Poetry Wednesday – Sci-Fi by Tracy K. Smith

Welcome to the return of Poetry Wednesday! I know, it was a little ridiculous of me to let Poetry Wednesday slide during National Poetry Month, but April is always so hectic. Plus, National Poetry Month is probably the one month of the year where you are seeing a lot of poetry elsewhere, so I didn’t feel too bad. In any case, here is today’s poem in a happy nod to Star Wars Day! Science fiction poetry isn’t really something you see very often. Clearly it exists and someone is writing and reading it, but I’d love to see more of it. I love the concept behind this poem and the way it really plays with some of the more common tropes of science fiction, like curved lines, but then makes its way into something unique. There are one or two couplets that don’t really convince me, but as a whole, this poem is well-crafted.

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Sci-Fi by Tracy K. Smith

There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.

History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,

Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.

Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,

Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.

For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.

The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned

To a Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.

And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,

Eons from even our own moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once

And for all, scrutable and safe.

Poetry Wednesday – April is National Poetry Month!

I don’t know how I let the time get away from me like this. We are already well into National Poetry Month, but I wanted to remind you that now is the time to sign up for the Academy of American Poets daily poem! This is really how  I make sure I’m reading enough poetry. No, I don’t get to it every day, but if I have even just five minutes to spare, I can read a lovely poem chosen by the Academy. They choose a variety of poets, styles and forms.

So that’s your friendly reminder of the year, now onto Poetry Wednesday!

Oh, what a happy find this poem is! I’ll be honest, when I don’t have an idea for who I want to feature for poetry, I’ll usually read through a bunch of shorter poems until I find one that is right. Mostly I prefer short poems, but also I think more people will read the poetry I post here if it is short.

Well, break out your attention spans kids, because this poem is awesome. And it is long, but it does not feel long. I love poems that play on languages and being bilingual and “Cultural Stakes” does this perfectly. (Please also see one of my absolute favorite poems “Speaking of the Devil” by Leslie Adrienne Miller.) This poem is beautiful, gritty and surprising.

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Cultural Stakes; or, How to Learn English as a Second Language by Kevin A. González

