It Is What It Is
Friday, March 30, 2007
OK, we have to face it. A whole two weeks of Spring having passed, steaming, stinking, miserable Summer is on the doorstep here in South Texas, leaving haters, like me, of every woeful aspect of summer with no option but to snivel and whine, as if making our misery plain will somehow change the weather and alter the seasons.
But since that won't work, a stiff upper lip is required. People will get sick by mid-May of our complaining and begin to avoid us if we don't stop.
So, lip stiffly in place, here is "Here and Now" number II.3.5 with nary a hint of my desperate internal angst exposed.
We start this week with two poems from my favorite Polish poet, Zbigniew Herbert.
Birds leave their shadows
in their nests
leave then the lamp
instrument and book
come to a hill
where air grows
I will point out
an absent star
deep under the turf
are tender roots
the wind will lend it mouth
for us to sing
we will knit our foreheads
not say a word
clouds have haloes
in place of eyes
we have black pebbles
good memory heals
the scar after departure
perhaps glimmers will glide
down the bent back
truly truly I tell you
great is the abyss
and the light
Farewell to the City
Chimneys salute this departure with smoke
a barge flows on the river windows quiver and complain
stucco composes a gray wreath on the pavement
the hair of dust dragging almost into infinity
on the island is a ringing of lights in black ropes
the crab of a cathedral blind dripping with soot
the stony lips of choirs
prophets' heads shells and the barking of bones
a souvenir after the psalm to a star rose and chalice
through the middle of the city with the haste of poor funerals
a barge flows on the river loaded with rubble
(Poems translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter)
Online poet Dana L Pertermann was born in the Pacific Northwest. She says her poetry reflects her changing world view as she has moved across the US and lived in Europe for several years. She is currently working towards a Ph.D. in Archaeology.
This is Dana's first appearance in "Here and Now."
in my weak state
i am frantic
from a lack of laughter
life is cold, and i was suckered in
with no bootstraps
lassoed to the darkness
the force of your touch
licking away my resolve
and my nights are aflame
with the shadow
of glaciers melting
Painting by Javie Garcia
I've used the poems of William Heyen twice on "Here and Now." The poems were from his book Lord Dragonfly, which consists of five "sequences." Two of the sequences are made up of a number of very short poems/verses. Those are the two sequences I've used so far, the title sequence Lord Dragonfly and Evening Dawning. Because the individual verses were so short, I was able to use the entire sequence in both instances. The next sequence is titled Machines, a series of poems about machines, both realistic and fanciful or metaphorical. Since the poems in this sequence are longer, I can only pick and choose poems to use. This is the poem I've selected this week, from the sequence Machines.
The Machine That Puts You To Sleep
There come a time
after your several new lives,
to die. Your soul knows when
and tells you, sometimes trembles
under a warm sun,
sometimes warms your limbs and face
in a flurry of snow
as though your bones were candles.
You know, and by this time
welcome your own soul's choice.
Those around you,
all those you've loved
for so long, will watch your eyes
begin to bloom to black flowers,
and will know, and be happy,
looking ahead to their own time.
Your soul will tell you the morning.
Your loved ones will walk you
to the machine's door, say
a few words, and walk away.
You'll enter the machine,
walk in the dark to where
a wall of water glows
with its own black light.
You'll walk into the water,
Your lungs will breathe water.
The water will lift you to where
your lives will pass before you
like a film. Now the machine's tides
will turn in deep silence. Now,
as though the moon drew you,
downward, the machine will drop you
into a dreamless sleep at last, forever.
It is indicative of the kind of week I've had that I have no new poems of my own to post in this issue.
That means it's time to pull out some oldies.
We lived for fifteen years on the Texas coast, in Corpus Christi, a small city of about a quarter million residents, a great city and a great place to live. We left there for our move north to the hill country, another great place to live, in 1993. Bored with retirement, I moved back to Corpus Christi on a weekly commuter basis in 2001-2002. A year and a half of making the 300 mile round trip weekly commute convinced me that boredom was not all that bad a thing after all, so I returned to my mostly full time life of leisure in San Antonio.
