June 17 • 09:45 PM

Poetic sentiments, universal truths

March 08, 2017
From the minute I'm able to hold a pencil, I know I want to use it to write poetry.

I'm in second grade, and Mrs. Moore is teaching us about creative usage of words, though right now I'm describing the lesson in grown-up language. In my seven-year-old head, I'm grappling with the giddy excitement that's bubbling up inside of me upon the discovery of rhymes.

Rhymes! Things that sound like music...words with a beat, lyrical, musical words coming out of the fat yellow number two pencil I'm guiding across the thin, double-lined paper on my desk.

I'm in the clouds, skipping along the heavens, little brain buzzing with all the possibilities.

Mrs. Moore challenges us to write a "poem." It's a piece of writing with words that rhyme.

As the pencil flies across the paper, I'm already on a field trip. I'm fishing in a brook with a hook by a nook with a book...I'm in love! A deep, vast love affair, though I don't really know what that means. I'm in love with words.

Whether they're in the pages of a book or on the thin, grainy parchment-like lined sheets that the teachers hands out to us for homework, words become my companion, my friend. I love them unconditionally, and they love me back just the same. They lift me up and fuel what is often referred to as my "over-active imagination." They take me away from uncertainty, insecurity and petty hurts and transport me to a place where everything feels sort of like velvet and where even the most outrageous thoughts and ideas are okay. Words protect me. And hide me. And reveal me. And make me dance.

As I grow up, I become acquainted with the poetry of Langston Hughes—the master wordsmith whose brilliant manipulation of simple language elevates it to the divine.

A deliverer of universal messages of hope and despair, of laughter and pain, of struggle and triumph, of the reality that life 'ain't been no crystal stair.' I'm again finding myself drawn to Langston's much of it recirculating through my weary brain.

It's so true. At times, life 'ain't no crystal stair.' Titled 'Mother to Son,' the rest of the poem is so excellent that I can't not share it here.

Well Son, I'll tell you:

Life for me ain't been

no crystal stair.

It's had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor --


But all the time

I'se been a-climbin' on,

And reachin' landin's,

And turnin' corners,

And sometimes goin' in the dark

Where there ain't been no light.

So boy, don't you turn back.

Don't you set down on the steps

'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.

Don't you fall now --

For I'se still goin', honey,

I'se still climbin'

And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

In junior high—that's what it's called when I'm in grades 7-9, I write a paper all about Langston and his poetry. I feel so connected to his words, so in awe of and inspired by his talent that I want to exalt him to just about everyone I meet.

By then, my teacher is Mr. Roulo, who encourages me to keep putting pen to paper; to keep the love affair with words alive.

And so I do, even to this day, by connecting with Langston once again.

Hold fast to dreams

for if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

that cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

for when dreams go

life is a barren field

frozen with snow.

Ain't that the truth, Langston...ain't that the truth.

Email Catherine at

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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