Frederico’s Ghost

The past will haunt you. We must treat every individual as if they were as important as everyone else. Don’t let rumors or what you think your reputation may suffer in the eyes of those who speak without knowledge. Gather more than one viewpoint, gather many. Don’t hold anyone or anything hostage to serve yourself or your pocket. Don’t withhold another’s paycheck or what is needed to prosper and live free.

Federico’s Ghost                                      Martín Espada

The story is
that whole families of fruitpickers
still crept between the furrows
of the field at dusk,
when for reasons of whiskey or whatever

the cropduster plane sprayed anyway,

floating a pesticide drizzle
over the pickers
who thrashed like dark birds
in a glistening white net,
except for Federico,
a skinny boy who stood apart
in his own green row,
and, knowing the pilot
would not understand in Spanish
that he was the son of a whore,
instead jerked his arm
and thrust an obscene finger.

 

The pilot understood.
He circled the plane and sprayed again,

watching a fine gauze of poison
drift over the brown bodies
that cowered and scurried on the ground,

and aiming for Federico,
leaving the skin beneath his shirt
wet and blistered,
but still pumping his finger at the sky.

 

After Federico died,
rumors at the labor camp
told of tomatoes picked and smashed at night,

growers muttering of vandal children
or communists in camp,
first threatening to call Immigration,

then promising every Sunday off
if only the smashing of tomatoes would stop.

 

Still tomatoes were picked and squashed

in the dark,
and the old women in camp
said it was Federico,

laboring after sundown
to cool the burns on his arms,

flinging tomatoes
at the cropduster
that hummed like a mosquito

lost in his ear,
and kept his soul awake.

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The Common Women Poems 

These are vivid and inspiring portraits of women, gritty and short. I wondered how well the poet knew these women and/or if they were largely brief observations. I think they are a unique window in how to present characters in poetry or prose form. And then, who is the common woman? (There are more poems than these three and yes, I pulled them from different internet sources.)

 

The Common Women Poems              Judy Grahn

I. Ella, in a square apron, along highway 80                             

She’s a copperheaded waitress,
tired and sharp-worded, she hides
her bad brown tooth behind a wicked
smile, and flicks her ass
out of habit, to fend off the pass
that passes for affection.
She keeps her mind the way men
keep a knife—keen to strip the game
down to her size. She has a thin spine,
swallows her eggs cold, and tells lies.
She slaps a wet rag at the truck drivers
if they should complain. She understands
the necessity for pain, turns away
the smaller tips, out of pride, and
keeps a flask under the counter. Once,
she shot a lover who misused her child.
Before she got out of jail, the courts had pounced
and given the child away. Like some isolated lake,
her flat blue eyes take care of their own stark
bottoms. Her hands are nervous, curled, ready to scrape.
The common woman is as common
as a rattlesnake.

III. Nadine, resting on her neighbor’s stoop                     

She holds things together, collects bail,

makes the landlord patch the largest holes.

At the Sunday social she would spike

every drink, and offer you half of what she knows,

which is plenty. She pokes at the ruins of the city

like an armored tank; but she thinks

of herself as a ripsaw cutting through

knots in wood. Her sentences come out

like thick pine shanks

and her big hands fill the air like smoke.

She’s a mud-chinked cabin in the slums,

sitting on the doorstep counting

rats and raising 15 children,

half of them her own. The neighborhood

would burn itself out without her;

one of these days she’ll strike the spark herself.

She’s made of grease

and metal, with a hard head

that makes the men around her seem frail.

The common woman is as common as

a nail.

IV: CAROL, IN THE PARK, CHEWING ON STRAWS    

She has taken a woman lover
whatever shall we do
she has taken a woman lover
how lucky it wasn’t you
And all the day through she smiles and lies
and grits her teeth and pretends to be shy,
or weak, or busy. Then she goes home
and pounds her own nails, makes her own
bets, and fixes her own car, with her friend.
She goes as far
as women can go without protection
from men.
On weekends, she dreams of becoming a tree;
a tree that dreams it is ground up
and sent to the paper factory, where it
lies helpless in sheets, until it dreams
of becoming a paper airplane, and rises
on its own current; where it turns into a
bird, a great coasting bird that dreams of becoming
more free, even, than that — a feather, finally, or
a piece of air with lightning in it.
she has taken a woman lover
whatever can we say
She walks around all day
quietly, but underneath it
she’s electric;
angry energy inside a passive form.
The common woman is as common
as a thunderstorm.

