All poetry is about hope. A scarecrow walks into a bar. An abandoned space station falls to earth. When probing the monster’s brain, you’re probably probing your own. A beautiful woman becomes a ghost. I hope I never miscalculate the dosage that led to the infarction of my lab rabbit again. All poetry is a form of hope. Not certain, just actual like love and other traffic circles. I cried on that airplane too, midwest patchwork below like a board game on which mighty forces kick apart the avatars. I always wanted to be the racecar but usually ended up a thumbtack. When I was young, sitting in a tree counted as preparation and later maybe a little whoopie in the morgue. So go ahead, thaw the alien, break the pentagram but watch out for the institutional hood ornaments. It’s not a museum, it’s a hive. The blood may be fake but the bleeding’s not.
This week, the news of the world is bleak, another war grinding on, and all these friends down with cancer, or worse, a little something long term that they won’t die of for twenty or thirty miserable years— And here I live in a house of weathered brick, where a man with silver hair still thinks I’m beautiful. How many times have I forgotten to give thanks? The late day sun shines through the pink wisteria with its green and white leaves as if it were stained glass, there’s an old cherry tree that one lucky Sunday bloomed with a rainbow: cardinals, orioles, goldfinches, blue jays, indigo buntings, and my garden has tiny lettuces just coming up, so perfect they could make you cry: Green Towers, Red Sails, Oak Leaf. For this is May, and the whole world sings, gleams, as if it were basted in butter, and the air’s sweet enough to send a diabetic into shock— And at least today, all the parts of my body are working, the sky’s clear as a china bowl, leaves murmur their leafy chatter, finches percolate along. I’m doodling around this page, know sorrow’s somewhere beyond the horizon, but still, I’m riffing on the warm air, the wingbeats of my lungs that can take this all in, flush the heart’s red peony, then send it back without effort or thought. And the trees breathe in what we exhale, clap their green hands in gratitude, bend to the sky.
First published in Poetry East, then in Line Dance (Word Press, 2008).
I’m a huge fan of Nina Simone. My favorite song? Feelin’ Good. I like it in all its iterations I guess. Most people probably have forgotten all about Nina’s version and skipped right to Michael Buble. That’s OK. I don’t think she would mind. Nor would she care about the Muse version. I like that one a lot. Who sings it isn’t nearly as important to me as the lyrics.
I started really loving this song when I was 45. I liked it just fine before that, but when I was 45 I came down with a little bout of Leukemia. Music has always been huge in my life, songs associated with people, places, events. Feelin’ Good got associated with my healing, my being alive. It was a new dawn, a new day, and I was, after months of treatment, feelin’ good.
Here I am, years later, still in love with this song. Still associating it with the thrill of being alive. Because, well, I am still thrilled to be alive.
K and I were sitting here talking the other day about how weird it was that it was going to be 2019. How it seemed impossible in some way, that it was nearly 2019. I don’t know why it seemed like such a big deal because, after all, it’d been 2018 for nearly a year, but somehow it did. Somehow time has taken a leap. The idea that 2019 was nearly here, and I’m still here, and though I’m older than I used to be, I’m not as old as I’m going to get. If you’d asked me in 1983 when I graduated from high school what I’d be doing in 2019 I wouldn’t have been able to even imagine it, being so far in the future and all. And now here we are, so far in the future and all. Weird. Not bad. Just weird.
Friends of ours recently asked us to attend a party. They asked everyone who was invited to bring a bottle of booze, an appetizer, and quote or song or piece of writing to be read aloud and shared. I think it was meant as a sort of send off to the year passing and a greeting of hope and inspiration heading into the new year. Cool idea. Sadly, we couldn’t go, but I was thinking about what I would’ve shared if we had.
There are a lot of quotes I could’ve shared. I’m a quote person. Just see the inspirations page of this blog for proof of that. The fact that I get nervous and shy at times might spur the use of a quote. I probably would share a quote like this… “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~ W.B. Yeats
I could’ve shared a poem. I’m a lover of all things poetic and have been reading and writing poetry since I was a wee sprout, sometime near 1983 I’d say. I was 17 then, and graduating from high school, so my poems were very broody. I might’ve shared a poem at the party if I happened upon or could think of one I thought might be inspirational. Maybe the E.E. Cummings “I thank you God” poem…
i thank You God for most this amazing day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and love and wings and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any-lifted from the no of all nothing-human merely being doubt unimaginable You? (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
e e cummings
(in ‘complete poems 1904 – 1962’)
Or maybe something by Pablo Neruda, Charles Bukowski, or The Type, by Sarah Kay.