Wait on the corner of Isla Verde & Tartak
for your father to pull up in his Bronco.
Your mother will be right: he will not show up
at noon. At 12:20, you will recognize the horn,
its wail like an amplified conch,
but you will not recognize your father—
the gray stubble, the violent tan.
When he asks where you’d like to go,
say the movies, say La Feria, say the moon:
it won’t matter. You will go to Duffy’s.
When your father says, We’re only here for lunch,
his voice will be as straightforward
as a sandwich menu. The bartender
will greet him like a cousin
in a language you cannot understand.
A stick of incense will burn slow
& its ashes will sprinkle into the tip jar.
Fruit will be rolling inside the slot machine;
darts will flash by like hubcaps. There will be
mirrors with bottles drawn inside them
& not a word of Spanish in the air.
When your father gives you a Coke
with two cherries in it, bite the stem
& bite the stem & swallow the juicy red wounds.
When he gives you a stack of quarters for pinball,
recall the chips he’d stack on the counter
after the casinos closed. Recall the night
your mother left him on the loose stitching of a chair,
the living room as silent as a funeral mass
where nobody stands to give the eulogy.
Don’t ask him what compelled him
to call you today, eighteen months later,
& never admit that his absence
was a moist towel stuffed in your chest,
a constant fatigue of wanting. Don’t tell him
what the nuns at school said about divorce,
that tin bruise on the spirit, & don’t recount
your mother’s remarriage to a man
who is as plain as his own mustache.
Your father will tell you many times
he is not perfect. There will be a sunset
on his cheek & a bonfire in his Adam’s apple
& a coaster beneath his drink like a giant host,
the Scotch putting his tongue to sleep
like a pale stingray on the ocean floor.
When your mother asks what you did,
tell her you watched baseball all weekend
& bury your smoke-swamped shirts
in the bottom of the laundry. Every Friday,
she will watch you climb into that Bronco
& slide away till Sunday, your face
eclipsed by the tinted window’s twilight.
At Duffy’s, the women will be blonde
& they will seem as lonely as broken barstools.
When they speak to you, wait for your father
to translate, then reply to him in Spanish
& wait while he translates for them, & smile,
always smile. There will be something soulful
about this: the way your words become his
& his words become yours, as if the two languages
were shaking hands, casting one long shadow.
When your father brings a woman home, know
that laughter will leak through the doorframe,
that the body is an office always on the verge
of quiet. If she stays the night, the next morning
she might pull out a chair & gently say, sit
& this is how you will learn to concede
whenever a girl with sunlight digging into her cheek
taps your shoulder at the water fountain at school.
There, you will sit in the back row of catechism
& wait for the bell to trill its metal tongue.
You will stumble on the words of prayers
as if the short rope of your faith
was hindered by knots, as if religion was a field
with landmines scattered across. At Duffy’s,
shed the red skin off the bull’s-eye
with the lethal tips of your darts,
slide the smooth grain of the cue stick
over the wings of your thumb. Call all your shots.
Touch the chalk to your forehead
& trace a blue cross. When your father
begins to feed the slot machine’s pout,
remind him to save a ten for the Drive Thru.
He will sit on a stool, pushing the Bet button
as if he believed that if he pushed it enough
he would fill with an air that could raise him.
When the language comes, it will be
as if it had always been inside you.
You will look at things & their names
will drip from your tongue. Abstractions
will be archived as events, & there will be
a history you can instantly shuffle through
whenever a word is uttered. For example,
hustle will be the night your father challenges
a stranger to beat you at darts. Discretion, the night
two of the blondes who cooked you breakfast
sit on stools on either side of you. Impulse
will happen over a rack of pool: your father will say
you have an invisible brother who is better than you
& you will spend the rest of your life competing
with a ghost. Abandon will be your first beer,
a squeezed lemon wedge inside the empty bottle.
Independence will be the moment you realize
the only hands reaching out to you belong to clocks.
Irony, you will come to understand, will be
when you ask your father about those expatriates:
who are they & what are they doing here,
so far from home, & why would anyone
ever leave the place where they were born?
Fortune will be every time your father hits
All-Fruits on the slot. Innocence
will come right after Fortune—every time
you say, Let’s quit while we’re ahead,
not knowing how far behind you really are.

 

Poetry Wednesday – Rhina P. Espaillat (2)

I know I just posted another poem by Rhina P. Espaillat last Wednesday, but when I read this one, I couldn’t help but feature another one. You’re going to see immediately why I like it, I guarantee it. Rhina P. Espaillat was born in the Dominican Republic under the Trujillo regime. Her and her family moved to New York when she was a young woman and she began writing poetry, in Spanish and then in English. I love the way she treats bilingualism as the blessing it really is here. Absolutely beautiful.

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Bilingual/Bilingüe by Rhina P. Espaillat

My father liked them separate, on there,
one here (allá y aquí), as if aware

that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart
(el corazón) and lock the alien part

to what he was – his memory, his name
(su nombre) – with a key he could not claim.

“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”
he said, “y basata.” But who can divide

the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from
any child? I knew how to be dumb

and stubborn (testaruda);  late, in bed,
I hoarded secret syllables I read

until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run
where his stumbled. And still the heart was one.

I like to think he knew that, even when,
proud (orgulloso) of his daughter’s pen,

he stood outside mis versos, half in fear
of words he loved but wanted not to hear.

Poetry Wednesday – Rhina P. Espaillat

This poem sold me with its opening conceit, but won me over with its language. I’ve never read a poem by Rhina P. Espaillat before this one, but it seems like I am truly missing out.

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Weighing In by Rhina P. Espaillat

What the scale tells you is how much the earth
has missed you, body, how it wants you back
again after you leave it to go forth

into the light. Do you remember how
earth hardly noticed you then? Others would rock
you in their arms, warm in the flow

that fed you, coaxed you upright. Then earth began
to claim you with spots and fevers, began to lick
at you with a bruised knee, a bloody shin,

and finally to stoke you, body, drumming
intimate coded messages through music
you danced to unawares, there in your dreaming

and your poems and your obedient blood.
Body, how useful you became, how lucky,
heavy with news and breakage, rich, and sad,

sometimes, imagining that greedy zero
you must have been, that promising empty sack
of possibilities, never-to-come tomorrow.

