Chapter 1: Introduction to the Poet
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.
Friday, May 7, 2010
A Friday night in Nashville, Tennessee would bring out those who have been in hiding for the week. Rush hour traffic would swell to insurmountable proportions due to the hundreds of people taking advantage of the night life. In Music City, USA, clubs and bars were packed with everyone from college students to the forty-something’s. Blaring music and crowded dance floors took precedence over everything else just for that moment. This is what people became excited about to take them away from the stresses of life.
However, there were a select few who would go in the opposite direction. Even though they loved to get out on a Friday night, it was the more quiet and laidback scene that captivated them.
One such place was a Christian coffeehouse downtown called Harmony. It was a place that soothed and relaxed as gospel music played in the background. It was mostly worship and melodic driven songs, with a little bit of up-tempo praise music mixed in. Frequenters could breathe in the Spirit-filled atmosphere, while sipping on the coffee blend of their choice. This night was different though, because it was a night for spoken word enthusiasts to showcase their talent and cheer others on. Just as it was every other Friday night, Harmony was hosting an “open mic” special.
These nights brought out the same crowd with new faces popping in here and there. One frequent visitor was twenty-six-year-old Jeremiah Washington. He was a young, black professional, with an accounting degree under his belt from Morehouse College. Throughout the week he was about his business as an accountant at IBA, an investment banking firm in Nashville. When it comes to the weekend, however, he’s ready to release the flowing, rhyming words that have been labeled as poetry.
There is no paper in hand, because these words are encapsulated in his mind. But even more, they are buried deep in his heart like a lost treasure obscured in the sand. It’s his turn to put his lips in motion and speak the stanzas he has memorized.
“Let’s give a warm welcome to Jeremiah Washington as he takes the stage!” encouraged the “open mic” MC, Big Bryan.
As this clean cut young man from the eastside of Nashville made his way forward, Jeremiah was greeted with applause from the ones who will tune their ears to hear what he has to say.
“Thank you and God bless you,” he said in acknowledgement of the crowd’s positivity in his bass filled, ‘make the women melt’, kind of voice. “First, I must give praise to my Lord for this opportunity and these words I’m about to share with you. So, for you all tonight, here is ‘Bitter Rain’.”
Jeremiah grabs the tip of his newsboy cap to adjust it from side to side. Then he begins:
“Pain overtakes my heart,
Leaks into my spirit.
As I think these thoughts
But no one wants to hear it.
I cry at night,
Hoping that I can smile in the morning.
But I’m camping in the dark
Because I’m still in mourning.
My face tells one story,
But my spirit tells another.
Masked behind a slight grin,
Every thought of joy soon became smothered.
A hurt spirit questioning why
This is the answer that I received.
Just because it had came time
For them, from this earth, to be set free.
Yet the rain still pours,
And it tastes so bitter.
Had to find the shelter of God
To cover me from this severe weather.”
See, this was a story of heartache and pain, but also of deliverance from a dark place. Jeremiah had lost both of his parents, Rick and Sharon, ten years ago to a horrific and tragic car wreck. They had both died from internal bleeding that could not be stopped. It still hurts Jeremiah to even think about it, but God has brought him to a point where he is able to handle the memory better.
He moved in with his grandmother, Emma, who was Rick’s mother. It worked out for both Jeremiah and Mrs. Emma, because her husband, John, had died in 1996. Every since then, she had lived by herself and didn’t mind her situation. Rick and Sharon offered their home to her shortly after the death, but she emphatically declined the invitation. Losing a husband and a son in a short time span would leave most empty and wondering why it would happen to them. Not Mrs. Emma. She had a peace about her that was awesome. A peace that some found to be strange. But it was the peace of God that was perfectly written all over her. So she was able to carry on with her life, caring and helping in the raising of Jeremiah.
