NaPoWriMo 2021 – #7

Three years from now, as the crow flies,
We plan to make our trans-Atlantic relocation.
My favorite coffee cup has a hairline fracture –
It may not survive the rigors of the journey.

There’s a lot to plan, to organize. Why are
So many folks developing pancreatic cancer?
Can living in Washington DC kill you directly,
(Let me check my thermoluminescent dosimeter)
Or it is the bad habits you pick up trying to cope?

Knowing what goes on behind the scenes
Is a curse, not a blessing, not a benefit.
I’ve always hated American-made B movies.
(What is Morgan Freeman selling? Please? )
Studio actors, musicians are living on borrowed time.

SAG awards their lifetime achievement trophy
To Joe the rapist, the bad dad, and his first mate,
Who literally screwed her way to the very top –
(Betrayed by laughter that seeks to shields her shame)
Proving to women everywhere that it can be done.

The Academy Awards are taking a different tack.
Joe gets best costume design for his mask
That grins and lies. The rest of the crew (including
those I use to know and respect) share
Best ensemble for dramatic imitation – a new award

This year. They imitated a white house. Imitated
A cabinet. Imitated a government. And all our
Adversaries know it. And all our allies shiver
In fear for what might happen when they turn
The lights on and turn the cards over on the table.

(“Damn, what happened to the Americans?” They ask
Me in emails that self-destruct in thirty seconds.)
It’s way past time for this one to end. Please, no
Overtime, no keeping the crowd in suspense.
Two minute warning. Leave early and beat the traffic.
April 6, 2021

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #23 – A Thursday sonnet

For Maria

It might be time for a shape shift moment.
This kernel of time, wedged between the walls
Of two more standardized realities
Only points us backwards on the path
Of forward growth. You can write your own poem –
This one holds out hope for a revival
And a different direction for our dreams.

Old ways benefited the chosen few.
Their poets and prophets sing of better
Days to come. They have playwrights and Netflix
Producers on the job around the clock,
Promising to protect the status quo.
I can’t say I wish them ill. Their vision
Is a museum object, best preserved, mute.


from the archives – another praise song – April 16, 2013

In the hustle and the bustle
as we go our chosen way;
in the winning and the losing
keeping score throughout the day –
in the seeking and the striving
as our plans oft go astray;
in the comings and the goings
and the things we do, and say –
in the kicking and the screaming
of war’s battles, of the fray;
in the plotting and the scheming
of our deep naivete –
Our pure love knows no decay.
Stay in my arms forever.

Lockdown sonnet #12

I just listened to the new Bob Dylan drop.
Some kind of weird incantation –
A forced repetition, for a hypnotic effect,
a magic ritual in an ancient oral tradition.

Also, a shout out to the musical ancestors,
Invoking each of the gods by name.
An African conceptualization is what Toledo
would call it. Oh, you don’t know Toledo?

How could you? He was Ma Rainey’s piano player.
Ain’t never been the same fool twice. Don’t worry,
You’ll see it on Netflix when it comes out.
A piano lesson disguises the real drama.

Old Bob gives the devil his due. Play that funky
music white boy. Spell it with a K in B flat.

Lockdown sonnet #5

See the line at Trader Joes this morning?
Wrapped down the block and around the corner –
Each shopper six feet apart from the next?
Whole Foods is still out of Vitamin C
And limiting frozen pizza to four
Per shopper. Good prices on naval oranges –
Stocking up to stave off scurvy, rickets.

Press conference on standby – gotta get
Latest developments on the crisis.
Never mind the moral imbecility
Of the press corps – the message seeps through
Their banterings and raillery
(And that’s being charitable. My goodness!)
The time to learn the news is nigh.

All My Muses – from the archives (never made it to the blog)

All the Muses

The first muse was my father.
Polyhymnia. He’d wake me up
in the middle of the night
to slur his way through a poem
he had memorized as a child.
It was torture, pure, but the
seed was planted.

Our muse mother, also Polyhymnia,
taught us early to read and write,
made us write.

My fifth and sixth grade teacher
kept us two years, she loved us so.
Her name was Terpsichore.
I still recall the dances she taught us
and the poems she had us memorize,
some her own.

My scoutmaster. Urania.
Taught us the value
of building a camp fire strong enough
to resist a cold wind, cooking over embers,
map-making, compass reading, hiking,
poetry of the forest and woods.

My ninth grade English teacher,
Calliope, showed me the value of grinding
through the classics, the epic works.

My eleventh English teacher, Euterpe,
was a performance artist who shared
with us her first hand experiences
as a young college student in New York
during the Harlem Renaissance.

That first kiss.
A muse-full experience.
Rushed back my room
each night to write poems
about the new high I had found.

The bakery where I worked
was one big collective muse.
All my big brothers and sisters:
Nelson, Alvin, Floyd, Ralph,
Carl, Charlotte, Robin, Lawrence,
James, George, Melvin, James,
Linzell, Jeffrey, Darnell, Richard,
Charles, Michael, Dayne.
One big collective muse.

