When Women’s Voices was born in the living room of one of our founders, one sentence that was uttered has echoed throughout the many months and years of our work. “We know how to do this,” was the statement. It was said in the context of: We know how to run a movement…or a peaceful revolution…or an evolution with teeth.
This week’s Poetry Sunday poem, by Lynnel Jones (right) was sent to us by her friends (and ours) at On The Issues Magazine. It speaks of how we women who have been around more than one block in our lifetimes know how to be there for what we care about. It’s a nice reminder of our power to make a difference in 2012.
Varieties of Rapture
That May morning
another Rapture’d been forecast
and some who’d scoffed
just plain drivers
out at the stoplight
between the Chestnut Hill Diner
and the northbound lane
of the highway where
ten people held up homemade signs
TAX SHALE GAS DRILLING
By 1:00 we’d moved ourselves
and the signs
to the corner of Main
and Court House Square
our numbers enlarged
by three octogenarians
one hobbling between cars
stopped at the light
she was grinning and
knocking on windows
the other two
signs propped against their knees
and the wheels of their chairs.
Lynnel Jones’ poetry is steeped in the joys and struggles of Minnesota’s immigrant mining community, and the lives of the people of rural southern Virginia and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, where she now lives. Her poetry has appeared in numerous online and print journals. Her chapbook, “Rocks and Crazy People,” was published by www.FoothillsPublishing.com in 2008.
Anything that one is drawn to say about Ginger Andrews is a going to be a mere piece of the picture. Yes, she cleans houses with her sisters for a living. Yes, she has lived on the trailer side of town while doing for the people in the houses on the hill. Yes, she’s published two collection of poems and won the Nicholas Roerich prize for An Honest Answer. Yes, one Amazon write-up about her says she holds the record for the most poems read on Garrison Keillor’s The Writers Almanac.
All true, but to accept the the sum of those parts as a whole is like totaling a summer season by describing a week of warm days. This is a woman who does for others the way most people brush their teeth—automatically and with a sense that they aren’t living right if they don’t. She’s someone who takes in a seriously ailing nephew because it cheers her to know it cheers him to be at her house. Someone who worries about her husband’s bad back while she has shingles. And who can have the flu and wonder if she’s shirking her duty to be at the church service.
Andrews is just plain good—without being just anything. And in the poem she has sent us, she reminds us that angels turn up unannounced and what looks like hell may be a reminder to be thankful for your own corner of heaven. We give thanks for her in advance of the holiday when we know she, in her great goodness and capacity for gratitude, will be giving enough thanks for all of us.
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing
some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
If the almost perfectly fluted edge
of your homemade pumpkin pie’s crust burns
even though you carefully crinkled aluminum foil around it
as soon as you noticed it was browning way too fast,
for goodness sake don’t cry. Just cut it off.
Swirl Cool Whip around where the crust was.
Nobody really cares. They will eat it.
Life will go on, trust me. The truth is
there’s always someone with a sadder story.
If your father hasn’t had both of his legs amputated,
if he isn’t lying on a pee-stained mattress;
doesn’t have bed sores, a diaper rash, a shriveling liver,
a bad heart and cataracts; if your sister
isn’t burnt black from neck to groin
from radiation, if chemo
doesn’t have her full of phlegm and bile, trust me,
these are your good times.
The trick is keeping busy, cleaning house, cooking, opening
your door to strangers, entertaining all possible angels.
We feel privileged to open WVFC’s discussion of the legacy of September 11 with this contribution from Karol Nielsen, who has graced our Poetry Friday before and spoke to us in July about her new book, Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011), a memoir of travel, adventure, love, war, and dreams. Nielsen has contributed to Smith Magazine’s The Moment anthology (Harper Perennial, 2012) and many publications, including the New York Times, New York Newsday, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Guernica, Lumina, and Epiphany before she became nonfiction editor of the latter award-winning magazine. Excerpts from her memoir were selected as Notable Essays in The Best American Essays. Her poetry collection, coming out as a chapbook, Red, Blue (Finishing Line Press, 2012), was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry. She teaches memoir writing at New York University.
