Sunday Poetry

June 14, 2020

I am always looking for ways to quiet my mind, because it’s an extraordinarily busy place. Right now it is the sun on my skin as I sit out on my balcony in a modicum of clothing. The sun’s warmth on my belly is enough to occupy my thoughts. I close my eyes and imagine myself filling up from the outside in with healing warmth. I imagine my skin becoming less irritated, healthy rosiness returning to my cheeks, my brown hair streaking with gold. It’s a kind of meditation, I guess, invigorated by the cool breezes that flow over me and the scent of blossoming trees in my neighborhood.

Poetry does this for me, too: when I am writing a poem, even if it’s only for a few minutes, it fills me up. I don’t necessarily go into a trance. I don’t get all the way quiet. It’s more like the quality of energy is different. Associations come more freely. Instead of harnessing the power of my brain and setting it to work on problems, my brain is using me. Many writers, like Natalie Goldberg, have referred to this as “channeling.” That’s an almost – match for me, though I think I am channeling myself, not a higher power.

My soul gets quiet when I read poetry, too. Poetry can tell stories and inspire action and get us fired up (of course), but primarily I see it as entering a moment. A lot of poets work in a sort of meditative mode; Mary Oliver and C.D. Wright come to mind, along with prose writer Marilynne Robinson. Finding these contemplative examples helps me live in the world of the poem for a few minutes. It is essential self-care. I don’t pray; this is close.

I hope you can find some quiet moments in the coming week. With so much of the world in an uproar and feeling so unsafe, preserving quietude feels important. I’m trying to take on and question this silence — my silence, and my peace, and the privilege that grants me these things — in the poem below. I wish everyone’s mornings were as alive and as safe as mine.

See you next week,

Nora

The man next door whistles “Ode to Joy” 

Sunday is for strawberry jam
and flowers in a blue vase
the pollen I’m finding on my floors
and the songs I hum when I sweep
almond milk
a question for my coffee
what will you make of words today?
what mess could be swept up?
I ship nothing home, take nothing with me,
start each day
eyes open.

Poems to Read this Week

I will continue sharing the work of at least one Black poet here each week. It is a reminder to myself that Black history could fill every month, and that I could read Black poets forever and never run out of poems. Today, one of my favorites from Ross Gay.

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The following three poems are from American Poetry Review, July/Aug ’19, which can be purchased here. I think they are their own versions of contemplative moments, but they also complicate the idea of silence.

Why Not Me

Alice Bolin

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Grizzly

Ellen Bass

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We Know It’s a Spell But We Don’t Know What For

Heather Christle

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Thank you for reading. If this post contributed to your life in a positive way, please join me in donating to my friend Martez’s efforts to provide self-care kits to high school seniors in Alabama

 

Sunday Poetry

June 7, 2020

I am stubbornly clinging to hope that things will change.

As millions of people march across the country, and social media is transformed into an endless testimony of rage and grief and demands, it seems like things are changing. And yet, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have joined the ranks of the fallen; the latest in a long line of names chanted and memorialized in hashtags. The latest in a list of people who have been brutally, extra-legally, and savagely murdered for their race. I don’t think any of us can kid ourselves that they will be the last.

But I am heartened by the conversation I had with a student who was frustrated and determined that her generation would do better. By my friends on facebook confronting their white privilege and their uncritical support of the police. By the estimated 10,000 people who marched in Providence on Friday. By the children and the bail funds and the reading lists and the efforts of my fellow educators to get training and get better.

What does poetry have to do with all of this? Isn’t the work elsewhere?

Yes, it is, and also — poetry is the best way I know to teach empathy. When I enter into the world of a poem, I feel like I am living through the speaker’s images and language like breath. I know that I can never know what it is to face racism or to fear for my life because of my identity. I get closer by reading poems by incredible Black poets and other writers of color.

Writing poetry is also an exercise in empathy. You’ll see my effort to connect with Breonna Taylor in the poem below. I hope this can be a tiny part of the memorials erected to her memory.

See you next week.

Nora

Galileo Looks at the Sky
for Breonna Taylor 


there must be

a lot of butterflies that visit this yard,
this bonanza awash with color
amazing migration. How do they do it?
Watching a monarch flutter from one flowerhead
to the other.  I cannot fathom how they do it.
two bunnies chase each other in the next lawn
I stop to watch them, think of innocence
and the quickness of pursuit 

there must be
a reason that the moon
moves so much in the late afternoon
dusk, as if it is being chased 

there must be
something you loved:
dancing in the car or
watching fireworks or ice cream
sundaes or helping people or
calling your mom or reading or life;
like me, I am sure you loved life,
wanted to live it
I might not know a lot but I know that. 

there must be
a reason bullets move the way they do
I am looking at the sky
and asking.
It doesn’t make sense
It doesn’t make sense
It doesn’t make any sense. 


Lines in italics were contributed by Trisha Ricketts

Voice Recording: Galileo Looks at the Sky

 

Poems to Read This Week

My Phone Autocorrects ‘Nigga’ to ‘Nights’

Karisma Price

My Nights Karisma Price

Follow Karisma Price @itsKayPrice

 

When people say, “we have made it through worse before”

Clint Smith

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In Wildness, May 2019

Check out Clint Smith’s website for more writing

 

 

 

Thank you for reading. If reading this post contributed positively to your life, join me in donating to my local bail fund, FANG Collective, or to Until Freedom

I am reading one poem a day

. . . and really, that’s not enough.

My life should be bursting with poetry at all times, I think. I should always have something quotable on my mind or on my dashboard for red lights. I should have poems ready to hand out to friends when the blender top isn’t on or people are getting sicker or the lights go out or the hospital beds are taken.

