“If I should have a daughter,” writes Sarah Kay,
instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.
We call my mother Pollyanna. No matter how bad the weather, the argument, the traffic, or the grade, she will fervently insist that the glass is still half full. In her eyes every door closed opens a window, every obstacle faced builds character. Her optimism is genuine, sweet, occasionally infuriating, and ever reliable.
When I left home for college, I didn’t get to bring Pollyanna with me. But I found that I could revisit her rose-colored worldview in Sarah Kay’s spoken-word poem “B.” Kay has noted that she thinks “people find poetry when they need to,” and I found “B” right when I needed a familiar voice of encouragement. I have watched her perform the piece dozens of times (as have millions of others—it serves as the introduction to her viral TED Talk of the same title). Each time she inspires in me, as many favorite artists have, an irrational certainty that unbeknownst to her, we are already close friends.
And while Kay describes herself in the poem as “pretty damn naive,” her willingness to continually acknowledge life’s hardships give her words of encouragement credibility. Both Kay’s performance and her prose feel precocious, more dynamic and mature than you might initially give them credit for. She gathers simple, well-known symbols of childhood—rain puddles and superheroes and shooting stars—to put together a motherly pep talk that rings true rather than trite:
… this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily but don’t be afraid to stick out your tongue and taste it.
I leave “B” as I leave every phone call with my mother—reminded once again that I can find my way back to hope and back to the woman who first showed it to me.
Stevo Vasiljevic / Reuters Matthew Brady and Alexander Hesler / Library of Congress Yannis Behrakis / Reuters Bruno Domingos / Reuters A black church service in Heard County, Georgia, April 1941 Joe Penney / Reuters Michaela Rehle / Reuters Metropolitan Museum of Art