Which Me Will Survive

President Elect Joe Biden

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
 
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
 
Langston Hughes

Who Said It Was Simple

By Audre Lorde 

There are so many roots to the tree of anger   
that sometimes the branches shatter   
before they bear.

Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march   
discussing the problematic girls   
they hire to make them free.
An almost white counterman passes   
a waiting brother to serve them first   
and the ladies neither notice nor reject   
the slighter pleasures of their slavery.   
But I who am bound by my mirror   
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex

and sit here wondering   
which me will survive   
all these liberations.


And so it begins, my long slow exhale, the beginning of a release of four years of stress and tension. For the majority of the record number of Americans that voted for Biden, voted for change, his victory is one of enormous proportions. It is historic. For the 70 million plus that voted for Trump it is a disappointment. The reality of this day is not one of decisive healing in this nation, rather it is the stark chasm left from this long divisive campaign that exists as a scar in this country and it is not going to be washed away easily. Trumpism’s rejection of political norms, rejection of science, rejection of decency and his four year assault on the idea of the historical role of political leaders at the federal level to provide a leadership of care for all, rather than just your parties special interests, I fear is going to remain long after Trump leaves the White House. The map of dots of urban blue surrounded by a sea of red counties, red states, that are the homes of good people, people as convinced their vote was correct for Trump as the path to the future of America, as the people like myself that voted for Biden. I am not naïve. I know that the next four years is going to be difficult globally in terms of the health pandemic, the state of the global economy and the political turmoil and societal turmoil that will inevitably ensue. I am only glad that a professional is once again headed into the White House to help deal with this mess we find ourselves.

For today, I will be a humble victor, take a minute to relax, enjoy some poetry and remember we have a lot of work to do as a nation and as individuals to address the systemic issues of racism facing our society and the world. Presidential campaigns mark the passage of time. Whether the next four years are more or less critical than any other four in the past 40 years depends on whether we are capable as a society to actually begin to work on issues in a substantial way. If we let politics play pin the tail on the donkey once again, Republicans blocking potential solutions so that they can blame the Democrats in the next election cycle for failure, we will squander this opportunity for change. At some point we will have to work together at the federal level, just like we do in our places of business, in our schools, in our communities. And to view our parties that we vote for as having a mutual sense of obligation to do more than just obstruct the other party’s agenda on the opposite side of the aisle but to start constructing solutions together. To do that, I suspect we will need a mixture of good will, good science, good policy and bit of prayer mixed with hope to be successful.


Prayer

by Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Pour Secrecy Upon The Dying Page

Gregory Corso (1930 – 2001)

I Held A Shelley Manuscript

by Gregory Corso

My hands did numb to beauty
as they reached into Death and tightened!

O sovereign was my touch
upon the tan-inks’s fragile page!

Quickly, my eyes moved quickly,
sought for smell for dust for lace
for dry hair!

I would have taken the page
breathing in the crime!
For no evidence have I wrung from dreams–
yet what triumph is there in private credence?

Often, in some steep ancestral book, when I find myself entangled with leopard-apples
and torched-skin mushrooms,
my cypressean skein outreaches the recorded age
and I, as though tipping a pitcher of milk,
pour secrecy upon the dying page.

 

