My anthology this week is Risk, Courage, and Women, published by the University of North Texas Press in 2007. It is a collection of contemporary prose and poetry by women. You will recognize many of the poets I pull from the anthology from their previous appearances in "Here and Now."
My photos this week are from Brackenridge Park in San Antonio.
Brackenridge is a 343 acre public park in Midtown San Antonio. It was created in 1899 from land donated to the city by George Brackenridge.
Located just below the headwaters of the San Antonio River, the park and surrounding area has been a gathering place since prehistoric times. There is evidence of human visitation and occupation extending back at least 11,000 years. Native American artifacts dating as early as 9200 B.C. have been found in the Olmos Basin and near Hildebrand Avenue. Today the park, in addition to being the site of the San Antonio Zoo, is primarily a very large wooded area with many walking and biking trails, with picnic sites in the woods and along the banks of the slow-flowing river.
San Antonio is a city of parks, and Brackenridge is one of the largest and most beautiful. I realized as I strolled through parts of it for these pictures that in the years I've lived in San Antonio I haven't spent nearly as much time there as I should of.
Also this week, I have my normal library poets, new poems from me, and a stack of rejects from one of my last books. They're not so bad, so I'm giving them another chance here.
Here' what's up.
I’ll be sad if I see it coming
Naomi Shihab Nye
quickly and surely I sidestep the rant
from As If We Didn’t Have To Talk
Janice H. Brazil
news from the hutch
Coyote in Black Leather
Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote
the elephants sing
Demetrice Anntia Worley
red dirt road
For Jayne Mansfield
ithaca, on the landing
from Seedtime - Extracts from the Notebooks 1954-1967
hoodat hoosay hoodat
Sonnet: An Old-Fashioned Devil
Two Songs from Don Juan in Hell
Some strange stuff going on in my template in a couple of places again. Can't figure out what the problem is or how to fix it so I'm just going to pretend it never happened. Your cooperation with that is appreciated.
What could possibly be more interesting to a mortal human being than death.
Maybe it's just me.
I will be sad if I see it coming
I will be sad
if I see it
sorry for my loss,
sad about the loss
of all the things that were ever
meaningful to me,
sad about things I will never
sorry about things I did
I shouldn’t of done;
sad about what I should’ve done
but I won’t be
it is not,
as some have compared, like
going into a dark room
or a dark night
where fearful things
for all that -
are things of life, worries
of the living,
and death is about
of those living things,
is about nothing, it is
about an end of all my things,
the cessation of all
that brings me sadness
and sorrow, about
the end of all
the end of the universe
and all my constellations,
a sad thing
but not to be denied...
like the best movie
I ever saw,
it had to have beginning
and it had to have
and no matter how
I wish it were not so,
when I walk from the cool
auditorium into a
it is so,
cannot go on forever,
all that has a
must an end, like my life,
beginning 68 years
ago, advancing since then
to the end I share
the final act of
and nothing to be
whenever it happens,
I will leave with the consolation
that even as my consciousness
fades, putting an end to the universe of me,
the holy and indestructible elements
will disperse again,
to bloom again, making,
in the endless
universe of future possibility,
a sunflower, perhaps, in a place
so far away,
growing under the life-enriching
glow of some other sun,
shining in some other time and place…
although there will be no me
to know it then,
knowing it now is enough
My first poet from this week's anthology is familiar to "Here and Now" readers for she is one of my favorites. Naomi Shihab Nye, born of Lebanese parents, grew up in St. Louis and Jerusalem and has lived from many years in San Antonio. This poem is from her book 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East,which I have used here often.
She scrubbed as hard as she could
with a stone.
Dripping the cloth, twisting the cloth.
She knew the cloth much better than most,
having stitched its vines of delicate birds.
The red, the blue, the purple beaks.
A tiny bird with head held high.
A second bird wit fanning wings.
Her fingers felt the folded hem.
The water in her pan was cool.
She stood outside by the lemon tree.
Children chattered around her there.
She told the children, "Take care! Take care!"
What would she think of the world today?
She died when she was one hundred and six.
So many stains would never come out.
She stared at he sky, the darkening rim.
She called the children, "Come in! Come in!"
She stood on the roof, tears on her face.
What was the thing she never gave up?
The simple love of her difficult place.
