“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.” ~ Audre Lorde, from A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer


“What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” ~ Audre Lorde, from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” 

Tuesday late afternoon, cloudy with drizzle, 56 degrees.

Today is the birthday of poet, essayist, novelist, and activist Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934-November 17, 1992). Lorde died in 1992 after years of battling cancer; the illness led to her first prose collection, The Cancer Journals (1980), in which she wrote about her struggle to overcome breast cancer and the resultant mastectomy. Her posthumous collection of essays, A Burst of Light (1988), won the National Book Award. Altogether, Lorde wrote 18 books of poems and essays and won numerous awards, including a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. A self-termed “poet, warrior, feminist, mother, pioneer, lover, survivor, ” Lorde espoused causes related to feminism, in particular black feminism, racism, and gay rights.

For more, visit The Heroine Collective here, or the New York State Writers’ Institute here.


A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

Movement Song

I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck
moving away from me
beyond anger or failure
your face in the evening schools of longing
through mornings of wish and ripen
we were always saying goodbye
in the blood in the bone over coffee
before dashing for elevators going
in opposite directions
without goodbyes.

Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof
as the maker of legends
nor as a trap
door to that world
where black and white clericals
hang on the edge of beauty in five oclock elevators
twitching their shoulders to avoid other flesh
and now
there is someone to speak for them
moving away from me into tomorrows
morning of wish and ripen
your goodbye is a promise of lightning
in the last angels hand
unwelcome and warning
the sands have run out against us
we were rewarded by journeys
away from each other
into desire
into mornings alone
where excuse and endurance mingle
conceiving decision.
Do not remember me
as disaster
nor as the keeper of secrets
I am a fellow rider in the cattle cars
watching
you move slowly out of my bed
saying we cannot waste time
only ourselves.


Music by Rhiannon Giddens, “Shake Sugaree”

Two for Tuesday: Mary Szybist


“I had the happy idea to polish the reflecting glass and say
hello to my own blue soul. Hello, blue soul. Hello.” ~ Mary Szybist, from “Happy Ideas”

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy, 32 degrees.

Today’s Two for Tuesday features poems by American poet Mary Szybist, winner of a Pushcart Prize in 2012; among her other awards are the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry, the 2003 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books and the 2004 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. She is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. Szybist teaches at Lewis & Clark College

You can read more about her in interviews with The Paris Review and with UVA Magazine. In July of this year Szybist was named the 2019 laureate of The George W. Hunt, S.J., Prize for Journalism, Arts & Letters for outstanding work in the category of Poetry.


The Troubadours Etc.

Just for this evening, let’s not mock them.
Not their curtsies or cross-garters
or ever-recurring pepper trees in their gardens
promising, promising.

At least they had ideas about love.

All day we’ve driven past cornfields, past cows poking their heads
through metal contraptions to eat.
We’ve followed West 84, and what else?
Irrigation sprinklers fly past us, huge wooden spools in the fields,
lounging sheep, telephone wires,
yellowing flowering shrubs.

Before us, above us, the clouds swell, layers of them,
the violet underneath of clouds.
Every idea I have is nostalgia. Look up:
there is the sky that passenger pigeons darkened and filled—
darkened for days, eclipsing sun, eclipsing all other sound
with the thunder of their wings.
After a while, it must have seemed that they followed
not instinct or pattern but only
one another.

When they stopped, Audubon observed,
they broke the limbs of stout trees by the weight of the numbers.

And when we stop we’ll follow—what?
Our hearts?

The Puritans thought that we are granted the ability to love
only through miracle,
but the troubadours knew how to burn themselves through,
how to make themselves shrines to their own longing.
The spectacular was never behind them.

Think of days of those scarlet-breasted, blue-winged birds above you.
Think of me in the garden, humming
quietly to myself in my blue dress,
a blue darker than the sky above us, a blue dark enough for storms,
though cloudless.

At what point is something gone completely?
The last of the sunlight is disappearing
even as it swells—

Just for this evening, won’t you put me before you
until I’m far enough away you can
believe in me?

Then try, try to come closer—
my wonderful and less than.

