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 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

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.

 

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Poem of the Week, by William Henry Davies

98CCB3C4-DC19-4DF8-B68C-5B477DC4CFDERelaxation is not my style. My style is more making long daily to-do lists and then crossing items off one by one. Sometimes I can trick myself into relaxing if I turn it into a task and add it to the list —rest and read–which when you think about it is kind of pathetic.

My mother sent me this poem last week. When I looked up the author, his sideways grin made me think he knew how to have fun. What did he remember, in the end, and what will I remember – how many things I crossed off my lists? Or the hour I spent yesterday in my kayak on Lake of the Isles, paddling in silence behind that drifting flock of geese?

 

Leisure, by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

 

 

For more information on William Henry Davies, please click here.

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@alisonmcgheewriter

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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@alisonmcgheewriter

Poem of the Week, by Anna Marie Sewell

Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 4.04.18 PMMama passed, honey. That was the subject line of my friend S’s email to me last week. S had been by the side of the woman who, though not her mother, was close enough to be. S had helped Mama out of this world into whatever comes after. Before work, after work, on weekends, she was with her, a steadying presence full of love and jokes. When Mama told her she was hungry, S would feed her little bites of avocado, apple sauce, ice cream. S was with Mama when she finally said goodbye to the world. Mama was in her 90’s. It was time. 

But it’s not always time. I remember the day that the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends died. I hung up the phone and screamed and threw it across the room. So unfair, that this middle-schooler, a girl I adore, should have to live with that loss. 

The stars of my new novel, Never Coming Back (my first novel for adults in a long time, forthcoming in October), are Clara Winter and her mother Tamar. Tamar has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, which means that she and Clara are running out of time together. While most of us, if we’re lucky, have decades to resolve our relationships with our parents –the ins and outs, the nuances and realizations and disconnections and reconnections– Clara and Tamar have only months. This small, lovely poem by Anna Marie Sewell makes me think about mothers and daughters, parents and children, my friend S and Mama, and all the ways in which we do or don’t cradle each other.  

 

Nocturne: Tiny Now, by Anna Marie Sewell

She is tiny now, my mother
and jokes in the morning, when
her teeth aren’t in, how she whistles
like a little bird. And i want to reach
back to the nights when
she brought the piglets in
laid them in the woodstove oven
so tiny, but she believed in them
and in that warm cradle, the spark
of life rekindled in them. How
do i cradle her? now
she is so tiny, softly
drawing nearer to
the Western Door.
This poem won’t do it.
This poem is for me
a piglet grown, with
my snout astonished
at discovery, how the power
that built a world for me still
reveals itself, blue
slight, soft, tiny

 

For more information on Anna Marie Sewell, please click here.

Poem of the Week

Never done before, Mary OliverI wrote this poem seventeen years ago, after watching one of my daughters standing on a stool at the kitchen sink. A few things have changed in those years: that daughter and her brother and sister have grown up, I’m happy with blonde hair and I’d settle for an eight-minute mile. But everything else still holds. My bargain with the planets remains the same.

Bargain
     – Alison McGhee

The newspaper reports that at twilight tonight
Venus and Jupiter will conjoin
in the southwestern sky,
a fist and a half above the horizon.
They won’t come together again for seventeen years.
What the article does not say is that Mercury, the
dark planet, will also be on hand.
He’ll hover low, nearly invisible in a darkened sky.
I stare out the kitchen window toward the sunset.

Seventeen years from now, where
will I be?
Mercury, Roman god of commerce and luck,
let me propose a trade:
Auburn hair, muscles that don’t ache, and a seven-minute mile.
Here’s what I’ll give you in return:
My recipe for Brazilian seafood stew, a talent for
French-braiding, an excellent sense of smell and
the memory of having once kissed Sam W.

Then I see my girl across the room.
She stands on a stool at the sink,
washing her toy dishes and
swaying to a whispered song,
her dark curls a nimbus in the lamplight.
The planets are coming together now.
Minute by minute the time draws nigh for me to watch.
Minute by minute my child wipes dry her red
plastic knife, her miniature blue bowls.

Mercury, here’s another offer, a real one this time:
Let her be.
You can have it all in return,
the salty stew, the braids, the excellent sense of smell
and the softness of Sam’s mouth on mine.
And my life. That too.
All of it I give for this child, that seventeen years hence
she will stand in a distant kitchen, washing dishes
I cannot see, humming a tune I cannot hear.

 

 

 

Poem of the Week, by Ted Kooser

Mother

– Ted Kooser

Mid April already, and the wild plums
bloom at the roadside, a lacy white
against the exuberant, jubilant green
of new grass an the dusty, fading black
of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,
only the delicate, star-petaled
blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.

You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.

The meadowlarks are back, and the finches
are turning from green to gold. Those same
two geese have come to the pond again this year,
honking in over the trees and splashing down.
They never nest, but stay a week or two
then leave. The peonies are up, the red sprouts
burning in circles like birthday candles,

for this is the month of my birth, as you know,
the best month to be born in, thanks to you,
everything ready to burst with living.
There will be no more new flannel nightshirts
sewn on your old black Singer, no birthday card
addressed in a shaky but businesslike hand.
You asked me if I would be sad when it happened

and I am sad. But the iris I moved from your house
now hold in the dusty dry fists of their roots
green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,
as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.



​For more information on Ted Kooser, please click here: http://tedkooser.net/



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