Here's one of those old rejects I found. All of the rejects should be from 2010 or before.
quickly and surely I sidestep the rant
I was thinking
I might write a poem
about the abortion clinic
I pass every day after morning coffee,
usually surrounded by anti-abortion protesters
waving signs with pictures of dismembered babies
and other such deeply intellectual arguments
and even though I'm against abortion myself, I
do suffer from an inability
to consider only one side of a question,
making me no friend of those little bands
of papal hustlers determined to insure
a steady supply of poor babies
who can be put in the service of maintaining
a steady flow of golden tribute to the pope's palaces
but I decided that,
despising equally the soul-suckers of all sects,
I would certainly slip into rant mode
should I attempt that particular poem- it
is a slippery slope for sure...
rather than get myself into deep shit
with the more godly inclined
I'm just going to take note
of something I saw while walking Reba
she was just riding along with me,
on our way to a place where we often
do a morning walk and, all of a sudden,
she started crying and moaning and I
was thinking she's really got to do some
business so maybe we ought to just stop
right here and take a little walk and poop
and pee or whatever it is that is causing
her such deep and vocal distress
so we stopped
and it was a little upscale shopping center
but Reba was not intimidated by the
of the place
(she is after all queen of all she surveys)
but when I saw the little store
to the sale of gourmet doggie treats,
I quickly hustled her back into the truck
before she saw the sign
and developed a whole new set of life-
only the finest
gourmet road kill as her due...
you have to watch
or you'll end up with a furry,
four-footed Queen of the Nile
instead of the old fish-breath dog
whose queenly assumptions
are mostly a matter of $-store
dog bone in the morning,
a favorite smelly pillow at night
and a little bit of personal attention
whenever she is feeling down
(as even the humbler queens
so the anti-religion rant
is avoided today,
replaced by a good dog story
instead, and the poet
is left to thinking, if god was
more like a good dog,
welcoming in the morning
and satisfied with a good ear-scratch
before going to bed,
there wouldn't be any reason to be
(but one does have to wonder
what would happen to
the institution of marriage
were a god such as that
to the average man)
The first book from my library this week is Another Language, written by Rosmarie Waldrop and published by Talisman House, Publishers in 1997.
Born in 1935 in Germany, Waldrop has lived in the United States since 1958. She is co editor and publisher of Burning Deck Press, as well as the author or coauthor (as of 2006) of 17 books of poetry, two novels, and three books of criticism. She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1966.
I have several poems from her book.
from As If We Didn't Have to Talk
In order not to
I think each movement of
the interval has all the rights
The belly of an "a" and
throws the words I stand on
into the white
silence charged with
possible rains in the world
fall back on
words always already there
the precise spot
as in a fog that
I carry your name away
from out intersection
The years on my face
no spectacular stories adorable
the road just
the quality of light not much different
in the distance
it's enough that we're
you don't have to
frenzy of moths close to
while you touch me
Nothing started yet
waits to speak
to be able to
the essential detour
The way this city plays
with our bodies
so much rain the smell of wet
cement stays in the streets
out of the old shell
we're always walking n a crowd
bookstalls river iron work
nothing has stopped over
the years (surprise)
light seems to lean against
absence of gesture
is a move
what's said is out of the game
it hangs on
but that proves nothing
like everyone we adjust
to just those questions
we choose to see
boats on the East River
barges on the Seine
garage in the Seekonk
float on into the sky
in my dreams too we walk
along the roadless widening
angle of the light
legs spider long
breath in our ears
drive by some force again
to the same sentences
irresistible with distance
a long time
at the edge of
I think we all need little dose off fiction to keep us going.
of all the miseries
in the world
is there any worse
than for the one
who lives without
that a day may come
when a lost love
that they might enjoy
that one great meal
their mother used to make
before her passing,
for the cool breeze
and blue sky
of another spring…
I am a
beholden to expectation
as an excuse
to open my eyes each morning
to a new day,
to put on my shoes and socks
and walk whatever
path the night laid out for me
as I slept…
that is not to say
I don’t know
the truth of things,
that I am not
and never will be
a great poet of my time,
that I will never dance
like Astaire, or play the piano
again, or even take the lessons
that might help me play for the first time,
or be a great artist such as I would
love to be, that I will not find
treasure buried in my back yard
or win the lottery or even that the IRS
will forgive all that I owe them, or that
any one of my books might get reviewed
in the New York Time book section
and sell a dozen or more copies…
I know the truth of things
and understand the foolish
and unlikely nature of my dreams,
I know that it is August
and that spring is yet months away,
but I believe it is coming,
that a blue sky and cool breeze
is coming, and that’s enough..
it is all these
my certain knowledge
of uncertain things,
even my silly dreams,
that leave, in my life, little room
for lasting despair
My next poet from the anthology is Janice Hoskin Brazil, one of the editors off the book and by unplanned coincidence, another San Antonian (as are all three of the editors of the book).