America Politica Historia, in Spontaneity

By Gregory Corso

O this political air so heavy with the bells
and motors of a slow night, and no place to rest
but rain to walk—How it rings the Washington streets!   
The umbrella’d congressmen; the rapping tires   
of big black cars, the shoulders of lobbyists   
caught under canopies and in doorways,
and it rains, it will not let up,
and meanwhile lame futurists weep into Spengler’s   
prophecy, will the world be over before the races blend color?
All color must be one or let the world be done—
There’ll be a chance, we’ll all be orange!
I don’t want to be orange!
Nothing about God’s color to complain;
and there is a beauty in yellow, the old Lama   
in his robe the color of Cathay;
in black a strong & vital beauty,
Thelonious Monk in his robe of Norman charcoal—
And if Western Civilization comes to an end   
(though I doubt it, for the prophet has not   
executed his prophecy) surely the Eastern child   
will sit by a window, and wonder
the old statues, the ornamented doors;
the decorated banquet of the West—
Inflamed by futurists I too weep in rain at night   
at the midnight of Western Civilization;
Dante’s step into Hell will never be forgotten by Hell;
the Gods’ adoption of Homer will never be forgotten by the Gods;
the books of France are on God’s bookshelf;
no civil war will take place on the fields of God;   
and I don’t doubt the egg of the East its glory—
Yet it rains and the motors go
and continued when I slept by that wall in Washington   
which separated the motors in the death-parlor   
where Joe McCarthy lay, lean and stilled,   
ten blocks from the Capitol—
I could never understand Uncle Sam
his red & white striped pants his funny whiskers his starry hat:
how surreal Yankee Doodle Dandy, goof!   
American history has a way of making you feel   
George Washington is still around, that is
when I think of Washington I do not think of Death—
Of all Presidents I have been under
Hoover is the most unreal
and FDR is the most President-looking
and Truman the most Jewish-looking
and Eisenhower the miscast of Time into Space—
Hoover is another America, Mr. 1930
and what must he be thinking now?
FDR was my youth, and how strange to still see   
his wife around.
Truman is still in Presidential time.
I saw Eisenhower helicopter over Athens
and he looked at the Acropolis like only Zeus could.   
OF THE PEOPLE is fortunate and select.
FOR THE PEOPLE has never happened in America or elsewhere.
BY THE PEOPLE is the sadness of America.   
I am not politic.
I am not patriotic.
I am nationalistic!
I boast well the beauty of America to all the people in Europe.
In me they do not see their vision of America.
O whenever I pass an American Embassy I don’t know what to feel!
Sometimes I want to rush in and scream: “I’m American!”   
but instead go a few paces down to the American Bar   
get drunk and cry: “I’m no American!”
The men of politics I love are but youth’s fantasy:
The fine profile of Washington on coins stamps & tobacco wraps
The handsomeness and death-in-the-snow of Hamilton.   
The eyeglasses shoe-buckles kites & keys of Ben Franklin.   
The sweet melancholy of Lincoln.
The way I see Christ, as something romantic & unreal, is the way I see them.
An American is unique among peoples.
He looks and acts like a boyman.
He never looks cruel in uniform.
He is rednecked portly rich and jolly.
White-haired serious Harvard, kind and wry.
A convention man a family man a rotary man & practical joker.
He is moonfaced cunning well-meaning & righteously mean.   
He is Madison Avenue, handsome, in-the-know, and superstitious.
He is odd, happy, quicker than light, shameless, and heroic   
Great yawn of youth!
The young don’t seem interested in politics anymore.   
Politics has lost its romance!
The “bloody kitchen” has drowned!
And all that is left are those granite
façades of Pentagon, Justice, and Department—
Politicians do not know youth!
They depend on the old
and the old depend on them
and lo! this has given youth a chance
to think of heaven in their independence.
No need to give them liberty or freedom
where they’re at—
When Stevenson in 1956 came to San Francisco
he campaigned in what he thought was an Italian section!   
He spoke of Italy and Joe DiMaggio and spaghetti,   
but all who were there, all for him,
were young beatniks! and when his car drove off
Ginsberg & I ran up to him and yelled:
“When are you going to free the poets from their attics!”   
Great yawn of youth!
Mad beautiful oldyoung America has no candidate   
the craziest wildest greatest country of them all!   
and not one candidate—
Nixon arrives ever so temporal, self-made,
frontways sideways and backways,
could he be America’s against? Detour to vehicle?   
Mast to wind? Shore to sea? Death to life?
The last President?

An Altogether Different Language

anne-porter

Anne Porter

November Sunrise

by Anne Porter (1911 – 2011)

Wild geese are flocking and calling in pure golden air,
Glory like that which painters long ago
Spread as a background for some little hermit
Beside his cave, giving his cloak away,
Or for some martyr stretching out
On her expected rack.
A few black cedars grow nearby
And there’s a donkey grazing.

Small craftsmen, steeped in anonymity like bees,
Gilded their wooden panels, leaving fame to chance,
Like the maker of this wing-flooded golden sky,
Who forgives all our ignorance
Both of his nature and of his very name,
Freely accepting our one heedless glance.


Anne Porter is a role model for all of us that we can be artists our entire lives, published or unpublished.  Her first collection of poetry An Altogether Different Language was published in 1994 when she was 84.  Widowed in 1975, she focused less on supporting her husband’s and children’s artistic pursuits and more on her own, finding more time to write.   Anne Porter, not to be confused with the writer Katherine Anne Porter, writes in a style that I appreciate – not overly dramatic or complicated while connecting emotions and insights from her brilliant experience and view of the world.  It is a very personal style while being accessible.  Her poems are not confusing while also not confining.

