[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Hoplophobia"
The most common manifestation of hoplophobia
is the idea that [weapons] possess a will of their own.

--Colonel Jeff Cooper


trigger warning: violence, war, guns, murder )
--Jamaal May


"How to Disappear Completely"
You are quarter ghost on your mother's side.
Your heart is a flayed peach in a bone box.
Your hair comes away in clumps like cheap fabric wet.
A reflecting pool gathers around your altar
of plywood sub flooring and split wooden slats.
You are rag doll prone. You are contort,
angle and arc. Here you rot. Here
you are a greening abdomen, slipping skin,
flesh fly, carrion beetles.
This is where bullets take shelter,
where scythes find their function, breath loses
its place on the page. This is where the page is torn
out of every book before chapter's close,
this is slippage, this is a shroud of neglect
pulled over the body, this
is your chance to escape.
     Little wraith,
bend light around your skin until it colors you clear,
disappear like silica in a kiln, become
glass and glass beads, become
the staggered whir of an exhaust fan:
something only noticed
when gone. Become
an origami swan. Fold yourself smaller
than ever before. Become less. More
in some ways but less
in the way a famine is less. They will
forgive you for not being satisfied
with fitting in their hands.

They will forgive you
for dying to be

a bird diminutive enough
to fit in a mouth and not be crushed.

--Jamaal May


"Fire Graffiti"
Throughout those dismal months my life was only sparked
alight when I made love to you.
As the firefly ignites and fades, ignites and fades, we follow the flashes
of its flight in the dark among the olive trees.

Throughout those dismal months, my soul sat slumped and lifeless
but my body walked to yours.
The night sky was lowing.
We milked the cosmos secretly, and survived.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translator unknown


"Words"
What has happened?
language eludes me
the nice specifying
words of my life fail
when I call

Ah says a friend
dried up no doubt
on the desiccated
twigs in the swamp
of the skull like
a lake where the
water level has been
shifted by highways
a couple of miles off

Another friend says
No no    my dear    perhaps
you are only meant to
speak more plainly

--Grace Paley


"The Abyssal Plain"
Here beneath the last revenant of light
that falls the way a man might fall asleep,
drawn through the part that hallucinates
eel and angel, the strange blue fin that sweeps
a camouflage of dust into the camera,
what good is desire. The lamps of fish
have all gone cold, dark, their exotica
scattered in tiny particles of flesh.
What this world needs is a place to drown
its refuse: old ships, derricks, nuclear waste,
the leviathan of grief. A place like time
which, in truth, heals nothing. It forgets,
taken in like a pill that makes us calm
and dreamless, beneath the silence of the rain.
--Bruce Bond


"Self Portrait"
I did not want my body
Spackled in the world's
Black beads and broke
Diamonds. What the world

Wanted, I did not. Of the things
It wanted. The body of Sunday
Morning, the warm wine and
The blood. The dripping fox

Furs dragged through the black New
York snow--the parked car, the pearls,
To the first pew--the funders,
The trustees, the bloat, the red weight of

The world. Their faces. I wanted not
That. I wanted Saint Francis, the love of
His animals. The wolf, broken and bleeding--
That was me.
--Cynthia Cruz


"Elegy for a Walnut Tree"
Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars
and echoes of wars around your silence
through days of parting and seasons of absence
with the house emptying as the years went their way
until it was home to bats and swallows
and still when spring climbed toward summer
you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers
of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened
you and the seasons spoke the same language
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world.
--W. S. Merwin


"Desires are already memories."
--Italo Calvino, translator unknown


The world has tired of tears.
We weep owls now. They live longer.
They know their way in the dark.
--Natalie Diaz, "Prayers or Oubliettes"


"Awaking in New York"
Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,
unasked and unheeded.
--Maya Angelou


"I feel that I am just earth, soil lying helpless to move myself, but thinking. I seem to hear herds of big beasts like horses and cows thundering over me, and rains beating down; and winds sweeping furiously overall acting upon me, but me, well, just soil,
feeling but not able to take part in it all. Then a soft wind like love passes over and warms me, and a summer rain comes down like understanding and softens me, and I push a blade of grass or a flower, or maybe a pine tree--that's the ground thinking. Plants are ground thoughts, because the soil can't move itself."
--Zora Neale Hurston, "John Redding Goes to Sea"


"To write by shreds, by storm clouds, by visions, by violent chapters, in the present as in the archpast, in pre-vision, in the true chaos of verbal tenses, crossing over years and oceans at a god's pace, with the past on my right and the future on my left--this is forbidden in academies, it is permitted in apocalypses. What joy it is."
--Hélène Cixous, Stigmata: Escaping Texts


"Herman Finley"
I didn't tell you that, in the end, he begged
For the end. Death like the bed after
The bedtime story. Death like a widening
Crack of light beneath the door.
He begged them to let him
Go so he could go. Said I want
To die. Then said kill me. Please.

You and I endure that first pain.
We just want to die. People with that
Other ultimately physical agony say
Kill me and know they won't discuss it
In therapy. Kill me. I'm thinking
Of him today because I want to die
And I am ashamed to say it. My thinking

Is red and sticky. Rather than kill me,
I'd like you to listen as I live
In a perpetual whine. Can't I still be
Somebody's baby? Say yes for yourself.
Call me some time. Every day I wish to die,
Remind me how he insisted.
Kill me. And I'll live again.
--Jericho Brown


"I suppose it is submerged memories that give to our dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulfur in the blood is a volcanic inferno."
--W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn


"Cocktails with Orpheus"
After dark, the bar full of women part of me loves--the part that stood
naked outside the window of Miss Geneva, recent divorcée who owned
a gun, O Miss Geneva where are you now--Orpheus says she did

not perish, she was not turned to ash in the brutal light, she found
a good job, she made good money, she had her own insurance and
a house, she was a decent wife. I know descent lives in the word

decent. The bar noise makes a kind of silence. When Orpheus hands
me his sunglasses, I see how fire changes everything. In the mind
I am behind a woman whose skirt is hiked above her hips, as bound

as touch permits, saying don't forget me when I become the liquid
out of which names are born, salt-milk, milk-sweet and animal-made.

I want to be a human above the body, uprooted and right, a fold
of pleas released, but I am a black wound, what's left of the deed.
--Terrance Hayes


"The secret of understanding poetry is to hear poetry's words as what they are: the full self's most intimate speech, half waking, half dream. You listen to a poem as you might listen to someone you love who tells you their truest day. Their words might weep, joke, whirl, leap. What's unspoken in the words will still be heard. It's also the way we listen to music: You don't look for extractable meaning, but to be moved."
--Jane Hirshfield


"sideshow"
trigger warning: violence, guns, racism, suicide )
--Danez Smith


"My medium is poetry; my tool is American English, a language I adore for its shorthand syntax, its outrageous slop, its mongrel weirdness. I think and dream and feel in this language like the wiry old rose bush that pushes its way out from my front yard to splay its blooms above the cracked sidewalk."
--Cate Marvin


"I Don't Miss It"
But sometimes I forget where I am,
Imagine myself inside that life again.

Recalcitrant mornings. Sun perhaps,
Or more likely colorless light

Filtering its way through shapeless cloud.

And when I begin to believe I haven't left,
The rest comes back. Our couch. My smoke

Climbing the walls while the hours fall.
Straining against the noise of traffic, music,

Anything alive, to catch your key in the door.
And that scamper of feeling in my chest,

As if the day, the night, wherever it is
I am by then, has been only a whir

Of something other than waiting.

We hear so much about what love feels like.
Right now, today, with the rain outside,

And leaves that want as much as I do to believe
In May, in seasons that come when called,

It's impossible not to want
To walk into the next room and let you

Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
Knowing perfectly well what they know.
--Tracy K. Smith


"Snow at Night"
I prefer it even to love,
alone and without ghost
it falls a hard weather,
a withdrawing room
that revives me to stolen daylight
in which I feel no wish
to brush a gleaming finish
over the sheen-broken glass
I've arranged and rearranged,
an apprentice of mosaics
who will not be taught but asks
to be left alone with the brittle year
so carnivorous of all I'd made.
But the snow I love covers
my beasts and seas,
my ferns and spines
worn through and through.
I will change your life, it says,
to which I say please.
--Katie Ford


"Two Men & a Truck"
Once, I was as large
as any living creature could be.

I could lift the world and carry it
from my breast to its bath.

When I looked down from the sky
you could see the love in my eye:

"Oh, tiny world, if anything
ever happened to you, I would die."

And I said, "No!" to the hand. Snatched
the pebble from the mouth, fished it out

and told the world it would choke!
Warned the world over & over! "Do

you hear me? Do you want to choke?!"

But how was the world to know
what the truth might be? Perhaps

they grant you special powers, these
choking stones. Maybe

they change the child into a god, all-swallowing.


For, clearly, there were other gods.
The world could see

that I, too, was at the mercy of something.
Sure, I could point to the sky

and say its name, but I couldn't make it change.
Some days it was blue, true, but others

were ruined by its gray:
"I'm sorry, little world--

no picnic, no parade, no swimming pool today ... "

And the skinned knee in spite of me.
And why else would there be

such terror in the way she screamed, and the horn honking,
and the squealing wheels, and, afterward, her cold

sweat against my cheek?

Ah, she wants us to live forever.
It's her weakness ... Now I see!


But, once, I was larger
than any other being--

larger, perhaps, than any being
had any right to be.

Because, of course, eventually, the world
grew larger, and larger, until it could lift

me up and put me down anywhere
it pleased. Until, finally, I would need

its help to move the bird bath, the book-
shelf, the filing cabinet. "And

could you put my desk by the window, sweetie?"

A truck, two men, one of them my son, and
everything I ever owned, and they

didn't even want to stop for lunch.

Even the freezer. Even the piano.
("You can have it if you can move it.")

But, once, I swear, I was ... And now
this trunk in the attic to prove it:

These shoes in the palm of my hand?
You used to wear them on your feet.

