In this episode of Cloud9, we interview American poet, keynote speaker, author and social justice activist Barbara Talley. Born into a large family, Barbara was exposed to poetry at a young age through her father. Although he was not a religious man, he believed in God and encouraged his children to pray and forge their own spiritual paths. As a result, Barbara was always curious, and when she encountered the Baha’i Faith at age 15, she continued her search, being baptized three times, and almost joining the Nation of Islam, before deciding that the Baha’i Faith encompassed all that she was looking for.
Her yearning for social justice and her poetry accompanied her on this search for truth. At the age of 12 Barbara discovered the powers of poetry in transforming and inspiring change in the people around her, a skill that continues to drives her work. Today, Barbara has published more than 1000 poems, and has written several books such as Superwoman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; On Track, On Fire, On Purpose; and Miner Miracles. She is also an experienced keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, offering training in diversity, leadership and empowerment. Inspired by the Baha’i vision for racial unity, Barbara participates in countless spaces that focus on the discourse of diversity and social justice, including BahaiTeachings.org’s own Racial Unity Advisory Council.
O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 20.
In our interview with Barbara, we learn about her creative and spiritual journey, how she integrates the teachings of Baha’u’llah into her work and service to humanity, and hear her recite some of her signature poems, including one called “Love and Hate,” included below:
Love and Hate
On my way to heaven, we stopped
And took a detour through hell
From a distance things looked pretty OK
I needed a closer to look to tell
A feast, great food, and decorations
The finest delicacies ever cooked
All ages of genders, of race, and capacity
Were everywhere I looked
It appears that they have everything,
So how can this be hell?
My guide, just smiled knowingly and said,
“Look closer can’t you tell.”
And then it struck me that they were not eating.
They were looking starved and lean.
And it appears that they had no control over seating.
I asked; please tell me, what does this all mean?
I’ve got it! They can’t bend their arms.
“Well look more carefully,” said my guide.
“The spoons to which each has been given is long enough
To feed the person on the other side.”
But why in all cases, are they dependent and seated
Across from the person they hate the most?
Well the intensity of the hatred has bonded them.
“They’re stuck together now”, said my host.
“Life was and is a workshop, not an art gallery.
From each situation there’s a lesson to discern.
But the greatest lesson is in understanding the power of love and hate.
That’s the basic lesson that each had to learn.”
A black sat across from a white who was fuming,
“I won’t feed him; I am white.
I’d rather starve than feed a black.
To sit at the same table itself isn’t right!”
And the black glared hatefully at the white.
“All whites are devils and racist;
I would rather die myself, than help even one white subsist!”
“Well, it’s beneath me to feed a thin beggar in rags,”
Said the rich who sat across from the poor.
While the poor gazed loathingly at the plump rich
And said, “From me you won’t get any more!”
The one with the cross wouldn’t feed the sinner.
“You are not worthy, because you can’t see.
You are not one of the ‘saved’,
So you’ll never get fed by me!”
And the Moslem and the Jew hated each other.
Both were still engaged in some earthly feud.
Neither would look at the other.
They just sat there staring at the food.
Buddhists, Bahá’ís, and Baptists
All Religionists regardless the label, for whoever
They’d exalted themselves above during life
They found seated now across the same table.
And the woman held contempt for the man.
Because man said her role was for serving.
Neither would feed the other.
Neither felt the other deserving.
The educated acted too uppity.
The uneducated was not in his class.
So both of them continued to hunger.
Neither trusted the other enough to ask.
Throughout hell, I saw opposites attract.
Each couple bewildered and filled with dismay.
No group was absent from this place.
Did I mention the straight and the gay?
Each hatred seemed greater than the one before.
“Which was worst?” I can’t rightly say.
Because after a while, hate is just hate.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day!
I asked to leave; it was too depressing.
My sensitivity to the hatred made me want to cry.
“Is everyone who couldn’t resolve their hatreds here”, I asked?
My guide said, “No, just
those who wouldn’t try!”
Surprisingly, the setting in heaven was identical.
Except the bonds of love seemed to control the seating.
And although everyone was happily talking when I arrived
Each stopped to offer me a personal greeting.
Then, a heavenly figure approached me, and said,
“Heaven has a special place for you;
Because while alive you worked on your prejudices.
Take a seat; you’ll know what to do!”
Hmm… Love begets love and hate begets hate.
What an interesting final accounting.
Love or Hate, the choice is yours.
Just remember someone else may be counting!
You may end up with people who feel just like you.
And wouldn’t that be the only fair thing to do?
Think about your life NOW…(love and hate).
Be honest, and with yourself confide.
Are there some changes that you can make
While time is still on your side
To contact Barbara, learn more about the books she’s published, and hear some of her poetry visit her website: barbaratalley.me