They look at each other
across the glittering sea
some keep a low profile
Some are cliffs
The Bathers think
islands are separate like them
I’m Really Very Fond of You
by Alice Walker
I’m really very fond of you,
I don’t like fond.
It sounds like something
you would tell a dog.
Give me love,
Throw your fond in a pond,
But what I felt for him
was also warm, frisky,
and could swim away.
if forced to do so.
Give me love or nothing; there’s a sentiment I can agree with. Muriel Rukeyser was a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and a mentor of Alice Walker. I also agree with Walker, Rukeyser is an under appreciated poet of the 20th Century. Sometimes greatness is not in what we produce as art. Rukeyser produced lots of great art, but she also produced greatness by her example, by her teaching or by her encouragement. Alice Walker was deeply inspired by Rukeyser as a mentor, feminist, thinker and artist. As Black History Month comes to a close on this leap year day February 29th, take a leap backwards with me from Walker to Rukeyser. Walker, who is by her very nature well spoken, has some profound insights into poetry in the video below. I highly recommend taking a few minutes and watching it.
Song, The World is Full of Loss
by Muriel Rukeyser
The world is full of loss; bring, wind, my love, . , my home is where we make our meeting-place, . . and love whatever I shall touch and read . . within that face.
Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes; . . peace to look, life to listen and confess, . freedom to find to find to find . . that nakedness.
“I know the dark delight of being strange,
The penalty of difference in the crowd,
The loneliness of wisdom among fools,
Yet never have I felt but very proud,
Though I have suffered agonies of hell,
Of living in my own peculiar cell.
― Claude McKay – My House
To The White Fiends
by Claude McKay
THINK you I am not fiend and savage too?
Think you I could not arm me with a gun
And shoot down ten of you for every one
Of my black brothers murdered, burnt by you?
Be not deceived, for every deed you do
I could match –out-match: am I not Africa’s son,
Black of that black land where black deeds are done?
But the Almighty from the darkness drew
My soul and said: Even though shaft be a light
Awhile to burn on benighted earth,
Thy dusky face I set among the white
For thee to prove thyself of highest worth;
Before the world is swallowed up at night,
To show thy little lamp: go forth, go forth!
by Claude McKay
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
Lord she’s gone done left me done packed / up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs—
Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcolm fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing
Last Words by Slick
by Etheridge Knight
(or a self / sung eulogy)
Now, when I / die, dont you bury me
On no lone prairie;
And dont put me in no plain pine box
(cause I left plenty cold cash!);
And throw my cold butt in the deep blue sea.
Whatever you do, dont plant me / in no six feet of dirt;
Just mash me, mash me, except for my dick,
Which I want wrapped in a white / woman’s skirt.
I dont want no preacher / man a-preaching
Over me—cause I know where I am going.
I dont want no tears, no flowers,
No standing around and waiting / up / all hours.
Just get a golden trumpet, and have Dizzy blow it.
Cause I / wuz / Slick—and you damn well know it.
No piano playing, no blues please; No moaning and groaning;
Just lay me on the table, mash me
Into my two-hundred-dollar suit,
Red socks, black patent leather shoes,
Polka-dot tie (make damn sure it’s silk—
And dont forget it!)
Take me out to my pink cadillac
Prop me up / under the steering wheel,
Tow me out to real high hill,
Dig a hole—twenty feet long and twenty feet wide,
Place a giant joint of reefer / weed by my side;
Then leave me alone— And let me drive to hell in style!
You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise you are merely imitating yourself, going nowhere, because that’s always easiest.
The Dream Songs – 177
by John Berryman
Am tame now. You may touch me, who had thrilled
(before) your tips, twitcht from your breast your heart;
& burst your willing brain.
I am tame now. Undead, I was not killed
by Henry’s viewers but maimed. It is my art
to buzz the spotlight in vain,
flighting ‘at random’ while Addison wins.
I would not want war with Addison. I love him
and Addison so loves me back
me backsides, I may perish in his grins
& grip. I would he liked me less, less grim.
but he has helpt me, slack
& sick & hopeful, anew to know what man –
scrubbing the multiverse with dazzled tonight –
still has in store for man:
a doghouse or a cave, is all we could,
according to my dreams. I stand in doubt,
surrounded by holy wood.
This post marks the four hundredth blog of fourteen lines, forty percent to my goal of one thousand blog entries. I thank all of you who visit this space, whether a single time, once in a while or regularly. I hope our shared experience of reading and enjoying poetry connects us in some way to a global thread of shared humanity.
