Wednesday, May 27, 2009

now when i recite invictus

now when i recite invictus
for william ernest henley

now when i recite “invictus,” i can smile the knowing smile of
realization; knowing i have given the best of my service, that i
have tried, pressed on, & tho’ often failing in my trying, at long
last i have won through – bearing the scars & the soreness of
circumstance, reeling from past predations of chance that bloody
my memory still. i have grown into the fullness of that poem.

now when i recite “invictus,” i have a treasure trove of trials &
triumphs, a boon & bounty in the binds & complications, crises &
predicaments, quandaries & the trouble i’ve seen to replace those
childishly foolish fears of that teacher who made me memorize
henley’s four forbidding stanzas, who made me stand up & orate
that tubercular, one-legged british poet’s verse.

now when i recite “invictus,” i can see the wisdom of black
teachers/educators making me & whole generations read this poem
silently & aloud, making us understand the poem inside the poem,
letting the mysterious dark that bore us retain its mystery while
making us feel its shape in our hearts & throats. making us leap off
the line breaks, into an abysmal black experience, the poem’s

enveloping metaphor (tho’ the poet knew it not). seeing each line
as magical runes shimmering in the air, reading it out loud,
repeating it until we got it right, then going on to the next until the
poem was in us & we were free to perform… & perform we did
facing up to the fullness of suffering, falling down, getting up,
piercing our fears, keeping weak moments to a minimum.

now when i recite “invictus,” when i reach for it, a comfort, to
ward against persistent & pervasive mindsets of hopelessness &
victimization. as i recite, i count my life achievements like prayer
beads to remind me that i have in my own inelegant way fought a
worthy fight, lived a good life, embraced my destiny & now
anticipate a deliciously warm well-done from the god that i serve.

© Joseph McNair

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