This poem was written, and then published in Tryst, during that period. Later, I used it in my book, Seven Beats a Second.
the bay is flat
can be seen on the surface
like smoky streaks
on an antique mirror,
so still, like time
and the earth's rotation
have stopped and the sun
has stopped overhead, its
burning light sharp and clear,
a small fish leaps
and slaps the water
with a crack
that starts a small wave
pushing out in a circle
from the small jumping fish,
the only motion
spreading across the bay
to the gulf
small leaping fish pushing
against the Gulf of Mexico
and the Atlantic beyond
small leaping fish
in universal waters
against the moon's orbit
and the rightness of all
This poem by Jane Hirshfield is from her book Of Gravity & Angels. She has been a particular favorite of several readers of "Here and Now."
November, Remembering Voltaire
In the evenings
I scrape my fingernails clean,
hunt through old catalogues for new seed,
oil work boots and shears.
This garden is no metaphor -
more a task that swallows you into itself,
earth using, as always, everything it can.
I lend myself to unpromising winter dirt
with leaf-mold and bulb,
plant into the oncoming cold.
Not that I ever thought
the philosopher meant to be taken literally,
but with no invented God overhead,
I conjure a stubborn faith in rotting
that ripens into soil,
in an old corm that rises steadily each spring:
not symbols, but reassurances,
like a mother's voice at bedtime reading a long-familiar book,
the known words barely listened to,
but joining, for all the nights of a life,
each world to the next.
Sally Kamerling is a retired nurse. She says she has long had an interest in poetry and is just starting to try her hand at it, working with other poets in online workshop forums. She says she lives in central New York where they are just ending a short but powerful winter with lots of snow, leading her to write this spring poem.
This is her first appearance in "Here and Now."
Gray Skies in Spring
Puddles left from last night's rain
the low gray sky
spread over our valley
like the underside of a lumpy old quilt.
Our tall young maples
reach for the sky
as if to pierce the gloom
a glimpse of sun
And scattered carelessly about
small islands of snow
waiting for the end.
These poems, by various poets, are from the anthology Making Callaloo - 25 Years of Black Literature, edited by Charles Henry Rowell.
Our first poem is by Rita Dove, the second African American poet to win the Pulitzer Prize (after Gwendolyn Brooks, who well see more of later in this issue). From 1993 to 1995 she served as the first Black and the youngest Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress.
A flower in a weedy field:
make it a poppy. You pick it.
Because it begins to wilt
you run to the nearest house
to ask for a jar of water.
The woman on the porch starts
screaming you've plucked the last poppy
in her miserable garden, the one
that gave her strength every morning
to rise! It's too late for apologies
though you go through the motions, offering
trinkets and a juicy spot in the written history
she wouldn't live to read anyway.
So you strike her, she hits
her head on a white boulder
and there's nothing to be done
but break the stone into gravel
to prop up the flower in the stolen jar
you have to take along
because you're a fugitive now
and you can't leave clues.
Already the story's starting to unravel,
the villagers stirring as your heart
pounds into your throat. Why
did you pick that flower?
Because it was the last one
and you knew
it was going to die.
Angela Jackson is native of Mississippi. She has written many volumes of poems, several short stories, and a popular romance novel. She is best known for her poetry.
The Love of Travelers
(Doris, Sandra and Sheryl)
At the rest stop on the way to Mississippi
we found the butterfly mired in the oil slick:
its wings thick
and blunted. One of us, tender in the finger tips,
smoothed with a tissue the oil
that came off only a little;
the oil-smeared wings like lips colored with lipstick
blotted before a kiss.
So delicate the cleansing of the wings
I thought the color soft as watercolors would wash off
under the method of her mercy for something so slight
and graceful, injured, beyond the love of travelers.
It ws torn then, even after her kindest work,
the almost-moth exquisite charity could not mend
what weighted the wing, melded with it,
then ruptured it in release.
The body of the thing lifted out of its place
between the washed wings.
Imagine the agony of a self separated by gentlest repair.
"Should we kill it?" one of us ask. And I said yes.
But none of us had the nerve.
We walked away, the last of the oil welding the butterfly
to the wood of the picnic table.
The wings stuck out and quivered when wind went by.
Whoever found it must have marveled at this.
And loved it for what it was and
I think, meticulous mercy is the work of travelers,
and leaving things as they are
punishment or reward.
I have died for the smallest things.
Nothing washes off.
