Editor's note: Due to a formatting error in production, Susan Jeft's column did not reproduce correctly in the Weekender. We are republishing it here in its entirety with apologies to both Jefts and poet Toussaint St. Negritude. 

THROUGH THE WILDERNESS

by Toussaint St. Negritude

Through the wilderness

of my freedom

through territories

uncharted for corporate

consumption

through cogent dreams

and cosmic streams

I have climbed

to find my Star House

high amongst the peaks

of an ever-emancipating

consciousness.

Through these constellations

strewn within my

soul

here I have climbed

to find my sanctuary

housing

all the juju this new day

can hold.

Through days clouded

in the valleys of self-deceit

through the darkest

immobility of shackling

bigotries

through hours journeyed by prayer and by hand

and by feet

through hell

and high-water indignities

dangling inequities

for the hungriest

to eat

through powers stronger

than all the calls

for my defeat

I have climbed

to find my Star House

high amongst the peaks

of my own true

belief.

Through declarations flowing from the sovereignty

of peace

through the clear and present

affirmation

that the Universe

is inalienably mine

to reach

through this connectivity

of all my soul to keep

through the envisioning

of a sanctuary deep within my

truth

I have climbed

to find my Star House

high amongst the peaks

of a bright and fertile liberty

built for innermost use.

Former Poet Laureate of Belfast, Maine, poet, bass clarinetist and composer, Toussaint St. Negritude, conjures whole liberations in full tempo. Poet Gwendolyn Brooks described his work as “full of sweet sounds and surprises.” Originally from San Francisco, Toussaint has lived broadly across the African Diaspora, from the sacred mountains of Haiti, to the Coltrane District of North Philadelphia. Leader of the band Jaguar Stereo, a freeform ensemble of his own poetry and improvisational jazz, his works have been widely published and recorded for over 40 years. On an alpine sanctuary facing east, Toussaint St. Negritude continues to thrive in the farthest elevations of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

“Through the Wilderness” isn’t just a poem; it’s a journey, a history and a kind of declaration that feels as if it’s speaking for many. The words feel like a grand encouragement for anyone whose been shut down, shut out or pushed around which, unfortunately, includes a great many people. I have found that reading and listening to the poems of Toussaint St. Negritude to be a truly uplifting experience even as he takes us through some of the darker truths, all of which are necessary. But he does not overstay in those darker regions in his poetry, or in his life it seems.

The mountains and regions of the north feature prominently in this poem with all they hold — spiritual energy, a certain amount of safety and also some challenge. There is a strong sense of climbing in the poem which feels part of a struggle but also part of a rising to a higher place emotionally, physically and spiritually. We get a sense of where the speaker has been and what he’s experienced. Along with the imagery of climbing, there is also this great flow brought by the repetition of certain words and phrases, by the poem’s rhythm, by the poem’s vast energy. Cogent dreams and cosmic streams … constellations strewn within my soul.

The theme of home is at the poem’s center, and it turns out that home for the poet really is Star House — the name he’s given his actual newly built small house in the Northeast Kingdom. We get the sense that Star House is a place he has been coming to for many years, a place that represents an arrival, as well as a leaving behind of all that no longer serves him, but that needs to be named — oppressive corporate cultures, bigotries and inequities. Each step away from all of that seems to bring the speaker closer to a kind of freedom, to a life centered on creativity and deeper meaning in the place he has chosen. And what a journey — one that feels guided by the stars from the beginning, and pulled along by the allure and energy of the mountains merging with his particular talents and resolve. In his Star House, there seems to be a joining of the cosmic and the grounded — a blessed Earth-based realm of inspiration, peace, well-being. Home.

VPR did a wonderful audio interview with Toussaint this summer about his Star House, how and why it came to be, and how others might support this venture. You can read or listen here: bit.ly/3kAvfCu

Susan Jefts is a poet and editor from the Adirondacks and Vermont, who runs workshops using poetry to deepen our experiences in nature, and of what we find sacred. Her website is www.manyriverslifeguidance.com. Her poems can be found in many print journals and online.

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