For Juneteenth

I heard Danez Smith read before the Pandemic. His energy from the slam tradition is ebullient, and his poems are powerful. Here is one for this holiday. As usual, I especially like the ending.

C.R.E.A.M.

after Morgan Parker, after Wu-Tang

                      in the morning I think about money

           green horned lord of my waking

                      forest in which I stumbled toward no salvation

                                 prison made of emerald & pennies

           in my wallet I keep anxiety & a condom

I used to sell my body but now my blood spoiled

           All my favorite songs tell me to get money

                                              I’d rob a bank but I’m a poet

                                 I’m so broke I’m a genius

           If I was white, I’d take pictures of other pictures & sell them

I come from sharecroppers who come from slaves who do not come from kings

                                              sometimes I pay the weed man before I pay the light bill

                      sometimes is a synonym for often

I just want a grant or a fellowship or a rich white husband & I’ll be straight

           I feel most colored when I’m looking at my bank account

I feel most colored when I scream ball so hard motherfuckas wanna find me

                                 I spent one summer stealing from ragstock

If I went to jail I’d live rent-free but there is no way to avoid making white people richer

                                              A prison is a plantation made of stone & steel

           Being locked up for selling drugs = Being locked up for trying to eat

                                              a bald fade cost 20 bones now a days

                      what’s a blacker tax than blackness?

                                              what cost more than being American and poor?

                                         here is where I say reparations.

here is where I say got 20 bucks I can borrow?

           student loans are like slavery but not but with vacation days but not but police

I don’t know what it says about me when white institutions give me money

                      how much is the power ball this week?

I’mma print my own money and be my own god and live forever in a green frame

                      my grandmamma is great at saving money

           before my grandfather passed he showed me where he hid his money & his gun

                      my aunt can’t hold on to a dollar, a job, her brain

                                 I love how easy it is to be bad with money

                      don’t ask me about my taxes

                                 the b in debt is a silent black boy trapped

Danez Smith

The Exemplary Sentence

It’s been awhile since I published a prose piece.  This snippet is from Wisława Szymborska’s How to Start Writing (and When to Stop) and first appeared in Lit Hub’s Craft of Writing newsletter. It comes from the advice she gave—anonymously—for many years in “Literary Mailbox,” a regular column in the Polish journal Literary Life, and is translated by the indefatigable Clare Cavanagh, who has brought us most of the wonderful Polish poetry and prose that we have in English.

“The same old complaint about ‘youth.’ This time we’re supposed to forgive the author since he still hasn’t been anywhere, experienced anything worth mentioning, or read everything that he should. Such confessions betray the belief (adolescent, hence a bit simplistic) that external circumstances alone make the writer. That his creative quality derives from the quantity of his life adventures. In fact, the writer develops internally, within his own heart and mind: through an innate (we repeat, innate) propensity for thought, acute sensitivity to minor matters, astonishment at what others see as ordinary. Trips abroad? We sincerely hope you’ll take them, they sometimes come in handy. But before you head off to Capri, we suggest a trip to Lesser Wółka. If you come back with nothing to write about, then no azure grottoes will save you.”

When we were in Krakow a few years ago (sadly we missed Lesser Wółka), there was a museum show called Szymborska’s Desk, which had a facsimile of her writing room with many artifacts. I found it truly charming, and was only sorry I never got to meet the writer herself. Here is her yellow typewriter from that show.

The book of these snippets, How to Start Writing (and When to Stop) is published by New Directions. Hurray for them! I’m going to buy a copy myself.

Starting fresh

With hope for a better new year, a poem that seems appropriate–of course, right now no flying to Rome or Greece. Still…

The New Experience

I was ready for a new experience.
All the old ones had burned out.

They lay in little ashy heaps along the roadside
And blew in drifts across the fairgrounds and fields.

From a distance some appeared to be smoldering
But when I approached with my hat in my hands

They let out small puffs of smoke and expired.
Through the windows of houses I saw lives lit up

With the otherworldly glow of TV
And these were smoking a little bit too.

 I flew to Rome. I flew to Greece.
I sat on a rock in the shade of the Acropolis

And conjured dusky columns in the clouds.
I watched waves lap the crumbling coast.

 I heard wind strip the woods.
I saw the last living snow leopard 

Pacing in the dirt. Experience taught me
That nothing worth doing is worth doing

 For the sake of experience alone.
I bit into an apple that tasted sweetly of time.

The sun came out. It was the old sun
With only a few billion years left to shine.

Suzanne Buffam

from The Irrationalist

So many husbands on Monday

It’s always a delight to discover a new poet.  Here is a poem by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. I love the whole neighborhood of past loves. Don’t we all have that, even if they are long past? And that last line is killer:

 

Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?

If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,
the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse—
then Yes, every last page is true, every nuance,
bit, and bite. Wait. I have made them up—all of them—
and when I say I am married, it means I married
all of them, a whole neighborhood of past loves.
Can you imagine the number of bouquets, how many
slices of cake? Even now, my husbands plan a great meal
for us—one chops up some parsley, one stirs a bubbling pot
on the stove. One changes the baby, and one sleeps
in a fat chair. One flips through the newspaper, another
whistles while he shaves in the shower, and every single
one of them wonders what time I am coming home.

New Year’s poem

As a sure sign of January, I saw an exercise bike by the side of the road with a “Free” sign on it. New year, new exercise resolutions, which segues nicely to Lucille Clifton’s poem:

i am running into a new year

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

lucille clifton

The sin buffet, 2019

At the end of services last week, Rabbi Margaret Holub put out the sin buffet, which I have written about before. This is a ritual I love, taking breadcrumbs from the cup by the “sins” that seem relevant and then walking out to the ocean and casting them into the surf.

The idea is to reflect on these during the 10 days until Yom Kippur, so that you can atone for them effectively.

I see that I found more flaws in my character to reflect on this year, and share them here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, if these don’t seem to apply to you, you can always select “Other” and simply fill in what applies.  Happy New Year!

 

Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown came to town to read on Thursday, and synchronistically, this poem appeared in the Sunday NY Times Magazine.

Crossing

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”

A terrific essay

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Ted Gioia, an essayist who is right up there with my favorites. In “Bach at the Burger King,” he writes about the “weaponization of classical music” as well as the damage caused by its use as advertising enhancement. Worth a read!

Ted is the son of the poet Dana Gioia, so he comes by his prose style naturally.

Lynn Emanuel

This wonderful poet is coming to read here next week. I have posted one of her poems before, but thought I’d post another, from her book “The Dig.” This poem, as many in the book describe a childhood at the edge, with unreliable caretakers. The description of “wringing of every cent from every dollar,” resonated with me, and I love the details of the description.

The Red Kimono

I stare at the brass scarred by beating until
it is as bright and uneven as a lake in August when the sun
melts all reflections into one wide gold zero, when the sky
itself is wide, is hot as the bell that this schoolmaster,
inappropriately strict, tips to summon the children from the unrelenting
heat of noon. The long tape unrolls from the teeth of the adding
machine onto the scarred deal. Over and over the budget unreels
and spills, liberated from the sprockets and machinery of will.
My mother sits with a pencil and ticks her teeth, we are broke,
every avenue of escape is closed, even the car tires at the curb
are fat black zeros, all the scheming and coaxing, the wringing
of every cent from every dollar, has come to nothing. I watch
my mother swab up the dust, her hair tied in a rag, her naked
feet, nails bloodied by a tiny brush. Misery, misery, the cranes
of good luck hunch at the snowy mountain of her left breast
as she bends to set the empties on the step in the housecoat
the landlady lent.

Lynn Emanuel, from The Dig