Poetry

Poetry: Picture of a Family after Cavafy

Micael Nussbaumer/Shutterstock

There’s a photo he carries for long journeys
like this one, for trips on loaded market lorries
where the passengers take their seat, perching
on top of cargo, or sitting on crude benches
inside the buses coming from Sudan with names
like “Best of Luck” or “Mr. Good Looking.”

As the road rumbles from Chad through Cameroon
to Nigeria, toward another year of medical school,
he always reaches into his inside coat pocket
and brings out the folded 4x6. Sees his brother,
with the latest jeans from the capital and a maroon
hoodie zipped half-way up, one leg placed forward
and his head tilted back—an “attitude” he’s learned
from movies and music pipelined from America.

Sees his mother, bright pink polyester swirling
around her figure, and remembers how she woke
before dawn to make him fangaso for his trip.
He sees the lines he and his brother have caused,
drawn into her face after years of worry,
fatherless years of selling produce in the market
and begging relatives for support. He sees the slight
twist of her mouth, the triumph of a mother
shining through the sorrow of leave-taking,
the promise for her child to have a better life.

Aaron Brown, author of Winnower, is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Maryland. He lives with his wife in Lanham, Md.

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July 2015
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Poetry: Cricket in the Water Jug

Cricket

SARIN KUNTHONG / Shutterstock

One by one the stars come up over the Mekong,
and the Buddhist novices,
finished with the evening prayers,
rush out to the water in their orange robes,
and stand with their hands over their eyes,
as if the light were too much for them.

Their master tells them,
Boys, if you want to dream to the stars
you must ask the universe as you go to sleep.

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Preparing For The Storm

The Greeks know how tightly coiled
are circumstances with many windings
before tragedy’s spring snaps.
The horse bolts flame-like from the gate;
we do not see its years of training.

So too, the thunderhead today slow bloating
and thickening with muffled rumblings.
The steeds were restless, but the reins
held tight, until a crack of the whip
unleashed the pummeling flood.

 

Remember how Gandhi’s salt marchers
lay themselves before the horses
of the Raj that trotted to the very edge
of that sea of prostrate bodies
before rearing back in alarm?

Those marchers knew a storm
was brewing, were neither cowed,
nor crushed. The heart is another kind
of stallion, stamping and kicking,
trampling the mind’s sour dust.

Lie down, lie down, there is still time.
And watch the horses prance.

Richard Schiffman is an environmental journalist and poet. His collection What the Dust Doesn’t Know is forthcoming from Salmon Press. Above, an Indian police officer attacks salt marchers in 1930.

Image: Ninh Hoa, Vietnam,  / Shutterstock 

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This is Praying

You hear a voice speaking
about a bird dragging its dark universe
of feathers across your yard,
and you realize it must be you

telling the boy how you carried its body
beyond the ambit of your dogs.
One eye, round as a coin,
fixing fear upon you, the other,

half shut. How the bird hauled
its body back into your yard,
dying with a will you could only
admire. Am I the bird?, the boy asks.

You can barely see his face
through the slot, eight inches
from the bottom of the door.
Pie-hole, they call it. You know

he cannot be cured of his crime.
But you can’t help yourself—
this language your body speaks
as you crouch, palms, knees

pressed against the prison floor.
He is nineteen, has an aunt, a mother,
both illiterate, both a hundred miles
away. No one knows why

they have stopped visiting.
You imagine his body, each Sunday,
learning again of their absence.
You imagine his organs, his bones

liquefying inside of his skin.
You imagine his eyes
staring out from his own
gathered flesh. It is three days

before Christmas and you have
ten minutes to spread something
like joy. You think of Vermeer,
the woman in blue, refusing
to obey the physics of light.
You do not even know
the source of your own voice.
Am I the bird? There is a window

beyond the canvas but Vermeer
thinks a shadow will be
distracting. You tell him—
the boy—about your dream.

How your mind had been
like a living thing nailed down,
trembling with what ifs
and how comes. And then

these words: I hear you,
I hear you breathing. A sound
coming from within and
beyond. Not a voice, exactly.

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All Eyes Are Upon Us

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
                           —Marvin Gaye

then they stomped
          John Willet
as he lay on the sidewalk
hands cuffed behind his back
and shot
                      Michael Brown

who was on his way this fall to college

Stop and frisk
Stop and frisk

and used a chokehold to kill

                    Eric Garner

who sold cigarettes one-by-one
on the street in Staten Island
and punched again, again
in the face
great-grandmother

                Marlene Pinnock

as she lay on the ground
then they stood around while
an angry bartender
pushed vet

                William Sager

down the stairs to his death;
maybe helped hide
the security videotape
then it was
unarmed

               Dillon Taylor

in Salt Lake City, and
homeless

              James Boyd

in Albuquerque

and       Darrien Hunt

in Saratoga Springs, Utah—
how about that grandmother
92-year-old

             Kathryn Johnston

shot to death in a SWAT team raid
gone bad?

