Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Induction

By Annie Freud

I am here to welcome you
and to help you prepare for what is about to happen.
I can see that you're hoping that we've decided to call it off for today
but I'm afraid that is something we never do.
We consider ourselves very lucky that you're here at all
and our years of experience have taught us that it's always better
to go ahead as planned.
First, at the risk of repeating what has already been said in the letter,
you have been personally selected for this by people who know
what they're doing. We have no doubt in your ability to cope.
And the chances of anything going wrong on the technical front
are so minuscule as to render any concern you may have
as insignificant. At this point we usually offer
a glass of water as you won't be taking anything with you
once the doors are closed.
Secondly, there's the science that governs our practice.
There's been some debate in the public domain about why
up to now we haven't opted for the so-called virtual route
and looked at ways of mimicking reality.
The consensus is that absolutely nothing beats
real human beings—the richness of their emotional responses,
their capacity for facing the unknown—it's truly humbling.
And our concern for the integrity of any data we gather is genuine.
In return, our job is infinitely more rewarding, knowing
that we are doing our utmost to secure your co-operation
and make you as comfortable as possible.
I think that's everything covered.
If you would kindly undress in one of our cubicles;
your protective clothing is ready for you to put on.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage

By Lawrence Raab
 
Years later they find themselves talking   
about chances, moments when their lives   
might have swerved off
for the smallest reason.
                                     What if
I hadn’t phoned, he says, that morning?   
What if you’d been out,
as you were when I tried three times   
the night before?
                           Then she tells him a secret.   
She’d been there all evening, and she knew   
he was the one calling, which was why   
she hadn’t answered.
                               Because she felt—
because she was certain—her life would change   
if she picked up the phone, said hello,   
said, I was just thinking
of you.
            I was afraid,
she tells him. And in the morning   
I also knew it was you, but I just   
answered the phone
                            the way anyone
answers a phone when it starts to ring,   
not thinking you have a choice.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Father As a Guitar

By Martín Espada

The cardiologist prescribed
a new medication
and lectured my father
that he had to stop working.
And my father said: I can't.
The landlord won't let me.

The heart pills are dice
in my father's hand,
gambler who needs cash
by the first of the month.

On the night his mother died
in far away Puerto Rico
my father lurched upright in bed,
heart hammering
like the fist of a man at the door
with an eviction notice.
Minutes later,
the telephone sputtered
with news of the dead.

Sometimes I dream
my father is a guitar,
with a hole in his chest
where the music throbs
between my fingers.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

At the Public Market Museum: Charleston, South Carolina

By Jane Kenyon

A volunteer, a Daughter of the Confederacy,
receives my admission and points the way.
Here are gray jackets with holes in them,
red sashes with individual flourishes,
things soft as flesh. Someone sewed
the gold silk cord onto that gray sleeve
as if embellishments
could keep a man alive.

I have been reading War and Peace,
and so the particulars of combat
are on my mind—the shouts and groans
of men and boys, and the horses' cries
as they fall, astonished at what
has happened to them.
Blood on leaves,
blood on grass, on snow; extravagant
beauty of red. Smoke, dust of disturbed
earth; parch and burn.

Who would choose this for himself?
And yet the terrible machinery
waited in place. With psalters
in their breast pockets, and gloves
knitted by their sisters and sweethearts,
the men in gray hurled themselves
out of the trenches, and rushed against
blue. It was what both sides
agreed to do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Race

By Elizabeth Alexander

Sometimes I think about Great-Uncle Paul who left Tuskegee,
Alabama to become a forester in Oregon and in so doing
became fundamentally white for the rest of his life, except
when he traveled without his white wife to visit his siblings—
now in New York, now in Harlem, USA—just as pale-skinned,
as straight-haired, as blue-eyed as Paul, and black. Paul never told anyone
he was white, he just didn’t say that he was black, and who could imagine,
an Oregon forester in 1930 as anything other than white?
The siblings in Harlem each morning ensured
no one confused them for anything other than what they were, black.
They were black! Brown-skinned spouses reduced confusion.
Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
When Paul came East alone he was as they were, their brother.

The poet invents heroic moments where the pale black ancestor stands up
on behalf of the race. The poet imagines Great-Uncle Paul
in cool, sagey groves counting rings in redwood trunks,
imagines pencil markings in a ledger book, classifications,
imagines a sidelong look from an ivory spouse who is learning
her husband’s caesuras. She can see silent spaces
but not what they signify, graphite markings in a forester’s code.

Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
The one time Great-Uncle Paul brought his wife to New York
he asked his siblings not to bring their spouses,
and that is where the story ends: ivory siblings who would not
see their brother without their telltale spouses.
What a strange things is “race,” and family, stranger still.
Here a poem tells a story, a story about race.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Scary, no scary

By Zachary Schomburg

One night, when
you return to your childhood
home after

a lifetime away,
you'll find it
abandoned. Its

paint will be
completely weathered.

It will have
a significant westward lean.

There will be
a hole in its roof
that bats fly
out of.

The old man
hunched over
at the front door
will be prepared
to give you a tour,
but first he'll ask
Scary, or no scary?

You should say
No scary.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Is It Better Where You Are?

By Christopher Salerno

The bakery’s graffiti either spells HOPE
or NOPE. But hope and results
are different, said Fanny Brawne to her Keats
voiding his unreasonable lung.
Getting off the medicine
completely means light again
blinking to light. Device returned
to its factory settings. The complete black
of before the meteor shower
above the bakery. If you lose the smell
of leather, lemon, or rose,
studies show you will fail at being,
like Keats. I keep watching the same meteor
shower videos on YouTube
where awe is always a question of scale.
Night can be moths or weather, pulled in the dark.
The bakery, now, is beginning to close.
My arrhythmic heart
aches for the kind of dramatic arc
one can’t shop for. Or else to lease
what’s real for a while—
is this the good kind of consumption?
I wonder over the weight
of meaning. The difference between
hull and seed. The sugary
donut and its graceful hole. The greasy
bags that everyone leaves
in the alley leading to my door.
These scraps I work at like a crow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

For my known and unknown maternal and paternal BlackWomen ancestors who both slaved and worked (for barely liveable wages) in White folks’ homes for centuries…

By Beah Richards

A Black Woman Speaks…
Of White Womanhood
Of White Supremacy
Of Peace
It is right that I a woman
black,
should speak of white womanhood.
My fathers
my brothers
my husbands
my sons
die for it; because of it.
And their blood chilled in electric chairs,
stopped by hangman’s noose,
cooked by lynch mobs’ fire,
spilled by white supremacist mad desire to kill for profit,
gives me that right.

I would that I could speak of white womanhood
as it will and should be
when it stands tall in full equality.
But then, womanhood will be womanhood
void of color and of class,
and all necessity for my speaking thus will be past.
Gladly past.

But now, since ‘tis deemed a thing apart
supreme,
I must in searching honesty report
how it seems to me.
White womanhood stands in bloodied skirt
and willing slavery
reaching out adulterous hand
killing mine and crushing me.
What then is this superior thing
that in order to be sustained must needs feed upon my flesh?
How came this horror to be?
Let’s look to history.

They said, the white supremacist said
that you were better than me,
that your fair brow should never know the sweat of slavery.
They lied.
White womanhood too is enslaved,
the difference is degree.

They brought me here in chains.
They brought you here willing slaves to man.
You, shiploads of women each filled with hope
that she might win with ruby lip and saucy curl
and bright and flashing eye
him to wife who had the largest tender.
Remember?
And they sold you here even as they sold me.
My sisters, there is no room for mockery.
If they counted my teeth
they did appraise your thigh
and sold you to the highest bidder the same as I.

And you did not fight for your right to choose
whom you would wed
but for whatever bartered price
that was the legal tender
you were sold to a stranger’s bed
in a stranger land
remember?

And you did not fight.
Mind you, I speak not mockingly
but I fought for freedom,
I’m fighting now for our unity.
We are women all,
and what wrongs you murders me
and eventually marks your grave
so we share a mutual death at the hand of tyranny.

They trapped me with the chain and gun.
They trapped you with lying tongue.
For, 'less you see that fault-
that male villainy
that robbed you of name, voice and authority,
that murderous greed that wasted you and me,
he, the white supremacist, fixed your minds with poisonous thought:
“white skin is supreme.”
and therewith bought that monstrous change
exiling you to things.
Changed all that nature had ill you wrought of gentle usefulness,
abolishing your spring.
Tore out your heart,
set your good apart from all that you could say,
think,
feel,
know to be right.
And you did not fight,
but set your minds fast on my slavery
the better to endure your own.

'Tis true
my pearls were beads of sweat
wrung from weary bodies’ pain,
instead of rings upon my hands
I wore swollen, bursting veins.
My ornaments were the whip-lash’s scar
my diamond, perhaps, a tear.
Instead of paint and powder on my face
I wore a solid mask of fear to see my blood so spilled.
And you, women seeing
spoke no protest
but cuddled down in your pink slavery
and thought somehow my wasted blood
confirmed your superiority.