She says she grew up the middle child of a career army soldier, living in Germany for seven years. She has a degree in European history from San Jose State University, as well as her masters degree. She says she was in her thirties with two children before she discovered her love of writing. Since then she has been published widely. She is also actively involved in Girl Scouts, Amnesty International,the Peoria YMCA board, and San Antonio Friends in Hospice program.
The old woman
hair thin and wispy,
fingers gnarled, bent by arthritis,
back stooped ever so slightly,
looks up from her plate and asks,
Care for another piece of pie?
Holding my stomach with my hands,
I chuckle. You still make the best pies.
She laughs and I see
not a 95-year-old woman,
but an image in an old photo.
Wearing the gown she wore
to a West Point military ball,
a beautiful seventeen yer old
smiled into the camera,
ready to drink in life.
Can't make a good crust anymore though,
she says, rubbing her crooked fingers together.
What where your dreams then, Grandma?
Dancing that night did you know you were holding
a ghost whose memory would be captured
in the name of another man's son?
Swirling, your cadet dies in France
in a war to end all wars.
Who could predict
fifty years later you lose
another soldier in a country you know nothing about?
Would that seventeen-year-old
have danced long into the night
if she had known war could be so jealous
as to strike out twice against her?
It's been downhill ever since I turned 90.
She laughs at her own joke.
The image fades and the face
of a frail old lady stares across
the table at me.
It is still beautiful.
Life is good, Janice,
she says and loses herself
to memories for a moment.
My voice cracking, I answer,
Maybe one more small piece.
Here's another book reject, this one, from the subject, probably from 2009.
news from the rabbit hutch
the three people
in the booth in front of me
craned their necks
to look at something outside,
something behind me
in the parking lot
I did not turn to look
and it was the hardest thing
I've done, or, in this instance,
not done in
we are such rabbits,
most of us
ready to hippity-hop
along with whoever
of our bunny-tailed cousins
heads out first
in whichever direction
for whatever reason...
born followers, as a rule,
ready to hop to
whenever called by
one of the rarities
of our kind -
raises his head
to issue a call
like a recalcitrant mule;
and we respond -
we come to the leader's call,
now tell us what to think,
tell us what to do...
it is our misfortune
is not a moral dimension,
but merely an amalgam
so for every Christ on earth
we have Brown Shirts marching;
for every Gandhi
the killing fields of Cambodia;
for every Martin Luther King
the multitudinous brothers and sisters
of Bull Connors...
it is why today
we have talk of "death panels"
and "killing grandma"
and other such corruptions
of intellect and morality
and common sense -
is as powerful and
alike in kind
as a leadership of the
anyone over thirty,
a prescription softened when all of us
who so advised
grew older than that ourselves
as I've grown older and more cynical
I've come to believe the warning
was mostly correct, wrong only in its
age qualification -
better, I think, in these days,
is not trust
The next poet from my library is Linda Rodriguez, with two poems from her book, Heart's Migration, published by Tia Chucha Press of Los Angeles in 2009.
Rodriguez was born in Fowler, Kansas, in 1947. She graduated from Manhattan High School, and attended Kansas State University before dropping out to hitch-hike to Haight Ashbury in the 60s. Since 1970, she has lived in Kansas City, where she was director of the University of Missouri-KC Women’s Center. Rodriguez is vice-president of the Latino Writers Collective, and she has published in numerous journals and anthologies, including Primera Página: Poetry from the Latino Heartland. Her new collection Heart’s Migration won the Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award. She is of Western Cherokee descent.
Her most recent book is a mystery titled, Every Last Secret.
In these two poems she writes of the coyote, the trickster, in human form.
Coyote in Black Leather
Coyote slides on black leather
over the T-shirt
that reins in biceps, shoulders, chest.
Dark jeans and biker boots cover the rest
of his long, lithe body as he invades
your everyday, suburban life
like a growl.
You avert your eyes, pretend
you don't watch
his tight, hard body, his mocking face.
You know he's bad, doesn't belong.
Besides, seeing him makes your face too
red, your breath too
short, your bones too
soft, your clothes too tight. You pretend
not to peek, don't want him to catch you looking
at the hungry way he stares at you.