Thomas Sayers Ellis is a poet, photographer, and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY and a core faculty member of the Leslie University Low Residency MFA Program.
A Kiss in the Dark
In our community everything was kept quiet,
behind closed doors. When dogs got stuck
it was because one was hurt and the other
was a friend helping it home - just like a friend.
Once Reverend Gibson ran from the church
with a bucket of hot water and when it separated them,
they sang. That's why it was such an event,
a mistake equivalent to sin, when my parents
left their bedroom light on, door open.
Mistakes are what gave light to that tiny apartment
darkness and tried to conquer. And imagination,
How there had to be more to it than the quick
and crude "He put it in and he took it out."
A naked bulb on the dresser next to where
they made me made them celebrities, giants, myth.
I watch their black shadows on the wall,
half expecting fade out and something romantic
as the final scene of "Love Crazy," my father
a suave William Powell, my mother's slender body
a backwards C in the tight focus of his arms -
close shot, oneiric dissolve, jump-cut to years
before their separation and the arrival of hot water.
Terrance Hayes graduated in 1994 from Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, where he played basketball and majored in painting. From 1994 to 1997 he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry at the University of Pittsburgh writing program. From 1999-2001 he was an assistant professor of English at Xavier University of Louisiana. Since 2001 he has been on the creative writing faculty of Carnegie Mellon University, where he is a full professor.
- for Y.K. & brothers playing football in the parks, in the streets, and in the dark.
We made our own laws,
I want to be a Hawk,
A Dolphin, a Lion, we'd say
In stores where team logos hung
Like animal skins.
Even by moonlight,
We'd chase each other
Around the big field
Beneath branches sagging
As if their leaves were full of blood.
We didn't notice when policemen
Came lighting tree-bark
& our skin with flashlights.
They saw our game
For what it was:
Fingers clutching torso,
Shoulder, wrist - a brawl,
Some of the boys escaped,
Their brown legs cut by thorns
As they ran through the brush.
It's true, we could have been mistaken
For animals in the dark,
But of all possible crimes,
Blackness was the first.
So they tackled me,
And read me my rights without saying:
You Down or Dead Ball.
We had a language
They did not use, a name
For collision. We called it Touch.
Online poet Christine Kiefer says that, when not pretending to write, she is an attorney smack dab in the middle of the US of A. My own reaction after reading her stuff is to say that, if she's just pretending to write, she's one heck of a good pretender, a "great pretender" even, as in the '50's rock and roll song.
This is her first appearance in "Here and Now."
Done things I wish I could undo
that we hadn't gone to the market that morning for the butter nut squash
I was to cook with coconut and brown sugar or the watermelon,
small and seedless, your favorite, and those damn red delicious apples
that you hadn't fixed the wobbly kitchen table my kids and I
abandoned months ago - when I'd cut their pork chops
I thought it would just collapse right there on the sleeping cat underneath
that I hadn't bought you a toothbrush, the green one that stands diagonal
leaning up against mine, orange and worn because of my obsession
with teeth, yours sharp and noticeable, mine brushed countless times a day
that you hadn't done that one load of laundry for me while I was at work
the one with the bathroom rugs that I should wash more often, the mint
green one that when freshly washed shows footprints by the shower
the one with your print, from the last time you were here
This poem was written during that same 2001-2002 period I mentioned earlier. It was published in The Horsethief's Journal in 2003.
it's early morning and I'm looking for this
apartment that was listed in the classifieds
(on the beach, the ad said,
half a block from the Sea Shell Motel,
lovely view of the bay at sunrise)
through fog so thick I could run over
a dozen geezers reading their free
USA Today in the lobby of the Sea Shell
Motel and not know it until my insurance
premiums went up in the next quarter
but with the humidity so high
all my car windows are so smeared
with condensation inside and out
that I can't see the fog and I figure
what the hell and don't worry about it
I'm looking for Bushnick Street
and all the street signs are lost somewhere
in that thick fog that I can't see anyway
because of the goddam humidity
until I finally give up and
turn off my air conditioner
and open all the car windows
thinking that if I get the smeared
windows out of the way maybe
I can see through the fog enough
to at least figure out where I am
but that doesn't work either
and all I do is let in a black
cloud of starving mosquitoes
that settle on my face and arms
like a cactus blanket, greedy little
vampire bugs nipping a hundred
little nips, sucking my blood, leaving
wet red splotches as I flail my hands
around, slapping myself silly at seven
o'clock in the gulf coast morning
and I'm reminded about all the things
about this place I haven't missed
It's been several weeks since we've done Bukowski, the favorite of all my favorites. Though I understand my high opinion is not universally shared, several weeks without him is still too long. So here he is again.