This blanket the size of a hand towel?
I used to wrap it around you sleeping

in my arms like this. See? This
is how small the world used to be when

everything else in the world was me.
--Laura Kasischke


"A Reason"
That is why I am here
not among the ibises. Why
the permanent city parasol
covers even me.

             It was the rains
in the occult season. It was the snows
on the lower slopes. It was water
and cold in my mouth.

            A lack of shoes
on what appeared to be cobbles
which were still antique

           Well wild wild whatever
in wild more silent blue
 
           the vase grips the stems
petals fall    the chrysanthemum darkens

           Sometimes this mustard feeling
clutches me also. My sleep is reckoned
in straws

            Yet I wake up
and am followed into the street.

--Barbara Guest


"Tender Arrivals"
Where ever something breathes
Heart beating the rise and fall
Of mountains, the waves upon the sky
Of seas, the terror is our ignorance, that's
Why it is named after our home, earth
Where art is locked between
Gone and Destination
The destiny of some other where and feeling
The ape knew this, when his old lady pulled him up
Off the ground. Was he grateful, ask him he's still sitting up there
Watching the sky's adventures, leaving two holes for his own. Oh sing
Gigantic burp past the insects, swifter than the ugly Stanleys on the ground
Catching monkey meat for Hyenagators, absolute boss of what does not
Arrive in time to say anything. We hear that eating, that doo dooing, that
Burping, we had a nigro mayor used to burp like poison zapalote
Waddled into the cave of his lust. We got a Spring Jasper now, if
you don't like that
woid, what about courtesan, dreamed out his own replacement sprawled
Across the velvet cash register of belching and farting, his knick names when they
let him be played with. Some call him Puck, was love, we thought, now a rubber
Flat blackie banged across the ice, to get past our Goli, the Africannibus of memory.
Here. We have so many wedged between death and passivity. Like eyes that collide
With reality and cannot see anything but the inner abstraction of flatus, a
biography, a car, a walk to the guillotine, James the First, Giuliani the Second
When he tries to go national, senators will stab him, Ides of March or Not. Maybe
Both will die, James 1 and Caesar 2, as they did in the past, where we can read about
The justness of their assassinations
As we swig a little brew and laugh at the perseverance
Of disease at higher and higher levels of its elimination.
We could see anything we wanted to. Be anything we knew how to be. Build
anything we needed. Arrive anywhere we should have to go. But time is as stubborn
as space, and they compose us with definition, time place and 
condition.
The howlees the yowlees the yankees the super left streamlined post racial ideational
chauvinists creeep at the mouth of the venal cava. They are protesting 
fire and
Looking askance at the giblets we have learned to eat. "It's nobody's heart," they
say, and we agree. It's the rest of some thing's insides. Along with the flowers, the
grass, the tubers, the river, pieces of the sky, earth, our seasoning, baked
throughout. What do you call that the anarchist of comfort asks,
Food, we say, making it up as we chew. Yesterday we explained language.
--Amiri Baraka


"Register of Eliminated Villages"
trigger warning: war )
--Tarfia Faizullah
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Tavern"
I'll keep a little tavern
Below the high hill's crest,
Wherein all grey-eyed people
May set them down and rest.

There shall be plates a-plenty,
And mugs to melt the chill
Of all the grey-eyed people
Who happen up the hill.

There sound will sleep the traveller,
And dream his journey's end,
But I will rouse at midnight
The falling fire to tend.

Aye, 'tis a curious fancy--
But all the good I know
Was taught me out of two grey eyes
A long time ago.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay


"I Shall Not Care"
When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Tho' you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.

I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.
--Sara Teasdale


"On Angels"
All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe you,
messengers.

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seems.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice--no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draw near
another one
do what you can.
--Czesław Miłosz


"In a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer."
--Plutarch, Moralia, translator unknown


"Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."
--Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad


"We don't need lists of rights and wrong, do's and don'ts: We need books, time, silence. 'Thou shalt not' is soon forgotten, but 'Once upon a time' lasts forever."
--Philip Pullman


"In the novel or the journal you get the journey. In a poem you get the arrival."
--May Sarton, "The Paris Review: The Art of Poetry No. 32"


"Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek--it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language--all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas."
--Toni Morrison


"Kyrie"
At times my life suddenly opens its eyes in the dark.
A feeling of masses of people pushing blindly
through the streets, excitedly, toward some miracle,
while I remain here and no one sees me.

It is like the child who falls asleep in terror
listening to the heavy thumps of his heart.
For a long, long time till morning puts his light in the locks
and the doors of darkness open.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly


"As soon as we put something into words, we devalue it in a strange way. We think we have plunged into the depths of the abyss, and when we return to the surface the drop of water on our pale fingertips no longer resembles the sea from which it comes. We delude ourselves that we have discovered a wonderful treasure trove, and when we return to the light of day we find that we have brought back only false stones and shards of glass; and yet the treasure goes on glimmering in the dark, unaltered."
--Maurice Maeterlinck, The Treasure of the Humble
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"You cannot enslave a mind that knows itself. That values itself. That understands itself."
--Wangari Maathai


"Dream Seminar"
Four thousand million on Earth.
They all sleep, they all dream.
Faces throng, and bodies, in each dream--
the dreamt-of people are more numerous
than us. But take no space...
You doze off at the theater perhaps,
in mid-play your eyelids sink.
A fleeting double exposure: the stage
before you outmaneuvered by a dream.
Then no more stage, it's you.
The theater in the honest depths!
The mystery of the overworked director!
Perpetual memorizing of new plays...
A bedroom. Night.
The darkened sky is flowing through the room.
The book that someone fell asleep from lies
still open
sprawling wounded at the edge of the bed.
The sleeper's eyes are moving,
they're following the text without letters
in another book--
illuminated, old-fashioned, swift.
A dizzying commedia inscribed
within the eyelids' monastery walls.
A unique copy. Here, this very moment.
In the morning, wiped out.
The mystery of the great waste!
Annihilation. As when suspicious men
in uniforms stop the tourist--
open his camera, unwind the film
and let the daylight kill the pictures:
thus dreams are blackened by the light of day.
Annihilated or just invisible?
There is a kind of out-of-sight dreaming
that never stops. Light for other eyes.
A zone where creeping thoughts learn to walk.
Faces and forms regrouped.
We're moving on a street, among people
in blazing sun.
But just as many--maybe more--
we don't see
are in dark buildings,
high on both sides.
Sometimes one of them comes to the window
and glances down on us.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Female Portrait, 19th Century"
Her voice is stifled in the clothing. Her eyes
follow the gladiator. Then she herself is
in the arena. Is she free? A gilt frame
strangles the picture.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


" 'My life.' Thinking these words, I see before me a streak of light. On closer inspection it has the form of a comet. The brightest end, the head, is childhood and growing up. The nucleus, the densest part, is infancy, that first period, in which the most important features of our life are determined. I try to remember, I try to penetrate that density. But it is difficult to move in these concentrated regions, it is dangerous, it feels as if I am coming close to death itself. Further back, the comet thins out--that's the longer part, the tail. It becomes more and more sparse, but also broader. I am now far out in the comet's tail, I am sixty as I write this.

"Our earliest experiences are for the most part inaccessible. Retellings, memories of memories, reconstructions based on moods that suddenly flare into life."
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, Memories Look at Me


"I had started my own collections. They were kept at home in a cupboard. But inside my skull grew an immense museum and a kind of interplay that developed between this imaginary one and the very real one that I visited.

"I visited the Natural History Museum more or less every second Sunday. I took the tram to Roslagstull and walked the rest of the way. The road was always a little longer than I had imagined. I remember those foot marches very clearly: it was always windy, my nose ran, my eyes filled with tears. I don't remember the journeys in the opposite direction. It's as if I never went home, only out to the museum, a sniffling, tearful, hopeful expedition toward a giant Babylonian building.

"Finally arriving, I would be greeted by the elephant skeletons. I often went directly to the 'old' part, the section with animals that had been stuffed back in the eighteenth century, some of them rather clumsily prepared, with swollen heads. Yet there was a special magic here. Big artificial landscapes with elegantly designed and positioned animal models failed to catch my interest--they were make-believe, something for children. No, it had to be quite clear that this was not a matter of living animals. They were stuffed, they stood there in the service of science. The scientific method I was closest to was the Linnean: discover, collect, examine.

[...]

"I never had any contact with other visitors. In fact, I don't remember other visitors being there at all. Other museums I occasionally visited--the National Maritime Museum, the National Museum of Ethnography, the Museum of Technology--were always crowded. But the Natural History Museum seemed to stay open only for me."
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, Memories Look at Me


"I carry inside myself my earlier faces, as a tree contains its rings. The sum of them is 'me.' The mirror sees only my latest face, while I know all my previous ones."
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, Memories Look at Me


"And throughout my school days I made a point of keeping the two worlds--school and home--apart. If the two worlds were to seep into each other, then home would feel polluted. I would no longer have any proper refuge. Even today I find something disagreeable in the phrase 'cooperation between home and school.' I can also see that his holding apart of the separate worlds that I practiced gave rise in due course to a more deliberately maintained distinction between private life and society. (This has nothing to do with political inclinations, whether to the left or to the right.) What we live through in school is projected as an image of society. My total experience of school was mixed, with more darkness than light--just as my image of society has become. (Although we could well ask what we mean by 'society.')"
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, Memories Look at Me
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Cuttings (Later)"
This urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks,
Cut stems struggling to put down feet,
What saint strained so much,
Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?
I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing,
In my veins, in my bones I feel it--
The small waters seeping upward,
The tight grains parting at last.
When sprouts break out,
Slippery as fish,
I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet.
--Theodore Roethke


"The Moor"
It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart's passions -- that was praise
Enough; and the mind's cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
--R. S. Thomas


"To Levitate"
My mother swears she saw
my baby brother rise from his cot
one stormy night when
we were living upstate.

She was awake, checking the shutters,
when she saw him levitate,
a foot or more, covers rising
with him the way they do

in carnival shows, so you don't see
the wires. But, he lay soft and pliant,
a floater, weightless as
a shadow on the wall.