Coyote has no class.
Coyote is your secret.
You tell him it's more exciting that way.
He lifts the eyebrow bisected by a scar and stares
you into silence. He knows
you're ashamed. He thinks
you're ashamed of him.
Coyote takes you
to dangerous places.
In dark, dirty bars, he threatens drunks
and fights to protect you.
Coyote takes you
where no one else can.
Coyote takes you
where you can't admit you want to go.
Outside Your House at Midnight,Coyote
stands in shadows,only the red eye
of his cigarette showing his presence.
He watches lights in windows
downstairs and your silhouette
against curtains as you move
from room to room, readying for bed.
He grinds cigarette into the ground
with his boot, to join the others
littering the spot where he lurks,
across the street, vacant lot,
under trees along the fence line.
As you switch off lights,
room by room, and climb stairs
to your bed,Coyote moves out
of the shadows, closer to you
by a few feet more. The outer rays
of the light on the corner
catch his sharp features, golden hair,
the hunger on his face.
He watches you light click on upstairs.
Closing his eyes, Coyote can see within
your walls as you undress and slide under
covers. Tendons in his neck stand out,
rigid with tension, and he swallows his own
wanting with pain. He opens his eyes
to the dark again, watches your last light
wink out, whispers something so soft
even he won't hear, stays to witness
the vulnerability of your restless body.
Sleep. Coyote's standing watch.
I was in my new coffeehouse several days ago, when the owner, a singer and music educator, sat at a table in front of me and sang, with a friend, a Spanish love song. It was a moment when the air stopped breathing.
the elephants sing in a low rumble
that their fellows feel
through their feet;
we hear only the smallest
and highest register
of their songs
but feel the rest,
if we are close enough,
through sympathetic vibrations
in our chest, elephant
song, heart-stirring, felt, even if
the wonder of song,
the elephants singing, the whales,
the dolphins, the birds, and Chavela Vargas,
re-inventor of the ranchera, exploring
in melodic interpretation
the many shades of mystery and romance
in traditional Mexican music, dead
yesterday in her 94th year and the beautiful
Susannah McCorkle, her voice like
a jazz angel singing softly in your ear,
her voice stilled by her own hand,
by her secret depressions…
and so many more,
and the songs…
and the question about us,
about our urge to sing
when we need only to talk,
our wanting to rejoice through song
in the pains and pleasures
of our lives,
to the singer’s songs
like the elephants low rumble,
a trembling to our hearts
Next, I have short poems from two of the poets in the anthology.
The first of the poets is Demetrice Anntia Worley. Born and raised on Chicago's westside, at the time of publication, she was associate professor of English at Bradley University. She previously earned a BA in English from Bradley University, an MA, also in English, at the University of Illinois, Urbana and a DA, again in English, Illinois State University. She has published widely, both poetry and in scholarly publications.
Little brown children, hear the elder's wise
voices. They have earned the privilege to sit
on porches, to tell,what you call stories,
but what they name life - black men and women
farmed poor Mississippi soil; weighted down their
tongues with no sir / no ma'am; separate but
unequal was the norm; as janitors,
maids, factory laborers, they protected
their families with food, homes, education.
They survived so we could live.The stood their
ground. We create our tomorrow when we
heed our elders' / ancestors' shrew proverb -
"Standing, with their roots firmly planted,is
the reason why Balboa trees don't fall."
The second of the two poets is Barbara Lovenheim, at the time of publication a Professor in the English Department at Monroe Community College, where she teaches critical and creative writing in addition to Honors courses in Critical Theory and Witchcraft. She has a BA from Ohio University,an MA from Tufts University, and a PHD from the University of Rochester. She is widely published, both as a poet and as a scholar.
red dirt road
On Red Dirt Road where it crosses Upper Terra,
I stepped out of my fragile self
and buried my sins in the yielding earth,
fingers flecked with bits of soil:
dust to dust.
I counted out stones for a miniature cairn
marking time and space
watching as a beetle gingerly made its way
through the burial ground.
Sitting on my haunches, feet flat to the ground,
I wondered if spirits could rise from the dead
to haunt the heart of the now alive.
Here's a new one from last week.
