Willa on North Broad Street*

Yvonne final headshot 2

from The School of Clara Ward


Who made beauty, I ask you. God or the devil?

When I first touched a piano, the keys twinkled

Like heavenly stars. All over me they sprinkled

Some kind of thrill. Just a child, I was no rebel.

But Mother got down on her knees and swept

The stardust up—from every corner, every bed—

Pulled me out of school—Fearing what filth I read?

She stuffed her pockets with stardust and wept.

Mine is an old humble house with good solid bones.

Such weeping and laughing! The still of nights and dawns!

I chose my own voice and wore my own gowns.

They threw me out the church! For teen love songs.

I sing. Beauty! God made, but the devil stole it.

Mother vowed to get it all back. Every little bit.


*Aretha Franklin’s mentor, Clara Ward spawned innovations in singing, composing, and arranging for decades in Gospel music while her sister Willarene sang backup for Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Frankie Avalon, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Dion, Fabian, and her protégé Dee Dee Sharp.

First poetry editor of pioneer feminist magazines, Aphra and Ms., Yvonne has received several awards including NEAs for poetry (1974, 1984) and a Leeway (2003) for fiction (as Yvonne Chism-Peace). Recent print publications include: From the Farther Shore (Bass River Press), Home: An Anthology (Flexible), Quiet Diamonds 2019/2018 (Orchard Street).