Judy Rae Grahn was born in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father was a cook and her mother was a photographer’s assistant. Grahn described her childhood as taking place in “an economically poor and spiritually depressed late 1950s New Mexico desert town near the hellish border of West Texas.” When she was eighteen, she eloped with a student named Yvonne at a nearby college. Grahn credits Yvonne with opening her eyes to gay culture. Soon thereafter she would join the United States Air Force. At twenty-one she was discharged (in a “less than honorable,” manner, she stated) for being a lesbian.

At the age of 25, Grahn suffered from Inoculation lymphoreticulosis, or Cat Scratch Fever, which led to her being in a coma. After overcoming her illness, she realized that she wanted to become a poet. This realization was partially due to the abuse and mistreatment Grahn faced for being an open lesbian. Of the incident, Grahn stated “I realized that if I was going to do what I had set out to do in my life, I would have to go all the way with it and take every single risk you could take…. I decided I would not do anything I didn’t want to do that would keep me from my art.”

My Little Prayer

From DISCO a prayer and a blessing. Disco works with local students in Birmingham, AL. This is so honest it breaks my heart and and inspires me at the same time. We need prayers right now and we need our youth. What a beautiful opening line, such a gift.

My Little Prayer                  Tamiya H.  (Putnam Middle School)

Let the ruining end here.

Let the world’s worries wash away.

Let there be relief and allow peace to shine its beautiful face again.

I pray that my auntie recovers from her leg injury and that my mom is able to sustain her job so we will spend no night hungry.

I pray we will get accepted for our dream house.

It’s merely a wish but I wish for it every night.

I pray for my mom and auntie’s anger.

Everyday I feel stuck under their cloud of frustration and fear they will strike each other.

God, bless this house and anger among it.

I Loved the Black Cat

I’m not one who likes to complain about the rain, but when my raincoats don’t dry over night (yes, raincoats) and it’s cold and dark, I can’t help but wish for fairer skies. And sometimes when people let us down our beloved animals sustain us. Note the quote I included and I hope you enjoy the poem.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”               Louisa May Alcott 

I Loved the Black Cat                                                                      Deborah Slicer

Who stayed in the woodshed with me

During sudden summer thunderstorms late at night.

 

I miss the man who stayed in our house

Afraid, but I think I did not love him

 

So much as I loved that cat.

Darkness came undone at seams of lightning.

Black cat sat. Still.

 

You know how wind leaps on top a bull pine’s back, rides it nearly to the

ground?

 

Well, cat just flared his leather nose a little,

Paws Buddha-tucked.

Watched on.

 

When thunder cracked its thirty knuckles, helved its three free fists, when

rain spat sideways at us—

 

Cat snuffed—Pfuss—

So what?

 

Some storms were so sudden and spectacularly

Terrible, I’d run half-dressed to the woodshed from our house,

 

Where I’d find my black cat

staring down my terrible,

When the man inside the house could not.

 

Little Red

Does the prettification of our oldest stories ever frustrate you? This is not an example of that, this Little Red is making her own choices. That is not to say being awake and fully conscious makes life easy.

Little Red                                                 Terry Blackhawk

Imagine her not hooded or coy.

No inadvertent blush

to stamp her victim forever.

But let us take her

as she was in the story

having chosen the path of needles

over the path of pins.

Not a child, no father ahead

or mother behind

to frame her journey with admonition

or reward. None of this

prettification, simpering

rose petal baskets or little feet,

but a child-woman on the verge

of learning her own utility,

how to resist, be strong.

Needles, not pins.

Wit will be her weapon,

and flesh—so when she lies

naked next to the wolf, even there

bawdiness will save her

and she will tell him

she needs to dump a load.

How can he argue with the body’s truth?

What to do but wait and say go?

Imagine the darkness, the orchard

outside Grandmother’s cabin

fruit trees clouding above her

as she slips free of his bonds,

escapes into the apple-cool night,

and leaves him lying there, slathering,

stupid and confused, pulling

the rope he tied her to finding it limp

in his hands.

