Sunday, September 16, 2018

Practicing the Complex Yes

When you disagree with a friend,
 a stranger, or a foe, how do you
 reply but not say simply No?
 For No can stop the conversation
 or turn it into argument or worse—
 the conversation that must go on,
 as a river must, a friendship, a troubled nation.
 So may we practice the repertoire
                          of complex yes:
Yes, I know you feel that way, and...
 Yes, and in what you say I see...
 Yes, oh yes, and at the same time...
 Yes, I see, and what if...?
 Yes, I hear you, and how...?
 Yes, and there’s an old story...
 Yes, and as the old song goes...
 Yes, and as a child once told me...
 Yes. Tell me more. I want to understand...
 And then I want to tell you how it is for me...

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

List of “Don’t Forgets” and “Remembers”

In a New York classroom one year after 9-11, students composed the following 9-11 poem. A relative of the teacher had perished on that day in Tower One of the World Trade Center. 

We were eight.

Before September 11th, we would wake up with a list of “Don’t Forgets”

Don’t forget to wash your face
Don’t forget to brush your teeth
Don’t forget to do your homework
Don’t forget to wear your jacket
Don’t forget to clean your room
Don’t forget to take a bath

After September 11th, we wake up with a list of “Remembers”

Remember to greet the sun each morning
Remember to enjoy every meal
Remember to thank your parents for their hard work
Remember to honor those who keep you safe
Remember to value each person you meet
Remember to respect other’s beliefs

Now we are nine.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Why I Stand

By Andrew Freborg

I stand to honor the promise the flag represents.
You kneel because that promise has been broken.

I stand to affirm my belief that all are created equal, and to fight alongside you for that promise.
You kneel because too few stand with you.

I stand because we can be better.
You kneel to remind us to be better.

I stand to honor all that have fought and died so that we may be free.
You kneel because not all of us are.

I stand because I can.
You kneel for those who can't.

I stand to defend your right to kneel.
You kneel to defend my right to stand.

I stand because I love this country.
You kneel because you love it too.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Tower

By Kirsty Niven

I cobbled together this tower
with my own calloused hands.
Foraging each component,
the smooth pebbles of beaches,
skimmed away on childhood holidays,
hopping across the salty surface.
The roughly hewn lumps
of a collapsed crofter’s cottage,
scraping my peeling fingers.
Gathering, a bird with its nest.
Taking a bit of this, a bit of that –
the hairs I’ve torn out worrying,
the sticky cement tears,
the drowned wood of the wreckage.
I cobbled together my tower.
Stronger and stronger it grew,
with every new material.
Each mistake a lesson.
You huffed and puffed,
but it will not tumble, it will not crumble.
Bring on your bulldozers, your rage,
Bring on your wrecking balls.
Bring on your explosives.
It’s made of a substance
you will never have, never know.

I built this tower with my own strength.

Kirsty is from Dundee, Scotland where she lives with her husband and cats. Her poetry has appeared in a number of places including The DawntreaderDundee Writes, Cicada Magazine and Laldy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Campesino

By Gary Soto

Spring ’73, I’m two time zones from my country
And hacking at the soldier-straight weeds —
I’m captain of their destruction. But the army
Of weeds keeps advancing, day after day.
I was a math teacher in Mexico,
But now I’m a number squeezed into a white van,
The stars blue as my life at 5:30 in the morning.
But don’t feel sorry. I have my hands and back,
My face dark as a penny in a child’s palm.
I walk a straight row. My lean shadow keeps up.
But look at the circling seagulls,
Landlocked with no way home.

If there’s work, I hoe nine hours in the beet fields,
Sometimes with a friend in the next row,
Sometimes alone. You would be crazy
To open your mouth — the wind and dust ...
In a year, my face will be tooled like my wallet,
Dark and creased. Over the clods,
I sing to myself, or whistle like a parrot.
I practice English —
Waffle, no good tire, nice to meet you.

