Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Tuesday Poem: "The Burning Of The Houses" by Chrissy Williams





Tottenham is on fire and I work in an arts centre
where the sky is blue and I can hear birdsong
from a sound installation of birds
cooing outside my office window.

This is London. Hackney is on fire now

and Jamie is looking up from his desk.

He stops working. He tweets that he can see

people smashing up a bus. He says there is a car

being soaked in petrol. He asks if there is someone

in that car. He tells us that car has been set alight.

This is London. Croydon is on fire now

and Anna is Facebooking furiously from Manchester

calling everyone bastards for doing this.

I am watching the BBC and reading Twitter

licking between #LondonRiot and my friends.

Sometimes you can be proud of your friends.

I remember when Bianca came to stay

and we got tickets to watch
The Night
James Brown Saved Boston
in the QEH.
People are getting hurt. Television isn’t going

to save us. But it’s okay now, some of my friends

are linking to videos of kittens which must mean

everyone is fine. This is London. It is on fire.

I go to bed while it is burning. I wake up

and parts of it are still burning.

by Chrissy Williams

Photograph credit: Katie West

For more information about poet, Chrissy Williams, see:


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Tuesday Poem: "Tristia" by Osip Mandelstam


I have studied the science of saying goodbye
in bareheaded laments at night.
Oxen chew, and the waiting stretches out,
it is the last hour of my keeping watch in the city,

and I respect the ritual of the cock-loud night,

when, lifting their load of sorrow for the journey,

eyes red from weeping have peered into the distance,

and the crying of women mingled with the Muses’ singing…

Who can know when he hears the word goodbye

what kind of separation lies before us…?

by Osip Mandelstam


For more information about the poet, Osip Mandelstam, see: 


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Poem for Mental Health Awareness Week: "Back' by Jane Kenyon


We try a new drug, a new combination
of drugs, and suddenly

I fall into my life again

like a vole picked up by a storm
then dropped three valleys
and two mountains away from home.

I can find my way back. I know
I will recognize the store
where I used to buy milk and gas.

I remember the house and barn,
the rake, the blue cups and plates,
the Russian novels I loved so much,

and the black silk nightgown
that he once thrust
into the toe of my Christmas stocking.

by Jane Kenyon


For more information about poet, Jane Kenyon, see:


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tuesday Poem: "Watch Us Elocute" by Marcus Wicker


So I’m at this party, right. Low lights, champagne, Michael
BublĂ© & a gang of loafers I’m forever dancing around

 

in unduly charged conversations, your favorite

accompanist—Bill Evans behind Miles, ever present

 

in few strokes—when, into the room walks

this potentially well-meaning Waspy woman 
obviously
 

from Connecticut-money, boasting an extensive background

in nonprofit arts management. & without much coaxing

 

from me, really, none at all, she whoops, 
Gosh, you’re just
so well spoken!
 & I’m like, Duh, Son. So then we both
 

clink glasses, drink to whatever that was. Naturally,

not till the next morning & from under a scalding

 

shower do I shout: 
Yes, ma’am. Some of us does talk good!
to no one in particular but the drain holes. No one

 

but the off-white tile grout, the loofah’s yellow pores.

Because I come from a long braid of dangerous men

 

who learned to talk their way out of small compartments.

My own Spartan walls lined with their faces—Ellison

 

& Ellington. Langston, Robeson. Frederick Douglass

above the bench press in the gym, but to no avail—

 

Without fail, when I’m at the Cross Eyed Cricket

(That’s a real diner. It’s in Indiana.) & some pimple-

 

face ginger waiter lingers nervous & doth protest

too much, it’s always 
Sir, you ever been told you sound like
 

Bryant Gumbel?
 Which is cute. Because he’s probably
ten. But then sometimes I sit in his twin’s section, & he

 

once predicted I could do a 
really wicked impression
of Wayne Brady. I know for a fact his name is Jim.

 

I’ve got Jim’s eighteenth birthday blazed on my bedside

calendar. It reads: Ass whippin’. Twelve a.m.—& like

 

actually, that woman from the bimonthly

CV-building gala can kick rocks. Because she’s old

 

enough to be my mother, & educated, if only

by her own appraisal, but boy. Dear boys. Sweet

 

freckled What’s-His-Face & Dipshit Jim,

we can still be play friends. Your folks didn’t explain

 

I’d take your trinket praise as teeny blade—

a trillionth micro-aggression, against & beneath

 

my skin. Little buddies, that sore’s on me.

I know what you mean. That I must seem, “safe.”

 

But let’s get this straight. Let’s call a spade a—

Poor choice of words. Ali, I might not

 

be. Though, at the very least, a heavyweight

throwback: Nat King Cole singing silky

 

& subliminal about the unforgettable model

minority. NBC believed N at & his eloquence

 

could single-handedly defeat Jim Crow.

