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Posts Tagged ‘poem a day’

There is no poet who brings me to all of my senses in this physical world quite like the magnificent Adrienne Rich (1929-2012).

 
adrienne-rich-sized

“Itinerary”

i.

Burnt by lightning      nevertheless
she’ll walk this terra infinita

lashes singed on her third eye
searching definite shadows      for an indefinite future

Old shed-boards beaten silvery hang
askew as sheltering
some delicate indefensible existence

Long grasses shiver in a vanished doorway’s draft
a place of origins      as yet unclosured and unclaimed

Writing cursive instructions on abounding air

If you arrive with ripe pears, bring a sharpened knife
Bring cyanide with the honeycomb

              call before you come

ii.

Let the face of the bay be violet black the tumbled torn
kelp necklaces strewn alongshore

Stealthily over time arrives the chokehold
stifling ocean’s guttural chorales
                                        a tangle
of tattered plastic rags

iii.

In a physical world the great poverty would be
to live insensate      shuttered against the fresh

slash of urine on a wall
low-tidal rumor of a river’s yellowed mouth
a tumor-ridden face asleep on a subway train

What would it mean to not possess
a permeable skin
explicit veil to wander in

iv.

A cracked shell crumbles.
Sun moon and salt dissect the faint
last grains

An electrical impulse zings
out      ricochets
in meta-galactic orbits

a streak of nervous energy rejoins the crucible
where origins and endings meld

There was this honey-laden question mark
this thread extracted from the open
throat of existence—Lick it clean!
—let it evaporate—

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I find myself drawn to this poem by the Cuban American poet Silvia Curbelo (1955-) for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the Tampa Bay setting, a landscape I spent many years of my life and that I don’t often encounter in poems.

silvia

“Tonight I Can Almost Hear the Singing”

There is a music to this sadness.
In a room somewhere two people dance.
I do not mean to say desire is everything.
A cup half empty is simply half a cup.
How many times have we been there and not there?
I have seen waitresses slip a night’s
worth of tips into the jukebox, their eyes
saying yes to nothing in particular.
Desire is not the point.
Tonight your name is a small thing
falling through sadness. We wake alone
in houses of sticks, of straw, of wind.
How long have we stood at the end of the pier
watching that water going?
In the distance the lights curve along
Tampa Bay, a wishbone ready to snap
and the night riding on that half promise,
a half moon to light the whole damned sky.
This is the way things are with us.
Sometimes we love almost enough.
We say I can do this, I can do
more than this and faith feeds
on its own version of the facts.
In the end the heart turns on itself
like hunger to a spoon.
We make a wish in a vanishing landscape.
Sadness is one more reference point
like music in the distance.
Two people rise from a kitchen table
as if to dance. What do they know
about love?

__

from The Secret History of Water

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“The brutal Middle Passage across the Atlantic is one of the most painful chapters in the history of forced African American migration. Thus Aracelis Girmay’s new poetry collection, The Black Maria—a haunting, blistering, vital examination of the African diaspora from 15th-century slave ships to Neil deGrasse Tyson—is a book of memories and seas. […] Some memories are her own. Others are the memories of a people. The title of the collection—taken from the plural of the Latin wordmare, meaning “sea,”—was used by early astronomers to refer to the dark, flat surfaces of the moon they believed were filled with water, a landscape as forbidding and alien as the Atlantic was during the five centuries of the West African slave trade, and as the Mediterranean and other seas are today for migrants and refugees.”  –Sanya Noel in the Chicago Review of Books

Only yesterday did I check out from the library this incredible poetic undertaking by Aracelis Girmay (1977-), and I am already floored.

aracelis-girmay-processed

“to the sea”

You who cannot hear or cannot know
the terrible intricacies of our species, our minds,
the extent to which we have done
what we have done, & yet the depth to which
we have loved
what we have
loved —

the hillside
at dawn, dark eyes
outlined with the dark
sentences of  kohl,
the fūl we shared
beneath the lime tree at the general’s house
after visiting Goitom in prison for trying to leave
the country (the first time),
the apricot color of camels racing
on the floor of  the world
as the fires blazed in celebration of  Independence.

How dare I move into the dark space of  your body
carrying my dreams, without an invitation, my dreams
wandering in ellipses, pet goats or chickens
devouring your yard & shirts.

Sea, my oblivious afterworld,
grant us entry, please, when we knock,
but do not keep us there, deliver
our flowers & himbasha bread.
Though we can’t imagine, now, what
our dead might need,
& above all can’t imagine it is over
& that they are, in fact, askless, are
needless, in fact, still hold somewhere
the smell of coffee smoking
in the house, please,
the memory of joy
fluttering like a curtain in an open window
somewhere inside the brain’s secret luster
where a woman, hands red with henna,
beats the carpet clean with the stick of a broom
& the children, in the distance, choose stones
for the competition of stones, & the summer
wears a crown of  beles in her green hair & the tigadelti’s
white teeth & the beautiful bones of Massawa,
the gaping eyes & mouths of its arches
worn clean by the sea, your breath & your salt.
                      Please, you,
being water too,
find a way into the air & then
the river & the spring
so that your waters can wash the elders,
with the medicine of the dreaming of their children,
cold & clean.