"Something in the air," Mother said,
because she believed in such things,
and reminded us often that most
children know how to fly.

And I do remember running down a hillside,
breathless, the ground rising to meet me,
my heart lifting my blood
so effortlessly

I knew that if I stepped out onto the air
that it would hold me.
I may even have done it
without realizing

how easy it is, before doubt takes hold
and weds you to the ground.
Odd that we should forget
such things.

Odd, too, when I tell the story
how no one believes exactly,
but the room gets quiet
and everyone listens.
--Cathryn Essinger


"What Did I Learn in the Wars?"
What did I learn in the wars:
To march in time to swinging arms and legs
Like pumps pumping an empty well.

To march in a row and be alone in the middle,
To dig into pillows, featherbeds, the body of a beloved woman,
And to yell "Mama," when she cannot hear,
And to yell "God," when I don't believe in Him,
And even if I did believe in Him
I wouldn't have told him about the war
As you don't tell a child about grown-ups' horrors.

What else did I learn. I learned to reserve a path for retreat.
In foreign lands I rent a room in a hotel
Near the airport or railroad station.
And even in wedding halls
Always to watch the little door
With the "Exit" sign in red letters.

A battle too begins
Like rhythmical drums for dancing and ends
With a "retreat at dawn." Forbidden love
And battle, the two of them sometimes end like this.

But above all I learned the wisdom of camouflage,
Not to stand out, not to be recognized,
Not to be apart from what's around me,
Even not from my beloved.

Let them think I am a bush or a lamb
A tree, a shadow of a tree,
A doubt, a shadow of a doubt,
A living hedge, a dead stone,
A house, a corner of a house.

If I were a prophet I would have dimmed the glow of the vision
And darkened my faith with black paper
And covered the magic with nets.

And when my time comes, I shall don the camouflage garb of my end:
The white of clouds and a lot of sky blue
And stars that have no end.
--Yehuda Amichai


"At the Public Market Museum: Charleston, South Carolina"
A volunteer, a Daughter of the Confederacy,
receives my admission and points the way.
Here are gray jackets with holes in them,
red sashes with individual flourishes,
things soft as flesh. Someone sewed
the gold silk cord onto that gray sleeve
as if embellishments
could keep a man alive.

I have been reading War and Peace,
and so the particulars of combat
are on my mind--the shouts and groans
of men and boys, and the horses' cries
as they fall, astonished at what
has happened to them.
Blood on leaves,
blood on grass, on snow; extravagant
beauty of red. Smoke, dust of disturbed
earth; parch and burn.

Who would choose this for himself?
And yet the terrible machinery
waited in place. With psalters
in their breast pockets, and gloves
knitted by their sisters and sweethearts,
the men in gray hurled themselves
out of the trenches, and rushed against
blue. It was what both sides
agreed to do.
--Jane Kenyon


"Ithaca"
When you set out on your way to Ithaca
you should hope that your journey is a long one:
a journey full of adventure, full of knowing.
Have no fear of the Laestrygones, the Cyclopes,
the frothing Poseidon. No such impediments
will confound the progress of your journey
if your thoughts take wing, if your spirit and your
flesh are touched by singular sentiments.
You will not encounter Laestrygones,
nor any Cyclopes, nor a furious Poseidon,
as long as you don’t carry them within you,
as long as your soul refuses to set them in your path.

Hope that your journey is a long one.
Many will be the summer mornings
upon which, with boundless pleasure and joy,
you will find yourself entering new ports of call.
You will linger in Phoenician markets
so that you may acquire the finest goods:
mother of pearl, coral and amber, and ebony,
and every manner of arousing perfume--
great quantities of arousing perfumes.
You will visit many an Egyptian city
to learn, and learn more, from those who know.

Bear Ithaca always in your thoughts.
Arriving there is the goal of your journey;
but take care not to travel too hastily.
Better to linger for years on your way;
better to reach the island's shores in old age,
enriched by all you've obtained along the way.
Do not expect that Ithaca will reward you with wealth.

Ithaca bestowed upon you the marvelous journey:
if not for her you would never have set out.
But she has nothing left to impart to you.

If you find Ithaca wanting, it's not that she's deceived you.
That you have gained so much wisdom and experience
will have told you everything of what such Ithacas mean.
--Constantine P. Cavafy, translated from the Greek by Stratis Haviaras


"Liberty Street Seafood"
I stand in line. Behind me the hungry stretch & wiggle
out the door. Sterling cake bowls nestle in ice:

mullet striped bass whiskered cat rock shrimp
steel porgies blue crab "No eel 'til Christmas"

mother mussels flat-face flounder sleeping snapper
whiting one sea turtle (lazy fisherman).

In his fishmonger-owner apron Randy is white, round
as a blowfish, conducting this orchestra of desire.

Members: the cut boys and the lined up, who come
every day and wait in between frozen ice and hot oil.

The cut boys are well suited in fish scale and high up
on risers above us. They sing out with their knives.

Stationed inside tiny cutting booths slashing this throat
and that. Fish tune.

Veritas: Those who are exquisite at beheading
always occupy a throne.


One has a giant Afro. Another's hair is finely braided
backward, like flattened rows of corn. The half-straight

ends of his thick black wool curl up his neck like one large
fin. The last one has shaved and greased his head for duty.

Old men who sit around, outside the front door, tease.
Early on they named him, Dolphin. He is playful, jumpy,

slick, far more endangered than the other two. All three
wear the heavy rubber smocks of men who use their

hands to kill (& feed). All three hold knives longer than their
johnsons. For now, they are safe. The wet wood engulfs

them from the waist down. Cleaned fish: their handiwork
will soon be on display at ninety-six dinner tables, Southside.

We pass the time by lying:

How you do?
Fine.


Alabaster fish scales streak & dot their hair like Mardi
Gras keepsakes. Fish petals float into the wet air.

Black. Indian. Zulu. Sequined, smelly, bloody scales settle
across three sets of brown hands, arms, in muscle shirts.

Scales thick as white evening gloves. The cut boys turn
each fish over like one-eyed fabric dolls. One has his

Mama Helene's eyelashes. He is the jittery dolphin
on the loose. A hand-me-down Afro pick sits in No. 2's

back pocket. This one with a tail always on his neck
has a fist always on his comb, circa 1975, belonging

to his brother, thrown under the jail, up under in upstate
Connecticut. Cause: a bad fight about a chica gone jugular.

These cut boys, shine jewel & scale, stationed before a wall
of black & silver ways & means. Eastern Star daughters and

North Star slaves stare out at the hungry through their
notched eyes. They whisper and laugh, loving how we wait

on them. Three Black boys in hip hop haute couture, in suits
of bloody, rubber smocks, standing side by side, making

three dollars an hour, beheading and detailing fish.
Their long knives whacking pine all day. Fish eyes roll.

So Friday is made. The white man reaches
for the money, faces the hungry,

his back fully turned,
their knives just above his head.
--Nikky Finney


"5"
July 30th. The strait has become eccentric--swarming with jellyfish today for the first time in years, they pump themselves forward calmly and patiently, they belong to the same line: Aurelia, they drift like flowers after a sea burial, if you take them out of the water their entire form vanishes, as when an indescribable truth is lifted out of silence and formulated into an inert mass, but they are untranslatable, they must stay in their own element.

August 2nd. Something wants to be said but the words don't agree.
Something which can't be said,
aphasia,
there are no words but perhaps a style...

You can wake up in the small hours
jot down a few words
on the nearest paper, a newsprint margin
(the words radiate meaning!)
but in the morning: the same words now say nothing, scrawls, slips of the tongue.
Or fragments of the high nocturnal style that drew past?

Music comes to a man, he's a composer, he's played, makes a career, becomes Conservatory Director.
The climate changes, he's condemned by the authorities.
His pupil K is set up as prosecutor.
He's threatened, degraded, removed.
After a few years the disgrace lessens, he's rehabilitated.
Then, cerebral hemorrhage: paralysis on the right side with aphasia, can grasp only short phrases, says the wrong words.
Beyond the reach of eulogy or execration.
But the music's left, he keeps composing in his own style,
for the rest of his days he becomes a medical sensation.

He wrote music to texts he no longer understood--
in the same way
we express something through our lives
in the humming chorus full of mistaken words.

The death-lectures went on for several terms. I attended
together with people I didn't know
(who are you?)
--then each went his own way, profiles.

I looked at the sky and at the earth and straight ahead
and since then I've been writing a long letter to the dead
on a typewriter with no ribbon just a horizon line
so the words knock in vain and nothing sticks.

I pause with my hand on the door handle, take the pulse of the house.
The walls are so full of life
(the children don't dare sleep alone in the little room upstairs--what makes me safe makes them uneasy).

August 3rd. In the damp grass
a greeting shuffles from the Middle Ages, the Edible Snail,
subtle gleaming grey-and-yellow, with his house aslant,
introduced by monks who liked their escargots--the Franciscans were here,
broke stone and burned lime, the island became theirs in 1288, a gift of King Magnus
("Almes fordoth all wykkednes / And quenchyth synne and makyth hyt les")
the forest fell, the ovens burned, the lime was shipped in
for the building of the monastery...
Sister snail
almost motionless in the grass, the antennae are sucked in
and rolled out, disturbances and hesitation...
How like myself in my searching!

