To Change The World Enough

alice-walker
Alice Walker  b. 1944

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

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.
Now,
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
fresh light
you do:
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
of this.
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
however few;
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth’s reckoning;
no longer far
off
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
revelations;
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us.

 

I Hold My Honey And I Store My Bread

Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000)

Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Hydrangeas

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Great-Mama took such care tending
the teal hydrangeas – their massive heads,
full of petals like impulse thoughts,
could fly apart in any spring breeze
and they would be left scattered, half
of themselves, and still appear full-headed.
Great-Mama nursed them with formulas,
whispered names and lullabies
under her breath, patted and cooed
the soil at the roots until her palms
were caked black. Oh, how they blossomed
and sprouted, framing the front yard
as if to say, she is ours, ours, to touch her
you must cross from flesh to flower.


Brooks combined a mastery of language and movement in her poetry with a distinct voice for the African American community.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in  1946 for her volume  of poetry titled, Annie Allen, becoming the first African American to win the award.  She built on that recognition to eventually promote smaller Black owned presses and to tirelessly advocate for education and encouragement of students and young writers.  In 1985, at the age of 68 she became the first Black woman serving as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.  She used that position to sponsor and host literary awards and prizes.  She took her advocacy of literacy and literature to the people by visiting schools, colleges, universities, prisons, hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers. She took poetry out of the realm of elites and made it relevant in the everyday world.

A long time resident of Chicago, she used her status as poet laureate of Illinois to share her vision of human rights and promote the arts.  A woman of modest means throughout her lifetime, she worked tirelessly to use her art to inspire, amuse and educate, to create a kinder world, to create a greater understanding of our common experience as humans.


my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

by Gwendolyn Brooks

I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

I Will Take It As A Greate Favor

 

532182897
Tracy K. Smith

“One of poetry’s great effects, through its emphasis upon feeling, association, music and image — things we recognize and respond to even before we understand why — is to guide us toward the part of ourselves so deeply buried that it borders upon the collective.”

― Tracy K. Smith, Staying Human:  Poetry in the Age of Technology

American Sonnet 10

by Wanda Coleman

.                after Lowell

our mothers wrung hell and hardtack from row
. .and boll.  fenced others’
gardens with bones of lovers.  embarking
. .from Africa in chains
reluctant pilgrims stolen by Jehovah’s light
. .planted here the bitter
seed of blight and here eternal torches mark
. .the shame of Moloch’s mansions
built in slavery’s name.  our hungered eyes
. .do see/refuse the dark
illuminate the blood-soaked steps of each
. .historic gain.  a yearning
yearning to avenge the raping of the womb
. .from which we spring.


 

Florence, Ala. December 7th 1866
From Wade in The Water

by Tracy K. Smith

Dear Sir  I take the pleashure of writing you
A fue lins hoping that I will not ofende you
by doing so    I was raised in your state
and was sold from their when I was 31 years olde
left wife one childe Mother Brothers and sisters
My wife died about 12 years agoe and ten years
agoe I made money And went back and bought
My olde Mother and she lives with me

Seven years agoe I Maried again and commence
to by Myself and wife for two thousande dollars and
last Christmas I Made the last pay ment and I have
made Some little Money this year and I wis
to get my Kinde All with me and I will take it
as a Greate favor if you will help me to get them

Just When Hope Withers

Rita Dove
Rita Dove

I was apprehensive. I feared every time I talked about poetry, it would be filtered through the lens of race, sex, and age.

Rita Dove

Found Sonnet: The Wig

by Rita Dove

100% human hair, natural; Yaki synthetic, Brazilian blend,
Malaysian, Kanekalon, Peruvian Virgin, Pure Indian;
iron-friendly, heat-resistant; bounce, volume, featherweight,
Short ’n’ Sassy, Swirls & Twirls, Smooth & Sleek and Sleek & Straight,

Wet and Wavy, Futura fibre, weave-a-wig or Shake-n-Go;
classic, trendy, micro-kink; frosted pixie, tight cornrow;
full, three-quarter, half, stretch cap, drawstring, ear tabs, combs;
chignon, headband, clip-in bangs; easy extensions and ponytail domes—

long or bobbed, hand-tied, layered, deep twist bulk, prestyled updo,
Remi closure, Swiss lace front, invisible L part, J part, U;
feathered, fringed, extended neck; tousled, spiky, loose cascades,
sideswept, flipped ends, corkscrews, spirals, Rasta dreads, Ghana braids;

Passion Wave, Silk Straight, Faux Mohawk, Nubian locks, Noble Curl:
Cleopatra, Vintage Vixen, Empress, Hera, Party Girl.

Published in New Yorker, 2016.


Exit

by Rita Dove

Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
“provisionally”—a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it’s gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world’s open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.

 

That Is What I am

Wanda Coleman_2
Wanda Coleman (1946 – 2013)

“Many have referred to Carroll’s rhyme’s as nonsense, but to my childhood world in 1950’s Los Angeles they made perfect sense.”

Wanda Coleman

Requiem For A Nest

by Wanda Coleman

the winged thang built her dream palace
amid the fine green eyes of a sheltering bough
she did not know it was urban turf
disguised as serenely delusionally rural
nor did she know the neighborhood was rife
with slant-mawed felines and those long-taloned
swoopers of prey. she was ignorant of the acidity & oil
that slowly polluted the earth, and was never
to detect the serpent coiled one strong limb below

following her nature she flitted and dove
for whatever blades twigs and mud
could be found under the humming blue
and created a hatchery for her spawn
not knowing all were doomed


Wanda Coleman, the self proclaimed poet laureate of Los Angeles, threw herself headlong into poetry.  She did what great artists do, they find a way to make a living from their creativity and Coleman had to hold down a myriad of odd jobs to accomplish her passions.

