Acclaimed Poet Emerged From Sparrows Point Steel Mill
The Baltimore poet known by some as the black Walt Whitman contributes an original poem.
[Eastern near North Point]
The parking lot is where anything can happen,
the yellow poles too close together to open
to the lot even paved like a desert, the door
to the dining room a back door, the front door
lost in the lights, and I wander in here like a man
who has been found or a man who finds himself
in places where the world steps off itself and flies
into spirals and cones lights make in skies
so free they never ask for your passport, and
my voice is the deepest voice they have heard
all day in the bar, and the bar is a last look at a kiss
from the night before, all dressed up in coke
If Baltimore were a station
for old style highway robbers, men who rode
broke down horses and used station wagons, who
slept with the women in cardboard sun decks
latched onto trailers in the hills, if Baltimore
were the real end of the tired world and the birth
of heaven, this place where crabs are cooked,
this paradise, this last selection on the board
of God’s real estate office would be where
life crawls out of the sea again to try out new legs
and arms grown out of the tangled seaweed
that once tied itself around the swollen bodies
of boats, to sing new songs in lungs so glad
to leave the water they put memories of seas
in back of the last bus to Antarctica, and it is
all right, all aligned with forgotten prophecies.
But tonight it is the simple matter of what will
there is to be the simplest event to hit this place
in years, a man walking unafraid to keep trying
at the heart’s roulette wheel, to spin a few balls
to beat fate, to walk on heels made of diamonds
made from histories of being the last singer
to hit the stand, the mike in his giant hands.
Afaa was born Michael Schan Weaver on Nov. 26, 1951. The East Baltimore native was the first child of Otis and Elsie Weaver’s five children. Neither parent finished high school. The promise of work had brought them to Baltimore from the South.
Young Michael, however, flew through school, skipping the eighth grade and entering the University of Maryland, College Park at 16. During the winter of his freshman year, he began to write poems—the love poems that mark the beginning of many a literary career.
And then his girlfriend and future wife became pregnant—succumbing no doubt, to the power of Weaver’s verse—and the father-to-be left a “large white university where I felt so alienated.”
The son born to the couple, named Schan, died at 10 months old. Their second child is Kala Oboi Weaver, who has made Afaa a grandfather.
In 1970, Weaver returned to Baltimore to go into the steel mill at Sparrows Point, followed by a hitch in the Army Reserves. After service with the 342nd Army Security Agency at Fort Holabird, it was back to the working class grind for Weaver.
This time, he ventured out beyond the assembly lines to introduce himself to the local literati. Weaver recalls a group photograph taken in 1981, during a time of a “literary renaissance” in Baltimore.
The group gathered at Edgar Allan Poe’s grave in downtown Baltimore in late November: Weaver and a gang of poets that included David St. John, Clarinda Harriss, Andrei Codrescu, Dyane Fancey, Daniel Mark Epstein, Elizabeth Spires, and Joe Cardarelli.
The picture ran on the cover of the Sunday Sun magazine, a picture that for Weaver signified the true beginning of his literary career.
While still at Procter & Gamble he began freelancing for the Sunpapers, writing Op/Ed columns and feature stories for the next decade. His by-line appeared in the Baltimore City Paper, the Baltimore Afro-American, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune.
In 1985, Weaver walked out of the factory for the last time. He left with a wealth of material, aNational Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a published book of poetry called Water Song.
Older and wiser, he left home once again for school, this time Excelsior College in Albany, NY. There, he earned his BA in English and literature before heading to Brown University for his master’s of fine arts in creative writing, awarded in 1987.
After reading Achebe’s Things Fall Apart—and with the help of his friend and fellow playwright Tess Onwueme—Weaver chose the Nigerian name Afaa, meaning oracle, and jettisoned the name Schan. The renaming helped bring closure to his grief over his infant son’s death.
Weaver’s poetry collections include, My Father’s Geography (1992); Stations in a Dream (1993); Timber & Prayer (1995, Pulitzer finalist 1996); Talisman Tia Chucha (1998); Sandy Point (2000), The Ten Lights of God (2000); Multitudes (2000); and The Plum Flower Dance (2007).
Weaver now lives in Somerville, MA, and is a professor at Simmons College in Boston.
His papers are collected in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.