“Our particular whirlwind”: poetry by African-American Innovators

Poet Bob Kaufman_1925 to 1986. . .

Gwendolyn Brooks

(1917-2000, Topeka, Kansas, USA)

Sadie and Maud

.

Maud went to college.

Sadie stayed at home.

Sadie scraped life

With a fine-tooth comb.

 

She didn’t leave a tangle in.

Her comb found every strand.

Sadie was one of the livingest chits

In all the land.

 

Sadie bore two babies

Under her maiden name.

Maud and Ma and Papa

Nearly died of shame.

Every one but Sadie

Nearly died of shame.

 

When Sadie said her last so-long

Her girls struck out from home.

(Sadie had left as heritage

Her fine-tooth comb.)

 

Maud, who went to college,

Is a thin, brown mouse.

She is living all alone

In this old house.

. . .

Gloria Oden

(1923-2011, Yonkers, New York, USA)

Testament of Loss

.

You would think that night could lift;

that something of light would sift

through to grey its thick self

sealing.

 

It’s five years now.

Still black gloams over

day unable to slip

across my sill

one finger

to raise its white form

of hope.

. . .

Bible Study

.

In the old testament

Hizzoner” was forever

singling out someone

to speak with.

Dream

and he would make

a visit.

Cruise the world

from your favourite

mountain top

and he would come

to call.

 

Even out of the garrulous

mouth of the whirlwind

he would fetch

himself forth

for a bit of

spirited conversation.

Indeed,

he was apt to

catch up with you

at the most staggering

of times,

and in the most debatable

of places.

 

So, I think,

he does still.

Who else, my dear,

could have snapped us

together and put us

so warmly to bed?

 

What puzzles me now

is our particular whirlwind.

Tell me,

did the Old Guy

trumpet us out of

your upset

or mine?

. . .

Bob Kaufman

(1925-1986, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA)

Oregon

.

You are with me, Oregon,

Day and night, I feel you, Oregon.

I am Negro. I am Oregon.

Oregon is me, the planet

Oregon, the state Oregon, Oregon.

In the night, you come with bicycle wheels,

Oregon you come

With stars of fire. You come green.

Green eyes, hair, arms,

Head, face, legs, feet, toes

Green, nose green, your

Breasts green, your cross

Green, your blood green.

Oregon winds blow around

Oregon. I am green, Oregon.

Oregon lives in me,

Oregon, you come and make

Me into a bird and fly me

To secret places day and night.

The secret places in Oregon,

I am standing on the steps

Of the holy church of Crispus

Attucks St. John the Baptist,

the holy brother of Christ,

I am talking to Lorca. We

Decide the Hart Crane trip,

Home to Oregon,

Heaven flight from Gulf of Mexico,

The bridge is

Crossed, and the florid black found.

. . .

Dolores Kendrick

(born 1927, Washington, D.C., USA)

Jenny in Love

[the poet imagines the voice of a young black slavewoman in the nineteenth century]

.

Danced in the evenin’

while

the supper

burn;

.

whupped

in the morning:

.

danced again!

. . .

Ted Joans (born Theodore Jones)

(1928-2003, Cairo, Illinois, USA)

The Overloaded Horse

.

On a battu le cheval, au mois de Mai and they ate him

his buttons were crushed into powder for their soup

his hair was wovened into ship sails

his foreskin was sewn by an antique dealer

his manure supplied several generations with xmas gifts

and now they speak bad of him, the horse, the head of their family

On a battu le cheval, au mois de Mai and they ate him

his earwax was packaged in America

his rump was displayed on early morning garbage trucks

his crossed eye is on loan to a soap museum

his manners have since been copied by millions of glass blowers

and still yet, they spit at this stable, the horse, the head of the house

On a battu le cheval, au mois de Mai and they ate him

his ribs were riveted outside an airbase

his knees bend in shadows of Russia

his shoelaces are used to hang lovely violinists

his dignity is exported as a diary product to the Orient

and in spite of it all, those he loved most, lie and cheat horse’s heirs

On a battu le cheval, au mois de Mai and they ate him

his tears now drown the frowning yachtsmen

his urine flows rapidly across millionaires’ estates

his annual vomit destroys twelve dictators’ promises a year

his teeth tear wide holes in the scissormaker’s Swiss bank account

and even in death, filled with revenge, they eat him, again and again

they deny and lie as they speak bad of the horse,

the head of their house, the father of their home

. . .

Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoi Jones)

(1934-2014, Newark, New Jersey, USA)

How People Do

.

To be that weak lonely figure

coming home through the cold

up the stairs

melting in grief

the walls and footsteps echo

so much absence and ignorance

is not to be the creature emerging

into the living room, an orderly universe

of known things all names and securely placed

is not to be the orderer the namer, the stormer

and creator, is not to be that, so we throw it

from our minds, and sit down casually

to eat.

. . .

Jayne Cortez

(born 1934, Fort Huachuca, Arizona, USA)

Indelible

.

Listen i have

a complaint to make

my lips are covered

with thumb prints

insomnia sips me

the volume of isolation

is up to my thyroid

and i won’t disappear

can you help me

Poet June Jordan_around 1968_photograph possibly taken by Louise Bernikow

June Jordan

(1936-2002, Harlem, New York, USA)

All the World moved

.

All the world moved next to me strange

I grew on my knees

in hats and taffeta trusting

the holy water to run

like grief from a brownstone

cradling.

 

Blessing a fear of the anywhere

face too pale to be family

my eyes wore ribbons

for Christ on the subway

as weekly as holiness

in Harlem.

 

God knew no East no West no South

no Skin nothing I learned like

traditions of sin but later

life began and strangely

I survived His innocence

without my own.

. . .

Lucille Clifton

(1936-2010, Depew, New York, USA)

why some people

be mad at me sometimes

.

they ask me to remember

but they want me to remember

their memories

.

and i keep on remembering

mine.

. . .

Joseph Jarman

(born 1937, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, USA)

.

what we all

would have of

each other

the men of

the sides of ourworlds

contained

in a window

yes ”  go contrary

go sing……….

to give

all you have

yourself

to each yourself

yet never

to remember

to look back

into a void

––it is time

yes; to move from

yourself to

yourself again

to know

.

what you are

.

song

. . .

Ishmael Reed

(born 1938, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA)

Dualism

(in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man)

.

i am outside of

history. i wish

i had some peanuts, it

looks hungry there in

its cage

 

i am inside of

history.it’s

hungrier than i

thot

. . .

William J. Harris

(born 1942, Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA)

Practical Concerns

.

