Kill me before my land……………………………Sheltering-in-place #9

In response to Donald Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech

 

ccraig

 

 

An erasure poem done from an address which Takanta Iyotanka is said to have given to a council at  Powder River in 1877. Reported to Charles Alexander Eastman, available from Charles Alexander Eastman’s Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains. From http://entersection.com/posts/1144-sitting-bull-on-western-civilization, accessed 4 July 2020

He-kha’ka Nang zhe was a negotiator for the Sioux in Washington in 1857.  The photograph is from Native Journeys in American Photography, edited by Jane Alison published by the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Other than that I have no words for the desecration performed by Mr. Trump on the 3rd of July, 2020

In fact we will be dead…………………Sheltering-in-Place #8

Rosehips, Moone.                        ccraig

Erasure/Blackout/Found Poetry is considered relatively new poetic form.  It consists of taking a text and removing words with markers, drawings, white out, images, pen and ink, what-have-you to create something new.  In general, only  words found in the original text are used and used in the order in which they are found.

Erasure poetry has  frequently been created as an artistic response to a political/current situation or event such as war, racism, misogynism.   Travis McDonald did an erasure of the Warren Commission Report; Margaret Yocom did a long poem based on a Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tale and the issue of incest.  Janet Holmes did erasures of the poems of Emily Dickinson in response to the Iraq war.

On the above:  I transcribed the statements from a CNN video of residents arguing against a Palm Beach, Florida commission’s order that masks be worn — except for the last three lines which come from a subsequent meeting in Saint Lucie, Florida.

Months into the plague now ………………… Sheltering-in-Place #7

Siblings, Dar al Akhmar, Cairo.                          ccraig

 

Dad Poem (Ultrasound #2)…Joshua Bennett with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks

 

Months into the plague now,
I am disallowed
entry even into the waiting
room with Mom, escorted outside
instead by men armed
with guns & bottles
of hand sanitizer, their entire
countenance its own American
metaphor. So the first time
I see you in full force,
I am pacing maniacally
up & down the block outside,
Facetiming the radiologist
& your mother too,
her arm angled like a cellist’s
to help me see.
We are dazzled by the sight
of each bone in your feet,
the pulsing black archipelago
of your heart, your fists in front
of your face like mine when I
was only just born, ten times as big
as you are now. Your great-grandmother
calls me Tyson the moment she sees
this pose. Prefigures a boy
built for conflict, her barbarous
and metal little man. She leaves
the world only months after we learn
you are entering into it. And her mind
the year before that. In the dementia’s final
days, she envisions herself as a girl
of seventeen, running through fields
of strawberries, unfettered as a king
-fisher. I watch your stance and imagine
her laughter echoing back across the ages,
you, her youngest descendant born into
freedom, our littlest burden-lifter, world
-beater, avant-garde percussionist
swinging darkness into song.

 

 

 

 

Comment:

I picked this poem for the lines “escorted outside/instead by men armed/with guns and bottles/ of hand sanitizer, their entire/ countenance their own American/ metaphor. “ And because I liked the rest of it of course.

Those faces, that ‘American metaphor’, and the guns that accompany them are something that shock me every time I come back into the United States.  I can’t think of any other place I have seen so many faces looking out from behind those gates.  In Egypt, in Mexico where in my memory every important building had a soldier with a rifle, maybe sandbags, the soldiers looked like kids, scared and wanting you to know it.  Perhaps I saw that same look in Brazil under the military, a pretty tame military as those kinds of regimes go and on its way out.  But the police were famously  brutal; they had that same barricaded look.  White and foreign and relatively safe as I was, for two years I refused to ask them so much as directions on the street.  It was my tiny act of solidarity with their victims in the favelas.

This poem came courtesy of A-Poem-A-Day from poets.org.  I couldn’t find out much about Joshua Bennett. He is the Mellon Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Dartmouth and  has a wonderful post on his twitter account( https://twitter.com/sirjoshbennett?lang=en):

My grandparents met in a strawberry field. They were teenagers, sharecroppers,
Black human beings living under the weight of unthinkable duress. Black freedom
is in the futures they dreamt, and the abundant lives they pulled from the air.
#ImagineBlackFreedom

 

 

the country burns……….Sheltering-in-Place #6

 

Tom Cotton: Send in the Troops             

the country burns… is an erasure poem based on the New York Times column by Senator Tom Cotton which urged the use of military force against Black Lives Matter protests.  There has been some blood on the walls over the Times decision to solicit the column from Senator Cotton with the editor who published and defended the publication forced to resign.   You can read the original text through the photographic overlay.  Published today in honor of the coming national holiday, Juneteenth.

