by Ashan Hampton
I woke up one morning as if from a dream, and nothing was familiar.
Nothing in my room was mine; nothing fit, and nothing smelled like me.
I told myself, "I must get home," for this place was no longer my home.
In someone else’s clothes, I packed.
In some stranger’s shoes, I moved.
With no map, no directions, no signposts, no road signs,
I moved with an innate sense of what home was supposed to be.
I stumbled upon a modest little town,
with one main road, one post office and one convenience store.
I asked a frail little man, with graying hair, a ruddy complexion and alert, crisp green eyes where home was.
He could not tell me. He had lost his way a long time ago.
As I stepped back outside, into the high noon heat, a peaceable looking old fellow ambled toward me.
With skin like ebony rawhide and a smile strained with age,
He asked me, "Are you lost?"
I answered, "Yes, I am quite miserably lost. Can you tell me where home is?"
Instead, he told me to keep walking straight - straight ahead even when the road bent, twisted and forked.
Straight, when darkness overtook the path, when no stars, or moonlight lit the way.
Straight through the blinding light, through wind and rain, sun and storm.
Straight, until I grew faint, and my legs grew weary from traveling.
"Will I die on this road old man?"
He smiled wistfully and replied, "Which will you choose? To live or to die?"
Then he dissipated into the dust, out of my consciousness.
After what seemed like forever and forever, time upon time, I walked past the ruins of a church. The dilapidated frame of the building still supported its pointy white steeple.
Then as if in a dream, I heard a lady calling after me. "Sister," she yelled. "Sister, where ya going?"
I turned, bewildered, and said, "I really, really don’t know. I’m trying to find my way back home, but I don’t know where I’m going."
"Home?" she asked. "Didn’t you used to go here? Ain’t you Ms. Essie’s daughter? The one that used to make them good pound cakes from scratch?"
"No, I’ve never been here," I replied. "Maybe you’re thinking about somebody else?"
"Well you sho’ look like her," and she turned to leave, but I constrained her and sobbed, "Please, tell me where I am. Is there another town around here somewhere?"
She looked at me with compassion and said, "Well, I heard tell of one over them mountains, but I’ve never been. Just walk straight, until you get to the mountain," and she patted my cheek and turned to leave again.
"Wait," I called after her. "What do I do when I get to the mountain?"
She paused for a second, then said, "Pray. Pray, when you can’t see the road. Pray when the light is too bright to see. Pray until it feels like you just gonna fall out and die."
"Woman, "Will I die on this road?"
She just smiled, waved at me and said, "You sho’ look like Essie Lee’s daughter."
Then she dissipated into the dust, out of my consciousness.
After what seemed like forever and forever, time upon time, I finally got to the mountain, and tired as I was, I climbed part way to see if God would answer my prayers.
I cried, and I whined about my fatigue,
My confusion, my pain,
How lost I was, and how I just wanted to go home.
Then I got angry, and in my anger,
Double-dog dared God to come and see what I wanted.
"What’s wrong with you,
What’s wrong with you?
WHAT-IS-WRONG-WITH-YOU?" I heard.
"Didn’t you see me struggling? How hurt I was, how lost I am? How I thought I knew how to get back home and wound up more lost than ever before?"
"Open your eyes," I heard. "And see."
And I remembered how Sister Morris would sing her favorite song, but she couldn’t really sing, but the house still said "amen" and clapped for her anyway.
How Sister Marsenburg would just commandeer the mike in the middle of service to read the little poems she wrote in her prayer time.
How Bro. Graves would do altar call and sing that song nobody could understand the words to, except the line, "I love the Lord. He heard my cry."
How whenever the male chorus sang, Brother Booker would just turn it all the way out with his version of "God Specializes," singing from his soul; from his pain.
Youth Usher Day when we all had to wear white shirts and black bottoms.
Those Martin Luther King fans, with the name of a funeral home on the back.
And I became ashamed of how Oprah made me think I was too educated to talk about my Grandma Essie Lee’s Jesus, whose first husband cut her up an left her for dead; My Mama Roe’s Jesus, who found her, whose mother, Mama Sophie, was born a slave, whose mother, Anakee, was a slave.
How Oprah had me thinking I was talking about the Holy Spirit, when I wasn’t really talking about the Holy Spirit.
How Vanzant had me thinking I was talking about God, but it was really the Great Intelligence, a Father/Mother, Earth Man, Earth Woman God.
And I prayed – until I sung my own hymns.
Prayed – until I wrote my own poems.
Prayed – until I started preaching to my self.
Prayed – until I healed myself.
With the same passion Brother Graves had; the same assurance Sister Marsenburg had, and the same soul Brother Booker had.
With the same tears my grandmother cried, the same tears my great grandmother dried; the strength my great-great grandmother used to survive, and the same immutable will my great-great-great grandmother had to say alive.
Prayed, until I felt like everything was everything and everything was alright.
Until the history of pain, alienation, deracination –
Songs, bathed in sweat
Prayers, forged in blood
Poems, birthed in tears,
became my own.
And I heard the wind say, or maybe it was a bird singing?
Or maybe it was a whistling, birdie voice? Say,
"Look at you. Open your eyes and look at yourself.
"See, Sister – you were never lost."