Poem of the Week, by Kait Rokowski

Driven, impatient and judgmental person that I am, I constantly work to hold myself in check. Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle*, I remind myself. Every time I’m about to walk into a room, a classroom especially, because teachers have enormous power and please, please do not ever let me abuse that power, I recite those words to myself. Be gentle, Alison. Be kind. Keep the lesser angels of your nature in check, because you don’t know the whole story. You will never know the whole story.  IMG_4206

 

A Good Day
     – Kait Rokowski

Yesterday, I spent 60 dollars on groceries,
took the bus home,
carried both bags with two good arms back to my studio apartment
and cooked myself dinner.
You and I may have different definitions of a good day.
This week, I paid my rent and my credit card bill,
worked 60 hours between my two jobs,
only saw the sun on my cigarette breaks
and slept like a rock.
Flossed in the morning,
locked my door,
and remembered to buy eggs.
My mother is proud of me.
It is not the kind of pride she brags about at the golf course.
She doesn’t combat topics like, ”My daughter got into Yale”
with, ”Oh yeah, my daughter remembered to buy eggs”
But she is proud.
See, she remembers what came before this.
The weeks where I forgot how to use my muscles,
how I would stay as silent as a thick fog for weeks.
She thought each phone call from an unknown number was the notice of my suicide.
These were the bad days.
My life was a gift that I wanted to return.
My head was a house of leaking faucets and burnt-out lightbulbs.
Depression, is a good lover.
So attentive; has this innate way of making everything about you.
And it is easy to forget that your bedroom is not the world,
That the dark shadows your pain casts is not mood-lighting.
It is easier to stay in this abusive relationship than fix the problems it has created.
Today, I slept in until 10,
cleaned every dish I own,
fought with the bank,
took care of paperwork.
You and I might have different definitions of adulthood.
I don’t work for salary, I didn’t graduate from college,
but I don’t speak for others anymore,
and I don’t regret anything I can’t genuinely apologize for.
And my mother is proud of me.
I burned down a house of depression,
I painted over murals of greyscale,
and it was hard to rewrite my life into one I wanted to live
But today, I want to live.
I didn’t salivate over sharp knives,
or envy the boy who tossed himself off the Brooklyn bridge.
I just cleaned my bathroom,
did the laundry,
called my brother.
Told him, “it was a good day.”

 

For more information on Kait Rokowski, please click here.

*Wise words attributed, variously, to Philo of Alexandria or Plato or Ian MacLaren.

Poem of the Week, by Ada Limon

14100516_603168419863170_3525948158388452292_nMy dog is sleeping on the couch right now. We can read each other’s minds; before I get up from this table in a few minutes to go for a run, he will already have jumped down and trotted over to me, knowing I’m about to leave. When I return, he will be waiting at the door to greet me. He doesn’t wake up disturbed like me at the daily news, which even though I don’t watch television and  I avoid certain headlines, I know anyway. It’s in the air, in the invisible waves that connect us to each other and the world. It’s a battle not to give in to the disgust and despair and cynicism and snark that sometimes feels omnipresent and, weirdly, more socially acceptable than hope. Hope is harder, and so is the steadfast work that makes things better. The dog in this beautiful poem reminds me of my own dog. Not everything is bad, he says, in action if not words.

The Leash
     – Ada Limon

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

 
For more information on Ada Limon, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Patricia Lockwood

 

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I used to define “sexual assault” in my own head as rape. So, in my own definition, I had never been sexually assaulted. Then I woke up, and took a casual glance back at my life: 1) Fifth grade, waiting with my class to go back in after recess, a classmate reached out in front of everyone and twisted my breast bud as hard as he could. The shock and physical pain were so severe that I almost vomited. I still think about this pretty much every day. 2) In high school, the jocks lined up on both sides of the hallway to rate the girls on a scale of 1-10 as we walked in. 3) At age sixteen, as an exchange student in Portugal on a sardine-can-crowded bus, a man pushed himself against me, ran his fingers up under my skirt and shoved them inside me, all the while laughing and rubbing his face against mine. 4) In college one winter, there were rumors of multiple rapes on campus, never publicized by campus authorities, which had us all uneasy. My solution was to wear a long coat, hulk up my shoulders and stride across campus if I had to be out at night, so that I would be perceived as a strong man. 5) Also in college, a male friend would corner me when he got drunk and grope me while pinning me against the wall with his knee and telling me he couldn’t help himself because I was just so hot. 6) Age 23, I went on a date with a man who yanked my underwear down and from whom I ran away, to find out the next morning that he had preemptively gaslighted me by telling others that it was clear I had very little experience with men and was, sadly, a tease. These are a few small incidents out of a lifetime of incidents, almost all of which I’ve left out,  including the masturbating perves. My experiences are completely run of the mill and common to all my women friends. I’m still grateful that I haven’t been violently raped, and I am sad that I just used the word “grateful” and that I actually feel that way.

Rape Joke
– Patricia Lockwood

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.

The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.

The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.

Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”

No offense.

The rape joke is that he was seven years older. The rape joke is that you had known him for years, since you were too young to be interesting to him. You liked that use of the word interesting, as if you were a piece of knowledge that someone could be desperate to acquire, to assimilate, and to spit back out in different form through his goateed mouth.

Then suddenly you were older, but not very old at all.

The rape joke is that you had been drinking wine coolers. Wine coolers! Who drinks wine coolers? People who get raped, according to the rape joke.

The rape joke is he was a bouncer, and kept people out for a living.

Not you!

The rape joke is that he carried a knife, and would show it to you, and would turn it over and over in his hands as if it were a book.

He wasn’t threatening you, you understood. He just really liked his knife.

