Jericho Brown came to town to read on Thursday, and synchronistically, this poem appeared in the Sunday NY Times Magazine.
The water is one thing, and one thing for miles.
The water is one thing, making this bridge
Built over the water another. Walk it
Early, walk it back when the day grows dim, everyone
Rising just to find a way toward rest again.
We work, start on one side of the day
Like a planet’s only sun, our eyes straight
Until the flame sinks. The flame sinks. Thank God Continue reading “Jericho Brown”→
This year I was lucky to return to the Mendocino coast for Rosh Hashana services at the wonderful Mendocino Coast Jewish Community, led by the always inspiring Rabbi Margaret Holub. She invited me to do a teaching this year, and I responded with a poem I wrote on the coast about twenty years ago:
The Afternoon Before the Day of Atonement
I thought I was going to see the seals
asleep on the rocks, but it turned out
the cormorant was the real show, wrestling
a twisting length of eel, persistently
untwisting with its beak to swallow it whole.
Then, as I watched, uncertain whether
I’d seen eel or kelp straighten and slide
down the long bird throat, speared its beak
into the surf and did it again,
unmistakably eel, writhing
for its life, no match for the skilled
beak-tossing cormorant. Continue reading “L’Shana Tova”→
It’s so hard not to be consumed by politics, to feel I have to “DO SOMETHING.” And sometimes I do. But I love this poem by Yeats on the subject, almost 100 years ago when the war against fascism in Spain was raging:
How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politic,
Yet here’s a traveled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.
I wept with my grandmother when Reagan
was shot because that’s what she wanted.
At night, she’d tell me about a city built
by Evita for children in Buenos Aires, the city
of her first exile. Children went about
municipal duties in the small post office
and mini city hall to learn to be good citizens.
ln Argentina she sold bread pudding
and gave French and English lessons from her
home for money to buy shoes. She promised
we’d go someday, but we never did. She’d say
Peruvians were gossipy, Argentinians snobbish, but
Chileans were above reproach. A little bit migrant,
a little bit food insecurity, she was the brass bust
of JFK on her altar, the holy card of Saint Anthony
on her TV. She was her green card and the ebony cross
above her bed. The lilted yes when she answered
the phone, and the song she liked to hum about bells
and God that ended tirin-tin-tin-tirin-tin-tan: miles
and ages away from her story, she sang it.
Yesterday at the Berkeley post office I was waiting in line for stamps. A long line, moving slowly, two working clerks. A clerk was free, and the man in front of me didn’t move up, so I tapped him lightly on the shoulder–something that seemed a perfectly normal thing to do at the time–to alert him that the clerk was free. The man was an older black man and he immediately turned and grabbed me and pushed me hard, yelling “Don’t you put your white hands on me, ” etc. No apology could mollify him; he was clearly at some hair trigger point, and my tap had been the trigger. The supervisor came out and after some time calmed him down somewhat, and we all went on with our morning, slightly shaken.
I realize we are now in a world in which it is not safe to tap someone on the shoulder; the shared assumptions of civility have eroded to the point where we don’t know what will offend, I lesson I’m glad I learned with someone who wasn’t carrying a gun!
I heard Jane Hirshfield read this poem at a benefit for the beautiful Columbia Gorge. I kept thinking of it every time I cooked something with carrots or onions, which is pretty often. So I asked and she graciously sent me a copy
As If Hearing Heavy Furniture Moved on the Floor Above Us
As things grow rarer, they enter the ranges of counting.
Remain this many Siberian tigers,
that many African elephants. Three hundred red-legged egrets.
We scrape from the world its tilt and meander of wonder
as if eating the last burned onions and carrots from a cast iron pan.
Closing eyes to taste better the char of ordinary sweetness.
This poem won the Lyric Poetry award from the Poetry Society of America two years ago. Hope you like it:
As a Human Being
There is the happiness you have
And the happiness you deserve.
They sit apart from one another
The way you and your mother
Sat on opposite ends of the sofa
After an ambulance came to take
Your father away. Some good
Doctor will stitch him up, and
Soon an aunt will arrive to drive
Your mother to the hospital
Where she will settle next to him
Forever, as promised. She holds
The arm of her seat as if she could
Fall, as if it is the only sturdy thing,
And it is since you’ve done what
You always wanted. You fought
Your father and won, marred him.
He’ll have a scar he can see all
Because of you. And your mother,
The only woman you ever cried for,
Must tend to it as a bride tends
To her vows, forsaking all others
No matter how sore the injury.
No matter how sore the injury
Has left you, you sit understanding
Yourself as a human being finally
Free now that nobody’s got to love you.