From a distance, I watch

a man digging a hole with a machine.

I go closer.

The hole is deep and narrow.

At the bottom is a bird.

 

I ask the ditchdigger if I may climb down

and ask the bird a question.

He says, why sure.

 

It’s nice and cool in the ditch.

The bird and I talk about singing.

Very little about technique.

 

 

. . . . .

The poems above are by no means representative of all the Innovators among African-American poets; they are a brief sample. Readers should also look up the following poets’ work, wherever it is available – whether at the library, the bookstore, or upon the internet!

Lloyd Addison

Russell Atkins

Lawrence S. Cumberbatch

Randy Bee Graham

Percy Johnston

Stephen Jonas

Eloise Loftin

Clarence Major

Oliver Pitcher

Norman Pritchard

Ed Roberson

Melvin B. Tolson

Gloria Tropp

Tom Weatherly

&…

. . .

Photographs:

Bob Kaufman in the 1950s

June Jordan in 1968

. . . . .

 


La rueda de la vida: cinco poemas de Rita Dove

First Spring Full Moon a.k.a. Full Worm Moon or Full Crow Moon or Full Crust Moon or Full Sap Moon_photo by Andrew Bongo in Vermont_late March of 2013

Rita Dove

(nace 1952, Akron, Ohio, EE.UU.)

Canario

(para Michael S. Harper)

.

La voz quemada de Billie Holiday

poseía sombras tantas como luces,

un candelabro afligido contra un piano brillante,

y la gardenia era su firma bajo esa cara arruinada.


(Ahora estás improvisando, tamborilero a bajista,

cuchara mágica, agula mágica.

Toma todo el día, si te necesita

con tu espejo y tu pulsera de canto.)

 

El hecho es que el invento de la mujer sitiada

ha sido por el bien de afilar el amor en servicio de mito.

.

Si no puedes ser libre, sé un misterio.

.

(1989)

. . .

Tarjetas educativas

.

Durante las mates yo fue la niña prodigio,

la custodia de naranjas y manzanas.

Dijo mi padre: Lo que no entiendes, domínalo.

Y el más rápido mi respuesta, pues

el más rápido vinieron las tarjetas.

 

Yo podía ver un capullo en el geranio del instructor,

y una abeja definida chisporroteando contra la hoja de vidrio húmedo.

Siempre rozaban los tuliperos después de un diluvio copioso

así que me plegué la cabeza mientras mis botas abofeteaban a casa.

 

Mi padre se ponía cómodo después de su trabajo,

relajándose con un jaibol y La Vida de Lincoln.

Después de la cena hacíamos practicar pues

 

yo subía la oscuridad antes de dormir, y antes de

una voz flaca siseé números múltiples

mientras yo giraba en una rueda. Tuve que adivinar:

Diez, yo seguía diciendo, Solo tengo diez años.
.

(1989)
. . .

Viejo éxito

.

Llegué temprano a casa,

pero me paré en el acceso,

meciéndome al volante

como un pianista ciego cachado por una tonada

diseñada para más de dos manos tocar.

 

La letra era fácil,

canturreado por una muchacha muriendo del deseo

ser viva / descubrir un sufrimiento bastante majestuoso

para guiarse.

 

Apagué el aire acondicionado,

y me recliné para flotar en una capa de sudor,

escuchando su sentimiento:

Chico, ¿Adónde fue nuestro amor?

––un lamento que pillé con gula,

 

sin la menor idea de quien pudiera

mi amante o donde empezar a buscar.

.

(1995)

. . .

El grillo primaveral considera el asunto de la Negritud

.

Solita, yo tocaba mis tonadas;

no conocí a ningún otro que podía acompañarme.

 

Claro, fueron tristes las canciones

–– pero agradable también, y no vendrían hasta que

el día se agotó. Sabes, ¿no?, la manera que tiene el cielo

de colgar sus últimas volutas radiantes?

 

Eso era cuando el dolor brotaba dentro de mí

hasta que no pude esperar; me arrodillé para rasparme limpia

y no me importó quien escuchara.

 

Pues los gritos y las chiflas, vinieron,

y la redada en tarros – y el trepar de patas.

Ahora vinieron otros: revolcados y enturbiados;

no supe sus nombres.

 

Éramos un farol musical;

los niños, dormían a nuestros suspiros.

 

Y si, de vez en cuando, uno de nosotros

se sacudió libre y cantó mientras trepaba al borde,

siempre se caía de nuevo.

 

Y esto les hacía reír y palmotear.

Al menos – en ese momento – entendimos

lo que les complacía

 

y donde estuvo el borde.

.

(2012)

. . .

Trans-

.

Yo trabajo mucho y vivo mucho menos de lo que pudiera,

pero la luna es hermosa y hay estrellas azules…..

Yo vivo la casta canción de mi corazón.”

(Federico García Lorca a Emilia Llanos Medinor, 1920)

.

La luna está en un estado de duda

sobre si deba escoger ser hombre o mujer.

 

Ha habido rumores y todo tipo de

alegatos, declaraciones atrevidas, embustes públicos:

 

Él es beligerante; Ella está deprimida.

Cuando él se disipa el mundo se balancea al filo;

cuando ella florece el crimen brota.

 

¡Oh, cómo vacila el impulso operístico!

Busca, querido/cosita,

en lo profundo del charco en blanco.

.

(2015)

. . .

Rita Dove

(born 1952, Akron, Ohio, USA)

Canary

(for Michael S. Harper)

.

Billie Holiday’s burned voice

had as many shadows as lights,

a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,

the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,

magic spoon, magic needle.

Take all day if you have to

with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege

has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

.

(1989)

. . .

Flash Cards

.

In math I was the whiz kid, keeper
of oranges and apples. What you don’t understand,
master
, my father said; the faster
I answered, the faster they came.

I could see one bud on the teacher’s geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip trees always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.

My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark

before sleep, before a thin voice hissed
numbers as I spun on a wheel. I had to guess.
Ten, I kept saying, I’m only ten.

.

(1989)
. . .

Golden Oldie

.

I made it home early, only to get
stalled in the driveway, swaying
at the wheel like a blind pianist caught in a tune
meant for more than two hands playing.

 

The words were easy, crooned
by a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover
a pain majestic enough
to live by. I turned the air-conditioning off,

 

leaned back to float on a film of sweat,
and listened to her sentiment:
Baby, where did our love go?—a lament
I greedily took in

 

without a clue who my lover
might be, or where to start looking.

.

(1995)

. . .

The Spring Cricket considers the Question of Negritude

.

