Tag Archives: ritual

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.

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?

 

 

Salon

This poem is a powerful tribute to ritual and its meaning in our lives. It has a powerful and tender ending.

Salon                                                                                                  Robin Becker

 

Acolyte at the font, my mother

bends before basin and hose

where Jackie soaps her fine head,

adjusting pressure and temperature.

How many times has she

bared her throat, her clavicle,

beside the other old women?

How many times the regular

cleansing and surrender to the cold chair,

the sink, the detergents, the lights,

the slick of water down the nape?

Turbaned and ready,

she forgoes the tray of sliced bagels

and donuts, a small, private dignity.

 

Vivienne, the manicurist, dispels despair,

takes my mother’s old hands into her swift

hands and soaks them to soften

the cuticles before the rounding and shaping.

As they talk my mother attends

to the lifelong business of revealing

and withholding, careful to frame each story

while Vivienne lacquers each nail

and then inspects each slender finger,

rubbing my mother’s hands

with the fragrant, thin lotion,

each summarizing her week, each

condemning that which must be condemned,

each celebrating the manicure and the tip.

 

Sometimes in pain, sometimes broken

with grief in the parking lot,

my mother keeps her Friday appointment

time protected now by ritual and tradition.

 

The fine cotton of Michael’s white shirt

brushes against her cheek as they stare

into the mirror at one another.

Ennobled by his gaze, she accepts

her diminishment, she who knows herself

his favorite. In their cryptic language

they confide and converse, his hands busy

in her hair, her hands quiet in her lap.

Barrel-chested, Italian, a lover of opera,

he husbands his money and his lover, Ethan;

only with him may she discuss my lover and me,

and in this way intimacy takes the shape

of the afternoon she passes in the salon,

in the domain of perfect affection.