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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My Tattoo Story: Lenore and Alison

Lenore, Hoboken
Alison, Minneapolis, Vermont and southern California

We’re both writers, and we met last month at the Sharjah International Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates. It was one of those instant connections, an immediate friends-forever sort of thing. The week we spent in Sharjah was filled with deep conversations with writers and illustrators from around the world but mostly from the Middle East. A few days into our trip we went out to the desert together, an experience which included slaloming down steep dunes in four-wheel drive vehicles, a performance by a Sufi spinner, dinner, camels and henna tattoos. Our tattoos, unlike our friendship, will fade in a couple weeks’ time.


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My Tattoo Story: Jacob

JacobLos Angeles

My very first tattoo was what started my career. It was a determined step forward into a new life and a step toward new goals. It was a statement of commitment, whether or not I knew how far I would have to go. All of my tattoos inspire me to try to be a better person and are constant reminders to me to keep working hard and to never give up. And occasionally they make me feel like a super hero.

The question marks and bass clefs came together on the back of a book while I was on the road supporting America’s Got Talent runner-up Cas Haley on his first big tour. “Bass clefs for what I do, and question marks for the inevitable uncertainty of what it is that I do,” is what I told myself. It was something that I kept drawing on night after night after our gigs. By the time we got back home I had finished the pattern and blew a good part of my paycheck on getting it tattooed onto my self. Through the course of my career, this first tattoo has become my business logo and shows up on my website, my business cards, it’s inlaid on the front of two of my electric basses, and it’s even on the front of my first record. Don’t be surprised to see it on t-shirts soon!



My Tattoo Story: Siobhan

Siobhan, London

My tattoo story begins in sadness and ends in happiness. Five years ago my partner was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We thought he had only a short time to live. At one point, early into the shock of it all, he said to me in passing, “You’re a shooting star.” It was such a beautiful thing to say, and so surprising to me, because I don’t think of myself that way. But more than that, the idea that he had said this to me in the midst of what he was coping with made me think, Okay, I can do this. I can be strong. And I got this tattoo on my forearm to remind me of what he’d said. He survived the cancer –we are so lucky–and I treasure my tattoo.


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My Tattoo Story: Dennis

Dennis, Houston

I just published a book titled “The Play’s the Thing,” aimed at young adults, with the goal of making Shakespeare something that you want to read instead of have to read. Shakespeare’s plays have been incredibly meaningful to me, and I decided to commemorate the end of the project with two tattoos.

The first is from Henry IV, Part One. Falstaff, reluctant to go to war, says, instead, “Give me life.” The second is from The Winter’s Tale, in which Leontes, convinced his wife has been fooling around with his best friend and certain that his newborn daughter is not his, orders Antigonus to take the child to a remote place and abandon her there. Which Antigonus does, but after he leaves her, the audience hears hunting horns and barking dogs, which leads to the greatest stage direction ever: “Exit pursued by a bear.” (He’s eaten off stage.)

So on one arm, there’s give me life. On the other, an acknowledgment that when you least expect it, you can get eaten by a bear.

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My Tattoo Story: Liz

Liz, Seattle

My parents literally have my back. My mom and I got matching tattoos a few years ago — roses, because Rose is her middle name. I’d said I might go for it on Facebook, and the next time she visited me in Seattle, we both went for it!

And on my dad’s birthday, November 22, in 2014, I had the first of three sessions on a sunflower/dahlia tattoo. Sunflowers were his favorite flower (he loved Van Gogh!), and I’d been wanting this tattoo for a long time. On that same birthday, he was in intensive care after surgery for the cancer that took his life five months later. I’m grateful he got to see my sunflowers — something permanent can be very comforting.


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My Tattoo Story: Heather

Heather, New York City

I loved this line from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman as soon as I read it in a Romantic Literature class in college. I carried it around in my pocket for ages, thinking how it captured my whole life philosophy so well in just a few words. (The whole line is Do I contradict myself? Very well. I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.) And I had the idea to tattoo it onto my forearm. But the aesthetics never quite came through for me, because choosing a font was impossible. I knew whatever I chose I’d end up hating in a year or two. I was talking with a good friend about it, and he said, “Why not get it in Walt Whitman’s handwriting?” And it was the aha moment I’d been waiting for. I scanned the internet looking for the right manuscript pages. Turns out they didn’t exist, but I was able to cobble the words together from a few separate sources. (If you look closely, you can see that “multitudes” changes style in the middle…it gets messier at the end, because it came from two entirely different words from different poems written years apart.) The artist was Michelle Tarantelli at Saved Tattoo in Willliamsburg. I admired the nuance she was able to get in her black and white art, and knew she’d be able to capture the feeling of a fountain pen.


My Tattoo Story: Erin

Erin, Illinois

My dad passed away last year suddenly. My sister and I were devastated and decided to do tribute tattoos for him on our right wrists. My original idea was to copy a poster he had made in the garage in his handwriting. It was a Chevy Symbol with the Words 1 HOT VET. He restored Corvettes as a hobby and I came up with the specialized plate for the 1962 (he also restored a 1958) which was 1HTVET. However, after thinking about it, I wasn’t really crazy about having to explain why my wrist says “1 Hot Vet” on it. So, luckily, my sister was going to do a poppy with his signature as the stem. I fell in love with her idea. My dad  served in the Air Force during Vietnam, and at the time of his death was the Commander of the VFW Post in Bloomingdale, IL. Being a Veteran was very important to him.  Poppies are a symbol of remembering our Veterans. My Dad is obviously my favorite Veteran. Finding his signature for the stem was not as easy as one might think, but we got it. In the end my sister also changed her mind and went with just his signature. This is by far the tattoo that gets the most compliments.


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