I was playing my tunes all by myself;

I didn’t know anybody else

who could play along.

 

Sure, the tunes were sad—

but sweet, too, and wouldn’t come

until the day gave out. You know

 

that way the sky has of dangling

her last bright wisps? That’s when

the ache would bloom inside

.

until I couldn’t wait; I knelt down

to scrape myself clean

and didn’t care who heard.

.

Then came the shouts and whistles,

the roundup into jars, a clamber of legs.

Now there were others: tumbled,

 

clouded. I didn’t know their names.

We were a musical lantern;

children slept to our rasping sighs.

 

And if now and then one of us

shook free and sang as he climbed

to the brim, he would always

 

fall again. Which made them laugh

and clap their hands. At least then

we knew what pleased them,

 

and where the brink was.

.

(2012)

. . .

Trans-

.

I work a lot and live far less than I could,
but the moon is beautiful and there are
blue stars . . . . I live the chaste song of my heart.”

Federico García Lorca to Emilia Llanos Medinor,
1920

.

The moon is in doubt
over whether to be
a man or a woman.

 

There’ve been rumours,
all manner of allegations,
bold claims and public lies:

 

He’s belligerent. She’s in a funk.
When he fades, the world teeters.
When she burgeons, crime blossoms.

 

O how the operatic impulse wavers!
Dip deep, my darling, into the blank pool.

.

(2015)

 

. . . . .


Cornelius Eady: “Abril” y otros poemas

Planta de semillero de Impatiens capensis_abril de 2016_Jewelweed seedling sprouting up in the backyard_April 26th 2016

Cornelius Eady

(nace 1954, Rochester, Nueva York, EE.UU.)

Abril

.

De golpe, las piernas quieren un tipo diferente de empleo.

Esto es porque los ojos miran por la ventana

Y está llena de esperanza la vista.

Es porque están mirando por la ventana los ojos

.

Y la calle luce un quebrado mejor que el día antes.

Esto es lo que dicen los ojos a las piernas,

Y las articulaciones se vuelven embadurnadas con una savia fresca

Que echaría brotes si pegada a una rama diferente.

.

Las piernas quieren una clase de empleo diferente.

Es porque los oídos oyen lo que estaban esperando,

Lo que uno no puede trazar con palabras

Pero lo hace latir más veloz el corazón, como si

Uno había acabado de encontrar dinero en la calle.

.

Las piernas quieren actuar delante del mundo entero.

Quieren recuperar su garbo.

Esto es porque la nariz encuentra por fin el aroma correcto

Y ella jala el cuerpo protestando en la pista de baile.

Es porque las manos, estirando en su aburrimiento,

Rozan por casualidad las faldas del mundo.

. . .

Cuervos en el viento fuerte

.

Se van del techo los cuervos.

No pueden agarrarse;

También podría posarse en una fuga de petróleo.

.

Tal baile tan torpe,

Estos caballeros

Con sus chamarras negras moteadas.

Tal baile mareado,

.

Como si no supieran donde estaban.

Tal baile cómico,

Mientras intentan poner las cosas en orden

Al tiempo que el viento los reduce.

.

Y tal baile apesadumbrado.

El amor – tan embarazoso

Cuando se equivoca

.

En frente de todos.

.

(1985)

. . .

Un pequeño momento

.

Cruzo la entrada de la panadería de al lado de mi apartamento.

Estan a punto de extraer del horno algo de tostada con queso,

Y les pregunto: ¿Cuál es ese aroma? Soy siendo un poeta,

Estoy preguntando

.

Lo que todos los demás

Querían decir pero, de alguna manera, no habían podido;

Estoy hablando de parte de dos otros clientes

Que deseaban comprar el nombre de ese aroma.

A la mujer detrás del mostrador

Pido un porcentaje de su venta – ¿estoy coqueteando?

¿me vuelvo alegre porque se alargan los días? Y ésto es

.

Lo que hizo: ella toma su tiempo eligiendo las rebanadas.

“Estoy escogiendo las buenas,” me dijo.

Es el catorce de abril; la Primavera, con

Cinco a diez grados aún no llegan – pero vendrán.

Algunos días me siento mi deber;

Algunos días me encanta mi tarea.

.

(1997)

. . .

Un poeta baila con el objeto inanimado

(para Jim Schley)

.

El paraguas, en este caso;

Previamente, el taburete y

Los pilares de madera que

Soportan el techo.

.

Este cuate – sabes –

Danzará con cualquier cosa;

Le gusta la idea.

.

Pues recoge unas sandalias desechadas de alguna señora,

Las empuja contra su cabeza

– como caracolas – o

Orejas de un burro.

.

¡No hay nada

– declara su cuerpo –

Que está seguro de la danza de ideas!

.

(1985)

. . .

Cornelius Eady

(born 1954, Rochester, New York, USA)

April

.

Suddenly, the legs want a different sort of work.

This is because the eyes look out the window

And the sight is filled with hope.

This is because the eyes look out the window

.

And the street looks a fraction better than the day before.

This is what the eyes tell the legs,

Whose joints become smeared with a fresh sap

Which would bud if attached to a different limb.

.

The legs want a different sort of work.

This is because the ears hear what they’ve been waiting for,

Which cannot be described in words,

But makes the heart beat faster, as if

One had just found money in the street.

.

The legs want to put on a show for the entire world.

The legs want to reclaim their gracefulness.

This is because the nose at last finds the right scent

And tugs the protesting body onto the dance floor.

This is because the hands, stretching out in boredom,

Accidentally brush against the skirts of the world.

. . .

Crows in a Strong Wind

.

Off go the crows from the roof.

The crows can’t hold on.

They might as well

Be perched on an oil slick.

.

Such an awkward dance,

These gentlemen

In their spotted-black coats.

Such a tipsy dance,

.

As if they didn’t know where they were.

Such a humorous dance,

As they try to set things right,

As the wind reduces them.

.

Such a sorrowful dance.

How embarrassing is love

When it goes wrong

.

In front of everyone.

. . .

A Small Moment

.

I walk into the bakery next door

To my apartment. They are about

To pull some sort of toast with cheese

From the oven.   When I ask:

What’s that smell? I am being   

A poet, I am asking

.

What everyone else in the shop

Wanted to ask, but somehow couldn’t;

I am speaking on behalf of two other

Customers who wanted to buy the

Name of it.   I ask the woman

Behind the counter for a percentage

Of her sale. Am I flirting?

Am I happy because the days

Are longer?   Here’s what

.

