Claude McKay (Jamaica/U.S.A., 1889-1948)
The Flame Heart
SO much have I forgotten in ten years,
So much in ten brief years! I have forgot
What time the purple apples come to juice,
And what month brings the shy forget-me-not.
I have forgot the special, startling season
Of the pimento’s flowering and fruiting;
What time of year the ground doves brown the fields
And fill the noonday with their curious fluting.
I have forgotten much, but still remember
The poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm December.
I still recall the honey-fever grass,
But cannot recollect the high days when
We rooted them out of the ping-wing path
To stop the mad bees in the rabbit pen.
I often try to think in what sweet month
The languid painted ladies used to dapple
The yellow by-road mazing from the main,
Sweet with the golden threads of the rose-apple.
I have forgotten–strange–but quite remember
The poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm December.
What weeks, what months, what time of the mild year
We cheated school to have our fling at tops?
What days our wine-thrilled bodies pulsed with joy
Feasting upon blackberries in the copse?
Oh some I know! I have embalmed the days
Even the sacred moments when we played,
All innocent of passion, uncorrupt,
At noon and evening in the flame-heart’s shade.
We were so happy, happy, I remember,
Beneath the poinsettia’s red in warm December.
. . . . .
Jorge Antonio Vallejos a.k.a. ‘Black Coffee Poet’ (Toronto, Canada)
White Van: A Poem for Sex Workers (2011)
White van rolls around town like PacMan, lookin’ for prey:
women to gobble up.
Ladies of the Night stand around, whether they’re hot or cold, wet or dry,
waiting for a paying guy, tools of their trade on display:
high heels, tights, low-cut tops, purse carrying rubbers to cover his cock.
The will to work, a hard job seen as easy, often times called sleazy
– by those who don’t know.
Hyper-masculine music getting out violent labels: Bitch, Ho;
really, they should all know: the streets are Ground Zero.
Working Girls vilified, seen as the enemy;
bullshit “stings” and arrests wasting peoples’ time and money.
Street-Walkers dehumanized, portrayed as there for the taking;
cabbies, cops, politicians, talking service – bullshit faking –
often times forcing Working Girls – yes, that’s called “breaking”.
White van rolling, patrolling…
looking for that one single Worker who’s strolling…
Tools of their shade: vehicle with a sliding door and no windows;
rope, bags, needles, coke and a shovel.
They avoid the girls who stand at corners like hooker Harvey’s;
who stand around in support and warmth – in a huddle.
Remote spots are the key to their sick victory;
Moss Park and St. James Cathedral
are the beginning for many acts of unforgiveable evil.
Bagged and shoved in the back by one man, two man, god-damn.
Drugged and driven out of town is the plan;
gang-raped in her front and in her back, cigarette burning ends the attack.
Stops of corn hide the assault, the hours of misery, the trauma for life.
The final words: I forgot the shovel.
Middle-age Man and his Right Hand walk back to white van;
it’s do or die, her one chance to scram.
Running, hiding, laying with the corn…
Crying on Mother Earth, bleeding on her, nails digging in her;
holding on till dawn; staying put long enough till white van is gone.
Thumbing her way back home to smalltown Ontario…
It’s over: this sad reality has always been a scary scenario.
Stitched, bruised, burned, scarred
– reminders of a life and job that’s always hard.
White van, two man, All Man – when the fuck we gonna change, man?!
. . .
Visit Black Coffee Poet’s site:
. . . . .
December 1531: Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin’s encounter with Santa Maria Totlaconantzin (Our Lady of Guadalupe):
…..Auh in acico in inahuac tepetzintli in itocayocan Tepeyacac,
Concac in icpac tepetzintli cuicoa, yuhquin nepapan tlazototome cuica;
cacahuani in intozqui, iuhquin quinananquilia tepetl, huel cenca teyolquima,
tehuellamachti in incuic; quicenpanahuia in coyoltotl in tzinitzcan ihuan in
occequin tlazototome ic cuica…..
“Canin ye nica? Canin ye ninotta? Cuix ye oncan in quitotehuaque huehuetque
tachtohuan tococolhuan, in xochitlalpan in tonacatlalpan,
cuix ye oncan ilhuicatlalpan?”…..
In oyuhceuhtiquiz in cuicatl, inomocactimoman in yeequicaqui
hualnotzalo inicpac tepetzintli, quilhuia: “Juantzin, Juan Diegotzin”…..
