“My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love”

“My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love”

Dear Cosmos, Dear Gaia, Dear Aliens on Earth,
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a woman,
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a child
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a protest
Something-there-is that doesn’t love this wall of words.
Something-there-is that doesn’t love.
Grazing each other’s beards to kiss, my brothers’ love
makes quiver the mouths of phobic Earthlings.
Something-there-is piles on lies to wall themselves in.
Something-there-is loathes a woman’s
blood, her milk, her wide hips, her breasts bared in protest.
Something-there-is refuses the Syrian child
washed ashore, his cheek turned to one side, as if in child’s
pose, his death not stark enough to awaken love.
Something-there-is throws grenades on protesters,
Native Americans circled in prayer who touch the Earth,
who protect the water that sustains our life. Women
are the watery portals we all pass through, a porous wall
we penetrate from one life to the next. No brick wall
mortared with hatred us can contain our childlike
trust that “no lie will live forever.” Women’s
rights are human rights, but not unless we love
our blackness, the origin of humans on Earth.
Something-there-is cages black bodies, protests
Black bodies, stops, frisks, gasses Black protests,
beats and murders black bodies behind cell walls.
How much of our comfort will we risk to free the earth
from this machine of distortion? Will our children
forget the sky once reflected blue before we love
the planet enough to disobey the spray-tanned man?
His rattling Tic Tacs warn  men and women
to flee the fetid breath no mint can mask. We protest
his code orange stink by committing ourselves to loving
even those who sting our eyes with pepper. The only wall
that divides us is made of fear and lives in us. A child’s
mind, a pure mind, is the force that binds us on this earth.
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Chattahoochee River, Cochran Shoals, November 25, 2016

 

How I’m Processing These Times

Many of my friends on social media  have said they were nauseous after the #RNCinCL ended. In spite of having  a two-day headache, I have been reading articles about the orange real estate tycoon, watching Bill Maher (whose opinions I don’t always agree with, especially his puerile views about religion), Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart, and other satirical videos, including this gem by Randy Rainbow, Ya got Trump Trouble!

In an effort to stop my incessant preoccupation with the rhetoric of hatred, I’m taking this online MOOC, Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster . The course is taught by University of Iowa professors Ed Folsom and Christopher Merrill. We are reading Whitman’s war poems and some of his prose writing and responding with both discussion comments and original work.

I want to write about my father’s death, the loss that is so immediate to me,  but I need to connect his dying  to these times we are living in: mass shootings in night clubs, elementary schools, and movie theaters, terrorist attacks overseas, the brutality of police toward Black citizens, the deaths of Anton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner… (the list is too long), the ugly rhetoric of ignorant white supremacists, an arena full of people chanting for the imprisonment of the former Secretary of State.

Whitman wrote for everyone, for all of America. He recognized himself in the fallen soldier, the nurse, the mother saying goodbye to her son.

As a white woman in living the 21st century, how can I recognize myself in the bile coming from the mouths of Trump and his followers? Will I recognize myself in the bodies of Black men left to bleed on the street? To be truly honest with ourselves and to show true compassion, we have to know that we are all interconnected. There is no Us versus Them.

While it comes naturally to me to empathize with the plight of many Black people, I won’t be honest until I look deeply into the hatred coming from a fairly sizable chunk of the white population. Is there any way to transcend this hatred? Poetry and art might be the bridge.

 

#Don’tStopKissing

DontStopKissing

Poet and novelist Collin Kelley and the Georgia Center of the Book are hosting a memorial poetry reading Friday, June 24  for the victims of the massacre in Orlando. The event is called #Don’tStopKissing, and is meant to show solidarity, support, and love for the LGBTIQ community and the families of the victims.

The quotes in the poem  I wrote come from an article on NPR that shares some memories about each of the victims who lost their lives on June 12.  To read their stories is devastating. These young people could have been our sons, daughters, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, friends.

The older brother of victim Amanda Alvear says about his sister, “She’d rather they spread more love, keep friends and family close, and have a good time doing it.”