She does: She takes her time

Choosing the slices.   “I am picking

Out the good ones,” she tells me.   It’s

April 14th. Spring, with five to ten

Degrees to go.   Some days, I feel my duty;

Some days, I love my work.

. . .

Poet dances with inanimate object

(for Jim Schley)

.

The umbrella, in this case;

Earlier, the stool, the

Wooden pillars that hold up

the roof.

.

This guy, you realize,

Will dance with anything—

—He likes the idea.

.

Then he picks up some lady’s discarded sandals,

Holds them next to his head like sea shells,

Donkey ears.

.

Nothing,

his body states,

Is safe from the dance of ideas!

. . . . .


Poetry for Earth Day: “And I’ve been waiting long for an earth song”: Poems about Nature and Human Nature

 

Milkweed and bumblebee_Ward's Island, Toronto

Milkweed and bumblebee_Ward’s Island, Toronto

…..

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Earth Song

.

It’s an earth song ––

And I’ve been waiting long

For an earth song.

It’s a spring song!

I’ve been waiting long

For a spring song:

Strong as the bursting of young buds.

Strong as the shoots of a new plant,

Strong as the coming of the first child

From its mother’s womb ––

An earth song!

A body song!

A spring song!

And I’ve been waiting long

For an earth song.

. . .

Helene Johnson (1906-1995)

Metamorphism

.

Is this the sea?

This calm emotionless bosom,

Serene as the heart of a converted Magdalene ––

Or this?

This lisping, lulling murmur of soft waters

Kissing a white beached shore with tremulous lips;

Blue rivulets of sky gurgling deliciously

O’er pale smooth-stones ––

This too?

This sudden birth of unrestrained splendour,

Tugging with turbulent force at Neptune’s leash;

This passionate abandon,

This strange tempestuous soliloquy of Nature,

All these –– the sea?

. . .

Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961)

Rondeau

.

When April’s here and meadows wide

Once more with spring’s sweet growths are pied,

I close each book, drop each pursuit,

And past the brook, no longer mute,

I joyous roam the countryside.

Look, here the violets shy abide

And there the mating robins hide –

How keen my senses, how acute,

When April’s here.

.

And list! down where the shimmering tide

Hard by that farthest hill doth glide,

Rise faint streams from shepherd’s flute,

Pan’s pipes and Berecynthian lute.

Each sight, each sound fresh joys provide

When April’s here.

. . .

Remica L. Bingham (born Phoenix, Arizona)

The Ritual of Season

.

1. Autumn

.

The candles we burned each monsoon night in August

stained the wooden holders that kept them in place.

As storm beat mauve to night and night beat mauve to damp morning,

we extinguished fire and bore the day like a crown.

.

II. Winter

.

dogged air nipped our faces

as we lay in formation

along the stiff ground – the young tribe

athirst

waiting mouths open

longing for snow

.

daily the heavens held back their glory

and we swept angels

into hard earth –

donning the silt of adobe wings

mocking the sun

damning her

.

III. Spring

.

The swollen hum, circadian rhythm,

displaced cockcrow, heralded dawn.

.

We toured the tan flatland, the ages

marked in furrowed caverns –

empty, cactus-ridden – sacred

secret paintings the only life

left on cave drawn walls.

.

Noon day, come high sun and oasis,

the headland showed her fury.

Dust would flare and we’d call it devil –

sheathing our faces, yielding to copper

coating our skin.

.

IV. Summer

.

Under desert sun, road became wavering river.

The shimmer of heat, salamander swift, crossed

the burning middle of July.

.

When the moon, large as ancestry, conquered the sky,

our weapons were bare feet and laughter –

a porchswing vigil staving off the day.

. . .

Shara McCallum (born 1972)

The Spider Speaks

.

No choice but to spin,

the life given.

.

Mother warned me

I would wake one dawn

.

to a sun no longer yellow,

to an expanse of blue,

.

no proper word

to name it. Weaving

.

the patterned threads

of my life, each day

.

another web and the next.

If instead I could carve

.

my message in stone,

would it mean more?

.

I have only this form

to give. When the last

.

silvery strand leaves

my belly, I will see

.

what colour the sun

has become.

Milkweed and butterfly_July 2015_Toronto

Arna Bontemps (1902-1973)

Prodigal

.

I shall come back when dogwood flowers are going

And passing drakes are honking toward the south

With eager necks, I shall come back knowing

The old unanswered question on your mouth.

.

When frost is on the manzonita shoots

And dogwoods at the spring are turning brown,

There between the interlacing roots

With folded arms I shall at last go down.

. . .

Ed Roberson (born 1939)

Urban Nature

.

Neither New Hampshire nor Midwestern farm,

nor the summer home in some Hamptons garden

thing, not that Nature, not a satori

-al leisure come to terms peel by peel, not that core

whiff of beauty as the spirit. Just a street

pocket park, clean of any smells, simple quiet ––

simple quiet not the same as no birds sing,

definitely not the dead of no birds sing:

.

The bus stop posture in the interval

of nothing coming, a not quite here running

sound underground, sidewalk’s grate vibrationless

in open voice, sweet berries ripen in the street

hawk’s kiosks. The orange is being flown in

this very moment picked of its origin.

. . .

C.S. Giscombe (born 1950)

Nature Boy

.

Air over the place partially occupied by crows going places every evening; the extent unseen from sidewalk or porch but obvious, because of the noise, even from a distance. Noise glosses – harsh, shrill, a wild card. Sundown’s a place for the eye, crows alongside that. Talk’s a rough ride, to me, what with the temptation to out-talk. At best long term memory’s the same cranky argument – changeless, not a tête-à-tête – over distance: to me, the category animals excludes birds, the plain-jane ones and birds of passage, both.To me, song’s even more ambiguous – chant itself, the place of connection and association. It’s birdless, bereft. I’m impartial, anhedonic. I’m lucky about distance but I would be remiss if I didn’t hesitate over image before going on.

. . .

Clarence Major (born 1936)

Water USA

.

america, tom sawyer, is bigger

than your swim

hole. You meant, the union, water-

falls, one waterfall

a path near, from which you

jump, folklore, holding

your nose. a chemical change

takes place as you pollute

the water i drink. as your

jet lands, crashing my

environment. tom sawyer can’t hold

all the dead bodies upright

nor get anything

out of a lecture on control

systems. and bigger

thomas didn’t have an even

chance to study chemistry

. . .

Ishmael Reed (born 1938)

Points of View

.

the pioneers and the indians

disagree about a lot of things,

for example, the pioneer says that

when you meet a bear in the woods

you should yell at him and if that

doesn’t work you should fell him.

the indians say that you should

whisper to him softly and call him by

loving nicknames.

no one’s bothered to ask the bear

what he thinks.

