Follow Harriet on Twitter

About Harriet


Wednesday Shout Out

By Rigoberto González

Watershed moments happen unexpectedly and they sometimes come in the most surprising of shapes. In the following poem by Scott Hightower, a youth with an entire life yet to live comes across a life already lived via a memoir, and the Ethel Waters story becomes a paradigm for hard living (is there any other kind?) that resonates throughout this young person’s adulthood:
The Autobiography of Ethel Waters

When I was young, I took the changes
of nest and hive for granted
until I went through a spell
where nothing was enough.
I joined a book club at school, ordered
books, and—when we ventured
to the city—sifted through paperbacks.
Somewhere in Austin the autobiography
of Ethel Waters cost me fifteen cents.
How could I have known
what was in store for me
given the comfort
of His Eye Is on the Sparrow
in gold across a field of blue cotton?
Stung, I never remembered having
read anything quite like it:
that a stranger could hold
a knife to a young girl’s throat.
Then I did not know, though I would
come to understand and fear evil,
that, likewise, goodness and mercy
would follow me all the days of my life.
More about Ethel Waters (1896-1977): a noted jazz and gospel singer, she was also the second black actress to be nominated for an Academy Award (in 1949 for the film Pinky). But her lows were exacerbated by her troubled relationships and Hollywood’s cruel indifference to an aging talent. (Intriguing trivia: her grand-niece, who uses the same last name, followed in her musical footsteps. You may have heard of her—Crystal.)
Though this poem is a testament to the power of literature to transcend and transform, it is also a tribute to an artist whose life and legacy remain relevant in many ways.
(From Part of the Bargain, published by Copper Canyon Press in 2004 as winner of the Hayden Carruth Award. Used with the permission of the author.)

Comment (1)

  • On September 19, 2007 at 3:55 pm Jacob wrote:

    I haven’t read that poem in a while but it still always strikes me about how far we have not come. Yet, despite human ungliness how ture beauty and spirt can transcend such horrors.

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, September 19th, 2007 by Rigoberto González.