I don’t see
so much anymore
since most of the famous
I used to see
are mostly dead
and most of the new
don’t want to have
to do with old
I make do
just like me
(we are thinking
of forming a club,
like a slower-moving
of old not-so-famous
where even older
The next poem from my library is by Lynn Crosbie and it is taken from her book, Miss Pamela's Mercy. The book was published in 1992 by Coach House Press of Toronto.
Crosbie is a Canadian poet and novelist, born in Montreal, and now living in Toronto. She received her Ph.D in English from the University of Toronto, writing her PhD thesis on the work of the American poet Anne Sexton. Most of the poems in her book are too long for "Here and Now." This one, shorter than most, is a good representation of her interests and style.
For Jane Mansfield
the boards of the stage groaned and were
spotted in a grey-blue light. out
throats tightened, when the backdrop
fell down, smeared, slats of colour
- a mansion like a stone in a fishbowl,
a torn car's shell, fire and water
and she comes.
she carries here head in her hands,
its jagged edges tucked awkwardly
under. her gown spreads like a puddle,
molded red on her cadaverous rounds.
her finger bones clutch and tear it
from, a skeleton. in a dot shift,
and her wax mouth shudders and gapes.
she told us about the crash, that
metal flaps, an accordion, cut her.
the radio was on when it, a girl's
mouth twisted into a ribbon in the
wheels, she also showed us pink,
a terrible color, so bloodless and
chill. like the skin on the moon.
I give her a mural, done from memory.
she totters off, wall in her arms
leaves a sweet profusion of smiles.
clumps of alabaster, drawn with a
brush of albino hair. the texture
of formica. and lips rise like big red
pudding. your sanguine eyes, so black
and misplaced, olives lost in ice
cream. they look wetly on, past your
bounce and cross, roots grazing at
your formidable brain.
she's walking an ocelot up and down
my sidewalk when I'm trying to sleep.
her heels are thunderous, and my irises
ache from her tin-foil bikini. legs
bounding, dimpled, then pared to the
marrow. he said, the difference was
one of class and that you didn't have
any. how could he feel her, all
stuffed and dejected. look, when the
camera turns her shoulders slump and
her eyes sink like tar pits.
but your body won't stay still. it
beats a platinum tattoo on the grave,
and shines, a wreath of rhinestones.
they buried you on a cold bleak day,
but you'd have wanted calypso music.
and dancers in tight pants, supposedly.
straining at the grey edges, on the
brink of a glass resurrection. push
Plato aside. and wear the robe, and
light the candles. a wind is screaming,
and inverted valentines have covered
Time for another book reject. I like it, but it didn't make the cut.
always liked that
sounds like some
from South American
or maybe a bird
high in the trees
on some small South Pacific
maybe I caught it
from the birds
12 hours sleep
and another this afternoon
and I feel like I ought to go
back to bed right now
the sun seems dimmed,
as if through a thick wool blanket,
brain like a blind dog
in the fog,
buried in a burlap bag
on a dull plain
suburban crab grass
I'll quit this poem
are tired of typing
The next poem from the anthology is by Wendy Barker.
I've used Barker's poems here often, but this poem is from a book of hers I don't have, The Way of Whiteness.
Her poem is based on the story of Penelope, faithful wife of Ulysses, who was courted by many men during his absence. They were asked to wait until she completed her weaving, but each night she unravelled that day's work.
ithaca, on the landing
How was it Penelope waited
upstairs all those years,
before he finally
found his way back?
Every night unravelling the weave,
her fear of fixing to the wrong one
knitting her nerves.
But the wool kept the shape of the warp,
she could not straighten the stands
after so many nights.
All day weaving with more and more
wrinkled skeins, all night pulling out
threads with her fingers,
all the winding
and rewinding, back and forth
across the loom after breakfast,
the sound of the soft
contact between wool and wood,
the rhythm, meshing
color upon color, and then
at night the whole thing in reverse,
everything pulled apart
until blue and silver
strands turned dull, lost their sheen.
Sometimes she would stop, try to see
beyond the window's flat shadow.
She could not know him
through that space, she could not know
who he would be
becoming in those years
of sailing, slipping into fern -
lined coves, dashing his prow
against headlands so splashed
with sun and spume
that at first he couldn't even tell
who live there.
And who was it
he would come home to
after all her nights unravelling?
Sometimes during those
unfinished years, sometimes under
the weight of a blunt moon,
she thought she heard music,
one of the men on the ground floor
singing,so softly singing,
and once she leaned down
over the upstairs landing to see
how they lounged in her chairs.
She travelled their faces:
not brutes, not swine,but men,
beards curled across their cheeks.