But look at you now, body, soft old shoe
that love wears when it’s stirring, look down, look
how earth wants what you weigh, needs what you know.

Poetry Wednesday – Audre Lorde

Photo credit: flickr user englishsnowLook I made a shiny new Poetry Wednesday button! Anyway, today I’d like to feature a poem by Audre Lorde. Lorde is, for me, one of the most expressive poets I have read. When you read her words, you just want to say them out loud. They have such a natural fluidity and rhythm. This poem in particular was an early favorite of mine. I considered posting another one today, just so I could have something new to read, but nothing else seemed to embody the way I feel about Audre Lorde like this poem does.

Hanging Fire by Audre Lorde

I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
in secret
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
before morning
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.


I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party
my room is too small for me
suppose I die before graduation
they will sing sad melodies
but finally
tell the truth about me
There is nothing I want to do
and too much
that has to be done
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.


Nobody even stops to think
about my side of it
I should have been on Math Team
my marks were better than his
why do I have to be
the one
wearing braces
I have nothing to wear tomorrow
will I live long enough
to grow up
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.

Poetry Wednesday – Edna St Vincent Millay

I’ve been vaguely aware of Edna St. Vincent Millay for a while now, but all of the sudden she seems to be popping up everywhere. So when I found this poem, I knew I had to post it. I also need to go take a walk on the beach, soon. I feel the same way whenever I think of living somewhere without the ocean. How do you orientate yourself? How do you know which way is north or south when you don’t have the ocean to remind you? (I am kind of asking this in all seriousness.)

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Inland by Edna St Vincent Millay

People that build their houses inland,
People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore —
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
Spanking the boats at the harbor’s head,
What do they long for, as I long for, —
Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning —
One salt taste of the sea once more?

Poetry Wednesday – Ted Kooser

Last week I mentioned Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual and it occurred to me that I should feature Ted Kooser here. He’s an excellent poet and I should really read more of his work.

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Flying at Night by Ted Kooser

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the  chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard  light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Poetry Wednesday – Joseph Hutchison

Back when I was taking every poetry class that would let me in, we read The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser which is surprisingly good for its cheesy title and cover. There is a poem in its pages that has taken on near mythical proportions for the people in that class, so much so that there was talk  of getting tattoos of this poem. I think you’ll see why.

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Artichoke by Joseph Hutchison

Oh heart weighed down by so many wings.

Poetry Wednesday – W. S. Merwin

I’m in a short poem mood, and since I usually schedule an entire month’s worth of Poetry Wednesday’s in one sitting, be prepared for an entire February of short poems. Fitting, as it is the  shortest month. First up is W. S. Merwin’s poem separation. I almost passed by this poem before reading the last line. Silly me.

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Separation by W. S. Merwin

Your absence has gone through me
like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

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Is that poetic perfection? Probably.

Poetry Wednesday – Linda Pastan

The pantoum is one of my favorite poetry forms.  While it can seem like a particularly constricting for,  the meanings that come out of it are really just astounding sometimes.  This is a lovely pantoum by US poet Linda Pastan.

Something About the Trees
by Linda Pastan

I remember what my father told me:
There is an age when you are most yourself.
He was just past fifty then,
Was it something about the trees that make him speak?

There is an age when you are most yourself.
I know more than I did once.
Was it something about the trees that make him speak?
Only a single leaf had turned so far.

I know more than I did once.
I used to think he’d always be the surgeon.
Only a single leaf had turned so far,
Even his body kept its secrets.

I used to think he’d always be the surgeon,
My mother was the perfect surgeon’s wife.
Even his body kept its secrets.
I thought they both would live forever.

My mother was the perfect surgeon’s wife,
I can still see her face at thirty.
I thought they both would live forever.
I thought I’d always be their child.

I can still see her face at thirty.
When will I be most myself?
I thought I’d always be their child.
In my sleep it’s never winter.

When will I be most myself?
I remember what my father told me.
In my sleep it’s never winter.
He was just past fifty then.