The wind that's been blowing carefully all day
--the blades of grass on the outer skerries are all counted--
has lain down peacefully at the heart of the island. The match flame stands straight.
The sea painting and the forest painting darken together.
The foliage on the five-story trees turns black.
"Each summer is the last." Empty words
for the creatures in the late-summer midnight
where the crickets whirr their sewing machines frantically
and the Baltic is close
and the lonely water tap rises among the wild roses
like the statue of a horseman. The water tastes of iron.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"How the Late Autumn Night Novel Begins"
The ferryboat smells of oil and something rattles all the time like an obsession. The spotlight's turned on. We're pulling into the jetty. I'm the only one who wants off here. "Need the gangway?" No. I take a long tottering stride into the night and stand on the jetty, on the island. I feel wet and unwieldy, a butterfly that just crawled out of its cocoon, the plastic bags in each hand hang like misshapen wings. I turn around and see the boat gliding away with its shining windows, then grope my way toward other houses...It's good to fall asleep here. I lie on my back and don't know if I'm asleep or awake. Some books I've read pass by like old sailing ships on their way to the Bermuda Triangle to vanish without trace...I hear a hollow sound, an absentminded drumming. An object the wind keeps knocking against something the earth holds still. If the night is not merely an absence of light, if the night really is something, then it's that sound. Stethoscope noises from a slow heart, it beats, falls silent for a time, returns. As if the creature were moving in a zigzag across the Frontier. Or someone knocking in a wall, someone who belongs to the other world but was left behind here, knocking, wanting back. Too late. Couldn't get down there, couldn't get up there, couldn't get aboard...The other world is this world too. Next morning I see a sizzling golden-brown branch. A crawling stack of roots. Stones with faces. The forest is full of abandoned monsters that I love.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Schubertiana"
1

In the evening darkness in a place outside New York, a viewpoint where one single glance will encompass the homes of eight million people.
The giant city becomes a long shimmering drift, a spiral galaxy seen from the side.
Within the galaxy coffee cups are pushed across the counter, the shop windows beg from passersby, a flurry of shoes leave no prints.
The climbing fire escapes, elevator doors glide shut, behind police-locked doors a perpetual seethe of voices.
Slouched bodies doze in subway cars, the hurtling catacombs.
I know too--without statistics--that right now Schubert is being played in a room over there and that for someone the notes are more real than anything else.

2

The endless expanses of the human brain are crumpled to the size of a fist.
In April the swallow returns to last year's nest under the guttering of this very barn in this very parish.
She flies from Transvaal, passes the equator, flies for six weeks over two continents, makes for precisely this vanishing dot in the landmass.
And the man who catches the signals from a whole life in a few ordinary chords for five strings,
who makes a river flow through the eye of a needle,
is a stout young gentleman from Vienna known to his friends as "The Mushroom," who slept with his glasses on
and stood at his writing desk punctually in the morning.
And then the wonderful centipedes of his manuscript were set in motion.

3

The string quartet is playing. I walk home through warm forests with the ground springy under me,
curl up like an embryo, fall asleep, roll weightless into the future, suddenly feel that the plants have thoughts.

4

So much we have to trust, simply to live through our daily day without sinking through the earth!
Trust the piled snow clinging to the mountain slope above the village.
Trust the promises of silence and the smile of understanding, trust that the accident telegram isn't for us and that the sudden axe-blow from within won't come.
Trust the axles that carry us on the highway in the middle of the three hundred times life-size bee-swarm of steel.
But none of this is really worth our confidence.
The five strings say we can trust something else. And they keep us company part of the way.
As when the time-switch clicks off in the stairwell and the fingers--trustingly--follow the blind handrail that finds its way in the darkness.

5

We squeeze together at the piano and play with four hands in F minor, two coachmen on the same coach, it looks a little ridiculous.
The hands seem to be moving resonant weights to and fro, as if we were tampering with the counterweights
in an effort to disturb the great scale arm's terrible balance: joy and suffering weighing exactly the same.
Annie said, "This music is so heroic," and she's right.
But those whose eyes enviously follow men of action, who secretly despise themselves for not being murderers,
don't recognize themselves here,
and the many who buy and sell people and believe that everyone can be bought, don't recognize themselves here.
Not their music. The long melody that remains itself in all its transformations, sometimes glittering and pliant, sometimes rugged and strong, snail track and steel wire.
The perpetual humming that follows us--now--
up
the depths.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"A Place in the Forest"
On the way there a pair of startled wings clattered up--that was all. You go alone. A tall building that consists entirely of cracks, a building that is perpetually tottering but can never collapse. The thousandfold sun floats in through the cracks. In this play of light an inverted law of gravity prevails: the house is anchored in the sky and whatever falls, falls upward. There you can turn around. There you are allowed to grieve. You can dare to face certain old truths otherwise kept packed, in storage. The roles I have, deep down, float up, hang like the dried skulls in the ancestral cabin on some out-of-the-way Melanesian islet. A childlike aura circles the gruesome trophies. So mild it is, in the forest.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"The Blue-Wind Flowers"
To be spellbound--nothing's easier. It's one of the oldest tricks of the soil and springtime: the blue wind-flowers. They are in a way unexpected. They shoot up out of the brown rustle of last year in overlooked places where one's gaze never pauses. They glimmer and float--yes, float--from their color. The sharp violet-blue now weighs nothing. Here is ecstasy, but low voiced. "Career"--irrelevant! "Power" and "publicity"--pompe and "Trompe up!" Raising the rafters. And above all those brows the crowning crystal chandeliers hung like glass vultures. Instead of such an over-decorated and strident cul-de-sac, the wind-flowers open a secret passage to the real celebration, quiet as death.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Everything in Our World Did Not Seem to Fit"
Once they started invading us.
Taking our houses and trees, drawing lines,
pushing us into tiny places.
It wasn't a bargain or deal or even a real war.
To this day they pretend it was.
But it was something else.
We were sorry what happened to them but
we had nothing to do with it.
You don't think what a little plot of land means
till someone takes it and you can't go back.
Your feet still want to walk there.
Now you are drifting worse
than homeless dust, very lost feeling.
I cried even to think of our hallway,
cool stone passage inside the door.
Nothing would fit for years.
They came with guns, uniforms, declarations.
LIFE magazine said,
"It was surprising to find some Arabs still in their houses."
Surprising? Where else would we be?
Up in the hillsides?
Conversing with mint and sheep, digging in dirt?
Why was someone else's need for a home
greater than our own need for our own homes
we were already living in? No one has ever been able
to explain this sufficiently. But they find
a lot of other things to talk about.
--Naomi Shihab Nye


"From an African Diary"
(1963)

On the Congolese marketplace pictures
shapes move thin as insects, deprived of their human power.
It's a hard passage between two ways of life.
He who has arrived has a long way to go.

A young man found a foreigner lost among the huts.
Didn't know whether to take him for a friend or a subject for extortion.
His doubt disturbed him. They parted in confusion.

The Europeans mostly stay clustered by the car as if it were Mama.
The crickets are as strong as electric razors. The car drives home.
Soon the beautiful darkness comes, taking charge of the dirty clothes. Sleep.
He who has arrived has a long way to go.

It helps perhaps with handshakes like a flight of migratory birds.
It helps perhaps to let the truth out of the books.
It is necessary to go further.

The student reads in the night, reads and reads to be free
and having passed his exam he becomes a step for the next man.
A hard passage.
He who has gone furthest has a long way to go.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Hommages"
Walked along the antipoetic wall.
Die Mauer. Don't look over.
It wants to surround our adult lives
in the routine city, the routine landscape.

Eluard touched some button
and the wall opened
and the garden showed itself.

I used to go with the milk pail through the wood.
Purple trunks on all sides.
An old joke hung
as beautiful as a votive ship.

Summer read out of Pickwick Papers.
The good life, a tranquil carriage
crowded with excited gentlemen.

Close your eyes, change horses.

In distress come childish thoughts.
We sat by the sickbed and prayed
for a pause in the terror, a breach
where the Pickwicks could pull in.

Close your eyes, change horses.

It is easy to love fragments
that have been on the way a long time.
Inscriptions on church bells
and proverbs written across saints
and many-thousand-year-old seeds.

Archilochos!--No answer.

The birds roamed over the seas' rough pelt.
We locked ourselves in with Simenon
and felt the serials debouch.

Feel the smell of truth.

The open window has stopped
in front of the treetops
and the evening sky's farewell letter.

Shiki, Björling, and Ungaretti
with life's chalks on death's blackboard.
The poem which is completely possible.

I looked up when the branches swung.
White gulls were eating black cherries.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"About History"
1

One day in March I go down to the sea and listen.
The ice is as blue as the sky. It is breaking up under the sun.
The sun that also whispers in a microphone under the covering of ice.
It gurgles and froths. And someone seems to be shaking a sheet far out.
It's all like History: our Now. We are submerged, we listen.

2

Conferences like flying islands about to crash...
Then: a long trembling bridge of compromises.
There shall the whole traffic go, under the stars,
under the unborn pale faces,
outcast in the vacant spaces, anonymous as grains of rice.

3

Goethe traveled in Africa in '26 disguised as Gide and saw everything.
Some faces become clearer from everything they see after death.
When the daily news from Algeria was read out
a large house appeared with all the windows blackened,
all except one. And there we saw the face of Dreyfus.

4

Radical and Reactionary live together as in an unhappy marriage,
molded by each other, dependent on each other.
But we who are their children must break loose.
Every problem cries in its own language.
Go like a bloodhound where the truth has trampled.

5

Out on the open ground not far from the buildings
an abandoned newspaper has lain for months, full of events.
It grows old through nights and days in rain and sun,
on the way to becoming a plant, a cabbage head, on the way to being united with the earth.
Just as a memory is slowly transmuted into your own self.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Open and Closed Spaces"
A man feels the world with his work like a glove.
He rests for a while at midday having laid aside the gloves on the shelf.
They suddenly grow, spread,
and black out the whole house from inside.

The blacked-out house is away among the winds of spring.
"Amnesty," runs the whisper in the grass: "amnesty."
A boy sprints with an invisible line slanting up in the sky
where his wild dream of the future flies like a kite bigger than the suburb.

Further north you can see from a summit the endless blue carpet of pine forest
where the cloud shadows
are standing still.
No, are flying.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"In the Open"
1

Late autumn labyrinth.
At the entrance to the wood a discarded empty bottle.
Go in. At this season the woods are silently deserted halls.
Only a few kinds of noise: as if someone were cautiously removing twigs with tweezers
or a hinge creaking faintly inside a thick tree trunk.
The frost has breathed on the mushrooms and they have shriveled.
They are like objects and garments found after a disappearance.
Now twilight comes. It's a matter of getting out
and seeing your landmarks again: the rusty implement in the field
and the house on the other side of the lake, a russet square strong as a bouillon cube.

