Arabic Coffee

Rituals can seem simple in themselves, but as acts carried out over a period of time they become imbued with complexity and meaning. The sacredness of ordinary things lies within those layers. You don’t have to understand all of this poem to appreciate it’s beauty or appreciate some of it’s remarkable lines.

Arabic Coffee                                     Naomi Shihab Nye

 

It was never too strong for us:

make it blacker, Papa,

thick in the bottom,

tell again how the years will gather

in small white cups,

how luck lives in a spot of grounds.

 

Leaning over the stove, he let it

boil to the top, and down again.

Two times. No sugar in his pot.

And the place where men and women

break off from one another

was not present in that room.

The hundred disappointments,

fire swallowing olive-wood beads

at the warehouse, and the dreams

tucked like pocket handkerchiefs

into each day, took their places

on the table, near the half-empty

dish of corn. And none was

more important than the others,

and all were guests. When

he carried the tray into the room,

high and balanced in his hands,

it was an offering to all of them,

stay, be seated, follow the talk

wherever it goes. The coffee was

the center of the flower.

Like clothes on a line saying

You will live long enough to wear me,

a motion of faith. There is this,

and there is more.

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Vim

Vim is a tough word standing on its own as we usually associate it alongside the word vigor. Vim and vigor as a team describe high spirit and energy. High energy and low energy people can appreciate the humor in this poem. I don’t believe the poet has nearly this much vim.

Vim                                                                                                     Mark Halliday

Some people just seem to exist, as opposed to live,
in a foggy drift. I am so glad that’s not me!

 

I am certainly so glad I have such thumping
zest for life. The way I dig into life
like a bowl of hot Texas chili with sour cream
and shredded sharp cheddar—I’m so glad

 

I have such a pulsing intuitive grasp
of how short and precious life is
and how we are impassioned clay
and each incredible diem is there to be carped

 

so therefore I skim speedingly over the waters of life
alert to every flick of fin
and super-ready to jab my osprey talons into
the flesh of whatever sensation swims my way
not fretting for a second about any other plump fish in the sea

 

and so for example when I see young couples
groobling moistly at each other’s burger-fed gamoofs
I certainly don’t waste my time with any type of envy,
I’m just like Yeah you kids go for it!—
Meanwhile I am going to listen to Let It Bleed LOUD
and totally rock out with all my teeth bared!

 

Man, it’s so great not to be the type who falls asleep watching baseball
and wakes up with Cherry Garcia on my shirt.
I figure I am at least as alive as Little Richard was in 1958
and it’s such a kick!

Does it get tiring?
Well, sure, occasionally,
but who cares? I embrace the fatigue,
I KISS it till it flips and becomes defiantly voracious vim

 

and when I read that line in Wallace Stevens
“being part is an exertion that declines”
I’m like What in heck is that old guy talking about?

Buddha’s Dogs

I enjoy this poem. I’ve experienced day long meditations and I relate to the dog metaphor and overall humor. Despite practice I don’t meditate well. I automatically look for interesting things or plans to think about and when I finally get to my breath, I’m quickly distracted. I have been chasing the same dogs around in my mind forever despite plans to weed out and eradicate circular and non productive thoughts permanently! My greatest comforts include knowing others’ dwell in the same human condition I do.

Buddha’s Dogs                                                                      Susan Browne

I’m at a day-long meditation retreat, eight hours of watching

my mind with my mind,

and I already fell asleep twice and nearly fell out of my chair,

and it’s not even noon yet.

In the morning session, I learned to count my thoughts, ten in

one minute, and the longest

was to leave and go to San Anselmo and shop, then find an

outdoor cafe and order a glass

of Sancerre, smoked trout with roasted potatoes and baby

carrots and a bowl of gazpacho.

But I stayed and learned to name my thoughts, so far they are:

wanting, wanting, wanting,

wanting, wanting, wanting, wanting, wanting, judgment,

sadness.  Don’t identify with your

thoughts, the teacher says, you are not your personality, not your

ego-identification,

then he bangs the gong for lunch.  Whoever, whatever I am is

given instruction

in the walking meditation and the eating meditation and walks

outside with the other

meditators, and we wobble across the lake like The Night of the

Living Dead.

I meditate slowly, falling over a few times because I kept my

foot in the air too long,

towards a bench, sit slowly down, and slowly eat my sandwich,

noticing the bread,

(sourdough), noticing the taste, (tuna, sourdough), noticing

the smell, (sourdough, tuna),

thanking the sourdough, the tuna, the ocean, the boat, the

fisherman, the field, the grain,

the farmer, the Saran Wrap that kept this food fresh for this

body made of food and desire

and the hope of getting through the rest of this day without

dying of boredom.

Sun then cloud then sun.  I notice a maple leaf on my sandwich.

It seems awfully large.

