I love Emily’s mention of mills – Of course, the cotton mills all moved From New England to North Carolina After the war – where labor was cheaper. Then the same mills all moved From NC to Vietnam – after that war. When mills move, jobs also depart – And that’s how we know who lost. We found a 14-liner among the rest. I dare not call it a sonnet – the experts Might protest. But it was there, Plain as day to any eyes that see Or minds that count. It even had a volta In its place. “I read my sentence – steadily -“
A garden shot. My place of mediation and communion with Mother Earth. There is no racial profiling in the garden, no victimhood and no guilt. Just cool people who plant seeds clear out weeds, and watch things grow.
We share the watering hose. Another garden shot. Too much shaking of the camera to use in the final assignment. Children are playing kickball on an asphalt court in the background.
The garden also borders the community pool. When drenched with sweat from gardening work I’ve often wanted to take a cool dip. Haven’t done it yet.
The painting included a nude subject, a woman of immense beauty, seated at a table having coffee.
The steam slowly rises from her cup (I love how the painter captured that!).
Her left hand holds a fountain pen – she writes a letter – perhaps to a distant lover, maybe to her child away at college.
She stares out into space – a pregnant thought commands her attention. Her thoughts leave the canvas and mingle with my own as I am drawn into her world. She must work out, such tone in her muscular limbs.
I back away – distance and perspective change what I see.
A response to The Pieces I Am – an unpacked sonnet
June 26, 2020
I don’t have a “great migration” story. My folks stayed where they were, where they’d been born.
No one way train rides punctuated life for us: my parents cast their buckets down and made their peace, I guess, with all the lines that circumscribed their lives.
And their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and on and on.
Oh yeah, they ventured forth from time to time, but always came back to the home they knew and loved.
We grew up with the ghosts of generations past. They spoke to us and taught us things not learnable from books, like how to deal with loss, and love’s delay, and death, the ever present end of all.
Confined to quarters – an unpacked sonnet and a farewell to Wilson’s ten-play cycle
May 12, 2020
What must we conclude when the cycle ends? Is there cause for hope, for optimism?
A balm we can surely find in Gilead? Or isn’t all just a wink and a nod, yet another slave narrative that shows the futility of our pleas for peace?
As a teen I thought Robert Redford might someday be President. I mean, Bobby Seale didn’t really stand a chance and Redford was at least a man of action.
But there was no great art in his films, well, except in that spy flick he did with Faye Dunaway – who had been my secret crush forever – where, under duress, she said, “This is . . . unfair!”
A Thursday unpacked sonnet
April 23, 2020
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.
Just finished reading “We,” My subway read. How does it end? You know how it ends. Like every other dystopian story. Depressingly. Spoiler alert!! Evil wins. One State prevails. Big Brother and the Benefactor come out on top. It’s pretty fucked up. Totally predictable. But you keep hoping. As you turn each page you hope. And then the end slaps you. Such suckers we all are. Cause there ain’t no Superman.
Talking okra plant #1: I heard his footsteps when he left his house. I knew he was coming to see us.
Talking okra plant #2: But how’d you know he wasn’t going to the grocery store just up the street, or the Foggy Bottom Metro station?
Talking okra plant #3: He has a different spring in his step when he’s coming to see us.
Gardener: I was here all along and I heard you all chatting. Come on now. How do you hear my footsteps? My house is half a mile away. And all the noise from traffic on K Street?
Talking plant #1: It’s an underground thing. Our roots tune in to certain frequencies underground. You didn’t know it, but you left your signature frequency here when you first tilled the soil for your garden plot.
Gardener: That was hard work. The gas-operated machine broke and I had to to it the old fashioned way. Sweat and tears. My, aren’t you all the pretty ones, with the big green leaves and lots of okra budding all over?
Talking okra plant #2: You make love to us with your daily visits, watering the soil around us whenever you come, tapping our flowers, pulling the weeds that try to choke us, and brushing away the ants that crawl up our stalks to take a sip of our sap.
Talking okra plant #3: I feel electricity when you touch my leaves. It’s like a gentle caress. My roots want to reach out and wrap around your legs.
Gardener: Oh, you all are so kind to me. It’s the main reason why I come every day.
Talking okra plant #1: But don’t forget your wife likes the green seed pods we make. Is that what you call okra? For us it’s just seed pods.
Talking okra plant #2: She’s only been here once, maybe twice. My roots haven’t quite figured out the sound of her frequency. But I think I like her since you do.
Gardener: Today’s harvest is going into an African dish she makes with stew meat and palm oil. The okra you all grow gives it a special flavor.
Talking okra plant #3: You tell her the taste comes from the love.
Talking okra plant #2: Yeah, the taste comes from the love.
