours:
Here—comes David’s anointing.

And gently I prodded your stone-set back,
reaching around two younger men,
hoping to gain your attention.
I remember the dream,

not the melody.
I remember those great clouds of witness.
I remember that I failed—in the dream.

Yes. And who, among us,
descended from African Kings?
You moved down the aisle with a sway—

a preacher in a Baptist church:
Long white shirt, pants, robe, pink-
trimmed. You told us
blackness was a gift. How could I forget that?

first published in TimBookTu



We spoke quietly, so as not to
disturb the others, the night we
talked in his car. The age-old

questions, complicated by sex
and race, ignored, since even
the trees saw how I loved him,

and how, in answer to prayer,
he held my lighter hand in his
hand, both larger and darker.

first published in TimBookTu