Slowly brushing it away, I feel so sad I can hardly stand it, so I

name my thoughts; they are:

sadness about my mother, judgment about my father, wanting

the child I never had.

I notice I’ve been chasing the same thoughts like dogs around

the same park most of my life,

notice the leaf tumbling gold to the grass.  The gong sounds,

and back in the hall.

I decide to try lying down meditation, and let myself sleep.  The

Buddha in my dream is me,

surrounded by dogs wagging their tails, licking my hands.

I wake up

for the forgiveness meditation, the teacher saying, never put

anyone out of your heart,

and the heart opens and knows it won’t last and will have to

open again and again,

chasing those dogs around and around in the sun then cloud

then sun.

Bra Shopping

This poem addresses an experience many women had when department stores and ritual reigned larger in our lives. We all approach puberty with a natural lack of experience which leaves us open us to all the good and bad of growing up. It is a fun poem in a lot of ways, but my favorite connection to it is the underlying theme of confinement. What woman cannot relate to that?

Bra Shopping                                                  Parneshia Jones

 

Saturday afternoon, Marshall Fields, 2nd floor, women’s lingerie please.

 

At sixteen I am a jeans and t-shirt wearing tomboy who can think of

a few million more places to be instead of in the department store

with my mother bra shopping.

 

Still growing accustomed to these two new welts

lashed on to me by puberty, getting bigger by the moment,

my mother looks at me and says:

While we’re here, we’ll get some new (larger) shirts for you too.

I resent her for taking me away from baseball fields,

horse play, and riding my bike.

 

We enter into no man’s, and I mean no man in sight land

where women fuss and shop all day for undergarments;

the lingerie department is a world of frilly lace, night gowns,

grandma panties, and support everything.

 

Mama takes me over to a wall covered with hundreds of white bras,

some with lace and little frills or doilies like party favors,

as if undergarments were a cause for celebration.

 

A few have these dainty ditsy bows in the middle.

That’s a nice accent don’t you think? Mama would say. Isn’t that cute?

Like this miniature bow in the middle will take

some of the attention away from what is really going on.

 

When Mama and I go brassiere shopping it never fails:

a short woman with an accent and glasses

attached to a chain around her neck who cares

way too much about undergarments comes up to us.

May I help you, dearies?

 

The bra woman assists my mother in finding the perfect bra

to, as my mother put it, hold me in the proper way. No bouncing please.

 

Working as a team plotting to ruin my entire day

with the bra fitting marathon, they conspire up about ten bras

in each hand which equal forty. Who’s making all these bras I want to ask.

 

What size is she? The bra woman asks.

You want something that will support them honey, looking at me with a wink.

My mother looks straight at my chest. Oh she’s good size. She’s out of that

training bra phase. I want her to have something that will hold them up proper.

 

Them, them, them they say.

Like they’re two midgets I keep strapped to my chest.

The whole time I stand there while these two women, one my own kin,

discuss the maintenance and storage of my two dependents.

 

The worst is yet to come, the dressing room.

I hate that damn dressing room, the mirrors waiting to laugh at me,

women running in and out half-naked with things showing

that I didn’t even see on my own body.

 

I stand there half-naked and pissed. Mama on one side,

the bra woman on the other, I feel like a rag doll under interrogation

as they begin fixing straps, poking me, raising me up, snapping the back,

underwire digging my breasts a grave.

 

The bras clamp down onto me, shaping my breasts out to pristine bullets,

with no movement, no pulse, no life, just sitting fix up

like my mother wanted real proper.

 

I will never forgive my mother for this, I keep thinking to myself.

Looking blank face at my reflection I start thinking about how my brothers

never have to shop for undergarments; why couldn’t I have been born a boy?

I hate undergarments.

 

Mama looks at my face. Don’t you like any of them?

No, I say. Mama I hate this, please can we go?

Then she goes into her lecture on becoming a woman

and being responsible for woman upkeep.

 

After we are halfway through the inventory

Mama looks at me wasting away in a sea of bras and takes pity on me.

All right, I think we have enough to last you for a while. Let’s check out.

 

I don’t get happy too quick ’cause I know that bra woman

still lurks about and if she senses my excitement that we are leaving

she will come with more white bras.

 

We make our way to the check out counter

and the bra woman rings us up.

Oh honey you picked out some beautiful bras, she says.

Just remember hand wash. How about bury, I want to ask.

 

She and my mother talk about how they are just right

and will do the trick for me with no bouncing at all.

My mother thanks her for torturing me and signals me

to thank her as well. I thank her all right, but I also add her to my secret hit list

of people who have made my life miserable in some way.

 

We walk out of the department as if walking out of hell.

My mother turns and looks at me. Now really, was that so bad?

 

 

Words, Wide Night

A great poem by Carol Ann Duffy. Is it possible to describe love with words? She gets close with imagery, motion, and emotion.

