All posts by lucyjaffe

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.”

 

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“Birthing” and “The Menstrual Lodge”

There are two poems today. Spring is here bringing the annual seasonal time of new birth. The power of birth is undeniable and available to all of us in its many faces. The first poem celebrates the poetic possibilities of fresh emergence while the second poem is much darker.

Birthing                                                                                              Mary Tallmountain

On the dark side I slip

 

like silk through night and chaos

wind splinters my hair

peacocks stalking

wild and sensuous as jewels

I see earth through their eyes

past bursting patterns

milestones

flashing at utmost speed

 

O I hear the light

 

The Menstrual Lodge                                                                       Ursula K. Le Guin

Accepting the heavy destiny of power,
I went to the small house when the time came.
I ate no meat, looked no one in the eye,
and scratched my fleabites with a stick:
to touch myself would close the circle
that must be open so a man can enter.
After five days I came home,
having washed myself and all I touched and wore
in Bear Creek, washed away the sign,
the color, and the smell of power.

It was no use. Nothing,
no ritual or servitude or shame,
unmade my power, or your fear.

You waited in the thickets in the winter rain
as I went alone from the small house.
You beat my head and face and raped me
and went to boast. When my womb swelled,
your friends made a small circle with you:
We all fucked that one.
Who knows who’s the father?

By Bear Creek I gave birth, in Bear Creek
I drowned it. Who knows who’s the mother?
Its father was your fear of me.

I am the dirt beneath your feet.
What are you frightened of? Go fight your wars,
be great in club and lodge and politics.
When you find out what power is, come back.

I am the dirt, and the raincloud, and the rain.
The walls of my house are the steps I walk
from the day of birth around the work I work,
from giving birth to day of death.
The roof of my house is thunder,
the doorway is the wind.
I keep this house, this great house.

When will you come in?

 

Going Home: New Orleans

If you can feel the heat and humidity you can begin to slow down. Add street performers, music, cajun food, chicory flavored coffee, beignets and powdered sugar. Slow your speech and ambitions. Think about seeing some fantastic art. Walk the streets and feel this poem come to life.

Going Home: New Orleans                                                                Sheryl St. Germain

for my grandmother, Theresa Frank

 

Some slow evenings when the light hangs late and stubborn in the sky,

gives itself up to darkness slowly and deliberately, slow cloud after slow cloud,

slowness enters me like something familiar,

and it feels like going home.

 

It’s all there in the disappearing light:

all the evenings of slow sky and slow loving, slow boats on sluggish bayous;

the thick-middled trees with the slow-sounding names—oak, mimosa, pecan, magnolia;

the slow tree sap that sticks in your hair when you lie with the trees;

and the maple syrup and pancakes and grits, the butter melting

slowly into and down the sides like sweat between breasts of sloe-eyed strippers;

and the slow-throated blues that floats over the city like fog;

and the weeping, the willows, the cut onions, the cayenne, the slow-cooking beans with marrow-thick gravy;

and all the mint juleps drunk so slowly on all the slow southern porches,

the bourbon and sugar and mint going down warm and brown, syrup and slow;

and all the ice cubes melting in all the iced teas,

all the slow-faced people sitting in all the slowly rocking rockers;

and the crabs and the shrimp and crawfish, the hard shells

slowly and deliberately and lovingly removed, the delicate flesh

slowly sucked out of heads and legs and tails;

and the slow lips that eat and drink and love and speak

that slow luxurious language, savoring each word like a long-missed lover;

and the slow-moving nuns, the black habits dragging the swollen ground;

and the slow river that cradles it all, and the chicory coffee

that cuts through it all, slow-boiled and black as dirt;

and the slow dreams and the slow-healing wounds and the slow smoke of it all

slipping out, ballooning into the sky—slow, deliberate, and magnificent.

Prayer

Here are two poems by Ginger Andrews. Andrews is a born again Christian who owns a cleaning business and works with and lives near extended family members. There is often a bit of humor in her pieces as well as an acknowledgement of the grace imbedded in everyday life.