Talking okra plant #1: Yeah, the taste comes from the love.
All the talking plants, in unison: The taste comes from the love.
April 2, 2015
nothing has grown yet in my one-week-old garden
I wonder will the little seeds make it through early Spring’s late frost?
did I plant too soon? was I over-anxious to begin?
I stick my finger in the ground – it feels warm inside, underneath,
just half an inch deep where my seeds rest – I think they will survive.
April 19, 2015
the garden is my primary place for meditation these days, in these majestic mountains, in this place of serenity and beauty
I inherit 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
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 from digging, raking, bending, touching the soil – I’ll sleep like a baby tonight.
gardening has given me a different relationship with the environment than what I had before –
weather, mainly. I fret a bit when it’s been dry – and I worry when it rains too long or too hard
or too frequently – weeds are so much more adaptable – and I have seeds in the ground, and skin in the game.
all my verse is about gardening these days, the rains that feed, the weeds that choke (which is their right to do), the late frost that kills the tender shoots from seeds I planted too early.
my sunflowers are quite the ladies, bashful, tender, as they approach their flowering stage, the carrots need more thinning, their tops the brightest green, and the turnip leaves too tough to eat.
but one of the weeds has edible leaves – I’ll think I’ll let it grow.
We are the invasive species. Like weeds, 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 resistant 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.
Work Day at the Community Garden
It was work day at the garden. My ask was to clean out the tool shed. Mirna was my work partner.
You could tell it had been closed up For the winter – there were spider And their spun homes everywhere –
Especially on the handles – spiders Must know the smell of human touch And bind themselves up there.
The shovels had been put away Dirty, clogged with dirt and clay. We cleaned each tool with wire
brushes to knock the old dirt off. We pulled out every piece and cleaned it Then we cleared the floor of debris.
I closed the tool shed door from inside To clean the groove that housed the sliding door. I experienced a taste
Of claustrophobia that cleared as soon as the door was reopened And light poured into the space.
Of claustrophobia that cleared as soon as the door was reopened And light poured into the space. – April 5, 2021
NaPoWriMo 2021 #19
Weekend community gardening Is mainly a social thing. Folks gather to work on group projects, exchange seeds sometimes, maybe cast furtive, secret glances at each other while tending to their garden plots. There may be discussions of politics. Do you have your vaccine done?
But on Mondays, cool cloudy Mondays like today, the garden plots are empty, except for mine. I can unmask if I want to, work at my own pace. The ground is still soft from tilling last week. It rained, but the clumps of dirt are dry, hard. I break them up again, stirring in compost, bat guano
and old coffee grounds from last week to enrich the soil. Building the rows is repetitive and mindless. Four vertical and five horizontal. The rows I make are crooked because I‘m not paying attention. Not that much. I‘m thinking about planting, about the future. I’ve broken a sweat. April 20, 2021
Every now and then I post some poetry here that is not my original work, but poetry I stumbled upon that spoke to me in a special way. These Janelle Monae lyrics from a few years back fit that description. Read and enjoy.
“Are we a lost generation of our people? Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal. She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel. So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy, But when it’s time to pay they turn around and call us needy. My crown’s too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City. Mixing masterminds like your name’s Bernie Grundman. Well I’m gonna keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman
You can take my wings but I’m still goin’ fly And even when you edit me the booty don’t lie Yeah, keep singing and I’mma keep writing songs I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On? March to the streets ‘cuz I’m willing and I’m able Categorize me, I defy every label
And while you’re selling dope, we’re gonna keep selling hope We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep? Or will you preach?”
General Lee sits upright in the saddle of his steed of war. Though frozen in time, the horse appears in motion, its hoofs raised on opposing sides and muscles flexed for the charge. There’s red paint splashed on the statue base – no doubt an act of protest by the offended.
I “get” Lee’s love for Virginia. A whole country’s too big to stretch your arms around. But a state is a home and is not to be disrespected. I feel the same for North Carolina, Silent Sam and all. It’s family. Old aunts and uncles may have their special ways. But we love them dearly nonetheless. Keep walking tall and proud, General Lee, sit resolutely in that saddle. ‘Though causes pass, a true love never fails.
We are living in a dark time, y’all. The Haiti assassination gave me goosebumps and flashbacks to JFK and that instant coffee commercial. Reading Roethke poems might help, but won’t be sufficient. I may need to watch Sophie Scholl on YouTube and listen to some Schubert string quintets to get up out of this funk.
Everything’s autobiographical. I’m 12% Scot – I take my single malt with soda water And my dark chocolate with hazelnuts. Lift your glasses high – we recognize Our absentee Scottish fathers, sneaking Out to the quarters at the midnight hour To rape our enslaved mothers. A special toast for our stepfathers – who did their best to raise us anyway. They stepped into the breach again and again, overlooking our mothers’ pain And their own. We are forever in their debt. Still, the blood runs deep – in dreams and nightmares we hear our mothers’ screams.