2

A letter from America set me off, drove me out
one light night in June on the empty streets in the suburb
among newborn blocks without memory, cool as blueprints.

The letter in my pocket. Desperate furious striding, it is a kind of pleading.
With you, evil and good really have faces.
With us, it's mostly a struggle between roots, ciphers, and shades of light.

Those who run death's errands don't avoid the daylight.
They rule from glass stories. They swarm in the sun's blaze.
They lean across the counter and turn their head.

Far away I happen to stop before one of the new façades.
Many windows all merging together into one single window.
The light of the night sky is caught there with the gliding of the treetops.
It is a mirroring sea without waves, erect in the summer night.

Violence seems unreal
for a little.

3

The sun scorches. The plane flies low
throwing a shadow in the form of a large cross rushing forward on the ground.
A man is crouching in the field at something.
The shadow comes.
For a fraction of a second he is in the middle of the cross.

I have seen the cross that hangs under cool church vaults.
Sometimes it's like a snapshot
of something in violent movement.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Orangerie"
(for V)

The way you make love is the way God will be with you.
--Rumi


I

The arc of your boneless back flags above me.
We are blind discoverers, the nine seas pool
between us, blue curves, maritime, sheath of
surrender, limbed night.

What sweeter world could be voyaged from
the earth's center, pieced of figsuckle,
orange, the twice-licked skin of key limes,
breath of peppermint, braided, burning.

II

The long twin inches of my hands take the
whole night to ski the two pineapples halves
of you; brown baklava pieced over a caramel
cooler of skin. The monsoon is early.

Two marsupials coax deeper into the pouch of
wet night. Wandering inside the hour of the lung
hoping to turn conch by day. Our outside skins,
well brushed. Inside, we are desperate sandpaper,

breathless, the buttery lights of day sink into
dawn; two perfect halves of pink grapefruit,
skinned, twelve times crushed to velvet, lifted,
assumed to the inside flesh of new coconut.

A burning moon fossilizes, figs sway, right over
right, left dips left. Don't fall, is what you whisper,
back to you, in your sleep. It's too late to warn
the earth of the impression coming.

III

We wrap each other down, around, become
ground cover for every lonely night that ever was.

In the morning the monkeys come to eat what's
left of us. Talk is of the great storm, long gone
now. The older one, the Bishop, who never stops
filling his jaws & covering his eyes, listens back,

for one last thunder squall of fruit he hopes will
fall. He wants one last floating midnight-note to
drop like nine miles of ripe banana down the back
of his throat. He wants return, homily, consecration.

What was it that shook the blood oranges & bread-
fruit from our every tree? What left the roads
reduced, impassable?

What assuaged the purple hills all night, all the way
to the tea blue sea, cooling the fruit floating there,
twister of raw sugar, cubed, then row after row, ginger,
grated, peeled, dried, tangling tango of tongues.
--Nikky Finney


"The Clitoris"
is 9 cm deep
in the pelvis.

Most of it scrunched & hidden.

New studies show
the shy curl
to be longer
than the penis,
but like Africa,
the continent,
it is never drawn
to size.

Mapmakers, and others, who draw
important things for a living,
do not want us to know this.

In some females,

the clitoris stretches,
unfurls,
8 in,
with 2 to 3.5
in, shaft free,
outside the body.

The longest clitoris of record
has been found in the blue whale.

In water
desire can rise,
honor sea levels,
ignore land-locked cartographers.

In water,
desire refuses retreat.
--Nikky Finney


"Dancing with Strom"
I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, there's not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and accept the Negro [pronounced Nigra] into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.
--Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Senator and Presidential Candidate for the States' Rights Party, 1948

I said, "I'm gonna fight Thurmond from the mountain to the sea."
--Modjeska Monteith Simkins, Civil Rights Matriarch, South Carolina, 1948


The youngest has been married off.

He is as tall as Abraham Lincoln. Here, on his
wedding day, he flaunts the high spinning laugh
of a newly freed slave. I stand above him, just
off the second-floor landing, watching
the celebration unfold.

Uncle-cousins, bosom buddies, convertible cars
of nosy paramours, strolling churlish penny-
pinchers pour onto the mansion estate. Below,
Strom Thurmond is dancing with my mother.

The favorite son of South Carolina has already
danced with the giddy bride and the giddy bride's
mother. More women await: Easter dressy,
drenched in caramel, double exposed, triple cinched,
lined up, leggy, ready.

I refuse to leave the porch.

If I walk down I imagine he will extend his
hand, assume I am next in his happy darky line,
#427 on his dance card. His history
and mine, burnt cork and blackboard chalk,
concentric, pancaked, one face, two histories,
slow dragging, doing the nasty.

My father knows all this.

Daddy's Black Chief Justice legs straddle the boilerplate
carapace of the CSS H.L. Hunley, lost Confederate
submarine, soon to be found just off the coast of
Charleston. He keeps it fully submerged by
applying the weight of every treatise he has
ever written against the death penalty of
South Carolina. Chanting "Briggs v. Elliott,"
he keeps the ironside door of the submarine shut.
No hands.

His eyes are a Black father's beacon, search-
lights blazing for the married-off sons, and
on the unmarried, whale-eyed, nose-in-book
daughter, born unmoored, quiet, yellow,
strategically placed under the hospital lights to
fully bake. The one with the most to lose.

There will be no trouble. Still, he chain-
smokes. A burning stick of mint & Indian
leaf seesaws between his lips. He wants
me to remember that trouble is a fire that
runs like a staircase up then down. Even
on a beautiful day in June.

I remember the new research just out:
What the Negro gave America
Chapter 9,206:

Enslaved Africans gifted porches to North
America. Once off the boats they were told,
then made, to build themselves a place--to live.


They build the house that will keep them alive.

Rather than be the bloody human floret on
yet another southern tree, they imagine higher
ground. They build landings with floor enough
to see the trouble coming. Their arced imaginations
nail the necessary out into the floral air. On the
backs and fronts of twentypenny houses,
a watching place is made for the ones who will
come tipping with torch & hog tie through the
quiet woods, hoping to hang them as decoration
in the porcupine hair of longleaf.

The architecture of Black people is sui generis.
This is architecture dreamed by the enslaved:

Their design will be stolen.
Their wits will outlast gold.
My eyes seek historical rest from the kiss-
kiss theater below; Strom Thurmond's
it's-never-too-late-to-forgive-me chivaree.
I search the tops of yellow pine while my
fingers reach, catch, pinch my father's
determined-to-rise smoke.

Long before AC African people did the
math: how to cool down the hot air of
South Carolina?

If I could descend, without being trotted
out by some roughrider driven by his
submarine dreams, this is what I'd take
my time and scribble into the three-tiered,
white crème wedding cake:

Filibuster. States' Rights. The Grand Inquisition
of the great Thurgood Marshall. This wedding
reception would not have been possible without
the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (opposed by
you-know-who).


The Dixiecrat senator has not worn his
sandy seersucker fedora to the vows.
The top of Strom Thurmond's bald head
reveals a birthmark tattooed in contrapposto
pose: Segregation Forever.

All my life he has been the face of hatred;
the blue eyes of the Confederate flag,
the pasty bald of white men pulling wooly
heads up into the dark skirts of trees,
the sharp, slobbering, amber teeth of
German shepherds, still clenched inside
the tissue-thin, (still-marching), band-leader
legs of Black schoolteachers, the single-
minded pupae growing between the legs of
white boys crossing the tracks, ready to
force Black girls into fifth-grade positions,
Palmetto state-sanctioned sex 101.

I don't want to dance with him.

My young cousin arrives at my elbow.
Her beautiful lips the color of soft-skin
mangoes. She pulls, teasing the stitches
of my satin bridesmaid gown, "You better
go on down there and dance with Strom--
while he still has something left."

I don't tell her it is unsouthern for her
to call him by his first name, as if they
are familiar. I don't tell her: To bear
witness to marriage is to believe that
everything moving through the sweet
wedding air can be confidently, left--
to Love.

I stand on the landing high above the
beginnings of Love, holding a plastic
champagne flute, drinking in the warm
June air of South Carolina. I hear my
youngest brother's top hat joy. Looking
down I find him, deep in the giddy crowd,
modern, integrated, interpretive.

For ten seconds I consider dancing with
Strom. His Confederate hands touch
every shoulder, finger, back that I love.
I listen to the sound of Black laughter
shimmying. All worry floats beyond
the gurgling submarine bubbles,
the white railing, every drop of
champagne air.

I close my eyes and Uncle Freddie
appears out of a baby's breath of fog.
(The dead are never porch bound.)
He moves with ease where I cannot.
He walks out on the rice-thrown air,
heaving a lightning bolt instead of
a wave. Suddenly, there is a table set,
complete with 1963 dining room stars,
they twinkle twinkle up & behind him.
Thelonious, Martin, Malcolm, Nina,
Dakota, all mouths Negro wide &
open have come to sing me down.
His tattered almanac sleeps curled like
a wintering slug in his back pocket.
His dark Dogon eyes jet to the scene
below, then zoom past me until they are
lost in the waning sugilite sky. Turning
in the shadows of the wheat fields,
he whispers a truth plucked from
the foreword tucked in his back pocket:
Veritas: Black people will forgive you
quicker than you can say Orangeburg
Massacre
.

History does not keep books on the
handiwork of slaves. But the enslaved
who built this Big House, long before
I arrived for this big wedding, knew
the power of a porch.

This native necessity of nailing down
a place, for the cooling off of air,
in order to lift the friendly, the kindly,
the so politely, the in-love-ly, jubilant,
into the arms of the grand peculiar,
for the greater good of
the public spectacular:

us
giving us
away.
--Nikky Finney
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald


"The Bright Field"
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
--R. S. Thomas


"It Is Marvellous to Wake up Together"
It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air suddenly clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.
An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;
And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as the kisses are changing without our thinking.
--Elizabeth Bishop


"Left"
Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
--Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-out Song," in
Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-
old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-
two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy
in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

Three times a day the helicopter flies
by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on
not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-
kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head
toward the cameraman and the pilot who
remembers well the art of his mirror-eyed
posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,
Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow
Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue
as the Observation Pass.

