Poem of the Week: “Exegesis” by Leila Chatti

Congratulations to RCAH alum, Leila Chatti, on the publication of her debut collection, Deluge! For ordering details click here.

Exegesis

I bled. God didn’t
want to hear about it. He said unclean
and so it was. He said it is
harm, and so it was.

Want to hear about it? He said unclean.
Once a woman wanted, so he did
her harm. And so it was
first conceived: a woman suffering

because a woman wanted. So he said
cursed. And then he said blessed
the woman chose to suffer, conceived
a god, though she never knew a man.

And God knows best. If He calls a curse a blessing
then so it is. And he said she was
clean—she never knew a man. I’ve known men but never a god
that bled and lived. But I did.

Copyright © 2020 Leila Chatti. From Deluge (Copper Canyon Press, 2020) by Leila Chatti.

Poem of the Week: “What the Angels Left” by Marie Howe

What the Angels Left


At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.

From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe.

Poem of the Week: “The Gardener” by Patricia Hooper

The Gardener

Since the phlox are dying
and the daisies with their bright bodies
have shattered in the wind,

I go out among these last dancers,
cutting to the ground the withered asters,
the spent stalks of the lilies, the black rose,

and see them as they were in spring, the time
of eagerness and blossoms, knowing how
they will all sleep and return;

and sweep the dry leaves over them and see
the cold earth take them back as now
I know it is taking me

who have walked so long among them, so amazed,
so dazzled by their brightness I forgot
their distance, how of all

the chosen, all the fallen in the garden
I was different: I alone
could not come again to the world.

Copyright © 2003 Patricia Hooper. From Aristotle’s Garden (Bluestem Press, 2003) by Patricia Hooper.

Poem of the Week: “A Small Needful Fact” by Ross Gay

A Small Needful Fact

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Poem of the Week: “My Wisdom” by Naomi Shihab Nye

My Wisdom

When people have a lot
they want more

When people have nothing
they will happily share it

*

Some people say
never getting your way
builds character
By now our character must be
deep and wide as a continent
Africa, Australia
giant cascade of stars
spilling over our huge night

*

Where did the power go?
Did it enjoy its break?
Is power exhausted?
What is real power?
Who really has power?
Did the generator break?
Do we imagine silence
more powerful because
it might contain everything?
Quiet always lives
inside noise.
But does it get much done?

*

Silence waits
for truth to break it

*

Calendars can weep too
They want us to have better days

*

Welcome to every minute
Feel lucky you’re still in it

*

No bird builds a wall

*

Sky purse
     jingling
         change

*

Won’t give up
our hopes
                for anything!

*

Not your fault
You didn’t make the world

*

How dare this go on and on?
cried the person who believed in praying
God willing      God willing      God willing
There were others who prayed
      to ruins & stumps

*

Open palms
      hold more

*

Refuse to give
     mistakes
          too much power


*
Annoying person?
Person who told me to stay home
and do what other girls do?
If you disappeared
I still might miss you

*

Babies want to help us
They laugh
for no reason

*

Pay close attention to
a drop of water
on the kitchen table

*

You cannot say one word about religion
and exclude Ahmad

Naomi  Shihab Nye, “My Wisdom” from The Tiny Journalist.  Copyright © 2019 by Naomi  Shihab Nye.

Poem of the Week: "a woman's place" by Denice Frohman

a woman’s place

i heard a woman becomes herself
the first time she speaks
without permission

then, every word out of her mouth
a riot

say, beautiful
& point to the map of your body
say, brave
& wear your skin like a gown or a suit
say, hero
& cast yourself in the lead role

///

when a girl pronounces her own name
there is glory

when a woman tells her own story
she lives forever

all the women i know are perennials—
marigolds, daffodils
soft things that refuse to die

i don’t come from anything tamed or willing
i come from soil flossed with barbed wire

meaning, abuela would cuss you out
with the same breath       she kissed

you with       her blood
a wild river

my mother         doesn’t rely on instruction manuals
or men                 nor does she equate the two

can fix anything
if you get out of her way

says the best technology
is her own two hands

///

but once, i dreamed    i had no teeth
just a mouth                                to hold
other people’s                              things

if this poem is the only things that survives
me

tell them i grew a new tongue
tell them i built me a throne

tell them when we discovered life on another planet
it was a woman
& she built a bridge, not a border

got god & named gravity
after herself.

Copyright © 2018 by Denice Frohman, “a woman’s place,” from Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism, (OR Books, 2018).

Poem of the Week: “Bird” by Dorianne Laux

Assistant to the Director, Estee Schlenner, chose this week’s poem. “I always turn to Dorianne Laux’s work when I need some comfort, and I feel like we could all use a little comforting right now. I love the way she ties in nature to her poetry, and how this poem leaves you thinking about gratitude in your own life. I hope you all are staying safe and healthy.”

Bird

For days now a red-breasted bird
has been trying to break in.
She tests a low branch, violet blossoms
swaying beside her, leaps into the air and flies
straight at my window, beak and breast
held back, claws raking the pane.
Maybe she longs for the tree she sees
reflected in the glass, but I’m only guessing.
I watch until she gives up and swoops off.
I wait for her return, the familiar
click, swoosh, thump of her. I sip cold coffee
and scan the room, trying to see it new,
through the eyes of a bird. Nothing has changed.
Books piled in a corner, coats hooked
over chair backs, paper plates, a cup
half-filled with sour milk.
The children are in school. The man is at work.
I’m alone with dead roses in a jam jar.
What do I have that she could want enough
to risk such failure, again and again?

