April 26, 2008
for Amadou Diallo, shot 41 times by police officers
as he reached for his wallet, New York City, 1999
In a dream after your death I stood on the rocky
Shores of an island. Dark-skinned people, young
And old, pressed against boulders as helicopter
Gunships took aim. I cried out at a wall of wind:
“No, stop, they have histories!”—but it was too late.
The soldiers were acting in self-defense
Against the sudden move;
A people firing a round
Of stories that might
Have opened hearts
Locked down as the
Lids of caskets.
—Demetria Martínez, 2002
April 25, 2008
for Wislawa Szymborska
My sister does not write poems. She uses sign language to teach deaf children in wheelchairs which color is dangerous red. If something unexpected happens—say, a child who has a seizure every day, doesn’t—she does not rush from the room to scribble this down. If she has something to say, she calls me.
In this, she takes after our mother, who likewise did not write poems, not even when she was shot in WWII by a GI sailing home on her hospital ship. He shot the chaplain too—who may or may not have been my mother’s lover. The chaplain died. My mother lived to have two daughters and show them the pink scar on her back where the bullet went in, the angry purple welt over her heart where it came spinning out. Not a word on paper about any of this—not about my sister’s deaf but swiftly rolling children, or my mother’s chaplain who played both pinochle and piano.
In this, they take after my mother’s mother—who couldn’t read or write and so certainly never wrote a poem—though, once, I am told, she castrated her husband’s prize bull with a kitchen knife and calmly promised to do the same to him unless he spent his nights at home. My mother was there. She told me this story. My sister heard it too. But she never imagined it as a poem. But then, looking this over, it probably is not one.
Instead it is like the one family story that does involve the written word: how my mother once flew from Florida to visit me in Wisconsin with a styrofoam cooler of shrimp—marked clearly SHRIMP. On the way home, she wrote NOT in front of SHRIMP and packed her shoes in the cooler. At the airport, the ticket agent, puzzled, asked “What’s in the cooler?”
“Not shrimp,” my mother said. And let it go at that.
So—think of this as a Not Poem. Think of me as one more Not Poet in a long honorable line of Not Poets.
And let it go at that.
—Jesse Lee Kercheval, 2004
April 24, 2008
Datura stramonium / Jimsonweed
When I lost my equilibrium
I found the ground
and what grows there.
A trumpet of guffaws.
As if I’d misplaced
my attention. Simple error.
I broke a sweat
grappling with gravity
Initiated into overblown
blossoms and seeds
my body became
a distant horizon
I reached weeks later.
Now when the sun sets
my pupils flower
and I can see
less of this body
and more of the world.
—Lisa Gill, 2006
from Mortar & Pestle
April 23, 2008
Made in India, Immigrant Song #3
(a note from a New York City streetwalker)
Some worker in the sweat
of Madras, some former weaver
from Kashmir, some hand in Ahmadabad’s dust,
has been pounding iron again.
The New York City streets swell with feet;
multihued tracks glide over the flat steel
disks which offer entry into the city’s interior
lairs. The writing seeps through our soles
though few fathom the signature, “Made
in India.” These alien
metal coins, transported
like my birth, mask
a labyrinth of tunnels
in a city where origin
and destination are confused.
Sometimes I wear the stamp
on myself; sometimes I feel
the wear of a surrounding world erase
the fine etchings. Here the imprint
of India is a traveler’s
mutation: the body’s chamber is made
hole, the skin not smooth, circular,
but cloaking a bumpy network
of channels, spirit mobile, expanding.
—Purvi Shah, 2006
from Terrain Tracks
April 22, 2008
In honor of Earth Day, I decided to post a couple of poems from River of Words:
River of Words is a California-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. We’ve been conducting training workshops for teachers, park naturalists, grassroots groups, state resource agencies, librarians and others since 1995, helping them to incorporate observation-based nature exploration and the arts into their work with young people. In addition to helping improve children’s literacy—and cognitive skills like investigation and critical thinking—River of Words’ multidisciplinary, hands-on approach to education nurtures students’ creative voices as well, through instruction and practice in art and poetry.
Furthermore, they have an annual poetry competition for children and adolescents. I was really impressed by the following poem, which won the 2008 Grand Prize in Category III (Grades 7-9):
Stories Told With Sand Whipping in Our Faces
I was three years old.
My father pulled a map
out of his backpack,
roads spilling across it
like languages I did not understand.
Later, seagulls scampered
through the dunes
as we climbed to a place
where roots laced like fingers over the earth
and Lake Michigan lay before us,
as if it were a guardian.
We stood looking out over the place where
he was born, the hospital
where doctors waited in white shoes
while his throat burned
from tonsillitis. I could see him
a young boy darting through the streets
on his way to the dunes,
the closest thing to heaven
that we have while we live below the stars.
The driveway his father paved
by hand, bruised
from days of bricks
pulling him towards the earth.
