27ú lá Meitheamh, 2012
Because what’s the alternative?
Because of courage.
Because of loved ones lost.
Because no more.
Because it’s a small thing; shaking hands; it happens every day.
Because I heard of one man whose hands haven’t stopped shaking since a market day in Omagh.
Because it takes a second to say hate, but it takes longer, much longer, to be a great leader.
Much, much longer.
Because shared space without human touching doesn’t amount to much.
Because it’s easier to speak to your own than to hold the hand of someone whose side has been previously described, proscribed, denied.
Because it is tough.
Because it is tough.
Because it is meant to be tough, and this is the stuff of memory, the stuff of hope, the stuff of gesture, and meaning and leading.
Because it has taken so, so long.
Because it has taken land and money and languages and barrels and barrels of blood.
Because lives have been lost.
Because lives have been taken.
Because to be bereaved is to be troubled by grief.
Because more than two troubled peoples live here.
Because I know a woman whose hand hasn’t been shaken since she was a man.
Because shaking a hand is only a part of the start.
Because I know a woman whose touch calmed a man whose heart was breaking.
Because privilege is not to be taken lightly.
Because this just might be good.
Because who said that this would be easy?
Because some people love what you stand for, and for some, if you can, they can.
Because solidarity means a common hand.
Because a hand is only a hand; so hang onto it.
So join your much discussed hands.
We need this; for one small second.
“Shaking Hands” Originally published in Sorry for your Troubles (Canterbury Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
(after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?
so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money—
nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone
pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.
For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you. Remember?
There was no Nature. No
them. No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf or if
the coral reef feels pain. Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up to what we were
—when we were ocean and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not
before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it?
what once was? before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with
is is is is is
All everything home
Copyright © 2019 by Marie Howe. Used with the permission of the poet.
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods. Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt. But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down but the angel flies up again taking us with her. The summer mornings begin inch by inch while we sleep, and walk with us later as long-legged beauty through the dirty streets. It is no surprise that danger and suffering surround us. What astonishes is the singing. We know the horses are there in the dark meadow because we can smell them, can hear them breathing. Our spirit persists like a man struggling through the frozen valley who suddenly smells flowers and realizes the snow is melting out of sight on top of the mountain, knows that spring has begun.
From Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.
The history of revolutions is the history of vague ideas, Shrugging shoulders, not shrugging shoulders, Standing around, acting without thinking, Acting with thinking, being penned or penning, Being a woman or a girl standing around, A woman or a girl with some flour in her pocket for tossing up a cloud of flour to obscure the martial men's sight. That white cloud of whatever Among the moving and unmoving bodies Is that history-like unhistory of the ahistorical average, That lovely inexact and provisional something— weaponized or never. How totally under-theorized is breathing, Walking and not walking, Wanting to have a good time or just having it, Like everybody is gunning toward Eden and nobody is in school with their bodies anymore. The history of revolutions is a history of the orthodox weeping over their faltering orthodoxies: Any precise thing—dumb these days: The very idea imprinting nothing on the air between the general buildings. No human space—a printer's paper. Nothing exact—impressed.
Copyright © 2011 by Anne Boyer. Used with permission of the author.
To your voice, a mysterious virtue, to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing, to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint, to hyacinth and bluebell lily, to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope, to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees. Bless each thing on earth until it sickens, until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself and yet I loved—and what I loved I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels, to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.”
Copyright © 2014 by Ilya Kaminsky. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2014.
Copyright © 2017 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
There is a holiness to exhaustion
is what I keep telling myself,
filling out the form so my TA gets paid
then making copies of it on the hot
and heaving machine, writing
Strong start! on a pretty bad poem.
And then the children: the baby’s
mouth opening, going for the breast,
the girl’s hair to wash tonight
and then comb so painstakingly
in the tub while conditioner drips
in slick globs onto her shoulders,
while her discipline chart flaps in the air
conditioner at school, taped
to a filing cabinet, longing for stickers.
My heart is so giant this evening,
like one of those moons so full
and beautiful and terrifying
if you see it when you’re getting out
of the car you have to go inside the house
and make someone else come out
and see it for themselves. I want every-
thing, I admit. I want yes of course
and I want it all the time. I want
a clean heart. I want the children
to sleep and the drought
to end. I want the rain to come
down—It’s supposed to monsoon
is what Naomi said, driving away
this morning, and she was right,
as usual. It’s monsooning. Still,
I want more. Even as the streets
are washed clean and then begin
to flood. Even though the man
came again today to check the rat traps
and said he bet we’d catch the rat
within 24 hours. We still haven’t caught
the rat, so I’m working at the table
with my legs folded up beneath me.
