The Ballad of Alice Hortense

Some sweet morning
I can’t say when
The sun’s gonna melt my days away
And I’ll flow beside the knowing river
Till the rushing waters take me down.

One of these evenings
In the blue black hour
I’ll wane with the moon until I’m dust
But please don’t let me be forgotten
I’m just going back to where I’m from.

I was a good girl
That’s what they called me
Pretty in my way if I do tell
All I did was what momma told me
All I knew is what my momma said.

Tell the children the kind of girl I was
I could dance a step and sing my songs
I was brown and round and my hair was long
And I’ll still love ‘em even when I’m gone

I had a voice
A rare contralto
The deepest tones of the female range
Some thought it special, some thought it fine
But an ordinary colored girl
Didn’t have a chance.

I gave my love
To one man only
A hard working man, that was the prize
Side by side we made a family
No mean doing in the days I seen.

All my babies
Pretty as pansies
Black-eyed, washed, fed and loved
Singing and playing, learning and knowing
Praise god from whom the blessings flow.

So tell the children the kind of girl I was
I could dance a step and sing my songs
I was brown and round and my hair was long
And I’ll still love ‘em even when I’m gone

My children call me
Blessed mother
I loved their dreams more than my own
Bury my body next to their dear father
But let the rushing river take my soul.

Some may see me
Plain and common
Some may find me small and low
I’ve lived my life with quiet purpose
I’m satisfied whatever comes.

I can’t say
When I’ll have to leave you
I’m telling my story before he calls
I tried to love despite the troubles
I tried to live the best I know.

Just please don’t let me be forgotten
I could dance a step and sing my songs
I was brown and round and my hair was long
And I’ll still love you even when I’m gone

I’ll still love you when I’m gone

A Praise Poem to the Women 

All praise to the women

who made me brown

my grand moms Daisy

and Elizabeth Grace

one black coffee

one café au lait

my caramel hue is a tribute to you.

To the women

who gave me form

small on top

not so small on the bottom

with hips and thighs

that take me where I need to go

those Hayes and Johnson sisters 

who whispered mercy in my ear

and dropped dreams in my pocket.

To the women

who saw me coming

before I even got here

spirit women, vision women

who made a way for me 

out of no way at all

women of unbowed head

and untied tongue.

A praise poem to the women

who made me sing

every Sunday in the choir

first row, second alto

Mama Alice, Auntie Mel

Aunties Vera and Sweet Lorraine

singing sisters of the highest order

may Jesus keep you near the cross!

To the women

who made me dance

Baby Alice and Sister Lin

listening to Shirley and the Shirelles

on the AM dial

cha cha steps in the kitchen

when we should have been doing the dishes

this is dedicated to the ones I love.

All praise to the women

who made me black

to the sudden soul sisters

from the class of ‘69

who washed their hair one day 

and saw that it was good

Africa in our faces

worlds in our eyes

our overnight afros

still live in my mind.

To the women

who made me smart

who expected me

to grow up and be somebody

my great Aunt Roberta

the only one who went to college

and my teacher Miss Drew

who never did marry

but took me to the theater

and showed me how to dream.

Praise and power to the women

who made me strong

10-speeding with the boys

‘round Montrose street way 

to my girlfriend Clara

who beat me in the 50-yard dash

and Miss Geraldine Woods

who went swimming at the YW

and wasn’t afraid to get her hair wet.

This is to the women

who made me evil

when I need to be evil

like my Aunt Betty

who put a woman in the hospital

for not minding her own business

but was a sweet as pie

as long as you didn’t cross her.

To the women

who made me crazy.

sure ‘nough stone crazy women

sure ‘nough my kin

on whom I blame

all my unexplainable behavior

and the women who made me sane

every Thursday in a circle

at four o’clock

for three years.

To the women

who made me love men

who knew all the delicious secrets

long before I did                                        

and the women

who made me love women

who understood the mystery

and power of the feminine

long before I did.

This is dedicated to the women

who made me write

Charyn and Kathleen,

Lucille, Anne, and Michelle

who laid the wordy road

out before me

and bid me walk.

And to the women

who made me whole

marrow and bone

from all the trouble

and the wonder

some have spread

their angel wings and flown away

some are still waiting

for that trumpet call.

All praise to the women

who let me know

that I did not make myself.

Prior to taking a serious interest in poetry, Bernardine (Dine) Watson worked as a social policy writer for major foundations, nonprofits, and media organizations. She has written for The Washington Post, The Ford Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation and Stoneleigh Foundation. Dine’s poetry has been published in the Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Indian River Review, by Darkhouse Books, and by the Painted Bride Art Center. She was a member of 2015-16 class of The DC Commission on the Arts and Human-ities’  the Poet
in Progress Program, and the 2017 and 2018 classes of the Hurston Wright Foundation’s Summer Writers Week. Dine serves on DC’s Ward 4 Arts and Humanities Committee and on the selection committee for
the Takoma Park Third Thursday poetry reading series. She’s read her poetry in venues throughout the DC metropolitan area with More Than A Drum Percussion Ensemble. Dine is a current member of DC Women Writers of Color.


Images: Alice Hortense (l), Grandmother Elizabeth Grace (r), courtesy of the author.

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