I'm a failure
I locked my car door
guy walked up
he looked like my old
but it wasn't Peter
it was a skinny dude
in blue work shirt and torn jeans
and he said,
"hey, man, my wife and I
need something to eat!
I looked behind him
and there was his
and she stared at me
her eyes brimming with
I gave him a five.
"I love you, man!" he
hollered, "and I'm not going to spend it on booze!"
"why not?" I said.
I went and
took care f some business
got into my car
whether I had done
or been taken.
as I drove off
I remembered my years on the
starved, damn near beyond repair and
I had never asked anyone for a
I explained to the lady I lived with
how I often gave money to panhandlers
in the darkest hungriest times of my
life I had refused
to ask anyone for
"you just never knew how to do any-
thing right," she said.
Here's a little quasi-remembrance, published in Retrozine in 2003.
Stringing Fence on the Rio Grande
It was damn hot the summer of '63 and me and my friend Toby was right in the middle of it all, working for a fella named Lackland Caintrail in the cactus and caliche badlands between Laredo and Old Guerrero.
Caintrail was a banker, bought himself a few head of stringy looking cattle and a hundred acres of Rio Grande brush and decided he was a rancher, even though he didn't know diddly about range cows and ranching.
Course, I wasn't much of a cowboy either, but Toby knew the work and he'd got me out of scrapes before and I knew he'd watch out for me, get me across a pasture without too much cow flop on my boots, keep me from sitting on a cactus or pissing on a rattlesnake.
Mostly, we was fixing up the fences, putting in new cedar posts, stringing barb wire, so I didn't need to know much, just how to turn a post hole digger, though it's easier to talk about than do since putting a hole in that hard-packed South Texas caliche is not much different from digging in an asphalt parking lot in downtown Fort Worth, except it's hotter'n hell and the only shade in fifty miles is under a scrubby huisache bush that's more'n likely already been claimed by a nest of rattlers.
It was hard, hard work, and the harder it got and the hotter it got, the thirstier we got, and the thirstier we got, the longer seemed the days and night baking in the desert, waiting for the end of the month and our paycheck.
Sometimes, we just couldn't wait for the end of the month. So after work, we'd clean up best we could, put on some good jeans, polish up our fancy-Dan boots and drive the forty miles to town, to where the Red Cross kept its blood bank open late for cash-starved rig hands and cowboys running dry, tight and summer night lonely.
Me and Toby would line up with the other roughnecks and take our turn, getting as much as we could for our blood. That wasn't much for me, barely buy a six-pack, but Toby, that boy had a gold mine running in his veins, each pint worth enough to get us across the bridge to Nuevo Laredo with money for a woman, tequila, a couple of pretty good cigars and a big plate for each of us of anything besides pinto beans.
Next morning, sleep deprived, wrung out, and hung over in that hot desert sun we'd swear we'd never do it again, but we knew we would cause it gets pretty lonely out in those South Texas badlands and sometimes a lonely cowboy just gotta get rowdy like cowboys oughta do.
Painting by Javie Garcia
The next three poems are by Gwendolyn Brooks, first African-American recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, from the collection of her work, Collected Poems. She was born in 1917 and, in style and form, those early times are reflected in her work. In many other ways, her poems seem very modern and up to date in mood and outlook, a kind of late 20's flapperishness, in the best sense of that word, exuberant, freethinking, independent, and very smart, qualities that were submerged in many women for a while by social pressures and role conformity, but that returned with great passion and urgency in the later part of the century. Here are three examples of how the old mixes with the new.
The School of Beauty's a tavern now.
The Madam is underground.
Out at Lincoln, among the graves
Her own is early found.
Where the thickest, tallest monument
Cuts grandly into the air
The Madam lies, contentedly.
Her fortune, too, lies there,
Converted into cool hard steel
And right red velvet lining;
While over her tan impassivity
Shot silk is shining.
a song in the front yard
I've stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it's rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.