Because your necklace was of gold
you did not notice that it throttled speech.
Because diamond rings bedecked your hands
you did not regret their dictated idleness.
Nor could you see that the platinum bracelets
which graced your wrists were chains
binding you fast to economic slavery.
And though you claimed your husband’s name
still could not command his fidelity.

You bore him sons.
I bore him sons.
No, not willingly.
He purchased you.
He raped me,
I fought!
But you fought neither for yourselves nor me.
Sat trapped in your superiority
and spoke no reproach.
Consoled your outrage with an added diamond brooch.
Oh, God, how great is a woman’s fear
who for a stone, a cold, cold stone
would not defend honor, love or dignity!

You bore the damning mockery of your marriage
and heaped your hate on me,
a woman too,
a slave more so.
And when your husband disowned his seed
that was my son
and sold him apart from me
you felt avenged.
Understand:
I was not your enemy in this,
I was not the source of your distress.
I was your friend, I fought.
But you would not help me fight
thinking you helped only me.
Your deceived eyes seeing only my slavery
aided your own decay.
Yes, they condemned me to death
and they condemned you to decay.
Your heart whisked away,
consumed in hate,
used up in idleness
playing yet the lady’s part
estranged to vanity.
It is justice to you to say your fear equaled your tyranny.

You were afraid to nurse your young
lest fallen breast offend your master’s sight
and he should flee to firmer loveliness.
And so you passed them, your children, on to me.
Flesh that was your flesh and blood that was your blood
drank the sustenance of life from me.
And as I gave suckle I knew I nursed my own child’s enemy.
I could have lied,
told you your child was fed till it was dead of hunger.
But I could not find the heart to kill orphaned innocence.
For as it fed, it smiled and burped and gurgled with content
and as for color knew no difference.
Yes, in that first while
I kept your sons and daughters alive.

But when they grew strong in blood and bone
that was of my milk
you
taught them to hate me.
Put your decay in their hearts and upon their lips
so that strength that was of myself
turned and spat upon me,
despoiled my daughters, and killed my sons.
You know I speak true.
Though this is not true for all of you.

When I bestirred myself for freedom
and brave Harriet led the way
some of you found heart and played a part
in aiding my escape.
And when I made my big push for freedom
your sons fought at my sons’ side,
Your husbands and brothers too fell in that battle
when Crispus Attucks died.
It’s unfortunate that you acted not in the way of justice
but to preserve the Union
and for dear sweet pity’s sake;
Else how came it to be with me as it is today?
You abhorred slavery
yet loathed equality.

I would that the poor among you could have seen
through the scheme
and joined hands with me.
Then, we being the majority, could long ago have rescued
our wasted lives.
But no.
The rich, becoming richer, could be content
while yet the poor had only the pretense of superiority
and sought through murderous brutality
to convince themselves that what was false was true.

So with KKK and fiery cross
and bloodied appetites
set about to prove that “white is right”
forgetting their poverty.
Thus the white supremacist used your skins
to perpetuate slavery.
And woe to me.
Woe to Willie McGee.
Woe to the seven men of Martinsville.
And woe to you.
It was no mistake that your naked body on an Esquire calendar
announced the date, May Eighth.
This is your fate if you do not wake to fight.
They will use your naked bodies to sell their wares
though it be hate, Coca Cola or rape.

When a white mother disdained to teach her children
this doctrine of hate,
but taught them instead of peace
and respect for all men’s dignity
the courts of law did legislate
that they be taken from her
and sent to another state.
To make a Troy Hawkins of the little girl
and a killer of the little boy!

No, it was not for the womanhood of this mother
that Willie McGee died
but for a depraved, enslaved, adulterous woman
whose lustful demands denied,
lied and killed what she could not possess.
Only three months before another such woman lied
and seven black men shuddered and gave up their lives.
These women were upheld in these bloody deeds
by the president of this nation,
thus putting the official seal on the fate
of white womanhood within these United States.
This is what they plan for you.
This is the depravity they would reduce you to.
Death for me
and worse than death for you.

What will you do?
Will you fight with me?
White supremacy is your enemy and mine.
So be careful when you talk with me.
Remind me not of my slavery, I know it well
but rather tell me of your own.
Remember, you have never known me.
You’ve been busy seeing me
as white supremacist would have me be,
and I will be myself.
Free!
My aim is full equality.
I would usurp their plan!
Justice
peace
and plenty
for every man, woman and child
who walks the earth.
This is my fight!

If you will fight with me then take my hand
and the hand of Rosa Ingram, and Rosalee McGee,
and as we set about our plan
let our wholehearted fight be:
PEACE IN A WORLD WHERE THERE IS EQUALITY.

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