The sea became my muse,
the vast and boundless sea.

A kind friend taught me
the sonnet form.
She was my Erato,
my Thalia,
my Melponeme.

And the Beloved Community
was my muse.
My peaceful port,
shelter in a raging storm,
my restore point.
My Polymatheia,
my Cephisso,
and Borysthenis.


There are no spirits lurking in the aisles
and corners. Just cartons of documents,
​details of lives. Whether well-lived or ill,
these papers tell the story – marriage, birth,
land acquired, taxes. Death. It’s all there.
No need for the rattling sound of zombies –
ghosts of events yet to come – in graveyards.
Might this be the judgement we fear? The words
and deeds, archived records we leave behind
won’t deliver us to any heaven –
or hell. It’s just a mirage, this image
of hereafter we’ve been trained to accept
as truth, the certain object of our faith:​
​d​ried, folded, faded, in a dusty box.

my contribution to the rape culture discussion

Rape Culture

The newest birth defect to emerge from the depths
of our collective DNA has long and intricate roots –

passed down from father to son – from mother
to daughter – like some unique, sacred inheritance,

the beast whose marks we bear. The conquistadors
had their way with the natives they “discovered” –

no slave was safe from the raging hormones
of the master and his sons – the ladies of the house

turned their heads and hoped it would be contained –
now it’s an epidemic​.​ ​A​ syphilis​. Killing us ​slowly.

from the archives: sonnet

I was a runner in my hapless youth:
two times, four times, eight times around the track;
running to things, running from things, always
in a haste, never taking time to smell
the fragrance of the roses, know the truth.
In time, life slowed me down. I changed my tack.
I learned to walk, to circumspect, unfazed
by every shiny thing my eyes beheld.
But then the boundless sea became my Muse:
Her hidden wonders and her ways seduced
my every thought. Yet she was just a phase,
a short poetic phrase and a malaise.
This sonnet owns no ending, just a star,
to capture our attention from afar.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 April 12 – Cleaning Day

Day #12 – Cleaning Day

Twenty-one years of accumulated paper –
Funny how the artifacts of a career
get reduced, then shredded or burned,
or nailed to a cross to save us from our sins,
or hung from a tree to pay for crimes
that never should have happened,
or perhaps never happened at all –

Either way, we disposed of it properly –
every pay stub, every performance evaluation,
every award nomination, every piece
of correspondence, every personnel action –
all paper for the dumpster or the furnace

or for recycling and resale at a premium
or maybe some future, new existence.
But for us, for now, all garbage,
taking up precious space that could,
if emptied, yield greater utility.

More rumination than poetry….the great experiment

We are coming up on the 40th anniversary of the graduation of the first group of Anne C. Stouffer Foundation scholars.  To mark that achievement, a bunch of us are holding monthly conference calls to plan a February 2016 reunion in Atlanta. Perhaps we’ll include some of the prominent luminaries, educators, politicians, etc., who were involved in the original experiment.

Here is my oral history submission from the archives:

“It was an interesting, and maybe even a noble experiment.  

Prelude.  Lincoln Jr. High had never seen so many white people!  John and Rosemary Ehle and a couple of other people working tape machines and taking notes took over the library (or was it the guidance counselor’s offices?  One was across the hall from the other).  I recall that once we were tested and selected, we had to submit a preference for schools.  I thought Asheville, because it was closer, but my mother did some checking and discovered a whole bunch of Greensboro folks were already in the Woodberry family.  My father was dead set against the whole enterprise, I remember, and he had his reasons, but my mother was all for it and all in for Woodberry Forest School.

We took a Greyhound bus up for the interview.  It was winter and it was cold. Snow met us in the parking lot when we arrived by taxi from the bus stop in Orange, VA. But on the return trip we met some relatives in Richmond, where we spent the weekend before returning to Greensboro and Lincoln Jr. High.  I finished out the semester, but learned before Spring that I would be Woodberry bound.

Ron Long, Terry Jones, and Art Gaines led the charge in 1969.  They were the first generation, the pioneers.  I think they had some interesting experiences, but I’ll leave that story to them to tell.   In the second year, 1970, Ron Lipscomb, Kevin Miller, Wayne Booker and I arrived as boarding students, and Gary Mance and Wayne Williams came in as day students, tripling our numbers and making a significant addition to the number of variables in the social experiment. In 1971, Clifford Johnson and Robert Long, Ron’s younger brother, joined us, both as boarding students. 

