Thanksgiving

This poem fits right into the true feel of what it is like to gather with family members and is a great portrait of several different personalities and characters. There is so much of it that feels southern yet the story is set in Connecticut. It just shows you how connected we all are. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving                                                                                                Martín Espada

This was the first Thanksgiving with my wife’s family,
sitting at the stained pine table in the dining room.
The wood stove coughed during her mother’s prayer:
Amen and the gravy boat bobbing over fresh linen.
Her father stared into the mashed potatoes
and saw a white battleship floating in the gravy.
Still staring at the mashed potatoes, he began a soliloquy
about the new Navy missiles fired across miles of ocean,
how they could jump into the smokestack of a battleship.
“Now in Korea,” he said, “I was a gunner and the people there
ate kimch’i and it really stinks.” Mother complained that no one
was eating the creamed onions. “Eat, Daddy.” The creamed onions
look like eyeballs, I thought, and then said, “I wish I had missiles
like that.” Daddy laughed a 1950s horror-movie mad-scientist laugh,
and told me he didn’t have a missile, but he had his own cannon.
“Daddy, eat the candied yams,” Mother hissed, as if he were
a liquored CIA spy telling secrets about military hardware
to some Puerto Rican janitor he met in a bar. “I’m a toolmaker.
I made the cannon myself,” he announced, and left the table.
“Daddy’s family has been here in the Connecticut Valley since 1680,”
Mother said. “There were Indians here once, but they left.”
When I started dating her daughter, Mother called me a half-Black,
But now she spooned candied yams on my plate. I nibbled
at the candied yams. I remembered my own Thanksgivings
in the Bronx, turkey with arroz y habichuelas and plátanos,
and countless cousins swaying to bugalú on the record player
or roaring at my grandmother’s Spanish punch lines in the kitchen,
the glowing of her cigarette like a firefly lost in the city. For years
I thought everyone ate rice and beans with turkey at Thanksgiving.
Daddy returned to the table with a cannon, steering the black
steel barrel. “Does that cannon go boom?” I asked. “I fire it
in the backyard at the tombstones,” he said. “That cemetery bought
up all our farmland during the Depression. Now we only have
the house.” He stared and said nothing, then glanced up suddenly,
like a ghost had tickled his ear. “Want to see me fire it?” he grinned.
“Daddy, fire the cannon after dessert,” Mother said. “If I fire
the cannon, I have to take out the cannonballs first,” he told me.
He tilted the cannon downward, and cannonballs dropped
from the barrel, thudding on the floor and rolling across
the brown braided rug. Grandmother praised the turkey’s thighs,
said she would bring leftovers home to feed her Congo Gray parrot.
I walked with Daddy to the backyard, past the bullet holes
in the door and his pickup truck with the Confederate license plate.
He swiveled the cannon around to face the tombstones
on the other side of the backyard fence. “This way, if I hit anybody,
they’re already dead,” he declared. He stuffed half a charge
of gunpowder into the cannon, and lit the fuse. From the dining room,
Mother yelled, “Daddy, no!” Then the battlefield rumbled
under my feet. My head thundered. Smoke drifted over
the tombstones. Daddy laughed. And I thought: When the first
drunken Pilgrim dragged out the cannon at the first Thanksgiving-
that’s when the Indians left.

 

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Melissa Quits School

Melissa understands that no one really has her back and that she ultimately has to make her own decisions. She starts here by stating her truths and strengthening her voice. She already has a place where feels free. I think she’s a survivor.

Melissa Quits School                                                             Lucile Burt

 

I’m not going down into that cave anymore,

that room under everything

where they stick us freaks

surrounded by storage rooms

and one hundred years of dust

caking little windows near the ceiling.

 

We’re buried under the weight

of all those rooms above us,

regular rooms with regular kids,

buried where we won’t be a bad influence.

 

Mrs. Miller says I’ll be sorry,

but I don’t care. I can’t think

down there. It’s hard to breathe

underground.