I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.
They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun..
My mother sneers, but I say it's fine
How they don't have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tell me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George'll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).
But I say it's fine. Honest, I do.
And I'd like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the street with paint on my face.
Sadie and Maud
Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb.
She didn't leave a tangle in.
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chits
In all the land.
Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.
When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie had left as heritage
Her fine-tooth comb.)
Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.
James Fowler has been with us here several times. Here's one of his latest poems.
Wet stone, tumbled by incessant
seas, waits on the sand, like a jade
green mermaid. I pick it up,
roll its oblate form in my fingers,
like a blind man touching lips.
The choice green pebble joins with me
in my pocket. Secure, smooth, select,
it rubs my cloth, a stone concubine
languishing like an Odalisque lover.
Next day, I found another.
Tossed the old talisman to sea,
where it ground gradually to sand,
a spurned lover in Neptune's bed.
Frequent "Here and Now" contributor Gary Blankenship has been writing a series of fifty poems, each poem evocative of one of the fifty states. I hope we'll be seeing some of those poems in future blissues.
In the meantime, I ran across a book, Across State Lines, put together by The American Poetry & Literacy Project, which compiles poems pertaining to the various states by a variety of poets, both modern and less so. Though not nearly as challenging a project as Gary set for himself, there are still some good poems.
Here are several, heading across the country as the crow flies, assuming the crow flies alphabetically.
This poem was written by Charles Foster. Google came up with a number of Charles Fosters, but none that I could definitively pin this poem on. It's still a fun poem, though.
How Everything Was In The End Resolved In California
And here's a Florida poem by Wallace Stevens
As the immense dew of Florida
The big-finned palm
And green vine angering for life,
As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth hymn and hymn
From the beholder,
Beholding all these green sides
And gold sides and green sides,
And blessed mornings,
Meet for the eye of the young alligator,
And lightning colors
So, in me, come flinging
Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.
Philip Levine, a Michigan native, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet. He is the Distinguished Poet in Residence for the Creative Writing Program at New York University.
Leo's Tool & Die, 1950
In the early morning before the shop
opens, men standing out in the yard
on pine planks over the umber mud.
The oil drum, squat, brooding, brimmed
with metal scraps, three-armed crosses,
silver shavings whitened with milky oil,
drill bits bitten off. The light diamonds
last night's rain; inside a buzzer purrs.
The overhead door stammers upward
to reveal the scene of our day.
for lunch on crates before the open door.
Bobeck, the boss's nephew, squats to hug
the overflowing drum, gasps and lifts. Rain
comes down in sheets staining his gunmetal
covert suit. A stake truck sloshes off
as the sun returns through a low sky.
By four, the office help has driven off. We
sweep, wash up, punch out, collect outside
for a final smoke. The great door crashes
down at last.
In the darkness the scents
of mint, apples, asters. In the darkness
this could be a Carthaginian outpost sent
to guard the waters of the West, those mounds
could be elephants at rest, the acrid half light
the haze of stars striking armor if stars were out.
On the galvanized tin roof the tunes of sudden rain.
The slow light of Friday morning in Michigan,
the one we waited for, shows seven hills
of scraped earth topped with crab grass,
weeds, a black oil drum empty, glistening
at the exact center of the modern world.
John Balaban is a poet and translator who teaches at North Carolina State University.
Passing through Albuquerque
At dusk, by the irrigation ditch
gurgling past backyards near the highway,
locust raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods.
A Spanish girl in a white party dress
strolls the levee by the muddy water
where her small sister plunks in stones.
Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot.
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer.
Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm,
rocking the immense trees and whipping up
clouds of dusk, wild leaves, and cottonwool.
In the moment when the locusts pause and the girl
presses her up-fluttering dress to her bony knees
you can hear a banjo, guitar, and fiddle
playing "The Mississippi Sawyer" inside a shack.
Moments like that, you can love this country.
This piece was written by Nikki Giovanni.
