still under construction – for Aretha

I can’t pretend it was just like any other
summer day. We got the news early, just after
the morning plenary session that officially opened
the annual SAA conference, where the Archivist
of the U.S. promised to keep his oath
to the Constitution and a famous scholar
from UNC addressed the effects of algorithms
(an Arabic word that sneaks too often into our conversations),
algorithms that control all the social media they let us see.
I tweeted a photo of her to friends in Cairo and Ankara
and flashed back to my time in Damascus, promising
to share the Youtube video with them all soon.
Then my phone buzzed: a mournful incoming tweet
that said Aretha died.
(We knew she was sick, but the final words,
good bye, would never fit in our vocabularies.)

I tried to respond with a tweet but my phone’s
battery strength was too weak to pump it out.
Instead I pulled out my iPad and found a spot
in the hotel lobby where the wifi signal was strong.
All I could think to type, though, were the lyrics
to my favorite Franklin song: “Ain’t no way, ain’t
no way for me to love you, if you won’t let me.”
Later I posted to Facebook the Frank O’Hara poem,
“The Day Lady Died” because I knew my poetry friends
would be grieving. But the evening was still young
and I couldn’t crash early on Aretha’s transition day.
So I found that passage August Wilson wrote
setting the scene in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”
about a song “worth singing, kicking in the chest…”
a song that was “both a wail and a whelp of joy.”
And I said a little prayer for you.


another gardening (of sorts) poem – a sonnet (of sorts)

We are the invasive species.
Like the weeds we are, our broad
green leaves block out sunlight
to the seeded plants –
our well-adapted root system
drains away nutrients from below.

We think we are the fittest
for survival – the quickest to adjust
to environmental shifts, and yet the most
conservatively disposed to superficial change.

We create thoughts, make decisions
to ensure security for our progeny.
They will belong in the garden –
and they will cover up our alien origins.

a gardening poem for a rainy week in July

The garden is my primary place
for meditation these days,
in these majestic mountains,
in this place of serenity and beauty.

I inherited an abandoned plot –
weeds have overgrown
last year’s plantings
and perennials.

Preparing the beds for planting
i dig up old carrot roots,
unfound potatoes, decomposing,
and sundry forms of organic life.

I crumble the good earth
with my fingers – I feel
the power in the soil
to sustain a new growth.

With a shovel and a rake
I turn the old soil over,
exposing its underside
to sunlight and fresh air,

then sprinkle a little mulch
in the furrows that form –
spread the mixture slowly,
evenly, to form a flat bed

It’s like an open wound,
exposed, that heals quickly
with sunshine and oxygen.
It’s time to place the seeds.

I punch holes gently, gently
in the heaping, heaving mound
and drop two or three seeds
into each little womb, and wait . . .

Weeds grow like, well, weeds,
and must be plucked, removed –
and on dry days there is watering –
& waiting & hoping.

Today’s meditation is complete.
My body is tired, sore from digging,
raking, bending, touching the soil –
I’ll sleep like a baby tonight.

Empire Sunset – from the archives

At the end of time
sunset will seem
to last forever –

a thin red strip
on the horizon,
thinning, flickering

in its futile attempt
to stay, to widen,
to reverse time itself –

but we all know
that time only reverses
itself in poetry –

and in Superman movies
when Lois Lane dies,

and the Man of Steel
reverses Earth’s rotation
to forestall, reverse
her death’s circumstance.

In the end one might
even be persuaded
that that sunset is itself
a beginning –
a dawn, not a dusk –

but that would be
a deception.

a summer solstice sonnet – from the archives

A migration, a journey by moonlight,
from one holy state to a different one.
Move fast though, ‘cause the well-lit night is short,
which means no time for reading signs – and prayers
for good fortune – on the road. The shortest
distance between two points is a straight line –
or a tesseract for time travelers
among us. Another year won’t kill them,
and the cotton crop demands their presence.
But this particular convergence comes
once a generation, so their next chance
will be less fortuitous – as will ours.
A long day, a bright moon, and a lost year.
And a journey to bridge a gap in space.


Note: The summer solstice each year coincides, more or less (that is, by a day or two), with Juneteenth (June 19th), the observation of the day the final slaves were emancipated in the U.S. (in Texas, specifically) in 1865. Of course, human slavery continues in the U.S., regrettably, though no longer race-based. So enslaved people still need to be free, still need to escape, still need to break the chains that bind them.

This coinciding of dates may be just a coincidence. If you believe in coincidences . . .

Os Meus Livros

via Os Meus Livros

cross posted from Arca das Palavras Perdidas

Oração da Noite, ou, Instruções para o meu funeral

via Oração da Noite, ou, Instruções para o meu funeral