I thought we were an archipelago….Sheltering in Place #5

Dar al ahmar                                                                                            c.craig

 

 

attention as a form of ethics (excerpt)…..

Asiya Wadud (American)

I thought we were an archipelago
each felt under our own finessed and gilded wing
let’s make an assumption
let’s make an assumption that.             the lake has a bottom
let’s make an assumption that    that everyone will mourn
let’s sack a hundred greenbacks 

for the sake of acknowledging they mean something 
what does it mean to have worth? 
who would dream to drain a lake? 
I spent my days staring into the eye of the Baltic 
it’s because I am also a body of water 
it’s not that onerous  
I’ve built a muscle memory  
it’s not that heavy 
let’s talk about erasure I mean 
that’s easy 
start with a word that you don’t like 
start with a people you didn’t know 
start with a neighborhood, rank 
start with any miasma dispersed 
let’s talk about burden 
let’s talk about burden for the weight 
it lends us 
let’s talk about supplication 
about my palms — uplift, patience 

let’s celebrate our substance  
subsistence in  
amber rivulets of stilllife 
constellations how you molded me  
country how we became it 
the longitude is a contested border  
my longest muscle I named  familiar 

 

Asiya Wadud

I know very little about this poet. Her website says she “lives in Brooklyn where she loves animals.” Her publisher’s website adds that she teaches poetry to children and English to immigrants. Photographs show that she looks young, is pretty and has glorious hair.

This poem came to me as email poem-a-day from poets.org.  I tried to find a fuller version.  There is a video of her reading a longer version here https://vimeo.com/358902549.

I believe the poem comes from her book Syncope.  About Syncope critic John Waters says “Syncope is poet Asiya Wadud’s profound, wrenching, and clarifying new book of poetry about the 2011 tragedy in which a boat filled with African migrants and refugees bound from Libya to Lampedusa, Italy was literally “left-to-die” in the Mediterranean. An act of recovery, of countermemory, of memorial, of resistance, Syncope represents one of poetry’s powers: to write the unwriteable, to bring voices, history, and lives forth from the depths.”

Her website uses scans of hands as graphics.  Scan can be a powerful form of photography.  I find her hand scans moving.

With a mirror I could see the sky…..Sheltering in Place #4

 

boy at window darker 2

night, boy at window, Stockton Street                                                                                    c.craig

The Room

Denise Levertov (British American 1923-1997)

With a mirror
I could see the sky.

With two mirrors or three
justly placed, I could see
the sun bowing to the evening chimneys.

Moonrise -the moon itself might appear
in a fourth mirror placed high
and close to the open window.

With enough mirrors within
and even without the room, a cantilever
supporting them, mountains
and oceans might be manifest.

I understand perfectly
that I could encounter my own eyes
too ofen -I take account
of the danger-
If the mirrors
are large enough, and arranged
with bravura, I can look
beyond my own glance.

With one mirror
how many stars could I see?

I don’t want to escape, only to see
the enactment of rites.

 

 

 

Denise Levertov was born in England to politically active parents.  She is quoted as saying when young she sold The Daily Worker in the working class streets of Ilford Lane.  Immigrating to the United States, she became friends with William Carlos Williams and was published by the Black Mountain School.   Levertov was taken to task for her poetic response to the Vietnam War — especially the collection To Stay Alive.  Critic Marjorie Perloff characterized that as the work of “an hysterical woman” — dismissing both the message and the messenger. Michael Bengal, from whose 2017 blog (1), I took the Perloff quote,  defends Levertov. He  argues that she was (in the words of Paul Blackburn whose friendship with Levertov broke on the rocks of her Vietnam War work)  “mining … images the war arouses in us.” (2)

With that I arrive at what I see as the question of the moment and why I chose her poem:  with what can we respond to the brutal images — I do not refer to the sick here, I refer to the politics  —  massing around us?  I wish  we knew.

 

(1) http://mikebegnal.blogspot.com/2017/07/on-denise-levertovs-to-stay-alive-1971.html
(2) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69088/craft-vs-conscience

Things I didn’t know I loved……Sheltering in place #3

Connolly Station, 2007  c.craig

 

 

Things I didn’t know I loved

Nazim Hikmet  (Turkish Poet 1902-1963)

it’s 1962 March 28th
I’m sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain
I don’t like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn’t know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn’t worked the earth love it
I’ve never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love

and here I’ve loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hill
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can’t wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you’ll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long
as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before
and will be said after me