Just a New York Poem
i wanted to take
your hand and run with you
ourselves down the street to your street
i wanted to laugh aloud
and skip the notes past
the marquee advertising "women
in love" past the record
shop with "the spirit
in the dark" past the smoke shop
past the park and no parking
parking today signs
past the people watching me in
my blue velvet and i don't remember
what you wore but only that i didn't want
anything to be wearing you
i wanted to give
myself to the cyclone that is
and let you in the eye of my hurricane and know
the calm before
and some fall evening
after the cocktails
and the very expensive and very bad
steak served with day-old baked potatoes
and the second cup of coffee taken
while listening to the rejected
maybe some fall evening
when the taxis have passed you by
and that light sort of rain
that occasionally falls
in new youk begins
you’ll take a thought
and laugh aloud
the notes carrying all the way over
to me and we'll run again
toward each other
Rebecca Gonzales, a native of the Bronx, writes and performs in both English and Spanish.
South Texas Summer Rain
Dust cools easily
with the lightest summer ran.
Not rocks. In the midst of dry brush,
they hold the sun like a match,
a threat to the water
that would wear them out.
Dust becomes clay,
cups rain like an innocent offering.
They round their backs to the rain,
channel it down the street where children play,
feeling the rocks they walk on,
sharp as ever under the water,
If rocks would hold water at all,
it's only long enough
for a cactus to grow gaudy flowers,
hoard a cheap drink,
flash it like a sin
worth the pain.
Here's another piece from the 2001-2002 period I mention earlier. The poem was published in The Green Tricycle in 2001.
lying with my lover on the beach at midnight
the beach was best at midnight
when the daytrippers were at home
nursing sunburns, or in a bar,
honky-tonk dancing in gritty flip-flops
the beach was best at midnight
when its beauty was ours alone,
when the sand gleamed white in moonlight
and stars spread across the gulf sky
like a blanket of lights on the tropic night
when the surf breaking against the shore
was the only sound, a low hint of rumble
like far-away thunder, constant in the distance
the beach was best at midnight
when we lay together on a sandy towel
wrapped in the whisper of rising-fallings waves
Speaking of Gary Blankenship, here is a poem he wrote in response to a challenge I started on the Blueline Forum. The challenge was to write poems about presidents. The challenge on top of the challenge was to write poems about the presidents named by historians as the five worst presidents in American history. (No, George the Lesser was not in consideration. The consensus is that he ought to get to complete his term before being identified as the worst ever.)
The five presidents selected by historians as the worst were:
1. James Buchanan - Rejected Slavery as an indefensible evil, but refused to challenge the constitutionally established order, by compromising when he should have stood firm, allowed the introduction of slavery into western territories, unwilling to stand firm against he secessionist tide. A devote man, but weak in his use of presidential power and influence, bears partial responsibility for the eventual succession of the southern states and the Civil War which followed.
2. Warren B. Harding - Hail fellow, well met, could not say no to crooked friends and acquaintances. In his own words, "I am not fit for this office and should never have been here."
3. Andrew Johnson - Former tailor who rose to the office of Vice-President, then to the Presidency upon Lincoln's death. Though a Democrat, he was a staunch supporter of the Union and the only southerner to retain his seat in the US Senate after succession. In my schoolboy days in South Texas, he was held in esteem for holding back "the carpetbaggers." The most recent evaluation is that he was astonishingly inept and indifferent to the plight of the newly freed slaves.
4. Franklin Pierce - A Yankee with southern principles. He believed in national expansion even at the cost of extending slavery, putting an end to the founders' hope and belief that the slavery issue would fade away and that slavery itself would die a natural death if it could be restricted to the Union's original slave states, and thus setting the stage for the Civil War. Of President Pierce, Theodore Roosevelt wrote that he was "a servile tool of men worse than himself...ever ready to do any work the slavery leaders set him."
5. Millard Fillmore - vice-president to Zachary Taylor, became President when Taylor died. Essential to passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included the "Fugitive Slave Law" which compelled the federal government to return fugitive slaves to their southern owners. Though this may have averted a national crisis and postponed the Civil War, in the end it also strengthened southern obstinacy and belief that the Union would not take action if present with succession as a fact. Twenty years later, The News York Times opined that Fillmore's great and disastrous mistake was to "see in slavery a political and not a moral question."
Gary chose to write about Millard Fillmore, arriving at the president, as might be expected from Gary, in a way no one would have predicted.
Here's the poem
A Short History of Bathtubs
In '17, the Sage of Baltimore wrote
Millard Fillmore (voted worse president
ever - not Mallard Fillmore, the cartoon)
installed the first White House bathtub.