I want to know what is holy—
I do. But first I want the rat to die.
I am thirsty for that death
and will drink deeply of that victory,
the thwack of the trap’s hard plastic jaw,
I will rush to see the evidence no matter
how gruesome, leaning my body over
the washing machine to see the thing
crushed there, much smaller
than I’d imagined it’d be,
the strawberry large in its mouth.
Copyright © 2015 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.
I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself
saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one
of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.
That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,
and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took
that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns
to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children
are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still
a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work
for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about
everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines
would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much
later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three
Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.
And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—
and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote
WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.
Copyright © 2019 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
One summer night, walking from our house after dinner, stars make the sky almost white.
My awe is like blindness; wonder exchanges for sight.
Star-by-star comprises a multiplicity like thought, but quiet, too dense for any dark planet between.
While single stars are a feature of the horizon at dusk, caught at the edge of the net of gems.
Transparence hanging on its outer connectedness casts occurrence as accretion, filling in, of extravagant, euphoric blooming.
Then, being as spirit and in matter is known, here to there.
I go home and tell my children to come out and look.
The souls of my two children fly up like little birds into branches of the Milky Way,
chatting with each other, naming constellations, comparing crystals and fire.
They exclaim at similarities between what they see in the sky and on our land.
So, by wonder, they strengthen correspondence between sky and home.
Earth is made from this alchemy of all children, human and animal, combined
with our deep gratitude.
I see his dark shape, moving and shifting against night’s screen of stars.
My little girl reaches for his lighted silhouette.
Human beings are thought upward and flown through by bright birds.
We believe stars are spirits of very high frequency.
We feel proud our animals come from stars so dense in meaning close to sacrament.
We describe time passing in stories about animals; star movement is named for seasonal migrations of deer, wolf, hummingbird, dolphin, and as animals stars walk among us.
Our snake Olivia, for example, tells me there’s no conflict between humans and rain, because resource is all around us.
A coyote loved night, and he loved to gaze at the stars.
“I noticed one star in Cassiopeia; I talked to her, and each night she grew brighter and closer, and she came to life here, as a corn snake, my friend.”
“She looks like a dancer on tiptoe, stepping around pink star-blossoms surging up after rain.”
Constellations are experienced emotionally as this play of self through plant and animal symbols and values.
A dream atmosphere flows; everything represented is sacred; being moves in accord, not of time.
Returning from the Milky Way, she realized crystals had fallen from her bag and looked up.
My story links a journey to sky with the creation of stars, in which place accommodates becoming.
Chama River flows north-south to the horizon, then straight up through the Milky Way, like water moving beneath a riverbed that’s dry.
Abiquiu Mountain, El Rito Creek, coyote, snake, rainbow and rain, spider and hummingbird identify equivalent spiritual placements above, so wherever we go, there is company, nurture, from every star in our regard.
I start up to ask my birds to return home, and find our land continuous with a starry sky mapped as entities who set into motion occurrence, here.
Place awaits an imprint from this potential, even though starlight arriving now already happened; what happens is a depth of field, before and after drought, fire, storm disruption.
I move at high speed, but I’m still standing beside my house in the dark.
To go there, I find the place on our mesa that correlates to their tree in the sky and leap up.
Space stirs as star trilliums emerge through darkness like humus.
I ask one blossom to please in the future renew these bonds between sky and my children, so they will always hold light in the minerals of their eyes.
Sun on its nightly underground journey weaves a black thread between white days on the cosmic loom, cord or resonance between new experience and meaning.
The origin of stars expresses the underlying warp of this fabric; summer solstice draws a diagonal across my floor, precession, weaving ground of informing spirit, so therefore, life is fundamental to stars.
The reverse is well known.
That’s why I don’t use a telescope, star charts or glasses when I go out; I think of a place; I wait, then fly to my children.
When the star-gate is raised, there’s a narrow door between sky and ground.
But when I arrive, I find the sky solid; I can’t break through to visit my starbirds and stand there wondering, before dawn.
Then sky vault lifts; maybe I can slip through to find the Milky Way and see its blossoms.
Then our sun appears in the crack and pushes through to the day.
It’s so bright, so hot, I step back and cover my eyes; I hear my mother calling.