You were there keeping guard,
perched outside the firehouse,
cherry walls around you,
chin resting on open palm,
elbow on bent knee, watching
over me, my street, my city.
When I woke, you were there,
black smoke, a cloud before dawn,
forcing me out of bed, fleeing
down the fire escape, you fighting
yellow sparks shooting along
my roof, fireworks on display.
When my sister spotted flames,
flaring like orange tongues
licking air, mouth wide open,
fearing my father’s flight had hit—
leaving craters in our giant pillars
downtown—you were there.
When I passed Latino women
hugging in tears, a blond man
waving SOS, a mosque
abandoned, Eleanor Roosevelt
sitting quietly along the path
to the pier, you were there.
When I sat down, sanctuary on a
weathered bench, boathouses
holding their own in the Hudson,
Canada geese lapping carefree,
periwinkle sky preening above,
Palisades yawning, a morning stretch,
you were there. Like you were
when Mary Jo ran to her bus,
beneath debris falling like meteorites,
dense gray smoke choking heavens,
dust billowing like volcano ash,
coating all, itching bare skin.
When Maria dashed away from
crumbling columns, sprinting
and speed walking home,
uptown, thinking how unreal,
how much like Godzilla,
crushing our City, Ground Zero,
you were there. When my father
landed safe in Detroit, unharmed,
after witnessing a jet jam into
one of those tall, tall towers,
flames spewing by his window,
wondering what had gone down,
you were there. Like you were
at the marathon, when we ran
for you, below doves, white wings
soaring above, past Latino bands,
Hasidim wearing black robes,
Harlem ladies cheering,
“You go girl, go.” When we
limped, lead legs, to the finish,
knowing how you had saved
this city, are still saving,
healing our membrane, wounded,
making us whole, you were there.
The Amazing Elena Kras
Though completely deaf, Elena Kras speaks and “hears” without sign language. She is a recognized poet, author and journalist in Russian and Ukrainian and self taught in English, a necessity since she and her family moved to the United States 10 years ago.
She now writes both poems and novels in her adopted language.
She courageously sought us out as a vehicle for bringing her to a wider audience. The pleasure is all ours. Here is a new, beautiful and powerful voice in poetry from a woman whose understanding knows no bounds.
O R G A N I S T
If I always sleep
at the time of its calling,
If my heart goes on,
being thrown into the bend,
How would my hands
fall, like night is falling,
At this dead organ,
wishing for the music to end?
This is just the sounds
that make my lips thinner,
That dry up my soul,
distorting the Fate’s list…
I will answer for
being an unrepentant sinner,
Who still dares to bother
your hollow echo,
I didn’t hear you playing,
I’ve only been a jester,
Every pain is too aching,
this road of yours – too long…
Even if I have found
my ever-undying Esther,
I’m forgetting about
the places where I belong…
Reprinted with permission of the poet, Elena Kras, 2011.
when I was home sick from school. Of the nurse
bringing three babies into the ward and her praying
that hers wouldn’t be the ugly one in the middle.
And of how one moment can paint your portrait,
the only one you’ll ever have of yourself.