I relate to her sense of awe watching waterfowl in a late Autumn sky.  Last Sunday as the sun began to set I was finishing up a project on the farm and Trumpeter Swans, some summer residents and others that had joined them on their travels, lifted off the lake adjacent to the farm and left in family groups in Vs sounding their enthusiasm for the journey to come.   The scale of the birds and the purity of their voices made us stand still and watch in wonder.


An Altogether Different Language

by Anne Porter

There was a church in Umbria, Little Portion,
Already old eight hundred years ago.
It was abandoned and in disrepair
But it was called St. Mary of the Angels
For it was known to be the haunt of angels,
Often at night the country people
Could hear them singing there.

What was it like, to listen to the angels,
To hear those mountain-fresh, those simple voices
Poured out on the bare stones of Little Portion
In hymns of joy?
No one has told us.
Perhaps it needs another language
That we have still to learn,
An altogether different language.

I’d Go To All Of Them

Howard Nemerov (1920 – 1991)

“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.

Howard Nemerov

Political Reflection

By Howard Nemerov

loquitur the sparrow in the Zoo

No bars are set too close, no mesh too fine
To keep me from the eagle and the lion,
Whom keepers feed that I may freely dine.
This goes to show that if you have the wit
To be small, common, cute, and live on shit,
Though the cage fret kings, you may make free with it.




We’ve a mad King, fools aplenty but no Dame Kind to intervene. The plot thickens.

On a brighter note, I love finding sonnet’s hiding in plain sight like Nemerov’s A Common Saw. I realize that for some traditionalists a sonnet must conform to a specific rhyming scheme, but everything else about the structure of this poem is a sonnet, and given the metaphors with Shakespeare’s King Lear, its apparent what Nemerov intended. A day after the election, I wish the same as Nemerov. Instead patience will have to suffice in place of salvation.


A Common Saw

by Howard Nemerov

Good king, that must approve the common saw,
Thou out of heaven’s benediction comest
To the warm sun!
                                       King Lear

Had God but made me a religious man
I’d have it made.  The suburb where I live
Affords an ample choice of synagogues
And seven different Christianities –

I’d go to all of them, to every one
In turn, continuous performances:
Confession and yarmulka, incense and candlelight,
High, low, and broad, reform and orthodox,

Allowing God no possible way out
But my salvation – save that God did not
Make me a religious man, but left me here,
From heaven’s blessing come to the warm sun,

Twined round the pinkie and pinned under the thumb
Of Dame Kind dear and beautiful and dumb.

We Will Surely Awake

Vote!

“You wouldn’t let your grandparents pick your playlist. Why would you let them pick your representative who’s going to determine your future?” 

Barack Obama


 I don’t know if my individual vote changes anything, other than it makes me feel better.  I feel better by the act of picking candidates who are more aligned with my beliefs and hopeful they will prevail.  I believe today’s election is the first step on a path to a better future and by doing my civic duty and voting I have helped be part of that first step.  The good thing about democracy and voting is at least you can hope things will change.   

I know that on any typical day two-thirds of the approximately 200 people that visit Fourteen Lines are not Americans.  The majority of the people that might read this are not personally invested in this election, regardless of its outcome. I wonder how American politics must appear to the rest of the world?  Do you find this as bewildering as we do, the rhetoric so out of balance from our day to day lives?

I expect we will not know the outcome of this election for a while. I don’t anticipate that I will wake up tomorrow and the rhetoric will be less volatile, less divisive.  Instead I anticipate  that the specter of disunity might in the short term heighten, not lessen. But I remain hopeful that someday we will awaken to a calmer day with new leadership that views power as an obligation to not obscure the truth in search of political expediency.  A President that talks honestly about difficult nuanced subjects so that we can deal with seemingly intractable problems through compromise.  A day when Senators and Congressman on both sides of the isle believe in coalition building, on seeking agreement on common ground and see that process as not a failure in political strategy but as a moral obligation of principled leadership. Let’s pray today is the start of something new, something better.  But given that Whitman was writing about waking up 170 years ago from the political malaise of his era, its fair to ask whether I should really expect change from politicians or like my vote, only hold myself accountable for change? 


To the States

By Walt Whitman

To Identify the 16th, 17th, or 18th Presidentiad.

Why reclining, interrogating? why myself and all drowsing?
What deepening twilight—scum floating atop of the waters,
Who are they as bats and night-dogs askant in the capitol?
What a filthy Presidentiad! (O South, your torrid suns! O North, your artic freezings!)
Are those really Congressman?  are those the great Judges?  Is that the President?
Then I will sleep awhile yet, for I see that these States sleep, for reasons
(With gathering murk, with muttering thunder and lambent shoots we all duly awake,
South, North, East, West, inland and seaboard, we will surely awake.)


