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by Colleen J. McElroy1935–2023

these days I speak of myself in the past tense

writing about yesterday knowing tomorrow

is no more than mist crawling toward violet mountains

I think of days when this weather meant you

were not so far away the light changing

so fast I believe I can see you turning a corner

the rain comes in smelling of pine and moss

a kind of brazen intrusion on the careful seeds of spring

I pay more attention to details these days

saving the most trivial until I sort them for trash

or recycle  a luxury I’ve come to know only recently

you have never been too far from my thoughts

despite the newborn birds and their erratic songs

the way they tilt their heads as if drowsing for the sun

the way they repeat their singular songs

over and over as if wishing for a different outcome

Colleen McElroy was the first Black woman to achieve full professorship at the University of Washington, in 1984, after graduating in 1973 with a Ph.D. in Ethnolinguistic Patterns of Dialect Differences and Oral Traditions. She would join the faculty at the University that same year. McElroy became one of the great American poets of our time who also put pen to paper and developed stories of fiction and nonfiction, short stories, travel writing, television screenplays, and stage plays. In a 2013 interview with Author Magazine, McElroy noted, “My mother had many sisters, and they would gather in my grandmother’s house. And they would tell stories about everybody. I learned how to listen to those stories, figure out what’s going on.”


Colleen McElroy departed this life on December 12, 2023, yet we are reminded of her often, and particularly during Women’s History Month.

Colleen McElroy reading her poem, "To Fool the Tricks of Time" at the University of Washington, 2022.


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