If school’s so great for my future,

what’s Mrs. Miller doing buried here

like some sad dead bird

teaching freaks

and smelling like booze every morning?

 

I may be stupid, but I know this:

outside there’ll be light and air

and I won’t feel like I’m dying.

Outside, someone will pay when I work,

give me a coffee break when I can smoke.

No one will say “where’s your pass?”

Sandy and Tina won’t dance away from me,

sidestepping like I’m poison ivy,

and boys won’t try to pry me open.

Steve won’t be hanging on me,

wanting me

to take a couple of hits before class,

wanting me

to cut class to make love,

even though it’s really screwing

and he calls it “making love”

so I’ll do it and he can brag later.

 

I may be stupid, but I know this:

even just a little light and air

can save your life.

That shark Steve thinks he owns me,

but I know this:

when we cruise in his car

so he can show off his Chevy and me

him looking out the window all the time,

going nowhere, just cruising,

I’m there ’cause we’re moving.

I’m there alone with Tori Amos,

singing her sad true songs,

leaning my head back,

watching the streetlights come and go,

each flash lighting my face

for a minute in the dark.

 

 

Please Call me by my True Names

This is a well known poem, particularly as the plight of the young girl who is raped is based on a very real truth. The author, Thich Nhat Hanh asserts that he could be either a saint or a devil, he is both. Can any of us say otherwise?

Please Call me by my True Names                                                  Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow—

even today I am still arriving.

 

Look deeply: every second I am arriving

to be a bud on a Spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,

learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

 

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,

to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death

of all that is alive.

 

I am a mayfly metamorphosing

on the surface of the river.

And I am the bird

that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

 

I am a frog swimming happily

in the clear water of a pond.

And I am the grass-snake

that silently feeds itself on the frog.

 

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.

And I am the arms merchant,

selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

 

I am the twelve-year-old girl,

refugee on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean

after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am the pirate,

my heart not yet capable

of seeing and loving.

 

I am a member of the politburo,

with plenty of power in my hands.

And I am the man who has to pay

his ‘debt of blood’ to my people

dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm

it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.

My pain is like a river of tears,

so vast it fills the four oceans.

 

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can wake up

and the door of my heart

could be left open,

the door of compassion.

 

From Thich Nhat Hanh: After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The title of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”

Yes

Let us hope for a time of striving to understand each other right now and in the future. Presently, there seems to be a great deal of discussion around what was meant, what is truthful and what is respectful as well as based in intelligence. We need to remember there are valid differences between each of us, practice listening and asking openly framed questions. There is a lot to discover out there, not just protect.

Yes                                                                              Denise Duhamel

According to Culture Shock:

A Guide to Customs and Etiquette

of Filipinos, when my husband says yes,

he could also mean one of the following:

a.) I don’t know.

b.) If you say so.

c.) If it will please you.

d.) I hope I have said yes unenthusiastically enough

for you to realize I mean no.

You can imagine the confusion

surrounding our movie dates, the laundry,

who will take out the garbage

and when. I remind him

I’m an American, that all his yeses sound alike to me.

I tell him here in America we have shrinks

who can help him to be less of a people-pleaser.

We have two-year-olds who love to scream “No!”

when they don’t get their way. I tell him,

in America we have a popular book,

When I Say No I Feel Guilty.

“Should I get you a copy?” I ask.

He says yes, but I think he means

“If it will please you,” i.e. “I won’t read it.”

“I’m trying,” I tell him, “but you have to try too.”

“Yes,” he says, then makes tampo,

a sulking that the book Culture Shock describes as

“subliminal hostility . . . withdrawal of customary cheerfulness

in the presence of the one who has displeased” him.

The book says it’s up to me to make things all right,

“to restore goodwill, not by talking the problem out,

but by showing concern about the wounded person’s

well-being.” Forget it, I think, even though I know

if I’m not nice, tampo can quickly escalate into nagdadabog

foot stomping, grumbling, the slamming

of doors. Instead of talking to my husband, I storm off

to talk to my porcelain Kwan Yin,

the Chinese goddess of mercy

that I bought on Canal Street years before

my husband and I started dating.

“The real Kwan Yin is in Manila,”

he tells me. “She’s called Nuestra Señora de Guia.

Her Asian features prove Christianity

was in the Philippines before the Spanish arrived.”

My husband’s telling me this

tells me he’s sorry. Kwan Yin seems to wink,

congratulating me–my short prayer worked.

“Will you love me forever?” I ask,

then study his lips, wondering if I’ll be able to decipher

what he means by his yes.

 

The Year I Was Diagnosed with a Sacrilegious Heart  

This poet grew up with an activist father and he certainly took it to heart as you’ll see in this poem.  That the concept of compromise is offered in school amazes me. I also remember my own unwillingness to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and wish today that we lived in a world where compromises seem possible.

The Year I Was Diagnosed with a Sacrilegious Heart                              Martín Espada

At twelve, I quit reciting

the Pledge of Allegiance,

could not salute the flag

in 1969, and I,

undecorated for grades or sports,

was never again anonymous in school.

 

A girl in homeroom

caught my delinquent hand

and pinned a salute

against my chest;

my cafeteria name was Commie,

though I too drank the milk

with presidential portraits on the carton;

but when the school assembly stood

for the flags and stiff soldiers’ choreography

of the color guard,

and I stuck to my seat

like a back pocket snagged on coil,

the principal’s office

quickly found my file.

A balding man in a brown suit

asked me if I understood compromise,

and we nodded in compromise,

a pair of Brooklyn wardheelers.

 

Next assembly, when the color guard

marched down the aisle,

stern-faced,

I stood with the rest,

then pivoted up the aisle,

the flags and me

brushing past each other

without apologies,

my unlaced sneakers

dragging out of the auditorium.

 

I pressed my spyglass eye

against the doors

for the Pledge:

no one saw my right hand

crumpled in a pocket

instead of spreading

across my sacrilegious heart.

 

Ceremony done, the flagpoles

pointed their eagle beaks at me,

and I ducked

under their shifting banner wings

back to my seat,

inoculated against staring,

my mind a room after school

where baseball cards

could be stacked by team

in a plastic locker.

 

Happiness

When might happiness come to you? Does it come to everyone equally? It just might especially the way this poem frames that possibility. Read and enjoy.

Happiness                                                                                                      Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,

or the way it turns up like a prodigal

who comes back to the dust at your feet

having squandered a fortune far away.

 

And how can you not forgive?

You make a feast in honor of what

was lost, and take from its place the finest

garment, which you saved for an occasion

you could not imagine, and you weep night and day

to know that you were not abandoned,

that happiness saved its most extreme form

for you alone.

 

No, happiness is the uncle you never

knew about, who flies a single-engine plane

onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes

into town, and inquires at every door

until he finds you asleep midafternoon

as you so often are during the unmerciful

hours of your despair.

 

It comes to the monk in his cell.

It comes to the woman sweeping the street

with a birch broom, to the child

whose mother has passed out from drink.

It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing

a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,

and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots

in the night.

It even comes to the boulder

in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,

to rain falling on the open sea,

to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

 

How You See Depends on Where You Go

If you were a hot dog…

How You See Depends on Where You Go                                     Jynne Dilling Martin

 

If I were a hot dog, no way would I want to hang around

all week in the boiling water of a metal hot dog cart.

 

The dark would make me claustrophobic, the smell

must be pungent, and though we’d all pretend to be friends,

 

each time the sky split open and the aluminum tongs

came down everyone would hustle hoping to be chosen

 

and then be so pissed afterwards about life’s randomness

and inequality, since the dog selected would totally suck.

 

With nothing else to go on, we’d idiotically think

hot dogs were the only food and our cart the only cart

 

and our vendor the one who invented the light and dark.

We’d carve a fresco of our cart’s history on the metal

 

using a rusted knife that had fallen into our water.

We’d be such a joke to the ketchup and the mustard!