HL's hoax still believed and repeated
many times in the near century since
perhaps because who would accept
the do-nothing Fillmore bathed
or the first tub was put in by John
Adams (bathing illegal in Boston,
Mass without a doctor's orders),
any of another dozen candidates.
Maybe simple as the nation's first cynic,
who considered his fellow Americans
boobs and Babbits, could not himself
admit they would accept the Know-Nothing
Millard installed the first White House library.
Li Qingzhao was a Chinese writer and poet of the Song Dynasty, regarded by many as the premier woman poet in the Chinese language.
In 1101 she married Zhao Mingcheng, with whom she shared interests in art collection and epigraphy. The couple lost most of their possessions when they fled following the collapse of the northern Song; Zhao died in 1129. Li subsequently settled in Hangzhou, where she remarried and then divorced.
Only around a hundred of her poems are known to survive.
A crater on Mercury is named after her.
Warm rain and sunny wind
Warm rain and sunny wind start to break
Willows like eyes, plums like cheeks.
I already feel spring's heart throbbing.
Wine and poems.
Whom can I share them with?
Tears dissolve my makeup. My gold hairpin
I try on a light spring robe threaded with gold
and lean against a hill of pillows.
Till it damages the gold phoenix pin.
Alone, I hug dense pain with no good dreams.
Late at night, I am still playing
as I trim the wick.
(Translated byWillis Barnstone and Sun Chu-chin)
Here are several passages from Gatha Saptashati, a 2000 year old collection of erotic love poetry from India.
Clearly a god is kissing that lady,
making her nipples go stiff.
There is no way to approve of such a lover,
even if he is a god.
The gods have parceled him out,
his beauty caught in my eye,
his talk in my ears, heart in my
heart, his thing in my thing.
A girl longing for dalliance
should never set out in the dark.
The flame of desire burns bright,
far too bright in the dark.
After our lovemaking
he takes one step away to look at the moon
and returns in five minutes,
but I feel bitterly abandoned.
When her friends asked her why
saffron blossoms stuck to her breast
she brushed them away, only to reveal
bite marks of her lover, left and right.
If you can't bring him to his knees
with that glance like an arrow
and that musical walk you've perfected
he's a sanyasi, a holy man for sure.
Friendship with a bad man -
a line drawn on water;
with a good man - etched forever
deep scrip in white marble.
Good men can never be lovers,
for they must keep themselves constant,
tell the truth most of the time,
keep the tigers of passion in cages.
Let those who want sainthood
keep to their path of denial - no harm.
But I know what I want, and wait
for a chance for my eyes to say so.
The love gods have special affection
for women who like it on top,
their hair fanned out, disheveled,
eyes closed, their thighs trembling.
(Translated by David Ray)
Online poet Susan McDonough who's been with us here on "Here and Now" several times submitted several responses to the Blueline challenge. She submitted an acrostic on James Buchanan (she enjoys acrostics and is very good at them) and a poem on William Harrison. Although Harrison was not one of the five worst, he was included as a bonus because of the unusual and unusually short circumstances of his presidency. He gave a two hour inaugural speech on a very, very cold January morning, caught pneumonia, and died thirty days after taking office.
Just what you are....
amazing the someone could amputate
masterfully their own success and
earn the best of the worst presidential
shackle to wear for recent eternity.
Bumbling buffoons abound under
umbrella of leaders (sssh no names - Patriot act)
castrating north from south, hate finding
harbor no heading off. One can't armchair
adversity out of the way with no nerve
nor plan. #15 could have changed history
optioned oppression, challenged an un-civil war -
no, he watched as a river of red turned tide.
"Harry" Takes A Powder
William Harrison is said to be one of the worst
Presidents in history but how bad can you get
in thirty days? Doesn't it usually takes longer
for the public to consider a politician inept?
(being inept currently a prerequisite for politicians)
I believe it may have begun with him not listening
to his mom. I mean the man didn't wear a coat
in the freezing air of January! If a man isn't going
to listen to his mom will he listen to his cabinet?
Now add an inaugural speech (edited for length by
that wordsmith Danny Webster) that lasted two hours
on a day so cold sparrows froze onto branches.
Strike two (they should have killed him for that!)
Next, he lets "the team" doc treat him when he takes ill.
