Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth
Alexander
1962

American Poet, Essayist and Playwright. Poetry Professor and Chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University, Professor at Columbia University

Author Quotes

Everything was told! Then we could begin something new.

It happened; it is part of who we are; it is our beauty and our terror. We must be gleaners from what life has set before us.

So I think that then going through such an extreme of both grief but also shock, you know, we lose people in all kinds of different ways and so one factor that was part of ours was the shock of it. And so I was very interested to find that the way I really knew how I felt, and not just how I felt like I feel happy, I feel sad, but what was happening was to write it down. And that the process of writing is a process of living.

What if the mightiest word is love? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light, love with no need to pre-empt grievance. In today?s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, praise song for walking forward in that light.

Ficre breathed his last breath into me when I opened his mouth and breathed everything I had into him. He felt like a living person then. I am certain his soul was there. And then in the ambulance, riding the long ride down to the hospital, even as they worked and worked, the first icy-wind blew into me: he was going, or gone.

It?s a big, beautiful, connected world, and I want my children to experience it that way. You belong to more than just where you are standing at any given moment.

So something that I?m really interested in is this the connection between what is universal and what is particular and how what is particular illuminates the universal. So recently I had a conversation with the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain who said this striking thing that he thinks moral imagination begins with universality and ends with particularity, which is kind of the reverse of how we?ve come to think of it maybe superficially of diversity in Western culture, is that the goal, is to get to a place where we realize how alike we are, right? Where we can celebrate what we have in common.

When I held him in the basement, he was himself, Ficre. When I held him in the hospital as they worked and cut off his clothes, he was himself. When they cleaned his body and brought his body for us to say goodbye, he had left his body, though it still belonged to us. His body was colder than it had been, though not ice-cold, nor stiff and hard. His spirit had clearly left as it had not left when we found him on the basement floor and I knew that he could hear us. Now I know for sure the soul is an evanescent thing and the body is its temporary container, because I saw it. I saw the body with the soul in it, I saw the body with the soul leaving, and I saw the body with the soul gone.

Friendship in marriage is its own thing: friendship in a cup of tea, or a glass of wine, or a cappuccino every Sunday morning. Friendship in buying undershirts and underpants. Friendship in picking up a prescription or rescuing the towed car. Friendship in waiting for the phone call after the mammogram. Friendship in toast buttered just so. Friendship in shoveling the snow. I am the one you want to tell. You are the one I want to tell.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don?t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand.

Sorrow everywhere with nowhere to go.

When we met those many years ago, I let everything happen to me, and it was beauty. Along the road, more beauty, and fear and struggle, and work, and learning, and joy. I could not have kept Ficre?s death from happening, and from happening to us. It happened; it is part of who we are; it is our beauty and our terror. We must be gleaners from what life has set before us. If no feeling is final, there is more for me to feel.

Giving birth is like jazz, something from silence, then all of it. Long, elegant boats, blood-boiling sunshine, human cargo, a handmade kite ? Postpartum. No longer a celebrity, pregnant lady, expectant. It has happened; you are here, each dram you drain a step away from flushed and floating, lush and curled. Now you are the pink one, the movie star. It has happened. You are here, and you sing, mewl, holler, peep, swallow the light and bubble it back, shine, contain multitudes, gleam. You are the new one, the movie star, and birth is like jazz, from silence and blood, silence then everything, jazz.

Lightning struck and did not curdle the cream but instead turned it to sweet, silken butter.

Sorrow like vapor, sorrow like smoke, sorrow like quicksand, sorrow like an ocean, sorrow louder and fuller than the church songs, sorrow everywhere with nowhere to go? I did not grow up in the black church, nor with the Negro spirituals. Now I understand them as never before. Their poetry feels pure and profound. I been in sorrow?s kitchen and done licked out all the pots. Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Steal away to Jesus. I ain?t got long to stay here.

Where are you? You are part of this storm, this wind, this rain, these leaves. Plants will one day grow from your bones in the Grove Street Cemetery, my empty dirt bed next to you. I imagine your grave one day spontaneously covered with peonies, my favorite flower, the one you planted for me and which bloomed reliably on my birthday, May 30, every year? Ficre in the bright leaves that have been falling from the trees in the afternoon light. Ficre everywhere, Ficre nowhere.

Great artists know the shadow, work always against the dying light, but always knowing that the day brings new light and that the ocean which washes away all traces on the sand leaves us a new canvas with each wave.?

Loss is not felt in the absence of love.

The basket of remembrance has three sides; one is open, can it tilt and spill out?

Who we are as a people and how we make our way through sorrows that feel so profoundly intimate and personal but in fact exist on larger continuums, is what I hear in the song today.

Half of the things are as they seem. The other half, who knows. This has always been true.

My mother-in-law?s last night on earth, a fox crossed our path in Branford, Connecticut, as we left the hospice. We knew somehow that it was her, as I now know the ravenous hawk came to take Ficre. Do I believe that? Yes, I do. Poetic logic is my logic. I do not believe she was a fox. But I believe the fox was a harbinger. I believe that it was a strange enough occurrence that it should be heeded. Zememesh Berhe, the quick, red fox, soon passed from this life to the next.

The days are long but the years are short, some say, about the early years of child rearing

He was probably dead before he hit the ground, the emergency room doctor and the coroner and a cardiologist I later speak with tell me. That is why there was no blood on the floor, despite his head wound and the scalp?s vascularity. He might have felt strange, the doctors told me, before what they call ?the cardiac event,? but not for more than a flash. One tells me he is certain Ficre saw my face as he died. We are meant to take comfort in this knowledge, if knowledge it is.

Now I know for sure the soul is an evanescent thing and the body is its temporary container, because I saw it. I saw the body with the soul in it, I saw the body with the soul leaving, and I saw the body with the soul gone.

Author Picture
First Name
Elizabeth
Last Name
Alexander
Birth Date
1962
Bio

American Poet, Essayist and Playwright. Poetry Professor and Chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University, Professor at Columbia University