As Anderson Cooper said in his CNN broadcast, his voice breaking with emotion, “They are more than a list of names. They were people who loved and were loved. ”

For the Victims Who Died on Latino Night At Pulse, 12 June 2016

I want to remember you

In some eternal before

Before a mother on the dance floor

Sees the gunman

Commands her son to get down on the floor, Isaiah

Covers him with her body

Before a mother in Sunday darkness cries

They’re killing our babies

I want to remember your fingertips

Brushing the pulse of night

I want to remember you swaying

Under laser lights

Face and arms glowing indigo, pink

I want to remember you salsa

Remember you cumbia

Remember you merengue

Remember you danzón

I want to remember you alegre

Remember you samba

Remember you bachata

Remember you reguetón.

I want to remember you selling perfume

Remember you drag queen

Remember you drag king

Remember you student

Remember you father

I want to remember you arm in arm with your sweetheart

Skin smooth as orchids

Remember you bougainvillea

Remember you gardenia

Remember you jacaranda

Remember you beautiful

They were so beautiful

Remember you

 

 

 

Review: Alice Teeter’s Elephant Girls 

At a recent gathering of the newly formed Atlanta Women’s Poetry  Collective, I had the pleasure of meeting Alice Teeter, an Atlanta poet I had known of for quite some time.

Teeter hosts a monthly poetry reading series, a salon that has a reputation for attracting some of the best poets who pass through or live in our city.

Elephant Girls (Aldrich Press, 2015), is Alice Teeter’s third collection of poetry. Didivded into three sections, Elephant Girls explores the myriad facets of the life of the mind and the body, with subjects such as love, desire, imagination, dreams, identity, history, and nature.

The speaker in the poems is fluid, changing from one poem to the next. In “The Sage,” the speaker explores meeting a woman at a conference and the feelings of lust this woman inspires. The speaker states,  “her hot hand grasps your thigh,” but later in the poem the woman disappears and the speaker is left with “the person you were born to desire most of all/ the one you have been looking for/spread your hand   she is always with you.” 

In other poems, such as “The cat didn’t know which she liked best,” the speaker is an animal. In this poem, the cat contemplates which creature pleases her most, the bear or the man.

In this poem and many others, Teeter enters the world of imagination, where possums and skunks enter her car through an open window, a dog paces, alone and afraid, on the Day of the Dead, and big fish “swim like shadows” in dark water.

Teeter delves into the world of carnal pleasure, taking sensual delight in glazed donuts that she compares to “sendal thighs,” thus rendering an indulgence of food into an indulgence of the sensual pleasures of the body.

The stuff of everyday life appears in this collection; even toilet paper makes an appearance.  In “Two-Ply,” three rhyming quartets

remember the speaker’s father and his “three-sheet rule.”

The poems in Elephant Girls range from playful to surreal and mythic. The wellspring of this book, full of free verse, sonnets, and other forms, is love-love of family, of the beloved, of lakes, vegetation, of all facets of life that emphasize the joy of being alive. 

After Yoga Writing Circle

Writing after practicing yoga and meditation is one of the best ways to release creativity. With a relaxed body and mind, we can touch our inner feelings. Writing with a group where we feel safe and nourished, we can take small risks with our writing and reveal heartfelt truths.

For the past six months or so, a group of us have been meeting once a month after our wonderful yoga teacher’s Saturday class to generate new writing. I’ve been leading the writing circle because of my certification with Amherst Writers and Artists, a writing circle method devised by Pat Schneider.

For the warm-up prompt, I read these lines from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching:

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening the knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

I wrote these lines based on the prompt:

Overflow

My heart is a bowl
that, today at least,
brims with anger.
Rage spills over the rim,
pulses into my chest, my throat.

But rather than opening my mouth,
I take to the street
and walk with my anger.
Inhaling the fresh fall air,
I release my bitterness.

The last yellow and orange leaves
hanging on the lowest branches
of a cottonwood tree
glitter in the breeze
like Tibetan prayer flags.

TreeCampus

A Poem for the Way

I’m preparing for my pilgrimage to Santiago in a fairly intensive manner during these last few days, mostly in a reflective and meditative way.

When I walk in the woods with my loaded pack, my mind wanders over the some of the different events in my life that continue to cause pain, but beneath the pain I absorb the healing power of the sky, the trees, birds, the rocks, the lizards, the deer, and the other hikers.

