My aunt’s birthday was last weekend and a lavish party was held in her honor at the Radisson in northeast Grand Rapids. This is the poem I penned and read for the occasion:
Aunt Melita, you’ve been
our moment in an African homeland,
otherwise only fabled.
You’ve enabled your nieces to feel
beautiful and pixied, your nephews
to believe themselves warriors kings:
our very own urban fairy godmother.
Your house on Hall our sanctuary,
on Elmdale, our moated castle,
we summon you when we feel hassled
like Black Cinderellas or aggrieved like
Afro’d Auroras in Sleeping Beauty,
come expecting you to wield your
glittering wand of wisdom and save us
from our latest little snare.
And you do,
and you do it with flare.
We’ve been known to stare
after your flowing garments,
wind whipping through them like sails,
as you flit from room to room
a whirlwind of amenity.
who taught both rebel yells and respect,
are a phoenix risen from the ashes of
your namesake in Natchez,
the bottomless ear into which
we whisper our secrets.
You’ve quelled fears and kissed knees
and cried the tears we’ve learned to bottle.
We love you because you do not coddle.
We love you because you leap and
you beam and you scream from all our sidelines.
We love you for all the guidelines you gave but never
forced us to follow.
You will genius and beauty into all our darkest hollows.
So this is not just a celebration of your birth
it is an intricate dance of mirth, a sacred act
of thanksgiving to a God gracious enough
to form your bit of bark on our family tree,
a homily in honor of a woman whose
loveliness we’ve all been blessed to see.