in ’73 in Dallas

             Santos Rodríguez

was marked by officer Cain
who played Russian Roulette
with the handcuffed 12-year-old
in his cruiser—
till the .357 fired; Santos’ blood
all over his 13-year-old handcuffed
brother David

and those cries of
19-month-old      Bounkham Phonesavanh
in whose crib
the flash-bang grenade exploded

Shelter in place
Shelter in place

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Good Friday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tale of nails and wood
is retold on the BBC from Winchester,
with hymns about a balm in Gilead,
a wondrous cross, and the choirboys’ echo
of the Fauré Requiem. Cardinal Newman
sends blessings from the grave,
and the organ grumbles “Amen.”

Oddly enough, the sun has emerged today
after weeks of rain to wrap the world
in its pale shroud. The week
has been hard: a cousin rushed to hospital
with pneumonia, a friend trembling
with Parkinson’s, an old acquaintance
placed “in care,” looking for home
and cursing the staff at the locked front door.

In the pub, Peter and his brothers
joke about Leo’s ashes in the garage.
He was the youngest. Who’s next?
They have finished another Good Friday Walk—
nine miles, seven churches, a pint of bitter.

They talk of their father’s letter, newly resurrected
from a cardboard box, forty-nine crumbling pages
in his own sure hand, a wartime story of troops,
destroyers, German subs. The young man
on the ship knew not where he was going,
just following orders, except for the deception
of the letter smuggled out from the harbor in India
to his wife Mary. He called her his “budgie,”
sent kisses to the children.

Tomorrow will be empty and quiet,
time for a drive to Bakewell
through the ever-winding hills. The road
turns silver, scrolling down the mountain
through meadows dotted with newborn lambs.

Donna Pucciani’s most recent collection of poetry is Hanging Like Hope on the Equinox.

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Dear Francis

When it comes to living small,
you were ahead of your time,
which is why I nominate you
patron saint of tiny homes. So
you haven’t heard of them?
Think: chapel for one on wheels
with cedar floors, a loft to sleep,
and a skylight in the roof—here
is where I’d go to pray, and where
I pray to live (pending a friend
to let me squat, and the zonin
board’s OK). It’s a new way
of being poor. I hope you will
approve.

Humbly,

Abigail Carroll, author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, lives in Winooski, Vermont.

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Anna

I.
The wailing and the murmured prayers,
the animal ruckus, and coin against coin,
smoke hanging in the temple spaces—
offerings that bear our love to the seat of heaven.

For sixty years my soul has leaned
so hard toward the Almighty, I’m open
like a flower drenched with light
that blossoms into words.

Yet I wonder, will I rest too soon
will I sleep like Miriam
with no honey from the Promised Land
to sweeten this old life?

II.
But now she enters with new-mother steps,
her strong gaze searching us
for hearts that see. I turn to tell all
who wait, who yearn for consolation,

look, she brings the Word most fully,
this young woman cradling the body
of Emmanuel against her heart
arms trembling with the weight.

Kristina LaCelle-Peterson is an associate professor of religion and part of the Center for Faith, Justice, and Global Engagement at Houghton College in New York.

Image: Woman holding baby,  / Shutterstock

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51.

Wizards! Caspar! Melchior! Balthasar!
Why fly straight to Fox Herod? Through
Unbounded night—! Bringing only news
Ripe for bloodletting. How black a star
You follow. Herod knows. How bizarre
A kingly claim. Will he oppose? Muse
Like Mary? Ha—! Mothers’ sons lose
Heads to swords & axes. Herod bars
The throne to Jesus. Who kills first?
Herod orders. Dash ’em every one—!
Every male child under two years old.
God’s son Jesus flees to Egypt. Thirst
For blood remains. Later he won’t run.
Soldiers spear his side. So God behold.

Marilyn Seven is an artist living in New York City. This sonnet is number 51 in an unpublished collection of 100.

Image: Three wise men looking towards the star,  / Shutterstock 

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Everything Changes the World

Boys on a beach,
women with cookpots,
men bombing tender patches of mint.

There is no righteous position.
Only a place where brown feet
touch the earth.

Maybe you call it yours.
Maybe someone else runs it.
What do you prefer?

We who are far
stagger under the mind blade.
Words, lies.
My friend in Bethlehem says,
Pious myth-building and criminal behavior,
that’s what.

Every shattered home,
every shattered story worth telling.
Think how much you’d need to say
if that were your kid.

If one of your people
equals hundreds of ours,
what does that say about people?

Naomi Shihab Nye, born to a Palestinian father and American mother, is a poet, novelist, and anthologist of more than 30 volumes. Her newest book is The Turtle of Oman.

Image: A Palestinian women sells grape leaves,  / Shutterstock 

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