Some of my friends and loved ones responded to my call for lines of poetry, prayers, wishes, or desires that I could put into one long poem. My intention is to read the poem at different points along the Camino.

I am so touched by their generosity. I want their words to fill others as they fill me. It’s titled “Prayers for a Traveler.” We are all travelers in this world.

Prayers for the Traveler

Hath she her faults? I would you had them too.
                      They are the fruity musts of soundest wine;
                      Or say, they are regenerating fire
                      Such as hath turned the dense black element
                      Into a crystal pathway for the sun.
–George Eliot

She is only a faint line disappearing back into sand.

O blessed road! Although the hard ground and slope veers ever upward,

I am not naked nor alone: my feet are shod with thoughts of God, my body robed

with love from family and friends back home.

May my mom know that I love her and miss her and think about her everyday.

May you be given all you need

May you be granted that for which your heart longs

May angels guide your journey, and may your steps be light

May you be blessed by a field of stars, and may those blessings follow you always

May your soul cry and sing and open, now free.

May you shed your skin and become anew.

May you be refilled to fully embrace the array

of possibilities that will open up for you

as you continue your journey – the trail and beyond.

May compassion become our universal religion.

I accompany you in spirit, and I hope your sojourn brings you what you seek.

I wish you lightness of step and heart

I wish for you that when the days feel long and doubt enters – you push it aside.

Aside –

Perhaps – like the dandelions losing their thin, yellow petals,

as they are swept in the wind – scattered…

Do not carry doubt, or worry, speculation, or question-of-self

Walk with grace and trust and love

The very thing I try to do in my life – and sometimes, struggle – and how ….

I ask you to look upward at the sky and pray

for health and peace of mind – love and light

Be safe, be real, be true.

You are brave and I am proud

I ask you to return safely with stories of adventure,

some turmoil perhaps, and lots of gratitude and growth.

Return safely, keep strong, be safe.

May God give my son more healing in his spiritual journey.

Didn’t I tell you not to be seduced by this colorful world,
for I am the ultimate painter.

Please let me grow into my elderly years
happily, healthfully and peacefully
with my husband as my son goes to college,
meets a wonderful partner and has a family of his own,
which we will help nurture and be an integral part of.

Enfold us in your arms, shield us from sadness and despair,
look over us in times of joy and times of fear,
do not let us feel emptiness or hopelessness,
and lead us to believe in our dreams and longings.

At the exhibition of the artists of elsewhere
I am standing in a shaft of light.

Thank you, jahgod, for allowing me to see the light
and freeing me from hang ups
I know that the future is mine to grasp.

May the long time sun
Shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.
–Kundalini farewell blessing

thistle

Review: The Crafty Poet By Diane Lockward

Most artists worry at one point or another that they will lose their creative spark, that if they are not working actively at their chosen art, they will find themselves alienated from whatever impetus that caused them to create art in the first place.

In The Crafty Poet by Diane Lockward, poet Michelle Biting writes, “I worry I will slip out of the creative zone I’ve worked so hard to tap–ideas will fade, metaphors atrophy–I’ll wake up an exile from my own poetry country” (19). Biting then suggests that the poet who finds herself in this poetic desert try the practice of scratching, to write down snippets on the fly: images, overheard conversations, random thoughts.

Theodore Roethke kept a practice similar to scratching. He would write down disparate lines in his notebook until he had gathered enough of them to create a poem. This practice is what my own writing has turned into lately while teaching four sections of English Composition. I’ve been writing down fleeting images and thoughts while my students do a free-write warm up at the beginning of class.

Scratching is one of many craft tips Diane Lockward has collected in her volume, The Crafty Poet, A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013). As she explains in her introduction, the book grew out of a monthly newsletter she writes through her well-known poetry blog, Blogalicious. Each of the ten chapters revolves around a different aspect of poetic craft: generating material, diction, sound, voice, imagery and figurative language, going deep/adding layers, syntax, line/stanza, revision, and writer’s block/revision.

The craft tips included in each chapter come from highly regarded, nationally known poets. The book includes 27 craft tips followed by a poem, also from accomplished, well-known poets, many of whom are or have been their state’s poet laureate. After the poem comes a writing prompt. Besides the poems by established poets, Lockward has included sample poems written by readers of her monthly newsletter who followed the suggested prompts.