 

Prayer                                                             Ginger Andrews

God bless the chick in Alaska
who took in my sister’s ex,
an abusive alcoholic hunk.
Bless all borderline brainless ex-cheerleaders
with long blonde hair, boobs,
and waists no bigger around than a coke bottle
who’ve broken up somebody else’s home.
Forgive my thrill
should they put on seventy-five pounds,
develop stretch marks, spider veins,
and suffer through endless days of deep depression.

Bless those who remarry on the rebound.
Bless me and all my sisters;
the ball and chain baggage we carried into our second marriages.
Bless my broken brother and his live-in.
Grant him SSI. Consider
how the deeper the wounds in my family,
the funnier we’ve become.
Bless those who’ve learned to laugh at what’s longed for.
Keep us from becoming hilarious.
Bless our children.
Bless all our ex’s,
and bless the fat chick in Alaska.

 

Down on my knees                                        Ginger Andrews

Down on my knees
cleaning out my refrigerator
and thinking about writing a religious poem
that somehow combines feeling sorry for myself
with ordinary praise, when my nephew stumbles in for coffee
to wash down what looks like a hangover
and get rid of what he calls hot dog water breath.
I wasn’t going to bake the cake

now cooling on the counter, but I found a dozen eggs tipped
sideways in their carton behind a leftover Thanksgiving Jell-O dish.
There’s something therapeutic about baking a devil’s food cake,
whipping up that buttercream frosting,
knowing your sisters will drop by and say Lord yes
they’d love just a little piece.

Everybody suffers, wants to run away,
is broke after Christmas, stayed up too late
to make it to church Sunday morning. Everybody should

drink coffee with their nephews,
eat chocolate cake with their sisters, be thankful
and happy enough under a warm and unexpected January sun.

The Colonel

I am going to state right now this poem is about listening. But, first you have to get through the horrors of reality that this piece brings to the forefront.  It is also about timing -the beat of the words, the rhythm of the reporting and the selection of images are masterful. And I can’t imagine a better ending to a poem.

“We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” Susan CainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

 

The Colonel                           Carolyn Forché

What you have heard is true. I was in his house.

His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His

daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the

night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol

on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on

its black cord over the house. On the television

was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles

were embedded in the walls around the house to

scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his

hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings

like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of

lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for

calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes,

salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed

the country. There was a brief commercial in

Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was

some talk of how difficult it had become to govern.

The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel

told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the

table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say

nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to

bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on

the table. They were like dried peach halves. There

is no other way to say this. He took one of them in

his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a

water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of

fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone,

tell your people they can go f— themselves. He

swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held

the last of his wine in the air. Something for your

poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor

caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on

the floor were pressed to the ground.

 

“The Colonel”relates Forche’s experience in El Salvador in 1978 and exposes the military brutality of Latin American dictatorship. El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war waged between the country’s US-backed military-led government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

Sorrow Home

Margaret Walker

Walker was born in Birmingham, Alabama on July 7, 1915.
– Her mother was named Marion Dozier Walker and she was a musician
– Her father was named Sigismund C. Walker and he was a Methodist minister
– She was taught philosophy and poetry as a young child
– In 1943 she married Firnist James Alexander
– She had four children
– She passed away on November 30, 1988 in Chicago due to cancer

Sorrow Home                                     Margaret Walker

 

My roots are deep in southern life; deeper than John Brown

 

or Nat Turner or Robert Lee. I was sired and weaned

in a tropic world. The palm tree and banana leaf,

mango and coconut, breadfruit and rubber trees know

me.

 

Warm skies and gulf blue streams are in my blood. I belong

 

with the smell of fresh pine, with the trail of coon, and

the spring growth of wild onion.

 

I am no hothouse bulb to be reared in steam-heated flats

 

with the music of El and subway in my ears, walled in

by steel and wood and brick far from the sky.