It’s been awhile since I posted a prose poem. This one, from Poetry Daily, caught my eye although we are still in the the long light days as summer wends to a close.
In the Winter in Fairbanks, Even the Light Comes Late to Class
On Monday in December the sun rises at 10:40. Red sky. Black clouds.Among all the slouched backs, curved necks, and notebook-scrawling hands,only one student notices, a girl, the one writing about the room in whichher mother died. She says, I have never seen a sunrise like that, and twenty-eightother heads look up from their pens and notebooks. I had never and willnever again read a description of a hospital bed like the one she was writingat that moment. Years later,,he will email to ask if I have that piece she wroteabout her mother, and I will have to tell her I don’t. But this morning, neitherof us can foresee this future small grief. So I stop class while all twenty-nineline up at the windows to watch the light. Fifty-eight eyes open out ontosnow, the parking lot, the shovel-scraped sidewalk, red brake lights, dullfrosted stop signs. Red sky and burnt clouds. This morning, deep winter,sunrise comes, hours late, long after the tardy bell and without excuse.
Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, from You Are No Longer in Trouble
I went to an event to support poetry in the jails of Santa Cruz County on Saturday. Ellen Bass read this poem, which knocked me out, Her new book, for which this is the title poem, will be coming out this spring:
As I’m walking on West Cliff Drive, a man runs
toward me pushing one of those jogging strollers
with shock absorbers so the baby can keep sleeping,
which this baby is. I can just get a glimpse
of its almost translucent eyelids. The father is young,
a jungle of indigo and carnelian tattooed
from knuckle to jaw, leafy vines and blossoms,
saints and symbols. Thick wooden plugs pierce
his lobes and his sunglasses testify
to the radiance haloed around him. I’m so jealous.
As I often am. It’s a kind of obsession.
I want him to have been my child’s father.
I want to have married a man who wanted
to be in a body, who wanted to live in it so much
that he marked it up like a book, underlining,
highlighting, writing in the margins, I was here.
Not like my dead ex-husband, who was always
fighting against the flesh, who sat for hours
on his zafu chanting om and then went out
and broke his hand punching the car.
On Monday! Here you go, a poem I found on Split This Rock:
The Day I Learned to Speak My Grandmother’s Tongue
The day I learned to speak my grandmother’s tongue An Eastern wind shifted the earth While the western walls were whisked away… And the mountains of Laos rose on the horizon, Roaring with the sound of river dragons Splashing rainbow tail waves Across oceans of opium poppies Just awakened from their slumber By the baby chick with no feathers Hiding under the house board floor Waiting to teach the next generation That to live means to save the most vulnerable
The day I learned to speak my grandmother’s tongue I tied my own tongue upon the eight tones Of the Hmong language Stumbling upon words like a baby, like it should be Restoring back the balance between the ages As I freed my grandmother’s voice To rise clearly, to rise wisely Mighty like the elders’ powers should be
And my fears faded away, like the black spots on her skin Revealed for their true glory, as battle scars From a life lived completely And I found the ultimate truth That I will not escape my nature That I am a rock from the old mountain A strong Hmong woman Carved from another strong Hmong woman
If you lived through the Nixon administration, this poem has a deep resonance. It might even work if you didn’t:
For most in the United States the word brings a phase when mortars in Vietnam still whistled around them and the scandal of Nixon and his Machiavellian buds poured from the news into their subconscious—I see that Watergate too: the televised hearings, and in particular one session—Sam Ervin had just asked Ehrlichman or Dean or Haldeman, a long-winded, periphrastic, left-branching question—it must have lasted forty seconds and seemed three days before he paused for effect, and Ehrlichman or Dean or Haldeman answered: “Senator, could you please repeat the question?” And he did, verbatim! And that is one Watergate.
But I think also of the morning my father sent me to the creek that ran through our pasture to remove a dead calf a flood had floated north to lodge against our water gate— a little Guernsey heifer—I had petted her often— Now flies buzzed around her, bloated and entangled in the mesh—and I remember her eyes were open, so she seemed to watch as I pulled first one leg then another from the vines and wire that trapped her, and pulled her to the bank through the shallow water.
Because the second water gate, which features the tender relationship between a dead calf and a little boy, happened twenty years before the first, in which men break into an office complex in a hotel, I prefer its posts and hog wire that kept cows from a neighbor’s field to the gray rows of filing cabinets that brought down a presidency. The water pours out of the mountain and runs to the sea. Sometimes I say it to myself, until the meanings leave. I say Watergate until it is water pouring through water.