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Poem of the Week: “Tunnel Music” by Mark Doty

doty subway

Times Square, the shuttle’s quick chrome
flies open and the whole car floods with– what is it? Infernal industry, the tunnels
under Manhattan broken into hell at last?

Guttural churr and whistle and grind
of the engines that spin the poles?
Enormous racket, ungodly. What it is
is percussion: nine black guys

with nine lovely, previously unimagined
constructions of metal ripped and mauled,
welded and oiled: scoured chemical drums,
torched rims, unnameable disks of chrome.

Artifacts of wreck? The end of industry?
A century’s failures reworked, bent,
hammered out, struck till their shimmying
tumbles and ricochets from tile walls:

anything dinged, busted or dumped
can be beaten till it sings.
A kind of ghostly joy in it,
though this music’s almost unrecognizable,

so utterly of the coming world it is.

 

copyright 1994, from Atlantis, HarperCollins, 1995

 

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Poem of the Week: “HENRY CLAY, 1851” by Cindy Hunter Morgan

Cassat, knittingImage: Mary Cassat, “Old Woman Knitting”

 

Join us this week as we celebrate the release of Harborless, with a reading by Cindy Hunter Morgan. Wednesday, 7 p.m., RCAH Theater, Snyder Hall.

 

 

HENRY CLAY, 1951

Lake Erie

 

Baled wool washed ashore for weeks.

At first, the appearance of each bundle

was sobering and macabre,

but after a few days, one woman

began to look forward to the surprise

and the wealth

of what drifted her way.

She ripped the jute bags

and pulled out the stuffing—wet, still

scented with grease and mystery.

She dried the wool, carded it, spun it,

wound it into skeins,

and made scarves and sweaters.

Sixteen men died when the ship sunk.

At least something would come

of the cargo they carried—

mittens for the children of friends,

caps for five nephews.

Sometimes, she wondered why

bales floated and men didn’t,

and what buoyancy meant

for her own life,

dry as it was.

 

 

Cindy Hunter Morgan, from Harborless (2017), Wayne State University Press.

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Poem of the Week: Not Forgotten, by Toi Derricotte

We hope you’ll join us this week for a workshop with Toi Derricotte at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, and a reading at 7 p.m. the same day. Visit here for details.

 

antsBY TOI DERRICOTTE

 

I love the way the black ants use their dead.

They carry them off like warriors on their steel

backs. They spend hours struggling, lifting,

dragging (it is not grisly as it would be for us,

to carry them back to be eaten),

so that every part will be of service. I think of

my husband at his father’s grave—

the grass had closed

over the headstone, and the name had disappeared. He took out

his pocket knife and cut the grass away, he swept it

with his handkerchief to make it clear. “Is this the way

we’ll be forgotten?” And he bent down over the grave and wept.

 

 

Toi Derricotte, “Not Forgotten” from Tender. Copyright © 1997 by Toi Derricotte. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, www.upress.pitt.edu. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

 

 

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Poem of the Week: The Future is an Animal, by Tina Chang

BW Spider Web

 

The Future is an Animal

 

In every kind of dream I am a black wolf

careening through a web. I am the spider

who eats the wolf and inhabits the wolf’s body.

In another dream I marry the wolf and then

am very lonely. I seek my name and they name me

Lucky Dragon. I would love to tell you that all

of this has a certain ending but the most frightening

stories are the ones with no ending at all.

The path goes on and on. The road keeps forking,

splitting like an endless atom, splitting

like a lip, and the globe is on fire. As many

times as the book is read, the pages continue

to grow, multiply. They said, In the beginning,

and that was the moral of the original and most

important story. The story of man. One story.

I laid my head down and my head was heavy.

Hair sprouted through the skin, hair black

and bending toward night grass. I was becoming

the wolf again, my own teeth breaking

into my mouth for the first time, a kind of beauty

to be swallowed in interior bite and fever.

My mind a miraculous ember until I am the beast.

I run from the story that is faster than me,

the words shatter and pant to outchase me.

The story catches my heels when I turn

to love its hungry face, when I am willing

to be eaten to understand my fate.

 

Join us this week as we welcome Tina Chang to MSU. See event page for details.

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Poem of the Week: “Woman,” by Nikki Giovanni

wet-spider-web-in-the-grass-11746

 

Woman

she wanted to be a blade

of grass amid the fields

but he wouldn’t agree

to be a dandelion

she wanted to be a robin singing

through the leaves

but he refused to be

her tree

she spun herself into a web

and looking for a place to rest

turned to him

but he stood straight

declining to be her corner

she tried to be a book

but he wouldn’t read

she turned herself into a bulb

but he wouldn’t let her grow

she decided to become

a woman

and though he still refused

to be a man

she decided it was all

right

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Poem of the Week: “Joey” by Neil Hilborn

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To watch Neil Hilborn perform this poem, click the image.

 

Joey

 

Joey always told me, laughing, as though it were actually a joke

That he wanted to kill himself but it was never the right time,

There were always groceries to be bought

And little brothers to be tucked in at night.

Don’t worry, Joey isn’t gonna kill himself 20 more seconds into this poem,

It’s not that kind of story I’m telling here.

 

Joey got a promotion and now he can afford anti-depressants.

Joey is Joe now.

Joe is a cold engine in which none of the parts complain

Joe is a brick someone made out of fossils

If you removed money from the equation,

Joey would have been painting elk on cave walls

People would have fed him and kept him away from high places

Because goddamn look at those elk.

I think the genes for being an artist and mentally ill aren’t just related,

They’re the same gene

But try telling that to a bill-collector

.

We were seventeen

And I drove us all to punk shows in a station wagon that was older than any of us,

We were seventeen

And I bought lunch for Joey more often than I didn’t,

We were seventeen

And the one time Joey tried to talk to me about being depressed when someone else was around

I told him to shut the hell up and asked if he needed to change his tampon

You know that moment when the cartoon realizes he’s taken three steps off the cliff

And he takes a long look at the audience

Like we’re holding the last moving box in a half empty house?

Joey looked like that without the puff of smoke.

He just played video games for a half hour and then went home

 

I once caught Joey in my dad’s office,

Staring at the safe where he knew we kept the guns

Once Joey molded his car into the shape of a tree trunk and refused to give a reason why

I once caught Joey in biology class

Staring at a scalpel like he wanted to be the frog

Splayed out, wide open

So honest

 

There is one difference between me and Joey:

When we got arrested, bail money was waiting for me at the station

When I was hungry, I ate

When I wanted to open myself up and see if there really were bees rattling around in there,

My parents got me a therapist.

I can pinpoint the session that brought me back to the world,

That session cost seventy-five dollars.

Seventy-five dollars is two weeks of groceries

It’s a month of bus fare

It’s not even a school-year’s worth of new shoes,

It took weeks of seventy-five dollars to get to the one that saved my life.

We both had parents that believed us when we said that we weren’t okay

But mine could afford to do something about it

 

I wonder how many kids like Joey wanted to die,

And were unlucky enough to actually pull it off,

How many kids had people who cared about them but also had to pay rent?

I’m so lucky that right now I’m not describing Joey’s funeral

I’m so lucky we all lived through who we were

To become who we are

I’m so lucky-

I’m so

Lucky

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Poem of the Week: “To Red,” by Shara McCallum

 

red

To Red

I’ve been wrong about you so long.

You’re not the colour of war

on Kingston streets. When you stain

you become rust. You cheat

even the flame tree, more orange

in truth than you in your crimson,

your scarlet robes. Not even

the poppy contains you.

Not even one hundred huddled

in the field. Maybe

like you I am a liar. Or memory

is a story I keep telling myself.

But I understand, being as you are

from a long line of women

who regard facts as suggestion,

who know what it is to burn

inside the closet of night.

Which is why, when I reach for you

and you careen the nearer you come

to my yellow, my alabaster skin,

I still croon your name.

I still insist on you, my lovely,

my death, my life.

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Shara McCallum

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Poem of the Week: Los Perdidos Del Bosque, by Pablo Neruda

big-trees-forestThe Lost Ones of the Forest / Los Perdidos Del Bosque

by Pablo Neruda (English translation by William O’Daly)

 

The Lost Ones of the Forest

 

I am someone who never made it to the forest,

one of those turned back by earth’s winter,

headed off by lively scarabs ready to bite

or by tremendous rivers that opposed my destiny.