Because there are so many poems by innovative, contemporary poets, The Crafty Poet is more than a portable workshop; it is an anthology of poems written in the kind of fresh, rich, and lively language we writers want to emulate.

Now that I have a break from a semester of teaching English Composition I, I have my eye on several of the prompts in this book. I’m thinking of starting with Kim Addonizio’s “Sonnenizio on a Line From Drayton.” Lockward explains, “a sonnenizio is a form invented by Kim Addonizio. As it’s name suggests, its form is a spin-off of the sonnet” (61).

Now the fun begins–to look for a line from a sonnet to jumpstart my poem. I intend to spend my winter break mining the many craft tips in The Crafty Poet. With Lockward’s guidebook by my side, there’s no way I’ll find myself “in exile from my own poetry country.”

Ekphrasis

Writing to an image, especially a painting, helps me find inspiration. Ekphrasis, from ancient Greek, is a description of a visual work of art. Usually, ekphrastic poetry describes a painting, but some poems might enter a film or a sculpture.

Recent MacArthur Genius grant winner Terrance Hayes has a 20-part poem titled “Arbor for Butch,” written to a sculpture series by Martin Puryear. Hayes also experiments with form in this poem, as it is a pecha kucha.

The surreal paintings of Mexican artists Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington have sparked my creativity. My most recent ekphrastic poem, “The Women Have Gathered to Welcome Him Back to Himself,” explores a painting by Leonora Carrington titled The Temptation of St. Anthony. 

I’m pleased and honored that the journal Ekphrasis chose to publish this poem in their Fall/Winter 2014 issue, and that they have nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. St. Anthony  lives on through poetry!

Temptation of St. Anthony by Leonora Carrington

(Free!) Online Poetry Class

The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program is offering a free, online poetry class, otherwise known as a MOOC. Each week we will listen to two video lessons and write poems based on suggested exercises.

Former poet laureate Robert Hass opened up the lecture series with a talk about writing poetry 1, 2, 3, and 4-line sketches. Rather than explain everything he says in the video, which was wonderful and inspiring, I will direct you to the blog of one of my classmates, Minal Hajratwala, a very accomplished writer in her own right. She has outlined the entire lesson and found links to the many poems Robert Hass cites (often from memory)–thank you, Minal!

The part of the lesson that inspired me the most has to do with “Bantu combinations.” According to Hass, while Bantu men were working together, one would call out a line.

The example he gives is: “An elephant was killed by a small arrow.” 

The second person calls out: “A lake dries up at the edges.”

The idea is to find a similarity between the two images, but a surprising one. Here the connection is that the edges of a dried up lake resemble the elephant’s skin. 

Some of these Bantu combinations, which previously existed only as spoken word, have been collected by Jerome Rothenberg in Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. 

Here’s the four-line sketch I wrote for the exercise:

Hiking up Pigeon Hill on Little Kennesaw Mountain

Profiles of ancient women line the boulders

Where, in blues and grays, Missourians shot each other

Behind earthen battlements, a yellow-petaled cactus.

Hiking up Pigeon Hill on Little Kennesaw Mountain

 

Review: Wolf Skin by Mary McMyne

Wolf Skin by Mary McMyne (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) creates a world where fairytale characters return to us, claiming their stories for themselves.

In “Fur,” Red Riding Hood’s single mother tells her, “Be not girl…but wolf,” and in “Rotkappchen” the girl begs the hunstman to leave her and the grandmother “in the wolf’s belly, without memory.”

The title poem, “Wolf Skin,” shows us the hunter who, after saving the grandmother and the girl, wraps himself in the slain wolf’s skin and calls himself a hero, while inwardly admitting he doesn’t understand the mystery of cutting them out of the jaws of death.

While McMyne retells several different Grimm’s fairy tales, often using the German words for characters or titles, at the same time she explores themes such as death, rebirth, pain, cessation of pain, and entrapment within the confines of societal norms.

McMyne’s language and imagery evoke a world that is close to the pulse and marrow of life. The poems are alive to the unspoken urges and forces that only reveal themselves to us in dreams and ancient stories.

#readwomen2014

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