Swear Words

I’ve been wanting to resort to swear words all week. Here are two good poems to help you deal with whatever is frustrating and they are great as mood setters for any upcoming time with family.

Swear Words                                          Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Even now I laugh when I see the look on my mother’s face
when I swear in Tagalog. I have no idea what these phrases
really mean, but they’ve been spattered on me since I was still
a fat, bawling baby—and scattered onto my head when I’ve toppled

juice glasses on white carpet or come home past curfew.
Sometimes even the length of my skirt or driving her through
a red light produces ones with a bit of a gasp, a wet sigh
of disapproval. Now I catch myself saying them out loud

when I knock my knee against the coffee table,
slice a bit of my knuckle with paper. When I asked her,
she told me one phrase meant ‘God,’ so of course I feel guilty.
Another is ‘crazy female lost piglet,’ which doesn’t even

make sense when I think of the times I’ve heard her use that,
and still others, she claims, are untranslatable. But the one
I love best is Diablo—devil—pronounced: Jah-blew! She uses it
as if to tell me, “I give up! You do what you want but don’t

come running to me,” after I tell her I bounced a check
or messed up a romance with a boy she finally approved of.
Diablo! Diablo! Here comes a little red devil, tiny pitchfork
in hand, running past the terra-cotta flower pots

in my mother’s sun room Diablo! Diablo! And still another from behind
the kitchen curtains, a bit damp from the day’s splashes of the sink.
Today when they meet, they dance a silly jig on the countertop, knock
over the canister of flour, leave little footprints all over the place.

Hell Pig                                       Aimee Nezhukumatathil

 

To keep me from staying out late at night,

my mother warned of the Hell Pig. Black and full

 

of hot drool, eyes the color of a lung—it’d follow me

home if I stayed past my curfew. How to tell my friends

 

to press Pause in the middle of a video, say their good-byes

while I shuffled up the stairs and into my father’s waiting

 

blue car? How to explain this to my dates, whisper

why we could not finish this dance? It’s not like the pig

 

had any special powers or could take a tiny bite

from my leg—only assurances that it was simply

 

scandal to be followed home. When my date and I

pull into my driveway and dim the lights, we take

 

care to make all the small noises that get made

in times like these even smaller: squeaks in the seats,

 

a slow spin of the radio dial, the silver click of my belt.

Too late. A single black hair flickers awake the ear

 

of the dark animal waiting for me at the end of the walk.

My fumbling of keys and various straps a wild dance

 

to the door—the pig grunting in tune to each hurried step, each

of his wet breaths puffing into tiny clouds, a small storm brewing.

 

Writing Prompts:

Do you have a favorite swear word(s)? Are there swear words particular to your family?

Write about someone trying to hide scandalous behavior from someone else.

Write about curfews a person, a town, or region that has a curfew.

Write about something that lurks in the shadow. If you like anthropomorphize it.

Write about someone who would dance if you got into trouble.

Write about preparing to spend time with family.

Waiting to be Rescued

It’s hurricane season, something taken very seriously in the south and elsewhere. This poem and the quote offered don’t resolve the many problems that arise when your world is changed irrevocably, but words can be a comfort when your thoughts and feelings are linked to another fellow being. Be safe and brave out there. May you receive the help you need.

“Nature repairs her ravages – but not all. The uptorn trees are not rooted again; the parted hills are left scarred: if there is a new growth, the trees are not the same as the old, and the hills underneath their green vesture bear the marks of the past rending. To the eyes that have dwelt on the past, there is no thorough repair.”       George Eliot

 

Waiting to be Rescued                                                                     Maxine Kumin

 

There are two kinds of looting,

the police chief explained.

When they break into convenience stores

for milk, juice, sanitary products,

we look the other way.

 

When they hijack liquor, guns,

ammunition, we have to go in

and get them even though

we’ve got no place to put them.

 

Hoard what you’ve got,

huddle in the shade by day,

pull anything that’s loose

over you at night, and wait

to be plucked by helicopter,

 

saved by pleasure craft,

coast guard skiff,

air mattress, kiddie pool,

upside down cardboard box

that once held grapefruit juice

 

or toilet paper, and remember

what Neruda said: poetry

should be useful and usable

like metal and cereal.

