NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 58

“Grand Army Plaza” June Jordan’s love poem “Grand Army Plaza “was published in her book Passion. It’s one of several poems she wrote in response to something I had written to her. My own poem also titled, “Grand Army Plaza,” was published in “SOL,” a small newsletter published in October 1980. In both poems we find the w ords Civil War. Jordan used it as the title for a 1981 book of essays. How do we learn to disagree yet still create movements that embrace us all? Friendships and love should not end in tragedy. Jordan begins her poem with a question and realization: Here is my poem, “Grand Army Plaza” that I wrote after leaving June’s Brooklyn apartment in 1980: Grand Army Plaza (for June) here near the entrance to the subway the underground we stand in each other’s eyes once lovers now friends we have walked the five or six blocks from your house to where the night is not dark The tall man and myself tonight where the light from the street we will not sleep together shines on the small wet spot we may not on the head of your dog either one of us who pulls slightly on the leash sleep you hold in any case here the differential between friend and lover with one hand definitions curse as nowadays we’re friends or we were lovers once and it is the other that I think about shaking before I leave now that we are friends and women love women and men love men and many of us are alone despite it all here 56 to fight a civil war to be wounded and to die i think of a man and a woman lovers now saying farewell here i take you in my arms hatless and out of uniform like an unlisted man afraid of going south here Why would anybody build a monument to civil war? is a problem i think of soldiers departing in grand army plaza The poem is about the geography of relationships; the distance and difference that often defines the confusion between love and friendship. There is a reference at the end to the Draft Riots of 1863 that took place in New York City. When I wrote my poem, I was thinking of young men afraid of going South to fight in the Civil War. I was also aware of a relationship ending. I began the poem with the image of someone standing outside a subway and then underground, which I felt was symbolic of death at the time. June’s poem in response to mine is important for its ending. Native American poet, Joy Harjo placed it at the beginning of her own book, In Mad Love and War, published in 1990: We are not survivors of a civil war We survive our love because we go on loving