Revolutionary Petunias: And Other Poems

Revolutionary Petunias: And Other Poems

by Alice Walker

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453224021
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 11/22/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 1,209,658
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States’ preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award. Her other novels include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual.


Mendocino, California

Date of Birth:

February 9, 1944

Place of Birth:

Eatonton, Georgia


B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1965; attended Spelman College, 1961-63

Read an Excerpt

Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems

By Alice Walker


Copyright © 1973 Alice Walker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-2402-1


In These Dissenting Times

To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps, to God; or to Gods. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrows, is always a measure of what has gone before.

—Alice Walker, "Fundamental Difference"


    I shall write of the old men I knew
    And the young men
    I loved
    And of the gold toothed women
    Mighty of arm
    Who dragged us all
    To church.



    The old men used to sing
    And lifted a brother
    Out the door
    I used to think they
    Were born
    Knowing how to
    Gently swing
    A casket
    They shuffled softly
    Eyes dry
      More awkward
    With the flowers
    Than with the widow
    After they'd put the
    Body in
    And stood around waiting
    In their
    Brown suits.



    Those were the days
    Of winking at a
    Romance blossomed
    In the pews
    Love signaled
    Through the
    What did we know?

    Who smelled the flowers
    Slowly fading
    Knew the arsonist
    Of the church?



    They were women then
    My mama's generation
    Husky of voice—Stout of
    With fists as well as
    How they battered down
    And ironed
    Starched white
    How they led
    Headragged Generals
    Across mined
    To discover books
    A place for us
    How they knew what we
    Must know
    Without knowing a page
    Of it



    Three dollars cash
    For a pair of catalog shoes
    Was what the midwife charged
    My mama
    For bringing me.
    "We wasn't so country then," says Mom,
    "You being the last one—
    And we couldn't, like
    We done
    When she brought your
    Send her out to the
    And let her pick
    A pig."



    You had to go to funerals
    Even if you didn't know the
    Your Mama always did
    Usually your Pa.
    In new patent leather shoes
    It wasn't so bad
    And if it rained
    The graves dropped open
    And if the sun was shining
    You could take some of the
    Flowers home
    In your pocket
    book. At six and seven
    The face in the gray box
    Is always your daddy's
    Old schoolmate
    Mowed down before his
    You don't even ask
    After a while
    What makes them lie so
    Awfully straight
    And still. If there's a picture of
    Jesus underneath
    The coffin lid
    You might, during a boring sermon,
    Without shouting or anything,
    Wonder who painted it;

    And how he would like
    All eternity to stare
    It down.



    They had broken teeth
    And billy club scars
    But we didn't notice
    Or mind
    They were uncles.
    It was their job
    To come home every summer
    From the North
    And tell my father
    He wasn't no man
    And make my mother
    Cry and long
    For Denver, Jersey City,
    They were uncles.
    Who noticed how
    They drank
    And acted womanish
    With they do-rags
    We were nieces.
    And they were almost
    Always good
    For a nickel
    a dime.



    They take a little nip
    Now and then
    Do the old folks

    Now they've moved to
    You'll sometimes
    See them sitting
    Side by side
    On the porch

    As in church

    Or working diligently
    Their small
    City stand of

    Serenely pulling
    Stalks and branches
    Leaving all
    The weeds.



    "Who made you?" was always
    The question
    The answer was always
    Well, there we stood
    Three feet high
    Heads bowed
    Leaning into

    I no longer recall
    The Catechism
    Or brood on the Genesis
    Of life

    I ponder the exchange
    And salvage mostly
    The leaning.