In the fields, I stop when the patron on the tractor path says stop.
I pound sand from a boot like an hourglass.
Time pours forever and forever.
Tomorrow I’ll start again. I’ll chop at the earth
But it won’t bleed under my hoe.
I’ll chop, sweat, and think in English —
Toaster, thread, seagulls find a way home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Willamette

By Clementine von Radic

I dreamed I cut open my own arm
and out poured the Willamette River.
Out poured each dead friend
buried in the fall earth
which smells always of rot.
And out poured your heart,
which had calcified
like Percy Shelley’s and was hard,
in one piece yet still broken.
I believe it floated down the river
out into the ocean or wherever
things go to sink
when they are too weak to swim,
but even in my dreams
I did not follow you. I am devoted
to the church of my own survival.
I am the girl who does not grieve
a bloodless loss.
I lose a whole river
and stay standing.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Still life

Still life with Ensure, vials of fentanyl, oxycodone, water.
Still life with crackers maybe, hopefully, he will keep down.
Still life with tossed sheets and yogurt cup. Still life
with Sports Illustrated piles in the bathroom, guest room,
on the living room floor, on the dining room table, in recycle bins waiting
near the door. Still life with the younger brother assessing
how to dispose the hoardings of the one man left who shares his face.
Still life with hanging tension and sadness, failed ambition,
medicated dreams. Still life with phlegm and corruption.
With waste, with fanned get well cards, appointment reminders,
hospital garage parking receipts. Still life with the mantel clock,
one birthday’s present, still ticking and ticking and ticking away.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Love Elegy with Busboy

The whole mess —
pair of chopsticks pulled apart,
tarnished pot of tea,
even my fortune
(which was no good) —
we left for the busboy to clear.
I’d probably feel more
guilty if he didn’t
so beautifully sweep our soiled plates
into his plastic black tub
and the strewn rice into his palm.
The salt and pepper shakers
were set next to each other again.
A new candle was lit.
You’d never know
how reckless we’d been,
how much we’d ruined.
With the table now so spotless,
who’s to say we couldn’t just go
back? Who says we can’t start over,
if we want?

This poem previously appeared in the New York Times.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ghost stories

By Nixi Schroeder

I am 13 when I have my first paranormal encounter:
a whispered moan fizzling in the wind like a holler from a car window—
“Ay girl, lemme get that pussayyyyyyyyy….”

My father does not believe me.

I am sixteen and it happens again, this time
“Nice tits.” My mother explains
this is a common psychic phenomenon.
I am seventeen when a spirit at Wal-Mart asks what I have in my jeans;
my boyfriend says this is a compliment, says
I am lucky to hear such spirits speak.

I am nineteen.
A wandering sprite asks if I want to get a drink.
When I decline I am haunted for three hours
through cafés, narrow streets, and alleyways by
a shadow presence marked in eye corner glimpses.
I do not go home for fear of the Ouiji board.
I do not go to the police:
the police do not believe ghost stories.

We all know a girl who wasn’t believed.

We’ve all been the girl who wasn’t believed:
I have a friend whose ass was grabbed in a frat, a ghost hand
leaving finger bruises as an invisible mouth suffocated her scream—
she tried to call the ghostbusters but was threatened with retaliation,
like so many girls are threatened with retaliation—another friend
was the victim of possession—
held down in her bed until she shrieked in silent tongues;
the police asked why she was not carrying a rosary;
her mother is still making monthly payments to an exorcist
who has not told her to speak
because he knows
her voice is still another’s
possession.

We all know victims of possession. I have an aunt
who has scars across her cheeks from where her husband marked her
as a possession;
the police told her to stay in a haunted house
to protect her children,
now even after the restraining order she still receives visitations,
her husband’s spectre rattling the chains which bind
so many women, and
at the end of this poem I will hear a harsh
voice, whispering “not all ghosts,”
whispering “quit being so dramatic—

one in five women are always so dramatic”
and I will say, no, not all ghosts.
Not all ghosts,
but
enough.


Nixi Schroeder is a MA student of English at Truman State University. Her poetry has been featured by The FEM, Eyedrum Periodically, Spectrum, Red Dashboard Press, and Windfall Magazine, among other publications.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

And The Moon And The Stars And The World

By Charles Bukowski

Long walks at night
that's what good for the soul:i
peeking into windows
watching tired housewives
trying to fight off
their beer-maddened husbands.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Purities

By Harvey Shapiro

What was ceremonially impure, he knew
Was his life. The laws were not followed.
The god was unhonored.
Anxiety sat on every road.
To change his life, he invented a job
That promised regularity and order.
He invented love that promised joy.
In summer he sat among green trees.
The family laughed in water.
Now let the ceremony begin, he said,
In the heart of summer,
In the pure green,
And the pure blue.
Let the god walk his mountain.
He can come down.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK!