Auh in ye acitiuh in icpac tepetzintli, in ye oquimottili ce Cihuapilli
oncanmoquetzinoticac, quihualmonochili inic onyaz in inahuactzinco…..
Auh in tetl, in texcalli in ic itech moquetza, inic quimina…..
Auh in mizquitl, in nopalli ihuan occequin nepapan xiuhtotontin
oncan mochichihuani yuhquin quetzaliztli. Yuhqui in teoxihuitl in
iatlapalio neci. Auh in icuauhyo, in ihuitzyo, in iahuayo yuhqui in
cozticteocuitlatl in pepetlaca…..
Quimolhuili: “Tlaxiccaqui noxocoyotl Juantzin, campa in timohuica?”
Auh in yehuatl quimonanquilili: “Notecuiyoé, Cihuapillé, Nochpochtziné!
Ca ompa nonaciz mochantzinco México-Tlatilolco,
nocontepotztoca in Teyotl…..”
…..And as he drew near the little hill called Tepeyac
it was beginning to dawn…..
He heard singing on the little hill, like the song of many precious birds;
when their voices would stop, it was as if the hill were answering them;
extremely soft and delightful; their songs exceeded the songs of the
coyoltotl and the tzinitzcan and other precious birds…..
“Where am I? Where do I find myself? Is it possible that I am in the
place our ancient ancestors, our grandparents, told about, in the
land of the flowers, in the land of corn, of our flesh, of our sustenance,
possibly in the land of heaven?”…..
And then when the singing suddenly stopped, when it could no longer
be heard, he heard someone calling him, from the top of the hill, someone
was saying to him: “Juan, Dearest Juan Diego”…..
And when he reached the top of the hill, a Maiden who was standing there,
who spoke to him, who called to him to come close to her…..
And the stone, the crag on which she stood, seemed to be giving out rays…..
And the mesquites and nopales and the other little plants that are up there
seemed like emeralds. Their leaves, like turquoise. And their trunks, their
thorns, their prickles, were shining like gold…..
She said to him, “Listen, my dearest-and-youngest son, Juan,
Where are you going?”
And he answered her: “My Lady, my Queen, my Beloved Maiden!
I am going as far as your little house in Mexico-Tlatilolco,
to follow the things of God…..”
* * * * *
On December 9th, 1531, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (1474-1548)
encountered a radiant native-Mexican woman at Tepeyac Hill
(site of a former temple to the Aztec Earth-Mother goddess Tonantzin).
He knew her to be Santa María Totlaconantzin – Mary, Our
Precious Mother – and she spoke to him in his own language – Náhuatl.
Tepeyac is now the location of the largest shrine in Latin America –
La Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe / The Basilica of
Our Lady of Guadalupe – the name by which Juan Diego’s
Virgin Mary is known in México today…
Popularly, she is also called The Mother of All México.
And December 12th is Our Lady of Guadalupe’s “santo” or feast/saint’s day.
The above text – in the original Náhuatl (language of the Aztecs)
plus English translation by D. K. Jordan – is taken from
Nican mopohua (“Here is recounted…”)
by Antonio Valeriano (1556), and is the first chapter in the
written telling of the miraculous life of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.
Valeriano was a native-Mexican scholar in three languages
– his birth-language, Náhuatl, plus Spanish and Latin.
Nican mopohua forms part of a larger volume,
Huei tlamahuiçoltica (“The Great Happening”),
published by Luis Laso de la Vega in 1649. The book is a
crucial Náhuatl text from the 16th and 17th centuries
– a period of immense trauma during which a new race
– el Mestizo – and a new nationality – Mexican – were being forged.
Excerpts from Antoinette May’s 1967 interview with Lenore Kandel in Les Gals magazine, Summer 1967 issue, volume 2, number 3:
Late last year (1966) Lenore and her poetic description of the love act [using the word FUCK (ZP editor)] made headlines.
Lenore’s new book, published by Grove Press, is called, “Word Alchemy”.
“Word” is a four letter word, but hardly controversial. Alchemy might be more promising. With this in mind Les Gals editor Antoinette May climbed the three steep winding flights of stairs to Lenore’s apartment situated above a North Beach laundry.