His memories fell from his mouth
and I remember them all well
as if it was that morning
and I was standing tall
with his childhood looking back at me.
—Patty Schlutt, age 13
I also thought this one, which won the Shasta Biorregion Prize (Honoring a San Francisco Bay Area Student), was sweet:
The Singing Solar System
I am the ragged obsidian solar flare
that flies in the bright red sky.
I am the steaming hot spiky crimson
seaweed that soars by my
glowing star hands.
I am the atom floating
in the DNA strip
giggling in the brown nucleus,
shining bright smiles the plant cell,
floating in red orange fluid,
dancing happily in the narrow
parallel segment vein,
sprinting across the American seaweed,
opening a door to the earth,
spinning in the singing solar system,
twisting in silky ways,
jogging by the Milky Way,
and trying to circle the dark red universe.
—Robert Chan, age 10
Happy Earth Day, everyone!
The 57th Carnival of Feminists is up at Pandemian. Lots of good stuff in there, as always.
Also, I’m quite honored to have had my post “Once a stripper, always a stripper?” included in the second Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that the carnival has to offer, but it’s already clear to me that there’s so much worth reading there. (And I love the (relatively) academic slant of Meghan Rose’s writing; the word “problematizes” appears in her write-up of my post and I totally went squee a little bit. Yeah, I’m a nerd.) I’m pretty keen on this carnival in general; here’s some background:
This theory of feminism is known more commonly as Sex Positive Feminism, a movement that developed in the 1980s in response to feminists against pornography and prostitution. Sex Positive Feminists (or sex-radical, pro-sex or sexually liberated feminists) believe that women’s sexual freedom is an essential part of women’s autonomy. Any legal or social control or regulation over the sexual self is an attempt to control and regulate women, undermines their freedom and infringes upon their human rights. We are interested in promoting sex workers’ rights, sex education in schools, and we encourage the free expression of sexualities.
Sex Positive Feminists recognise that not all women choose to work within the sex industry and some are grossly exploited, so it is crucial to understand that sex work must be done consensually. Otherwise, it represents another form of control. We understand too that the opposite of sex positive is not sex negative. For more information about Sex Positive Feminism, click here.
I confess I’ve been hesitant to identify as a “sex-positive” feminist, largely because it seems like that phrase is so loaded, and because I think that my own feminism is both simpler and more complex than that. Then again, I suppose that’s what intersectionality is all about…
April 20, 2008
lifted from the earth,
higher than my arms reach,
you have mounted,
higher than my arms reach
you front us with great mass;
no flower ever opened
so staunch a white leaf,
no flower ever parted silver
from such rare silver;
O, white pear,
thick on the branch
bring summer and ripe fruits
in their purple hearts.
—H. D., 1916
The Soul selects her own Society–
Then—shuts the Door—
To her divine Majority—
Present no more—
Unmoved—she notes the Chariots—pausing—
At her low Gate—
Unmoved—an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat—
I’ve known her—from an ample nation—
Then—close the Valves of her attention—
—Emily Dickinson, 1890
(written c. 1862)
Playing ketchup again: three poems today! Enjoy…
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands a lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet know its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1923
April 17, 2008
In an Angry Season
They’ve gone to witness the river’s mad
descent into spring. The heave and thunder
as the ice shakes itself from the the shore,
the way the frozen slabs—pachyderm gray
and similarly sized—shear one into
another as the Yukon shudders awake.
From a hawk’s height the pipeline bridge
mocks the river’s riot and churn. Perched
there, they watch—then his pale hand
turns her tawny face to his and
they kiss, roar of loosed ice echoing.
They are both just nineteen.
And now they sit, hands clutching brown
bottles, in a one-room cabin turned
tavern. A wooden counter, scabbed over
with men’s names. A Naugahyde couch,
slouching by the door. One man at the bar,
face flat in a puddle of beer.
His phlegmy snores. The room choked
with smoke. The one they call Dirty Dave
is telling a story: “We picked up this squaw
hitching her way into town. Weren’t no room
in the cab, so she crawled in back. I went after her.
I said, whatever you hear, boys,
don’t stop this truck.” Laughter. He grins,
gap-toothed and mean. Leers at the girl.
“I like it when they fight.” She shivers.
Twists at a strand of her black hair.
Her boyfriend draws her closer.
Six men—they’ve been drinking
all winter. One girl. One nervous
boyfriend. A mining camp a hundred miles
or more from town. And Dave stares
at the girl. “What do you think of that?”
And she thinks: There is so much evil
in this world. And she thinks of her hand,
squeezing the bottle till it breaks, scraping
this man’s face to bone with the shards.
And she thinks of the river, how in some
angry seasons it could not be contained—
bridges snapped like thread, whole villages
devoured by the Yukon’s flood and fury.
And she hears the river shift and growl.
—Lisa D. Chávez, 1997
Originally published in The Americas Review
Reprinted in 2001 in In an Angry Season