Tag Archives: truth

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.

Advertisements

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.”

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).

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.

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.

 

 

Please Call me by my True Names

This is a well known poem, particularly as the plight of the young girl who is raped is based on a very real truth. The author, Thich Nhat Hanh asserts that he could be either a saint or a devil, he is both. Can any of us say otherwise?

Please Call me by my True Names                                                  Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow—

even today I am still arriving.

 

Look deeply: every second I am arriving

to be a bud on a Spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,

learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

 

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,

to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death

of all that is alive.

 

I am a mayfly metamorphosing

on the surface of the river.

And I am the bird

that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

 

I am a frog swimming happily

in the clear water of a pond.

And I am the grass-snake

that silently feeds itself on the frog.

 

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.

And I am the arms merchant,

selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

 

I am the twelve-year-old girl,

refugee on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean

after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am the pirate,

my heart not yet capable

of seeing and loving.

 

I am a member of the politburo,

with plenty of power in my hands.

And I am the man who has to pay

his ‘debt of blood’ to my people

dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm

it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.

My pain is like a river of tears,

so vast it fills the four oceans.

 

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can wake up

and the door of my heart

could be left open,

the door of compassion.

 

From Thich Nhat Hanh: After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The title of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”

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.

Hate Hotel

This poem is fun unless you hate it! Some people find it disturbing, others funny. I like any poem that is great for discussion and this one is. Make sure you share it. I relate to the emotions in the poem and enjoyed the images. The militaristic view is masculine and very relevant to our current world. I love the last stanza, it awoke my heart.

Hate Hotel                                                                              Tony Hoagland

Sometimes I like to think about the people I hate.

I take my room at the Hate Hotel, and I sit and flip

through the heavy pages of the photographs,

the rogue’s gallery of the faces I loathe.

My lamp of resentment sputters twice, then comes on strong,

filling the room with its red light.

That’s how hate works—it thrills you and kills you

with its deep heat. Sometimes I like to sit and soak

in the Jacuzzi of my hate, hatching my plots

like a general running his hands over a military map—

and my bombers have been sent out

over the dwellings of my foes,

and are releasing their cargo of ill will

on the targets below, the hate bombs falling in silence

into the lives of the hate-

recipients. From the high window of my office

in the Government of Hate,

where I stay up late, working hard,

where I make no bargains, entertain no

scenarios of reconciliation,

I watch the hot flowers flare up all across

the city, the state, the continent—

I sip my soft drink of hate on the rocks

and let the punishment go on unstopped,

—again and again I let hate

get pregnant and give birth

to hate which gets pregnant

and gives birth again—

and only after I feel that hate

has trampled the land, burned it down

to some kingdom come of cautery and ash.

Only after it has waxed and waned and waxed all night

only then can I let hate

creep back in the door. Curl up at my feet

and sleep. Little pussycat hate. Home sweet hate.

The Seven of Pentacles

If you are a tarot card user you are likely familiar with the pentacles suit and perhaps the gardener who is represented in the image on most decks. Choosing the most positive reading, the card is about the harvest after a lot of work tending the plantings. In the poem, Marge Piercy makes the gardener feminine which is not traditional. But it is a new world, after all! Take your time with the poem, gardening is a great metaphor for the layers of living we must work through.

The Seven Of Pentacles                                            Marge Piercy

 

Under a sky the color of pea soup

she is looking at her work growing away there

actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans

as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.

If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,

if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,

if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,

if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,

then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

 

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.

You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.

More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.

Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.

Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.

Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.

Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

 

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.

Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.

Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,

a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us

interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

 

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:

reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.

This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,

for every gardener knows that after the digging, after

the planting,

after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.