Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Rain,” by Claribel Alegria

RAIN

Rain

                                ~ Claribel Alegria

As the falling rain

trickles among the stones

memories come bubbling out.

It’s as if the rain

had pierced my temples.

Streaming

streaming chaotically

come memories:

the reedy voice

of the servant

telling me tales

of ghosts.

They sat beside me

the ghosts

and the bed creaked

that purple-dark afternoon

when I learned you were leaving forever,

a gleaming pebble

from constant rubbing

becomes a comet.

Rain is falling

falling

and memories keep flooding by

they show me a senseless

world

a voracious

world—abyss

ambush

whirlwind

spur

but I keep loving it

because I do

because of my five senses

because of my amazement

because every morning,

because forever, I have loved it

without knowing why.

 

From Casting Off by Claribel Alegría. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. Copyright © 2003 by Curbstone Press.

 

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Posted in poem of the week, Spring Poetry Festival

Poem of the Week: “Tapestry,” by Carolyn Forché

Please join us this week in welcoming Carolyn Forché for our Spring Poetry Festival. For full schedule, visit our website.

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Tapestry

There is no album for these, no white script on black
paper, no dates stamped in a border, no sleeve, no fire,
no one has written on the back from left to right.
Your hair has not yet fallen out nor grown back—
girl walking toward you out of childhood
not yet herself, having not yet learned to recite
before others, and who would never wish to stand
on a lighted proscenium, even in a darkened house,
but would rather dig a hole in a field and cover herself
with barn wood, earth and hay, to be as quiet as plums turning.
There is no calendar, no month, no locket, but your name
is called and called in the early storm. No one finds
you no one ever finds you. Not in a small grave
dug by a child as a hiding place, nor years
later in the ship’s hold, not in the shelter, nor high
on the roof as the man beside you leapt, not
in a basket crossing a vineyard, nor in a convent
kitchen on the last night, as a saint soon to be
murdered told you how to live your life,
never found you walking in the ruins of the blown
barracks, wading in the flooded camp, taking cover
in the machinist’s shop, or lighting every votive
in the Cathedral of St. Just, with its vaulted
choir and transept, a wall of suffering souls.
It was just as Brecht wrote, wasn’t it? “You came
in a time of unrest when hunger reigned.
You came to the people in a time of uprising
and you rose with them. So the time
passed away which on earth was given you.”
Gather in your sleep the ripened plums.
Stay behind in the earth when your name is called.

Carolyn Forché

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “April,” by Anita Skeen

Mountain-avens

April

April is the cruelest month….

–T.S. Eliot

 

April is the killer month,

the month of late frost smothering

apple and cherry blossoms,

the month of too much blooming

too soon in too many colors.

How many shades of pink

exist, how many constellations

of purple in the grass, how many

galaxies of pear petals twinkling

in the field after last night’s storm?

The jonquils in their symphony

of yellow, each one claiming

to be First Trumpet, the tulips

holding high their bowls for rain.

The smiley-faced dandelions

are back, ready to take over

the world. There’s too much

happiness out there. The birds

can’t keep their mouths shut,

tweeting us before the sun

is even up. Lilacs show some

restraint, as do the azaleas,

not flaunting their hallmark

flowers until later. Bees lunge

dizzy with pollen, bumping

into walls, dropping from gutters

like bungee jumpers. For some

of us, spring’s not all that nifty.

Not all things return to life.

Graves will not open to give back

captives. Persephone does not

come home. All this floral hoopla,

too funereal. We’re relieved

when it’s time to flip the switch

to nightfall where just shapes

and silhouettes border the path.

Stars remain their constant selves,

a comfort they’re so far away.

 

                                                      ~ Anita Skeen

 

Join us this week as we celebrate ten years of the RCAH Center for Poetry with founder/Director Anita Skeen, and original assistants Stephanie Glazier and Lia Greenwell. Visit our Facebook event for details.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: i come to the city, by Cheryl Clarke

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i come to the city

 for protection
and to witness the thick transactions
of women
and women
and dance with my head.
My turns are calculated
to end on the right foot
to subdue the hip movements.
The city fumes with expectations
and the smells of women
wanting women.
I been in love
six times in the last six months
and ain’t done tryin yet.