Poem copyright ©1990 by Dorianne Laux, “Bird,” from Awake, (Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press, 1990).

Poem of the Week: “Waking After the Surgery,” by Leila Chatti

We couldn’t have been more tickled to see this poem from RCAH alumna Leila Chatti’s new book “Deluge” in Friday’s New York Times (and selected by friend of the Center for Poetry Naomi Shihab Nye). Be sure to save the evening of Tuesday, April 21 for a reading here with Leila celebrating the release of this stunning collection.

Waking After the Surgery

By Leila Chatti

 

 

And just like that, I was whole again

 

seam like a drawing of an eyelid closed,

gauze resting atop it like a bed

 

of snow laid quietly in the night

while I was somewhere or something

 

else, not quite dead, but nearly, freer

my self unlatched for a while as if it were

 

a dog I had simply released from its leash

or a balloon slipped loose from my grip

 

in a room with a low ceiling, my life

bouncing back within reach, my life

 

bounding toward me when called.

 

Poem of the Week: “Late February” by Ted Kooser

Center for Poetry intern, Kaylee McCarthy, choose this week’s poem. “I chose this poem because we’ve had a warm couple of days, and I think Kooser’s description really captures the facade of spring offered by the end of February. He masterfully conveys how the snow fades to reveal everything hidden in winter. He challenges our expectations and adds a new element by juxtaposing the farmer’s body with tulips.”

Late February

The first warm day,
and by mid-afternoon
the snow is no more
than a washing
strewn over the yards,
the bedding rolled in knots
and leaking water,
the white shirts lying
under the evergreens.
Through the heaviest drifts
rise autumn’s fallen
bicycles, small carnivals
of paint and chrome,
the Octopus
and Tilt-A-Whirl
beginning to turn
in the sun. Now children,
stiffened by winter
and dressed, somehow,
like old men, mutter
and bend to the work
of building dams.
But such a spring is brief;
by five o’clock
the chill of sundown,
darkness, the blue TVs
flashing like storms
in the picture windows,
the yards gone gray,
the wet dogs barking
at nothing. Far off
across the cornfields
staked for streets and sewers,
the body of a farmer
missing since fall
will show up
in his garden tomorrow,
as unexpected
as a tulip.

Ted Kooser, “Late February” from Sure Signs. Copyright © 1980 by Ted Kooser. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, http://www.upress.pitt.edu.

Poem of the Week: “We Should Make a Documentary About Spades” by Terrance Hayes

Center for Poetry intern, Jayla Harris-Hardy, chose this week’s poem. “I thought this would be a good poem of the week because it is still Black History Month, and there is so much about this poem in particular that I find somber and uplifting. So much of black media replies to the negatives, which is valid and important to do, however, I think it’s important to have just as many that are not so grim. I really like the line “So little is known of our past, we can imagine / Damn near anything” because of the huge truth within that. So much of black history outside of America is lost or censored, and too many people do not know their roots. I think this poem is a fun way of highlighting a part of African American culture while also acknowledging the darker past.”

We Should Make a Documentary About Spades

“And here is all we’ll need: a card deck, quartets of sun people
Of the sort found in black college dormitories, some vintage
Music, indiscriminate spirits, fried chicken, some paper,

A writing utensil, and a bottomless Saturday. We should explore
The origins of a derogatory word like spade as well as the word
For feeling alone in polite company. And also the implications
Of calling someone who is not your brother or sister,

Brother or Sister. So little is known of our past, we can imagine
Damn near anything. When I say maybe slaves held Spades
Tournaments on the anti-cruise ships bound for the Colonies,
You say when our ancestors were cooped on those ships

They were not yet slaves. Our groundbreaking film should begin
With a low-lit den in the Deep South and the deep fried voice
Of somebody’s grandmother holding smoke in her mouth
As she says, “The two of Diamonds trumps the two of Spades

In my house.” And at some point someone should tell the story
Where Jesus and the devil are Spades partners traveling
The juke joints of the 1930s. We could interview my uncle Junior
And definitely your skinny cousin Mary and any black man

Sitting at a card table wearing shades. Who do you suppose
Would win if Booker T and MLK were matched against Du Bois
And Malcolm X in a game of Spades? You say don’t talk
Across the table. Pay attention to the suits being played.

The object of the game is to communicate invisibly
With your teammate. I should concentrate. Do you suppose
We are here because we are lonely in some acute diasporafied
Way? This should be explored in our film about Spades.

Because it is one of the ways I am still learning what it is
To be black, tonight I am ready to master Spades. Four players
Bid a number of books. Each team adds the bids
Of the two partners, and the total is the number of books

That team must try to win. Is that not right? This is a game
That tests the boundary between mathematics and magic,
If you ask me. A bid must be intuitive like the itchiness
Of the your upper lip before you sip strange whiskey.

My mother did not drink, which is how I knew something
Was wrong with her, but she held a dry spot at the table
When couples came to play. It’s a scene from my history,
But this probably should not be mentioned in our documentary

About Spades. Renege is akin to the word for the shame
You feel watching someone else’s humiliation. Slapping
A card down must be as dramatic as hitting the face of a drum
With your palm, not hitting the face of a drum with a drumstick.

You say there may be the sort of outrage induced
By liquor, trash talk, and poor strategy, but it will fade
The way a watermark left on a table by a cold glass fades.
I suspect winning this sort of game makes you feel godly.

I’m good and ready for who ever we’re playing
Against tonight. I am trying to imagine our enemy.
I know you are not my enemy. You say there are no enemies
In Spades. Spades is a game our enemies do not play.”

From How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes, published on March 31, 2015, by Penguin Poets, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Terrance Hayes.