*********

On Wanting to Tell [ ] about a Girl Eating Fish Eyes

—how her loose curls float
above each silver fish as she leans in
to pluck its eyes—

You died just hours ago.
Not suddenly, no. You’d been dying so long
nothing looked like itself: from your window,
fishermen swirled sequins;
fishnets entangled the moon.

Now the dark rain
looks like dark rain. Only the wine
shimmers with candlelight. I refill the glasses
and we raise a toast to you
as so and so’s daughter—elfin, jittery as a sparrow—
slides into another lap
to eat another pair of slippery eyes
with her soft fingers, fingers rosier each time,
for being chewed a little.

If only I could go to you, revive you.
You must be a little alive still.
I’d like to put this girl in your lap.
She’s almost feverishly warm and she weighs
hardly anything. I want to show you how
she relishes each eye, to show you
her greed for them.

She is placing one on her tongue,
bright as a polished coin—

What do they taste like? I ask.
Twisting in my lap, she leans back
sleepily. They taste like eyes, she says.

“Between narrow walls we walk: insanity on one side, & fat dullness on the other.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal entry (September ? 1840)

Illustration by Margaret C. Cook for a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass

Two for Tuesday: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller

Tuesday afternoon, sunny and very windy, 61 degrees.

Today I’m tackling two people as opposed to two poems or two passages, and in so doing, I realize fully that I am barely moving beyond the surface layer of two very complex individuals. It is not hard to find a plethora of books and essays about the life and works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803April 27, 1882), the so-called “Sage of Concord,” and while available research on Margaret Fuller (May 23, 1810July 19, 1850) has not been as prolific as that on Emerson, the last 40 years have seen a resurgence in interest on the feminist icon.

Fuller, a well-known name in Women’s Studies, died tragically at the age of only 40. However, Fuller was noted for her groundbreaking achievements, including being the first female American foreign correspondent, as well as the first female combat reporter, as well as being first woman to attend Emerson’s all-male Transcendental Club. In 2013 Judith Thurman reviewed Megan Marshall’s biography on Fuller in an article titled “An Unfinished Woman,” which you can find here.

I recently read an article on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova called “The Conflicted Love Letters of Emerson and Fuller.” Admittedly, I am not an Emersonian scholar, knowing only the basics—a la Wikipedia—about the American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet; the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century is often attributed to Emerson. I also know little about Emerson’s relationship with Fuller, who was once considered the “best read woman in America.” Fuller was a prominent female intellectual renowned for her literary criticism and feminist writing, most notable of which was her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, which advocated more independence for woman and broader lives beyond the traditional hearth and home.

“Ask me what I think of you & me, — & I am put to confusion.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, from a letter to Margaret Fuller

The article led me to peruse some of Emerson’s journal entries, such as some from the 1840s in which he reacts to the paradoxical nature of his relationship with Fuller. One entry is quoted in the Brain Pickings’ article:

You would have me love you. What shall I love? Your body? The supposition disgusts you. What you have thought & said? Well, whilst you were thinking & saying them, but not now. I see no possibility of loving any thing but what now is, & is becoming; your courage, your enterprize, your budding affection, your opening thought, your prayer, I can love—but what else? (September 26, 1840)

More from  Emerson’s journal:

. . . When I write a letter to any one whom I love I have no lack of words or thoughts: I am wiser than myself & read my paper with the pleasure of one who receives a letter, but what I write to fill up the gaps of a chapter is hard & cold, is grammar & logic; there is no magic in it; I do not wish to see it again. Settle with yourself your accusations of me. If I do not please you, ask me not to please you, but please yourself. What you call my indolence, nature does not accuse; the twinkling leaves, the sailing fleets of waterflies, the deep sky like me well enough and know me for their own . . . You do not know me If my debts, as they threaten, should consume what money I have, I should live just as I do now. (October 7, 1840)

I do not give you my time, but I give you that which I have put my time into, namely my letter or my poem, the expression of my opinion, or better yet which in solitude I have learned to do. (October 1840)

For her part, Fuller opined regarding their relationship: more than friends, but exactly what, neither could discern:

We are to be much to one another. How often have I left you despairing and forlorn. How often have I said, this light will never understand my fire; this clear eye will never discern the law by which I am filling my circle; this simple force will never interpret my need to manifold being.

I think that what I and others find most relatable in their relationship is its very duality, the “emotional confusion” that abounded in their intimacy.


