Moses and the Nile

Here’s a final post from featured author Brett Dillingham, a touching tribute to poets, teachers, and one student who knows the power of dreams.

The Nile. Thousands of tons of water moving, flowing through reeds, keeping the leathery skins of giant crocodiles wet, huge hippos ripping plants from the river bottom with massive jaws and tusk-teeth, irrigating a million acres of desert to feed those who toil. Nile is also the name of a friend of mine, Nile Stanley.

Moses – thou prophet, herder, God speaking from a burning bush, parting the waters, leading his people to the “promised land” – is also the name of a student transformed by poetry and caring.

Nile is a reading professor, poet, storyteller and author from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. I met him about ten years ago at an International Reading Association annual conference in Indianapolis. A big yellow taxi came driving up on the green grass of the yard while I sat on the veranda of my B & B drinking wine. The taxi doors popped open and out rolled two ladies wearing colorful boas along with Nile, a short man with a balding pate and southern accent. One of the ladies said, “You must be the storyteller- tell us a story!”

I said, “I don’t work for free,” whereupon she launched into a poem, then the other lady did too, then the short guy. I told a story and cemented a friendship.

Since then I have worked with Nile across the country at conferences and schools. He has come to Alaska five times to work with students and teachers. Nile is one of those rare academics- he walks the walk, working in a high poverty African American school in Jacksonville every week. That’s where he met Moses.

And that’s where he wrote this poem about one of his students eight years ago:

Moses Lee Jones
came to poetry club today
wearing a black tie and white shirt.

I say “Moses, what is it? A special occasion?”

“No sir,
las’ night they took my Daddy away
And I don’t want it to git in the way
Of the poetry.”

With a smile a mile wide
And teeth gleaming
Moses recites from “Dreams” by Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Moses Lee Jones
Is holdin’ fast.

He’s holdin’ fast
To dreams!

Last night I got a call from Nile. He read in the Jacksonville newspaper that Moses Lee Jones (Perkins) was graduating, and that he was a Marine. Moses’ mother and grandmother had recently died, but Moses was moving on.

Nile is going to the graduation.

As we spoke about this, and what it meant to us as teachers of storytelling and poetry, the conversation went in stops and starts because our throats had a hard time working.

I think Nile was one of those who parted the waters so Moses could lead his people to safety. I’m proud to have him as a friend, honored as a colleague.

Hold fast to dreams.

(Nile Stanley is the co-author of Performance Literacy Through Storytelling by Nile Stanley and Brett Dillingham)

1 thought on “Moses and the Nile”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Thanks for bringing your stories and insights to us, Brett — I enjoyed all of your posts!

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