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Remembering Dr. Cheryl A. Wall


 
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I am deeply saddened to report the passing of our beloved sister Cheryl A. Wall. She was a professor of English at Rutgers University and a scholar and critic of African American literature, with several books on the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston, and women's studies. She was the author of Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary Tradition (2005) and Women of the Harlem Renaissance (1995), and the editor of Changing Our Own Words: Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women (1989), among several others. I am grateful that she was also one of the distinguished readers for the Sheer Good Fortune: Celebrating Toni Morrison, organized by Virginia Tech and the Furious Flower Poetry Center at JMU in 2012.

I will always remember her hospitality to me when she invited me to lecture on Sterling Brown for a colloquium which she organized at Rutgers University. After many delays in my flight to Newark, New Jersey, I arrived at 9:30 pm when I was supposed to arrive at 4:00 pm. She took me to a restaurant that was closing at 10 o'clock, and we had a stimulating conversation, even though both of us were bone tired. I was especially happy to be there for her because of the great respect I have for her scholarship and her wonderful support of Furious Flower.

It is difficult to express my sadness at her loss because it comes at a time when we cannot properly celebrate her life with our presence at a funeral or a memorial service. However, I want to offer the following lines in memory of this wonderful scholar, teacher, and mentor.

 

Psalm 27 in the COVID-19 Season

27 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? FEAR IS IN THE AIR. There is no mask that can keep it from seeping through the cloth webbing. It is in the shifting eyes of shoppers who hold their breath as I pass. It is thick and viscous and diffuses the light.

2 When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. The enemy is invisible; it cruises on the wind, hangs on metallic things like magnets, shapeshifts in the lungs to mercury that drowns with its wicked weight.

3 Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. Fear comes with legions, they slay the weak and the strong, but mostly the unprepared perish.

4 One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. The virus recreates itself in its own image, affirms its beauty over and over again, a crown of glory, crowding out your face.

5 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. This hideous thing mocks my movements. Though I run to the rock, there is no hiding place. It skims the oceans like a well thrown stone, troubling the waters in circles of grief.

6 And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore, will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.

I sing even in my hopelessness, don’t steal my joy. Bring me through this travail whole.

7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me and answer me.

Have mercy, have mercy. Allow my prayer not to stick in my throat like a stutter.

8 When thou said, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.

I seek you the only way I can; I whisper your name when I go to sleep and when I wake. I seek you in every field of green, in every budding tree. My heart is full of your being.

9 Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. What will save us from this pandemic? When the air we breathe carries a curse, when the touch that we need is forbidden, when we can’t properly mourn our dead, where is your saving grace?

10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up. I am depending on you to be the mother that left too soon and the father that simply left. I am depending on a mother’s sacrificial love and a father’s protection as I go through this perfect storm.

11 Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. As this maelstrom swirls around me, bring me out to the light like a surfer catching the bend of the wave.

12 Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. Let me continue to breathe in life and exhale fear; let me crush self-doubt and depression, enemies of destruction. 13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. I am Job’s wife unless you hold me up, steady my faith and not let me faint.

14 Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. How long must I wait to see the change? Joy comes in the morning, but how long is night?

Joanne V. Gabbin

April 4, 2020

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Published: Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 7, 2020

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