Copyright © 2020 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Sometimes it pays to go to Bojangles. To drive out of the parking lot, see the red awning: Fish & Duck Skills. A man walks out and it is broad daylight. Back when I was a new adult in Chattanooga I’d dare myself to go to the Adult Book Shop on Market Street in the daytime or to the gasoline station that my parents frequented, the one close to our old house, where pornography was stored in plastic. Back then I only dreamt in violence. & living was an act of deliberate volatility. Likely, I could trace it all back to Vaughn who laughed in my face when I told him I’d been molested that this was the reason having sex with boys was an act of self-hatred, how Vaughn shared not his story of sexual assault, but my story, with any Tyner Junior High teen willing to listen. So much was going on back then: the little race riots between us & Ooltewah, the White gay guy who thought he was Prince and was terrified of being found out that he wasn’t Prince & that he was gay, the boys who would store their guns in our lockers, my girl friends and I pretending we were gay, kissing each other in the hallway, on the lips, in front of the teachers, because designer clothes were expensive and scandal was free. I didn’t bother telling anyone that I was queer and that just about every single day I didn’t wish I was White, I just wished that White people weren’t. But I fished for the Whitest voice and duck tailed my hair knowing that one day no one would remember that I put a gun in my locker, that I kissed Deidre on her lips, that I sang “the freaks go out at night” at the top of my lungs & thrust my hips to “Candy” on my way to the pep rally. No, what people would remember was that I was Black. The end.
Copyright © 2018 by Metta Sáma. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Where did they get
Them two fine cars?
Insurance man, he did not pay—
His insurance lapsed the other day—
Yet they got a satin box
for his head to lay.
Who was it sent
That wreath of flowers?
Them flowers came
from that poor boy's friends—
They'll want flowers, too,
When they meet their ends.
Who preached that
Black boy to his grave?
Old preacher man
Preached that boy away—
Charged Five Dollars
His girl friend had to pay.
When it was all over
And the lid shut on his head
and the organ had done played
and the last prayers been said
and six pallbearers
Carried him out for dead
And off down Lenox Avenue
That long black hearse done sped,
The street light
At his corner
Shined just like a tear— That boy that they was mournin'
Was so dear, so dear
To them folks that brought the flowers,
To that girl who paid the preacher man—
It was all their tears that made
That poor boy's
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.
Aging. Being in pain. Finishing. Rotting.
We feel we’ve contracted into very dim, very old white dwarf stars, not yet black holes. Wrinkled, but not quite withered. Dropped out of summer like a stone, we watch time fall. With the leaves. Into a deeper color. Wavelengths missing in the reflected light.
The road toward rotting has been so long. We forget where we are going. Like a child, I look amazed at a thistle. Or drink cheap wine and hug my knees. To shorten the shadow? To ward off letting go?
So much body now, to be cared for. What with the arrow, lost cartilage, skeleton within. Memory no longer holds up. A bridge to theory and dreams. Impervious to vertigo. Days are long and too spacious.
Though the sun is a mere eight light-minutes away elderly dust hangs. Over the long sentences I wrote in the last century. Now thoughts in purpose tremor, in lament, in search of. Not being too soon? Going to be? Unconformities separating strata of decay?
You say aimlessness has its virtues. Just as not fully understanding may be required for harmony. And blow your nose. You sing fast falls the eventide, damp on the skin, with bitter wind. And here it is again, the craving for happiness that night induces. Or the day of marriage.
The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities. But gravity is always attracting, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.
Distant galaxies are moving away from us. Friends, lovers, family. Even the sky shifts toward red. Where every clearness is only. A more welcoming slope of the night. And I don't remember why I opened the door.
Mouth full of moans, you believe the natural state. Is a body at rest. And close your eyes to the threat of your face disappearing. Without thought or emotion. Into its condition. And I thought I knew you.
Are the complications thinning to a final simplicity? The nearest thing to a straight path in curved space? Clouds of gas slowly collapsing? With only one possible outcome? But unlike a black hole I keep my hair on. As I move toward the unquestionable dark.
This dark, Mrs. Ramsay thinks, is perhaps the core of every self. The deep note of existence the ear finds, but cannot hold on to. Across the vicissities of the symphony. Or else this dark could be our shelter in the time of long dominion. And though we are not well suited to the perspectives it opens it is an awesome thing to see. Once you can see it.
Copyright © 2018 by Rosmarie Waldrop. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
We meet at a coffee shop. So much time has passed and who is time? Who is waiting by the windowsill? We make plans to go to a museum but we go to a bookshop instead. We’re leaning in, learning how to talk to each other again. I say, I’m obsessed with my grief and she says, I’m always in mourning. She laughs and it’s an extension of her body. She laughs and it moves the whole room. I say, My home is an extension of my body and she says, Most days are better with a long walk. The world moves without us—so we tend to a garden, a graveyard, a pot on the windowsill. Death is a comfort because it says, Transform but don’t hurry. There is a tenderness to growing older and we are listening for it. Steadier ways to move through the world and we are learning them. A way to touch your own body. A touch that says, Dig deeper. There, in the ground, there is our memory. I am near enough my roots. Time is my friend. Tomorrow is a place we are together.