If I had my wits about me I might’ve thought of something profound or witty or inspirational to say all on my own. Possible, if I’d had my wits about me. Sometimes they are vacationing and leave me searching for the right words, the right feeling, the right way to say what I want to.
Weston is currently crying over K’s shoulder as she eats her morning oatmeal. It’s the first day of the new year. He likes oatmeal. Sometimes all that matters is the hope that you’ll get the last bits of oatmeal left in the bowl. That someone will remember you like them, and that getting them will make your day. That those bits are what will bring you joy right at this moment. And maybe the story of Weston and the oatmeal bowl is the only profound thing worth sharing. It’s the simple things in life that are worth everything. Finding moments of joy. Moments of happiness. Moments of peace. We don’t need a lot to make us happy and joyful. Bits of oatmeal left in the bottom of the bowl will do. So I’ll say this… go out there and find your bits, whatever they are for you. See them for what they are, for what they mean to you. Relish them.
K has finished eating and Weston is now licking the bowl. His crying has stopped and he’s blissfully enjoying this tiny moment of joy. I’d say, like Nina, he’s feelin’ good. A pretty great way to start 2019.
dear reader, with our heels digging into the good mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown & lord knows I have been called by what I look like more than I have been called by what I actually am & I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out
clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning,
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.
About This Poem
“I was at a reading shortly after the election, and the poet (who was black) was reading gorgeous poems, which had some consistent and exciting flower imagery. A woman (who was white) behind me—who thought she was whispering to her neighbor—said ‘How can black people write about flowers at a time like this?’ I thought it was so absurd in a way that didn’t make me angry but made me curious. What is the black poet to be writing about ‘at a time like this’ if not to dissect the attractiveness of a flower—that which can arrive beautiful and then slowly die right before our eyes? I thought flowers were the exact thing to write about at a time like this, so I began this series of poems, all with the same title. I thought it was much better to grasp a handful of different flowers, put them in a glass box, and see how many angles I could find in our shared eventual demise.” — Hanif Abdurraqib
Hanif Abdurraqib is the author of The Crown Ain’t Worth Much (Button Poetry, 2016), his first poetry collection, which was nominated for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. He is also the author of the essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (Two Dollar Radio, 2017). He lives in Columbus, Ohio.
For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
where twenty students and six educators lost their
lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
School, December 14, 2012
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze.
Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say:
Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins
of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass,
and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born
in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing
of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell
in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War
sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate,
and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke
form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons,
but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells.
Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street,
a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House,
the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence.
Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say:
Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells.
Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say:
Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells.
Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep
in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried.
Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language
of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation
from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds.
Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest,
heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.
From the Author:
About This Poem
“As the dedication indicates, on December 14, 2012, a gunman killed twenty students and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I wrote this poem for the National Children’s Day event Within Our Reach, held at the Newtown Congregational Church on June 8, 2013—less than six months after the tragedy. The ‘city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass’ is Tirana, Albania, site of the Bell of Peace; the city ‘where cannons from the armies of the Great War / sank into molten metal’ is Rovereto, Italy, site of the Campana dei Caduti (Bell of the Fallen) or Maria Dolens bell. The ‘town with a flagpole on Main Street’ is, of course, Newtown.”
Hey Kevin, I know
I’m always talking,
but look at those
two little boys who
don’t know any better –
they’re using a king
as a pawn, a pawn
as a knight, a queen
as a bishop-and isn’t
not knowing the rules
where’s the joy
in shouldering night
when we can be carpenters
of unmade things,
flailing our hammers
whichever way we please
in the dark? I’m sorry
I’m talking too much
for this chess game,
but I get nervous.
Are there people out there
who say we’re dangerous?
When the sun echoes
off the thousands
locked in the morning commute,
do you sometimes feel
like we’re dressed for a party
we couldn’t ever hope
to be invited to?
Do the idling engines
Kevin, are you sure you want
to trade your knight
for a rook? Why is it
that once we take
our hand off of it,
we can’t take it back?
A rose by any other name could be Miguel or Tiffany Could be David or Vashti Why not Aya which means beautiful flower but also verse and miracle and a bird that flies away quickly You see where this is going That is you could look at a rose and call it You See Where This Is Going or I Knew This Would Happen or even Why Wasn’t I Told I’m told of a man who does portraits for money on the beach He paints them with one arm the other he left behind in a war and so he tucks a rose into his cuff always yellow and people stare at it pinned to his shoulder while he works Call the rose Panos because I think that’s his name or call it A Chair By The Sea Point from the window to the garden and say Look a bed of Painter’s Hands And this is a good place to remember the rose already has many names because language is old and can’t agree with itself In Albania you say Trëndafil In Somalia say Kacay
In American poetry it’s the flower you must never name And now
you see where this is going out the window across water to a rose shaped island that can’t exist but you’re counting on to be there unmapped unmentioned till now The green place you imagine hiding when the world finds out you’re not who you’ve said
Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder in a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.