 

No, I’d rather be an eight-pack dog in the refrigeration aisle

of a grocery store, and not just anywhere in that pack,

 

but one of the four on bottom with a transparent plastic view

of the suburban shoppers. Then I could scan all the people

 

and feel quietly superior to the ugly and unhappy ones,

knowing my snug life at least is better than that.

 

Family Stories

Who can forget some of the times we saw anger expressed as a child? I come from a family that yelled at each other and at times there was brutal physical punishment. My husband comes from a family where, in particular, his mother punished with silence. His father covered everything with cheerful chatter. How people express anger is of interest to me. It is also exciting to me to imagine the the sight of the cake in the poem on it’s journey. See below! And to end with a question: How much do stereotypes of ethnicity influence how we express emotions?

Family Stories                                                                        Dorianne Laux

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,

how an argument once ended when his father

seized a lit birthday cake in both hands

and hurled it out a second-story window. That,

I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger

sent out across the sill, landing like a gift

to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine

it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,

and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed

the people in his stories really loved one another,

even when they yelled and shoved their feet

through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle

of cheap champagne, christening the wall,

rungs exploding from their holes.

I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury

of the passionate. He said it was a curse

being born Italian and Catholic and when he

looked from that window what he saw was the moment

rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous

three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship

down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk

deep in the icing, a few still burning.

 

The New Egypt

I often think about the things I must be doing without really thinking about whether it is what I want or not. That includes all the things I work at acquiring while following the insistent voice that screams “I want! I want!”

Whether we conform or rebel as we build our lives, we are part biological, cultural, and environmental beings subject to happenstance.

This lovely poem doesn’t waste a word, as a daughter tells her story. It’s packed full of punch and meaning. Enjoy it.

The New Egypt                                             Robin Becker

 

I think of my father who believes
A Jew can out-wit fate by owning land.
Slave to property now, I mow
and mow, my destiny the new Egypt.
From his father, the tailor, he learned not
to rent but to own; to borrow to buy.
To conform, I disguise myself and drag
the mower into the drive, where I ponder
the silky oil, the plastic casing, the choke.
From my father, I learned the dignity
of exile and the fire of acquisition,
not to live in places lightly, but to plant
the self like an orange tree in the desert
and irrigate, irrigate, irrigate.

Samhein

This is a strange poem to be posting as we haven’t yet gotten to the summer solstice, the longest day of our year. Samhein as you’ll see is well after summer. But, this was the poem I found when looking for something to explore, discuss, and write about healing. How do we help other’s heal and how much healing work do we have to do ourselves to be able to help another person? There is much in the greater world that is sore from today’s wounds and there are many in my small classes that need a salve as well.

Below, I include a quote and after the poem some notes are included as well. Don’t miss that the poem itself ends with some very apt words about death, relationships with mothers, and living with family.

The quote:

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”                            Max de Pree

The poem:

Samhein                                                                                 Sylvia Bortin Patience

 

As days shorten and darkness lengthens,

we celebrate the seed under the earth,

a new year growing in winter’s womb,

the beginning and end of life

stirring in the dark.

 

The veil thins between the worlds,

those who died are welcomed home.

Rituals of water and mirrors

reflect the light of fires across the void

that separates living from dead.

Cailleach, the blue-black goddess,

begins her reign of wintry night.

 

I have placed my altar and my candles

in the western window as a guide

for my mother’s spirit journey home.

As she comes closer, I see she has lost

the trappings of her later years,

the walker and the wheelchair.

She moves lightly, a young woman,

dreaming down the beach in search of shells,

lilacs from Iowa in her hands.

Her blue eyes look far away within

where perhaps a poem even now begins.

 

I am unable to imagine

what she might say to me, or I to her.

The vision remains without a voice.

Even when we lived together,

it was hard for us to know each other.

I have no wish to interrupt her reverie.

For both of us, the poems are enough.

 

Notes:

Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year.

Cailleach (Gaelic pronunciation: kye-luhkh) is a divine hag, a creator deity and weather deity, and an ancestor deity.