Monthly Archives: February 2016

Monday’s Verse 2/29/2016

2/29s are rare. Monday 2/29s are rarer still. Have a great week! -ed.

FEBRUARY 29

An extra day—

Like the painting’s fifth cow,
who looks out directly,
straight toward you,
from inside her black and white spots.

An extra day—

Accidental, surely:
the made calendar stumbling over the real
as a drunk trips over a threshold
too low to see.

An extra day—

With a second cup of black coffee.
A friendly but businesslike phone call.
A mailed-back package.
Some extra work, but not too much—
just one day’s worth, exactly.

An extra day—

Not unlike the space
between a door and its frame
when one room is lit and another is not,
and one changes into the other
as a woman exchanges a scarf.

An extra day—

Extraordinarily like any other.
And still
there is some generosity to it,
like a letter re-readable after its writer has died.

Jane Hirshfield, 2015

Monday’s Verse 2/15/2016

Dear readers,

Yusef Komunyakaa (make a funk, you say?) writes poems that always seem rooted in his own life, but sometimes fly off into wild opacity because of his vocabulary and the daringness of his imagery. He’s therefore a good guy to have as a war poet and a chronicler of the 20th (and 21st!) century black southern experience. He was born in Louisiana, but his poems also travel the world. Since the 1980s, he’s taught at Indiana University.

This poem brought me right back home to the now, since its opening line describes the people I meet every day, and since one of the lines mentions my current home (apparently just by dropping the "New" from a more famous place). Did I forget to mention that he uses music a lot, too? It’s here, subtly and overtly. -ed.

THE AFRICAN BURIAL GROUND

They came as Congo, Guinea, & Angola,
feet tuned to rhythms of a thumb piano.
They came to work fields of barley & flax,

livestock, stone & slab, brick & mortar,
to make wooden barrels, some going
from slave to servant & half-freeman.

They built tongue & groove— wedged
into their place in New Amsterdam.
Decades of seasons changed the city

from Dutch to York, & dream-footed
hard work rattled their bones.
They danced Ashanti. They lived

& died. Shrouded in cloth, in cedar
& pine coffins, Trinity Church
owned them in six & a half acres

of sloping soil. Before speculators
arrived grass & weeds overtook
what was most easily forgotten,

& tannery shops drained there.
Did descendants & newcomers
shoulder rock & heave loose gravel

into the landfill before building crews
came, their guitars & harmonicas
chasing away ghosts at lunch break?

Soon, footsteps of lower Manhattan
strutted overhead, back & forth
between old denials & new arrivals,

going from major to minor pieties,
always on the go. The click of heels
the tap of a drum awaking the dead.

-2014

Monday’s Verse 2/8/2016

Dear readers,

Major Jackson (anagram: Major Jack, son!) has been publishing award-winning verse since roughly the beginning of this century. He’s currently the Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor at the U. of Vermont, which leads me to wonder if Richard Dennis has alternate last names, or if Richard Dennis wanted to fund a chaired professorship celebrating Robert Frost’s "Nothing Gold Can Stay," or if maybe Mr. Jackson is somehow a professor of environmental metallurgy? I think we can all agree that that’s a confusing chain of nouns and adjectives.

Of course, that’s how some people describe poetry.

Anyway, I looked at the nice tight rhyme scheme, and cultural allusions (high and low!) in this poem, and wondered if "Brooks" weren’t Gwendolyn Brooks, a godmother of sorts for African American poetry. -ed.

LETTER TO BROOKS: SPRING GARDEN

1
When you have forgotten (to bring into
Play that fragrant morsel of rhetoric,
Crisp as autumnal air), when you
Have forgotten, say, sunlit corners, brick
Full of skyline, rowhomes, smokestacks,
Billboards, littered rooftops & wondered
What bread wrappers reflect of our hunger,

2
When you have forgotten wide-brimmed hats,
Sunday back-seat leather rides & church,
The doorlock like a silver cane, the broad backs
Swaying or the great moan deep churning,
& the shimmer flick of flat sticks, the lurch
Forward, skip, hands up Aileyesque drop,
When you have forgotten the meaningful bop,

3
Hustlers and their care-what-may, blasé
Ballet and flight, when you have forgotten
Scruffy yards, miniature escapes, the way
Laundry lines strung up sag like shortened
Smiles, when you have forgotten the Fish Man
Barking his catch in inches up the street
“I’ve got porgies. I’ve got trout. Feeesh

4
Man,” or his scoop and chain scale,
His belief in shad and amberjack; when
You have forgotten Ajax and tin pails,
Blue crystals frothing on marble front
Steps Saturday mornings, or the garden
Of old men playing checkers, the curbs
White-washed like two lines out to the burbs,

5
Or the hopscotch squares painted new
In the street, the pitter-patter of feet
Landing on rhymes. “How do you
Like the weather, girls? All in together, girls,
January, February, March, April… ”
The jump ropes’ portentous looming,
Their great, aching love blooming.

6
When you have forgotten packs of grape-
Flavored Now & Laters, the squares
Of sugar flattening on the tongue, the elation
You felt reaching into the corner-store jar,
Grasping a handful of Blow Pops, candy bars
With names you didn’t recognize but came
To learn. All the turf battles. All the war games.

7
When you have forgotten popsicle stick
Races along the curb and hydrant fights,
Then, retrieve this letter from your stack
I’ve sent by clairvoyant post & read by light,
For it brought me as much longing and delight.
This week’s Father’s Day; I’ve a long ride to Philly.
I’ll give this to Gramps, then head to Black Lily.

-2006

Monday’s Verse 2/1/2016

Welcome to Black History month! It’s such a fruitful window onto this poetic world we share, since the various schools of African-American writing — from the country’s founding, right up to tomorrow — have left such an unshakable imprint on American verse as a whole.

We’ll start out with a history lesson from a writer I first learned about in my undergrad poetry class, Michael S. Harper (sharper, he claim). It’s funny to think how long ago that was. I would say his history lesson is no less valid today. -ed.

AMERICAN HISTORY

Those four black girls blown up
in that Alabama church
remind me of five hundred
middle passage blacks,
in a net, under water
in Charleston harbor
so redcoats wouldn’t find them.
Can’t find what you can’t see
can you?

-2000