Words, Wide Night                                                   Carol Ann Duffy

 

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you

and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

Valentine

A poem full of wonderful images and surprise.

Valentine                                                        Carol Ann Duffy

 

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

 

Perhaps the World Ends Here

In this day and age of kitchen islands and open concept living, I wonder where the kitchen table has gone. The central spot of our lives might be the couch in front of the TV or the small phone screens we peer into like mirrors. This poem makes me hope for a world filled with more one to one connection and may all our last bites be sweet.

Perhaps the World Ends Here                                 Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

The table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

 

Fix it, Pah-Pah

This poem contains a great story, one step at a time. Following along, we learn a lot about who Pah-Pah is, but all the remaining questions I had weren’t answered. For one, what did Pah-Pah do to fix Garner Lee? An additional thing that adds interest is that the poet is a woman.

Fix it, Pah-Pah                                                            Van Potter

Next door, Garner Lee, the deputy sheriff,

again had beaten Doll, his wife – my nursemaid,

who fried my bacon just right

and took me to pick blackberries in the woods.

Pah-Pah, your loaded shotgun

was where a five-year-old could reach it:

on the floor, between the wall

and the cherry oak headboard you carved.

So I dragged it out

by the trigger, snuggled it under my arm

and pulled it past the rocking chair that you’d made for me

and out the door and down

the 10 new, wooden steps you’d put up. I bounced

the butt until I reached the moist back yard.

I strained with it past my bike,

that, after your paint job, shined

red even in the shade of the giant mulberry tree.

At first you didn’t see

me as you loomed under the wooden shelter

behind Chicken Comer’s

where you barbecued boneless pork butts over a deep pit,

stirred up your special sauce

and got ready for your customers.

I grunted as I lifted the shotgun

to you: “Pah-Pah, shoot

Garner Lee!” and I repeated Doll’s cry, “I’m tired

of his damn shit!” You snatched

up the shotgun. When I saw it two days later,

it was locked behind the glass door

of the wooden case you’d built high

on the wall over the mantel.

The bullets were boxed and at the back

of the top shelf of the china cabinet.

That same day, Garner Lee drove off with

his suitcases, and Doll made me

a blackberry pie.

“Russia is big and so is China”

This poem is funny and odd. It reads like sentence fragments stuck together. It can be frustrating to try and grasp meaning from. For a bit you might think the poet is trying to bridge ideas and create balance or has been collecting statements from overheard conversations. Is this what an expanded conversation in tweeting is like? In the end it truly makes as much sense as some of our politicians, so the beginning (and the rest of it) is quite apt and contemporary.

“Russia is big and so is China”                                                           Steve Fellner

overheard statement from President Bush at summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao

Monopoly is fun and so is strip poker.

The weather is nice and so is this iced tea.

Porcupine quills are sharp and so is that pair of scissors.  Be careful, ok?

The baby across the aisle from you is loud and so is some rap music.

The GED was hard and so was bungee jumping.

Pink is a color and so is salmon.  Salmon is also a fish.

Bruce Willis is still hot and so is Kurt Cobain, though he’s dead.

Stoplights are annoying and so are brussel sprouts.

Vitamin C is good for you and so is exercise.

I could stand to lose ten pounds and so could you.

I am lazy and you don’t have anywhere else to be.

North Korea is fidgety and so is my little sister.  No Ritalin for her.

I am horny and so are most of my dumb friends.

Seven is more than three and so is eight.

The news is strange and so is my hairdresser.

Model airplanes are frustrating and so are summits.

Poisoned Halloween candy is creepy and so is Anthrax.

Used dental floss is icky and so are missiles.

Nuclear weapons are large and so is my penis.

Metaphors are always obvious and so is common sense.

Wisdom is cheap and so is bus fare.

Solar energy is easy and so is my ex-boyfriend Nick.

Armageddon is a bummer and so is Picasso.

Responsibility

This isn’t a poem that leaps gladly from the lips, rather it stumbles on the tongue. It helps to know the poet is a teacher and activist. From accounts that I’ve read, her activism took first priority in her life. With all of that in mind, I hope you’ll find the poem of value.

It helps to know poets have long been feared by governments striving to overcome those who pursue freedom of voice. Poets have been executed and jailed for such. When you get to the end of the poem don’t miss the words about Cassandra. She was a prophet whose words were discounted yet her prophecies came to pass.

Responsibility                                                                                    Grace Paley

It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet

It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman

It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners

giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets

also leaflets you can hardly bear to look at

because of the screaming rhetoric

It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy

to hang out and prophesy

It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes

It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory

towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C

and buckwheat fields and army camps

It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman

It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman

It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the

Quakers say

It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the

powerless

It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no

freedom without justice and this means economic

justice and love justice

It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original

and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems

It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it

on in the way storytellers decant the story of life

There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no

freedom unless

earth and air and water continue and children

also continue

It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on

this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be

listened to this time.