Poem of the Week, by Catherine Pierce

IMG_0531We were classmates. He was a country kid, like me, and like me, he was condemned to ride the bus for miles and miles. I dreaded that bus every day of my life –it was a place of fear and intimidation and endless cruelty.

On this particular day, he sat down next to me and everyone began teasing us. They were loud and relentless. I was desperate to make them stop, make it stop, make it all stop just stop just stop, and at some point I picked up my empty lunch box and bashed it over his head. 

Did the teasing end? I don’t remember. What I do remember is how he held his hands up to protect himself. The poem below brought me back to those years of fear and that day on the bus. Kindness is in part an act of self-preservation. Had I just sat still and endured the ride I could have spared myself the lifelong memory of having hurt a kid like me, another kid who was only trying to get home. 



Poem for the Woods, by Catherine Pierce 

Not as I would dream them now, not with growls
and twig snaps, not with dark birds and thorned vines

I’ve invented (keening blackwing, violencia). Not late-dayblood-
sun-dappled, not refuge of men equipped

with knives and lust, not a mouth into which you might
venture and not return, no, nothing like that.

This is a poem for the woods as I knew them,
shaded and cool behind the Novaks’ house.

They seemed endless, but there was a shortcut
to Fairblue Swim Club. They held no growls,

no spikes. Only squirrels skittering, plunking acorns
down the canopy. We’d been warned of poison ivy,

but never found it. We’d been warned of rotten limbs,
but none fell. One muddy, sun-laced afternoon, we took salt

from the pantry and ventured out to where the rocks
teemed with slugs. I’d like to say our cruelty

had to do with power—human girls versus torpidity—
but really it was our curiosity, pure and unnuanced.

We wanted to see mineral against membrane.
We wanted to see something living melt. If I could,

I’d find my younger self in those woods and stop her.
I’d say, Someday you’ll carry your cruelties with you

and you’ll never be able to set them down. Keep walking now.
Keep pretending you know of nothing but kindness





For more information on Catherine Pierce, please check out her website.

Poem of the Week, by Li-Young Lee

img_5354Thirty years ago I stood in a kitchen reading through a letter of complaint sent to a business about one of their products. “Oh my God,” I remember saying. “Whoever wrote this letter is a horrible speller. And the grammar? Jeez!” Then I turned the page over and looked at the signature. And realized that the letter had been written by someone I loved, someone who had worked incredibly hard their whole life long, someone who could always be counted on to help, someone who was right there in the room. 

That memory has haunted me ever since. When I think about it, the sensation of shame that flooded through me in that moment, that almost made me fall on my knees, was the beginning of a long slow road that brought me to where I am now, a writer and a teacher of writing who doesn’t care how bad her students’ spelling and grammar are. I am so so sorry, a student wrote me last week, thank you for being so patient and correcting my horrible spelling. All my terrible mistakes must feel like fingernails on a chalkboard to you.

But they don’t. I don’t care anymore about things like that. The surface doesn’t matter to me. Years and years of listening to others’ stories and watching others’ faces when their mistakes are pointed out, when they’re being laughed at, when they smile and smile and smile while their eyes fill with tears, have softened and gentled me. They have turned me into someone who will sit with her laptop propped on her lap and spend whatever time it takes to see through to the golden, glowing sun that shines beneath all those halting sentences. 


Persimmons, by Li-Young Lee

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker 
slapped the back of my head 
and made me stand in the corner  
for not knowing the difference  
between persimmon and precision.  
How to choose 

persimmons. This is precision. 
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.  
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one 
will be fragrant. How to eat: 
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.  
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.  
Chew the skin, suck it, 
and swallow. Now, eat 
the meat of the fruit, 
so sweet, 
all of it, to the heart. 

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.  
In the yard, dewy and shivering 
with crickets, we lie naked, 
face-up, face-down. 
I teach her Chinese. 
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.  
Naked:   I’ve forgotten. 
Ni, wo:   you and me. 
I part her legs, 
remember to tell her 
she is beautiful as the moon. 

Other words 
that got me into trouble were 
fight and frightwren and yarn
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,  
Fright was what I felt when I was fighting.  
Wrens are small, plain birds,  
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn. 
My mother made birds out of yarn.  
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;  
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man. 

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class  
and cut it up 
so everyone could taste 
Chinese apple. Knowing 
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat 
but watched the other faces. 

