First Fight Then Fiddle
by Gwendolyn Brooks
First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
With feathery sorcery; muzzle the note
With hurting love; the music that they wrote
Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing
Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing
For the dear instrument to bear. Devote
The bow to silks and honey. Be remote
A while from malice and from murdering,
But first to arms, to armor. Carry hate
In front of you and harmony behind.
Be deaf to music and to beauty blind.
Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late
For having first to civilize a space
Wherein to play your violin with grace.
On a recent hike in the north woods in January, an inch of freshly fallen powdery cold snow having covered up the activities of its woodland habitants the previous evening, my partner and I came across a stand of cedar trees, interspersed with spindly hardwoods, and noticed a lot of recent debris under the tree, some animal droppings mixed bark and small pieces of cedar needles scattered about in the fresh snow. It made me stop and think about what animal was causing this in the past 8 hours. When hiking on icy, rocky trails in the winter you spend a lot of time looking down to make sure you don’t mis-step, and noticing what was before me on the ground made me look up. There right above me were the tell tale feeding signs on several trees of a porcupine and given the recent nature of both the snowfall and the residue on the ground, it was clear the porcupine was somewhere near.
A pro tip in trying to find a porcupine in 50 foot tall cedar trees, don’t stand underneath the thick canopy and look straight up. Instead back up 10 or 20 yards and scan not just the trunk but the outer branches. My partner soon spotted our bristly friend, sleeping way out on the end of small forked branch about 40 feet in the air. We stepped back even a little further for a better view, the sun making the porcupine’s needles glow golden in the afternoon air. We watched as the porcupine woke up a few minutes later, probably listening in on our conversation, scratched its side and made its way to the top of the tree for a snack. It had been over 20 years since I had seen a porcupine in the woods and it was a pleasant way to connect with the broader natural world on Martin Luther King Day.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”
Martin Luther King
After a long January, I am looking forward to getting back into the groove of mixing up authors over the next month and focusing on poets of color during black history month. The poetry baton today has shifted from Lowell to Brooks, born the same year, their personal histories could not be more different, Brooks thriving in adversity and Lowell drowning in opportunity.
Martin Luther King Jr
by Gwendolyn Brooks
A man went forth with gifts.
He was a prose poem.
He was a tragic grace.
He was a warm music.
He tried to heal the vivid volcanoes.
His ashes are
reading the world.
His Dream still wishes to anoint
the barricades of faith and of control.
His word still burns the center of the sun
above the thousands and the
The word was Justice. It was spoken.
So it shall be spoken.
So it shall be done.