Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sherley Anne Williams: The Green Eyed Monsters of the Valley Dusk

photo © Mark Butkus 2018
Almond orchard in the Central Valley.

Sunset knocks the edge from the
day's heat, filling the Valley
with shadows: time for coming
in getting on; lapping fields
lapping orchards like greyhounds
racing darkness to mountain
rims, land's last meeting with still
lighted sky.

This is a car
I watched in childhood, streaking
the straightaway through the dusk
I look for the ghost of that
girl in the mid-summer fields
whipping past but what ghosts lurk
in this silence are feelings
not spirit not sounds.

lights approach in the gloom
hovering briefly between
memory and fear, dissolve
into fog lamps mounted high
on the ungainly bodies
of reaping machines: Time
coming in. Time getting on.

— Sherley Anne Williams

Sherley Anne Williams (1944-1999) published two volumes of poetry in her life: The Peacock Poems (1975) and; Some One Sweet Angel Chile (1982). Both were nominated for National Book Awards. Peacock Poems was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while Some One Sweet Angel Chile earned her an Emmy Award for her televised reading.

A native of California's Central Valley, Williams cites Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown as two of her earliest literary influences. Her poems are Californiacentric with poignant observations of African American life. She wrote poetic vignettes of growing up in the Central Valley and life in Southern California where she moved to in the 1970s. She would later focus her attention and talents towards fiction and teaching publishing three well-regarded novels.

Williams recites The Green Eyed Monsters of the Valley Dusk at the the 25 minute mark of this video from February, 1986 at her alma mater, Fresno State University. She taught literature and writing at University of California at San Diego from 1973 until her passing in 1999.