By Antwon Rose

I am confused and afraid
I wonder what path I will take
I hear that there’s only two ways out
I see mothers bury their sons
I want my mom to never feel that pain
I am confused and afraid 

I pretend all is fine
I feel like I’m suffocating
I touch nothing so I believe all is fine
I worry that it isn’t, though
I cry no more
I am confused and afraid 

I understand people believe I’m just a statistic
I say to them I’m different
I dream of life getting easier
I try my best to make my dream true
I hope that it does
I am confused and afraid

This poem was written on written on 5/16/2016 and published by his mother on numerous websites posthumously.  Antwon Rose was murdered in Pittsburgh in June 2018. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Bridge Poem

By Donna Kate Rushin

I've had enough
I'm sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody

Nobody
Can talk to anybody
Without me. Right?

I explain my mother to my father my father to my little sister
My little sister to my brother my brother to the white feminists
The white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folks
To the Ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the
Black separatists to the artists the artists to my friends' parents...

Then
I've got the explain myself
To everybody

I do more translating
Than the Gawdamn U.N.

Forget it
I'm sick of it

I'm sick of filling in your gaps

Sick of being your insurance against
The isolation of your self-imposed limitations
Sick of being the crazy at your holiday dinners
Sick of being the odd one at your Sunday Brunches
Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people

Find another connection to the rest of the world
Find something else to make you legitimate
Find some other way to be political and hip

I will not be the bridge to your womanhood
Your manhood
Your human-ness

I'm sick of reminding you not to
Close off too tight for too long

I'm sick of mediating with your worst self
On behalf you your better selves

I am sick
Of having to remind you
To breathe
Before you suffocate
Your own fool self

Forget it
Stretch or drown
Evolve or die

The bridge I must be
Is the bridge to my own power
I must translate
My own fears
Mediate
My own weaknesses

I must be the bridge to nowhere
But my true self
And then
I will be useful

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Slam, Dunk, & Hook

By Yusef Komunyakaa

Fast breaks. Lay ups. With Mercury's
Insignia on our sneakers,
We outmaneuvered to footwork
Of bad angels. Nothing but a hot
Swish of strings like silk
Ten feet out. In the roundhouse
Labyrinth our bodies
Created, we could almost
Last forever, poised in midair
Like storybook sea monsters.
A high note hung there
A long second. Off
The rim. We'd corkscrew
Up & dunk balls that exploded
The skullcap of hope & good
Intention. Lanky, all hands
& feet...sprung rhythm.
We were metaphysical when girls
Cheered on the sidelines.
Tangled up in a falling,
Muscles were a bright motor
Double-flashing to the metal hoop
Nailed to our oak.
When Sonny Boy's mama died
He played nonstop all day, so hard Our backboard splintered.
Glistening with sweat,
We rolled the ball off
Our fingertips. Trouble
Was there slapping a blackjack
Against an open palm.
Dribble, drive to the inside,
& glide like a sparrow hawk.
Lay ups. Fast breaks.
We had moves we didn't know
We had. Our bodies spun
On swivels of bone & faith,
Through a lyric slipknot
Of joy, & we knew we were
Beautiful & dangerous.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Immigrants in Our Own Land

By Jimmy Santiago Baca

We are born with dreams in our hearts,looking for better days ahead.
At the gates we are given new papers,
our old clothes are taken
and we are given overalls like mechanics wear.
We are given shots and doctors ask questions.
Then we gather in another room
where counselors orient us to the new land
we will now live in. We take tests.
Some of us were craftsmen in the old world,
good with our hands and proud of our work.
Others were good with their heads.
They used common sense like scholars
use glasses and books to reach the world.
But most of us didn’t finish high school.

The old men who have lived here stare at us,
from deep disturbed eyes, sulking, retreated.
We pass them as they stand around idle,
leaning on shovels and rakes or against walls.
Our expectations are high: in the old world,
they talked about rehabilitation,
about being able to finish school,
and learning an extra good trade.
But right away we are sent to work as dishwashers,
to work in fields for three cents an hour.
The administration says this is temporary
So we go about our business, blacks with blacks,
poor whites with poor whites,
chicanos and indians by themselves.
The administration says this is right,
no mixing of cultures, let them stay apart,
like in the old neighborhoods we came from.

