A Storm over Blacksburg Virginia

The heat  here in Blacksburg Virginia  is in contrast to England which was cold when I left two days ago.  But  I stepped out  of the  hotel , this evening,  to a thunder of hail stone.  It came out of the blue, a summer storm. Lightening splashed and thunder echoed  on  the crouched back of Brush Mountain. It all happened at  6pm tonight.  I was  on stage in an hour and this was a sign to either run for the hills or get ready.  

I was hypnotized by the power of it when a black man walked past.He was the concierge.  He was  Ethiopian. We’d seen each other before and said hello  but now  we recognised each other  and  stood and talked and laughed  while I waited for my ride.   He told me  how he’d  fled  Ethiopia in 1974, the year of  The Red Terror,  and walked all the way to Kenya. I know this story.   The keyboard player for the rolling stones Chuck Leavell strolled  past in a surreal moment.  My Ethiopian friend said goodbye. The storm had gone as quick as it came and as the  ground steamed  a rainbow punched its way through the clouds.

The local paper The Collegiate Times  has covered my visit and there is quite a stir I am told.   Fred D’aguair who has curated it all  picka  me up and takes  me to Virginia Tech.   There’s some wonderful people in the audience:  Nikki Giovanni, Lucinda Roy, Fred D’aguiar, and  hundreds of students.  I am in the Brush Mountain room and it is packed and hot and sweaty and alive. 

The storm  changed my entire approach and determined the  first poem.   It is called Mourning Breaks.  It’s about a man who slips off a cliff, scours his back as he falls  but grabs a branch and then he hangs there. The cliff faces the sea and a sea storm marches towards him. It’s a long poem.   The entire reading, my entire reason,  for being here in the States would hinge on this – a decision I made less than sixty minutes ago.

An hour and an half later and it is the sound of applause that reminds me of the sound of The Hail Stone.  The reading was  a cleansing in the river.  Tears of laughter joined  tears of empathy and pain.  Rain rain rain fall.     And  the audieince  rose up in a wave of ovation and the clapping continued louder and louder I was dancing in the rain of applause.

And I knew why I was here… in this part of the world… at this particular second… on  this particular day.. in the shadow of the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King….   reading poems in front of Nikki Giovanni the woman who wrote the introduction  to  Tupac Shakur’s only book of poetry.. and I saw her smiling shaking her head in glee…. and I saw Fred smiling…..

2 thoughts on “A Storm over Blacksburg Virginia

  1. Mr. Sissay, I read your interview for the Collegiate times as my son Topher wrote it. He had called to tell me how excited he was , not only to be in the audience at V-tech but to actually have met you. As it is hard to inspire our children in general, I wanted to say Thank You for making such a difference, not only in my sons life but in all the other lives you have touched through your art. Many times we in the US lose site of the fact that real life role models and heros walk among us.All the bst and come back soon. Sincerely, M C Forhecz

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