This is the forest, the thicket is comfortable, the trees

are the grandest furniture, the leaves vain zithers,

the trails, fenced pastures, estates were erased,

the air is patriarchal and smells of sadness.

 

Everything is ceremony in the wild garden

of childhood: apples sit beside the river

descended from black snow hidden in the Andes:

apples whose sour blush hasn’t know the teeth

of men, only the pecking of ravenous birds,

apples that invented a natural symmetry

and move slowly toward sweetness.

 

Everything is new and old in the surrounding luster,

those who came here are the diminished ones,

and those who were left behind in the distance

are the shipwrecked who may or may not survive:

only then will they know the laws of the forest.

 

Los Perdidos Del Bosque

 

Yo soy uno de aquellos que no alcanzó a llegar al bosque,

de los retrocedidos por el invierno en la tierra,

atajados por escarabajos de irisación y picadura

o por tremendos ríos que se oponían al destino.

Éste es el bosque, el follaje es cómodo, son altísimos muebles

los árboles, ensimismadas cítaras las hojas,

se borraron senderos, cercados, patrimonios,

el aire es patriarcal y tiene olor a tristeza.

 

Todo es ceremonioso en el jardín salvaje

de infancia: hay manzanas cerca del agua

que llega de la nieve negra escondida en los Andes:

manzanas cuyo áspero rubor no conoce los dientes

del hombre, sino el picoteo de pájaros voraces,

manzanas que inventaron la simetría silvestre

y que caminan con lentísimo paso hacia el azúcar.

 

Todo es nuevo y antiguo en el esplendor circundante,

los que hasta aquí vinieron son los menoscabados,

y los que se quedaron atrás en la distancia

son los náufragos que pueden o no sobrevivir:

sólo entonces conocerán las leyes del bosque.

 

Copyright 1986 by Pablo Neruda and Heirs of Pablo Neruda
Translation Copyright 1986, 2002 by William O’Daly

 

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Poem of the Week: “Snow Theory” by Neil Hilborn

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“Snow Theory”

Neil Hilborn

When you hear the phrase Winter Weather Advisory
you imagine a guidance counselor and snow
that is unsure what it wants to do with its life,
don’t you? Don’t you see skills tests
about its life before it rebecomes
water? The name plate on the counselor’s
desk reads Felipe Rios. Señor Rivers,
as Snow calls him, has a constant supply
of green highlighters. No one knows
how he gets them, because rivers can’t walk
to the store or be guidance counselors,
duh. If snow can drift, so can leaves
and dust and responsibilities. You can have
a light dusting of feathers. Snow is a sentient being
that hates when people drive in straight lines. Snow is
migratory. Snow is a dog that wants
all the sidewalks to be covered
in salt. Snow therefore is a happy dog.
Imagine if fire extinguishers were full
of snow. Imagine the fun we could have.

Copyright © 2015 by Neil Hilborn. Image by Philip Schwarz.

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Poem of the Week: “It would be neat if with the New Year” by Jimmy Santiago Baca

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“It would be neat if with the New Year”

Jimmy Santiago Baca

for Miguel

It would be neat if with the New Year
I could leave my loneliness behind with the old year.
My leathery loneliness an old pair of work boots
my dog vigorously head-shakes back and forth in its jaws,
chews on for hours every day in my front yard—
rain, sun, snow, or wind
in bare feet, pondering my poem,
I’d look out my window and see that dirty pair of boots in the yard.

But my happiness depends so much on wearing those boots.

At the end of my day
while I’m in a chair listening to a Mexican corrido
I stare at my boots appreciating:
all the wrong roads we’ve taken, all the drug and whiskey houses
we’ve visited, and as the Mexican singer wails his pain,
I smile at my boots, understanding every note in his voice,
and strangers, when they see my boots rocking back and forth on my
feet
keeping beat to the song, see how
my boots are scuffed, tooth-marked, worn-soled.

I keep wearing them because they fit so good
and I need them, especially when I love so hard,
where I go up those boulder strewn trails,
where flowers crack rocks in their defiant love for the light.

Copyright © 2004 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Art by Loui Jover.