Monthly Archives: January 2017

Monday’s Verse 01/30/2017

Dear readers,

What did you do this weekend? I spent some time thinking about that old game we used to play, that old contingent-historical game, that old science-fiction game, that old choose-your-own adventure game. The game where you read about, or watch, or hear about an episode from history, a bad episode, an episode the morality of which seems remarkably clear, from a distance. And you say, I wonder what I would do if I were in that situation?

What are you doing right now? That is precisely what you would do if you were in that situation.

Here’s Juan Felipe Herrera (b. 1948), one of Barack Obama’s poet laureate picks, from a book of poems given to me by MV member and Samoan roommate Scott Liebertz. Thanks, Scott! And thanks Mr. Herrera, for keeping it real. -ed.

21 RATIONAL REASONS REPUBLICANS CAN’T JUMP

Because they are burning down posters advertising churros on sale at Wal-Mart
Because they are busy banning Spanish from public plazas and people’s places
Becaue their pockets are still lined with old right-wing lobby nickel
Because they are chained to their property in Rancho Mirage
Because their property is really our property in Rancho Mirage
Because jumping reminds them of crossing La Border
Because their shoes got shined in Tijuana on Avenida Revolución
Because they are kneeling down praying for things to stay the same
Because getting way too high is not the proper way of doing business
Because they are staying low searching for WMDs
Because they are waiting for instructions from Lou Dobbs
Because Lou Dobbs can’t jump
Because they are chasing La Migra to speed things up a bit
Because they are chasing La Policía to speed things up a bit
Because they are hanging out with developers building another super-max prison
Because Dolores Huerta didn’t hand them a towel
Because wearing Tommy Hilfiger loafers & Perry Ellis bathrobes drags you down
Because the word change can easily turn into a chinga
Because they are carrying the red states by a hair
Because the word Republican comes from the word Republicant
Because whenever they look up they see an alien about to land on them

-2006

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Monday’s Verse 1/23/2017

Dear readers,

When I read the poem below, I think the jump from Gil Scott-Heron, who wrote "Whitey on the Moon," after all, to James Baldwin, is not so great a leap. Feeling the need for James Baldwin, I went to the poetry foundation for some examples, and before that hadn’t realized that he lived to see most of the 1980s (1924-1987). And that explains some of the references here, which are wide-ranging*. And get a load of how the relevance of such references has not dimmed in 30+ years! The allusions begin with his title, by the way, lifted from a well-known traditional blues song. Although Baldwin wrote poetry throughout his life, almost all of his published verse comes from a single volume, Jimmy’s Blues (1983).

This poem reminds us that, while Monday’s Verse is not a political forum, it will never be a site of appeasement.

One more plug for the Poetry Foundation’s website. When searching for some Baldwin poems, I came across a short essay by New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, who says a lot about her relationship with poetry that hit personally for me. Stressing the importance of her non-expertise, for one thing, and how maybe it’s precisely her amateur openness that lets her love poems. You might enjoy it. It’s only about a page long, and the paragraph beginning "Not that I ever talk to anyone about poetry" is the one that sold it for me.

Have a great week,

mjl

*Know what would be really fun? If we went around taking turns unpacking those references… just everyone who feels so inclined pull out a single line that struck you, and say, hey, when he says "Uncas," he’s talking about a leader of the Mohegans in the pre-revolution colonies, who made treaties with the colonists, even sometimes against other tribes.

STAGGERLEE WONDERS

1

I always wonder

what they think the niggers are doing

while they, the pink and alabaster pragmatists,

are containing

Russia

and defining and re-defining and re-aligning

China,

nobly restraining themselves, meanwhile,

from blowing up that earth

which they have already

blasphemed into dung:

the gentle, wide-eyed, cheerful

ladies, and their men,

nostalgic for the noble cause of Vietnam,

nostalgic for noble causes,

aching, nobly, to wade through the blood of savages—

ah—!

Uncas shall never leave the reservation,

except to purchase whisky at the State Liquor Store.

The Panama Canal shall remain forever locked:

there is a way around every treaty.

