Tag Archives: community

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.

 

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Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes  !1902-1967) is an important poet who was well known in his time and his words resonate in today’s world as well. This poem offers up a great open dialogue in a unique form which points to the different Americas we still live in racially and economically.

Let America Be America Again                                                                               Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.

 

(America never was America to me.)

 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above.

 

(It never was America to me.)

 

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

 

(There’s never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

 

Pentecostal Girls

This a delightful poem with a wonderful feast of images using a striking economy of words. Good girls and bad girls make the journey fun. And the tension between what should be kept hidden and what may be exposed provides us with the kinds of secrets we love to think about.

Pentecostal Girls                                                                    Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

 

When it got too hot,

Pentecostal girls

went swimming

at the shore

 

in long white dresses,

sneakers on their feet,

braided hair covered

with bandanas.

 

From root to toenail,

their sins were

bound as tight

as the binding

on a new white Bible.

 

When us bad girls

came bouncing up

cute as hell

in silver hoops

and red bikinis,

 

the boys

 

couldn’t stop looking

at those Pentecostal girls

 

dripping salty sin,

laughing, splashing

 

flashing hints

of bra straps

and panties.

 

Satan herself

didn’t stand

a chance

against the saints

who had been

immersed

in the armor

of wet, hot cotton.

 

The Road From Selma

Today is the 50th anniversary Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.  It’s a time to remember, reflect and hope we are better people now.

THE ROAD FROM SELMA                                                                        June Brindel

The road from Selma stretches in the rain

white as a shroud, rimmed with stiff troopers.

The marchers stand bowed, hands joined, swaying gently

their soft strong song stilled.

Then up from a Birmingham bed

rises a gentle Boston man, Jim Reeb,

steps softly back to Selma

and moves among the stilled marchers.

The troopers stir, link arms,

close ranks across the road

stretching from Selma in the rain

white as a shroud.

The Boston man, Jim Reeb, walks toward the troopers

and they straighten and stand guard tight as death.

But someone moves behind them, waves his hand.

“That you, Jackson?” Jim Reeb peers ahead.

“That’s right, Reverend. Come on through.”

The troopers tighten guard, straight as death

But Jim Reeb doesn’t stop.

He goes on through,

right through the stiff ranked troopers

white as a shroud

rimming the road from Selma.

And Jimmie Lee Jackson takes him by the arm

and they march down the road to the courthouse.

Over in Mississippi Medgar Evers stands,

three young men rise up from a dam in Neshoba County

and they all go down the road

and walk right through the tight stiff trooper line

and down the road from Selma.

And from all over there’s a stirring sound.

Emmett Till jumps up and runs laughing like any boy

through the stiff white rim.

Four small girls skip out of a church in Birmingham

and the tall old man in Springfield gets up

and goes to Selma.

And down from every lynching tree

and up from every hidden grave

come men, women, children, heads carried high,

passing a moment among the bowed, stilled troopers

and down the white road from Selma.

Until the age long road is packed

black with marchers streaming to the courthouse.

And the bowed stilled group in Selma

raise their heads, hands joined,

swaying gently, in soft strong song

that goes right through the stiff ranked troopers

white as a shroud

barring the road from Selma.

Copyright © 1965 June Brindel.

http://www.crmvet.org/poetry/abrindel.htm

I Go Back to May 1937

This must be one of my favorite poems, it always make me happy to think of it.  It is rather somber so maybe that’s strange. Primarily, I remember the line about wanting to live.  That thought and the miserable marriage my parents would make resonates.  If I could have, would I have stopped my parents from joining their lives together?  I don’t know, but Sharon Olds makes me feel less alone.  And, if she wrote this poem after looking at a photograph I suggest  all of us writers spend some time doing that!

I Go Back to May 1937                            Sharon Olds

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips back in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it – she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to die. I want to go
up to them there in the at May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like male and female
paper dolls and bang then together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Hiding Again from the Jehovah’s Witnesses

This spring I had two sets of Jehovah’s Witnesses within the same week. It was spring and close to Easter and just past Passover.  I didn’t hide from the visitors at the front door, blessed as I am with a barking dog who monitors every aspect of the front yard.  We spoke briefly and they presented me with reading materials and an invitation to a service.  They also said they’d like to come back and visit with me some more.

It seems there is an opening in the psyche, occurring each spring, that might allow something new to emerge from the places we are otherwise closed off from the rest of the year.  You can’t fault people who hold the possibility of positive change, for you and for themselves.  Even if it is a little dark.

Hiding Again from the Jehovah’s Witnesses                          Sarah Gordon

 

Testimonials cower me, especially

of the spirit. I don’t want to open my door

to earnest strangers, I don’t want to meet

their eyes. Their cheerful chatter

on the other side of the screen

assumes an intimacy I do not feel.

They dress for Sunday on Saturday

and open their Bibles, the leather cracked,

finger a verse or two, and they’re certain.

So now I hover beside the windowless

wall in the front hall, where I hear,

in the domestic distance, the washer

sloshing, the dryer spinning my clothes

in and out of control, and perhaps the

swish of angel wings. My intrepid

visitors ring twice, quietly awaiting

this reluctant soul, thrice baptized,

loved beyond measure, or so

I’ve been told. But I don’t want

to hear news of the end (it’s coming,

you know), I won’t learn the signs

to watch for: rivers shriveling here,

sandbagged there, polar bears

in our back yard, birds plummeting

from the sky through no fault of their own,

and worse, the buzzing ears and frantic

hearts that lead us to run, lickety-split,

through red lights, guardrails, and

family fortunes, with an occasional

backward glance, the pillar of salt be damned.

