Who Is Not More Than His Limitations

Terrence Hayes
Terrence Hayes

“When the wound is deep, the healing is heroic. Suffering and ascendance require the same work.”

Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

Snow For Wallace Stevens

by Terrance Hayes

No one living a snowed-in life
can sleep without a blindfold.
Light is the lion that comes down to drink.
I know tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk
holds nearly the same sound as a bottle.
Drink and drank and drunk-a-drunk-drunk,
Light is the lion that comes down.
This song is for the wise man who avenges
by building his city in snow.
I know what he said in his poem.
“Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery.”
How, with pipes of winter
lining his cognition, does someone learn
to bring a sentence to its knees?
Who is not more than his limitations,
who is not the blood in a wine barrel
and the wine as well? I too, having lost faith
in language have placed my faith in language.
Thus, I have a capacity for love without
forgiveness. This song is for my foe,
the clean shaven, gray-suited, gray patron
of Hartford, the emperor of whiteness
blue as a body made of snow.


Is it not true that if we were to assemble enough of our life’s work and thoughts in one place, and dug through it carefully, we would find it would be an erector set of contradictions, or at least an odd creation with parts of it out of place?  Are we to throw out everything a person creates because the worst of it is worse than we expect of them or that they expect of themselves?  Is that not the nature of being human?  Maybe it’s impossible to walk a straight line on a round planet forever twirling endlessly in two trajectories, one a slanted axis; the very nature of it dizzying, causing us to lose our balance once in a while and go akimbo.

One of the purposes of art is to hold ourselves and other artist’s accountable, for their genius and their failures or limitations.  One of the sins of white privilege, particularly in the realm of poetry, is the reverence placed on the tradition of affluent white men of means who are held up as the pantheon of poetic tradition, without recognizing their legacy of poetry is tainted by the ease with which they found a publisher and an audience, the ease they were afforded recognition, while there were equally as many gifted voices of people of color that went unnoticed, unrewarded, unpublished, unheard.  We best be careful as we venture back in literature to not let the whiteness of the page on which the words are set blind us to the whiteness of the privilege of the writer’s life that for many have persisted into the present.

Terrance Hayes has a knack for connecting the present to the past, for wading in the pools of literary history, feeling their swirling eddy’s, but then making the current his own.  I love his lines; “I too have lost faith in language have placed my faith in language. Thus, I have a capacity for love without forgiveness.”   These are the words at the core of how we might find a path to heal as a nation.  Have we the people, lost faith in the words of our founding fathers?  Words like “freedom” and “justice for all“? Maybe, if we can as a nation, hold on to love, we’ll find our way forward, even if the sins committed by our founders, in allowing slavery on these shores, and institutionalizing racism by that very act and suppression of rights under Jim Crow and segregation will never deserve forgiveness.


The Brave Man

By Wallace Stevens

The sun, that brave man,
Comes through boughs that lie in wait,
That brave man.

Green and gloomy eyes
In dark forms of the grass
Run away.

The good stars,
Pale helms and spiky spurs,
Run away.

Fears of my bed,
Fears of life and fears of death,
Run away.

That brave man comes up
From below and walks without meditation,
That brave man.

Beings Brighter Than Have Been

Chateau-de-Chillon
Chateau Chillon on Lake Geneva, Switzerland

My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even I
Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.

Lord Byron – Prisoner of Chillon

Sonnet on Chillon

by Lord Byron

Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;–
For there thy habitation is the heart,–
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.

Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar, for ’twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.


I have slept terribly in recent weeks.  I don’t think I am alone in that predicament.   What little sleep I get appears to be at least restful enough to have the energy I need to be productive.  I am eager for life to get back to normal but I fear that what was once my “normal” maybe a thing of the past.  And I fear even more, that if and when we have the tools to resume the lives we expect, that we will have all grown so accustomed to being isolated that we will be fearful to venture into the rock and roll concert mosh-pits of our existences again.

Lord Byron’s poetic voice can feel a bit antiquated, but the ideas of state sponsored suppression of minority freedoms, injustice, unfair incarceration, and in spite of those opposing forces, hopeful dreams for a better future are as relevant in his verse from 200 years ago as today.  I look to poets to help me make sense of the senseless in times of grief and loss and fear.   Which poets do you find inspiration from right now?  What emerging new voices have caught your attention?


Life is Twofold
(From The Dream)

by Lord Byron

Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
a boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence. Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality;
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy.
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight off our waking toils.
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity.
They pass like spirits of the past—they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain.
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of their own,
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh….

I Know How To Sit In It

IMG_8671
My Maroon Wrinkled Leather Lay-Z-Boy

Said the chair unto the table,
“Now you know we are not able!
How foolishly you talk
When you know we cannot walk!”
Said the table with a sigh,
“It can do no harm to try.
I’ve as many legs as you.
Why can’t we walk on two?”

Edward Lear – Excerpt from The Table To The Chair

Preludes (Excerpt)

by T. S. Eliot

IV

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.


I have a confession.  I hope you will find it as funny as I do. I live in a small one bedroom condo and the distance from my desk to my Lay-Z-Boy is about 15 feet.  I have on occasion during the age of COVID-19 and working from home begun taking long teleconferences from the comfort of my recliner. This is one of those well built, real leather clad behemoths that can stand the test of time.  It has been tanned a second time by the sweat and oils of my skin, a patina leather furniture takes on with their owners essence over many years of use.  It also has a certain voice, a low squeak and bark that leather makes when your body settles into it, particularly in the summer.  It makes that sound of leather rubbing on leather when you move about in it changing positions.  It talks to me in a pleasant greeting telling me;  “settle down, get comfortable, put your feet up.”  It has talked to me so long in that leathery low voice that I cease to give it a second thought.