My mother said every persimmon has a sun  
inside, something golden, glowing,  
warm as my face. 

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,  
forgotten and not yet ripe. 
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,  
where each morning a cardinal 
sang, The sun, the sun

Finally understanding  
he was going blind, 
my father sat up all one night  
waiting for a song, a ghost.  
I gave him the persimmons,  
swelled, heavy as sadness,  
and sweet as love. 

This year, in the muddy lighting 
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking  
for something I lost. 
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,  
black cane between his knees, 
hand over hand, gripping the handle. 
He’s so happy that I’ve come home. 
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.  
All gone, he answers. 

Under some blankets, I find a box. 
Inside the box I find three scrolls. 
I sit beside him and untie 
three paintings by my father: 
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower. 
Two cats preening. 
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth. 

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,  
asks, Which is this

This is persimmons, Father

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.


​For more information on Li-Young Lee, please ​click here.

Poem of the Week, by Francine J. Harris

img_3343Sometimes I think cruel things about other people. I don’t want to think these things and sometimes I hate myself for doing so. You say that all matters to you is being kind, I think, and that was so unkind. Sometimes I try to be Buddhist about it: Recognize. Acknowledge. Sit with it. Let it go. Sometimes I turn to one of my lifelong mantras to forestall future cruel thoughts: You don’t know what his story is, Alison, or, You don’t know what his home life is like, Alison, or, She was once somebody’s baby, you know.

Even though I don’t say these cruel things out loud, they bother me. Which might be why this poem upset me so much the first time I read it. As the lines gathered speed, and the poem gathered torment, it seemed so full of cruelty that I had to get away from it, had to push it away from me. It brought back so much awfulness from the past: cruelty of the school bus, cruelty of creative writing workshops, cruelty witnessed on the sidewalks and in school hallways and . . . everywhere. Especially these days, under our current regime.

But I kept reading. And when I got to the ending, that is when I knew that the poet was like me, but braver. She made herself go into the cruelty so that she could come out the other side. 


Katherine with the lazy eye. short. and not a good poet, by Francine J. Harris

This morning, I heard you were found in your McDonald’s uniform.
I heard it while I was visiting a lake town, where empty woodsy highways
turn into waterside drives. I’d forgot
my toothbrush and was brushing with my finger, when a friend
who didn’t know you said he heard it like this: You know Katherine. Short.
with a lazy eye. Poet. Not a very good one. Yeah, well she died. the blue
on that lake fogs off into the horizon like styrofoam. The picnic tables
full of white people. I ask them where the coffee is. They say at Meijer.
I wonder if you thought about getting out of Detroit. When you read at the open mike
you’d point across the street at McDonald’s and told us to come see you.
Katherine with the lazy eye. short and not a good poet, I guess I almost cried.

I don’t know why, because I didn’t like you. This is the first time I remembered your name.
I didn’t like how you followed around a married man. That your poems sucked
and that I figured they were all about the married man.
That sometimes you reminded me of myself, boy crazy. That sometimes
I think people just don’t tell me that I’m kind of, well…slow.
Katherine with the lazy eye, short. and not a good poet.
I didn’t like your lazy eye always looking at me. That you called me
by my name. I didn’t
like you, since the first time I saw you at McDonald’s.
You had a mop. And you were letting some homeless dude
flirt with you. I wondered then, if you thought that was the best
you could do. I wondered then if it was.
Katherine with the lazy eye, short, and not a good poet.
You were too silly to wind up dead in an abandoned building.
I didn’t like you because, what was I supposed to tell you. What.
Don’t let them look at you like that, Katherine. Don’t let them get you alone.
You don’t get to laugh like that, like nothing’s gonna get you. Not everyone
will forgive the slow girl. Katherine
with the fucked up eye, short. Poetry sucked, musta’ knew better. I avoided you
in the hallway. I avoided you in lunch line. I avoided you in the lake.
I avoided you. My lazy eye. Katherine with one hideous eye, shit.
Poetry for boys again, you should have been immune. you were supposed
to be a cartoon. your body was supposed to be as twisted as
it was gonna get. Short. and not a good poet. Katherine
with no eye no more. I avoided you, hated it, when you said my name. I
really want to leave Detroit. Katherine the lazy short.
not a good poet. and shit. Somewhere someone has already asked
what was she like, and a woman has brought out her wallet and said
This is her. This is my beautiful baby.    



For more information about Francine J. Harris, please click here.

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