Let Us Hurry

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George Floyd Memorial on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis

I Look At The World

by Langston Hughes

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!

I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.


I visited the site where George Floyd was killed last Sunday, nearly two weeks since his death.  It was a place of honor and healing.  The energy was expansive, grief filled but not overwhelmingly so.  As I approached there were free supplies available to be safe in the age of the pandemic.  There were hand sanitizing stations, free masks, a medical bus parked sideways in the middle of Chicago Avenue preventing any flow of traffic to allow people to pay their respects and approach quietly on foot. There was a huge flower stand with free flowers or a voluntary donation so everyone could honor George Floyd and place them anywhere we were moved to do so.  The nearly half block long rows of flowers that lead up to the spot where he died is an incredible sight. There was music of many different kinds being made, there were chants, and prayers and offerings, artwork, posters and impromptu messages that people had created and left behind. There was a feeling of solidarity that something better has to come out of this.

I was inspired by the artwork of all shapes and sizes, posters, paintings, murals, sculptures, all to express the myriad of emotions that collide at this time and place. What shouldn’t be surprising is that it is a typical south Minneapolis neighborhood. A neighborhood anchored by stores, schools, non-profits, restaurants, shops, gas station, places of worship and art galleries.  There is a lovely wetland and pond, with a fountain less than a block away which leads to large grassy park which under normal times would be home to soccer practices and pick up base ball games this time of year. It is a neighborhood that is diverse with a mixture of buildings from new to over a hundred years old.  If you visit someday you will be surprised how it looks like almost any urban neighborhood that has a small family owned grocery store on the corner. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture it, only disbelief in what occurred there. However, it is not a common place anymore, it is a sacred place to honor Black Lives Matter and George Floyd.  It is a place of extraordinary tragedy.  And my only hope is that from this is a positive uprising, an uprising for change.

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What Kinds of Times Are These

by Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

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Make America Great For The First Time For Everyone

george-floyd-memorial-minneapolis
George Floyd Memorial Minneapolis

A Small Needfull Fact

by Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe


For the first time since George Floyd’s death, I feel a little better, a little more hopeful.   I cancelled my meetings on Thursday afternoon from 1 to 3 pm central time and watched the George Floyd memorial on TV in Minneapolis.  I was moved by the poise and the power of the message of everyone who spoke.  I was particularly struck by the eulogy delivered by Reverend Al Sharpton. He bridged the anger the entire world is feeling with hope.  He called out the white elephant of failed leadership in this country. His message was inclusive but continued to build the foundation of Black Lives Matter. He delivered an indictment on the endemic racism that plagues America and called for us to work together to remove the barriers and realize the true dream that America can become and needs to be.

 

Despite that small injection of optimism on Thursday, it is with some trepidation that I select poems at this time for this blog.  It is a such a time of sadness that it is hard to decipher whether words are appropriate to the gravity of the situation. Poetry can be a force for change. Poetry can be a respite from the anguish and frustration many of us are feeling, it can be a pleasant diversion.  But poetry by its very essence is a framework around which each person can attach their own perspective and emotions.  I am guarded that I might easily misstep. I worry that I might include a poem I find meaningful or enjoyable based on my interpretation but without realizing it, offend someone else for reasons I haven’t even considered.

I have not lived the experiences of African Americans. It would be wrong for me to only post pleasantries when my heart feels none of those things at this moment. It would also be wrong to usurp black poet’s words and feel that I am doing them justice.  It is not my intent for this blog to become a commentary on social justice or politics.  Fourteen Lines is about enjoyment of poetry.  But it is also about sharing poetry that is relevant to what is happening in my life.  And what is happening right now is more complex and more screwed up than at anytime in the past. So dear reader, if one of my selections misses the mark for you, please accept my apology and know it was not my intention to offend. The purpose of Fourteen Lines is to amuse, inspire and touch base with kindred souls across this planet, who find in the poetic arts our common humanity and an imprint of our spiritual voices that we share beyond what only reason conveys.

Why do I pair Mark Strand’s Coming to This with Ross Gay’s A Small Needfull Fact?  Several imperfect reasons.  First, its going to take voices on all sides to move forward; perspectives from African American, White, Latino, Native American, Asian, male, female, straight, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trans, Republican, Democrat and disenfranchised.  We need to even share ideas and voices about things which we may disagree, for no other reason than to find empathy and help us better understand our cultural diversity, and ultimately move towards a better measure of equity.  But the main imperfect reason is that each poem has at least several lines and ideas or words that illuminated my thoughts in recent days or re-enforced I am not alone in thinking this way.  I see in each poem things that reflect my current state of mind. It is reassuring for me to know I am not crazy. Reassuring to know someone else has tread this path before, tread it well enough to write it down, share it in a poem and seemingly survived and moved forward.  If they can do it, so can I.  I hope you find a line or thought or emotion or idea that helps you do the same in today’s poems.  Be safe, be well. We can do better.  We will do better. The time is now for change. Like Reverend Sharpton said during the memorial, the time has arrived “to make America great for everyone for the first time.” 


Coming To This

by Mark Strand

We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

Such Simple Love

Thomas Mcgrath
Thomas McGrath (1916 – 1990)

Such Simple Love

by Thomas McGrath

All night long I hear the sleepers toss
Between the darkened window and the wall.
The madman’s whimper and the lover’s voice,
The worker’s whisper and the sick child’s call—
Knowing them all

I’d walk a mile, maybe, hearing some cat
Crying its guts out, to throttle it by hand,
Such simple love I had. I wished I might—
Or God might—answer each call in person and
Each poor demand.