Music by Pomplamoose, featuring Sarah Dugas, “Sweet Dreams + Seven Nation Army”

“I hurt | therefore I exist” ~ Claribel Alegría, from “I am Mirror”

Poet Claribel Alegría (by Simon Hurst)

“Every time I name them
my dead are resurrected.” ~ Claribel Alegría, “Every time I name them” (Trans. Carolyn Forché)

Tuesday afternoon, foggy and cloudy, 61 degrees.

Today’s Two for Tuesday features Nicaraguan/Salvadoran poet, essayist, and journalist Claribel Alegría (May 12, 1924-January 25, 2018). Born Clara Isabel Alegría Vides in Nicaragua to physician father Daniel Alegría, her father opposed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in 1924; the family was subsequently forced into exile in her mother’s home country of El Salvador while Claribel was still an infant. Her obituary in The Washington Post refers to her as “a leading poet of suffering and anguish.” She was best known in the U.S. for the bilingual edition of her volume of poetry, Flores del volcán/Flowers from the Volcano (1982), which was translated by the poet Carolyn Forché.

A 1953 portrait

Algería’s work combined the personal with the political by sometimes focusing on the violence that plagued both Nicaragua and El Salvador for decades. Poet Daisy Zamora said of Algería that she had “unfailingly spoken up for justice and liberty . . . becoming a voice for the voiceless and the dispossessed.” In 2006 Algería received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for which he had been nominated by Zamora. In her acceptance remarks upon receiving the prize Algería stated the following:

The poet celebrates humankind, the universe, and the creator of the universe. It is impossible for one to remain indifferent to the turbulence that our planet and its inhabitants suffer through: war, hunger, earthquakes, misery, racism, violence, xenophobia, deforestation, AIDS, and childhood affliction, among others. In the region from which I come, Central America, we love poetry, and at times we use it to denounce what is happening around us. There are many fine testimonial poems. The poet, especially where I’m from, cannot and should not remain in an ivory tower.

You can read more about her life and substantial oeuvre here or in her New York Times obituary here. Poet Carolyn Forché interviewed Alegria in 1984, and a PDF can be found here.

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite science fiction writers, Frank Herbert (October 8, 1920-February 11, 1986), creator of the Dune series.


Rain

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
Streaming
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
world
a voracious
world—abyss
ambush
whirlwind
spur
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.

[This is a night of shadows]

This is a night of shadows
of sword-memories
solitude overwhelms me.
No one awaits my arrival
with a kiss
or a rum
and a thousand questions.
Solitude echoes within me.
My heart wishes
to burst with rage
but it sprouts wings.

Two for Tuesday: Chana Bloch


“Chana Bloch’s poems whisper swiftly what has been in us since we began. They are telling, quick revelations of the creatures we are, creatures we may not ignore and must not distort.” ~ Richard Hugo

I decided to do today’s post about poet, translator and scholar Chana Bloch (March 15, 1940 (my mom’s birthday)-May 19, 2017),  after coming upon one of her poems in a post that I wrote several years ago (March 23, 2013). Rereading this poem made me want to know more about Bloch, so I went on one of my online scavenging hunts.

In reading about Bloch I came upon a PDF entitled Patient Poets: Illness from Inside Out, by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre; published in 2017 by UC Berkeley as part of its Perspectives in Medical Humanities series, the publication deals with poetry written by patients in the face of illness. If you have the time, I recommend perusing this work as it is replete with works with which you may be unfamiliar, and at only 170 pages, it’s a fast read.

I always appreciate that serendipitous aspect of life that allows me to stumble upon poems akin to those that I tend to write: those that deal with illness, loss, and death. I was completely unfamiliar with McEntyre and this publication, and I found it when trying to track down the source of the titular quote about Bloch, so I spent an hour on a rabbit trail that proved to be very rewarding.

