Friday, May 30, 2014

Recognitions

By Rachel Hadas

When my son was a few weeks old,
replicas of his yawning face appeared
suddenly on drowsy passersby:

middle-aged man’s gape that split his beard,
old woman on a bus, a little girl—
all told a story that I recognized.

Now he is fifteen.
As my students shuffle in the door
of the classroom, any of the boys

could easily be him—
foot-dragging, also swaggering a little,
braving the perils of a public space

by moving in a wary little troop.
But the same sleepy eyes, the same soft face.
We recognize the people whom we love,

or love what we respond to as our own,
trusting that one day someone
will look at us with recognition.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Still I Rise

By Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Best Things Come from Little Rock, AR

By Eve Lyons

I remember waiting. 
I remember calling the Target in Little Rock to reserve a car seat.
I remember taking on the phone with his first mother, 
I remember meeting her in Chili's with a guy who looked like David Crosby. 
I remember eating breakfast every morning at the Marriott. 
I remember how the first night we both woke up every two hours, because he did, because we couldn't sleep anyway. 
I remember how big his hands and feet seemed, and how his skin peeled off like something primordial. 
I remember his belly button didn't want to let go of his umbilical cord, so the doctor put silver nitrate on it, which stained his shirt. 
I remember all the people coming to visit in the first month, how he smiled for the first time when he was just a month old. 
I remember his first word was "yesssssssss." 
I remember him pulling himself up to standing, learning to crawl, how pleased with himself he was. 
I remember how long we waited, how much heartache, how much longing.

This poem was first published in Literary Mama on May 11, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Dentist and the Crocodile

By Roald Dahl

The crocodile, with cunning smile, sat in the dentist's chair.
He said, "Right here and everywhere my teeth require repair."
The dentist's face was turning white. He quivered, quaked and shook.
He muttered, "I suppose I'm going to have to take a look."
"I want you," Crocodile declared, "to do the back ones first.
The molars at the very back are easily the worst."
He opened wide his massive jaws. It was a fearsome sight––
At least three hundred pointed teeth, all sharp and shining white.
The dentist kept himself well clear. He stood two yards away.
He chose the longest probe he had to search out the decay.
"I said to do the back ones first!" the Crocodile called out.
"You're much too far away, dear sir, to see what you're about.
To do the back ones properly you've got to put your head
Deep down inside my great big mouth," the grinning Crocky said.
The poor old dentist wrung his hands and, weeping in despair,
He cried, "No no! I see them all extremely well from here!"
Just then, in burst a lady, in her hands a golden chain.
She cried, "Oh Croc, you naughty boy, you're playing tricks again!"
"Watch out!" the dentist shrieked and started climbing up the wall.
"He's after me! He's after you! He's going to eat us all!"
"Don't be a twit," the lady said, and flashed a gorgeous smile.
"He's harmless. He's my little pet, my lovely crocodile."

Monday, May 19, 2014

Untitled

By Rumi

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about
language, ideas, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

From The Great Wagon" Ch. 4 : Spring Giddiness, p. 36

Friday, May 16, 2014

On Being an Artist

By Noelle Kocot

Saturn seems habitual,
The way it rages in the sky
When we’re not looking.
On this note, the trees still sing
To me, and I long for this
Mottled world. Patterns
Of the lamplight on this leather,
The sun, listening.
My brother, my sister,
I was born to tell you certain
Things, even if no one
Really listens. Give it back
To me, as the bird takes up
The whole sky, ruined with
Nightfall. If I can remember
The words in the storm,
I will be well enough to sit
Here with you a little while.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In Praise of Air

By Simon Armitage

I write in praise of air. I was six or five

when a conjurer opened my knotted fist

and I held in my palm the whole of the sky.

I’ve carried it with me ever since.
Let air be a major god, its being

and touch, its breast-milk always tilted

to the lips. Both dragonfly and Boeing

dangle in its see-through nothingness…
Among the jumbled bric-a-brac I keep

a padlocked treasure-chest of empty space,

and on days when thoughts are fuddled with smog

or civilization crosses the street
with a white handkerchief over its mouth

and cars blow kisses to our lips from theirs

I turn the key, throw back the lid, breathe deep.

My first word, everyone’s first word, was air.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Madonna and Child

By Rafael Campo

By menopause, it's not just estrogen
my mother lacks. She's lost her eldest son--
that's me, the one who's queer--the doctor who
once made her very proud. These days, I do
my own wash when I'm home, I cook for her
so she can take a break from all the chores
she now refuses to assign to me.
She sits, half-watching Oprah through her tea's
thin steam, her squint of disapproval more
denial than it is disgust. She hears
much better than she sees--it's easier
to keep out vision than it is to clear
the air of sounds--and yet I know it's age
that stultifies her senses too. Enraged
because she's lost so much, I understand
why suddenly she looks so stunned
as from the television: "... Bitch, she stole
my boyfriend, my own mother did! ..." I fold
a towel noiselessly. I know she thinks
it's garbage, sinful, crap--just as she thinks
that taking estrogen in pills is not
what God intended, no matter what
the doctors say; or that I'm gay is plain
unnatural, she can't endure such pain.
The oven timer rings. The cookies that
I've baked are done. I'll make another batch
though she won't touch them: given up for Lent.
My mother's love. I wonder where it went.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Voice of a Girl Child