    They have fenced in the dirt road
    that once led to Wards Chapel
    A.M.E. church,
    and cows graze
    among the stones that
    mark my family's graves.
    The massive oak is gone
    from out the church yard,
    but the giant space is left
    despite the two-lane blacktop
    that slides across
    the old, unalterable


    Today I bring my own child here;
    to this place where my father's
    grandmother rests undisturbed
    beneath the Georgia sun,
    above her the neatstepping hooves
    of cattle.
    Here the graves soon grow back into the land.
    Have been known to sink. To drop open without
    warning. To cover themselves with wild ivy,
    blackberries. Bittersweet and sage.
    No one knows why. No one asks.
    When Burning Off Day comes, as it does
    some years,
    the graves are haphazardly cleared and snakes
    hacked to death and burned sizzling
    in the brush.... The odor of smoke, oak
    leaves, honeysuckle.
    Forgetful of geographic resolutions as birds,
    the farflung young fly South to bury
    the old dead.


    The old women move quietly up
    and touch Sis Rachel's face.
    "Tell Jesus I'm coming," they say.
    "Tell Him I ain't goin' to be

    My grandfather turns his creaking head
    away from the lavender box.
    He does not cry. But looks afraid.
    For years he called her "Woman";
    shortened over the decades to
    On the cut stone for "'Oman's" grave
    he did not notice
    they had misspelled her name.

    (The stone reads Racher Walker—not "Rachel"—Loving Wife, Devoted Mother.)


    As a young woman, who had known her? Tripping
    eagerly, "loving wife," to my grandfather's
    bed. Not pretty, but serviceable. A hard
    worker, with rough, moist hands. Her own two
    babies dead before she came.
    Came to seven children.
    To aprons and sweat.
    Came to quiltmaking.
    Came to canning and vegetable gardens
    big as fields.
    Came to fields to plow.
    Cotton to chop.
    Potatoes to dig.
    Came to multiple measles, chickenpox,
    and croup.
    Came to water from springs.
    Came to leaning houses one story high.
    Came to rivalries. Saturday night battles.
    Came to straightened hair, Noxzema, and
    feet washing at the Hardshell Baptist church.
    Came to zinnias around the woodpile.
    Came to grandchildren not of her blood
    whom she taught to dip snuff without

    Came to death blank, forgetful of it all.
    When he called her "'Oman" she no longer
    listened. Or heard, or knew, or felt.


    It is not until I see my first grade teacher
    review her body that I cry.
    Not for the dead, but for the gray in my
    first grade teacher's hair. For memories
    of before I was born, when teacher and
    grandmother loved each other; and later
    above the ducks made of soap and the orange-
    legged chicks Miss Reynolds drew over
    my own small hand
    on paper with wide blue lines.


    Not for the dead, but for memories. None of
    them sad. But seen from the angle of her

    For My Sister Molly Who in the Fifties

    Once made a fairy rooster from
    Mashed potatoes
    Whose eyes I forget
    But green onions were his tail
    And his two legs were carrot sticks
    A tomato slice his crown.
    Who came home on vacation
    When the sun was hot
    and cooked
    and cleaned
    And minded least of all
    The children's questions
    A million or more
    Pouring in on her
    Who had been to school
    And knew (and told us too) that certain
    Words were no longer good
    And taught me not to say us for we
    No matter what "Sonny said" up the

    Knew Hamlet well and read into the night
    And coached me in my songs of Africa
    A continent I never knew
    But learned to love
    Because "they" she said could carry
    A tune
    And spoke in accents never heard
    In Eatonton.
    Who read from Prose and Poetry
    And loved to read "Sam McGee from Tennessee"
    On nights the fire was burning low
    And Christmas wrapped in angel hair
    And I for one prayed for snow.

    Knew all the written things that made
    Us laugh and stories by
    The hour
Waking up the story buds
    Like fruit. Who walked among the flowers
    And brought them inside the house
    And smelled as good as they
    And looked as bright.
    Who made dresses, braided
    Hair. Moved chairs about
    Hung things from walls
    Ordered baths
    Frowned on wasp bites
    And seemed to know the endings
    Of all the tales
    I had forgot.

    Went exploring
To London and
    To Rotterdam
    Prague and to Liberia
    Bringing back the news to us
    Who knew none of it
    But followed
    crops and weather
    funerals and
    Methodist Homecoming;
    easter speeches,
    groaning church.