The following passage, which appears in the chapter entitled “Outrageous Intimacies,” describes a process I have undertaken more times than I can count: that of turning to composing in the immediate aftermath of hearing bad news, regardless of locale or access to writing materials. From the text:

We see a similar reflection on the enforced intimacies of diagnosis and surgery in a series of eight poems by Chana Bloch, collectively entitled “In the Land of the Body,” that chronicle her diagnosis and treatment for ovarian cancer (Bloch, 68). The poems, by a poet and writer whose diagnosis interrupted a thriving teaching career, were composed in the course of treatment, the first scribbled in the car immediately after learning she would have to have surgery. That was her moment of resolve to survive and write about it; that resolve, she said later in an interview, “would be like a thread I could hold on to.” She continued to write her way through the experience, jotting notes during clinical visits, collecting unfamiliar words, pressing the doctor for explanations she later translated into her own idiom.

To read more about Bloch, The Poetry Society of America features an Interview that Diane Bilyak conducted with Bloch, which can be found here; the Los Angeles Review of Books printed a nice feature in 2015, or you can take a look at her NYT obituary here.

Happy Birthday to F. Scott Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896-December 21, 1940)

Note: While I had the bones of this post done on Tuesday, it still needed some flesh, hence, the back posting . . .


Chiaroscuro

Before the light was divided from darkness,
what was it like, that chaos?
a brilliant shadow? an absence
lit from within?
This is not a question. I’m tired of living
in the land of answers.

At school I’d wave my flag of five fingers,
pleased to produce
just what the teacher ordered.
I needed to get it right.

I knew a man whose first love
was numbers, how sane they are.
Feelings! he blurted, startling himself and me.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t have them.

My feelings know more than I do,
and what do they know?
He left me laughing and crying at the same time.

And what did he know without his feelings?
Four currencies, three fine wines,
two fountain pens, one blue, one black,
the capital of every poor country in the world.

**********

Watching

for my father

You and I used to talk about
Lear and his girls
(I read it in school,

you saw it on the Yiddish stage
where the audience yelled:
Don’t believe them,

they’re rotten) —
that Jewish father and his
suburban daughters.

Now I’m here with the rest,
smelling the silences,
watching you

disappear.
What will it look like?
Lost on the bed

without shoes, without lungs,
you won’t talk
except to the wall: I’m dying,

and to the nurse: Be
careful, I
may live.

What does a daughter say
to the bones
that won’t answer —

Thank you to the nice man?
Daddy?
The last time

we went to the Bronx Zoo,
the elephants were smelly as ever,
all those warm Sundays,

the monkeys as lewd.
But they put the penguins
behind curved glass

with a radiant sky
painted on the far wall.
And all those birds

lined up with their backs to us
watching the wrong
horizon.

“For echo is the soul of the voice exciting itself in hollow places.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The English Patient

Image result for The English Patient quotes


Two for Tuesday: Michael Ondaatje

Tuesday afternoon, partly cloudy, 83 degrees.

I missed the birthday of one of my favorite writers: Michael Ondaatje (September 12, 1943). One of my best friends from the museum, Becky Anthony, introduced me to Ondaatje and his masterful novel, The English Patient, which was adapted into an equally beautiful movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. The Poetry Foundation has a nice bio of the author.

For today’s Two for Tuesday, I thought that I’d share some of my favorite quotes from the novel, a few more than two, I suppose. I’m also including a video with some of the movie’s soundtrack. I love movie soundtracks, and this is one that I listen to when I’m feeling very out of sorts. It is as hauntingly beautiful as the movie and novel. Enjoy.

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”
In the desert the most loved waters, like a lover’s name, are carried blue in your hands, enter your throat. One swallows absence.
A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that feeds him more than water. There is a plant he knows of near El Taj, whose heart, if one cuts it out, is replaced with a fluid containing herbal goodness. Every morning one can drink the liquid the amount of a missing heart.
He walks with her through the indigo markets that lie between South Cairo and her home. The beautiful songs of faith enter the air like arrows, one minaret answering another, as if passing on a rumor of the two of them as they walk through the cold morning air, the smell of charcoal and hemp already making the air profound. Sinners in a holy city.
And all the names of the tribes, the nomads of faith who walked in the monotone of the desert and saw brightness and faith and colour. The way a stone or found metal box or bone can become loved and turn eternal in a prayer. Such glory of this country she enters now and becomes a part of. We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all of this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography—to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.

More later. Peace.

Also, Happy Birthday to William Carlos Williams (“The Red Wheelbarrow) and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)


The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler

I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
–your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler’s wife. Smell me.

~ Michael Ondaatje