The roof is surrounded by broken-levee
water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-
ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,
but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old
anniversary of observation begins, again--

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
Catch a--


The woman with pom-pom legs waves
her uneven homemade sign:

Pleas Help Pleas

and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e

do you know simply
by looking at her
that it has been left off
because she can't spell
(and therefore is not worth saving)
or was it because the water was rising so fast
there wasn't time?

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
Catch a--a--


The low-flying helicopter does not know
the answer. It catches all of this on patriotic tape,
but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,
or ladder.

Regulations require an e be at the end
of any Pleas e before any national response
can be taken.

Therefore, it takes four days before
the national council of observers will consider
dropping one bottle of water, or one case
of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof
where the e has rolled off into the flood,

(but obviously not splashed
loud enough)

where four days later not the mother,
not the baby girl,
but the determined hanky waver,
whom they were both named for,
(and after) has now been covered up
with a green plastic window awning,
pushed over to the side
right where the missing e was last seen.

My mother said to pick
The very best one!


What else would you call it,
Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind.

Anyone you know
ever left off or put on
an e by mistake?

Potato Po tato e

In the future observation helicopters
will leave the well-observed South and fly
n Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.
They will arrive over burning San Diego.

The fires there will be put out so well.
The people there will wait in a civilized manner.
And they will receive foie gras and free massage
for all their trouble, while their houses don't
flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground.

The grandmothers were right
about everything.

People who outlived bullwhips & Bull
Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely
fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-
heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by
forty feet of churning water, in the summer
of 2005, while the richest country in the world
played the old observation game, studied
the situation: wondered by committee what to do;
counted, in private, by long historical division;
speculated whether or not some people are surely
born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.

My mother said to pick
The very best one
And you are not it!


After all, it was only po' New Orleans,
old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers
with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would
be left alive to care?
--Nikky Finney


"Concerto no. 11: Condoleezza and the Chickering"
[In Italian, con dolcezza means "with sweetness"]

Angelena Rice, mother, second-generation piano master.
Music is deliberate, lush, summer-alive in the hot
Birmingham air. She is drawn to riff and scat, in the
tradition of the feet of fleeing slaves. Improvisation
darts like Ghanian goldfish in her blood.

Angelena Rice has chops.

She works all day.
She can't teach the girl every little thing.


Mattie Ray, grandmother, first-generation piano master,
the after-school-neighborhood-piano-teacher
of Black girls, on Dynamite Hill, of Condoleezza.

Mattie Ray knows her way to and from the woodshed,
but for Condoleezza, the stride piano is put away:

Practice. Practice. Practice.
Steer your bright mind to Vulcan's torch--
high atop Red Mountain.
He alone will show you how to hammer
out your notes into Roman thunder.


When she is a girl she learns to play to the Italian
in her blood. She is third-generation Black girl with
sensual, graceful, doing fingers. No other Black girl
in Bombingham, with the sound of music emerald
set so deep in her heart, has ever been told over
Sunday dinner, while the gravy is still passing through
the air, King is crazy.

In the future, when she plays Secretary of State on the
world stage, the black keys will always be a stretch.

She will refuse to ever leave the Brahms-etched pages
that she has always counted on being open and before
her. Peter the Great, begging to commence.

When she is at her Watergate window, practicing
at her Chickering, she will, in the tradition of other
deposed heads, refuse to imagination grace notes &
half counts. She won't, not even when no one is
looking, sideslip or walk the white keys with only
the fingers of her left hand.

She will never ever close her eyes to a full spontaneous
pause nor understand the opium sweet of interlude
or diminished scale. The pleasure of imagining a
world outside of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina
will elude her for the rest of her life. No one inside
her inner circle will suggest how else the dawning
new day might sound, if she would only--just this
once--take her eyes off the score.
--Nikky Finney


"Thunderbolt of Jove"
The width of the lightning bolt is only about as wide as a pencil.
--The Weather Channel


The first saffron sheet breaks, two cumulous tin cans spill
a wide powder keg of gunpowder gray. Coiled thunder sparks
the inky nigrescent sky, rinds of one hundred oranges peel,
infuse, are slung. The mother goes flying. The daughter
takes to the glass.

Pots are topped. A stove shut down. The tiny kitchen stage
abandoned. The mother slips from flamingo to fleeing barn
owl. She spills: one widemouthed mason jar of liquid fear.
Her wild turning head is beak & breast pointed south,
toward the farther-further, darker, backside of the house.
She will only give herself to any windowless den, any
camouflage of cover: lavender snow quilt, moth-eaten
polka-dot coverlet, camphor woolens lost in the dark rib
of the closet, anything brother to lead, sister to opacity.

The only daughter stands at the sizzling window. As brown
moth, brazen & mesmerized, heedless, her nose wood-
peckered into the whirling world of the storm, thirsty
to call at the lightning, ambitious to burn, while the mother
throws her last warning out into the pitchfork of sky:

Lightning can come through any open
door, Girl. Can walk straight through
glass at any angle. Can take down
a little thing like you--just like that!


Out of view the mother freely dives. Prayer is the last light
spray of tongue-talk easing her safely down. Underneath
waves of mercerized cotton she will wait out the pageantry
of flashing orange light.

The girl is willing to be turned into the roar of rock, the float
of ash, just to feel its flashy fingers strike, to watch the fiery
sky pull at the tingling tips of her hands grazing the skin of
the glass. Her lips so close to self-suffocation, soon she is
choked back alive, the sky a fusillade of booms; air: florid,
tangerine jagged lines of corn-colored bombs.

At the weatherproof double panes her childhood lifts away
to the dusty locust field. Her fists, ripe with electricity, open
& close, her eyes are sweetly singed. The flutter-beat of her
lashes returns her to the softening sky, to the sight of her
self, on the other side of the kitchen glass, wet, staring back.

She begins shaking herself, back down from sky to earth.
Her stubborn lashes are two honey-drunk bumblebees still
tumbled on their backs. She has been fire-fed, rude. A girl
in levitation with the mad & thundering Jove. Going forward,
she is willing to go blind, lose her obeying-girl tongue, her
momentary sight, for any hot lemony tremble of the long
pencil's flash ever again.

The glass shows respect, staying warm for the mother's
return: She Stagolee-fumbles back into her kitchen. Sleepy
cotton stuck to her cheeks and hair. Her messy bonnet
needs to be retucked. But her eyes know a miracle
when they see one:

The girl is still there, still breathing, still camped out
at the unbroken glass, with a toothpick-size shadow
of resistance balanced in the flush of her lips. Done.
Nothing more to warn the girl against now. Now the long
solemncholy wait, for the twisting out all the way. The final
life & turn, the wax and rock of childbirth evenly sculpted,
the early pollinated melancholy, this sandy, burnished,
smoldering lead of lanky Old Maid-to-be.
--Nikky Finney


"The Four Temperaments"
The probing eye turns the sun's rays into police batons.
And in the evening: the hubbub from a party in the room below
sprouts up through the floor like unreal flowers.

Driving on the plain. Darkness. The coach seemed stuck on the spot.
An anti-bird screeched in starry emptiness.
The albino sun stood over tossing dark seas.

*

A man like an uprooted tree with croaking foliage
and lightning at attention saw the beast-smelling
sun rise up among pattering wings on the world's

rocky island surging ahead behind banners of foam through night
and day with white sea birds howling
on the deck and all with a ticket to Chaos.

*

You need only close your eyes to hear plainly
the gulls' faint Sunday over the sea's endless parish.
A guitar begins twanging in the thicket and the cloud dawdles

slowly as the green sledge of late spring
--with the whinnying light in the shafts--
comes gliding on the ice.

*

Woke with my girl's heels clopping in the dream
and outside two snowdrifts like winter's abandoned gloves
while leaflets from the sun cascaded over the city.

The road never comes to an end. The horizon rushes ahead.
The birds shake in the tree. The dust whirls around the wheels.
All the rolling wheels that contradict death!
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Syros"
In Syros harbor leftover cargo steamers lay waiting.
Prow by prow by prow. Moored many years since:
CAPE RION, Monrovia.
KRITOS, Andros.
SCOTIA, Panama.

Dark pictures on the water, they have been hung away.

Like toys from our childhood that have grown to giants
and accuse us
of what we never became.

XELATROS, Pireus.
CASSIOPEIA, Monrovia.
The sea has read them through.

But the first time we came to Syros, it was at night,
we saw prow by prow by prow in the moonlight and thought:
What a mighty fleet, magnificent connections.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"In the Nile Delta"
The young wife wept over her food
in the hotel after a day in the city
where she saw the sick creep and huddle
and children bound to die of want.

She and her husband went to their room.
Sprinkled water to settle the dirt.
Lay on their separate beds with few words.
She fell in a deep sleep. He lay awake.

Out in the darkness a great noise ran past.
Murmurs, tramping, cries, carts, songs.
All in want. Never came to a stop.
And he sank in sleep curled in a No.

A dream came. He was on a voyage.
In the grey water a movement swirled
and a voice said: "There is one who is good.
There is one who can see all without hating."
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Lament"
He laid aside his pen.
It rests still on the table.
It rests still in the empty room.
He laid aside his pen.

Too much that can neither be written nor kept silent!
He is paralyzed by something happening far away
although the wonderful traveling bag throbs like a heart.

Outside it is early summer.
Whistlings from the greenery--men or birds?
And cherry trees in bloom embrace the trucks that have come home.

Weeks go by.
Night comes slowly.
The moths settle on the windowpane:
small pale telegrams from the world.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"A Winter Night"
The storm puts its mouth to the house
and blows to produce a note.
I sleep uneasily, turn, with shut eyes
read the storm's text.

But the child's eyes are large in the dark
and for the child the storm howls.
Both are fond of lamps that swing.
Both are halfway toward speech.