. . .

Carl Phillips (born 1959)

The Cure

.

The tree stood dying – dying slowly, in the usual manner

of trees, slowly, but not without its clusters of spring leaves

taking shape again, already. The limbs that held them tossed,

.

shifted, the light fell as it does, through them, though it

sometimes looked as if the light were being shaken, as if

by the branches – the light, like leaves, had it been autumn,

.

scattering down: singly, in fistfuls. Nothing about it to do

with happiness, or glamour. Not sadness either. That much

I could see, finally. I could see, and want to see. The tree

.

was itself, its branches were branches, shaking, they shook

in the wind like possibility, like impatient escorts bored with

their own restlessness, like hooves in the wake of desire, in

.

the wake of the dream of it, and like the branches they were.

A sound in the branches like that of luck when it turns, or is

luck itself a fixed thing, around which I myself turn or don’t,

.

I remember asking – meaning to ask. Where had I been, for

what felt like forever? Where was I? The tree was itself, and

dying; it resembled, with each scattering of light, all the more

.

persuasively the kind of argument that can at last let go of them,

all the lovely-enough particulars that, for a time, adorned it:

force is force. The tree was itself. The light fell here and there,

.

through it. Like history. No –– history doesn’t fall, we fall

through history, the tree is history, I remember thinking, trying

not to think it, as I lay exhausted down in its crippled shadow.

. . .

Frank X. Walker (born 1961)

Homeopathic

.

The unripe cherry tomatoes, miniature red chili peppers

and small burst of sweet basil and sage in the urban garden

just outside the window on our third floor fire escape

might not yield more than seasoning for a single meal

.

or two, but it works wonders as a natural analgesic

and a way past the monotony of bricks and concrete,

the hum of the neighbour’s TV, back to the secret garden

we planted on railroad property when I was just a boy.

.

I peer into the window, searching for that look on mamma’s face,

when she kicked off her shoes, dug her toes into dirt

teeming with corn, greens, potatoes, onions, cabbage and beets;

bit into the flesh of a ripe tomato, then passed it down the row.

.

Enjoying our own fruit, we let the juice run down our chins,

leaving a trail of tiny seeds to harvest on hungry days like these.

. . .

Tim Seibles (born 1955)

Fearless

(for Moombi)

.

Good to see the green world

undiscouraged, the green fire

bounding back every spring, and beyond

the tyranny of thumbs, the weeds

and other co-conspiring green genes

ganging up, breaking in,

despite small shears and kill-mowers,

ground gougers, seed-eaters.

Here they comes, sudden as graffiti

.

not there and then there ––

naked, unhumble, unrequitedly green ––

growing as if they would be trees

on any unmanned patch of earth,

any sidewalk cracked, crooning

between ties on lonesome railroad tracks.

And moss, the shyest green citizen

anywhere, tiptoeing the trunk

in the damp shade of an oak.

.

Clear a quick swatch of dirt

and come back sooner than later

to find the green friends moved in:

their pitched tents, the first bright

leaves hitched to the sun, new roots

tuning the subterranean flavours,

chlorophyll setting a feast of light.

.

Is it possible –– to be so glad?

The shoots rising in spite of every plot

against them. Every chemical stupidity,

every burned field, every better

home & garden finally overrun

by the green will, the green greenness

of green things growing greener.

The mad Earth publishing

her many million murmuring

unsaids. Look

.

how the shade pours

from the big branches – the ground,

the good ground, pubic

and sweet. The trees – who

are they? Their stillness, that

long silence, the never

running away.

. . .

Marilyn Nelson (born 1946)

Last Talk with Jim Hardwick

(a “found” poem)

.

When I die I will live again.

By nature I am a conserver.

I have found Nature

to be a conserver, too.

Nothing is wasted

or permanently lost

in Nature. Things

change their form,

but they do not cease

to exist. After

I leave this world

I do not believe I am through.

God would be a bigger fool

than even a man

if He did not conserve

the human soul,

which seems to be

the most important thing

He has yet done in the universe.

When you get your grip

on the last rung of the ladder

and look over the wall

as I am now doing,

you don’t need their proofs:

You see.

You know

you will not die.

. . .

Ross Gay (born 1974)

Thank You

.

If you find yourself half naked

and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,

again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says

you are the air of the now and gone, that says

all you love will turn to dust,

and will meet you there, do not

raise your fist. Do not raise

your small voice against it. And do not

take cover. Instead, curl your toes

into the grass, watch the cloud

ascending from your lips. Walk

through the garden’s dormant splendour.

Say only, thank you.

Thank you.

. . . . .


Poemas para el Ciclo de Vida: Anne Spencer: “Otro abril”

La poetisa Anne Spencer con su marido Edward y dos nietas_Lynchburg, Virginia, EE.UU._hacia 1930 / Poet Anne Spencer and her husband Edward in their Lynchburg, Virginia garden with two of their grandchildren_circa 1930

La poetisa Anne Spencer con su marido Edward y dos nietas_Lynchburg, Virginia, EE.UU._hacia 1930 / Poet Anne Spencer and her husband Edward in their Lynchburg, Virginia garden with two of their grandchildren_circa 1930

. . .

Anne Spencer (Annie Bethel Bannister, 1882-1975)

Otro abril

.

Ella está demasiado débil para cuidar a su jardín este año,

y no pudo hacerlo el año pasado; es una mujer mayor.

Las plantas lo entienden

entonces se agrupan pues crecen sin reservas.

La glicinia, púrpura y blanca,

salta del árbol a la caja-casa de golondrinas,

está arrastrado hacia abajo por globos de pétalos fragantes

que apuntalan y robustecen la vid, pues

desciende y toca la Tierra…y

se dispara otra vez

serpenteando, colgante – y

repiquetea: “¡Abril, de nuevo, aquí está abril!

Y la ventana de donde la vieja contempla

necesita un lavado ––

. . .

Réquiem

.

Oh, yo que había deseado tanto ser dueña de algún suelo

ahora mejor estoy consumida por la tierra.

La sangre al río, el hueso al terreno

la tumba restaura lo que encuentra un lecho.

.

Oh, yo que bebía del barro oloroso de la Primavera

devuelvo su vino para otra gente.

El aliento al aire, el corazón a las hierbas

mi corazón estando despojado,

entonces yo descanse.

. . .

Tierra, te agradezco

.

Tierra, te agradezco

por el placer de tu idioma.