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Sometimes I encounter a poet through complete happenstance and am filled with gratitude because I can’t imagine my life without her words in it. The Bangladeshi American poet Tarfia Faizullah (1980-) and her brutal, beautiful debut collection Seam is the perfect example of work that made my jaw gape open as soon as I laid eyes on the page.

tarfia

“Dhaka Nocturne”

I admit that when the falling hour
begins to husk the sky free of its
saffroning light, I reach for anyone

willing to wrap his good arm tight
around me for as long as the ribboned
darkness allows. Who wants, after all,

to be seen too clearly? Still, the heart
trusts, climbs back down the old
mango tree outside the bar to marvel

at the gymnast tornadoing forward,
electrifying the air with her soaring
body on the TV, even as the friend

beside me asks, But how could you
sleep in the same room as your dead
sister’s things? Once, a man I loved

told me I was stunning. It terrified
me, the way grief still can, risen
above us in the bar, seeking its own

body. I tell her the body, exhausted,
does what it must, as it did then,
sutured itself to his, said, I’ll be

yours forever, with all its secretive
creases turning steam in this heat-
flustered city, wet fever of the nape

of my neck chiffoned beneath his
lips galaxying across it. I do not tell
her about the shelves of porcelain-

cheeked dolls tarnished lavender by
falling light, the ebony abundance
of my mother’s hair varnished blue

as she slid my sister’s child’s clothes
off the old wooden hangers, then back
on—but what else is mine, if not all

this strange beauty? Look, I said to him,
running my own hands down myself:
night-rinsed anaglyph of muscle

and bone held fast against everything
yet to plunder this or any twilight’s
nameless and numinous unfurling.

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I rarely share a poem twice on this blog, but today I offer a piece by the wonderfully mystical Jane Hirshfield (1953-) that I posted almost exactly five years ago to this day. I had the pleasure of hearing her read this, along with many other healing, deeply contemplative poems earlier this week, and the images still linger with me this morning.

jane-hirshfield_michael-lionstar

“For What Binds Us”

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest-

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

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The poems of Larry Levis (1946-1996) and in particular his resplendent fourth book, Winter Stars, have been a touchstone for me in recent years as I think about how to grieve for someone I will never truly understand, how to balance the intricate darkness of the unknown with the pure, unwavering light of living.

Larry Levis

“Winter Stars”

My father once broke a man’s hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, and he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, & with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.

Sometimes, I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
And persisting.

It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them.
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him.
Now, if we try to talk, I watch my father
Search for a lost syllable as if it might
Solve everything, & though he can’t remember, now,
The word for it, he is ashamed…
If you can think of the mind as a place continually
Visited, a whole city placed behind
The eyes, & shining, I can imagine, now, its end—
As when the lights go off, one by one,
In a hotel at night, until at last
All of the travelers will be asleep, or until
Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind
Of sleep; & while the woman behind the desk
Is applying more lacquer to her nails,
You can almost believe that elevator,
As it ascends, must open upon starlight.

I stand out on the street, & do not go in.
That was our agreement, at my birth.

And for years I believed
That what went unsaid between us became empty,
And pure, like starlight, & that it persisted.

I got it all wrong.
I wound up believing in words the way a scientist
Believes in carbon, after death.

Tonight, I’m talking to you, father, although
It is quiet here in the Midwest, where a small wind,
The size of a wrist, wakes the cold again—
Which may be all that’s left of you & me.

When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.

That pale haze of stars goes on & on,
Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape
On a black sky. It means everything
It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.
Cold enough to reconcile
Even a father, even a son.

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“An ancient poet from my tradition said, ‘I have something to say. I will say it before death comes. And if I don’t say it, let no one say it for me. I will be the one who will say it.’” These are among the last words the incredible Ghanaian poet and author Kofi Awoonor (1935-2013) spoke in a master class he led as part of the 2013 Storymaja Festival in Kenya. The next day, he was killed in the attack at Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi along with dozens of other people. There are so many of his beautiful, biting poems I could post here, but here is the one that’s lingered with me this morning…

kofi-awoonor

“If It Were Within Your Power”

The slow heart is the world’s curing herb:
Your palm trees will prosper
but you will die of thirst
perhaps some of you will remember
the time you swore your oath
when your hearts wandered
among lonely hills:
death’s tentmakers are alert
to plant the planks
and place you on the swings:
Master, if it were within your power
to receive live children only
if it were within your power
to be the oarsman for the travellers,
You will do it: you will do it.

__

from Night of my Blood

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