The storm has childish hands and wings.
The Caravan bolts toward Lapland.
And the house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.

The night is calm over our floor
(where all expired footsteps
rest like sunk leaves in a pond)
but outside the night is wild.

Over the world goes a graver storm.
It sets its mouth to our soul
and blows to produce a note. We dread
the storm will blow us empty.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"[...] she had quite unexpectedly--carving the mutton for Sunday lunch, for no reason, opening a letter, coming into a room--divine moments, when she said to herself (for she would never say this to anybody else), 'This is it. This has happened. This is it!' And the other way about it was equally surprising--that is, when everything was arranged--music, weather, holidays, every reason for happiness was there--then nothing happened at all. One wasn't happy. It was flat, just flat, that was all."
--Virginia Woolf, The New Dress


"I would like to beg you, dear, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
--Rainer Maria Rilke


"Child of Fear:"
By the bed that lies square
By the sky that lies shapeless


In a wrecked yellow forest
she is studying holes.

The bullet of solitude,
that faceless instructor,

bores through her skin, forming
dark portals from whatever it touches.

Under its tutelage, she is sister to wood-bee,
drilling dank shingles to dust.

Her tiny punctures make eye-
sockets for rain.

She takes an oath against plans,
outstacks cedar with absence-of.

The gypsy moth is her hoodlum leader--
together they infiltrate the grove.

(In thin air, the little dunes of debris
pile, whispering unintelligibly.)

There are endless parades of holes, the sky
is humming with holes, the earth collapsing
to dirt-frittered lace, as she

writes the book of unmaking.
--Alessandra Lynch


"80"
How her footsteps crossing blurred the borders
Wet Without papers Wilderness Barbarian

The rock of Tarik Dark lighthouse
for a raft and an unaccommodated barbarian

The whirlwind at the world's western edge
to mark the beginning of the barbarian

The promontories from Algeciras
Almost touching One nosotros One barbarian

If you go there If I follow you If
they forget which of us to call barbarian

A ship's hold fitted with chains A bomb
of infinite radiance Not barbarian

In the barbed hamlet In the vilayet
Ask her body questions and she'll answer in barbarian

From the archipelago of camps Incessant
prayers and songs and curses in barbarian

Wind over the trench graves gathering
every lost nuance of barbarian

How the clean men learn to make bodies dead
then gather in secret to play barbarian

Make him jabber Foul his holy things
Call him One Forsaken in barbarian

Reduced to the radiance of a body
But the days to come made of this Of barbarian

Here's your lover of Babel In the quarrel conducted
in Scripture Empiric Your tongue And Barbarian
--Suzanne Gardinier


"93"
How the guards preserve his life and foul
his body in order to take his soul

The vizier's cross for the master sergeant
Honored harrier of the enemy soul

Is this what's rising over the east rooftops
taking off her old clothes and mine Someone's soul

If not this what are you touching then
Inside me all night If not my soul

I see her smoking a cigarette on the terrace
Touching death with her lips and her fingers Your soul

The looks on the faces of the people gathered
at the salt island scaffold for the auction of her soul

Which is the translation and which
the original tongue The body The soul

The uprising your hand makes The heat and ache
The eloquent stammer of the body The soul

A kitchen for lovers and a woman singing
Why haven't you seen it Body and Soul

Not sure what to do with her outlawed hands
Hesitating in the doorway Whose soul

You've made me forget my name tonight
touching my body aka my soul
--Suzanne Gardinier


"97"
How he walked the hills where the people had died
under his protection as a kind of healing

The rain's way with the shards of September
Touching and bearing away Healing

The girl who had no choice but to walk
on the broken place as it was healing

Under the bandage of darkness The night
the wound's plummet tilts toward healing

She learns to tell them apart by their fruits
The pain of waste and the pain of healing

My transgressor My dove My undefiled
What the fathers called filth and the lovers called healing

She's rewriting the arson warrants tonight
Yrs blessed in the fire Yrs annealed Yrs healing
--Suzanne Gardinier


"98"
My left hand in my hair My right
holding you and writing this poem

This bent message This sheaf of notes
From the whirling night this piece This poem

Hiding and watching the host of young men
and touching himself and making his poem

Whose messenger from the commotion
Whose footfalls just before Whose poem

This scattering This archipelago
scored by straits of silence This poem

How they knew who he was by what they found
in his coat pocket after A witness A poem

In my ninety-eighth dream you and I were sailing
not in a harbor but in a poem

How it burned from the binding of its fascicle
A lightning bolt disguised as a poem

What did not protect her but made a place
where her soul could learn to live A poem

From the margins After When the emperor's edicts
are ashes A song stripped of music A poem

Under my fingers the wetness of this
commission This way you touch me This poem
--Suzanne Gardinier


"Late Empires"
a dead girl by the road

Like a stadium,
emptying its hushed crowds--
Like a fallen empire, spilling refugees--
the stomach
displays its contents.

--

Sorry, the grass said
to the fingers' rigid purple,
to the half-smile where an arm bone
cracked
and split the skin. Sorry,
to the face on the roadside, to the gravel
pitted in the flesh

--

that has sunk these last weeks
into the scrub,

that has cooled in the mists,
the clouds
of drunken flies.

--

He is far away
sleeping on a hotel bed,
singing to the radio,

driving to the city
with another girl
for drinks, more drinks.
We'll have a drink, he says.

--

Rome fell;
the girl fell when he hit her hard.

The girl cried out
and, like Rome, fell on her broken arm
on the roadside.

The girl cried in the sun
on the gravel,
and a knife
to the baths, a knife to the libraries,
knife to the Palatine, knife to the slums,
knife to the throat
that wanted only
to keep its voice inside it.

--

The silence between one Rome
and another:
each empire's incipient failure,
a body's slow decay.
He has already forgotten,
he is far away, and, anyway, this is only
a dead girl,
having spilled a population
into the grass.
--Kevin Prufer


"The 20th Century"
Kiss its cheek, then smooth its sad, gray hair.
Bring it secret cigarettes. How could they hurt
it anymore? A smoke to stanch the fear
is mercy in the end. The doctors purse

their lips or look away. They occupy their hands
with clipboards. Leave them to their notes. Smile. It's what
the dying want. Not tears, you fool. Nor bland-
eyed sentiment. Truth, neither. Offer it

a light. Tell that joke about the Jew, the queer,
the drunken nigger. There you go. It smiles
at that, and so should you. Nothing quells our fears
like comedy, nothing sublimates our ills--

And if it finds no comfort from your visit,
put a pillow to its mouth, and, so, be done with it.
--Kevin Prufer


"Red Velvet"
(for Rosa Parks, 1913-2005)

People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. No--the only thing I was--was tired of giving in.
--Rosa Parks


i

Montgomery, Alabama, 1955

The setting: A rolling box with wheels
The players: Mr. Joe Singleton, Rev. Scott,
Miss Louise Bennett, Mrs. Rosa Parks,
Jacob & Junie (fraternal twins, fourteen)

The game: Pay your Indian head to the driver,
then get off the bus.
Then, walk to the door at the end of the bus.
Then, reboard the bus through the Black back door.
(Then, push repeat for fifty years.)

Sometimes, the driver pulled off,
before the paid-in-full customer
could get to the one open door.

Fed up with buses driving off--without them--
just as her foot lifted up, grazing, the steel step:

She was not a child. She was in her forties.
A seamstress. A woman devoted to
handmade things.

She had grown up in a place:
where only white people had power,
where only white people passed good jobs on
to other white people,
where only white people loaned money
to other white people,
where only white people were considered human
by other white people,
where only the children of white people had new
books on the first day of school,
where only white people could drive to the store
at midnight for milk
(without having to watch the rearview).

ii

A seamstress brings fabric and thread, collars & hems,
buttonholes, together. She is one who knows her way
around velvet.

Arching herself over a river of cloth she feels for the bias,
but doesn't cut, not until the straight pins are in place,
marking everything: in time, everything will come together.

Nine months after, December 1, 1955, Claudette
Colvin, fifteen, arrested for keeping her seat; before that,
Mary Louise Smith. The time to act, held by two pins.

iii

The Montgomery seamstress waits and waits for
the Cleveland Avenue bus. She climbs aboard,
row five. The fifth row is the first row of the Colored
section. The bus driver, who tried to put her off that day,
had put her off twelve years before. But twelve years
before she was only twenty-eight, still a child to the
heavy work of resistance.

By forty-two, you have pieced & sewn many things
together in segregated Alabama. You have heard
"Nigger Gal" more times than you can stitch your
manners down. You have smelled fear cut through
the air like sulfur iron from the paper mills. The pants,
shirts, and socks that you have darned perfectly, routinely,
walk perfectly, routinely, by you. (Afternoon. How do.)
Those moving along so snug in your well-made, well-sewn
clothes, spit routinely, narrowly missing your perfectly
pressed sleeve.

By forty-two, your biases are flat, your seams are inter-
locked, your patience with fools, razor thin.

By forty-two, your heart is heavy with slavery, lynching,
and the lessons of being "good." You have heard
7,844 Sunday sermons on how God made every
woman in his image. You do a lot of thinking with
a thimble on your thumb. You have hemmed
8,230 skirts for nice, well-meaning white women
in Montgomery. You have let the hem out of
18,809 pant legs for growing white boys. You have
pricked your finger 45,203 times. Held your peace.

iv

December 1, 1955: You didn't notice who was
driving the bus. Not until you got on. Later you
would remember, "All I wanted was to get home."
The bus driver, who put you off when you were
twenty-eight, would never be given the pleasure
of putting you off anything ever again. When he
asks you to move you cross your feet at the ankle.

Well--I'm going to have you arrested.

And you, you with your forty-two years, with your
21,199 perfect zippers, you with your beautiful
nation of perfect seams marching all in place, all
around Montgomery, Alabama, on the backs &
hips of Black & white alike, answer him back,

Well--You may go on and do so.