And now faced with this stunning stranger,
I imagine how she assembled herself with an eye
toward the pleasure she must always have given–
the way the white cat might curl on a green sofa
or a cardinal select the branch nearest the snowy
backdrop, with a right to be noticed, the necessity
of standing in this world as a pleasing antidote
to the despair of houses in a rundown neighborhood
where the lawns never prosper and women who
don’t realize they have the power of words, if nothing
else, might say on an incongruously sunny afternoon
something that will dye a future, no matter what pictures
are in the child’s coloring book or how hard she tries to keep
inside the lines using only the pastels and sometimes even
staying up late to get the sky just the right color blue
Last week we celebrated the news that W.W. Norton granted us permission to reprint five poems by the monumental Molly Peacock, a wonder of a woman and a presence as a poet. Today we offer two servings of her food for thought, but first some facts about their creator. Molly Peacock has garnered innumerable honors and performed inestimable services to poetry and society. Among them are her service as Poet-in-Residence at Poets’ Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City; past president of the Poetry Society of America; and one of the originators of Poetry in Motion, the inspired program that placed poetry on subways and buses. The word ‘indomitable’ comes to mind when thinking about Molly Peacock, a woman who understands the power of words and has a power over them like no other.
What we don’t forget is what we don’t say.
I mourn the leaps of anger covered
by quizzical looks, grasshoppers covered
by coagulating chocolate. Each word,
like a leggy thing that would have sprung away,
we caught and candified so it would stay
spindly and alarmed, poised in our presence,
dead, but in the shape of its old essence.
We must eat them now. We must eat the words
we should have let go but preserved, thinking
to hide them. They were as small as insects blinking
in our hands, but now they are stiff and shirred
with sweet to twice their size, so what we gagged
will gag us now that we are so enraged.
PUTTING A BURDEN DOWN
Putting a burden down feels so empty
you almost want to hoist it up again,
for to carry nothing means there is no “me”
almost. Then freedom, like air, creeps in
as into a nearly airtight house, estranging
you and your burden, making a breach to leap in,
changing an airless place into a landscape,
an outdoors so full of air it leaves you breathless,
there’s so much to breathe. Now you escape
what you didn’t even know had held you.
It’s so big, the outside? How will you ever carry it?
No, no, no, you are only meant to live in it.
This wide plain infused with a sunset? Here?
With distant mountains and a glittering sea?
With distant burdens and a glittering “me,” here.
Reprinted from CORNUCOPIA: New and Selected Poems by Molly Peacock. © 2002 by Molly Peacock. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
This week Women’s Voices for Change received a wonderful gift: permission to bring you five of Molly Peacock’s poems. Molly Peacock is a true voice for women–forthright and wondering, pained and soothing, urban and earthy—someone as true to the polarity of living as she is solid and authentic in every line. Author of six books of poetry; performer of The Shimmering Verge, a one-woman staged monologue in poems; writer of prose; guide of the caroling crowds of poets she’s taught and encouraged; monument on the page, Ms. Peacock is one of a kind and ours for this month. Here is the first of our October Five, presented with gratitude and a shout of how lucky we are.
Friends are our families now. They act
With rivalry and concern, as sisters
And brothers have acted. They repeat the fact
of family without the far-walked blisters
of heredity. Friends echo childhood
but stop childish acts, for they do not require
the child in us to serve. It is our mood
that friends serve and in our mirrors we admire
their faces and ours. Where would I meet
my sister as a friend now? Though I love her,
we have only our childhoods in common.
Friends help me get rid of what we’ll never
get rid of: our terror of the childhood we shun.
How sick I am of it! Yet I am it, which
my friends know, for the feel it as we embrace,
as I feel their families coursing through them. We itch
to understand what we cannot erase
but can no longer live inside of. Thus
we confide in those outside we bring beside us.
Reprinted from CORNUCOPIA: New and Selected Poems by Molly Peacock. Copyright (c) 2002 by Molly Peacock. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
If the encomiums applied to Diane Ackerman in the course of her career were laid end to end, they would not so much circle the globe as blanket it in beauty. She has that rare gift of intelligence that begins in offering—a kind of one-woman outreach program wherein she means to help us all to understand that our time here can be kinder and conducted from the standpoint of humanity’s higher purpose. As a poet, novelist, essayist and guide to the natural world, she has explained that purpose with the touch of a sprite and the conviction of a goddess. Brava to her for offering her singular guidance to schoolchildren in this poem.
