The remarkable life of George Washington Carver is rendered with intelligence and sensitivity by Marilyn Nelson in the collection I'm featuring today. Take these two samples from early in his life, after he's left home but before he attends the Iowa State College of Agriculture.
Highland Kansas, 1885
All of us take our clothes to Carver.
He's a wizard of the washboard,
a genie of elbow grease and suds.
We'll take you over there next week;
by that time you'll be needing him.
He's a colored boy, a few years older
than we are, real smart. But he stays
in his place. They say
he was offered a scholarship
to the college. I don't know
what's happened, but they say
that's why he's here in town.
Lives alone in a little shack
filled with books
over in Poverty Row.
They say he reads them.
Dried plants, rocks, jars of colors.
A bubbling cauldron of laundry
Pictures of flowers and landscapes.
They say he
painted them. They say
he was turned away when he got here,
because he's a nigger. I don't know about
all that. But he's the best
washwoman in town.
Four a.m. in the Woods
Darkness softens, a thin
tissue of mist between trees.
One by one the day's
uncountable voices come out
like twilight fireflies, like stars.
The perceiving self sits
with his back against rough bark,
casting ten thousand questions into the future.
As shadows take shape, the curtains part
for the length of time it takes to grasp,
and behold, the purpose of his
life dawns on him.
from Carver: a life in poems by Marilyn Nelson. Front Street: 2001.
(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)