I understand what Ralph Emerson meant When he talked about the gods and giving All to love. Such an invitation is not For the faint of heart, the weak, the feeble. It’s much safer to stick with the familiar, The known knowns, the easy catch, The safe bet – heed the parlor’d whisper That always tells you to count your blessings.
Thanks for your note. My epic sonnet crown Unfortunately fell short, not because The deed was not done, but because there is So much unfinished work. And I am not Helping much by sitting at home writing Poems about it. The days are longer Than before. For that we have much praise And thanks to give and share, and songs to sing.
If it rains tomorrow morning I’ll brew A pot of Vietnamese robusta And slowly ramble through O’Hara poems – Meditations in An Emergency. But if it’s clear, we’ll take the morning tour Of Lafayette Square with our new friends from The National Civic Art Society. And maybe later, brunch at Hay Adams, And maybe take some snapshots of buildings Up and down 16th Street. We’ll imagine Being way uptown and seeing the dome Of the Jefferson Memorial sit Atop the White House. Or so it’d appear – Like two stars in the heavens that seem one.
We have built strong relationships with readers over the past several years here on wordpress, going back to 2012. This week, and weekly, I will be moving tranches of poems, small subcollections, over to substack. Gives me an opportunity to review, edit, and in many cases, re-write. I will also be posting poems read out loud.
I hope you all will be able to check my poems out over on substack. My wordpress blog will remain active, of course.
I read my new poem aloud to my wife – She’s more of an Agatha Christie fan But she paid attention anyway. Which part did she like the most? She never said – but I saw a twinkle In her eyes when I mentioned my mother And the pot-bellied stove providing heat For worshippers inside the Baptist church. The estate licensed the name and style Of her favorite bard: her mysteries Will continue to entertain her fans. Forever. My wife prefers the classic to the modern: The high and tight tales to the low and loose. The storyteller impulse never dies.
It is useful to go back & fill in the details, to add a bit of color to the black & white. I omitted some details in the first draft, perhaps thoughts not yet processed, maybe stuff I wanted to avoid, to forget. It is not all goodness and light, you know, and “life ain’t been no crystal stair.” I have broken hearts, including my own, and buried broken bodies too hastily in shallow graves out back, including my own, or deep in the sand of soft, wet beachfront where sunbathers dwell. The first draft sheds light on darkened areas, but it’s the rewrite that quickens the resolve To clear the air and to finish the deed.
“I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they are so far behind the eight ball in terms of education and health, in terms of opportunity.” ————–President Joseph Biden, 2021
Our president is ignorant, And that’s being charitable, Since ignorance is not a crime Or a sin – Except when it Is self-imposed and lorded Over others as gospel truth.
He buys and sells the 1619 myth, Ignoring the facts of history, Then pumps it out to the public – Strengthening the critical race theory we are already being force fed.
He locates us behind the eight ball, the black eight ball, without agency, and makes it about distance (far) and time (400 years).
The metaphor of the black eight ball, He must be fully aware (since he uses it), Is a function of obstruction of view, Not time or distance – Except as it satisfies the narrative his ilk accept And promote of guilt and victimhood.
The president is ignorant And that is being charitable Since ignorance is not a crime, or a sin, like other crimes and sins committed in his name.
What did the doctor say this time? She said my systolic pressure was too high. She said cut back on the coffee. She said I need to lose those extra pounds on my waistline. She said I was pre-diabetic and offered some pills for me to take.
Did she ride you hard on COVID? Yes! She said I should take the vax. She said her mother died from COVID (but I don’t do guilt trips). She said the risk of side effects was one in a million. She said the risk of death is too high.
What about your heart? She said my cholesterol was too high. She said I was due for an echocardiogram. She said my defibrillator battery had at least six years left on it.
She said don’t wait another two years before making an appointment.
Midsummer, n. A feast celebrated on the day of your 26th birthday, which marks the point at which your youth finally expires as a valid excuse—when you must begin harvesting your crops, even if they’ve barely taken root—and the point at which the days will begin to feel shorter as they pass, until even the pollen in the air reminds you of the coming snow.
I don’t recall when I turned twenty-six: There would have been no feast, just supper As normal in the crew’s mess – pot roast Maybe, with carrots and potatoes. But I do remember when the days Started feeling shorter as they passed, When the tide rushing in for a quick kiss Began to ebb, the twilight of our time Together. Youth, the wasted source of strength Spilled over the top of the containers We carried, whether cup or bucket, Then hastened its retreat into the depth Of our experience. It shows up now And then, a trace of paths we chose or not.