There was no other family around. Jeremiah was the only child. Rick’s two brothers, Steve and Michael, as well as Sharon’s sister, Erica Robinson and her husband, Mark, had abandoned Nashville for better opportunities. They very rarely visited home and hardly ever called to check on Mrs. Emma, or Jeremiah, for that matter. Sharon’s parents were both deceased. So Mrs. Emma was all the family Jeremiah had and could depend on. No siblings. And the only cousins he had were the twins of Michael and Angel, his wife. They were only three years old.
After the car wreck his parents were in, Jeremiah had begun slipping in school. His GPA plummeted from an ideal 4.0 to a less than desirable 2.6. The honors classes he was taking meant nothing to him anymore. He became forgetful about doing assigned homework and would stare at the clock on the wall as his teachers would give their lectures for the day. His focus just wasn’t there. Instead, it was on the loss of the two people so near and dear to him. Jeremiah was in the beginning stages of depression and had no determination to come out of it. He was also a step away from becoming a rebel of life, not fearing any consequences that came his way.
Thank God for Darius, however, who was Jeremiah’s number one confidant in high school. Darius Jackson was as straight edged as Jeremiah and always had Jeremiah’s back, no matter the circumstance. As a matter of fact, Jeremiah and Darius were the two most promising students in Nashville’s Northeast High School. Teachers adored both of their attitudes and vigor, as they had a strong desire to achieve the best. They wanted to accomplish something in life and give back to the community.
Jeremiah had original aspirations of becoming an English teacher, mainly because of his love for writing. And he wanted to instruct young people to have the same passion for the craft. But those plans changed late his senior year in high school as he figured he would make more money as an accountant.
Darius, on the other hand, had always flirted with the idea of engineering. He stuck with it and majored in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in robotics at the University of Kentucky. Darius is now head of research and development at Motions Intellect, Inc., a corporation that specializes in robotics for the medical industry.
Although Darius was teased and had demeaning nicknames being hurled at him in high school for his intelligence, his swagger indicated that the present day was treating him well. He was a man of God whose giving spirit was embodied in an average built frame and bright skin. Always well dressed and polite, he wanted to dismiss the stereotype of black men not wanting to move ahead in life by proving it in his appearance, his actions and his character. And it was Darius’ character that helped pull Jeremiah through his dark days.
While Jeremiah was in his slump, Darius continued to excel in his studies, earning a wheelbarrow full of awards and honors. But Darius couldn’t let his best friend continue to fall while he seemingly prospered. So he spent countless hours encouraging Jeremiah and even praying with him, both over the phone and face to face. It helped, too, that they belonged to the same church, because it allowed them to be in the same youth group together. This gave the opportunity for Darius to minister even more to his buddy since the second grade.
From then on Darius vowed to never let Jeremiah slip away from the confines of his intimate friendship. He promised to stick by Jeremiah’s side and have his back. Their close friendship reminded people of David and Jonathan’s (from the Bible) relationship. It was a relationship that had shown how two people can be so close knit and nearly inseparable. A relationship that had presented two men who could say they loved each other.
Jeremiah and Darius’ friendship was of the same manner. A relationship that grew while ignoring the ignorance of people throwing insinuations about them being romantically involved with each other. It was during that connection that both of them understand that a person’s word should be their bond. Needless to say, they never grew apart.
Back at Harmony, there Darius sat in the enthralled crowd to support his brother, unknowingly to Jeremiah. He was enamored with every word that exited Jeremiah’s mouth by way of this excellent poem. The thought had run across Darius’ mind that “someone is going to be healed by his poem.” Jeremiah finishes his rhyming session:
“Thank God for His wings of protection
That hides me so well
Wrapped around my heart lightly
He was present when my world fell.
Fell all around my concrete feet while it still poured
Couldn’t move from the numbness within
But my Lord chiseled me to freedom
And gave me the needed friend.
God was there to pick up the shattered pieces
Through His abundant grace and glory
I now give Him back the glory
For this is my struggling to standing story.”
“God bless you.”
There it was. Short. Sweet. But it was with substance. That was Jeremiah’s style. Simplistic in structure, yet deep in meaning.
