Poem of the Week, by Danez Smith

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

D11E1B29-F92F-4FBA-B4E3-866135CE8A9F_1_105_cSometimes I feel so sad for men. All the unspoken rules. All the ways our culture tries to train boys out of their openness, their gentleness, their human need for hugs and touch. I think of the multiple men I know who have told no one but me the ways they were sexually abused as children. I think of my giant of a father, and the look on his face when he told me how his mother used to scream at him when he was little. I think of all the men I know who depend on the women they love to translate the world of emotion for them, to navigate the nuances of relationships. I think of how sex sometimes seems the only acceptable way for a man to give and receive physical affection, the only time they can let down their guard.

Lifelong fierce feminist that I am, I think of all the bright, tender little boys I know, and knew, and how we need a world softer for them. Which would translate into a world softer for us all. I cried when I read this poem. 

 

from Differences, by Danez Smith

once, there was a boy
who learned to sing
who then learned not to sing

once, there was a boy
who heard another boy singing
then told him to stop

these are the same boy
this is every boy

another story: once, a boy
loved summer & so moved
to the sun

same story: once, a boy
ran from winter but could
not shake the dead trees

same story: once, a boy
stood in the woods
until he became it

same story: a boy is a tree

same story: my mother cries
whenever she sees a tree

 

 

 

 

For more information about the wondrous Danez Smith, please check out their website.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my new podcast

Poem of the Week, by June Jordan

My new poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

 

First there was childhood, with the woods and the fields and the wondering. Then came college, where the roof of your life disappeared and you found your tribe. Then came all the years of struggle and love and longing –to be a writer, to be a mother, to be a transplant in a new land, to be a someone. And then there was the breaking, and the reconfiguration, and now there is the Reckoning. E1A4EEB4-48CE-45F2-8516-A11D28953DB0

I’m talking to myself here, trying to place pattern to my life, to reconcile past and present and possible future. Taking stock of what I’ve surrounded myself with and what I’ve put forth. If all these books and poems and teaching and essays and blogs and letters and cards and now a podcast mean I’m just fragmented? Chaotic?

Then comes this poem by a woman I idolize, a woman who wrote as many different kinds of words as I do, and it runs through me like cool water on a parched day. Maybe all these words, no matter their form, are the through-thread work of my life. My invisible hands reaching out to all the invisible people. 

 

These Poems, by June Jordan

These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are
and
are you ready?

These words
they are stones in the water
running away

These skeletal lines
they are desperate arms for my longing and love.

I am a stranger
learning to worship the strangers
around me

whoever you are
whoever I may become.

 

 

For more information about the astonishing, fierce, and brilliant June Jordan, please click here.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my new podcast

Poem of the Week, by James Richardson

My new poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

 

IMG_3857Most of the furniture in our house is wood, found curbside like the tiny wooden table that caught my eye yesterday a few blocks from home. Polished burled top, slender wooden dowels, sturdy legs, it looked handmade. My backpack was stuffed full of heavy groceries but I picked the table up anyway and carried it home like a baby. 

Box beam ceilings, cherry cabinets, oak floors, maple radiator covers. My house is over a century old, so the wood it’s made from must be far older than that, but it feels alive to me. After we moved in I wrote to the former owner, a cabinetmaker who had made all the kitchen cabinets, all the fitted radiator covers, a man who loves wood as much as me but, unlike me, knows everything about it. 

Can you tell me about the wood in the house? was my question, and his long, long reply detailed the specifics of each room. Sorry, he signed off. I‘m sure this is way more than you ever wanted to know. I guess you can tell how much I love wood. 

I thought about that man when I turned the tiny table over and saw the initials of the person who made it, burned into the wood.

 

Essay on Wood, by James Richardson

At dawn when rowboats drum on the dock
and every door in the breathing house bumps softly
as if someone were leaving quietly, I wonder
if something in us is made of wood,
maybe not quite the heart, knocking softly,
or maybe not made of it, but made for its call.

Of all the elements, it is happiest in our houses.
It will sit with us, eat with us, lie down
and hold our books, themselves a rustling woods,
bearing our floors and roofs without weariness,
for unlike us it does not resent its faithfulness
or question why, for what, how long?

Its branchings have slowed the invisible feelings of light
into vortices smooth for our hands,
so that every fine-grained handle and page and beam
is a wood-word, a standing wave:
years that never pass, vastness never empty,
speed so great it cannot be told from peace.    

 

 

For more information on James Richardson, please click here.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my new podcast

Poem of the Week, by Micah Daniels

My new poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

IMG_4415Here in the Time of Covid, my younger daughter and I have figured out how to maintain her complicated haircut. She does the back and sides with her electric clippers, and then I take over with my scissors, layering the sweep of black hair we refer to as “the plume” and lock by lock trimming and blending the rest.