I find Berryman an inspiration on persistence. That may be an odd thing to say about a man who jumped off a bridge, but he had harbored that longing to end things on his terms for a long, long time before he finally acted on it. He did the best he could and continued his voyage as an artist for nearly 8 decades, no small accomplishment given his tendency towards self destruction. There is nothing at all to do with this Mr. Bones and that Mr. Bones. Or is there?
I recently attended a retreat where I was not allowed to talk, use a cell phone, computer or technology of any kind for 3.5 days. It was a very rewarding experience, something I would eagerly do again. It was good to reacquaint myself with the silence of my own mind, to retreat back to my childhood tech-less self. What a terrible curse we have placed on the generations that will know only screens, smart phones and blinking flashing things, all commanding our constant attention. The curse of 24 hour news cycle and the constant barrage of information. I promptly went out and bought a singing bowl, to make a deeper commitment to daily meditation and silence.
The experience also made me ponder the words “retreat”, “recollected”, and “reparations.” It also made think deeply about the word play of “spouse” and “espouse.” Is this what poets do? Geek out on words bumping around in our skulls when we are told we can only use our inside voices and not our speaking voices. When was the last time you couldn’t or didn’t speak to another human being for a whole day? Did it invigorate you or did it test you? Did you want to scream, tell a joke or sing or remain silent when it was over?
The Dream Songs – 223
by John Berryman
It’s wonderful the way cats bound about,
it’s wonderful how men are not found out
It’s miserable how many miserable are
over the spread world at this tick of time.
These mysteries that I’m
rehearsing in the dark did brighter minds
much bother through them ages, whom who finds
guilty for failure?
Up all we rose with dawn, springy for pride,
trying all morning. Dazzled, I subside
at noon, noon be my gaoler
and afternoon the deepening of the task
poor Henry set himself long since to ask:
Why? Who? When?
— I don’t know, Mr. Bones. You asks too much
of such as you & me & such
fast cats, worse men.
If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
As A Possible Lover
by Amiri Baraka (1934 – 2014)
silence, the way of wind
in early lull. Cold morning
to night, we go so
to ourselves. (Enough
to have thought
finishes it. What
you are, will have
no certainty, or
end. That you will
stay, where you are,
a human gentle wisp
of life. Ah . . . . ) . . practices
as a virtue. A single
what you have
“Until you do right by me, everything you think about is going to crumble.”
Celie in The Color Purple
Turning Madness Into Flowers #1
By Alice Walker
If my sorrow were deeper
I’d be, along with you, under
the ocean’s floor;
but today I learn that the oil
that pools beneath the ocean floor
of all our
our ancestors who have died and turned to oil
without our witness
We’ve always belonged to them.
Speaking for you, hanging, weeping, over the water’s edge
as well as for myself.
It is our grief
us, however resistant,
to the decaying and rotten
bottom of things:
our grief bringing
There are voices in poetry that seem connected, as if arising from one spirit. Alice Walker’s poetry strikes me as prayers that are deeply connected to a broader literary pantheon while being at the same time distinctly hers. I remember when The Color Purple came out and the book and the movie were resplendent in its story telling. So different is the experiences depicted from my own, I was inspired moved, but was I changed? Were we changed as a society? I believe so. Literature and poetry have the ability to change our perspectives. But at the same time, I realize simply seeing racism or the lasting scars of slavery, or being moved by the courage of individuals that stand up to unfairness doesn’t change the institutions that still perpetuate inequality. Black lives matter is a movement to remind us we have not arrived at the destination, we are still on the journey and have a long way to go.
I was sitting on a plane from Tampa to Minneapolis recently next to a thoughtful experienced educator and we were discussing the achievement gap in public schools in Minnesota between students of color and their white counterparts. Neither of us had an answer or a solution, other than let’s not be afraid of the conversation and the reality of what the data says and be open to ideas on how to do better. It’s a frustrating thing that when despite good intentions and focus, societal and educational problems get worse, not better. The human experience is a humbling one. Thank goodness we have poets like Walker to pull us together and remind us to sing.
Before I Leave The Stage
By Alice Walker
Before I leave the stage
I will sing the only song
I was meant truly to sing.
It is the song
of I AM.
Yes: I am Me
I love Us with every drop
of our blood
every atom of our cells
our waving particles
-undaunted flags of our Being-
neither here nor there.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
A song in the front yard
by Gwendolyn Brooks
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 tells 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 streets with paint on my face.
To Change The World Enough
by Alice Walker
To change the world enough
you must cease to be afraid
of the poor.
We experience your fear as the least pardonable of
humiliations; in the past
it has sent us scurrying off
daunted and ashamed
into the shadows.
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
the same high place
and ample table.
The poor always believe
there is room enough
for all of us;
the very rich never seem to have heard
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth’s reckoning;
no longer far
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us.