Five days without shelter,

take whatever’s useful.

Why We Must Struggle

Do we really know why bad things happen or why life is sometimes difficult? I surely don’t and I always look for things to ease up. Often it is my attitude or perspective that needs the greatest adjustment.

Why We Must Struggle                Kay Ryan

If we have not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
upon need?

The Arrival of the Bee Box

Can we celebrate Sylvia Plath’s short legacy enough? How many of us started reading her in high school and have never forgotten her brave life?  She and her husband did order bees and make other moves toward self sufficiency before he left her and before she died. In this poem you may find the scope of her pain and some hope for a future. I include a quote as well from The Bell Jar which came out shortly before her death.

“I felt my lungs inflate with the inrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people, I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”                                             Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The Arrival of the Bee Box                                                  Sylvia Plath

I ordered this, clean wood box

Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.

I would say it was the coffin of a midget

Or a square baby

Were there not such a din in it.

 

The box is locked, it is dangerous.

I have to live with it overnight

And I can’t keep away from it.

There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.

There is only a little grid, no exit.

 

I put my eye to the grid.

It is dark, dark,

With the swarmy feeling of African hands

Minute and shrunk for export,

Black on black, angrily clambering.

 

How can I let them out?

It is the noise that appalls me most of all,

The unintelligible syllables.

It is like a Roman mob,

Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

 

I lay my ear to furious Latin.

I am not a Caesar.

I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.

They can be sent back.

They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

 

I wonder how hungry they are.

I wonder if they would forget me

If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.

There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,

And the petticoats of the cherry.

 

They might ignore me immediately

In my moon suit and funeral veil.

I am no source of honey

So why should they turn on me?

Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

 

The box is only temporary.

 

*Laburnum is an European tree with poisonous seed pods.

Muck-Clump

Maturity, belonging and being needed and useful are themes in this poem. Who is the underdog and who is the over dog in your relationships? So much can happen in a few minutes over breakfast. The poem is funny as well.

Muck-Clump                                                                         Mark Halliday

 

My wife was being too busy around the kitchen one morning

I think to give herself the sense of being on top of things

and when I poured a bowl of Shredded Wheat Spoonfuls for Devon

my wife bustled over and said “Oh Devon likes to have more cereal

than that”

so she poured more Spoonfuls on top of the considerable number I

had poured.

This griped me because now it was as if I hadn’t really given Devon

her breakfast

because it might as well have been my wife who did it all

which would imply that I wasn’t really making a contribution,

as if I were just a log of driftwood on the sand of time

while everyone else built the boats and caught the fish

and made the whole human drama fare forward against the void.

 

So I watched Devon pour a lot of milk on her Shredded Spoonfuls

and I figured she would hardly eat half of them

and when she went out to the school bus there would be

this awful soggy mass of decomposing cereal left behind

which would resemble the way I sometimes see myself

so I figured then I could show the bowl to my wife

and I’d say ”Do you think Devon got enough cereal?”

and the moment of sarcasm would be exquisite.

While Devon ate Spoonfuls I tied her shoes—I did accomplish that—

and I imagined how I would say with measured irony

that would sting slightly but also come across as witty—

Do you think Devon got enough cereal?”—I would say it

and then more vigorously dump the sodden milky muck-clump into the trash.

It would be a moment in which I would be quite noticeably

on top of things… Then the bus came

and Devon hoisted her backpack and hurried outside, calling Goodbye,

 

and I saw with astonishment that her cereal bowl was empty.

How was I going to deal with this? It wouldn’t be fair

to be angry at Devon for her unreasonable appetite; but

I could possibly complain about my wife’s failure to provide

a more balanced breakfast for our daughter—but I sensed

that his challenge would backfire because my wife is the one

who really does think about nutrition and besides there were, actually

some strawberries on Devon’s placemat.

So I decided to rise above the entire episode, to be large minded,

to wash a few dishes nonchalantly and read the newspaper

and make an insightful remark about something in the news.

Awareness of the larger world, after all, is

a central part of being mature, which is

something I want to believe I am—

when you see some old chunk of driftwood on the beach

you might say “That looks so calm, so peaceful”

or you might say “That is so dry and dead”

but you don’t say “That is really mature.”