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.
To all my faithful readers:
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 to substack. My wordpress blog will remain active, of course.
Here is the substack link: https://raymond5e2.substack.com/
Thank you all so much!
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.
Follow edit notes here: https://raymond945.substack.com/p/title-page
“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.
The kidnappers told them
pancakes grew on trees
in America, land of the free.
That’s what Daddy told me.
The lure of anything
better than what you have
continues to fuel
the world slave trade.
We are surrounded by
new challenges, new
decisions to be made.
It’s still too cool to plant,
but not too soon to aerate
the soil, expose
its underside to sunlight.
She said whale songs sound sad.
I felt the same way about the blues
For years. I only heard the mourning,
And never focused on the swing,
The affirmation at its core.
This is a short poem for Earth Day,
A reminder that the whale’s song
Is a swinging celebration:
A modal mixture from the deep,
Interacting with all life in its rise.
Listen to some whale songs today.
You will see what I’m saying here.
There’s a triumph and a healing,
A discovery, a coordination.
They ask us to require this sacrifice.
Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Blood for blood.
This sacrifice will somehow make us whole,
Cure our ailments, fill the gaps you left
When they sold you down river for a song.
Those who bought you never knew stolen goods
Was all you were, living on borrowed time
And leaving casualties in your wake.
You were the sacrifice, the fatted calf,
your unwilling blood a fitting offering
To the gods. Once. Spilled on the seeded ground
Of hopes and dreams – your intoxication.
There’s no balm in revenge. So there’s no need
For a present value calculation.
Sijo are written in three lines, each averaging 14-16 syllables for a total of 44-46 syllables. Each line is written in four groups of syllables that should be clearly differentiated from the other groups, yet still flow together as a single line. When written in English, sijo may be written in six lines, with each line containing two syllable groupings instead of four. Additionally, as shown in the example below, liberties may be taken (within reason) with the number of syllables per group as long as the total syllable count for the line remains the same. However, it is strongly recommended that the third line consistently begin with a grouping of three syllables.
They promised us a cure,
but the vaccine makes us sicker.
So now what’s the solution?
Is there a way out of this madness?
Meanwhile, elected officials
Need to STFU about that trial.
I am ready to de-mask.
The big guy can’t protect the children –
Wants to be judge and jury –
yet plagiarized his way through law school.
Never forget what they did,
How they sold our freedom for a song.
Let’s never forget what they’ve done –
They sold our freedom for a song.
It needn’t all weave together –
But a stitch in time saves nine.
I really don’t mind staying at home,
It’s all in how you frame it.
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.
I don’t know what it does for my soul,
For good or for ill, when I listen
To the music and sounds of my youth
For hours on end. My wife thinks I’m crazy
When I bob my head and tap the base line
With my fingers on the table. Oh man!
Minnie Riperton just showed up!
That YouTube algorithm is on the one!
Luther and Aretha arrive. Tracy
With those sweet locks and that guitar, picks
And strums the blues like nobody’s business!
Amy, before the drugs and booze conspired
to rob her and us, pops us. All my loving,
All my loving, I will send to you.
They say there’s a moon
Overhead at night.
I couldn’t tell you truly
As I haven’t been outside at night
Since the lockdown came.
This poem’s about the moon
In theory. The prince is dead.
How did he die? He died like this.
A waxing crescent moon guides
A lost navy man back home.
The queen is now alone,
With her lady in waiting, smiling,
and bank accounts galore.
But the Beatles already told us
Money can’t buy me love.
I could never be a royal.
Their lives are open books.
Except when there’s an eclipse,
and darkness and cold surround
For a passing moment in time.
NaPoWriMo 2021 #15
My mother put salt in the coffee pot –
not enough to make it salty, or even
to affect the taste at all: just enough
to change the chemistry, the bitterness,
just a few grains on top of the grounds.
I continue now when I make coffee –
just a few grains. I learned in Africa
to add a bit of freshly ground pepper
and a couple shakes of cinnamon
in with the salt grains. In her memory.