The cures ran the gamut from opium to snakes. How can
a guy be that gullible?
The dude swung himself out of good health and into a place
called "6 feet under" which later became a popular HBO
series after the second turn of another century.
Now, four summer haiku from the master Basho.
Summer grass -
all that's left
of warriors' dreams.
As for the hibiscus
by the roadside,
my horse ate it.
of the peony.
A fishy smell -
in the water weeds.
Here are two moon poems from the same 2001-2002 period. The poems share a page in my book Seven Beats a Second and are also available, with art, as a poster.
the pull of the moon
cut precisely by earth's shadow,
one part shinning
in the clear October night
like a great yellow lantern in the sky
and the other, dark and mysterious,
though barely seen by the eye,
still a mover of tides
and midnight meditations
so it is with my love for you,
as the bright in you pulls me,
even more the secrets
of your darker moods
the moon rising
ripples of wind
ruffle bay waters
like a lover's hand
soothing soft tangles
in her beloved's hair
bright stars warm
in the cool
of the night
This poem by Galway Kinnell is interesting at least in part because of where it's been. It's from an anthology, Poetry in Motion: 100 Poems from the Subways and Buses and is one of many poems that appeared on New York City public transportation between 1992 nd 1997. It surely must have been an interesting and unexpected read for a weary commuter riding home on the subway late at night.
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden on the tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.
From The Song of Songs a song of the groom and a song of the bride, translated by poet Chana Bloch and Hebrew scholar Ariel Bloch.
Scholars think the songs in the text were written down in the third century B.C. around the time of Alexander the Great.
Oh come with me, my bride,
come down with me from Lebanon,
Look down from the peak of Amana,
look down from Senir and Hermon,
from the mountains of the leopards,
the lion's den.
You have ravished my heart,
my sister, my bride,
ravished me with one glance of your eyes,
one link of your necklace.
And oh, your sweet loving,
my sister, my bride.
The wine of your kisses, the spice
of your fragrant oils.
Your lips are honey, honey and milk
are under your tongue,
your clothes hold the scent of Lebanon.
Come, my beloved,
let us go out into the fields
and lie all night among the flowering henna.
Let us go early to the vineyards
to see if the vine has budded,
if the blossoms have opened
and the pomegranate is in flower.
There I will give you my love.
The air if filled with the scent of mandrakes
and at our doors
rare fruit of every kind, my love,
I have stored away for you.
A final poem, written several years ago, unfortunately still relevant today as the war continues.
As a veteran of the Viet Nam era, I remember what it was like to cross an airport lobby in uniform on my way home in 1969.
That's why it seems especially important to me to remember that, despite the mind-boggling stupidity and immorality of this current war, the men and women fighting it didn't grab guns and rush off to Iraq on their own. They were sent by their government and, for better or worse, in our democracy, that means they were sent by you and me. The shame of this war is on the backs of the leaders of our government who started it and the citizens like you and me who, whether for or against it, let it happen.
This poem was written in October, 2004 and appeared shortly thereafter in the website Poets Against the War.
welcome home the warrior safe and whole
let us not think today of those who remain,
but celebrate instead only you, home now,
safe for a while from the lying old men
who sent you away, the craven old men
whom passed their own war in hiding,
saving all their valor for a day
when risk would again be borne by others
- oh, safe now in their high office,
how they glory in sending others to die,
no hiding now for them,
but photo ops far from the line of fire,
in the garb of warriors,
on the deck of a warrior vessel,
watch them preen, thieves that they are,
stealing honor from the blood
of men and women better
than in their grandest dreams
they could ever be -
but you are not them
you went with honor and with honor you now return,
far away from the sand,
from the desert heat,
far away from death lurking beside each road,
around each corner, behind each wall,
behind, you must fear, every smiling face
through the random grace of whatever gods
look out for warriors and their families,
you are home,
home to friends and worried kin,
to wife and dancing daughters
- grown so in the months you were gone -
home to gentle hills and dew-drenched pastures,
home to the cleansing rain of October,
to the cool nights and shifting colors of early autumn,
home to your wife's warm bed
and the arms of all who waited for your return
Back next week.
Until then, I offer my thanks and appreciation to all who contributed to this issue and to our reading pleasure and remind everyone that all material reproduced in this issue remains the sole property of its creators.