I was chatting with my girl friend the other night from its comfortable confines and she said, “What are you doing? What’s that sound?”  I said, “What sound?”  She said, “It sounds like you have terrible gas tonight.” I laughed, “this sound?”  and I raised and lowered the recliner’s foot rest a few times continuously, suddenly realizing that the microphone on an Apple I-Phone picks up that leather squeaking as exactly like a huge fart. My recliner has become a giant whoopee cushion. We both started giggling wondering how many people on group conference calls with me recently were wondering who was in such distress.  We laughed and laughed.  It’s reassuring to know that neither of us have out grown a good fart joke. But, I think I need to rethink taking conference calls from the recliner. I have a certain professional decorum to uphold….


The Chair She Sits In

by Albert Rios (1952

I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—

The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.

It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in

But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one

And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.

There’s no mystery—it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.

It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,

The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years—that’s how I understand.

It’s my chair,
And I know how to sit in it

Mine Eyes Be Blessed Made

Newstok Book Cover
Scott Newstock’s new book, How To Think Like Shakespeare

Sonnet XLIII

by William Shakespeare

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.


One of the blessings of writing a blog is the opportunity for connection with people in the world you would never  have had the opportunity to cross paths otherwise.  Such is how I have come to have a copy of Scott Newstock’s new book How to Think Like Shakespeare.  Newstock is is a professor of English and founding director of Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College.  Newstock is a follower of Fourteen Lines and graciously sent me an advance copy.

The entire premise of the book is simple; if we could understand how genius arises, deduce where  the ability to reshape the world through new ideas gestates, could we be more successful in opening doors into the vast potential of our own minds?  Could we reshape education to greater assist the learning of every student’s inner Shakespeare? Hundred’s of years have passed since Shakespeare laid down his pen and yet what do we really know about his creative process?  All we have is the evidence of his genius.  Isn’t that true of every great writer, innovator,  architect, scientist and artist?  How much do we really understand where and how inspiration is conjured?  It does not come from logic, or a sequence of numbers and equations to be added up, even when the outcome may look somewhat rigid or mathematical as in the form of a sonnet. Great art and science and innovation comes from a place beyond reason to inform and inspire reason. And in that way there are no formulas for learning it, but there are interesting insights to be had to step back and we think about thinking.

Newstock’s book is fourteen chapters on the essence of thinking. It is a playful, quote filled romp into the mind of Shakespeare. It is also an indictment on the failure of outcome based education and a plea to students and educators everywhere to remember one thing;  the purpose of education is to learn how to think, not just to learn facts and process.  For facts become irrelevant nearly as fast as they are minted.

If you would like a quick primer on some of aspects of the book, check out how Newstock playfully uses the metaphors around sonnet structure to help us look at the world differently. I have provided a link to his recent article below. And if you are a teacher or student and looking for a fun read this summer, check out his new book.  I will close with another genius, William Wordsworth, who laid down his own thoughts on how to think like a sonnet, in a sonnet.  Enjoy.

How to think like a sonnet, or, fourteen ways of looking around a room


Nun’s Fret Not At Their Convent’s Narrow Room

by William Wordsworth

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Some White Folks Have Blind Souls

marilyn Nelson
Marilyn Nelson

A Wreath for Emmett Till (Excerpt)

IV

by Marilyn Nelson

Emmett Till’s name still catches in my throat,
like syllables waylaid in a stutterer’s mouth.
A fourteen-year-old stutterer, in the South
to visit relatives and to be taught
the family’s ways. His mother had finally bought
that White Sox cap; she’d made him swear an oath
to be careful around white folks. She’s told him the truth
of many a Mississippi anecdote:
Some white folks have blind souls. In his suitcase
she’d packed dungarees, T-shirts, underwear,
and comic books. She’d given him a note
for the conductor, waved to his chubby face,
wondered if he’d remember to brush his hair.
Her only child. A body left to bloat.


It’s a fair question to ask, how far have we really come as a country in 65 years? It’s a question that haunts white Americans, those of us that would like to believe we are not part of the problem, which means, we are part of the problem. For when the privileges and dividends for being white are so pervasive that they cease to be visible to us, we have to ask the question to ourselves again, how far have we really come?  I don’t know how far we’ve come, but its obvious to the entire world, we have a long, long, long way to go here in Minneapolis.

“What is gentlest in love is love’s violence.
Losing yourself in love, you reach love’s goal.
Love makes you suffer, as love makes you whole.
Love steals your everything and makes you rich.
Love is both meaningless and poetry.
Captured by love, by love you are set free.”

― Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson’s award winning crown of sonnets titled A Wreath for Emmett Till is a masterpiece of writing.  Nelson has had a long and successful career as a writer and educator; everything from novels, to children’s books, to historical fiction, translations and poetry.  In 2014 she published “How I Discovered Poetry” a book dedicated to her love affair with words. I would encourage you to seek out the entire text of A Wreath For Emmett Till. It is one of the finest sonnet sequences ever written.  Here’s a video of her reading the two sonnet excerpt on today’s blog.


V

Your only child, a body thrown to bloat,
mother of sorrows, of justice denied.
Surely you must have thought of suicide,
seeing his gray flesh, chains around his throat.
Surely you didn’t know you would devote
the rest of your changed life to dignified
public remembrance of how Emmett died,
innocence slaughtered by the hands of hate.
If sudden loving light proclaimed you blest
would you bow your head in humility,
your healed heart overflow with gratitude?
Would you say yes, like the mother of Christ?
Or would you say no to your destiny,
mother of a boy martyr, if you could?

 

Let Us Hurry

IMG_8624
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.

IMG_8638

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.

IMG_8646

 

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.

 

george-floyd-art-mural-minneapolis
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.