In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,
I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.
In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,
I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.
Last week, WVFC was graced with two poems by Lucia Perillo, who has published six books of poetry, most recently Inseminating the Elephant (Copper Canyon Press, 2009). A book of her essays, I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing, was published in 2007 by Trinity University Press. Her book of poems, Luck is Luck (Random House 2005), was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and won the Kingsley Tufts prize from Claremont University. A former MacArthur fellow, Perillo lives in Olympia, Washington. We are honored to continue her voice here.
The Crows Start Demanding Royalties
Of all the birds, they are the ones
who mind their being armless most:
witness how, when they walk, their heads jerk
back and forth like rifle bolts.
How they heave their shoulders into each stride
as if they hoped that by some chance
new bones there would come popping out
with a boxing glove on the end of each.
Little Elvises, the hairdo slicked
with too much grease: they convene on my lawn
to strategize for their class-action suit.
Flight they would trade in a New York minute
for a black muscle car and a fist on the shift
at any stale green light. But here in my yard
by the Jack in the Box dumpster
they can only fossick in the grass for remnants
of the world’s stale buns. And this
despite all the crow-poems that have been written
because men like to see themselves as crows
(the head-jerk performed in the rear-view mirror,
the dark brow commanding the rainy weather.)
So I think I know how they must feel:
ripped off, shook down, taken to the cleaners.
What they’d like to do now is smash a phone against a wall.
But they can’t, so each one flies to a bare branch and screams.
Linda Benninghoff has published most recently in Agenda, Ocho and MiPOesias. She has published five chapbooks, one of which won an Editor’s Choice Award from Kritya, an arts center in Kerala, India. She earned her B.A. in English from Johns Hopkins University and an M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Stony Brook University. Now at work on a full-length book, Benninghoff is assistant poetry editor at Womenwriters.net.
This winter I find a white fish bone
at the edge of a river.
The air of the house
clogs with the sea
and its rasping voice–
wave after wave,
the slow music tells me
will never be mine,
though it has stared at me
from strange eyes
beating wings like a bird
who loses its fear
in my hand,
glancing like a child
with my own thoughts in its eyes.
I know I have never owned anything,
not my hands, my thoughts
nor even the butterflies
against stones and flowers,
wavering, thick with themselves,
thronging in a light
that does not divide them,
or tell of any order
besides this day’s blind sun.
Another of Millicent Borges Accardi’s poems to celebrate– this time one that allows us to see ourselves in another’s wish to amend her life. Here’s how this inspiring poet thinks and writes about earning the ability to have it all.
On a Theme by William Stafford
If I could be like Wallace Stevens,
I’d fold my clothes into the bureau
drawer instead of living
from a suitcase. I’d hang up my long
coat in the closet and really move
I’d cook food in my room on a hot
plate, then open up the window for
the neighbors. With my tongue
pursed like a stick, I’d push my ice
cream all the way down to the end,
so that even the last bite contained
both cone and cream.
Last week we were fortunate to spend time in interview with Millicent Borges Accardi, a poet whose acclaim for prowess on the page is matched by admiration for the examined life she lives so well and so simply. In the coming weeks, we will present three of the transcendent poems from “Woman on a Shaky Bridge,” starting today with this haunting account of intention and commitment. While the work speaks for itself, we add ours to the praise Ms. Accardi so justly receives as an artist, a woman and an example of dedication to decoding the mysteries we all face as we halt and go on.
The woman thought she would be good,
making sure he washed,
rescuing black stockings, wood pile
scraps. Finding theatre tickets
and collecting parking stubs.
She thought she would be good
at using his soap. Remembering
not to wear perfume and waking
up to call home. In the hotel,
hiding while the hot water ran,
her heart compact as plywood.
She thought she would be good
at belonging. The bulk of her time
a two-by-four dove-tailed into a corner,
getting the best he had to offer.
She thought she had a talent for being aloof.