The rape joke is he once almost murdered a dude by throwing him through a plate-glass window. The next day he told you and he was trembling, which you took as evidence of his sensitivity.

How can a piece of knowledge be stupid? But of course you were so stupid.

The rape joke is that sometimes he would tell you you were going on a date and then take you over to his best friend Peewee’s house and make you watch wrestling while they all got high.

The rape joke is that his best friend was named Peewee.

OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

Like the dude was completely in love with The Rock. He thought it was so great what he could do with his eyebrow.

The rape joke is he called wrestling “a soap opera for men.” Men love drama too, he assured you.

The rape joke is that his bookshelf was just a row of paperbacks about serial killers. You mistook this for an interest in history, and laboring under this misapprehension you once gave him a copy of Günter Grass’s My Century, which he never even tried to read.

It gets funnier.

The rape joke is that he kept a diary. I wonder if he wrote about the rape in it.

The rape joke is that you read it once, and he talked about another girl. He called her Miss Geography, and said “he didn’t have those urges when he looked at her anymore,” not since he met you. Close call, Miss Geography!

The rape joke is that he was your father’s high-school student — your father taught World Religion. You helped him clean out his classroom at the end of the year, and he let you take home the most beat-up textbooks.

The rape joke is that he knew you when you were 12 years old. He once helped your family move two states over, and you drove from Cincinnati to St. Louis with him, all by yourselves, and he was kind to you, and you talked the whole way. He had chaw in his mouth the entire time, and you told him he was disgusting and he laughed, and spat the juice through his goatee into a Mountain Dew bottle.

The rape joke is that come on, you should have seen it coming. This rape joke is practically writing itself.

The rape joke is that you were facedown. The rape joke is you were wearing a pretty green necklace that your sister had made for you. Later you cut that necklace up. The mattress felt a specific way, and your mouth felt a specific way open against it, as if you were speaking, but you know you were not. As if your mouth were open ten years into the future, reciting a poem called Rape Joke.

The rape joke is that time is different, becomes more horrible and more habitable, and accommodates your need to go deeper into it.

Just like the body, which more than a concrete form is a capacity.

You know the body of time is elastic, can take almost anything you give it, and heals quickly.

The rape joke is that of course there was blood, which in human beings is so close to the surface.

The rape joke is you went home like nothing happened, and laughed about it the next day and the day after that, and when you told people you laughed, and that was the rape joke.

It was a year before you told your parents, because he was like a son to them. The rape joke is that when you told your father, he made the sign of the cross over you and said, “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” which even in its total wrongheadedness, was so completely sweet.

The rape joke is that you were crazy for the next five years, and had to move cities, and had to move states, and whole days went down into the sinkhole of thinking about why it happened. Like you went to look at your backyard and suddenly it wasn’t there, and you were looking down into the center of the earth, which played the same red event perpetually.

The rape joke is that after a while you weren’t crazy anymore, but close call, Miss Geography.

The rape joke is that for the next five years all you did was write, and never about yourself, about anything else, about apples on the tree, about islands, dead poets and the worms that aerated them, and there was no warm body in what you wrote, it was elsewhere.

The rape joke is that this is finally artless. The rape joke is that you do not write artlessly.

The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.

The rape joke is that you asked why he did it. The rape joke is he said he didn’t know, like what else would a rape joke say? The rape joke said YOU were the one who was drunk, and the rape joke said you remembered it wrong, which made you laugh out loud for one long split-open second. The wine coolers weren’t Bartles & Jaymes, but it would be funnier for the rape joke if they were. It was some pussy flavor, like Passionate Mango or Destroyed Strawberry, which you drank down without question and trustingly in the heart of Cincinnati Ohio.

Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question.

Can any part of the rape joke be funny. The part where it ends — haha, just kidding! Though you did dream of killing the rape joke for years, spilling all of its blood out, and telling it that way.

The rape joke cries out for the right to be told.

The rape joke is that this is just how it happened.

The rape joke is that the next day he gave you Pet Sounds. No really. Pet Sounds. He said he was sorry and then he gave you Pet Sounds. Come on, that’s a little bit funny.

Admit it.

For more information about Patricia Lockwood, please click  here.

Poem of the Week, by Philip Terman

IMG_4539This poem makes me think of my mother and father, who, from my vantage point, seem to spend most of their time doing good things for others. Need sixty pounds of stuffing for the Octoberfeast? Sure. Need a ride to your dentist appointment sixty miles away? No problem. All-day help in the homeless shelter kitchen every third Wednesday? Of course. A listening ear in a time of sadness? They are there. They are there, they are there, they are there. Some people write checks and then there are the people like my parents, who wade in knee deep to fill the plates and then wash the plates, brew the coffee and then pour the coffee, welcome the new babies, slip a $20 in their graduation cards eighteen years later, and stand in line in dark clothes to say goodbye when the time comes. We are all headed to the same place; may as well name it Jerusalem, or Mecca, or the meaning-of-a-life-whatever-that-may-be, and make those steps count.

Walking to Jerusalem
     – Philip Terman

Pedometer attached to her belt, your mother, spry and strong
at eighty, joins the other Methodist Church members
in calculating the 5,915 miles, no matter the weather, to add up
all the way from Linesville, Pennsylvania to Jerusalem.
They need not worry about miracles or pausing
at the signs of the cross. They need not stop for security
to check their purses for weapons. They need no visa
nor baggage, no money to exchange for shekels, no guide-
book, no guide. They need no ancient tongue or prophecies.
They are, simply, day by day, walking, mile after mile:
the sink to the table, uptown to the post office, down
the block to visit the sick neighbor. Sundays to and from church.
And when they walk far enough, adding up their pedometers
together, they will arrive in Jerusalem. And keep walking.

 

For more information on Philip Terman, please click here.