Cheryl Clarke

 

Join the RCAH Center for Poetry as we welcome Cheryl Clarke, Wednesday, March 28, for a 3 p.m. talk in the LookOut! Gallery: Gwendolyn Brooks: “Bad Woman” Poet in the Streets and at the Margins, and for a 7 p.m. reading of her own work, in the RCAH Theater.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Spring and All,” by William Carlos Williams

 

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Spring and All

by William Carlos Williams

 

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast — a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines —

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches —

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind —

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined —
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance — Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Languages” by Carl Sandburg

 

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There are no handles upon a language

Whereby men take hold of it

And mark it with signs for its remembrance.

It is a river, this language,

Once in a thousand years

Breaking a new course

Changing its way to the ocean.

It is mountain effluvia

Moving to valleys

And from nation to nation

Crossing borders and mixing.

Languages die like rivers.

Words wrapped round your tongue today

And broken to shape of thought

Between your teeth and lips speaking

Now and today

Shall be faded hieroglyphics

Ten thousand years from now.

Sing—and singing—remember

Your song dies and changes

And is not here to-morrow

Any more than the wind

Blowing ten thousand years ago.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Recreation” by Audre Lorde

 

audre lorde

Coming together

it is easier to work

after our bodies

meet

paper and pen

neither care nor profit

whether we write or not

but as your body moves

under my hands

charged and waiting

we cut the leash

you create me against your thighs

hilly with images

moving through our word countries

my body

writes into your flesh

the poem

you make of me.

 

Touching you I catch midnight

as moon fires set in my throat

I love you flesh into blossom

I made you

and take you made

into me.

 

Audre Lorde, “Recreation” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1997 by Audre Lorde. Reprinted with the permission of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., http://www.nortonpoets.com.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Mothers” by Nikki Giovanni

the last time i was home

to see my mother we kissed

exchanged pleasantries

and unpleasantries pulled a warm

comforting silence around

us and read separate books

 

i remember the first time

i consciously saw her

we were living in a three room

apartment on burns avenue

 

mommy always sat in the dark

i don’t know how i knew that but she did

 

that night i stumbled into the kitchen

maybe because i’ve always been

a night person or perhaps because i had wet

the bed

she was sitting on a chair

the room was bathed in moonlight diffused through

those thousands of panes landlords who rented

to people with children were prone to put in windows

she may have been smoking but maybe not

her hair was three-quarters her height

which made me a strong believer in the samson myth

and very black

 

i’m sure i just hung there by the door

i remember thinking: what a beautiful lady

 

she was very deliberately waiting

perhaps for my father to come home

from his night job or maybe for a dream

that had promised to come by

“come here” she said “i’ll teach you

a poem: i see the moon

               the moon sees me

               god bless the moon

               and god bless me

i taught it to my son

who recited it for her

just to say we must learn

to bear the pleasures

as we have borne the pains

 

Nikki Giovanni, “Mothers” from My House. Copyright © 1972 by Nikki Giovanni.

Source: The Collected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (2003)

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: Marrying the Hangman by Margaret Atwood

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Ligeia, from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name. Both poems focus heavily on themes of marriagebondage, death, and sinister new life. | Illustration by Harry Clarke, 1919.

“Marrying the Hangman”

She has been condemned to death by hanging. A man
may escape this death by becoming the hangman, a
woman by marrying the hangman. But at the present
time there is no hangman; thus there is no escape.
There is only a death, indefinitely postponed. This is
not fantasy, it is history.

*

To live in prison is to live without mirrors. To live
without mirrors is to live without the self. She is
living selflessly, she finds a hole in the stone wall and
on the other side of the wall, a voice. The voice
comes through darkness and has no face. This voice
becomes her mirror.

