Monday, July 31, 2017

Courage

By Anne Sexton

It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy,
and made you into an alien.
You drank their acid,
and concealed it.

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets,
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you,
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off our heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Third Gender

By Kit Yan

all right so gender should be as simple as gay or straight
cuz if you are attracted to the opposite gender
you’re straight
if you are attracted to the same gender
well i guess you’re gay
therefore if you have a penis you’re a man
and if you have a vagina you’re a woman
straight shot
straight answer
gender
see gender is man next to woman
not touching but separate
gender is america’s controlled nationalism bullshit
gender is birth certificates for babies born into gender
housing applications check boxes and even getting an email address
this is gender
but i ask you
is it truly worth
embarrassment
imprisonment
or harassment
for your gender identity?
so excuse me are you a man or are you a woman
and you’ve changed your name to Kit now
so do you wanna be straight?
and you look like a boy now so you’re straight, right?
but back when you were Laura you were gay
as if sexuality and gender were something that you could purchase on impulse
pulling up to the register and carefully picking out
gay straight
man or woman
neatly packaged for easy consumption
then you should be able to do it with ease
purchasing a gold foiled bar of gay and plastic bag of man
and walking out of that grocery store fabulously onto the set of Queer Eye
but it’s not that easy
because sometimes my gender is
boy who looks like a girl who likes boys
and sometimes my gender is trans
and sometimes my gender is chilling out in between
but most of the time my gender is fuck you mind your own business
but it can’t be that way
because gender is so rigidly defined
neatly outlined and nicely colonized
organized and clearly understandable
yet the gap is becoming gendered and
i’m standing in line for the bathroom with
girls birls boys bis transsexual transgendered queer questioning curious polyamorous intersexed flexual asexual trisexual omnisexual multisexual pansexual gender neutral genderqueer multigendered androgynous drag king drag queen butch femme fairy two-spirit bear dyke lipstick tranny boi (with an i) ftm mtf boydyke bi-dyke half-dyke queerboi ex-straight and that’s just the beginning
but ask a member of the Zuni tribe about the lhamana’s gender
and they’ll tell you it’s lhamana
the South Asians about the hijaras
and they’ll tell you that it’s hijaras
the Hawaiians about mahus
and they’ll tell you that it’s mahu
the Americans about the trannies
and they’ll tell you that they don’t know
see there may be as many as a million genders identities and sexualities
just floating around waiting for the right person to snatch them up
put them on and proudly parade around in their new skin
unrestricted by layers and identity
or limitations of culture society or social construction
this new gender is a function of inner desire and
genuine understanding of self to be lived
so go ahead
and show us where the bathroom is

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Our Son Swears He Has 102 Gallons of Water in His Body

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Somewhere a mistaken word distorts the sum:
divide becomes multiply so he’d wrestle his parents
who defy what he insists. I did the problem
and my teacher said I was right!
Light strokes the dashboard.
We are years away from its source.
Remember that jug of milk?
No way you’re carrying one hundred of those!
But he knows. He always knows. We’re idiots
without worksheets to back us up. His mother never remembers
what a megabyte means and his dad fainted on an airplane once
and smashed his head on the drinks cart. We’re nice but we’re
not always smart. It’s the fact you live with, having parents.
Later in a calmer moment his dad recalculates
the sum and it comes out true.
Instead of carrying giant waterfalls inside,
we’re streams, sweet pools, something to dip into
with an old metal cup, like the one we took camping,
that nobody could break.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Safe Place

By Nikki Grimes

Dream killers daily stalk the streets of you and
travel, trying to trip us up, but we can give them the slip. I have 
learned to protect my heart-songs. I keep them wrapped
in the well wishes of  my  family, the encouragement of my
truest friends. Sometimes, using pen and ink, I anchor my dreams
and let them sink in the margins of a diary. Or, maybe I slide them in
a smooth sandalwood box buried beneath my bed. But
dream called impossible?  That I tuck between the silken
folds of my private thought - tough as steel, thing as cloth. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

For a Poet

By Countee Cullen

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold;
Where long will cling the lips of the moth,
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth;
I hide no hate; I am not even wroth
Who found the earth's breath so keen and cold;
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Autism Screening Questionnaire — Speech and Language Delay

By Octavio De La Paz

1. Did your child lose acquired speech?

A fount and then silence. A none. An ellipse
between — his breath through
the seams of our windows. Whistle
of days. Impossible bowl of a mouth — 
the open cupboard, vowels
rounded up and swept under the rug.

2. Does your child produce unusual noises or infantile squeals?

He’d coo and we’d coo back. The sound
passed back and forth between us like a ball.
Or later, an astral voice. Some vibrato
under the surface of us. The burst upon — 
burn of strings rubbed
in a flourish. His exhausted face.