At the final line, the audience gave a clap of approval and even pushed their bodies away from the candle-lit, round tables to stand to their feet. It was a beautiful work from a beautiful spirit. Jeremiah had then made his way down the stage and greeted Darius.
“Man, that was so nice!” said Darius with excitement and a wide smile on his face. The two friends embraced and patted each other’s backs.
“Thanks, D,” replied Jeremiah. “But you know it’s all God and none of me! He gives me the lines and I just spit them out in my own way.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But I know it was hard for you to even get up there tonight with this being the anniversary of you know what. I know your thoughts are on your mom and dad right now.”
“Yeah, they are. But I wanted to get up there. This poetry is part of my healing process. It helps me to express feelings I might otherwise keep bottled in. And God is taking me step by step and strengthening me to not shatter at the thought of their death. Praise God for His peace and comfort, along with people who have been there for me.” Jeremiah gave a grin as he articulated his gratitude.
“I feel you one hundred percent on the whole peace and comfort thing! And you’re my best friend. Why wouldn’t I be there for you? Man, right now, I’m just so proud of you!”
“Thank you, thank you. It felt good being up there, most definitely. But, um, a brotha is hungry! Let’s go find some grub and continue this convo over dinner!”
“I’m with that! Maxine’s?” asked Darius.
“Maxine’s it is!”
Jeremiah and Darius hopped in their separate cars, Jeremiah in his 2009 Lexus ES 350 and Darius in his 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe. They proceeded to drive over to Maxine’s. Now, Maxine’s was the best soul food restaurant in Nashville, maybe even in the entire state of Tennessee! Their specialty? The ever famous chicken and waffles. But these chicken and waffles were different. The meal had a splendid taste that nothing else could compare to. And if that wasn’t enough, how about collard greens, mac and cheese, cornbread, and sweet potato pie, among other delicious food? Yep, Maxine’s had it all!
Jeremiah and Darius pulled in the parking lot and made their way inside Maxine’s. They were met by the Friday night crowd that usually packed the place to capacity. The hostess greeted them and placed them at a booth near the rear of the restaurant by a window looking out at the busy streets of Nashville. She gave two menus to the hunger-filled young men.
“Your waitress will be right with you,” said the hostess, a face unfamiliar to Jeremiah and Darius.
“Thank you,” responded Jeremiah and Darius almost simultaneously.
“You’re welcome,” smiled back the hostess as she walked away.
“She must be new. Never seen her here before,” said Jeremiah looking back in the hostess’ direction.
“Yeah, probably so. She’s sweet though and not too bad on the eyes either!” replied Darius trying to get one last glimpse of the hostess. There sat two of the most eligible bachelors in Nashville discussing the attractive woman that had just guided them to their table.
Jeremiah snickered. “Yeah, you’re right, but, um, what’s been on your mind, D?” asked Jeremiah quickly changing the subject. “Haven’t talked to you in a couple of weeks.”
“I know man. Just been busy trying to get this new project off of the ground. But not much has been on my mind. Actually been thinking about taking some time off of work this summer and have myself a little vacation! Maybe even visit D.C. for a bit to see Xavier,” reciprocated Darius.
Xavier was Darius’ younger brother who had found a life in Washington D.C. Unlike Jeremiah, Darius’ parents were still living and stayed in Nashville. Plus, he had cousins around that he was attached to.
“Cool. Maybe I can hit D.C. with you, man. I haven’t seen Xavier in forever! Plus D.C. would be a nice getaway from the Nashville scene for a week.”
“That’s not a bad idea! A little road trip would be great! We can take the Tahoe and load up the cooler.”
“Sounds like a plan! Let’s get everything in order and get the details worked out next month.”
“Yeah, we’ll have everything together before the end of June and we’ll head out to D.C. in July. Let’s look to see if there are any church conferences going on that month, Jeremiah.”
“Alright, D. I’ll get on that soon.”