By Kowsar Asad Warsame
 
Ssshssh…! Listen
Do you hear that?
That is the voice of a girl child
A child who is a future teacher
A future doctor and a future pilot
If only my dreams are not shattered
I think of myself as a star
With my own passion of light
I can shine if given the opportunity
Opportunity to follow my brothers to school
Opportunity to grow up and learn more from the 
teachers
If only my dreams are not shattered
I think of myself as a giraffe
My sight set high
Big vision on big things
You don't have to marry me off to an old man
Just because you think school is not the right place 
for a girl
I need to go to school and pursue my goals
I think of myself as a live engine
Always going never slowing
Time is elapsing
Let my education not be a hot spot
The old man is waiting for my hand in marriage
The old woman is waiting with a knife
I need to go to school and pursue my goals
I think of myself as a lion
To roar loud and be heard
You don't have to take me as your wife
Just because I am a beautiful girl
Instead teach me a mathematical formula
So that my dreams are not shattered
I think of myself as a star
I think of myself as a live engine
I think of myself as a giraffe
I think of myself as a lion
Dear teacher, parents and guardians
Give me the rights I am entitled to.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why We Play Basketball

By Sherman Alexie

1.
In December, snow
covered the court. We
wrapped our hands in old
socks, soaked the white snow
with kerosene, lit

the match, and melted it
all down to pavement.
We were Indians
who wanted to play
basketball. Nothing

could stop us from that,
not the hunger in
our thin bellies, not
the fear of missed shots,
not the threat of white

snow. We were small boys
who would grow into
small men. We played ball
until dark, then played
until we could see

neither hoop nor ball.
We played until our
mothers and fathers
came searching for us
and carried us home.

2.
We play because we
remember the first
time we shot the ball
and knew, beyond doubt,
as it floated toward

the hoop, that it was
going to be good.
We walked off the court,
left the ball waiting
as we fell in love

with Indian girls
who grew past us, who
grew into Indian
women. Somehow, we
grew families while

that ball waited,
inert, suspended, till
we remembered, with
a complex rush of
pain and joy, what we'd

left behind, how we
loved the ball as it
finally dropped
into the net, after
years of such patience.

3.
We wanted to know
who was best, who could
change the game into
something new. We knew
about Seymour. Blind

and deaf, he played by
sense of smell. Leather
balls drove him crazy.
He identified
his teammates by tribe:

Spokanes smelled like bread;
Flatheads smelled like pine;
Colville smelled like snow;
Lester smelled like wine.
Seymour shot the ball

when the wind told him
it was time to shoot.
In basketball, we
find enough reasons
to believe in God,

or something smaller
than God. We believe
in Seymour, who holds
the ball in his hands
like you hold your God.

4.
It is just a game
we are told by those
who cannot play it
unless it is play.
For us, it is war,

often desperate
and without reason.
We throw our body
against another
body. We learn to

hate each other, hate
the ball, hate the hoop,
hate the fallen snow,
hate our clumsy hands,
hate our thirsty mouths

when we drink from
the fountain. We hate
our fathers. We hate
our mothers. We hate
the face in our mirror.

We play basketball
because we want to
separate love from
hate, and because we
know how to keep score.

5.
We play basketball
because we still love
the place where we lived.
It was a small house
with one door. We lived

there for twenty years
with crazy cousins
and one basketball.
We fought over it
constantly. I climbed

into a tall tree
with the ball, refused
to come down unless
they made me captain.
My brother dragged me

from the tree and punched
me so hard I saw
red horses. We play
because we believe
in our skins and hands.

These hands hold the ball.
These hands hold the tribe.
These hands build fires.
We are a small tribe.
We build small fires.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Moment at Whole Foods When I Realized I’m a Mother

By Eve Lyons

I’m wandering the tofu and fake meat section
when the announcement comes:
“Will Eve Lyons please come to the information desk?”
In  panic I push through shopping carts and yuppies,
already envisioning a rush to the ER.
Sure something is terribly wrong with our two month old son,
why else interrupt my weekly grocery shopping,
what could be so important that it can’t wait till I am home –
only to get the news:
Our vegetable peeler broke.
I’m confused at first,
unsure why this required paging me.
I put it together eventually –
No vegetable peeler means no carrot salad,
which changes our dinner plans for tonight,
the Sunday night of all Sunday nights,
since tomorrow I go back to work,
leaving our son for six long hours.
Relieved, I pick up a peeler,
go home to my spouse and child,
prepare for a lifetime more
of moments like these.


This poem was previously published in Mutha magazine in April of 2014. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Diving Into the Wreck

By Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Salvage

By Kay Ryan
 
The wreck   
is a fact.   
The worst   
has happened.   
The salvage trucks   
back in and   
the salvage men   
begin to sort   
and stack,   
whistling as   
they work.   
Thanks be   
to god—again—   
for extractable elements   
which are not   
carriers of pain,   
for this periodic   
table at which   
the self-taught   
salvagers disassemble   
the unthinkable   
to the unthought.

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