The rooms that Lenore shares with her husband are musty, dusty and dark. “I don’t worry about inanimate things,” she explained unnecessarily. Once the latent housewife in Antoinette overcame the desire to tidy up, she became aware of the casual comfort of the place. Indian hangings and tapestries dominated the decor which definitely inclined one to recline for repose or anything else. The place had a definite lived-in, loved-in look that seemed pleasant and appropriate.
Lenore’s “Love Book” provoked numerous individuals (including the San Francisco pornography squad) not so much because of its subject matter, but, rather, by its choice of words.
Many people took offence when they found words heretofore confined to sidewalks and school desks suddenly appearing in printed books. Their outrage resulted in a lengthy court trial and the conviction of three booksellers. Lenore herself was not on trial, although everyone, including the judge, had difficulty remembering the fact.
LES GALS: Was shock appeal what it’s all about?
LENORE: Certainly not. I used that particular verb [FUCK (ZP editor)] because our English vocabulary is very limited. To intercourse with love just doesn’t sound right . Fornicate and copulate seem so medical.
LES GALS: Yes, but the verb you chose is an offence to a vast number of people.
LENORE: That’s because a word with a beautiful meaning—for two bodies to join through passion and love—has become aggressive. It’s a put-down word now, not a love word.
LES GALS: But don’t you think that by using the word so freely in your book, you’ll detract even more from its very special power and intimacy?
LENORE: No, if everyone used it appropriately—as a love word—it would be heard less.
. . .
LES GALS: Were you surprised by the guilty verdict?
LENORE: I was surprised that it was unanimous. It’s frightening. Police censorship is disrespectful to people. People should be allowed to make up their own minds. For some reason it’s okay to to sell black garter magazines that depict sex as something to snigger over. The movie ads—no matter how vulgar—are allowed as well, because they’re admittedly ‘bad’. Where I got in trouble was in saying that sex and the spirit are both beautiful parts of nature and equally divine. I don’t think there has been a trial since Salem where the words blasphemy or sacrilege have been used.
LES GALS: In the introduction to your new book –“Word Alchemy”– you are quoted as saying your favourite word is “yes”. Do you believe in sex for sex’s sake”?
LENORE: Sexuality with someone you love is far more than a physical act—but that doesn’t mean I’m putting down the physical act. I just want something more than that.
LES GALS: One witness for the defence said that reading your book would help married couples perform the love act better. Do you believe this?
LENORE: Not necessarily perform better, but I do think it could help them communicate better. Married people have so many hassles because they can’t communicate. It’s a terrible thing that two people who should be closest to each other often aren’t. So many men get this good girl-bad girl hangup. They have certain desires that they should express to their wives but instead they fulfill themselves with someone else. This is wrong and unnecessary.
. . .
LES GALS: If you had children would you allow them to read “The Love Book”?
LENORE: I think the important thing is to tell the truth. If children grow up in the environment where truth is a part of life they won’t have dirty minds. There’s certainly nothing harmful in my book, but an honest parent might say to a very small child, “This is a book you’ll understand and enjoy when you are older.” Children mature at different levels. It really depends on the individual. I think it’s a strange thing in our culture that death and torture are acceptable—children can see it everywhere they look—yet the love and tenderness between a man and a woman is something to conceal and feel guilty about. I think this must be very confusing to children.
Lenore Kandel (1932-2009)
Invocation for Mitreya (from the collection Word Alchemy, 1967)
To invoke the divinity in man with the mutual gift of love
with love as animate and bright as death
the alchemical transfiguration of two separate entities
into one efflorescent deity made manifest in radiant human flesh
our bodies whirling through cosmos, the kiss of heartbeats
the subtle cognizance of hand for hand, and tongue for tongue
the warm moist fabric of the body opening into star-shot rose
the dewy cock effulgent as it bursts the star
sweet cunt-mouth of world serpent Ouroboros girding the
as it takes its own eternal cock, and cock and cunt united
join the circle
moving through realms of flesh made fantasy and fantasy made
love as a force that melts the skin so that our bodies join
one cell at a time
until there is nothing left but the radiant universe
the meteors of light flaming through wordless skies
until there is nothing left but the smell of love
but the taste of love, but the fact of love
until love lies dreaming in the crotch of god. . . .
. . .