We will turn the tides of the restless

Caribbean,

the sun will rise, and set

on our hotel balconies as we see fit.

The natives will have nothing to complain about,

indeed, they will begin to be grateful,

will be better off than ever before.

They will learn to defer gratification

and save up for things, like we do.

Oh, yes. They will.

We have only to make an offer

they cannot refuse.

This flag has been planted on the moon:

it will be interesting to see

what steps the moon will take to be revenged

for this quite breathtaking presumption.

This people

masturbate in winding sheets.

They have hacked their children to pieces.

They have never honoured a single treaty

made with anyone, anywhere.

The walls of their cities

are as foul as their children.

No wonder their children come at them with knives.

Mad Charlie man’s son was one of their children,

had got his shit together

by the time he left kindergarten,

and, as for Patty, heiress of all the ages,

she had the greatest vacation

of any heiress, anywhere:

Golly-gee, whillikens, Mom, real guns!

and they come with a real big, black funky stud, too:

oh, Ma! he’s making eyes at me!

Oh, noble Duke Wayne,

be careful in them happy hunting grounds.

They say the only good Indian

is a dead Indian,

by what I say is,

you can’t be too careful, you hear?

Oh, towering Ronnie Reagan,

wise and resigned lover of redwoods,

deeply beloved, winning man-child of the yearning Republic

from diaper to football field to Warner Brothers sound-stages,

be thou our grinning, gently phallic, Big Boy of all the ages!

Salt peanuts, salt peanuts,

for dear hearts and gentle people,

and cheerful, shining, simple Uncle Sam!

Nigger, read this and run!

Now, if you can’t read,

run anyhow!

From Manifest Destiny

(Cortez, and all his men

silent upon a peak in Darien)

to A Decent Interval,

and the chopper rises above Saigon,

abandoning the noble cause

and the people we have made ignoble

and whom we leave there, now, to die,

one moves, With All Deliberate Speed,

to the South China Sea, and beyond,

where millions of new niggers

await glad tidings!

No, said the Great Man’s Lady,

I’m against abortion,

I always feel that’s killing somebody.

Well, what about capital punishment?

I think the death penalty helps.

That’s right.

Up to our ass in niggers

on Death Row.

Oh, Susanna,

don’t you cry for me!

2

Well, I guess what the niggers

is supposed to be doing

is putting themselves in the path

of that old sweet chariot

and have it swing down and carry us home.

That would help, as they say,

and they got ways

of sort of nudging the chariot.

They still got influence

with Wind and Water,

though they in for some surprises

with Cloud and Fire.

My days are not their days.

My ways are not their ways.

I would not think of them,

one way or the other,

did not they so grotesquely

block the view

between me and my brother.

And, so, I always wonder:

can blindness be desired?

Then, what must the blinded eyes have seen

to wish to see no more!

For, I have seen,

in the eyes regarding me,

or regarding my brother,

have seen, deep in the farthest valley

of the eye, have seen

a flame leap up, then flicker and go out,

have seen a veil come down,

leaving myself, and the other,

alone in that cave

which every soul remembers, and

out of which, desperately afraid,

I turn, turn, stagger, stumble out,

into the healing air,

fall flat on the healing ground,

singing praises, counselling

my heart, my soul, to praise.

What is it that this people

cannot forget?

Surely, they cannot be deluded

as to imagine that their crimes

are original?

There is nothing in the least original

about the fiery tongs to the eyeballs,

the sex torn from the socket,

the infant ripped from the womb,

the brains dashed out against rock,

nothing original about Judas,

or Peter, or you or me: nothing:

we are liars and cowards all,

or nearly all, or nearly all the time:

for we also ride the lightning,

answer the thunder, penetrate whirlwinds,

curl up on the floor of the sun,

and pick our teeth with thunderbolts.

Then, perhaps they imagine

that their crimes are not crimes?

Perhaps.

Perhaps that is why they cannot repent,

why there is no possibility of repentance.