At that time, the waitress came to the table to take their order. Jeremiah and Darius were familiar with the ever friendly, sunshine filled waitress. Her name was Michelle Nace, a soft spoken young lady who was working part-time at Maxine’s while attending Tennessee State University. She was a gorgeous woman with jet black hair, dark skin, and round eyes. But there had been times that even she didn’t believe it herself. Now, God woke her up every morning and she was confident in the fact that she was fearfully and wonderfully made, as she rehearsed over and over Psalms 139:14.
“Hey Jeremiah. Hey D,” addressed Michelle with an enormous smile.
“Hey Michelle,” responded Jeremiah.
Darius chimed in. “Whatsup Michelle?”
“Nothing much. Another night, another dollar. But I got to do what I got to do, right? How are ya’ll tonight?” asked Michelle.
“Blessed!” Jeremiah quickly responded.
“And highly favored!” Darius chuckled.
“I heard that! So am I. Very much so. I can’t complain at all, because God has been so good to me! Let me share some great news with you two. God has opened up the door for me to walk into a job offer after graduation. It has already been set up! Nobody but God! Graduation in December and my career start as a marketing exec in January! I’m so excited about what God is doing in my life!”
“And so you should be,” Jeremiah said as Darius nodded in agreement. “That is such a blessing, Michelle! Praise God for His provision.”
“I know, I know! I’ve been saying that all it takes is a little prayer, praise, and positioning! So I’ve been on my knees, lifting my hands, and positioning myself to be in the right place at the right time! God knows exactly what He is doing and I glorify Him for that!” cried out Michelle, nearly giving a shout of praise right then and there. But she contained herself.
“You better praise the Lord! Look, I know you’re on the clock, but I definitely want to talk to you about all of this later. So I’ll call you. I’m so happy for you and congratulations to you. Always a need to rejoice with those who are rejoicing!” declared Jeremiah.
“Yep, Michelle, I’m happy for you as well. It’s a good to see a young black woman of God move ahead in life while reaping the benefits and blessings of God!” added Darius, almost giving a Holy Ghost shout himself.
“Thank you both for your kind words. And yes, Jeremiah, we will talk later,” said Michelle in a soothing voice as she gave a wink. “So, enough of my testimony. What would you fellows like to eat?”
Darius didn’t waste any time putting in his order. “Hook me up with the catfish, mac and cheese, white beans, cornbread, and a fruit punch, please.”
“Gotchya. How about you Jeremiah?” asked Michelle.
“Let me get the usual sweetie,” answered Jeremiah.
“Chicken and waffles it is! What would you like for sides and what about your drink?”
“The fried potatoes and a lemonade please.”
“Got it down! I will have your drinks in just a second and your food to you a.s.a.p.”
“Thanks darling,” said Jeremiah handing Michelle his menu.
“Thanks Michelle,” added Darius turning over his menu to Michelle.
“No problem gentlemen. Be right back!”
As Michelle left to put in the order, Darius grinned at Jeremiah as though he had a trick up his sleeve.
“Uh oh. What is it D?” murmured Jeremiah as he sighed.
“Man, Jeremiah. You can’t tell me you didn’t notice that look Michelle was giving you! She likes you…a lot! Why don’t you go ahead and ask her out?”
“What look are you talking about?”
Darius tries his best to recreate the facial expression of Michelle to describe this “look” he was referring to. Jeremiah laughs at Darius’ acting attempt.
“Man, you already know that we’re good friends. I can’t ask her out and risk our friendship being destroyed. Besides, I’m waiting on my good thing. You know, my wife, my sure love. I just don’t think Michelle is the one,” said Jeremiah trying to convince his best friend of his feelings.
“That’s just it man! You “think”. But do you know for certain? What is the Lord saying?”
“Man, D, I’ve been…”
At that moment Michelle came back to the table, interrupting the ongoing conversation, placing the drinks on the table. Jeremiah gave a look to Darius as to say, “don’t mention anything!” Darius had thrown up his hand slightly and changed his facial language as to say “ok”.