In 2020, Black Sparrow Press, Coleman’s longtime publisher, will release Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poem, a collection of Coleman’s best work spanning her career.   It is  edited and has an introduction by Terrance Hayes.  Both Hayes and Coleman have taken the sonnet form and pushed it into new territory,  relevant to their experiences and voice.  I have yet to pick up a copy of this compilation, but it is on my short list of poetry purchases for the new year.  What I enjoy about Coleman is her ability to incorporate profound metaphors with a sense of humor.  Most of her poems work on multiple levels of meanings and yet are not confusing or convoluted.  She worked with a deft ear for language and always entertained.   Do you have a favorite Coleman poem?   Please share.


 

Little Birds

By Lewis Carroll

Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell:
Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaiters –
I’ve a Tale to tell.

Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloisters –
That is what I am.

Little Birds are teaching
Tigresses to smile,
Innocent of guile:
Smile, I say, not smirkle –
Mouth a semicircle,
That’s the proper style!

Little Birds are sleeping
All among the pins,
Where the loser wins:
Where, I say, he sneezes
When and how he pleases –
So the Tale begins.

Little Birds are writing
Interesting books,
To be read by cooks:
Read, I say, not roasted –
Letterpress, when toasted,
Loses its good looks.

Little Birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
“Thanks!” they cry. “‘Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”

Little Birds are bathing
Crocodiles in cream,
Like a happy dream:
Like, but not so lasting –
Crocodiles, when fasting,
Are not all they seem!

Little Birds are choking
Baronets with bun,
Taught to fire a gun:
Taught, I say, to splinter
Salmon in the winter –
Merely for the fun.

Little Birds are hiding
Crimes in carpet-bags,
Blessed by happy stags:
Blessed, I say, though beaten –
Since our friends are eaten
When the memory flags.

Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.

 

There’s Much More To It

rowan-ricardo-phillips
Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Washington Mews

by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

I won’t ever tell you how it ended.
But it ended.  I was told not to act
Like it was some big dramatic moment.
She swiveled on her heels like she twirled just
The other day on a bar stool, the joy
Gone out of it now.  Then she walked away.
I called out to her once.  She slightly turned.
But she didn’t stop.  I called out again.
And that was when, well, that’s just when
You know: You will always be what you were
On that small street at that small time, right when
She left and Pluto sudsed your throat and said,
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche
Tú la quisiste, y a veces ella también te quiso.

 


For someone who is interested in words and language, I am ashamed to admit I am a complete failure in learning other languages.   Most of the rest of my family has decent conversational Spanish skills, something that I think all Americans should have, given the importance of our neighbors to the south.  If you are like me, then this might be helpful. A loose translation of the last two lines of the poem above is:

  “I can write the saddest verses tonight, You loved her, and sometimes she loved you too.”

The Super Bowl half time on Sunday was incredible.  I was pleased so many of the songs were sung in Spanish, quite a contrast to the political ads from President Trump and his constant attack on immigrants. Shakira and J. Lo put on a great performance and regardless of your opinion on booty shaking, there was no mistaking their power as performers and their impact on the pop culture of the United States.  The NFL never does anything by chance.  It was clear they were courting a wider audience and realizing that it didn’t matter what the bible belt felt about the costumes or the dancing, no one was going to turn it off and a whole new demographic might just tune in.   I loved the dancing brass back-ups for J. Lo.  Phillips poem below is a fitting commentary to the entire spectacle, that try and simplify it, or put it in a “category” and you are going to miss the complexity of what is really going on.   What the half time show said to me, is it’s more than one thing.  It was about life, about music,  about celebration.  It spoke to me, we are much more interesting in living life as a global multi-cultural experience than in courting isolationism and building walls.


 

Little Song

by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Both guitars run trebly. One noodles
Over a groove. The other slushes chords.
Then they switch. It’s quite an earnest affair.
They close my eyes. I close their eyes. A horn
Blares its inner air to brass. A girl shakes
Her ass. Some dude does the same. The music’s
Gone moot. Who doesn’t love it when the bass
Doesn’t hide? When you can feel the trumpet peel
Old oil and spit from deep down the empty
Pit of a note or none or few? So don’t
Give up on it yet: the scenario.
You know that it’s just as tired of you
As you are of it. Still, there’s much more to it
Than that. It does not not get you quite wrong.

You In Every Blessed Shape We Know

kobe_and_gigi_bryant

To An Athlete Dying Young

By A. E. Housman

usman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.


The nature of pop culture is our hero’s are champions.   Regardless if you’re an NBA fan, its hard to not admire Kobe Bryant.   He was exceptional in ways few athletes are exceptional.   He spoke 6 languages fluently, he was by all accounts an all in father, and he had lived his life passionately.   His critics, which during his playing career were many, criticized he was selfish, he was too driven, but you don’t win 5 NBA championships, while jumping directly from high school to the NBA, by not being incredibly focused on your craft.   Kobe played the game with a level of athleticism and competitiveness that is a rare skill.   Kobe’s self proclaimed nickname, “Black mamba”, said it all, he was a fearsome opponent and a winner when the game was on the line.

When Bryant won the Oscar for best short, I checked out the video.  I am not a big NBA fan, rarely watching games until the end of the playoffs.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  It is a poem, a love song, to a sport that enabled him to be his best self.   With Kobe and Gigi’s tragic deaths, Dear Basketball is a touching epitaph.


Sonnet 53

By William Shakespeare

What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new.
Speak of the spring and foison of the year:
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear;
And you in every blessèd shape we know.
    In all external grace you have some part,
    But you like none, none you, for constant heart.