 

I want the cotton fields, tobacco and the cane. I want to

 

walk along with sacks of seed to drop in fallow ground.

Restless music is in my heart and I am eager to be

gone.

 

O Southland, sorrow home, melody beating in my bone and

 

blood! How long will the Klan of hate, the hounds and

the chain gangs keep me from my own?

 

 

Another poem from Margaret Walker:

 

For My People

 

I want to write

I want to write the songs of my people.

I want to hear them singing melodies in the dark.

I want to catch the last floating strains from their sob-torn

 

throats.

 

I want to frame their dreams into words; their souls into

 

notes.

 

I want to catch their sunshine laughter in a bowl;

fling dark hands to a darker sky

and fill them full of stars

then crush and mix such lights till they become

a mirrored pool of brilliance in the dawn.

 

 

Tomorrow’s Child

I can’t imagine a poem that fills me more with hope or speaks truths as I feel them. It is a balm in a world filled with the kind of disruption that encourages fear and only acknowledges limitations and negativity. When you get to the end of the poem you will want to embrace life again and look to the future. Happy New Year.

Tomorrow’s Child                                                    Rubin Alves

What is hope?
It is the pre-sentiment that imagination
is more real and reality is less real than it looks.
It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality
of facts that oppress and repress us
is not the last word.
It is the suspicion that reality is more complex
than the realists want us to believe.
That the frontiers of the possible are not
determined by the limits of the actual;
and in a miraculous and unexplained way
life is opening up creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection –
but the two – suffering and hope
must live from each other.
Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair.
But, hope without suffering creates illusions, naïveté
and drunkenness.
So let us plant dates
even though we who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
That is the secret discipline.
It is the refusal to let our creative act
be dissolved away by our need for immediate sense experience
and is a struggled commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined hope is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints,
the courage to die for the future they envisage.
They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hopes.

Concerning That Prayer I Cannot Make

How do you reconcile aloneness with that sharp need for answers and affirmation in a world that seems largely without redeeming qualities? This poem shows us one way that might happen when you’re not expecting it. Also, what is soul and what do I believe about it? What I was taught as a child? How do I see or find soul as an adult?

Concerning That Prayer I Cannot Make                                                       Jane Mead

 

Jesus, I am cruelly lonely

and I do not know what I have done
nor do I suspect that you will answer me.

 

And, what is more, I have spent
these bare months bargaining
with my soul as if I could make her
promise to love me when now it seems
that what I meant when I said “soul”
was that the river reflects
the railway bridge just as the sky
says it should—it speaks that language.

 

I do not know who you are.

 

I come here every day
to be beneath this bridge,
to sit beside this river,
so I must have seen the way
the clouds just slide
under the rusty arch—
without snagging on the bolts,
how they are borne along on the dark water—
I must have noticed their fluent speed
and also how that tattered blue T-shirt
remains snagged on the crown
of the mostly sunk dead tree
despite the current’s constant pulling.
Yes, somewhere in my mind there must
be the image of a sky blue T-shirt, caught,
and the white islands of ice flying by
and the light clouds flying slowly
under the bridge, though today the river’s
fully melted. I must have seen.

 

But I did not see.

 

I am not equal to my longing.
Somewhere there should be a place
the exact shape of my emptiness—
there should be a place
responsible for taking one back.
The river, of course, has no mercy—
it just lifts the dead fish
toward the sea.

Of course, of course.

 

What I meant when I said “soul”
was that there should be a place.

 

On the far bank the warehouse lights
blink red, then green, and all the yellow
machines with their rusted scoops and lifts
sit under a thin layer of sunny frost.

 

And look—
my own palm—
there, slowly rocking.
It is my pale palm—
palm where a black pebble
is turning and turning.

 

Listen—
all you bare trees
burrs
brambles
pile of twigs
red and green lights flashing
muddy bottle shards
shoe half buried—listen
listen, I am holy.

 

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.

 

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.