But sometimes, poetry feels like too much concentration and too much notice to pay to a page when there are so many things that demand my attention. Sometimes songs are easier, or watching Parks and Rec again is easier (why do so many characters on that show wear stripes so often?). I give myself permission to skip reading poetry, or to go to bed, or to get the work done and then stop thinking for a little bit. It’s really important, with so much happening around us, to give ourselves permission and forgiveness to not do everything and to set aside the things that we should be doing to be productive or intellectually moving forward.

I need something, though. I think I need still moments. I need the quiet to have purpose. I think that I have been neglecting my soul a little bit, and the temple gardens need tending. I think poetry will help me with that.

If you would like to read along with me, I’ll post a poem every day for a while in this post, with the newest ones on top. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

April 9

“The Fish Hums to the Night and the Night Hums to the Fish” by Amanda Turner

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Found in Waxwings, Issue 20 

April 8

“Programmed” by Carlina Duan

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Found in Pleiades’s featured poem section

April 7

“Tall Grass” by Jessica Thompson

grass

From Kansas City Voices

April 6

“Fort / Da” by Brittany Smart

Fort Da

From Kansas City Voices 

April 5

“Vixen” by Francis Daulerio

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Found in Barren Magazine, Issue 13

April 4

“Mutual Defenders” by Adrian Slonaker

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Found in Nightingale and Sparrow, Issue II (renaissance)

April 3

“What I’m left with” by Christopher Citro

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Found in The Iowa Review

April 2

“Song” by Adrienne Rich

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April 1

“Good Bones” by Maggie Smith

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Sunday Poetry: walking in a field

I am continuing my series of Sunday poetry posts this summer. Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

Sunday Poetry: June 9

My poetry so often starts with what I’m doing, what I can see, what I’m hearing. I almost always think of first lines first, and then the rest of the poem happens from there. It’s brilliant that other poets also start with what is being in the moment, what is doing right now.

Here is an excerpt from Oliver Baez Bendorf:

Here I Am Walking in a Field

again, I think, while walking

in a field. Field thick with
snow, field of milk.

You can read the full poem by buying the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of  American Poetry Review.

 

It shows that what we do has value, even if it’s a little thing. I might write about waiting for my coffee to brew, or sitting at an outdoor cafe, or sweeping my floor, or a spiderweb on my balcony. Poetry, more than any other form of writing, has the capacity to be in the present (and to keep us there).

Sunday Poetry: weakness / strength

Sunday poetry is a new series beginning this Spring! Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

April 28: weakness / strength

Sometimes I think my poetry is weak.

It’s not a commentary on the unique 21st century conundrums of technology and privacy. It doesn’t always deal with cutting-edge social controversies or current events or social justice. Sometimes it does. Sometimes my identity is relevant to the poem. But sometimes I write about waiting for someone to come home, or wanting someone to change; about being alone, about love, about seeing myself in nature. Sometimes I write about vulnerability and grief.

A while ago, I was talking to a friend about getting published. Kind of cool, I thought, to get recognized when all I do is write little love poems.

He stopped me in my tracks. “What could be more important than little love poems?”

 

I have to say I agree. We live in a world where too often simple humanity is seen as weakness, where kindness is seen as an absence of strength rather than an absence of tyranny, where talking about feelings is less important than talking numbers. I want so much to be in a world free of this toxic masculinity, but I still feel doubt that my softness is valuable.

This worry over weakness and strength is found in Elaine Equi’s poem, “Lazy Bones,” recently published in American Poetry Review:

Lazy Bones

Sitting in the waiting room
sucking on the sweet paranoia
of a Shirley Jackson story.

Sitting among silk tulips
and paper roses,

the frosted glass panels
and pale pink walls
of the radiology center.

Then led to a dark cubicle
(politely pornographic?)
for the imaging of my skeleton.

Dave, the tattooed technician
slips a pillow under my knees.

I want to tell him,
“My bones are shy.

I don’t exercise.
I love coffee.

They know they’re weak
and don’t like being photographed.”

 

I was intrigued by the word “weak”, and by the speaker’s advocacy for her bones. She identifies her bones as ‘shy’ as if they are actually humans who don’t like being photographed. The reason given: “they know they’re weak.” The speaker wishes to express this sentiment to Dave, the technician, who is in the position of looking at her (and her bones) and potentially judging them. To stave off the embarrassment of being seen, she wishes to reassure him that she already knows her weaknesses. It’s the same phenomenon of getting up in front of a class to perform a speech and apologizing first: “I know this isn’t very good, but it’s the best I can do.” But the bones do not speak in first person; the speaker wishes to speak on their behalf: “They know they’re weak” (emphasis added). This shows that she feels responsible for their weakness, as we can see from the lines that immediately precede this one: “I don’t exercise / I love coffee.” Here, the speaker is criticizing the actions in her life that have made her bones weak, and therefore critiquing her own character weaknesses as she notices her physical ones.

But she also uses the poem to establish sympathy. Weakness seems allied to softness, gentleness, in the feminine, gentile setting of the waiting room. And she is, after all, here to seek medical help, an act of bravery in my opinion. he speaker must admit that she is weaker than she would like to be, weaker than a healthy person should be, but why should she apologize for that?

This poem seems to suggest that we all have moments when we are weak– we are not always at our peak condition. Sometimes it is because of injury or disease, sometimes because of emotional distress. We also may have moments when we are seen as weak because of our identities, our ages, our gender, our class. We may find embarrassment or judgement in those moments, and may try to avoid it by apologizing or self-deprecating. Instead, we should sympathize with ourselves. It is okay to be soft and vulnerable, and when we feel tired and weak, we should accept the kindness of a pillow gently slid underneath our knees.

Writing about this weakness, these moments of humanity and need, is the role my poetry seems to be serving in my life right now, and in doing so, I think it is making me stronger.