“Here are your drinks and your food will be out in a little while,” Michelle told the guys. “Oh by the way Jeremiah, I wanted to slip you this. It’s a flyer to the poetry slam happening next Saturday at one p.m. in Centennial Park. TSU is hosting and I believe it’s going to be jumping! Hope you can make it and even lay down a few lines yourself.”
“I think I will drop by and check it out. So what do I do to enter?” inquired Jeremiah glancing at the flyer.
“I’ll throw your name in the hat. I’ll speak to Mr. Hayden, my creative writing professor. He’s heading this up.”
“Thanks Michelle! I appreciate it.”
“No problem. Oh, and D, you can come along too if you like,” invited Michelle.
“I just might roll through. Show some support to my boy!” said Darius slapping Jeremiah on the shoulder.
“Alright then! It’s going to be a good time! Hey, I’ll
be back with your food,” said Michelle as she headed towards the kitchen.
“Thanks sweetie,” said Jeremiah in his gentleman tone.
“Thanks Michelle,” inserted Darius.
Michelle walked off and Jeremiah read the flyer even closer. The information was very detailed: time, location, sponsorship, and even a featured poet headlining the event. An even closer look revealed a cash prize to the winner of the slam. Five hundred dollars to the one with the best flow.
“Man, D, check this out,” Jeremiah instructed Darius as he pointed to the bottom of the flyer. “Five hundred to the top poet! That’s a nice piece of change right there!”
“Yeah, you’re right! Might as well stamp your name on that cash. You’re the best in the city, hands down. Your God-given talent is crazy man!” exclaimed Darius as he sipped a little bit of his fruit punch.
“Thanks D, but I’m going to have to come up with something better than I gave tonight.”
“Better? What you talking about? Man, that word came straight from the heart! That’s the best kind. You have a way of releasing the words as God pours them into your heart, mind, and spirit. Your style is lovely! You got this!”
“Ok, I appreciate the encouragement. I really do,” said Jeremiah as he smacked hands with Darius. “You know D, you have always been the one to lift me up! Your conversations are always on time. I really do appreciate you, brotha.”
“And I appreciate you! Remember, I gave you my word to always stick with you!”
“Yeah, I know. And you haven’t once reneged on that. God’s going to bless you real good for your loyalty.”
“I’m already blessed being your friend, Jeremiah. Couldn’t ask for better! But, um, enough with this mushy stuff,” laughed Darius. “Let’s get back to Michelle!”
Jeremiah chuckled. “Oh boy! Here we go again! I already tried to tell you that…”
Without being able to finish the dialogue about a potential date, Michelle came to the booth. She sat the steaming hot plates down and asked if there was anything else she could get before walking away. After both Jeremiah and Darius declined, she left to tend to other customers. Jeremiah and Darius prayed over their food, keeping it short and sweet.
“Ok, off of Michelle, since we not getting anywhere with that,” cackled Darius. “What you got going on tomorrow?”
“I’m going to go visit Granny and then work on something for this poetry slam,” responded Jeremiah.
“Cool! Don’t forget about men’s prayer Sunday before Sunday School.”
“Man, you know I’m there!”
Darius felt that it was vital to remind Jeremiah about men’s prayer. After all, Darius was co-chair of the men’s group. So why shouldn’t he be a walking billboard for the men at Serenity Baptist Church? Jeremiah, on the other hand, was a youth counselor, giving guidance to teenagers on everything from the Bible to life’s problems.
As the two friends feasted and fellowshipped, they talked about every subject from high school days to the stresses of work and everything in between. They laughed about this and that. They joked about a variety of things. And as Michelle kept coming back to check on them, they continued to converse with her. But never once did they get around to talking about a love connection between Jeremiah and Michelle.
After dinner, they removed themselves from the table, paid for their meals and left a handsome tip. They saved some conversation until the next time, when best friends can get together again.