Every morning I honor my mother
and remember her grace and dignity
In this small way. Sometimes making coffee
and drinking it is much more than it seems.
After American slavery ended
(Some may know the story)
my great grandfather took on
the last name of the family
he worked for, that is, the ones
who owned him as chattel, as property.
It is an American story,
a rite of passage, perhaps,
to full citizenship. Almost. Maybe.
Maxwell. Scottish. To this day.
That family was originally from Scotland.
their blood still runs through my veins.
My dad was the first Raymond
in his clan. There have been many since,
Cousins who wanted their sons
To be like him. Minus his faults,
Protector. Wise Counsel.
The name took many shapes
as it migrated across Europe
from Arabic and Hindu roots.
Rahman, the Beneficent God,
showing mercy to all creation
(in this world), became,
after the Islamic conquest
of Spain and Portugal,
Raimundo, King of the world.
In Spain he was Saint Raymond,
Patron of expectant mothers,
the falsely accused, and priests
defending confession’s confidentiality.
He joined the order of Mercedarians
and freed hundreds of Christian slaves
from Muslim captivity.
My father always said it was a good name.
Going to work in my garden this morning,
Gonna try hard to ignore the intense evil
that surrounds, the crisis at the border,
Our adversaries’ threats. Just a few hours
in the garden and everything will be alright.
Sometimes in passing moments of weakness
I feel anxious about finding a new job,
a hobby, an appropriate past time,
But I know I won’t keep it long, too long,
I’ll just create a reason to leave it.
Cause I stopped needing more stinking money,
Slave wages you think you are entitled
to pay for my contribution to your bottom line.
I’d rather spend my time writing these poems.
This prompt challenges you to write a poem using at least one word/concept/idea from each of two specialty dictionaries: Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary and the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. A hat tip to Cathy Park Hong for a tweet that pointed me to the science fiction dictionary and to Hoa Nguyen for introducing me to the Classical Dictionary.
NaPoWriMo 2021 – #12
I’m two days ahead of the prompts,
So I’m not gonna sweat it too much.
But I think I can squeeze out a stanza
From the concept of the tesseract.
A tesseract, simply stated, allows one
To collapse the time and space continuum
Separating two bodies so the relative
movement is almost instantaneous,
And the transition from one to the other
Requires little to no velocity, only direction,
Only a step away in time and space,
Especially if it’s someone you love.
The Classical Dictionary is too difficult
To read online at Internet Archive.
But I have the Old Testament of my
Newfound faith: Whitman’s Leaves of Grass;
And my Good News Gospel: August Wilson’s
American Century Cycle of plays.
And now for our (optional) prompt. This is a twist on a prompt offered by Kay Gabriel during a meeting she facilitated at the Poetry Project last year. Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a two-part poem, in the form of an exchange of letters. The first stanza (or part) should be in the form of a letter that you write either to yourself or to a famous fictional or historical person. The second part should be the letter you receive in response. These can be as short or long as you like, in the form of prose poems, or with line breaks – and of course, the subject matter of the letters is totally up to you.
Dear Mr. Malcolm X
Dear Mr. Malcolm X:
Ever since reading your autobiography
In the summer between 6th and 7th grade
I’ve been fascinated by the things you said,
Captivated by the life you lived, the places
You visited around the world. I visited many
Of them over the years to retrace your steps.
You left us far too soon.
The Banks boys, who knew everything,
Told me I was reading the wrong book,
And that Malcolm X Speaks portrayed better,
Gave a better flavor of your thinking.
I found a paperback copy at Wills Bookstore
In the basement where the black books
Lived. But I still thought the autobiography
I’ve read lots of books about you since then,
so many that on occasion I refer to you
(With a certain degree of familiarity
among close friends) as Brother Malcolm.
Hope that’s OK. Yours truly, Raymond
Dear Brother Raymond:
As-salaam alaikum. Peace be unto you.
Was thrilled to receive your letter.
I confess to you up front that, while
I never had a son, I have always
hoped that young men would read
Books about me and be inspired
By my life. Through readers like you
I continue to live.
