let us nourish beginnings

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to post the work of the formidable poet and social activist Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980). It seems only right to start with one about beginnings…

murielrukeyser_newbioimage

“Elegy in Joy” [excerpt]

We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,
or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,
for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,
cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,
all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.

The word of nourishment passes through the women,
soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,
white towers, eyes of children:
saying in time of war What shall we feed?
I cannot say the end.

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.
Years over wars and an imagining of peace. Or the expiation journey
toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,
fierce pure life, the many-living home.
Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all
new techniques for the healing of the wound,
and the unknown world. One life, or the faring stars.

All that is left is storytelling

I first encountered Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah (1971-) through his translations of the beloved Mahmoud Darwish. But it turns out Joudah is a stunning poet in his own right. It’s difficult to choose just one piece from his first collection The Earth in the Attic, so expect to read more of his work in the future.

poet Fady Joudah portrait

“Immigrant Song”

In the kitchen in the afternoon, peeling oranges and splitting cantaloupe gut,
All that is left is storytelling.

The one-radio, one-coffee-shop village now an almond field
And vacation-brochure ruins besieged by grass.

Everyday around noon a boy on a mule, the men out in the fields,
Bread fresh out of brick-oven, wrist deep in olive oil, elbows dripping.

The one-radio, one-coffee-shop village without an ink-line on paper,
Now spilled like beads out of a rosary.

Not what they would have grown.

We the people in god we trust.

We the people in god we trust everyday around noon a mule.

We the people dream the city: Oooh you give me fever.

Oooh you give me fever so bad I shake like beads out of a rosary.

Fever so bad it must’ve been malaria.

Hey doctor! You mule-ride away, you cost the rest of harvest.

Hey doctor, the city’s a medicine cabinet.

We plant tomatoes, okra, squash instead.

And a fig tree that won’t grow in Tennessee frost.

Trees die standing.

One-cantaloupe, one-rosary kitchen.

Whatever you choose to claim of me is always yours

A beautiful, honest love poem from Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006), whose work first inspired the name of my blog. Happy Valentine’s Day, readers.

Stanley Kunitz in backyard
Kunitz in his garden, photo by Marnie Crawford Samuelson

“Passing Through”

—on my seventy-ninth birthday

Nobody in the widow’s household
ever celebrated anniversaries.
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
that my friends were given parties.
Before I left town for school
my birthday went up in smoke
in a fire at City Hall that gutted
the Department of Vital Statistics.
If it weren’t for a census report
of a five-year-old White Male
sharing my mother’s address
at the Green Street tenement in Worcester
I’d have no documentary proof
that I exist. You are the first,
my dear, to bully me
into these festive occasions.

Sometimes, you say, I wear
an abstracted look that drives you
up the wall, as though it signified
distress or disaffection.
Don’t take it so to heart.
Maybe I enjoy not-being as much
as being who I am. Maybe
it’s time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I’m passing through a phase:
gradually I’m changing to a word.
Whatever you choose to claim
of me is always yours;
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.