I didn’t know I loved the sky
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace
into Turkish
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard
the guards are beating someone again
I didn’t know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish
“the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves
. . .they call me The Knife. . .
lover like a young tree. . .
I blow stately mansions sky-high”
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen handkerchief 

to a pine bough for luck

I never knew I loved roads
even the asphalt kind
Vera’s behind the wheel we’re driving from Moscow to the Crimea
Koktebele
formerly “Goktepé ili” in Turkish
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Gerede
when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn’t have anything in the wagon they could
take
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I’ve written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I’m going to the shadow play
Ramazan night
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy
going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather’s hand
   his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
with a sable collar over his robe
and there’s a lantern in the servant’s hand
and I can’t contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky
I didn’t know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison

I just remembered the stars
I love them too
whether I’m floored watching them from below
or whether I’m flying at their side

I have some questions for the cosmonauts
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don’t
    be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract
    well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to
    say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not feel at all sad
I never knew I loved the cosmos

snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind
I didn’t know I liked snow

I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors
but you aren’t about to paint it that way

I didn’t know I loved the sea
except the Sea of Azov

or how much

I didn’t know I loved clouds
whether I’m under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois
strikes me
I like it

I didn’t know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my
   heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop
   and takes off for uncharted countries I didn’t know I loved
   rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting
   by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette
one alone could kill me
is it because I’m half dead from thinking about someone back in
            Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue

the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn’t know I loved sparks
I didn’t know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
    to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return

    19 April 1962
Moscow

 

I lived in Turkey for a year.  In Kadikoy, which is mentioned in the poem.  I had planned to write a book on the women coming out of the former Soviet Union when communism converted  to capitalism overnight and none of the average or the lowly had any capital.  Some Soviets citizens went south, around the Black Sea to Turkey carrying whatever they could carry to sell in the markets of Istanbul.

What some of the women had were their bodies and they sold those.  There were no pimps at that time, no violence that I heard about and no drugs.  Though those things, I believe, came later. The women used the money they earned to buy small items to sell.  They took these back north with them, not just to Russia, but to Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania.  They were capitalists in its most basic form.

I liked those women a lot.  Sometimes their stories made me cry.

I liked Turkey a lot too.  After Ireland, after Egypt where so many of my memories are linked to open, to public laughter, I had to get used to the fact that Turks did not share themselves on the streets.  I found them, however, among the kindest people I had ever known.  My Turkish was alway abysmal and I could never say more than good day and thank you to the vegetable seller across from where my daughter and I lived.  But on the day my furniture was being moved in, he closed his stall and spent hours helping me get it up the four flights of stairs to my apartment.

I never did the book.  Cholera and Typhoid were spreading, even ex-pats were getting them. There was no reliable vaccine against cholera and my daughter was only nine years old.  The closest I got to my book was a small feature in the magazine Business Week for whom I wrote when I returned to Ireland.

I chose Nazim HIkmet’s poem because I love him as a poet and because sheltering in place is a kind of exile, a kind of loss.  This poem seems to me to be a hymn to loss.

 

 

Nazim Hikmet Ran was born on January 15, 1902 in Salonika, Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloníki, Greece). In 1921, he went to Anatolia to take part in the war of independence. His interest in the October Revolution in Russia took him, to the USSR. Nâzım Hikmet returned to Turkey as a committed marxist. The poetry he now wrote reflected a new understanding and earned him great acclaim. Nâzım Hikmet was imprisoned many times because of his poetry. The last charges against him resulted in a 28 year prison sentence in 1938 for inciting mutiny in the navy. A campaign in support of Nâzım Hikmet’s innocence started in 1949 in protest of his imprisonment and created significant reverberations abroad. With the passing of a general amnesty in 1950, Nâzım Hikmet was released from prison. Following his acquital, Hikmet left the country because of political pressure . He was extradited from Turkish citizenship in 1951. He died in Moscow where lived until 1963. (edited from: https://www.nazimhikmet.org.tr/en/nazim-hikmet/biography/)

 

 

A gentle wind blows from the water….Sheltering-in-place #2

 

Thistle, Dodder River, Dublin – c.craig

 

The Great Birds, Kenneth Patchen ( American poet, 1911-1972)

A gentle wind blows from the water.
Along the bank great birds are majestically striding.
It is morning!

Far out there are boats. Far, far out on the crumbling blue shelf
… toy swans slowly, slowly moving their honey-clotted wings.  It
is morning.  Morning … and as every morning is, it is unstained
now … it is exactly like the very first morning ever to come to this
world.

O the sparkling land, the sea, the heavens!
O hushed and clean in the wonder of it!
As slowly, slowly now the great birds appear … wheeling up,
up, up! And at last they are above the village, above the golden-
pink blur of houses and bridges — with our two hearts caught
in the lift of their great wings.