Some young, smooth
as the rubbed wood of her loom.
And the lean one with the flute,
long thighs relaxed
in sleep, smiling in his sleep.
What if, at night,
she left her weaving alone?
Let it grow, become whole?
What might the tapestry become
if she stopped saying no
over and over, refusing
the downstairs of her own house?
Another stab at a morning poem from last week.
skitters across the parking lot
chasing a crumb
of something blowing
in a sunrise breeze
watches, puffs and preens,
does his macho
the racing crumb
with one quick stab
of her beak, satisfied that the morning
has begun, looks at the
sighs, oh well,
she whistles softly
not quite done yet
The next poems from my library are by Philippe Jaccottet, from his book, Seedtime - Extracts from the Notebooks 1954-1967. The book was published in the United States by New Directions in 1977.
Jaccottet, a poet and translator, was born in Moudon, Switzerland, in 1925.
After completing his studies in Lausanne, he lived several years in Paris. In 1953, came to live in the town of Grignan in Provence. He has translated into French Goethe, Hölderlin, Mann, Mandelstam, Góngora, Leopardi, Musil, Rilke, and Ungaretti, as well as Homer's Odyssey. As a poet he was awarded the German international Petrarca-Preis in 1988.
The poems in the book were translated from French by Michael Hamburger, the prose by Andre Lefevere.
The pieces are untitled, arranged by year and month, so that's the way I'll present them.
The reeds: how their velvety ears burn, allow the slow escape of a stream of seeds, a crop, in the most absolute silence. A woman giving birth: moans of pain, blood. In absolute silence, sweet, irresistibly slow, the plant bursts and scatters itself on the mercy of the wind.
Just before eight, when the sky is completely overcast, the world is brown only, a table of earth. A lamp lit in the street here, yellow like a sun without rays, there a guilded door opens, a shadow looks,long, at the weather that will come to the garden.
The mobile, translucid constellations of rain on the windows, they are only veils on the march, seen from afar, curtains closing.The panting, irregular wind from the south; the wind from the north, mechanical.
Frozen snow in the morning.
At night, after a day of uninterrupted snow, a landscape white, brown and black, seldom seen here. That weight on the trees, so light, as if we looked at them through gauze. A joy of childhood over the whole village: old men throw snowballs.
Heart more dark than the violet
(eyes soon closed again by the chasm)
learn to exhale that fragrance
which opens so gentle a way
across the impassable.
Rain on thousands of leaves and what burns deep down in man. Fire, twisting.
Eight o'clock. At night. Above the chestnut trees laden with flower, above the perfumes, those emanations, that agitation, that activity, the surprising blue of heaven, luminous and dark at the same time, profoundly blue, much bluer than during the day, and the clouds with their blinding domes.
Also that water running in the earth, right in the sun: memory of a mountain stream. Water, and its facets, its blades or scales of sun. Its clues. Burying its mirrors.
Another book reject, from the same 2009-2010 period as the other rejects.
hoodat hoosay hoodat
early to bed last night,
barely made it
dreams all night
from a dream
that reminded me
of a place and people
in my past, fond memories
that I was only dreaming
I woke up
and all the fond memories
from the past
were dream memories
inside of a dream
inside of a dream of waking up
seemed so real
when I dreamed it,
so confusing when I woke up
from the waking-up dream
it's like a door slam
that wakes you up at 2 a.m.
and you have to decide whether
the door really slammed
or did you just dream a slamming
like the voice
that seems to come from right beside the bed...
The next poem from this week's anthology is by Ruth Kessler.
Kessler was born in Poland, grew up in Israel, and at the time of publication lived in Rochester, New York.Her poetry, translations and short fiction has appeared in many publications. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, she has completed two poetry collections, a short story collection and a children's book.
unlike cain angel-like
There's a certain race of men
(now I know my brothers and sisters)
who harbor in their breast a bit of trembling,
Race of ill-omened tenderness, of Abel
returned to life
A foreign country.
A small apartment in Paris.
welcome: chopped liver, matza, sweet wine.
banging on memory's door, crying,
pointing a blaming finger.
a Jew and a Polish gentile married after The War.
And The War even now madly scattered
charred puzzle pieces.
How did hers fit in?
in one living room corner
distant relatives' acquaintance-talk of the husbands,
twining of common roots.
