Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

img_5982I’m the mother of an immigrant and the aunt to immigrants. Family members and many of my dearest friends are gay. I am both a patron and former client of Planned Parenthood. I do not identify as Christian. These four facts alone make me –a white, middle-class born-and-bred citizen of this country– and my immediate and extended family current targets for persecution by my own government. Beyond that, many of my students, colleagues and friends are a) not white, b) Muslim, c) immigrants, d) people living with mental and physical disabilities. Being a patriotic American, which I most certainly am, means that my responsibility is to speak out against fascism. Being a progressive, which I also most certainly am, means keeping my focus on the bigger picture, which is the world as I know it to be, the one that Naomi Nye so beautifully brings to life in this poem.

Gate A-4, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,”
said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to 
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just 
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I 
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

For more information on Naomi Shihab Nye, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Ginny Lowe Connors

img_2654Like many other patriotic citizens these days, free-range anxiety keeps waking me up in the middle of the night: health care, sexual assault, violence, our natural world, the crumbling of the democratic principles laid out in our constitution. Brutality in many and repulsive forms, from public mockery to online assaults. I’ve always been critical of what I see as the wrongs of some of my nation’s policies. But I never knew until now how much I love my country and how much I want it to keep righting its wrongs instead of retreating into some mythological past that served only one small segment of its citizens. The strange and powerful little poem below haunts me. No no no no no, is how most of its lines begin, and No no no no no is my response. I dream I’ve been captured     forced into a cage, which is exactly why next weekend, my son and my daughters and I and many thousands of others will be descending on our nation’s capital to take a stand against fascism.

 

Betty Parris Hears Only No
     – Ginny Lowe Connors

     daughter ef the R.everend Parris

No running    no dancing    no wasting of time
No power    no nonsense    opinions    or rage
All of our stitches must march a straight line
No running    no dancing    no wasting of time
Stubbornness ugly    defiance a crime
I dream I’ve been captured    forced into a cage
No running    no dancing    no wasting of time
No power    no nonsense    opinions    or rage

For more information on Ginny Lowe Connors, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Jessy Randall

img_5354Hello, you’ve reached the Crisis Connection. This is Anna. Could you tell me your first name? I remember the sound of that woman’s voice. This was many many years ago. Someone close to me was in terrible shape, and nothing I did helped, and in panic and desperation I had called the hotline seeking guidance as to how to help. My name is Alison but that doesn’t matter it’s not me who needs help it’s my friend and I don’t know what to do and I began to describe the situation as she listened. And listened. Her calm and her focus, over more than a thousand miles of an invisible cell phone connection, was tangible. How are you feeling right now, Alison? Where are you, Alison? What’s your plan for the next few hours? Is there a way you can take care of yourself in this hard time? To this day I can hear her voice, so calm and warm in my ear. Saying my name. Listening. I remember looking up at the sky at one point. It was late at night, far from the city, and the stars were thick in the heavens. After a long time my voice was slow and tired, but I now had a little more energy to keep going. I will remember that conversation the rest of my life. The poem below made me think of Anna, and that long ago dark night. I wish there were some way to tell her how grateful I will always be to her.

Suicide Hotline Hold Music
     – Jessy Randall

We play cheerful music on the suicide hotline—
cheerful but not too cheerful.
Nothing with lyrics.
Sometimes, when I finally talk to them,
they’re crying, and sometimes they keep crying.
I fight the urge to tell them jokes.
Sometimes they get on my nerves.
Sometimes I ask them to see things from my point of view.
They gulp. They try. Even in crisis
they are polite.
I ask them where it hurts.
They always have an answer.
Here’s what they don’t know. When I play the music,
I’m still on the line. I listen to them breathing.
If their breathing slows, I keep playing
the hold music. I’m like a deejay and I’m like
a doctor. I adjust the music with care. I fine-tune,
giving them what they need at just that moment.
I’ll ask them to hold and play the music again.
I have a button I can press that makes the music skip.
The same sound repeats for twenty seconds.
When I get back on the line with them, they never fail
to let me know about the problem. They’re helpful.
“Thank you,” I say. “We’ll fix that for next time.”
It reminds them they are part of the world. Then
they tell me things, sometimes haltingly,
sometimes in one big rush. How they feel,
how bad it is.
I can keep them on the line for hours.
The main thing is to keep them on the line.

For more information on Jessy Randall, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

img_0494Quite a year we just had. A year that drove that poor little garden gnome in the photo on the right to drink, not to mention me with my cabinet full of gin. So many poems feel like possibilities to greet the new year, but this one by Langston Hughes feels the most possible. It’s strange, because if asked I would never list Langston Hughes on my Favorite Poet list, but lines from his poems come drifting through my mind almost every day. Like this one: Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams go, life is a barren field frozen with snow. And this one: They’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed– I, too, am America. And this one: I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. And most of all, I see that my own hands can make the world that’s in my mind. Goodbye, 2016. Here’s to the baby new year.

I look at the world
     – Langston Hughes

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!

I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.

For more information about Langston Hughes, please click here.