During my last trip to Atlanta, I fully expected to debut more new poems. I have been working on a series of poems about the late singer/pop goddess Whitney Houston, and I wanted to get a feel for how an audience would respond to them. There were other new poems, too, but these were the ones that seemed to be burning … or so I thought.
After pulling an almost all-nighter with my cousin, catching up on each others lives since the last long talk we had, I started getting ready to head out to Java Monkey, where the reading was located in Decatur. My cousin dropped me off, and on the way into the building, something shifted for me. I saw the familiar faces that had welcomed me to this space on many occasions, and I knew immediately, the purpose of me traveling the miles I had come from North Carolina was not about new poems at all. It was about connecting with these souls and savoring the moment. So, it wasn’t the right time or audience for the Whitney poems. As modest and as humble as she was known to be, I am sure she’s somewhere in a parallel existence doing bone chilling runs to take the stage by herself. I’m truly not mad at that, Miss Whitney.
This post is not about the Whitney journey, though. It’s about finally being in a place in your head and heart that makes sense. All of the poets who read that night talked about their connections as artists and tried to remember when we all first met poet Collin Kelley, who organized this and many other poetry events around Atlanta. He works like a horse to keep all the balls in the air and sometimes makes it look effortless.
There was a moment during my reading when I really had to work to keep it all together. I realized that I have been making myself comfortable in my native Carolina soil because it has always (and always will be) home. But the people who embraced me that night, as well as those who sent messages and couldn’t be with us, they are my community. This was the first time that I understood there truly is a difference. Each time I heard one of them say, “Welcome back, Cherryl,” I wanted to say, “Let me tell you why community is such a long distance from home.”