    Another life With gentlefolk
    Far less trusting
    And moved and moved and changed
    Her name
    And sounded precise
    When she spoke And frowned away
    Our sloppishness.

    Cursed with fear A love burning
    And sent me money not for me
    But for "College."
    Who saw me grow through letters
    The words misspelled But not
    The longing Stretching
    The tied and twisting
    Feet no longer bare
    Skin no longer burnt against
    The cotton.

    A light A thousand watts
    Bright and also blinding
    And saw my brothers cloddish
    And me destined to be
    My mother remote My father
    A wearisome farmer
    With heartbreaking

    Found much
    Who walked where few had
    Understood And sensed our
    Groping after light
    And saw some extinguished
    And no doubt mourned.

    Left us.

    Eagle Rock

    In the town where I was born
    There is a mound
    Some eight feet high
    That from the ground
    Seems piled up stones
    In Georgia

    But from above
    The lookout tower
    An eagle widespread
    In solid gravel
    Takes shape

    The Cherokees raised it
    Long ago
    Before westward journeys
    In the snow
    Before the
    National Policy slew
    Long before Columbus knew.

    I used to stop and
    Linger there
    Within the cleanswept tower stair
    Rock Eagle pinesounds
    Rush of stillness
    Lifting up my hair.

    Pinned to the earth
    The eagle endures
    The Cherokees are gone
    The people come on tours.
    And on surrounding National
    Forest lakes the air rings
    With cries
    The silenced make.

    Wearing cameras
    They never hear
    But relive their victory
    Every year
    And take it home
    With them.
    Young Future Farmers
    As paleface warriors
    Live off the land
    Pretend Indian, therefore
    Can envision a lake
    But never a flood
    On earth
    So cleanly scrubbed
    Of blood:
    They come before the rock
    Jolly conquerers.

    They do not know the rock
    They love
    Lives and is bound
    To bide its time
    To wrap its stony wings
    The innocent eager 4-H Club.


Excerpted from Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems by Alice Walker. Copyright © 1973 Alice Walker. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


In These Dissenting Times ... Surrounding Ground and Autobiography,
In These Dissenting Times,
I The Old Men Used to Sing,
II Winking at a Funeral,
III Women,
IV Three Dollars Cash,
V You Had to Go to Funerals,
VI Uncles,
VII They Take a Little Nip,
VIII Sunday School, Circa 1950,
Burial I-VI,
For My Sister Molly Who in the Fifties,
Eagle Rock,
J, My Good Friend (another foolish innocent),
View from Rosehill Cemetery: Vicksburg,
Revolutionary Petunias ... the Living Through,
Revolutionary Petunias,
Expect Nothing,
Be Nodody's Darling,
Nothing Is Right,
Black Mail,
Lonely Particular,
The Girl Who Died #1,
Lost My Voice? Of Course / for Beanie,
The Girl Who Died #2 / for d.p.,
The Old Warrior Terror,
Judge Every One with Perfect Calm,
The QPP,
He Said Come,
Mysteries ... the Living Beyond,
Clutter-Up People,
What the Finger Writes,
Forbidden Things,
No Fixed Place,
New Face,
The Nature of This Flower Is to Bloom,
While Love Is Unfashionable,
Beyond What,
The Nature of This Flower Is to Bloom,
A Biography of Alice Walker,

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Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It could. xD
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She sat, smelling flowers, trying to ignore the burning in her core, caused by her heat.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would love to be deputy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
dgregoryburns More than 1 year ago
In "Revolutionary Petunias", Alice Walker takes a break from being a novelist and delves into the literary world of poetry. Readers are better off because she did. Her poems are capable of summoning forth a full range of life with effortless inflections of a modest declaration. Declarations are frequently made through implication, and her poems have an enjoyable purity and sincerity about them. I was most attracted to and touched by the ones which dealt with her rural early years. I would say that her writing can be described best as showing in some way magically the inner nature of Walker. They are reserved, which is as refreshing as a barefoot stroll down a shaded dirt road that follows a river bank through the summer.