3. Is your child’s voice louder than required?

In an enclosure or a cave it is difficult to gauge
one’s volume. The proscenium of the world.
All the rooms we speak of are dark places. Because
he cannot see his mouth, he cannot imagine


4. Does your child speak frequent gibberish or jargon?

To my ears it is a language. Every sound
a system: the sound for dog or boy. The moan
in his throat for water — that of a man with thirst.
The dilapidated ladder that makes a sentence
a sentence. This plosive is a verb. This liquid
a want. We make symbols of his noise.


5. Does your child have difficulty understanding basic things (“just can’t get it”)?

Against the backdrop of the tree he looks so small.

6. Does your child pull you around when he wants something?

By the sleeve. By the shirttail. His light touch
hopscotching against my skin like sparrows.
An insistence muscled and muscled again.


7. Does your child have difficulty expressing his needs or desires using gestures?

Red-faced in the kitchen and in the bedroom
and the yellow light touches his eyes
which are open but not there. His eyes
rest in their narrow boat dream and the canals
are wide dividing this side from this side.

8. Is there no spontaneous initiation of speech or 
communication from your child?

When called he eases out of his body.
His god is not our words nor is it
the words from his lips. It is entirely body.
So when he comes to us and looks we know
there are beyond us impossible cylinders
where meaning lives.

9. Does your child repeat heard words, parts of words, or tv commercials?

The mind circles the mind in the arena, far in — far in
where the consonants touch and where the round
chorus flaunts its iambs in a metronomic trot. Humming
to himself in warm and jugular songs.


10. Does your child use repetitive language (same word or phrase over and over)?

A pocket in his brain worries its ball of lint.
A word clicks into its groove and stammers
along its track, Dopplering like a car with its windows
rolled down and the one top hit of the summer
angles its way into his brain.

11. Does your child have difficulty sustaining a 
conversation?

We could be anywhere, then the navel of the red moon
drops its fruit. His world. This stained world drips its honey
into our mouths. Our words stolen from his malingering afternoon.

12. Does your child use monotonous speech or wrong pausing?

When the air is true and simple, we can watch him tremble
for an hour, plucking his meaning from a handful of utterances
and then ascend into the terrible partition of speech.

13. Does your child speak the same to kids, adults, or objects (can’t differentiate)?

Because a reference needs a frame: we are mother and father
and child with a world of time to be understood. The car radio
plays its one song. The song, therefore, is important.
It must be intoned at a rigorous time. Because rigor
is important and because the self insists on constant vigils.

14. Does your child use language inappropriately (wrong words or phrases)?

Always, and he insists on the incorrect forms.
The wrong word takes every form for love — 
the good tree leans into the pond,
the gray dog’s ribs show, the memory
bound to the window, and the promise of the radio
playing its song on the hour. Every wrong form
is a form which represents us in our losses,
if it takes us another world to understand.

This poem was previously published in Poetry Magazine in July/August 2017.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

I Hear America Singing

By Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, 
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, 
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, 
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, 
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, 
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, 
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown, 
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, 
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, 
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, 
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Let America Be America Again

By Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Climate Change Theories After Another Surprise Snowstorm

By Adam Stone

I’m not really a summer guy
I like winter
I like winter because I like snow
I like snow like I like my men:
Deep
Untouched in photographs
Shoveled off my porch before I go to work
I like my snow like I like my men
Accumulating softly while I sleep.
I like my men like I like my snow,
Which is to say
At the beginning of the season
I remember them fondly
But the minute they require me
 to do the least amount of work
I hope to never see one of those flakes again
I like my men like I like my snow
Light and fluffy at first
But heavier and more full of grit
the deeper you dig
I like my men like I like my snow
In theory
I like men
I like snow
I’m often judged harshly by those who don’t understand
My appreciation of either
And why do I like snow?
Is it in my genes?
Or do I like it because I was raised
in a climate where winter was tolerated
if not full accepted.
I like my men like I like my snow -
Oh god.  Temporary?
Just for a few months out of the year?
It’s been a long time since I lived anywhere temperate
So do I maybe like snow
Because I’ve spent over half my life identifying
As someone who likes snow?
No. I could never live in a climate lacking winter.
I tried that once in college
And again in my mid-twenties when I was
Chasing the mechanical rabbit of heteronormative success
That I was told would make me happy
But I like snow
I don’t always want to like snow
But I do always like snow
Even when it is inconvenient
Even when it keeps me from achieving something
That I believe I have the right to achieve
Even when it means the world is too cold to bear
Without protection.


Adam Stone is an amazing slam poet who lives in the Boston area.  You should hear his work any time you can.