Polish fare on the table
dressed for the Jewish occasion.
the hideous wallpaper
its thick orange stripes, its huge orange eyes.
in the tiny kitchen the faucet dripping.
the drawn-out meal:
The overcooked meat.
The small silences.
The awkward tiptoeing of people
who never met
the Untouchable Subject
stealing in an unguarded moment
between the main course and the salad
into the room.
the intent scraping of forks and knives on the plates.
the host suddenly turn toward his wife:
Show them the letter.
an old tine cookie box.
a folded sheet of paper
lying humble and pale as a matza.
official yellowed stationery,
Imagine words throbbing:
State of Israel...thanks...heroine...
...Righteous among the Nations...
Imagine this receipt of the heart
now quickly refolded, now quickly put back
into the tin box.
not the unimaginable:
a young, powerless woman
turning a deaf ear to Authority's orders,
hearing only what's human and groans;
exchanging death sentences of strangers,
for her own
the bus driver not waiting for her;
the snow falling no differently on her coat, frayed at the cuffs like ours;
a fine for an overdue library book imposed on her as on us;
the one rose in her living room vase
lasting no longer than ours.
the young man waiting behind her dyed-haired,frail
to pay for the evening paper
having no notion....
her walking among us -
masquerading as you or me.
our host now say softly
She has always been a good-hearted woman.
the words fall on the table between us
plain and homely as the boiled potatoes
in the tiny kitchen the faucet continues to drip.
the orange stripes of the wallpaper closing in
on his words then the silence
like the columns of some ancient temple,
the bells of a distant church beginning to toll.
the night standing outside the window,
a dumb, indifferent witness
ready to swallow this story
like so many others.
Passover eve in a foreign country.
a small apartment in Paris.
not having a proper Seder.
Not telling stories of the coming out of Egypt.
I wrote this last week, my morning poem, following a poem by one of my housemates at Blueline's "House of 30."
the poet asks,
where are you from?
another way of asking,
where is your home?
is home where you are?
or is home where you come from?
or is home a collection of memories?
my father left the place
where he was born and raised,
an insular little German community
in the central Texas hill country,
when he was in his mid-twenties
and until he died
forty years later,
that place was home, a collection
of memories he refreshed
every year with a trip
to see his aunts and uncles
and cousins and, until they were both
dead, his mother and father; a trip home
to a place where he could speak to his friends
in the German he grew up with, a place
where he could drive around the hills he remembered
climbing as a child, a place where he could eat
the food he grew up on or have a beer
at the little open-air saloon
where he drank his beer when he was young,
where he danced with pretty blond German girls,
where first loves were found
my home memories
are much more complicate,
many memories, moments under a hot
South Texas sun
or a night sky
vast and desert-bright,
riding my bicycle on a dirt sidewalk
past my elementary school to
a twenty-five cent movie
downtown, a drunk night in an
Indiana bar, palm trees, cactus, flowers
blooming under a soft spring rain,
beach tides, the tides of nights
lost and alone, a bride, a child, crab grass
and dandelions, trees I planted
and never saw to grow,
lives I touched and never stayed to know,
hospital corridors, lingering death,
death on a sunny afternoon,
desperation, contentment, loss and gain,
and on and on
so many memories of the many places
I call home
how much simpler was my
being from that one place he called
These are the last poems this week from my library. They're by Donald Justice and are from his book, Selected Poems, published Atheneum in 1979.
Sonnet: An Old-Fashioned Devil
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre delicat...
Who is it snarls our plow lines, wastes our fields,
Unbaits our hooks, and fishes out our streams?
Who leads our hunts to where the good earth yields
To marshlands, and we sink, but no one screams?
Who taught our children where the harlot lives?
They gnaw her nipples and they drain her pap,
Clapping their little hands like primitives
With droll abandon, bouncing on her lap.
Our wives adore him;us he bores to tears.
Who cares if to our dry and yellow grass
He strikes a match or two, then disappears?
It's only the devil on his flop-eared ass -
A beast too delicate to bear him well -
Come plodding by us on his way to hell.
Two Songs from Don Juan in Hell
1 Sganarelle's Song
The gardens are golden with leaves,
Notes drawn on the season's Exchange;
But my purse is as limp as the sleeves
That amputees learn to arrange.
No, no, nothing assuages
The pains of damnation
Like regular wages
And a two-week's vacation.
The sun and the moon are as bright
As coins that collectors collect.
But why should my purse be so light
With no sun for the moon to reflect?
No, no, nothing assuages,etc.