Has experimentado unos momentos difíciles

trayéndolo a mí – del suelo –

gruñir a través del sustantivo

todo el camino hacia

sensibilidad

sensación

forma de ver

sentido de olfato

tocar

–– dicho de otro modo:

el conocimiento que

¡yo soy! / ¡sigo aquí!

. . .

Poemas del florilegio Black Nature: Four Centuries of African-American Nature Poetry (Naturaleza Negra: Cuatro Siglos de Poesía Afroamericana sobre la Naturaleza) © 2009, Camille T. Dungy (editor)

. . .

Anne Spencer (Annie Bethel Bannister, 1882-1975)

Another April

.

She is too weak to tend

her garden last year, this

year – and old.

The plants know, and

cluster, running free.

The wisteria, purple and white,

leaps from tree to martin-

box dragged down by globes

of the fragrant wet petals

to shore up, strengthen the vine, then

drops to touch Earth, to shoot

up again looping, hanging,

pealing out “April again!”

.

April is here!…

And the window from

which she stares needs washing ––

. . .

Requiem

.

Oh, I who so wanted to own some earth,

Am consumed by the earth instead:

Blood into river

Bone into land

The grave restores what finds its bed.

.

Oh, I who did drink of Spring’s fragrant clay,

Give back its wine for other men:

Breath into air

Heart into grass

My heart bereft – I might rest then.

. . .

[Earth, I Thank You]

.

Earth, I thank you

for the pleasure of your language.

You’ve had a hard time

bringing it to me

from the ground

to grunt thru the noun

To all the way

feeling      seeing     smelling     touching

––awareness

I am here!

. . . . .


Lucille Clifton: “La muerte de Caballo Loco”

Strange Man of the Lakota_Crazy Horse around 1876_giclée print on watercolour paper_copyright Kenneth Ferguson“Strange Man of the Lakota” (Crazy Horse around 1876): giclée print on watercolour paper © Kenneth Ferguson

.

Un poema para El Día Americano del Indio / El Día del Indio Americano (19 de abril):

.

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

la muerte de Caballo Loco * (5 de septiembre de 1877, a la edad de 35)

.

en los cerros donde el aro

del mundo

se inclina a las cuatro direcciones

ha mostrado a mí el WakanTanka*

el camino que caminan los hombres es una sombra.

Yo era un niño cuando llegué a comprender ese hecho:

que los cabellos largos y las barbas grises, y yo,

tendríamos que entrar al sueño para ser real.

.

por lo tanto soñé y soñé

y sobreviví.

.

soy el último jefe de guerra,

nunca derrotado en batalla*.

Lakotah*, acuérdense mi nombre.

.

ahora durante esta vuelta

mis huesos y mi corazón

están calentitos en las manos de mi padre.

WakanTanka me ha enseñado que

las sombras van a quebrarse

cerca del arroyo llamado Rodilla Herida*

.

acuérdense mi nombre, Lakotah.

soy el último jefe de guerra.

padre, el corazón,

nunca vencido en batalla,

padre, los huesos,

nunca dominado por batalla,

déjenlos al sitio de Rodilla Herida

.

y acuérdense nuestro nombre: Lakota.

estoy soltado de la sombra.

Mi caballo sueña / baila debajo de mí

mientras entro en el mundo real.

. . .

*Caballo Loco = “Crazy Horse” en inglés y Tȟašúŋke Witkó en la lengua Sioux. aprox.1840 – 1877. Era un líder de guerra de los indios Lakotah (una rama de la nación indígena Sioux de las Grandes Llanuras de los EE.UU.)

*WakanTanka = el “gran espíritu” o el “gran misterio”: el término para lo sagrado o lo divino en la cosmovisión de la gente Sioux.

*nunca derrotado en batalla = La Batalla de Little Big Horn (junio de 1876)

*Lakotah = la gente Sioux en los estados de Dakota del Norte y Dakota del Sur.

*Rodilla Herida = “Wounded Knee” en inglés. Lugar en Dakota del Sur. Sitio de una matanza de los indios Sioux por los soldados del gobierno estadounidense. Considerada como “el episodio final” en la conquista de la gente indígena norteamericana.

. . .

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

the death of crazy horse (sept.5th, 1877, age 35)

.

in the hills where the hoop

of the world

bends to the four directions

WakanTanka has shown me

the path men walk is shadow.

i was a boy when i saw it,

that long hairs and grey beards

and myself

must enter the dream to be real.

.

so i dreamed and i dreamed

and i endured.

.

i am the final war chief.

never defeated in battle.

Lakotah, remember my name.

.

now on this walk my bones

and my heart

are warm in the hands of my father.

WakanTanka has shown me the shadows

will break

near the creek called Wounded Knee.

.

remember my name, Lakotah.

i am the final war chief.

father, my heart,

never defeated in battle,

father, my bones,

never defeated in battle,

leave them at Wounded Knee

.

and remember our name. Lakotah.

i am released from shadow.

my horse dreams and dances under me

as i enter the actual world.

. . . . .

Otras reflexiones para El Día del Aborigen Americano…

.

https://zocalopoets.com/2015/04/19/el-dia-del-aborigen-americano-en-ingles-michelle-obama-april-19th-the-day-of-the-indian-of-the-americas-a-speech-by-michelle-obama/

.

https://zocalopoets.com/category/juan-felipe-herrera/

. . . . .

 


“Language Current”: Latino and Chicano poets from the 1980s and 1990s

El jardín de sueños_The garden of dreams_by Chicana artist Judithe Hernández (born 1948, Los Angeles)

El jardín de sueños_The garden of dreams_by Chicana artist Judithe Hernández (born 1948, Los Angeles)

Gioconda Belli

(born 1948, Managua, Nicaragua / Los Angeles, California, USA)

Menopause

.

I’m not acquainted with it, yet.

But, so far,

all over the world,

women have survived it.

Perhaps it was that our grandmothers were stoic

or that, back then, no one entitled them to complain,

still they reached old age

with wilted bodies

but strong souls.

Now, instead,

dissertations are written on the subject.

At age thirty the sorrow begins,

the premonition of catastrophe.

.

A body is much more than the sum of its hormones.

Menopausal or not

a woman remains a woman,

beyond the production of secretions or eggs.

To miss a period does not imply the loss of syntax

or coherence;

it shouldn’t lead to hiding

as a snail in a shell,

nor provoke endless brooding.

If depression sets in

it won’t be a new occurrence,

each menstrual cycle has come to us with tears

and its load of irrational anger.

There is no reason, then,

to feel devalued:

Get rid of tampons

and sanitary napkins!

Use them to light a bonfire in your garden!

