Poem of the Week, by Carl Dennis

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Yesterday I went to the funeral of a man my age. He was a man who, within minutes of meeting him, would tell you he was a Marine –present tense, not past–a man who signed all his memos semper fi. I stood in front of the photo boards his children and wife had assembled, taking photos of photos with my cell phone.

 

There he was, laughing with his babies, his wife, his dog. There he was dancing with his ancient mother, wearing one of his spectacular ties. A complicated man who didn’t speak of his combat experience, a man who was always, according to one of the young Marines he had quietly mentored during and after their tours of duty, “the guy.” The guy who anticipated what would be needed, whether for a road trip or a party or a combat operation, and provided it. The guy that the other young Marines went to for private advice and free counsel. The guy who tried his best to keep everyone else safe. I hope, in his life, there were times when he himself felt safe. When I woke up this morning I thought of this poem.

 

 

Candles
– Carl Dennis

If on your grandmother’s birthday you burn a candle
to honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra
to honor the memory of someone who never met her,
a man who may have come to the town she lived in
looking for work and never found it.
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,
after a month of grief with the want ads,
to refresh himself in the park before moving on.
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards
of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,
then still a girl, will be destined to step on
when she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic
if he doesn’t stoop down and scoop the mess up
with the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.
For you to burn a candle for him
you needn’t suppose the cut would be a deep one,
just deep enough to keep her at home
the night of the hay ride when she meets Helen,
who is soon to become her dearest friend,
whose brother George, thirty years later,
helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store
doesn’t go under in the Great Depression
and his son, your father, is able to stay in school
where his love of learning is fanned into flames,
a love he labors, later, to kindle in you.
How grateful you are for your father’s efforts
is shown by the candles you’ve burned for him.
But today, for a change, why not a candle
for the man whose name is unknown to you?
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home
with friends and family or alone on the road,
on the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside
and hold his hand, the very hand
it’s time for you to imagine holding.

 
 
 
For more information on Carl Dennis, please read this bio.

Poem of the Week, by Danusha Lameris

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Hundreds of miles into a long drive after a sleepless night, I pulled over to get a cup of coffee at a convenience store with exhaustingly computerized coffee machines. A leathery man watching me try to program a cup of half-decaf laughed, then showed me how to do it.

Pretty good for a guy who doesn’t own a computer, a cell phone, or a credit card, right? he said. We stood talking about how the internet has changed everything. Like this right here, he said, this conversation. Everyone walks along staring down at their phones. Can’t we talk with each other anymore? 

I’ll never see that man again. I don’t know how he voted in the last election or how he will vote next year. When I drove away I thought of this poem.

 

Small Kindnesses, by Danusha Lameris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover

from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

 

 

​For more information on Danusha Lameris, please check out her website.​

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Poem of the Week, by Justyna Bargielska

IMG_6359In second grade one of my classmates died of a common childhood disease that most of us weathered without incident. One day he was at his desk in the row next to the door, and the next day he wasn’t. In my mind I see him as he was in his Picture Day photo: dark hair parted on the side, sweater over shirt.

At seven, I thought about him every day. He and my grandfather shared the same old-fashioned first name, and it seemed strange that my grandfather could still be alive when my classmate wasn’t. I still think about that boy. When I became a mother I thought about his mother, and the silence surrounding his empty desk. When I read this poem below, I thought about him again. How we can know only the number of days we’ve already lived, not the number of days remaining.

 
The Great Plan B, by Justyna Bargielska
(translated from the Polish by Maria Jastrzębska)

On my ninth birthday the scoutmaster
gave me a card with the number of days
I’d already lived. It was an extraordinary number
shimmering and dancing, one of those numbers
you can’t save
in notches on a wolf’s bone
or in letters or digits, you can only
speak it onto a recordable postcard or carve it in basalt.
Do you know what our odds are? Zero.
But I’ve learnt to play for time
as it’s the body no less which is left on the battlefield.

 

 

For more information about Polish poet Justyna Bargielska, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Gwendolyn Brooks

quilt, overviewOnce, at a Twins play-off game, I sat next to an older couple. They opened a tote and pulled out sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, peeled carrots, small bags of grapes, and cookies. Dinner, packed at home and brought to the game. There was something about this couple I loved.

“We’ve been going to play-off games all over the country for more than fifty years,” they told me. “And we’ve brought our supper to every one of them.”

When I read the poem below I picture that couple in their kitchen together making sandwiches, and my grandmother swaying in her kitchen to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, and my mother sauteeing zucchini in her ancient electric frying pan, and the way my father combs through the ads in the Sunday paper. Picturing all the small, particular rituals that make up our lives makes me want to put my arms around the whole entire world.

 

The Bean Eaters, by Gwendolyn Brooks

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
but keep on putting on their clothes
and putting things away.

And remembering …
remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
as they lean over the beans in their rented back room
that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

 

 

For more information about Gwendolyn Brooks, please click here.

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