Copyright © 2021 by Sanna Wani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
I was tired. So I lay down. My lids grew heavy. So I slept. Slender memory, stay with me. I was cold once. So my father took off his blue sweater. He wrapped me in it, and I never gave it back. It is the sweater he wore to America, this one, which I've grown into, whose sleeves are too long, whose elbows have thinned, who outlives its rightful owner. Flamboyant blue in daylight, poor blue by daylight, it is black in the folds. A serious man who devised complex systems of numbers and rhymes to aid him in remembering, a man who forgot nothing, my father would be ashamed of me. Not because I'm forgetful, but because there is no order to my memory, a heap of details, uncatalogued, illogical. For instance: God was lonely. So he made me. My father loved me. So he spanked me. It hurt him to do so. He did it daily. The earth is flat. Those who fall off don't return. The earth is round. All things reveal themselves to men only gradually. It won't last. Memory is sweet. Even when it's painful, memory is sweet. Once I was cold. So my father took off his blue sweater.
Li-Young Lee, "Mnemonic" from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
When I lay my head in my mother's lap I think how day hides the stars, the way I lay hidden once, waiting inside my mother's singing to herself. And I remember how she carried me on her back between home and the kindergarten, once each morning and once each afternoon. I don't know what my mother's thinking. When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder: Do his father's kisses keep his father's worries from becoming his? I think, Dear God, and remember there are stars we haven't heard from yet: They have so far to arrive. Amen, I think, and I feel almost comforted. I've no idea what my child is thinking. Between two unknowns, I live my life. Between my mother's hopes, older than I am by coming before me, and my child's wishes, older than I am by outliving me. And what's it like? Is it a door, and good-bye on either side? A window, and eternity on either side? Yes, and a little singing between two great rests.
Li-Young Lee, "The Hammock" from Book of My Nights. Copyright © 2001 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
And when, on this island on which
I love you, there is only so much land
to drive on, a few hours to encircle
in entirety, and the best of our lands
are touristed, the beaches foam-laced
with rainbowing suntan oil,
the mountains tattooed with asphalt,
pocked by telescoped domes,
hotels and luxury condos blighting
the line between ocean and sky,
I find you between the lines
of such hard edges, sitting on
the kamyo stool, a bowl of coconut,
freshly grated, at your feet.
That I hear the covert jackaling
of helicopters and jets overhead
all night through our open jalousies,
that my throat burns from the scorch
of the grenaded graves of my ancestors,
the vog that smears the Koʻolaus into a blur
of greens, that I wake to hear the grind
of you blending vegetables and fruit,
machine whirl-crunching coffee beans,
your shoulder blades channelling ocean,
a steady flux of current.
Past the guarded military testing grounds,
amphibious assault vehicles emerging
from the waves, beyond the tangles
of tarp cities lining the roads, past
the thick memory of molasses coating
the most intimate coral crevices,
by the box jellyfish congregating under
ʻOle Pau and Kāloa moons, at the park
beneath the emptied trees, I come
to find you shaking five-dollar coconuts
(because this is all we have on this island),
listening to the water to guess
its sweetness and youth.
On this island on which I love you,
something of you is in the rain rippling
through the wind that make the pipes
of Waikīkī burst open. Long brown
fingers of sewage stretch out
from the canal, and pesticided
tendrils flow from every ridge
out to sea, and so we stay inside
to bicker over how a plumeria tree
moves in the wind, let our daughters
ink lines like coarse rootlets
in our notebooks, crayon lines
into ladders on our walls
and sheets. Their first sentences
are sung, moonlit blowhole plumes
of sound that calls pebbles to couple,
caverns to be carved, ʻuala to roll
down the hillside again, and I could
choke on this gratitude for you all.
This island is alive with love,
its storms, the cough of alchemy
expelling every parasitic thing,
teaching me to love you with
the intricacies of island knowing,
to depend on the archipelagic
spelling of you lying next to me,
our blue-screen flares their own
floating islands after our daughter
has finally fallen asleep,
to trust in the shape and curve
of your hand reaching out to hold mine
making and remaking an island our own.
From When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry (W.W. Norton & Company, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Brandy Nālani McDougall. Used with the permission of the poet.