When her sister of the wild sproingy curls was little, she demanded a different hairdo every day of her non-hairdo-doing mother. Braids, tiny pigtails all over her head, butterfly clips arranged here and there. 

My mother, while visiting a year ago, asked me to streak a little pink into her hair. Not too much! Just a tiny bit! Very, very, very subtle! This was a fraught and delicate operation, performed at my kitchen sink. 

Long ago, when my best friend and I lived blocks apart in Boston, she used to come by my one-room apartment before her waitress shift at Rebecca’s so I could French-braid her hair. Later that same night she would return, empty the pockets of her green apron, and we would drink wine and count up her tips together. A few years later, on the morning of her wedding, it was I who did her hair, smoothing it back and securing it with a white Goody ponytail holder.

All of which is why I so love this poem. 

 

The Secret of Youth, by Micah Daniels

Last night I asked my mother to cornrow my hair
A skill I had been practicing since last summer
But always ended with a tumbleweed excuse of a braid

My black has always resided in braids
In tango fingers that work through tangles
Translating geometry from hands to head

For years my hair was cultivated into valleys and hills
That refused to be ironed out with a brush held in my hand
I have depended on my mother to make them plains

I am 18 and still sit between my mother’s knees
I still welcome the cracks of her knuckles in my ears
They whisper to me and tell me the secret of youth

I want to be 30 sitting between my mother’s knees
Her fingers keeping us both young while organizing my hair
I never want to flatten the hills by myself
I want the brush in her hand forever

 

For more information about Micah Daniels, please click here.

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@alisonmcgheewriter

WHERE WE ARE

WHERE WE ARE

my brand-new novel

will be in the world on September 1, 2020

I’ve been keeping this novel entirely under wraps. Haven’t mentioned a word about it. Fear of jinxing it? Fear of pandemic publishing print slowdowns? Fear that by the time this book actually comes out, it will have come true, and we’d all be living under the spell of a crazed cult leader? (Don’t let him know you’re reading this)

 

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 5.16.00 PM

 

How did Where We Are come to be? It wrote itself in a fever dream two winters ago. Laptop on lap, I hunkered down on the couch for months on end, fingers flying on the keyboard in the kind of crazed typing that used to silence my children’s friends as they watched from the doorway.

Possibly inspired by true events, Where We Are is about two teens, Sesame, who’s alone in the world, and her boyfriend Micah, who watches helplessly as his parents fall under the spell of a cult leader who promises that a better world awaits them once they shed the refuse of the secular world. Vowing to watch over them, he disappears into an underground world along with his parents and the other cult members.

Sesame knows his life is in danger. She can sense it. She can feel him desperately calling to her to find him. But where is he? No one else, not even her best friends, believe the situation is as critical as she knows it is.

Fierce, intense, a race against the clock to find Micah before he disappears forever in the dead of a Minneapolis winter, Where We Are kept me awake at night as if I myself were Sesame. As if I myself had lost the person I most love in the world. As if we –Minneapolis, the USA, the world–are all in a fight against the forces that would take over our minds, and bodies, and souls.

From the jacket:

Micah is a boy who loves food, fire spinning, and cooking for Sesame. Sesame is a girl who loves poetry, dumplings, and finding poems for Micah. Together, they make plans: Micah will save his parents from a cult leader who proclaims himself the Prophet. Sesame, whose grandmother recently died, will no longer have to make her way in the world alone. Together, this seems easy.
 
Then Micah is gone.
 

Apart, Micah is a boy in trouble. Apart, Sesame is a girl alone in the world. Apart, everything seems hopeless. But it is when they are apart that they have the most faith in each other. Can that faith be their salvation?

 

Where We Are is available at the links below, and wherever and however you buy or borrow your books. As always, free virtual visits to any book club who chooses the novel!

Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

My new poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

IMG_0695From my porch, which is all windows, people walk by in pairs or threes or solo. Some of them stop by my poetry hut and take a poem. Some keep their heads down and never look up. Some are slow and wandery, holding hands and scuffing their feet. Others stare straight ahead and laugh while they chatter to the person on the other end of their earbuds.

I picture them all at home before they headed out into the day, brushing their teeth, turning sideways, appraising themselves. Maybe they smiled into the mirror. Maybe they didn’t. What was in their minds and on their hearts? It feels to me that there are deep wells inside each of us that can’t ever be reached, of unanswered questions and secret happinesses, of loneliness. This tiny poem sings itself through me every day.

 

 

Hope, by Langston Hughes

Sometimes when I’m lonely,
don’t know why,
keep thinkin’ I won’t be lonely
by and by.

 

 

For more information about Langston Hughes, please click here.

 

My website