I could start with the conditions around my birth like some Dickens’ novel and how surprised my mother was when I arrived a girl. “Are you sure?” she asked the seventy-year-old obstetrician. My parents had already counted on a Christopher. My mother was an intellectual; my father, a Big Band songwriter. My two older brothers sided with my mother. I accompanied my father to Benny’s, the pub next door, where I sipped Shirley Temples while he drank scotch.
I was raised on a dead-end street off the last exit of the New York State Thruway before the Tappan Zee Bridge. Those were the days in the late Fifties when zoning could allow a tavern to share the same grounds as a horse establishment. If I were to say anything about my childhood, it was my obsession with the horses next door and how I daily dreamed of myself aloft those graceful giants. Horses, horses, glistening like stardust in a world unsupervised that didn’t seem to know my name. When I was three, I’d sneak through the barb –wire fence that separated our properties and skip barefoot through timothy and cornflowers just to get closer to my protectors.
When I was five, I stole ten dollars off my father’s dresser and brought it to the Italian stable manager next door. He saddled up Apple, a gentle old spotted roan and led us to the meadow where she grazed in the summer sunshine. In rapture, I sat astride her back. My father found me, pulled me down and sent me packing to my room but I don’t remember crying, nor his rage, except the echoes of shouting from the barn. He never raised his voice to me.
I was a tomboy. In many ways, I still am, hopelessly in love with horses and somehow guarded, I’d say magically protected by this inexplicable and life-long devotion. Horses led me to the mystery of grace as large as any god and as gentle as any savior. Today, these remain the ground of my being, both in the natural and mystical world.
I was born during the 50’s Civil Rights Movement, and grew up in a black world. We moved into the house on Federal Street in East Baltimore in the fall of 1957 when I was six years old, and the Little Rock 9 integrated Central High in Arkansas. I was the eldest of five, the one to lead the way. My grandparents had been poor farmers in southern Virginia, seventy five miles west of the Dismal Swamp. My parents came north to Baltimore in the 1940’s during the Great Migration.
An uncle of mine of whom I was particularly fond gave me an alternative. He and his wife, a biologist, bought a sixteen acre horse farm outside Baltimore so that they could raise Arabians. For me it was a world of rare privilege. I loved westerns. This was a dream come true. I was an urban cowboy. On weekends and in the summers during junior and senior high school, I learned to feed, groom, and ride horses. My cousins and I took trail rides with my uncle, he leading the way into the woods surrounding his farm. He even gave me a foal, an Appaloosa.
When Bruce Lee appeared as Kato in The Green Hornet in 1966, I was mesmerized. It was my first year in high school. I saw a way to feeling secure in a world full of violence. The Sixties was the time of my adolescence, with the War in Vietnam and the race riots at home that seemed like war. American cities burned. Drugs came into our neighborhoods.
My cousins and I practiced martial arts in the backyard of the farmhouse, and when I discovered Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) a few years later, it was with the love of horses already embedded in my heart. In that assortment of experience, I found the template and compass for my life as a poet, buttressing my spiritual path, enabling me to inhabit new spaces. Such has been my life as a poet and writer, much of it inspired and protected by Chinese culture and the magic of horses.