Nikki Giovanni (born 1943)
you gonna walk in this house
and i’m gonna have a long African
you’ll sit down and say “The Black…”
and i’m gonna take one arm out
then you – not noticing me at all – wil say “What about this brother…”
and i’m going to be slipping it over my head
and you’ll rap on about “The Revolution…”
while i rest your hand against my stomach
you’ll go on – as you always do – saying
“I just can’t dig…”
while i’m moving your hand up and down
and i’ll be taking your dashiki off
then you’ll say “What we really need…”
and taking your shorts off
the you’ll notice
your state of undress
and knowing you you’ll just say
isn’t this counterrevolutionary?”
. . .
Olga Broumas (born 1949)
She Loves (1977)
Deep prolonged entry with the strong pink cock
the sit-ups it evokes from her, arms fast
on the climbing invisible rope to the sky,
clasping and unclasping the cosmic lorus *
Inside, the long breaths of lung and cunt
swell the vocal cords and a rasp a song
loud sudden overdrive into disintegrate,
spinal melt, video hologram in the belly.
Her tits are luminous and sway to the rhythm
and I grab them and exaggerate their orbs.
Shoulders above like loaves of heaven,
nutmeg-flecked, exuding light like violet diodes
closing circuit where the wall, its fuse box,
so stolidly stood. No room for fantasy.
We watch ourselves transform the past
with such disinterested fascination,
the only attitude that does not stall
the song by an outburst of consciousness
and still lets consciousness, loved and incurable
voyeur, peek in. I tap. I slap. I knee, thump, bellyroll.
Her song is hoarse and is taking me,
incoherent familiar path to that self we are all
cortical cells of. Every o in her body
beelines for her throat, locked on
a rising ski-lift up the mountain, no
grass, no mountaintop, no snow.
White belly folding, muscular as milk.
Pas de deux, pas de chat, spotlight
on the key of G, clef du roman, tour de force letting,
like the sunlight lets a sleeve worn against wind, go.
* umbilical cord
. . .
Maxine Kumin (1925-2014)
The water closing
over us and the
going down is all.
Gills are given.
We convert in a
town of broken hulls
and green doubloons.
O you dead pirates
hear us! There is
no salvage. All
you know is the colour
of warm caramel. All
is salt. See how
our eyes have migrated
to the uphill side?
Now we are new round
mouths and no spines
letting the water cover.
It happens over
and over, me in
your body and you
. . .
After Love (1970)
Afterward, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries.
These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.
Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.
The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar
and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.
Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when
the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self
lay lightly down, and slept.
. . .
Looking back on my Eighty-First Year (2008)
How did we get to be old ladies—
my grandmother’s job—when we
were the long-leggèd girls?
— Hilma Wolitzer
Instead of marrying the day after graduation,
in spite of freezing on my father’s arm as
here comes the bride struck up,
saying, I’m not sure I want to do this,
I should have taken that fellowship
to the University of Grenoble to examine
the original manuscript
of Stendhal’s unfinished Lucien Leuwen,
I, who had never been west of the Mississippi,
should have crossed the ocean
in third class on the Cunard White Star,
the war just over, the Second World War
when Kilroy was here, that innocent graffito,
two eyes and a nose draped over
a fence line. How could I go?
Passion had locked us together.
Sixty years my lover,
he says he would have waited.
He says he would have sat
where the steamship docked
till the last of the pursers
decamped, and I rushed back
littering the runway with carbon paper . . .
Why didn’t I go? It was fated.
Marriage dizzied us. Hand over hand,
flesh against flesh for the final haul,
we tugged our lifeline through limestone and sand,
lover and long-leggèd girl.
. . .
For more poems click on the following links:
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
Love Lightly Pleased
Let fair or foul my mistress be,
Or low, or tall, she pleaseth me;
Or let her walk, or stand, or sit,
The posture her’s, I’m pleased with it;
Or let her tongue be still, or stir
Graceful is every thing from her;
Or let her grant, or else deny,
My love will fit each history.
. . .
Delight in Disorder
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility;–
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.
. . .
Upon the Nipples of Julia’s Breast
Have ye beheld (with much delight)
A red rose peeping through a white?
Or else a cherry (double graced)
Within a lily? Centre placed?
Or ever marked the pretty beam
A strawberry shows half drowned in cream?
Or seen rich rubies blushing through
A pure smooth pearl, and orient too?