Be naked

Dance the ritual of aging

And survive it,

as we all shall.

. . .

Rafael Campo

(born 1964, Dover, New Jersey, USA)

The Return

.

He doesn’t know it yet, but when my father

and I return there, it will be forever.

His antihypertensives thrown away,

his briefcase in the attic left to waste,

the football game turned off – he’s snoring now,

he doesn’t even dream it, but I know

I’ll carry him the way he carried me

when I was small: In 2023,

my father’s shrunken, eight-five years old,

weighs ninety pounds, a little dazed but thrilled

that Castro’s long been dead, his son impeached!

He doesn’t know it, dozing on the couch

across the family room from me, but this

is what I’ve dreamed of giving him, just this.

And as I carry him upon my shoulders,

triumphant strides across a beach so golden

I want to cry, that’s when he sees for sure,

he sees he’s needed me for all these years.

He doesn’t understand it yet, but when

I give him Cuba, he will love me then.

. . .

Sandra Cisneros

(Chicana, born 1954, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Tango for the Broom

.

I would like to be a poet if

I had my life to do over again.

I would like to dance with the broom,

or sweep the kitchen as I am

.

sweeping it today and imagine

my broom is a handsome

black-haired tango man whose

black hair scented with Tres Flores

oil is as shiny as his

black patent leather shoes.

.

Or, I would like to be a poet laundress

washing sheets and towels,

pulling them hot and twisted

from the dryer, wrapping

.

myself in the warmth of

clean towels, clean sheets,

folding my work into soft towers,

satisfied. So much done in a day!

.

Or, I would like to be a poet eating soup

today because my throat hurts. Putting

big spoonfuls of hot soup

into my big fat mouth.

. . .

It occurs to me I am the creative / destructive goddess Coatlicue

.

I deserve stones.

Better leave me the hell alone.

.

I am besieged.

I cannot feed you.

You may not souvenir my bones,

knock on my door, camp, come in,

telephone, take my Polaroid. I’m paranoid,

I tell you. Lárguense. Scram.

Go home.

.

I am anomaly. Rare she who

can’t stand kids and can’t stand you.

No excellent Cordelia cordiality have I.

No coffee served in tidy cups.

No groceries in the house.

.

I sleep to excess,

smoke cigars,

drink. Am at my best

wandering undressed,

my fingernails dirty,

my hair a mess.

Terribly

.

sorry, Madame isn’t

feeling well today.

Must

Greta Garbo.

Pull an Emily D.

Roil like Jean Rhys.

Abiquiu myself.

Throw a Maria Callas.

Shut myself like a shoe.

.

Stand back. Christ

almighty. I’m warning.

Do not. Keep

out. Beware.

Help! Honey,

this means

you.

. . .

Judith Ortíz Cofer

(born 1952, Hormigueros, Puerto Rico / Georgia, USA)

The Tip

.

Just days before the crash

that killed him, my father

lost the tip of his index finger

while working on the same vehicle

that would take him away.

.

I recall my mother’s scream

that brought me out of Mann’s

The Magic Mountain,

and to the concrete drive

now sprinkled in crimson.

His stunned look

is what has stayed with me.

Shock that part of him could take leave

without permission or warning.

He was a man who hated surprises,

who lined his clothes and shoes

like a platoon he inspected daily,

and taught us to suspect the future.

His was the stranger in a strange land’s fear

of not knowing, and not having.

.

After the doctor snipped the raggéd end

of joint and skin like a cigar

and stitched it closed, my father

stared transfixed at the decapitated

finger, as if it had a message for him.

As if he suspected this small betrayal

of his body was just the tip

of chaos rising.

. . .

Carlos Cumpián

(Chicano, born 1953, San Antonio, Texas / Chicago, Illinois, USA)

The Circus

.

A cougar’s howl blasts

out of brass cornets,

matched by blaring bugles,

thunderous trombones,

plus two marching kettledrums

dum dum dumbing us deaf

as six muscle men carry cudgels,

four women wearing less than

what’s wrapped in ribbon around

their lances bounce freely alongside

13 elephants that line up, turn, mount

and massage each other,

except grey guys one and thirteen

who represent wrinkled

alpha and omega

cosmic pachyderms

possessing the patois of saints

amid the frantic pulse of these

under-the-big-top idiotics.

Puerto Rico Conga Man in Lights_copyright 2011 Carlos Reyes, photographer

Puerto Rico Conga Man in Lights_copyright 2011 Carlos Reyes, photographer

 

Sandra María Esteves

(Nuyorican / Dominicana, born 1948, The Bronx, New York City, USA)

In the Beginning

.

In the beginning was the sound

Like the universe exploding

It came, took form, gave life

And was called Conga

.

And Conga said:

Let there be night and day

And was born el Quinto y el Bajo

.

And Quinto said: Give me female

There came Campana

And Bajo said: Give me son

There came Bongos

.

They merged produced force

Maracas y Claves

Chequere y Timbales

.

¡Qué viva la música!

So it was written

On the skin of the drum

.

¡Qué viva la gente!

So it was written

In the hearts of the people

.

¡Qué viva Raza!

.

So it is written.

. . .

Amor Negro

.

In our wagon oysters are treasured

Their hard shells clacking against each other

Words that crash into our ears

We cushion them

Cup them gently in our hands

We kiss and suck the delicate juice

And sculpture flowers from the stone skin

We wash them in the river by moonlight

With offerings of songs

And after the meal we wear them in our hair

And in our eyes.

. . .

Rosario Ferré (1938-2016, Puerto Rico)

Language Current

.

English is like a nuclear reactor.

I’m in it right now.

As I shoot down its fast track

small bits of skin, fragments, cells

stick to my sides.

Once in a while whole sentences gush forth

and slam themselves against the page

condensing their rapid sprays of pellets

into separate words.

Sometimes I travel in it at 186,000 miles an hour,

the speed of light,

when I lie sleepless on the bed at night.

No excess baggage is allowed.

No playful, baroque tendrils

curling this way and that.

No dreamtime walkabout

all the way down to Australia.

In English you have to know where you’re going:

either towards the splitting of the self

or the blasting of the molecules around you.

.

Spanish is a very different tongue.

It’s deeper and darker, with so many twists

and turns it makes me feel like I’m navigating

the uterus. Shards of gleaming stone,

emerald, amethyst, opal

wink at me as I swim down its moist shaft.

It goes deeper than the English Channel,

all the way down to the birth canal and beyond.

. . .

Leroy Quintana

(born 1944, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA)

Zen – Where I’m From

.