Well, I’d have been better off sleeping myself.
These fancies had some sentimental charm,
But love without direction is a cheap blanket
And even if it did no one any harm,
No one is warm.

 


 

Sometimes

by Thomas McGrath

When I take your hand
It is like a door, opening …

A garden . . .
A road leading out through a
. . Mediterranean landscape . . .

Finally: a smell of salt,
the port,
A ship leaving for strange and
. .distant countries

Illumine Our Tempestuous Day

Frank Yerby
Frank Yerby (1916 – 1991)

 

Sonnet: England in 1819

by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1922)

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who
Through public scorn,–mud from a muddy spring,
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless–a book sealed;
A Senate, Time’s worst statute unrepealed,
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

 


Not much has changed in 200 years.  “Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know” is the exact same disenfranchisement millions around the globe have felt in the protests following George Floyd’s murder.  It in no way excuses the vandalism, looting and burning of buildings that are largely small business owners and community resources. More violence won’t move us forward. Change is going to have to come from soul searching and willingness to reinvent ourselves as a society where inclusion and common goals might mean real equity and freedom comes at the cost of some having less so that as a whole we have more.

In searching for poetry that helps me process what has played out in the past 10 days, poetry that bridges the impassioned, courageous, realistic and hopeful with anger and righteous indignation, I stumbled across this poem by Frank Yerby, a writer known more for his novels than poetry.  I was struck by the poem below.  The third stanza speaks to me. I think many of our brains have been boiling with injustice and insanity.

Yerby has the distinction of being the first African American author to reach 1 million sales mark in 1946 with his southern historical romance novel, The Foxes of Harrow.  In all he wrote 33 novels, many of them historical fiction and romances. Yerby would break another barrier in 1946, when he became the first African-American to have a book purchased for screen adaptation by a Hollywood studio. 20th Century Fox optioned Foxes and the film of the same name was released in 1947 starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara.

I really enjoyed Yerby’s poem The Fishes and The Poet’s Hands.  There is a lot going on in it. The gruesome description of Shelley’s funeral pyre, contrasted with the brutality of racism and state sanctioned violence against African Americans is striking. The poem builds across the three stanzas. I agree, that this is not a time for “pretty rhyming words.”  But resilience comes in some part from finding modest continuity in the midst of choas; the cup of tea brewed on the battle field, a willingness to find civility in the middle of barbarity. Call me shallow, but I’ll continue enjoying a little rhyming poetry, despite the more weighty problems facing my community, simply to renew my sense of hope, that there is still beauty in the world and art and words.  And even if in the end the battle between the elite and the oppressed has not changed in 200 years, we can do our best to move forward and keep hope alive through art.

 

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George Floyd mural in South Minneapolis at the site where he lost his life. 

 

The Fishes and the Poet’s Hands

by Frank Yerby

I

They say that when they burned young Shelley’s corpse
(For he was drowned, you know, and washed ashore
With hands and face quite gone—the fishes had,
It seems, but small respect for Genius which
Came clothed in common flesh) the noise his brains
Made as they boiled and seethed within his skull
Could well be heard five yards away. At least
No one can hear mine as they boil; but then
He could not feel his burn; and so I think
He had the best of it at that. Don’t you?

II

Now all the hungry broken men stand here
Beside my bed like ghosts and cry: “Why don’t
You shout our wrong aloud? Why are you not
Our voice, our sword? For you are of our blood:
You’ve seen us beaten, lynched, degraded, starved;
Men must be taught that other men are not
Mere pawns in some gigantic game in which
The winner takes the gold, the land, the work,
The breath, the heart, and soul of him who loses!”
I watch them standing there until my brain
Begins to burn within my head again—
(As Shelley’s burned—poor, young dead Shelley whom
The fishes ate) then I get up and write
A very pretty sonnet, nicely rhymed
About my latest love affair, how sad
I am because some dear has thrown me for
A total loss. (But Shelley had me there,
All his affairs turned out quite well indeed;
Harriet in the river drowned for love
Of him; and Mary leaving Godwin’s house
To follow where he led—quite well—indeed!)

III

You see this is ironical and light
Because I am so sick, so hurt inside,
I’m tired of pretty rhyming words when all
The land where I was born is soaked in tears
And blood, and black and utter hopelessness.
Now I would make a new, strong, bitter song,
And hurl it in the teeth of those I hate—
I would stand tall and proud against their blows,
Knowing I could not win, I would go down
Grandly as an oak goes down, and leave
An echo of the crash, at least, behind.
(So Shelley lived — and so at last, he died.
The fishes ate his glorious hands; and all
That mighty bulk of brain boiled when they burned him!)

In Need of Forgiveness

Minneapolis-riot
Minneapolis riots in the aftermath of George Floyd’s Murder by Minneapolis Police

 

In Need of Forgiveness

By T. A. Fry

Needle-fall in May, beneath the white pine
In the yard, golden in the sun, some die
As this year’s new growth begins. A sign
Something’s renewed this spring, as I try
To make sense of a senseless killing;
George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police,
Uncaring, racist, not one of them willing
To help a man begging for them to cease
Smothering him to death. Minneapolis cops
Deputized by our collective white privilege
Have scarred us all because we failed to stop
The apathy that formed this dreadful wedge.
Let me be first in need of forgiveness.
Committed to change,  God as my witness.