Poetry

“On the Way to Grandma’s Funeral” and “What the Confederate Flag Means to Me,” by Glenis Redmond

Although what those flags really mean to the mourners is left unstated, it is hinted at in the poem’s epigraph (“The woods are dangerous.— Little Red Riding Hood”), and we learn more from the next poem in the book:
 
Flagging: What the Confederate Flag Means to Me

(found poem from Merriam-Webster)

Flag:   a piece of cloth with distinctive marks
……….to warn or signal to stop
……….to send or communicate a message
……….to mark, to make or leave a mark on
Verb:  to decline in vigor or strength, to become weak or tired
……….to hang down, become limp
 
From What My Hand Say (Press 53 2017) and published here with the permission of Press 53.
As it states, this is an example of a “found poem,” a bit of everyday prose line-broken by the author to reveal layers of meaning not obvious in the original. The text, the definition of “flag” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, includes both its noun and verb forms. In this case the title does almost all the heavy lifting, leading us to understand that a flag is more than a piece of fabric. It is a symbol of something (“distinctive marks”), in this case of slavery in the southern United States before the Civil War. It is quite powerful, able “to warn or signal to stop,” words that take on much darker meanings when read in the context of slavery, and we understand that to descendants of slaves, such flags represent an immediate and terrifying threat—this is the “message” they “communicate.” Another definition of flag, “to mark, to make or leave a mark on” reminds us that slaves used to be branded and that even just seeing a Confederate flag is an experience that scars black Americans. The last definition of “flag” explains what that scar feels like, causing the speaker and her family “to decline, . . .become weak or tired / to hang down, become limp.” Whether or not it is intended as such, the flag is a powerful symbol of racism, and being exposed to it causes real physical and psychological damage.
All this is made apparent without invective or rant in the subtlest of ways, something that to me makes the message all the more potent. Whatever the flag-wavers intend (“heritage” instead of “hatred”) matters less than its actual impact on the black Americans who have to look at the flag, pain and terror, as Redmond makes clear in her note:
The flag is a weighted symbol. Many white southerners say “Heritage not Hate,” but do not consider African-American heritage. What was slavery, if not hate proliferated into laws? Every time I see that flag it steals my breath just a little. This poem speaks to what it is like to live in place that reminds me daily/many times of day, about a time when my ancestors were held in chattel slavery. It is terrorizing. There is no getting over this atrocity.
This poem makes one argument, powerful and to my mind irrefutable, for taking down all those monuments and flags we’ve been reading about in the news. “Flagging” is an important poem for our times, and What My Hand Say is full of such poems. I think it should be required reading in every American school.]]>

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  • Jackie February 27, 2018 at 2:59 am

    I suspect your Grandma did not hate, regardless of the hate she undoubtedly encountered during her lifetime. And I suspect that helped contribute to her long life. I am sure she was full of wisdom and perspective that is a shame to have lost, especially for her family. But she lived a blessed, long life, with family who loved her and mourned her–which is much more than many have… You are blessed to have had her in your life.

    Reply
  • Jackie February 27, 2018 at 2:59 am

    I suspect your Grandma did not hate, regardless of the hate she undoubtedly encountered during her lifetime. And I suspect that helped contribute to her long life. I am sure she was full of wisdom and perspective that is a shame to have lost, especially for her family. But she lived a blessed, long life, with family who loved her and mourned her–which is much more than many have… You are blessed to have had her in your life.

    Reply
  • Marian C. Dornell February 25, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing Ms. Redmond’s poems “On the Way to Grandma’s Funeral” and “What the Confederate Flag Means to Me” and for reminding us how poetry can simultaneously bring sobriety and joy while shedding light on the gravity and grace of the Black experience. I am a new and forever fan of Ms. Redmond and shall encourage my friends to purchase What My Hand Say. This is a perfect way to remind us that Black History is American History and should be celebrated every day.

    Reply
  • Marian C. Dornell February 25, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing Ms. Redmond’s poems “On the Way to Grandma’s Funeral” and “What the Confederate Flag Means to Me” and for reminding us how poetry can simultaneously bring sobriety and joy while shedding light on the gravity and grace of the Black experience. I am a new and forever fan of Ms. Redmond and shall encourage my friends to purchase What My Hand Say. This is a perfect way to remind us that Black History is American History and should be celebrated every day.

    Reply