Each carries a tender spot: something our lives forgot to give us.

“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
–Bertolt Brecht  

Dear readers,

Welcome to my ninth round of daily postings for National Poetry Month. This past year, when I found myself overwhelmed, heartbroken, and angered by the state of the world and the state of this country, I once again turned to poetry. It was verse that helped lift me out of the quicksand of scrolling through endless polemics and social media posts. In stanza after stanza, I remembered the enormous struggles of humankind not just now and here but everywhere and across history. In line after line, I rediscovered what is worth celebrating and fighting for in our lives. In word after word, I fell back in love with language.

Let us begin this month with one of my touchstones: the Palestinian-American writer, Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-). Let us remember the tender spots we carry in our brains and our bodies and our lives. And let us read poetry, together.

naomishihabnye-shevaunwilliams

“Jerusalem”

“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”
—Tommy Olofsson, Sweden

I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.

Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.

Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.

Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
it’s ridiculous.

There’s a place in my brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.

It’s late but everything comes next.

it’s easy to pretend that we don’t love the world

In French, “aubade” means “dawn serenade” and the word has also come to mean songs or poems for lovers parting in the morning. If a poet has an aubade in his or her collection, I often for some reason find myself gravitating towards it, as I was to this poem by Patrick Phillips (1970-) from his newest collection, Elegy for a Broken Machine. As I make my way through this book, I’m appreciating his meditations on the elegant and cruel mechanics of life, the broken machines that surround us and comprise us as human beings.

phillips

“Aubade”

It’s easy to pretend
that we don’t love

the world.
But then there is

your freckled skin. Then:
your back’s faint

lattice-work of bones.
I’m not saying this

makes up for suffering,
or trying to pretend

that each day’s little ladder
of sunlight, creeping

across the bed at dawn,
somehow redeems it

for the thousand ways
in which we’ll be forsaken.

Maybe, sweet sleeper,
breathing next to me

as I scratch and scrawl
these endless notes,

I’m not saying anything
but what the sparrows out

our window sing,
high in their rotten oak.