Fact: They were wrong. Of this I know

 

& not because they canceled his show

in ’57 after one season, citing insufficient

 

sponsorship. Or because, in 1948,

the KKK flamed a cross on his LA lawn.

 

But because yesterday, literally yesterday,

some simple American citizen—throwback

 

supremacist Straight Outta Birmingham, 1963—

aimed his .45 & emptied the life from nine

 

black believers at an AME church in Charleston.

Among them a pastor-senator, an elderly tenor,

 

beloved librarian, a barber with a business degree

who adored his mom & wrote poems about

 

the same age as me. I’m sorry. No, friends.

None of us is safe.


by Marcus Wicker

For more information about poet, Marcus Wicker, see:


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Tuesday Poem: "Clearances" by Seamus Heaney



              In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

She taught me what her uncle once taught her:
How easily the biggest coal block split

If you got the grain and hammer angled right.


The sound of that relaxed alluring blow,

Its co-opted and obliterated echo,

Taught me to hit, taught me to loosen,


Taught me between the hammer and the block

To face the music. Teach me now to listen,

To strike it rich behind the linear black.


                                             1

A cobble thrown a hundred years ago

Keeps coming at me, the first stone

Aimed at a great-grandmother's turncoat brow.

The pony jerks and the riot's on.

She's crouched low in the trap

Running the gauntlet that first Sunday

Down the brae to Mass at a panicked gallop.

He whips on through the town to cries of 'Lundy!'


Call her 'The Convert'. 'The Exogamous Bride'.

Anyhow, it is a genre piece

Inherited on my mother's side

And mine to dispose with now she's gone.

Instead of silver and Victorian lace,

The exonerating, exonerated stone.


                                             2

Polished linoleum shone there. Brass taps shone.

The china cups were very white and big—

An unchipped set with sugar bowl and jug.

The kettle whistled. Sandwich and tea scone

Were present and correct. In case it run,

The butter must be kept out of the sun.

And don't be dropping crumbs. Don't tilt your chair.

Don't reach. Don't point. Don't make noise when you stir.


It is Number 5, New Row, Land of the Dead,

Where grandfather is rising from his place

With spectacles pushed back on a clean bald head

To welcome a bewildered homing daughter

Before she even knocks. 'What's this? What's this?'

And they sit down in the shining room together.


                                              3

When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other's work would bring us to our senses.


So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives—

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.


                                               4

Fear of affectation made her affect

Inadequacy whenever it came to

Pronouncing words 'beyond her'. Bertold Brek.

She'd manage something hampered and askew

Every time, as if she might betray

The hampered and inadequate by too

Well-adjusted a vocabulary.

With more challenge than pride, she'd tell me, 'You

Know all them things.' So I governed my tongue

In front of her, a genuinely well-

Adjusted adequate betrayal

Of what I knew better. I'd naw and aye

And decently relapse into the wrong

Grammar which kept us allied and at bay.


                                                5

The cool that came off sheets just off the line

Made me think the damp must still be in them

But when I took my corners of the linen

And pulled against her, first straight down the hem

And then diagonally, then flapped and shook

The fabric like a sail in a cross-wind,

They made a dried-out undulating thwack.

So we'd stretch and fold and end up hand to hand

For a split second as if nothing had happened

For nothing had that had not always happened

Beforehand, day by day, just touch and go,

Coming close again by holding back

In moves where I was x and she was o

Inscribed in sheets she'd sewn from ripped-out flour sacks.


                                               6

In the first flush of the Easter holidays

The ceremonies during Holy Week

Were highpoints of our Sons and Lovers phase.

The midnight fire. The paschal candlestick.

Elbow to elbow, glad to be kneeling next

To each other up there near the front

Of the packed church, we would follow the text

And rubrics for the blessing of the font.

As the hind longs for the streams, so my soul. . .

Dippings. Towellings. The water breathed on.

The water mixed with chrism and with oil.

Cruet tinkle. Formal incensation

And the psalmist's outcry taken up with pride:

Day and night my tears have been my bread.


                                                7

In the last minutes he said more to her

Almost than in all their life together.

'You'll be in New Row on Monday night

And I'll come up for you and you'll be glad

When I walk in the door . . . Isn't that right?'

His head was bent down to her propped-up head.

She could not hear but we were overjoyed.

He called her good and girl. Then she was dead,

The searching for a pulsebeat was abandoned

And we all knew one thing by being there.

The space we stood around had been emptied

Into us to keep, it penetrated

Clearances that suddenly stood open.

High cries were felled and a pure change happened.


                                                8

I thought of walking round and round a space

Utterly empty, utterly a source

Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place

In our front hedge above the wallflowers.

The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.

I heard the hatchet's differentiated

Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh

And collapse of what luxuriated

Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.

Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval

Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,

Its heft and hush become a bright nowhere,

A soul ramifying and forever

Silent, beyond silence listened for.

by Seamus Heaney


For more information about the poet, Seamus Heaney, see: