Poem of the Week, by Benjamin S. Grossberg

*My new poems podcast, Words by Winter, can be found here. 

853B7327-276B-4536-BA2A-FF488CFE5606A couple of years ago my publisher emailed the cover art for a new novel. I thought it was beautiful – the rich color, the design, the way the title spread itself across the image– so I showed it to the Painter and our painter friend next door.

They studied it, turned the image this way and that, then looked at each other in a silent exchange of information. They were seeing things I didn’t, but what? 

They pointed here, pointed there, tried to explain how the typography was clumsy, too many fonts, and the kerning was off. And what did I think of the palette, was there too much cyan, was there enough contrast to read the spine copy? I tried to understand, but that would have required me to have different eyes. I thought of how hard reading can be for me, the books others rave about that I don’t, how sometimes I gnash my teeth and hunch my shoulders, mourning at how many sentences, including my own, could have been built so much more elegantly.  

 

 

The Finish Carpenter, by Benjamin S. Grossberg

Half million, and what? Cardboard subfloors—
crap, but all right. Vinyl-sided chimney.
Looks like shit, but can’t be seen indoors,
that’s something. But, Jesus, what you can see:

door frames, wall openings, kitchen pass through—
no moldings. Nothing. It’s like a face
without eyebrows. Or ears. And we’re talking new
construction, nice street. There’s window casing,

I guess we should be grateful. But they’re my folks—
pop was an architect—and I say, look, dad,
I’ll bring my god-damned miter saw. He walks
away from me, shaking his head. Glad

to do it, I say. Take me a day. He shrugs,
I see his shoulders move, his hand sweep down
in front of his face like he’s clearing bugs
or a smell. Why not, dad? Just a little crown

in the den, some chair rail. He’s seventy.
What happens—shit ceases to matter
at that age? Come on, I say. No filigree,
just finishing. You still have that step ladder,

right? He’s on the couch now, remote in hand,
surfing. I don’t get it. I don’t. Fine
corners, cornice, some detail, a few planned
correspondences. Why not? Some lines

to guide the space, hold it together. It frames
the parts. Gives shape. An order. Some wood.
That’s all I want for him. No games,
just shape, a little grace. He’s my blood;

I want him to have it nice. Mirrors and smoke,
he says, not looking up. He’s been saying it
to me twenty years, since I went broke
fixing my first place. Prewar, Sears kit

with nothing plumb, and me wild on the phone
raving about warped floor joists and plaster.
Smoke and mirrors, he said. And that’s it. Done.

 

 

 

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Poem of the Week, by Reginald Dwayne Betts

pigs-eye-2014Yesterday a friend told me how she longed for her father to show any interest in her. How she’d carefully planned to text him a few days before Father’s Day so that he wouldn’t feel the pressure of the holiday itself, but maybe he’d respond? I listened to her, told her how sorry I was, told her about others I knew in the same situation, thinking it might help her not feel so alone, as this poem by the magnificent Dwayne Betts floated through my mind. 

 

Blood History, by Reginald Dwayne Betts

The things that abandon you get remembered different. 
As precise as the English language can be, with words 
like penultimate and perseverate, there is not a combination
of sounds that describes only that leaving. Once, 
drinking & smoking with buddies, a friend asked if
I’d longed for a father. Had he said wanted, I would have 
dismissed him in the way that the youth dismiss it all:
a shrug, sarcasm, a jab to his stomach, laughter. 
But he said longing. & in a different place, I might
have wept. Said, Once, my father lived with us & then he 
didn’t & it fucked me up so much I never thought about
his leaving until I held my own son in my arms & only 
now speak on it. A man who drank Boone’s Farm & Mad
Dog like water once told me & some friends that there is no
word for father where he comes from, not like we know it. 
There, the word for father is the same as the word for listen. 
The blunts we passed around let us forget our
tongues. Not that much though. But what if the old
head knew something? & if you have no father, you can’t
hear straight. Years later, another friend wondered why
I named my son after my father. You know, that’s a thing
turn your life to a prayer that nay dead man gonna answer.

 

 

 

 

 

For more information about Reginald Dwayne Betts, please check out his website.

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Poem of the Week, by Adrienne Rich

70673C9E-5CD7-42CC-9591-2302B73056D6Twice in my life I’ve started down a road and kept going, even when the road narrowed and turned into thorns, brambles, impenetrable darkness. A symbol of my refusal to accept that I had made the wrong choice in the very beginning. Years later, when I read about the theory of “sunk profits,” which describes a past investment that shouldn’t but still affects your decisions about the future, I knew it was what I had done in those situations. Kept going, because with so much invested, it felt impossible to let go, even though that something turned out to be full of pain and darkness. 

But clinging to what has always been wrong, whether a person or a system, because . . . why? it’s familiar? you’ve put so much into it? you fear the unknown? means missing out on the possibility of something different, something better, something beautiful. Deny something’s fundamentally wrong, and you deny your own power to change it.

 

Power, by Adrienne Rich

Living    in the earth-deposits    of our history

Today a backhoe divulged    out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle    amber    perfect    a hundred-year-old
cure for fever    or melancholy    a tonic
for living on this earth    in the winters of this climate

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered    from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years    by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin    of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold    a test-tube or a pencil

She died    a famous woman    denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds    came    from the same source as her power

 

 

For more information about Adrienne Rich, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Craig Santos Perez

A994E53E-322E-47E7-ACA5-AEEF0E11266EThe area around Cup Foods in Minneapolis has become a memorial, and I walked there yesterday from my house, past a smiling man holding up a cardboard sign at 36th and Stevens.

Me: “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring any cash.”
Man: “You brought your good looks, though.”

I laughed and so did he, then we talked for a while and I told him where I was going. “It’s wrong, isn’t it,” he said. “Murdered like that.” Yes. It’s wrong. All the wrongness floods over in waves and the only thing that helps is to channel it into action toward a better world. I am not Pasifika, but this poem feels so familiar nonetheless.

 

Ars Pasifika, by Craig Santos Perez

when the tide

of silence

rises

say “ocean”

then with the paddle

of your tongue

rearrange

the letters to form

“canoe”

 

 

 

 

For more information about Craig Santos Perez, please click here.

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Poems of the Week, by Ross Gay

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My daughter to me last night, as I weeded the front gardens with empty streets and choppers circling overhead: “Hey Ma. It’s past 8. Curfew.”

Me: “If I see the national guard tearing down the block I’ll just run inside.”

Another conversation I wouldn’t have predicted I’d ever be having, but this is where we are. I’ll be working the rest of my life to undo the racism baked into me, my community, and this country.

 

Pulled Over in Short Hills, NJ, 8:00 AM, by Ross Gay

It’s the shivering. When rage grows
hot as an army of red ants and forces
the mind to quiet the body, the quakes
emerge, sometimes just the knees,
but, at worst, through the hips, chest, neck
until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs
and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped
to squeeze words from my taut lips,
his eyes scanning my car’s insides, my eyes,
my license, and as I answer the questions
3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a vice,
his hand massaging the gun butt, I
imagine things I don’t want to
and inside beg this to end
before the shiver catches my
hands, and he sees,
and something happens.

A Small Needful Fact, by Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

 

For more information about Ross Gay, please click here.

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