*

In order to avoid her death, her particular death, with
wrung neck and swollen tongue, she must marry the
hangman. But there is no hangman, first she must
create him, she must persuade this man at the end of
the voice, this voice she has never seen and which has
never seen her, this darkness, she must persuade him
to renounce his face, exchange it for the impersonal
mask of death, of official death which has eyes but
no mouth, this mask of a dark leper. She must
transform his hands so they will be willing to twist
the rope around throats that have been singled out
as hers was, throats other than hers. She must marry
the hangman or no one, but that is not so bad. Who
else is there to marry?

*

You wonder about her crime. She was condemned
to death for stealing clothes from her employer, from
the wife of her employer. She wished to make herself
more beautiful. This desire in servants was not legal.

*

She uses her voice like a hand, her voice reaches
through the wall, stroking and touching. What could
she possibly have said that would have convinced him?
He was not condemned to death, freedom awaited
him. What was the temptation, the one that worked?
Perhaps he wanted to live with a woman whose life
he had saved, who had seen down into the earth but
had nevertheless followed him back up to life. It was
his only chance to be a hero, to one person at least,
for if he became the hangman the others would
despise him. He was in prison for wounding another
man, on one finger of the right hand, with a sword.
This too is history.

*

My friends, who are both women, tell me their stories,
which cannot be believed and which are true. They
are horror stories and they have not happened to me,
they have not yet happened to me, they have
happened to me but we are detached, we watch our
unbelief with horror. Such things cannot happen to
us, it is afternoon and these things do not happen in
the afternoon. The trouble was, she said, I didn’t
have time to put my glasses on and without them I’m
blind as a bat, I couldn’t even see who it was. These
things happen and we sit at a table and tell stories
about them so we can finally believe. This is not
fantasy, it is history, there is more than one hangman
and because of this some of them are unemployed.

*

He said: the end of walls, the end of ropes, the opening
of doors, a field, the wind, a house, the sun, a table,
an apple.

She said: nipple, arms, lips, wine, belly, hair, bread,
thighs, eyes, eyes.

They both kept their promises.

*

The hangman is not such a bad fellow. Afterwards he
goes to the refrigerator and cleans up the leftovers,
though he does not wipe up what he accidentally
spills. He wants only the simple things: a chair,
someone to pull off his shoes, someone to watch him
while he talks, with admiration and fear, gratitude if
possible, someone in whom to plunge himself for rest
and renewal. These things can best be had by marrying
a woman who has been condemned to death by other
men for wishing to be beautiful. There is a wide
choice.

*

Everyone said he was a fool.
Everyone said she was a clever woman.
They used the word ensnare.

*

What did they say the first time they were alone
together in the same room? What did he say when
she had removed her veil and he could see that she
was not a voice but a body and therefore finite?
What did she say when she discovered that she had
left one locked room for another? They talked of
love, naturally, though that did not keep them
busy forever.

*

The fact is there are no stories I can tell my friends
that will make them feel better. History cannot be
erased, although we can soothe ourselves by
speculating about it. At that time there were no
female hangmen. Perhaps there have never been any,
and thus no man could save his life by marriage.
Though a woman could, according to the law.

*

He said: foot, boot, order, city, fist, roads, time,
knife.

She said: water, night, willow, rope hair, earth belly,
cave, meat, shroud, open, blood.

They both kept their promises.

Poem courtesy of https://www.poetryfoundation.org/

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “At Winter Solstice” by Colleen Anderson

This week, we thought this previous poem of the week deserved a repeat appearance. With wishes for peace and joy to you and yours this holiday season and in the new year, the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU.

 

At Winter Solstice

My lawn is deep in brittle maple leaves

huddled against the house, each curving spine

outlined with frost. My neighbor’s holly tree,

old keeper of cardinals, old tower of green,

is standing watch, grandfatherly, in this

season of giving thanks and going home.

Come close: we need each other more, the less

directly we’re regarded by the sun,

and the long night is on us now. Come

close as you can, my friend, and let us share

the stories we were saving for this time,

and take the measure of another year.

Come close, and let us watch the morning in:

the hour of turning to the light again.

~Colleen Anderson