Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl – Age 20
“I am Sheeee-Rahhh, Queen of the Universe!” Laysha’s long legs stepped out of the line of us and struck warrior pose.
Courtney, a Decatur-where-it’s-greater native, stepped out of the line to pop and drop in a tootsie roll every time her name was called.
I can’t remember Akilah’s, Maisha’s, or even Heather’s line names nor their gimmick.
Justice was my name. As in Poetic Justice, the film starring Janet Jackson as an angsty poet named Justice and Tupac Shakur as a disgruntled mail worker with a crush on her.
At the time I was sporting long braids and listed on my application that one of my interests was poetry.
“Oh, so you write poetry? Let us hear some,” said Rob our Dean of Pledges at our first session.
“Uh, I don’t have any memorized,” I didn’t exactly lie, because I knew that whatever I had memorized was in the sole of my shoe standing here before the brothers and the Sweets nervous as could be.
He gasped in horror; how could such a thing be?!
“Recite something else.” Any poem even if it wasn’t my own would work.
So I sputtered out what I could remember of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost:
“Nature’s first green is gold/her hardest hue to hold/her early leaf’s a flower/but only so an hour/so leaf subsides to leaf/so Eden sank to grief/so dawn goes down to day…”
And from then on, every evening during pledging when my name was called I stepped out from the line and sputtered out the lines. Then one night Rob stopped me around her early leaf’s a flower: “Don’t you know nothing else?!”
I admitted that I didn’t.
“Not even ‘Invictus?'”
By our next session, Invictus by William Ernest Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
By the time I crossed Kappa Sweetheart, I had also memorized (and recited ad nauseum) Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.”