Resident Artist Emily Ruth Hazel’s new poem in response to the theme of “dancing” and Jeremiah 31:13:
Then young women will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
Listen to “Homecoming”
Because joy is often stuck in traffic
and is known for getting lost;
because she cuts loose
from the funeral procession
and winds up missing the burial,
but arrives at the repast
hours later, wearing a yellow sundress
under her long, black coat,
brings us a pineapple upside-down cake
and turns up the sweet remembering;
because we’re so relieved that she’s alive
none of us chide her for showing up late;
Because we hear a melody that calls us
by our home names;
Because we are wandering planets
moving through a shared space,
together in our separateness,
and we need to be surrounded
by all the ages we have been
and those we have yet to be;
Because we know nothing is certain
beyond the blurred edge of this moment;
Because on the back porch,
though sometimes the boards
leave splinters in our bare soles,
the floor is open, wide enough to spread out,
and fireflies are flashing Morse code messages
we are itching to translate with our bodies;
Because the body is more than a wheelbarrow
to carry the spirit;
Because salting our cheeks has become
a part of our mourning routine,
and it’s time
to bow at the sink, let sorrow swirl
in the drain, let our pain wash down
with what we’ve lost or spit out;
time to straighten our shoulders,
try on a lopsided smile, and walk into
a more spacious room; time to reach for
the radio, pull from the waves
whatever clarity we can
between the shades of static and ash,
and sway to the song that comes on next;
Because life cannot be choreographed
but we learn to improvise;
Because even the ankle weight of grief
can’t keep us pinned to our chairs
when the music overtakes us—
we set down our glasses, rise
to our feet, and dance.
From the Artist:
I love how dancing can be a shared expression, and I’m intrigued by how that tradition is kept from culture to culture and in different contexts. In reading Jeremiah 31:13 and reflecting on mourning traditions, I wanted to explore how music and dance can draw us out of grief and isolation, into joy and community.
While it is a focal point at a funeral, the human body has often been considered irrelevant to—or even the enemy of—a person’s spiritual life. As I see it, the physical and the spiritual are closely connected and the body also deserves to be honored, so I wanted to acknowledge in this poem some of the ways we experience both grief and joy through our bodies.
In choosing the title, I was interested in the different meanings of the word “Homecoming.” Within the African American church, it can refer to a funeral service (also called a Homegoing Celebration), based on the belief that earth is only a temporary residence and the deceased is going home to be with God; space is held for mourning a loss as well as for celebrating a life. Then there is the entirely separate tradition of schools welcoming alumni during Homecoming Weekend, the culmination of which is a dance. And of course, the reasons we go home to be with family are as varied as the emotions that accompany our returning. But to me, homecoming always carries a sense of reunion, as much as dancing in a communal way evokes an emergence of joy.
Emily Ruth Hazel is a New York City-based poet and writer whose work wrestles with themes of relationship and faith. As a believer in poetry that feels accessible and lived-in, she aims to capture the beauty, hope, and humor that can be found in everyday experiences.
Emily enjoys cross-pollinating with artists of many disciplines and she has performed her work solo and collaboratively at numerous events. She has been awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in a national competition for emerging poets, and a collection of her poetry, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press), was published as a finalist in the New Women’s Voices competition. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature,Brown Alumni Magazine,The Mochila Review, Deep Waters (Outrider Press), Mercury Retrograde: Snarled Communications, Fried Electronics, Transport Mishaps (Kattywompus Press), The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home (Holy Cow! Press), RedeemerWrites, and Creating Space, among other publications.
A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program, Emily has led creative writing workshops for youth at schools, libraries, and community centers in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, and South Africa. She has also mentored underserved teens through Girls Write Now, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the next generation of women writers. A freelance editor and visual artist as well, she lives on the border of Brooklyn and Queens.
Emily Ruth Hazel is a Spark and Echo Arts 2013 Resident Artist
This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.