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(Re)Discovering My Heart or Brief Poetic Musings on Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

- Langston Hughes,Harlem

I (re)discovered my heart on a November day while walking the streets of Harlem. It was a crisp 70 degrees outside and the sun shone down with a warmth that I can only describe as home—nota physical or geographically rooted home base but instead the welcoming and enveloping feeling of belonging, a rightness. It felt as if I could hear Zora whispering in the cool, caressing wind…

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought...”

Or maybe, I thought, it was later that day while standing—no singing—at the historic Apollo Theater where instead my heart rediscovered me. Where, knowing me better than I know myself, it held me in its hands and poured me onto the stage as I spilled over the edge and into the seats where iconic musical ancestors cheered and watched, applauding the reverberations of my reemerging song.

Walking down 135th street I gently slid my feet across the square shaped commemorative plaques touting the names of Ella Fitzgerald, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Paul Robeson, to name a few.I imagined them there standing close by. Breathing in deeply, I secretly hoped to imbue myself with any remaining residues of their brilliance—their fire.

That fire was the essence of Harlem. Its reputation precedes it. A Black American mecca of sorts, Harlem’s political, social, and artistic contributions are known worldwide. Even despite the shifting and gentrifying winds of change, Harlem remains as a historical beacon of Black virtuosity, improvisation, resilience, and creativity. A creativity long forgotten in me.

Or so I thought.

It’s funny. If you had asked me, I am not sure that I would have even realized that it (my heart) had been lost. Maybe lost isn’t the best way to describe it. Looking back, temporarily misplaced seems a more accurate depiction. Missing. It was missing. I was missing...something. The reality of loss had become something of a norm. In fact, I often imagined that my condition was representative of the masses. Birds with clipped wings, caged by the realities of life and the banalities of day-to-day survival. How many of us, I wondered, had traded in our deepest desires for the semblance of success and precarious stability? How many of us had a dream deferred in perpetuity?

Does it explode?

Mine did that day. It exploded out of my chest like splashes and splatters of colorful paint onto the Harlem streets. My locs became flowing ribbons of yellow, red, pinks, and blues. My eyes flashed with the brilliance and playfulness of bebop and my feet lifted suspending me above my previous existence so removed from my own creative quintessence.

I (re)discovered my heart on a November day while walking the streets of Harlem. Little did I know that it had been with me all along, patiently waiting for me to remember and acknowledge its existence; to remember and acknowledge the beauty—the art—in myself.


Haile Eshe Cole was born and raised in a small Texas town. Although a Texas girl at heart, she currently resides in Amherst, MA where she teaches courses on race, blackness, and reproductive health at Amherst College. She has two beautiful children and describes herself as a mother, daughter, sister, singer, creative, activist-scholar, repro justice anthro geek, and a lover of all things beautiful and Black.


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