Of course, it didn’t take long for us to discover one another. Kevin and I both came from Greensboro and from Lincoln Jr. High.  (Five Lincoln students went to Virginia prep schools that year under the Anne C. Stouffer Foundation.  Veda Howell went to Foxcroft, another girl went to Chatham Hall whose name I can’t remember.).  I don’t remember if we came together officially or if we just gravitated to a center.  Gaines, Long and Jones were the big brothers we went to for advice.  Ron Lipscomb and I had classes together.  And we all played football that first fall: Ron, Art, Wayne and Gary on JV, Terry, Ronald, and I on Junior Orange, Kevin and Wayne Williams on Junior Black.  In my second year I gravitated to cross country after showing some promise as a middle distance runner the previous spring.    Several of us continued together in winter track, though Ronald Lipscomb early on distinguished himself in JV basketball in the winter, as did Ron Long in varsity baseball in the spring. 

We got into the habit of sitting together in the dining hall for Saturday and Sunday breakfasts, which were buffet and informal (no coat and tie, and no assigned seating).  It is amusing looking back on it, and maybe even a bit contrived, but at the time it seemed the natural thing to do.

My favorite teachers. Dave Bloor tripled as my earth science teacher, track and cross country coach and assigned academic adviser. He was definitely one of my favorites.  I learned so much from Mr. Bloor, in the classroom and on the track. I will never forget him. Bob Vasquez, my Spanish teacher, started me off on a language learning track (he was also my basketball coach, though his best efforts at converting me to basketball fell short). Wilfred Grenfell ranks right at the top; I lived for his history lectures, and he, more than any other, bears the blame for my insatiable curiosity about Middle East issues and about foreign affairs in general. Robin Breeden, our dorm guy, maybe we called him dorm master, would invite us into his apartment for tea and biscuits and tell us about the time he swam the English Channel. How I adored those “civilizing” chats. And the Bond couple, Tom and Vicki, with whom I studied both Spanish and French, fueled my thirst for foreign language skills that continues until today, with Portuguese and Arabic added along the way. 

I have warm memories of running cross country.  Those long autumnal runs, named Arrowpoint and Chicken Ridge, and the long 13 mile trek to Achsah and back, introduced me to and acquainted me with the beauty of Orange County.  Those runs were the ambrosia that nourished my soul.  The habit I formed, of finding wonders and magic in routine and mundane chores, like long distance runs, would later prove to be the source of  personal and professional strength.  But I digress.  We had a great cross country team, eventually winning the Virginia Prep League championship.  The camaraderie of that team filled a social and a personal void for me. 

In retrospect, my most enduring thoughts about the Woodberry experience center around its well known and highly regarded honor system. I will make an addendum to discuss the honor system, how I internalized it, and how it informed and influenced me in later life.

Still, though, for reasons perhaps imagined and perhaps real, thoughts lingered and grew within me that I really didn’t “belong.”  Those thoughts reached a height in the spring of my second year, a growing and gnawing loneliness that I couldn’t explain or even understand.  At the end of my second year, I told myself I would not return.  The loneliness and alienation I felt at Woodberry, I would later come to learn, had a lot less to do with Woodberry and a lot more to do with me and my emergence from adolescence and puberty.  It would stay with me through college, where, like a ship without a rudder, without an anchor, and without a means of propulsion, I bounced around for three long, uncertain years, changing my major almost every semester, back and forth from electrical engineering to biology to economics. It was actually an interesting combination. Finally, midway through 1978, the year I should have graduated from college, I left school at mid term,  degree-less, and enlisted in the Navy’s Nuclear Power program and the submarine force. It was there that I finally hit my stride, serving four years in engineering billets on the USS Hammerhead (SSN-63) and the USS Michigan (SSBN-727(B)).

In the intervening years, I lost track of everybody.  I bumped into Ron Lipscomb on Duke’s campus, maybe in 1976. A girl I dated knew Wayne Williams, also at Duke. Kevin Miller (God rest his soul) and I had mutual friends in Greensboro. In 1985, I went back and finished college and upgraded my Navy status from enlisted to commissioned.  My tenure as a commissioned officer was of limited duration; I finished my four-year obligation and transferred to State and the Foreign Service in 1992. 

While serving the London Embassy, also called the Court of St. James, I completed an M.A. at the School of Oriental and African Studies. There I earned the credential “Africanist.” It would serve me well in subsequent assignments, focusing my studies on decolonization, resolving border disputes, and transnational organization legal identity.

I stumbled on Ron Long’s name in the news in the late 90’s and got back in touch. Ron put me in touch with Art Gaines, who by that time was doing humanitarian relief work in East Africa.  Following assignments in Guinea-Bissau, London, Angola and Ghana, I landed a Washington job also covering East Africa.  I thought maybe our paths would cross on many trips I made to Khartoum, but it wasn’t to be.”

Postscript. 02/11/2019 I retired from the Department of State in 2013, coincident with my association with the Benghazi affair the previous year in my position as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb Affairs. Google my name. I dare you! Better yet, Google “Raymond Maxwell, Poetry.”

I decided to pursue a lifelong passion and retrain for a career as a librarian/archivist and Catholic University had the right program for me. Since then, I have acquired a rich breadth of experience both in librarianship and in archival practice.