We came here to get away from false promises,
from dictators in our neighborhoods,
who wore blue suits and broke our doors down
when they wanted, arrested us when they felt like,
swinging clubs and shooting guns as they pleased.
But it’s no different here. It’s all concentrated.
The doctors don’t care, our bodies decay,
our minds deteriorate, we learn nothing of value.
Our lives don’t get better, we go down quick.

My cell is crisscrossed with laundry lines,
my T-shirts, boxer shorts, socks and pants are drying.
Just like it used to be in my neighborhood:
from all the tenements laundry hung window to window.
Across the way Joey is sticking his hands
through the bars to hand Felipé a cigarette,
men are hollering back and forth cell to cell,
saying their sinks don’t work,
or somebody downstairs hollers angrily
about a toilet overflowing,
or that the heaters don’t work.

I ask Coyote next door to shoot me over
a little more soap to finish my laundry.
I look down and see new immigrants coming in,
mattresses rolled up and on their shoulders,
new haircuts and brogan boots,
looking around, each with a dream in their heart,
thinking they’ll get a chance to change their lives.

But in the end, some will just sit around
talking about how good the old world was.
Some of the younger ones will become gangsters.
Some will die and others will go on living
without a soul, a future, or a reason to live.
Some will make it out of here with hate in their eyes,
but so very few make it out of here as human
as they came in, they leave wondering what good they are now
as they look at their hands so long away from their tools,
as they look at themselves, so long gone from their families,
so long gone from life itself, so many things have changed.


Monday, July 2, 2018

I Was Raped. By My Husband. I Was 18.

By Katherine Perry

In America
after walking down the aisle
and having my father give me away
to a man who changed my name
and insisted that I was his:
        no one else should look at me
and demanded I report back to him every male person I saw every day
and I must have sex any time he wanted
but I shouldn’t want sex:
        that would be a sin
        pray about it here, on your knees,
        ask God for forgiveness for your terrible sins
my body became his
his property.

This was 1988.
I was turning 19, and he wanted me pregnant
to carry his babies
but I was scared of him
of having a girl child
so I took birth control pills in secret, prescribed by my female obgyn.

I was scared of him
so I broke away by pushing off the couch
with the full force of my thighs,
knocking him into the fireplace,
and this freed me from his arm’s latch,
and I ran to my car, getting away just in time
and my step-mother said go back to him:
        Ephesians 5:22-23: Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands 
        as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife 
        as Christ is the head of the church, his body, 
        of which he is the Savior. 
and my father said, yeah. You better.
so I did.

And the next time, when my husband hid my car keys,
I ran to our neighbor,
and asked for help
and he sent me back too.

It was spring
before a female coworker said to me:
                        this isn’t right
                        go to college
and I asked my mom to help me
and she put her body between us,
so that I could pack my clothes and jewelry,
everything I owned into one Toyota car trunk:
        thirteen inch Sony
        one hardback chair
        three expensive pots and pans
        and a set of good china.

When I left, he screamed after me, “If I can’t have you, no one will.”
and I was afraid he would show up at work threatening
and everyone would know
so I said I had abandoned my husband
because I was afraid.

Finally, I drove out of town and to college, in terror that he might chase me
so I paid for the divorce so that he would let me go without killing me.
I was 19.
I paid him monthly until the lease ran out.
I paid him my reputation.
I let everyone believe
I jilted him.

I told no one that he raped me.
I told no one that I was afraid to be alone with the man I married.
Instead, I paid him with my hometown:
        the water and the twinkling lights on Mobile Bay on long, fall nights.
        Spanish moss and seafood, the catching of fish and shrimp,
        magnolia-tree leaves and wisteria-blossomed world
        of my childhood with white-sand beaches.

I paid him with my gods.
I paid him with my belief in good.
I paid him with my entire family
who I never told.

I unfolded bill after bill of my life and gave it over to him
because I told no one. And to survive, I needed to get away,
to learn to live on my own, without fear.
I told no one, because so few would listen,
until now.


Katherine D. Perry is an Associate Professor of English at Perimeter College of Georgia State University. Some of her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Women’s Studies Quarterly, The Dead Mule of Southern Literature, Eco-Chick, Poetry Quarterly, Melusine, Southern Women’s Review, Bloodroot, Borderlands, Women’s Studies, RiverSedge, Rio Grande Review, and 13th Moon. She works in Georgia prisons to bring literature and poetry to incarcerated students and is currently building a prison initiative with Georgia State University to bring college courses into Georgia state prisons. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her spouse and two children

Thursday, June 28, 2018

All You Fascists Bound To Lose


By Woody Guthrie

I’m gonna tell you fascists
You may be surprised
The people in this world
Are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose

Race hatred cannot stop us
This one thing we know
Your poll tax and Jim Crow
And greed has got to go
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose.