Poem in the American Manner

by Dorothy Parker

I dunno yer highfalutin’ words, but here’s th’ way it seems
When I’m peekin’ out th’ winder o’ my little House o Dreams;
I’ve been lookin’ ‘roun’ this big ol’ world, as bizzy as a hive,
An’ I want t’ tell ye, neighbor mine, it’s good t’ be alive.
I’ve ben settin’ here, a-thinkin’ hard, an’ say, it seems t’ me
That this big ol’ world is jest about as good as it kin be,
With its starvin’ little babies, an’ its battles, an’ its strikes,
An’ its profiteers, an’ hold-up men—th’ dawggone little tykes!
An’ its hungry men that fought fer us, that nobody employs.
An’ I think, “Why, shucks, we’re jest a lot o’ grown-up little boys!”
An’ I settle back, an’ light my pipe, an’ reach fer Mother’s hand,
An’ I wouldn’t swap my peace o’ mind fer nothin’ in the land;
Fer this world uv ours, that jest was made fer folks like me an’ you
Is a purty good ol’ place t’ live—say, neighbor, ain’t it true

When I Reach For The Wind

Vietnam War

War Poet

by Sidney Keyes (1922 – 1943)

I am the man who looked for peace and found
My own eyes barbed.
I am the man who groped for words and found
An arrow in my hand.
I am the builder whose firm walls surround
A slipping land.
When I grow sick or mad
Mock me not nor chain me:
When I reach for the wind
Cast me not down:

Though my face is a burnt book
And a wasted town.


It’s November and though part of me says I should spend a month on limericks and lighten the mood, I am going to continue the tradition of highlighting the poetry of war during this month as a way to explore different voices of patriotism; poetry as inspiration, mourning, fear, bravado, resistance, defeat, rebellion and acceptance. I wonder, for the incredible amount of resources that are spent in human and financial capitol around the world to wage war in ever more technologically advanced and destructive ways, why don’t we as a species spend more money on understanding the political science and psychology of peace?

I am sure there are different ways of totaling this up, but several estimates cite at least 19 separate geopolitical armed conflicts with more than a 1,000 casualties combined between the two warring factions in 2019 and four conflicts with deaths exceeding 10,000 last year. Many of these wars have been ongoing for decades with no clear path to any kind of resolution or truce. These conflicts do not include campaigns of organized violence that are waged under the banner of terrorism. At a time when armed militias are crossing over from fringe to main stream in American media the broader public has to ask the question why, why is it happening, why are people attracted to violent extremist causes? Is this a small fringe whose voices are amplified by social media or is there a fundamental shift occurring in support of ideology that is perniciously undermining the social contract we have as Americans as neighbors and as global citizens. Have we lost a common understanding of how best to be a member of a community, a state, a nation?

I am not going to dive deep into politics or causes of war this month. I am going to stick to selecting poetry and let the poets words inform readers thoughts, feelings and responses. However, I am going to stray a bit further afield this month from the sonnet form, as most of the great war sonnets were written during World War I, and for the most part, I’ve shared the best of them in previous November series. Instead, I intend to broaden the perspective with more voices from other conflicts from the past 100 years. Keye’s War Poet was written during WWII and Ford’s Lines For A Hard Time was written in 1967 during the Vietnam War. Both have a solemn tone of looking at the toll of war in terms of human life and weighing the unanswerable questions that converge upon the combatants and survivors, the question – why?


Lines For A Hard Time

by Gena Ford

Evil does not go always
by dark ways.  On any hot
summer day, cleanshaven
it may stride across
a public place and head
purposefully for high
vantagepoints.
                     . What whisper
hisses in the inner ear
take cover? Ah, and then 
the boy is dead, others dead
or dying, and the evil
laps out from bits of hot
lead across the nervepools
of the nation.
                              . We ask
in our littered streets
and high places.  Worms twist
in our labyrinthe  skulls.
We are frightened by bland
facades.
             .The losses are always
personal.  A phone rings;
a father becomes less than
the sum of his grief.  Could we
say better than his own words,
And we will die as well….
Spiral upward into All Love?

Good Man, good grieving man,
all men have lived in evil
times, though few have know it
absolutely.  We persist.
We love ourselves as often
as we can.  And send our sons
to walk out in open day.