You are arrested on a Thursday. That night in
Montgomery, Dr. King led the chant, "There
comes a time when people just get tired." (He
wasn't quite right, but he was King.) He asked
you to stand so your people can see you. You
stand. Veritas! You do not speak. The indelible
blue ink still on your thumb saying, Enough!
You think about the qualities of velvet: strength
& sway. How mighty it holds the thread and
won't let go. You pull your purse in close,
the blue lights map out your thumb, blazing
the dark auditorium.

On Courthouse Monday, the sun day dew
sweating the grass, you walk up the sidewalk
in a long-sleeved black dress, your white collar
and deep perfect cuffs holding you high and
starched in the Alabama air. A trim black velvet
hat, a gray coat, white gloves. You hold your
purse close: everything valuable is kept near
the belly, just like you had seen your own mother
do. You are pristine. Persnickety. Particular.
A seamstress. Every thing about you gathered
up and in place. A girl in the crowd, taught not to
shout, shouts, "Oh! She's so sweet looking! Oh!
They done messed with the wrong one now."

You cannot keep messing with a sweet-looking
Black woman who knows her way around velvet.
A woman who can take cotton and gabardine,
seersucker and silk, swirl tapestry, and hang
boiled wool for the house curtains, to the very
millimeter. A woman made of all this is never to
be taken for granted, never to be asked to move
to the back of anything, never ever to be arrested.

A woman who believes she is worthy of every
thing possible. Godly. Grace. Good. Whether you
believe it or not, she has not come to Earth to play
Ring Around Your Rosie on your rolling
circus game of public transportation.

A woman who understands the simplicity pattern,
who wears a circle bracelet of straight pins there,
on the tiny bend of her wrist. A nimble, on-the-dot
woman, who has the help of all things, needle sharp,
silver, dedicated, electric, can pull cloth and others
her way, through the tiny openings she and others
before her have made.

A fastened woman
can be messed with, one too many times.

With straight pins poised in the corner
of her slightly parted lips, waiting to mark
the stitch, her fingers tacking,
looping the blood red wale,
through her softly clenched teeth
she will tell you, without ever looking
your way,

You do what you need to do &
So will I.

--Nikky Finney


"Weather Picture"
The October sea glistens coldly
with its dorsal fin of mirages.

Nothing is left that remembers
the white dizziness of yacht races.

An amber glow over the village.
And all sounds in slow flight.

A dog's barking is a hieroglyph
painted in the air above the garden

where the yellow fruit outwits
the tree and drops of its own accord.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Goods"
It's the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
the gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.
--Wendell Berry


"For Eli"
Eli came back from Iraq
and tattooed a teddy bear onto the inside of his wrist
above that a medic with an IV bag
above that an angel
but Eli says the teddy bear won't live
and I know I don't know but I say, "I know"
cause Eli's only twenty-four and I've never seen eyes
further away from childhood than his
eyes old with a wisdom
he knows I'd rather not have
Eli's mother traces a teddy bear onto the inside of my arm
and says, "not all casualties come home in body bags"
and I swear
I'd spend the rest of my life writing nothing
but the word light at the end of this tunnel
if I could find the fucking tunnel
I'd write nothing but white flags
somebody pray for the soldiers
somebody pray for what's lost
somebody pray for the mailbox
that holds the official letters
to the mothers,
--------------fathers,
--------------------sisters,
and little brothers
of Micheal 19... Steven 21... John 33
how ironic that their deaths sound like bible verses
the hearse is parked in the halls of the high school
recruiting black, brown and poor
while anti-war activists
outside walter reed army hospital scream
100, 000 slain
as an amputee on the third floor
breathes forget-me-nots onto the window pain
but how can we forget what we never knew
our sky is so perfectly blue it's repulsive
somebody tell me where god lives
cause if god is truth god doesn't live here
our lies have seared the sun too hot to live by
there are ghosts of kids who are still alive
touting M16s with trembling hands
while we dream ourselves stars on Survivor
another missile sets fire to the face in the locket
of a mother who's son needed money for college
and she swears she can feel his photograph burn
how many wars will it take us to learn
that only the dead return
the rest remain forever caught between worlds of
shrapnel shatters body of three year old girl
to
welcome to McDonalds can I take your order?
the mortar of sanity crumbling
stumbling back home to a home that will never be home again
Eli doesn't know if he can ever write a poem again
one third of the homeless men in this country are veterans
and we have the nerve to Support Our Troops
with pretty yellow ribbons
while giving nothing but dirty looks to their outstretched hands
tell me what land of the free
sets free its eighteen-year-old kids into greedy war zones
hones them like missiles
then returns their bones in the middle of the night
so no one can see
each death swept beneath the carpet and hidden like dirt
each life a promise we never kept
Jeff Lucey came back from Iraq
and hung himself in his parents basement with a garden hose
the night before he died he spent forty five minutes on his fathers lap
rocking like a baby
rocking like daddy, save me
and don't think for a minute he too isn't collateral damage
in the mansions of washington they are watching them burn
and hoarding the water
no senators' sons are being sent out to slaughter
no presidents' daughters are licking ashes from their lips
or dreaming up ropes to wrap around their necks
in case they ever make it home alive
our eyes are closed
america
there are souls in
the boots of the soldiers
america
fuck your yellow ribbon
you wanna support our troops
bring them home
and hold them tight when they get here
--Andrea Gibson


"How Breath Escapes Us"
A half-naked woman dove into
this pool in December.
Her outline's gone. It's April,

a girl poised for the first dive
of the season.
She doesn't know her body

echoes the arc a woman is
forgetting under the earth.
The shock of the water

wakes her body. We need
to deny how breath
escapes us like steam, how

we can love the dead
even halfway,
like Persephone. Or

an almost naked woman diving
into an icy pool
as if that could settle

anything. To chalk the shape
of her body, they had
to break through ice and snow

before drawing the position
she was found in,
frozen, fetal. Like

the empty space in the body
of a new mother,
everything settling back into place.
--George Looney


"Saint Judas"
When I went out to kill myself, I caught
A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
My name, my number, how my day began,
How soldiers milled around the garden stone
And sang amusing songs; how all that day
Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
I held the man for nothing in my arms.
--James Wright


"Outskirts"
Men in overalls the same color as earth rise from a ditch.
It's a transitional place, in stalemate, neither country nor city.
Construction cranes on the horizon want to take the big leap,
but the clocks are against it.
Concrete piping scattered around laps at the light with cold tongues.
Auto-body shops occupy old barns.
Stones throw shadows as sharp as objects on the moon surface.
And these sites keep on getting bigger
like the land bought with Judas' silver: "a potter's field for
burying strangers."
--by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly.


"Untitled"
You did say, need me less and I'll want you more.
I'm still shellshocked at needing anyone,
used to being used to it on my own.
It won't be me out on the tiles till four-
thirty, while you're in bed, willing the door
open with your need. You wanted her then,
more. Because you need to, I woke alone
in what's not yet our room, strewn, though, with your
guitar, shoes, notebook, socks, trousers enjambed
with mine. Half the world was sleeping it off
in every other bed under my roof.
I wish I had a roof over my bed
to pull down on my head when I feel damned
by wanting you so much it looks like need.

Grief, and I want to take it up in you;
joy, and I want to spend it all inside
you; fear, and you are the place I can hide.
Courage is what leaves me brave enough to
turn you around and tell you what to do
to me, after. Rivers, and downstream glide
I; we breathe together. You look, or I'd
get scared, but you're watching while you take me through
the deep part, where I find you, where you need
to know I do know where, know how to drive
the point home. Wit: you get the point and flat
statement of a gift of tongues. I get
up, and you get me down, get lost, you lead
me home, or I take you, and we both arrive.

How can you love me with the things I feel
that scare me crashing on the window glass?
How can you love me when I'm such an ass-
hole (sometimes) I can't take hold of what's real-
ly there and use it, let you take the wheel
and put my head back as the truck-stops pass?
Where would we go that morning? Would the grass
beside the highway mount to granite, steel
and rubber take us far enough that I
could pull my ghosts out of my guts and cry
for them, with you behind me, on some high
stone place, where water breaks from underground
arteries with hard breaths, that would sound
like mine, letting them go, saying goodbye?
--Marilyn Hacker


"The Return"
Earth does not understand her child,
Who from the loud gregarious town
Returns, depleted and defiled,
To the still woods, to fling him down.

Earth can not count the sons she bore,
The wounded lynx, the wounded man
Come trailing blood unto her door;
She shelters both as best she can.

But she is early up and out,
To trim the year of strip its bones;
She has no time to stand about
Talking to him in undertones

Who has no aim but to forget,
Be left in peace, be lying thus
For days, for years, for centuries yet,
Unshaven and anonymous;

Who, marked for failure, dulled by grief,
Has traded in his wife and friend
For this warm ledge, this alder leaf:
Comfort that does not comprehend.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay


"To the Days"
From you I want more than I've ever asked,
all of it--the newcasts' terrible stories
of life in my time, the knowing it's worse that that,
much worse--he knowing what it means to be lied to.

Fog in the mornings, hunger for clarity,
coffee and bread with sour plum jam.
Numbness of soul in placid neighbourhoods.
Lives ticking on as if.

A typewriter's torrent, suddenly still.
Blue soaking through fog, two dragonflies wheeling.
Acceptable levels of cruelty, steadily rising.
Whatever you bring in your hands, I need to see it.

Suddenly I understand the verb without tenses.
To smell another woman's hair, to taste her skin--
To know the bodies drifting underwater.
To be human, said Rosa--I can't teach you that.

A cat drinks from a bowl of marigolds--his moment.
Surely the love of life is never-ending,
the failure of nerve, a charred fuse?
I want more from you than I ever knew to ask.

Wild pink lilies erupting, tasseled stalks of corn
in the Mexican gardens, corn and roses,
shortening days, strawberry fields in ferment
with tossed-aside, bruised fruit.
--Adrienne Rich


"Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it's all a male fantasy: that you're strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren't catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur."
--Margaret Atwood


"1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them."
--Kurt Vonnegut

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