And now the boats … nearer, nearer they come! At last we can
see the glitter of fish on their decks.  And yes, one of
the fisherman has glimpsed us — he waves, calls a greeting, above
him wheel the birds in giant spirals.  Ah! suddenly one dives, then
another and another — their wings brush across the water like
fingers of a caressing hand.

A strand of your hair touches my cheek.
How much better for the world had
nothing else ever happened in it.

 

Kenneth Patchen was an American poet and novelist, part of the San Francisco Renaissance who influenced many of the Beat poets.  A pacifist, he said “I speak for a generation born in one war and doomed to die in another.”

As I continue to shelter, cocoon, be locked in place, I will continue to post poems.  I have always seen Patchen as a moral touchstone, and would have posted “The Character of love as seen as a search for the lost” but it is more raw than I can take right now.  It is not the disaster as natural occurrence (and yes linked to climate crisis) but the human-made aspect of it, the venal response of so many who hold power.

Yesterday I turned 75.  For the first time ever, I feel old.  Maybe that’s okay.  On stage, my mother used to say “It took me a long time to get here and I want credit for every year.”

 

Dandelion

 

I really love you, believe me…

Sheltering-in-place #1

 

Attila Jozsef, (1905 -1937) Hungarian Poet

                       I really love you,
believe me.  It is something I inherited
from my mother.
She was a good woman.  After all,
she was the one who brought me
into this world.

                    We may compare life
to a shoe, or a laundromat,
or whatever.
Nonetheless, we love it
for reasons of our own.

                     Saviours, there are
enough of them to save the world

three times a day and still nobody knows
how to light a match.  I’ll have to give up
on them.

                     It would be nice
to buy tickets for a trip to the
self.  It must be somewhere inside us.

                    Every morning I wash 
my thoughts
in cold water.
That way they come out fresh as a daisy.

                     Diamonds can sprout
good warm songs,
if you plant them under your heart.

                    Some people will stay
pedestrians no matter what they ride,

horse, car or airplane.

                    Me, I just lie around
in the morning song of larks
and still make it over the abyss.

                    Let us carefully save our
true souls
like our best suit of clothes
to keep them spotless for the days of
celebration.

(translated from Hungarian: John Batki)

 

While sheltering-in-place, locked down, or cocooning, I have taken to reading poems with breaks to look at the growing numbers.  As of yesterday there were more than a million who are suffering or had suffered from coronavirus and the United States has a quarter of those.

I have nothing worth saying about the barbarous behavior of our government but I thought sharing poems might be a comfort.

This poem comes from Carolyn Forche’s Against Forgetting, Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness.  Forche tells us that when Attila Jozsef’s first poems were published in 1922, he was tried for blasphemy. This poem was written near the end of his life.

I will be back with more poems in this time of plague.

San Francisco, 3 April 2020

Remembrance & Resistance, Dia de Los Muertos somarts, sf

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Remembrance of My Father, John Mayne 2017

Passing through,
Crossing over,
The great sea of love awaits.
But no more smelling the rose.
Can this be true?
Can the pine be there?
The onion?
What of offal
Or fish in the sun?

From John Mayne Altar, SoMarts Cultural Centre altars

 

Going through my mother’s things yet again, I found a letter from the father of a high school friend. The letter is filled with yearning, a love letter. I am surprised.

My friend’s father — novelist, screenwriter, prisoner of conscience — and my mother were both pushed to the fringes by their politics. Maybe that is where they met. He fought in the Spanish Civil War. She worked with the Spanish Refugee Committee. That particular involvement, I always believed, was the cause of the FBI being an irregular but frightening presence in our lives. I thought I could hear the clicks of the wiretaps on the phone into my teenage years.

My friend’s father was blacklisted, of course, and there were no professional jobs for the blacklisted then. He was divorced and worked as a light man in a nightclub. I remember him as dour, but it was probably because of him that I heard the Kingston Trio, Mort Sahl at whom I laughed, maybe Lenny Bruce at whom I didn’t.

I went looking for my friend. She married someone famous and was not hard to find.  I’ve sent some messages saying I have her father’s letter, asking if she’d like a copy.  It is not quite an honest question.

What I really want to know is if she suspected. I had no idea and it makes me sad.   In spite of the letters, (sent and received), the drawers of  the journals, the pictures, the boxes of tributes, her notes dating from the thirties, our conversations, I have never managed to map the landscape in which my mother lived.  It is as though, even when she was alive, we were separated by a River Styx.