The witnesses from Jehovah want in,

they want me to be watchful. They say

that’s what Jesus wants.

But I am leaning low and still

on the other side of the wall,

and when I close my eyes,

I’m invisible.

 

THE INSTITUT DE BEAUTE’ ON MARZALKOWSKA STREET

By 1943, well into the persecution and segregation of Jews in War World II, it was also known that for anyone caught aiding Jews the penalty was death.  1943 was also the year of the ghetto uprisings in Warsaw and many losses.

For me the poem also brings up some very important questions around self identity.  Which roles could you or would you be able to play?

THE INSTITUT DE BEAUTE’

ON MARZALKOWSKA STREET                                                Irene Latham

Warsaw, Poland, 1943

We are no different, Mrs.Walter

says to Mrs. Rozenblum’s back

as she uses a cotton ball to paint

the dull black locks with bleach.

Then she sweeps the hair away

from Mrs. Rozenblum’s forehead,

pulls the hairbrush hard against

the scalp to banish any kinks.

Wear grey, she says, which means,

do not draw attention to yourself.

Wear a cross around your neck

at all times. The smallest detail

has the power to betray. Put away

the eyeglasses, the scarf. In case

the police stop you. Learn the Lord’s

Prayer and keep your eyes up.

Shop for pork. They will not suspect

if you can prepare Polish dishes.

Tell your husband to order bimber

and remind him to remove his hat.

Remember, it’s called a church. Then

Mrs. Walter puts down the hairbrush,

looks Mrs. Rozenblum straight in her eyes.

We will suffer, she says. We are the same.

bimber, synonymous with: booze, hooch, moonshine

My Old Aunts Play Canasta in a Snow Storm

Finally a winter where we in Alabama can relate to a poem with snow in it!  Still, most of us hope for warmer days.  Meanwhile, this poem warms one with lively images and spirit.

My Old Aunts Play Canasta in a Snow Storm                                    Marjorie Saiser

 

I ride along in the backseat; the aunt who can drive

picks up each sister at her door, keeps the Pontiac

chugging in each driveway while one or the other

slips into her overshoes and steps out,

closing her door with a click, the wind

 

lifting the fringe of her white cotton scarf

as she comes down the sidewalk, still pulling on her

new polyester Christmas-stocking mittens.

We have no business to be out in such a storm,

she says, no business at all.

 

The wind takes her voice and swirls it

like snow across the windshield.

We’re on to the next house, the next aunt,

the heater blowing to beat the band.

 

At the last house, we play canasta,

the deuces wild even as they were in childhood,

the wind blowing through the empty apple trees,

through the shadows of bumper crops. The cards

 

line up under my aunts’ finger bones; eights and nines and aces

straggle and fall into place like well-behaved children.

My aunts shuffle and meld; they laugh like banshees,

as they did in that other kitchen in the 30’s that

day Margaret draped a dishtowel over her face

to answer the door. We put her up to it, they say,

laughing; we pushed her. The man—whoever he was—

drove off in a huff while they laughed ’til they hiccupped,

 

laughing still—I’m one of the girls laughing him down the sidewalk

and into his car, we’re rascals sure as farmyard dogs,

we’re wild card-players; the snow thickens,

the coffee boils and perks, the wind is a red trey

because, as one or the other says,

 

We are getting up there in the years; we’ll

have to quit sometime. But today,

today,

deal, sister, deal.

Poem of the Week

Our poem this week is a good one to read aloud as you join in the movement and suspense.  Try doing that as you read it through for the first time.  (Or the second or third.)  There’s also a few wonderful lines on the forms of love, neatly tucked in.

Early Morning, Downtown 1 Train                                Rebecca McClanahan

In this car packed with closed faces, this tube

of light tunneling through darkness: two sleeping boys, so close

I could touch them without reaching—their smooth brown faces,

planed cheekbones like Peruvian steppes leading from

or to some beautiful ruin. Boys so alike they must be brothers.

And the small, worried man they sprawl against, too young to seem

so old: father. How far have they come? How far to go?

They sleep as only loved children sleep, wholly, no need

to tighten or clutch, to fold themselves in. Their heads are thrown back,

mouths open—no, agape, which looks like agape,

the highest form of love, some minister told me long ago.

As if love is a cupboard of lower and higher shelves, and why bother

reaching if you have hands like the hands of this young father,

cracked and blistered, stamped with the pattern of shovel or pick.

For someone must do our digging, and rise in the dark to dress

the children carefully, as these boys are dressed, and pack their knapsacks,

and ease out of the seat without waking the open-mouthed

younger one nor the older whose head now rests fully

on the emptied seat . . . but, “My, God,” I think

as the brakes squeal and the father moves quickly to face the door, “he is leaving

these children, a father leaving his children.” The train slows at 50th

and he presses his body against the door, lifting his arms

above his head—a signal? surrender?—as the door slides open

and a woman steps in, small and dark like the father, her body

lost in a white uniform. She touches his sleeve, something

passes between their eyes. Not sadness exactly, but ragged

exhaustion, frayed edges meeting: his night her day, her night

his day, goodbye hello. She slides onto the seat, lifting

one son’s head to her lap. His mouth is still open, his body limp.

She smoothes his collar.  Her small hands move to his lips,

closing them gently the way one closes the mouth

of the recently dead. But the boy is not dead. Just sleeping,

an arm thrown over his brother. His mother near.