All of you fascists bound to lose:
I said, all of you fascists bound to lose:
Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose:
You’re bound to lose! You fascists:
Bound to lose!

People of every color
Marching side to side
Marching ‘cross these fields
Where a million fascists die
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose!

I’m going into this battle
And take my union gun
We’ll end this world of slavery
Before this battle’s won
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Red Brocade

By Naomi Shihab Nye

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

Monday, June 25, 2018

What Does an Illegal Immigrant Look Like?

By Christy Namee Eriksen

An illegal immigrant
looks like a nickel
tails up
on the sidewalk,
fallen out of someone’s pocket.

She looks like pressed bleached sheets
on cheap beds
tucked tight,
a hundred of them
twelve stories high.

I saw one like a mango,
peeled and sprinkled with chili powder
on a stick like america,
layers cut diagonally,
a flower on Lake Street.

She looks like an amethyst grape
plucked by the millions,
stains like bruises
but she’s sorry and she loves you.

He looks like that kid
I don’t know his name
but he sits over
there
and his lunch stinks.

She looks like a street of Harajuku,
straight cut bang and bangles,
heavy print and bright colors
-oh my bad –
that’s Gwen Stefani!
(She might be legal.)

An illegal immigrant looks like
Chinese Exclusion 1882
Asian Exclusion 1924
Executive Order 9066 Patriot Act 2001
SB1070 five days ago

1911
looks like an angel made of bunk beds and cells
where Chinese men write poems into the wooden wall like it could weather the wait,
looks like a store sign
in 1922
“Absolutely no dogs or Filipinos allowed”,
like 1942 spam
rolled up like an enemy
internment camp sushi.

He is a community tree in the 1930s.
Or the 1940s or the 1960s
who has seen
too
many
dead people
to climb on.

He is a boat
in 1492
sailing the ocean blue

black
brown
red
yellow.

He looks like a hill
made of bodies
covered in grass
and a playground,

like a scar
on the bottom of my feet,
still growing.

He looks like
Joseph Ileto who looked like Vincent Chin who looked like Fong Lee who looked like
your neighborhood postman, like a good husband, like a boy on a
maddening threatening five deviled bicycle,
looked like a good target, like a bad seed, like the wrong crowd, like a jap mother f**ker who stole “our” jobs,
so one by one by a hundred they
killed them

innocently.

Because if you look
like the law
you look
legal.

And the rest of us are just wire cages
and a magic trick away
from knowing whose turn it is
to be the sacrificial pigeon

and it’s showtime,
all the time,
so you need to know the difference.


This poem first appeared in 2010 in Latino Rebels.

Friday, June 22, 2018

This is the school that democracy built


By Andy Watts
This is the school that democracy built.
These are the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the law
That armed the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the gun group
That lobbied the law
That armed the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the money of middle-class scorn
That powers the gun group
That lobbied the law
That armed the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the ideology of public servants sworn
That protects the money of middle-class scorn
That powers the gun group
That lobbied the law
That armed the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the media shaping culture's norms
That spreads the ideology of public servants sworn
That protects the money of middle-class scorn
That powers the gun group
That lobbied the law
That armed the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the individualism with rights adorned
That craves the media shaping culture's norms
That spreads the ideology of public servants sworn
That protects the money of middle-class scorn
That powers the gun group
That lobbied the law
That armed the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the religion of neighbor-love shorn
That preaches individualism with rights adorned
That craves the media shaping culture's norms
That spreads the ideology of public servants sworn
That protects the money of middle-class scorn
That powers the gun group
That lobbied the law
That armed the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.
This is the democracy battered and worn
That practices religion of neighbor-love shorn
That preaches individualism with rights adorned
That craves the media shaping culture's norms
That spreads the ideology of public servants sworn
That protects the money of middle-class scorn
That powers the gun group
That lobbied the law
That armed the gunman
That killed the children
That learned in the school that democracy built.

Previously published in The Huffington Post, 12/18/12