On him, she made few demands.
When he was away, she imagined
his heart open, fearless
hands holding a piece of wood steady
while a diamond-point blade cut through.
Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan, Suffolk County’s Poet Laureate for 2009-2011, is the author of the chapbooks The Bitter, The Sweet, One Woman’s Voice, Let Me Tell You Something and For Michael. In 2006 she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Let Me Tell You Something. She is the founder and president of The North Sea Poetry Scene, Inc. and The North Sea Poetry Scene Press, and edited Long Island Sounds Anthology.
I am not the coca cola girl,
the Cheez-It tidbit waiting for you to taste,
the limo ride to the Yankee’s game,
the wrangler jeans chick baking in the New Mexico sun,
and I never was or will be Sunday mornings in spring. I am the time-ticking-away second hand,
the flat tire on the side of the road,
the too high door jam,
the worn-out tooth brush,
the 59 cents in the ashtray,
the Lunch Poems dog-eared book,
and the who never forgets to tell the truth.
Maybe Someday I Will Get It Right
I forgot to close the window near the book case and bring in the cat and roll up the windows in the faded green clunker I call my car in the oil-stained drive, and get the flashlight new batteries, just in case of another week-long blackout, and fill a few gallons of water and let out the dog before it came down in sheets. I forgot to tell you I need you. I forgot to cut back the Montauk daises and cover the pool and store away the grill and pack away the lounge cushions, the ones with white and blue stripes, the ones you hate and the ones I love, and crank down the squeaky brown picnic table umbrella, the one the yellow jackets seem drawn to, and put Michael’s school project Adirondack chair into the shed before the leaves were done falling and walking became a trick we both watched to see if the other could do. I forgot to tell you I want you. I forgot to salt the drive and put the shovels near the front door, and get the winter clothes, including the scarves I crocheted with brown and orange yarn, and the sweat shirts; the ones we got from the Giants game in 1998, and the boots that I swear I am tossing out each spring before the blizzard hit our home like a tidal wave. I forgot tell you I love you. I forgot. I forgot. I forgot. I forgot to fill the bird feeder and plant the red tulip bulbs, and lime the lawn and put a fresh coat of paint on the mailbox and hose off the screens, leaning them against the wooden shingles of our single story home, just as my mother had and her mother had before her, and put the house plants out for air before the robins arrived to pull worms up from their slumber. I forgot to tell you how I pray. I forgot to tell you I remember August 31st . I forgot to tell you I was wrong. I forgot to leave the porch light on, just in case you return.
When, after being named U.S. Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan said, “All of us want instant success, I’m glad I was on a sort of slow drip,” she summarized her journey as an artist and her capacity for patience.
We have spent this month of Poetry Fridays celebrating Ms. Ryan’s patience on the page. Her sly and wry way of working small to get to the enormous is a gift to a nation that is fortunate to have her at the helm of our prosodic matters. It’s been a joy to spend National Poetry Month with her and a privilege to have her permission to print a bouquet of her perennial poems. We close the month with one of our favorites–for obvious reasons–in tribute to what her waiting brought to her and all of us.
wider than one
natives in their
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
from the genuine
Reprinted with permission from Say Uncle, Grove Press, New York. Copyright 2000 by Kay Ryan. “Patience” first appeared in The New Yorker.
Here at Women’s Voices for Change we celebrate that capability within women—that capacity to make do and go on—with hope. No wonder we are spotlighting the poems of Ryan, our nation’s Poet Laureate, during April, National Poetry Month. She is the perfect poet to salute during the month when we renew our acquaintance with the inner voice that poets hear and speak for us all.
Tenderness and Rot
Tenderness and rot
share a border.
And rot is an
keeps creeping over.
can be drawn
from this however.
One is not
One is not meat
It is important
to stay sweet
(This poem originally appeared in the January 2002 issue of Poetry. Reprinted here by permission of the the author.)