Poem of the Week, by Harryette Mullin

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

Hearing someone use the word “they” when describing a group of people –gay, Black, poor, immigrant, etc.–makes me wary and tired because I know I then have to tilt my head and say When you say ‘they,’ who exactly do you mean?

I hate doing this because I hate confrontation, however subtle. The question alone usually serves its purpose, but not if the response is You know what I’m talking about. Then I lie —Not really– and wait politely for the next response, and on and on until the point’s been made, the way this poem does with such succinct power.

Elliptical, by Harryette Mullen

They just can’t seem to . . . They should try harder to . . . They ought to be more . . . We all wish they weren’t so . . . They never . . . They always . . . Sometimes they . . . Once in a while they . . . However it is obvious that they . . . Their overall tendency has been . . . The consequences of which have been . . . They don’t appear to understand that . . . If only they would make an effort to . . . But we know how difficult it is for them to . . . Many of them remain unaware of . . . Some who should know better simply refuse to . . . Of course, their perspective has been limited by . . . On the other hand, they obviously feel entitled to . . . Certainly we can’t forget that they . . . Nor can it be denied that they . . . We know that this has had an enormous impact on their . . . Nevertheless their behavior strikes us as . . . Our interactions unfortunately have been . . .

For more information about Harryette Mullin, 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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Poem of the Week, by Ross Gay

How many times have I been driving in my city and glanced over at the face of a pulled-over-by-an-officer driver? Hundreds. How many of those times has the driver been a person of color? Most of the time.

 

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.

 

For more information on Ross Gay, please click here.

 

Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

IMG_4736I’ve sat in silent, exhausted rage around dinner tables listening to men and women argue about rape and which factors that lead up to it are under a woman’s control. Sometimes I leave the room and go into the kitchen to bang my head against a hot stove, because that feels better than listening to good men, many of whom I like and respect, explain with care and patience how women shouldn’t get so drunk, especially late at night, how they shouldn’t walk alone, shouldn’t wear certain outfits, that it just is not safe, how they wish so much the world wasn’t like that for women, but it is. What a revelation, I think, thanks for solving that whole rape thing.

We have a rape problem because men rape women. That’s where the conversation begins. How do you change a culture in which, at such a deep level that it’s nearly invisible, there is a belief that women are prey + men can’t control their sex drive = rape? You start by pointing it out. By talking. And with recognizing that men have to change that culture.

That right there is as close as I can come to even beginning to imagine what it’s like to be black in my country. And the way to start changing a culture in which racism is so systemic that it’s barely noticeable to white people is for white people to point it out to each other, to have those hard conversations. It is not the responsibility of black people. This is on white people.

Yesterday I walked past a little free library. The first book I saw in it was The Poetry of Our World, which I took with me. In it, as a bookmark, was a quarter-folded sheet of paper with poems by Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. If I were a superstitious person who looked to the universe for signs, I would have taken that as a sign that one of those poems should be the poem of the week. I’m not that kind of person, but Mr. Hughes, I see how beautiful you are, and I am ashamed.

I, too, sing America
     – Langston Hughes

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
when company comes,
but I laugh,
and eat well,
and grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
when company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
then.

Besides, they’ll see how beautiful
I am
and be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

 

For more information on Langston Hughes, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Kenneth Rexroth

12992796_10153436069706921_222675689_n-2“Live every day like it’s your last because someday you’re going to be right.”

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name not yours. My religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night to the news that Muhammad Ali had died. He was a hero to me, as he was to so many others. Not because he was a boxer (I’m not a fan of boxing; Ali suffered from Parkinson’s for over thirty years) but because he was only and ever himself; he stood up for what he believed in and he never backed down. Ali was tough as hell, and so is this poem.

The Bad Old Days
     – Kenneth Rexroth

The summer of nineteen eighteen
I read The Jungle and The
Research Magnificent. That fall
my father died and my aunt
took me to Chicago to live.
The first thing I did was to take
a streetcar to the stockyards.
In the winter afternoon,
gritty and fetid, I walked
through the filthy snow, through the
squalid streets, looking shyly
into the people’s faces,
those who were home in the daytime.
Debauched and exhausted faces,
starved and looted brains, faces
like the faces in the senile
and insane wards of charity
hospitals. Predatory
faces of little children.
Then as the soiled twilight darkened,
under the green gas lamps, and the
sputtering purple arc lamps,
the faces of the men coming
home from work, some still alive with
the last pulse of hope or courage,
some sly and bitter, some smart and
silly, most of them already
broken and empty, no life,
only blinding tiredness, worse
than any tired animal.
The sour smells of a thousand
suppers of fried potatoes and
fried cabbage bled into the street.
I was giddy and sick, and out
of my misery I felt rising
a terrible anger and out
of the anger, an absolute vow.
Today the evil is clean
and prosperous, but it is
everywhere, you don’t have to
take a streetcar to find it,
and it is the same evil.
And the misery, and the
anger, and the vow are the same.

 

For more information on Kenneth Rexroth, please click here.
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