The reason why I’m learning Spanish
by reading Neruda one word at a time
looking most of them up in the dictionary
and the reason why I’m reading
Dickinson one poem at a time
and still not understanding
or liking much, and the reason
why I keep thinking about
what might be a story
and the reason why I’m sitting
here writing this, is that I’m trying
to make this thing.
I am shy to name it.
My father didn’t like words like “soul.”
He shaved with Occam’s razor.
Why make up stuff
when there’s enough already?
But I do fiction. I make up.
There is never enough stuff.
So I guess I can call it what I want to.
Anyhow it isn’t made yet.
I am trying one way and another
all words — So it’s made out of words, is it?
No. I think the best ones
must be made out of brave and kind acts,
and belong to people who look after things
with all their heart,
and include the ocean at twilight.
That’s the highest quality
of this thing I am making:
kindness, courage, twilight, and the ocean.
That kind is pure silk.
Mine’s only rayon. Words won’t wash.
It won’t wear long.
But then I haven’t long to wear it.
At my age I should have made it
long ago, it should be me,
clapping and singing at every tatter,
like Willy said. But the “mortal dress,”
man, that’s me. That’s not clothes.
That is me tattered.
That is me mortal.
This thing I am making is my clothing soul.
I’d like it to be immortal armor,
sure, but I haven’t got the makings.
I just have scraps of rayon.
I know I’ll end up naked
in the ground or on the wind.
So, why learn Spanish?
Because of the beauty of the words of poets,
and if I don’t know Spanish
I can’t read them. Because praise
may be the thing I’m making.
And when I’m unmade
I’d like it to be what’s left,
a wisp of cheap cloth,
a color in the earth,
a whisper on the wind.
Una palabra, un aliento.
So now I’ll turn right round
and unburden an embittered mind
that would rejoice to rejoice
in the second Revolution in Russia
but can’t, because it has got old
and wise and mean and womanly
and says: So. The men
having spent seventy years in the name of something
killing men, women, and children,
torturing, running slave camps,
telling lies and making profits,
have now decided
that that something wasn’t the right one,
so they’ll do something else the same way.
Seventy years for nothing.
And the dream that came before the betrayal,
the justice glimpsed before the murders,
the truth that shone before the lies,
all that is thrown away.
It didn’t matter anyway
because all that matters
is who has the sayso.
Once I sang freedom, freedom,
sweet as a mockingbird.
But I have learned Real Politics.
No freedom for our children
in the world of the sayso.
Only the listening.
The silence all around the sayso.
The never stopping listening.
So I will listen
to women and our children
and powerless men,
my people. And I will honor only
my people, the powerless.
A rosary that was my mother’s
tucked in the glove compartment of his car
and a copy of Exile on Main Street
with instructions to play track 6
when he hit some lonesome desert highway.
I love him so much my chest hurts,
thinking of him riding off into his own life,
me the weeping shadow left behind (for now).
I know I’ll see him again but it’s ceremony
we’re talking about after all—
one growing up and one growing older
both wild curses.
A train blows its horn
the light rising beyond the harbor,
a dog barks from a car window
and the nostalgia (always dangerous)
hits me like a left hook.
I’m trapped between the memory
and the moment,
the deal we make
if we make it this long,
the markers of a life,
the small worthwhile pieces
that rattle around in my pockets
waiting to be set somewhere in stone.
I’ll keep explaining—because maybe you still don’t get it
Those children in California (substitute any state), dead from gunfire—
Let me begin again in a little roof garden with my friend
A perverse reader, he listens to my stories as if they were TV
I mean he mocks me lovingly on the roof and at the library book sale
My friend is not a banker but a prison activist
He used to be a philosopher, but like many philosophers, he’s taken a turn
that should be easy to understand
The trajectory from philosopher to activist is like the curve of a single brushstroke across a large canvas
Artists in the fifties paid attention to that
I hate flat language like this, but I’m pretty flat
sometimes. You have to be your own dictator
and the law is, hate yourself if you have to, but don’t stop doing the thing you said you were going to do
As I tell my daughters often
Emotion is a site of unraveling (JB)
I admit, gripping my T-shirt
I wish I were writing in prose an unfolding intensity that shocks history professors and prison activists equally
Later, in the grass, we’ll practice gymnastics and that way contribute our sweat
to Our Ephemeral City