So like to this, nay all the rest,
Is each neat niplet of her breast.
. . .
A Hymn to Love
I will confess
Love is a thing so likes me,
That, let her lay
On me all day,
I’ll kiss the hand that strikes me.
I will not, I,
Now blubb’ring cry,
It, ah! too late repents me
That I did fall
To love at all–
Since love so much contents me.
No, no, I’ll be
In fetters free;
While others they sit wringing
Their hands for pain,
The wounds of love with singing.
With flowers and wine,
And cakes divine,
To strike me I will tempt thee;
Which done, no more
I’ll come before
Thee and thine altars empty.
Edna St.Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
I, being born a woman and distressed (1923)
I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body’s weight upon my breast:
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn with pity, — let me make it plain:
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet again.
. . .
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (1923)
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
. . .
I, too, beneath your moon, Almighty Sex (1939)
I too beneath your moon, almighty Sex,
Go forth at nightfall crying like a cat,
Leaving the lofty tower I laboured at
For birds to foul and boys and girls to vex
With tittering chalk; and you, and the long necks
Of neighbours sitting where their mothers sat
Are well aware of shadowy this and that
In me, that’s neither noble nor complex.
Such as I am, however, I have brought
To what it is, this tower; it is my own;
Though it was reared To Beauty, it was wrought
From what I had to build with: honest bone
Is there, and anguish; pride; and burning thought;
And lust is there, and nights not spent alone.
. . . . .
On December 6th, 1989, fourteen female engineering students attending École Polytechnique in Montréal were singled out and murdered in a brutal act of gender violence by Marc Lépine, a profoundly disturbed yet articulate young man intent on revenge against “The Feminists”. At the time Lépine was regarded as psychotic yet his very specific killing programme and his enaction of it was not judged to be a hate crime – which it very much was. But in 1991, this date – December 6th – was officially recognized by the Parliament of Canada as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women – to honour those women whose lives were ended due to gender-based violence.
Sadly, violence against women remains very much the reality it was when the “Montreal Massacre” took place twenty-five years ago.
Gender-based discrimination and violence are too common in Canadian workplaces and communities, with Aboriginal women and girls suffering at rates three times higher than for other female groups in our society. And a recent example – the August murder of 15-year-old foster-care child Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in a garbage bag in the Red River in Winnipeg – highlights the ugly intersection of racism and colonialism with anti-woman violence.
As well, new federal legislation – Bill C-36 – puts the lives of sex workers (prostitutes) at risk by reproducing and legitimizing the negative anti-sex-work laws that had been declared earlier by the Supreme Court of Canada as unconstitutional; Bill C-36 is most definitely a step backwards. Nothing but the full de-criminalization of sex work must be sought in order to put decision-making power in women’s hands, where it belongs; the Criminal Code does not protect the rights (labour/human/legal) of such women.
. . .
The following three poems, each in their own tangential or direct way, address the theme of violence in women’s lives:
Margaret Atwood (born 1939)
The rest of us watch from beyond the fence
as the woman moves with her jagged stride
into her pain as if into a slow race.
We see her body in motion
but hear no sounds, or we hear
sounds but no language; or we know
it is not a language we know
We can see her clearly
but for her it is running in black smoke.
The cluster of cells in her swelling
like porridge boiling, and bursting,
like grapes, we think.
Or we think of
explosions in mud; but we know nothing.
All around us the trees
and the grasses light up with forgiveness,
so green and at this time
of the year healthy.
We would like to call something
out to her.
Some form of cheering.
There is pain but no arrival at anything.
. . .
Pat Lowther (1935-1975)
1, the fear
the fear is of everything
staying the way it is
and only i changing
the fear is
of everything changing
and i staying the same
the world expanding
branch tunnel cell
more and more
precious and terrible
while i grow only more
fragile and confused
the fear is my own
my eyelids stuttering
light breaking into
the fear is of you
patiently elsewhere growing
a blood shape
of all my wishes
2, i am tired
i am tired of pain
i am tired of my own pain
i am tired of
the pain of others
i am tired of lives
unwinding like a roll
of bloody bandage
i shall roll up
the sky, pinch the sun
i go out to the cliff pours
of stars, the tall
volumes of stars
i go down
to the grains of soil
to the neat mechanics of molecules
to escape the pain
to escape the pain
3, what i want