2 Don Juan's Song
The devil's like a jealous, jealous husband,
But I must blame his horns upon another.
Oh, evil's like a young wife from the country,
Approachable, but hardly worth the bother.
Damnation's like an heiress, much proposed to.
Why has she chosen me to be her groom?
Hell is a cheap hotel, if continental:
The bridal suite is just a small, hot room.
And here's my last book reject for the week.
I am looking
at a man
with the worst toupee
I have ever
I am reminded
or the white plastic
they put around
new cars now when
they ship them, except
his toup is coal-in-the-hole
black, not white like
not to stare
of middle-aged men
is not something that can be
nor their capacity for denial
but this rug...
has the guy
ever looked in the mirror
when he puts it on
in the morning?
I don't know how he could,
and still walk
out the door with it on his head
maybe he's blind
as well as bald,
which seems to me
it ought to be the solution
and not the problem
how much can you care
about how you look
when you can't see yourself?
I'm an optimist
and barring proof
from my own eyes otherwise
I'd just imagine my bald head,
if I had one,
as the chrome on a 1957 De Soto,
the shining, blinding apex of me,
and assume I look
i look great
My last poet from this week's anthology is Rosemary Catacalos.
The poet, who grew up speaking Spanish, English, and Greek, has received National Endowment for theArts, Stanford University/Stegner,and Dobie-Pisano writing fellowships. From 1997-2003 she was an Affiliated Scholar at Stanford's Institute for Research and Women and Gender. Her poems have appeared widely in anthologies, including twice in Best American Poetry. She is former executive director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives in San Francisco and, at the time of publication, she was executive director of Gemini Ink, San Antonio's center for literary arts and ideas.
for Maya Angelou, with profound
respect and gratitude
I been to church, folks,
I'm an East Side Meskin Greek and
I been to church. I'm here to say
I grew uphearin' folks sing over hard
times in the key of, Uh, uh girl it's ain't nothin'
;about letting to a this life.
I grew up in a 'hood where every day at noon
black girls at Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School
made a sacred drum of the corner mailbox, beatin'
on it to raise the dead. And make them dance.
I grew up readin' in the George Washington Carver
Library, and marvelin' at the white
lightnin' gloves that Top Ladies of Distinction
use for church. I grew up where grits is indeed
groceries, and a huge mountain of a woman passed
my house daily, always sayin' the same thing:
Your name is Rosemary? My name Rosemary, too.
I grew up, folks, and I been down 'til I couldn't
get no more down in me. And now a preacher lady
come to town and caused me to paint my face and
put on some good clothes and go to church.
And I'm here to say I have a right
to take this tone, 'cause it ain't nothin'
'bout lettin' go a this life.
Swallows keep makin' their wings
out to be commas on the sky.
World keep sayin' and, and, and, and
My last poem for the week - i wrote it very early in the morning a week ago.
the deep and dark
of the night’s blackest
okay, but when it was done
it was done -
a life lesson
not to hang on to a done thing
like I did this morning,
from their little glass
dress in the dark and
search the high grass in the
for the morning paper
that isn’t there yet…
the Sunday paper,
for those, including
the newspaper carrier,
who went to sleep
and haven’t awaken yet
again my powers
over universal mechanics
of making the world conform
to my schedule
sitting at the diner
a table of police officers
next over from mine
in the denial of the universal order
to goodness and good sense -
they are relaxed
about the crazy calls
they got tonight,
on the interstate overpass
trying to get change
for a quarter
from everyone who passed
at ease at
shift change just around the corner,
only an hour
they can go home
and slip into a warm and comfortable
bed with their warm and comfortable wives
or girlfriends or boyfriends,
but their radio, the ever-present menace
to their sense of
well-being, sits between them,
comes to life
like a snake uncoiling
from a sunny
and a dispatcher,
a soft feminine voice,
says “garble garble,”
for saddle up troops
and all four officers jump up
and head for the door,
as they hurry out,
checking for the security
of the thick plastic grip on the
blue steel pistol
that rides there, adjusting the belt
that carries it and all the other tools
of their trade, all hanging
on their hips,
checking the tool box
as they quickly walk,
making sure they didn’t forget
that they didn’t
leave anything important
on the table
because they know
there’s still time before
to kill or be killed
even as the coffee, still warm,
sours in their
I signal Terry
for a refill,
my sixth cup, souring
in my belly
4 a.m. -
to late for some
too early for
We're done for the week.
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