Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Riehlife Bonus Poem of the Day: Freida L. Wheaton’s “Saint Louis Summer of 2006”

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I met Freida L. Wheaton in 2005 at an African American Art Collectors forum at the St. Louis Art Musem. Mother was alive then, still kicking and needing care. I'd gone off on this huge adventure to the big city and it was on that day I met Freida, in all her clarity, strength, and dignity. Summer 2007 I moved to St. Louis. In the fall Freida and I met up at the Urban League Black Fine Art Exhibition and I learned about her cultural work in many places throughout the city, her at-home gallery Salon 53, her poetry, and her gift for friendship. You can learn more about Freida and her work in the arts by clicking on the link above or visitng the "Meet Me in St. Louis" archives on Riehlife.

The only thing better than reading one of Freida's poems is hearing her perform one. I've had that pleasure at Salon 53, a Women's Vision and Art Reading, and during the entre act of Miss Fanny Belle Lebby's performance at The Space.

You've heard about essays on poetry. Now, here comes a new term: THE ESSAY POEM. I've created this term to describe an approach I enjoy in many of Freida's poems. In these essay poems Freida posits a premise and then proves it, as in a syllogism, presenting evidence to support her starting position. Her descriptive powers, feeling-observation, and clarity of mind join forces to produce compelling snapshots with a point of view. Considering that Freida's day job is as a lawyer, perhaps this way of using her poetic mind makes even more sense.

In "Saint Louis Summer of 2006," Freida's premise is:

We were without electricity
but not without power

She takes us into the intimate moments of the situation of the storm, and shows us the power of the people.


Saint Louis Summer of 2006

By Freida L. Wheaton
(copyright 2006, used by permission)

We remember where we were
and what we were doing
when the storm hit
that eventful Wednesday evening
Ferocious wind filled with yellowish debris
We remember what it did
to our neighborhoods and homes
The chaos and destruction
bruising the earth
toppling aged trees
in almost every yard and park we hold dear
Slate, tile and metal ripped from
what we thought were secure places
designed to be protective gear
We remember the impending darkness
scrambling for candles, flashlights and good batteries
Remembering when we were children
visiting our grand or great grandparents
in the country
approaching nightfall
lighting the coal oil lanterns
We dared not compare it to 9/11 or to Katrina
for surely that would be blasphemous
the wounds too fresh
Aches, pain, fear and deaths notwithstanding, we did compare
questioning when we could drive again
over avenues and boulevards
scattered with pick-up sticks and hotwires
or watch the news (or dramas or reality TV) again
or have somebody bring us water to drink
or go to the corner store or supermarket
for milk, frozen pizza and cold beer
or pump gas at outrageously high prices that we wished we could pump.

We were without electricity
but not without power

We saw the power of our people
convening on the streets
impromptu forestry workers and sentry
protective of that old man three doors down
whose name we finally found out
after living there over 12 years
We remember seeking refuge on the porches
in public places and spaces
to escape the searing heat
sharing food for community barbecues
or temporarily putting it
in the refrigerators of relatives,
knowing we would not likely taste it again
actually talking to total strangers – and it being ok
because we finally (?) had something we could say
We remember choosing
the least wrinkled pieces in our wardrobe
to wear to work (unless we were temporarily laid off)
taking our cell phones---and chargers---every where we went
eliciting friends and family who lived out west to bring ice
everyone was nice
expressing our thoughts on live radio
where call numbers meant nothing anymore.
We remember that Friday noon
when a new tempest loomed
enlarging the swath of dead and dying
Oak, Cyprus and Sycamores
spoiled milk and meat
forcing more of us to really clean the fridge
secretly---and shamelessly---rejoicing in the shared misery
We remember live chats
until the electricity was back
downed trees away from homes
talking long on the phone
No, the power was not gone.

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1 Responses »

  1. Ms. Freida you hit the nail on the head. I remember the day and the hour, scrambling for candles...I also painted two pictures (by daylight) on the front porch just to pass the time away. Also, you were on point with the neighbors...looking out for everybody. Janet described your work to a "t." I've been to your gallery and I knew of your work in the arts...but the poem has given me more insight into your creative world. Linda

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