A good door needs no lock, yet no one can open it.

(Lao Tsu)

.

You simply have to admire how, immediately after

the twelve-foot-high chainlink fence

crowned with coils of wicked barbed wire was

erected, the fence the City Council voted on

unanimously to guard against anyone ever again,

again breaking into one of the town’s

storage sheds, how immediately after, the

thieves drove up with their welding torches and

stole it!

. . .

What it was like

.

If you want to know what

it was like, I’ll tell you

what my tío told me:

There was a truckdriver,

Antonio, who could handle a

rig as easily in reverse as

anybody else straight ahead:

.

Too bad he’s a Mexican was

what my tío said the

Anglos had to say

about that.

.

And thus the moral:

.

Where do you begin if

you begin with

if you’re too good it’s too bad?

. . .

Bessy Reyna

(Panama/Cuba/USA)

Lunch Walk

.

He came bouncing down the street

heavy body, long hair, jacket and tie

there was an oddness about him

then, as he approached

I heard the sound of maracas

coming from his pockets

was it candy?

I pictured hundreds of multi-coloured sweets

crashing against each other

he, oblivious to the crackling rhythm.

.

Along Capitol Avenue

our paths crossed

lunch break nearly over.

How can I explain

being late for work

because I was following a man

who sounded like maracas?

Mural on the side wall of El Milagro tortilla makers (founded in 1950 by Raul Lopez)_East Austin, Texas_photograph by J.C. Shea

Mural on the side wall of El Milagro tortilla makers (founded in 1950 by Raul Lopez)_East Austin, Texas_photograph by J.C. Shea

 

Raúl R. Salinas

(1934-2008, San Antonio/Austin, Texas, USA)

Poema del Nuevo León

.

S

e

n

tado

e………..m

n…………i

.

favourite restaurant

surrounded by carnitas

y coronas

me pongo a platonear.

.

Meanwhile…

en un booth by the bar

Gloria (la waitress

especial) sits smiling

whiling away

minutes before her

shift / swiftly munching

on a bunch of

(what i hope are

farmworker-friendly,

pesticide-free,

pro-union!)

Grapes.

.

Austin, 1986

.

Frank Romero (born 1940)_Ghost of Evergreen Cemetery (1987)

Frank Romero (born 1940)_Ghost of Evergreen Cemetery (1987)

 

A Walk through the Campo Santo

.

i walked through the Campo Santo of my ciudad tonight

visiting friends and relations playmates from childhoods

hurried / lived other mates from capitalist caves request stop

machinery for a while share in the sacred plants spreading the

presence of peace above / beneath the earth birthrights given

up the Spirit rusty nail at the heel locks the jaws locomotive

wheels become meat grinders the plague in the colony gang-

land guns coming and going family feud with his pistol in his

hand jazz trumpets blare flares catch the glimmer of the gun

running partner my blood of no more sounds no smoke-em-

stickpins in the skin pop poisonous veins 12 gauge shotgun

in the mouth scattered brains become wall designs life left

dangling on the old homestead backyard live oak tree elders

those who checked out caught the bus all on they own / popos

and grandpas grandmother gabriela dead not dead bracing up

temper the steel softening of the machine priestly eulogies

She Gave Birth to a Nation! an indio poet smiles and matriar-

chal voices set the tone as six generations sheep lonely in their

assimilation slump on cold, wooden church pews scratching

they heads wonder what it was the preacher meant bent on

knee i honour primos y tías compas & comrades shoulder to

shoulder laid out beneath caliche stones on sacred ground

i walked through the campo santo of my ciudad tonight.

.

Austin, 1989

. . .

Gary Soto

(born 1952, Chicano, San Joaquin Valley/Fresno, California, USA)

The Essay Examination for what You have read in the Course “World Religions”

.

From his cross Jesus said, Sit up straight,

And Buddha said, Go ahead and laugh, big boy,

And although no god, Gandhi said, Do onto others…

The last one didn’t seem right. I re-licked my pencil

And looked out the classroom window – two dudes smoking joints,

Yukking it up while I was taking a timed exam.

I noticed a stray dog nosing a paper bag,

Which prompted me to look down at my feet –

My own lunch bag with three greasy splotches.

That was Pavlov, the reaction thing.

And at any moment I could start salivating.

I returned to my exam. I had to concentrate

And wrote, Zoroastrianism was a powerful religion

In a powerful time. Of Taoism, I wrote,

The split personality made you more friends.

I liked my progress. I looked out the window again –

The two hippie dudes now petting the dog

And blowing smoke into its furry face. I wrote:

Confucius was a good guy who stroked his whiskers.

I stalled here. The last part didn’t seem right,

And it didn’t seem right that our teacher

Should be reading the sports page while we suffered.

I got back to work. Who was Shiva?

When did Shinto start? Why did the roofs of the pagodas

Swing upward? The rubbings from my eraser snowed

To the floor and my tongue was black as plague.

The clock ate up the hour. The teacher put down

His newspaper and said, You’ve been good students.

After class I went around to see the hippie dudes,

Now passed out against the wall. The dog lay

Between them, also snoozing, the joint smouldering

Next to his furry face. Unlike Gandhi

I didn’t have much to say on the matter,

I opened my lunch bag with no judgement, no creed,

No French philosophical nada. I ate

A hog of a burrito and then the ancient, mealy fruit,

The apple of our first sin.

. . .

Gloria Vando

(Puerto Rico/New York City, USA)

HE 2-104: A True Planetary Nebula in the Making

.

On the universal clock, Sagan tells us,

we are only moments old. And this

new crab-like discovery in Centaurus,

though older by far, is but

an adolescent going through a vital

if brief stage in the evolution

of interacting stars. I see it

starting its sidereal trek

through midlige, glowingly complex –

a pulsating red giant: with a “small

hot companion” in tow – and think

of you and me that night in August

speeding across Texas in your red

Mustang convertible, enveloped in dust

and fumes, aiming for a motel bed,

settling instead for the backseat of the car,

arms and legs flailing in all directions,

but mostly toward heaven – and now

this cool red dude winking at me

through the centuries as if to say

I know, I know, sidling in closer

to his sidekick, shedding his garments,

shaking off dust, encircling

her small girth with a high-density

lasso of himself, high-velocity

sparks shooting from her ringed

body like crazy legs and arms until

at last, he’s got his hot companion

in a classic hold and slowly,

in ecstasy, they take wing and

blaze as one across the Southern skies –

no longer crab but butterfly.

. . .

The above poems were featured in the 1997 anthology El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry, edited by Martín Espada.

. . . . .