Lift Every Voice: Dreams Never Realized

My mom and dad truly laid the foundation for my writing life by reading to me and my siblings every night — giving me a heart for stories. And there were many moments that followed that inspired my literary journey. Here is one.

In February of 1991, my father showed me some poems he had written. They were wonderful, and I wanted to see more, but Dad said he needed time to “put them together.” A month later, he was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to do something to show him that his work was valued. Although he made his living in auto body repair, he had a fine artistic side. In addition to his love of literature, he cartooned and played piano. I thought it would mean something to him if I could get his poems published, but I wanted to see them all and do it right. So I waited, not knowing how little time he had left. When I learned the truth, I typed the poems I had and took them to a small book bindery. I had a copy made for each of us five kids, one for my mother, and one for Daddy. The kind bindery folks put a rush on the job, but my father never got to see his finished book. He died in May of that same year. I put his copy in his casket.

For months after my father’s death, every time I would visit my mother, she gave me more of his poems. Sometimes she had a whole notebook. Other times it was only one verse written on the back of an envelope she’d come across.

Reading through Dad’s poems, I realized I could recall a few. He’d recited them to us when we were kids, slipped in between “Little Orphant Annie,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and Langston Hughes’s works. But I also remembered Daddy showing me some of his work when I was a teenager. I was heartsick when I realized what must have happened. I’d read his poems and probably said something stupidly dismissive like, “Nice, Dad.” Daddy carried those poems, part of himself, back to his bedroom and didn’t share them with me again until that February day more than twenty years later.

I wished I could turn back the clock. Relive that scene again. Do it right this time. But I couldn’t. And I can’t. So I turned to my writing. I wrote Possibles (1995). Living with my main character, Sheppy, as she worked through her grief helped me to work through mine. Possibles allowed me to honor my father and get some of his poems out into the world. It helped me to heal and move forward. Ultimately, Cricket magazine published some of Daddy’s work. I hope he is looking down from heaven with pride.

I feel sorry and sad that Dad never managed to have his poetic voice heard. He had a family of seven to support, so his poetry became a lesser priority. I didn’t respond as well as I should have when he first showed me his work. I was too young to process the notion that my father had dreams never realized. I’m not sure I could have articulated it then, but perhaps something inside me was moved to a stubborn determination. To do everything I could to make my dream come true and, in some way, make up for what my father lost. To do everything I could to get my writing out into the world and maybe, just maybe, achieve the kind of recognition my father deserved.

From the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: CSK Book Awards at 50. Find more information about ordering copies of the special issue.

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s latest book No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller (Carolrhoda Lab), illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, was the winner of the 2012 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for fiction.
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Elizabeth Law

What a moving piece! I understand why the author wanted so much to turn the clock back, but I am glad she was able to become a writer herself. Of all the essays etc I've read in the run up to Father's Day, this is the one that really moved me. Thank you!

Posted : Jun 13, 2019 05:42


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