Yes, they killed me. At the beginning
Of a speech in New York. I missed
seeing my daughters grow up. I miss
Betty’s cooking. I’d spend more time
At home with my family if I had it
to do all over again. But we don’t get
an instant replay on life like football
games on the TV. It’s one and done.
Let’s keep this channel open, brother.
I still have much to share, much to process
myself. The old folks used to say “Believe
none of what you hear and only half
of what you see.” Good advice.
Peace be unto you. Sincerely, Malcolm.
- First, find a song with which you are familiar – it could be a favorite song of yours, or one that just evokes memories of your past. Listen to the song and take notes as you do, without overthinking it or worrying about your notes making sense.
- Next, rifle through the objects in your junk drawer – or wherever you keep loose odds and ends that don’t have a place otherwise. (Mine contains picture-hanging wire, stamps, rubber bands, and two unfinished wooden spoons I started whittling four years ago after taking a spoon-making class). On a separate page from your song-notes page, write about the objects in the drawer, for as long as you care to.
- Now, bring your two pages of notes together and write a poem that weaves together your ideas and observations from both pages.
Junk Drawer Blues
My life was contained by boxes of junk.
Then you came and gave my life arrangement.
Now I have a single box for items
that rejected your organizing skills:
Embroidered patches from submarines,
Track medals, rusted dog tags, lapel pins,
Green and orange honor cords, medals from work,
A key to the door of the embassy
I built. Old rusted belt buckles, name tags,
Cash money from countries I visited
In Africa, the Levant and the Gulf.
“We’re in the middle of the making,” words
From my favorite song, Master Blaster. “Still
jamming, jamming until the break of dawn.”
Our (optional) prompt for the day is to write a poem in the form of a “to-do list.” The fun of this prompt is to make it the “to-do list” of an unusual person or character.
It may not be true for everybody –
My story has beginnings that don’t end.
So a proper to-do list must include
Going back in time and picking up balls
I dropped. Not many and not all the time,
Mind you, but often little things, not small
Enough to be inconsequential, add
Up to many over time, so they say.
My temporal to-do list would include:
continuing to play the viola;
staying with Scouting to reach Eagle rank;
writing more poetry and song lyrics;
joining the Navy sooner, not later.
I’d spend less time pining over lost love.
—————————————-April 9, 2021
The prompt is Spoon River Anthology. Write your own poem in the form of a monologue delivered by someone who is dead.
A friend who died before her sweet 16th birthday (I was barely 12 myself)
When I got sick with that brain tumor
And died suddenly before turning sixteen,
None of y’all knew what death was really about.
Of course my siblings, my immediate family
Felt the loss of my presence in their own way,
But for school mates and church mates (which
Is where I spent most of my life at that point)
It was probably a very short term grief, if that.
For my brothers, there was one less person
To rotate the chores among. And my bedroom
Was up for bids as I was the only girl in the house.
I know my baby brother still misses me.
I was his hero and my departure left him
A bit unprotected against his older brothers.
My mother had big plans for me. Music lessons,
Good grades I always brought home from school,
College and marriage and a future family
of my own, now suddenly erased from the range
of possibilities. For them or for me.
A tangible sadness for what might have been.
The preacher said nice things at the funeral,
But he didn’t really know me. He faked it well.
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
A book I love was the easy part.
Moby Dick, or The Whale.
Picking a sentence was harder –
There are so many good and godly ones.
So I thumbed through and considered
Passages I had already underlined,
words that spoke loudly to me
when I first read them.
“The Loom of time”
So here is the poem.
With these hands I weave my own destiny.
The threads I twist and spin together form
The basis, whether cotton, wool, or silk,
For weaving every cloth and tapestry
That results. Color and texture inform
The ultimate Design. Repetition
And precision make the underlying
pattern strong. The crosswise stitch overlaps
to reinforce borders of interface
With new threads introduced. The surface fills
with dust for a moment – I blow it off
And continue. I reach a point where I
can see the end. I may undo a stitch
Here and there for a more complete outcome.
Then change the title.
Memories from Rope-Yarn Wednesdays