Manifest Destiny is a hymn to madness,

feeding on itself, ending

(when it ends) in madness:

the action is blindness and pain,

pain bringing a torpor so deep

that every act is willed,

is desperately forced,

is willed to be a blow:

the hand becomes a fist,

the prick becomes a club,

the womb a dangerous swamp,

the hope, and fear, of love

is acid in the marrow of the bone.

No, their fire is not quenched,

nor can be: the oil feeding the flames

being the unadmitted terror of the wrath of God.

Yes. But let us put it in another,

less theological way:

though theology has absolutely nothing to do

with what I am trying to say.

But the moment God is mentioned

theology is summoned

to buttress or demolish belief:

an exercise which renders belief irrelevant

and adds to the despair of Fifth Avenue

on any afternoon,

the people moving, homeless, through the city,

praying to find sanctuary before the sky

and the towers come tumbling down,

before the earth opens, as it does in Superman.

They know that no one will appear

to turn back time,

they know it, just as they know

that the earth has opened before

and will open again, just as they know

that their empire is falling, is doomed,

nothing can hold it up, nothing.

We are not talking about belief.

3

I wonder how they think

the niggers made, make it,

how come the niggers are still here.

But, then, again, I don’t think they dare

to think of that: no:

I’m fairly certain they don’t think of that at all.

Lord,

I with the alabaster lady of the house,

with Beulah.

Beulah about sixty, built in four-square,

biceps like Mohammed Ali,

she at the stove, fixing biscuits,

scrambling eggs and bacon, fixing coffee,

pouring juice, and the lady of the house,

she say, she don’t know how

she’d get along without Beulah

and Beulah just silently grunts,

I reckon you don’t,

and keeps on keeping on

and the lady of the house say

She’s just like one of the family,

and Beulah turns, gives me a look,

sucks her teeth and rolls her eyes

in the direction of the lady’s back, and

keeps on keeping on.

While they are containing

Russia

and entering onto the quicksand of

China

and patronizing

Africa,

and calculating

the Caribbean plunder, and

the South China Sea booty,

the niggers are aware that no one has discussed

anything at all with the niggers.

Well. Niggers don’t own nothing,

got no flag, even our names

are hand-me-downs

and you don’t change that

by calling yourself X:

sometimes that just makes it worse,

like obliterating the path that leads back

to whence you came, and

to where you can begin.

And, anyway, none of this changes the reality,

which is, for example, that I do not want my son

to die in Guantanamo,

or anywhere else, for that matter,

serving the Stars and Stripes.

(I’ve seen some stars.

I got some stripes.)

Neither (incidentally)

has anyone discussed the Bomb with the niggers:

the incoherent feeling is, the less

the nigger knows about the Bomb, the better:

the lady of the house

smiles nervously in your direction

as though she had just been overheard

discussing family, or sexual secrets,

and changes the subject to Education,

or Full Employment, or the Welfare rolls,

the smile saying, Don’t be dismayed.

We know how you feel. You can trust us.

Yeah. I would like to believe you.

But we are not talking about belief.

4

The sons of greed, the heirs of plunder,

are approaching the end of their journey:

it is amazing that they approach without wonder,

as though they have, themselves, become

that scorched and blasphemed earth,

the stricken buffalo, the slaughtered tribes,

the endless, virgin, bloodsoaked plain,

the famine, the silence, the children’s eyes,

murder masquerading as salvation, seducing

every democratic eye,

the mouths of truth and anguish choked with cotton,

rape delirious with the fragrance of magnolia,

the hacking of the fruit of their loins to pieces,

hey! the tar-baby sons and nephews, the high-yaller

nieces,

andTom’s black prick hacked off

to rustle in crinoline,

to hang, heaviest of heirlooms,

between the pink and alabaster breasts

of the Great Man’s Lady,

or worked into the sash at the waist

of the high-yaller Creole bitch, or niece,

a chunk of shining brown-black satin,

staring, staring, like the single eye of God:

creation yearns to re-create a time

when we were able to recognize a crime.

Alas,

my stricken kinsmen,

the party is over:

there have never been any white people,

anywhere: the trick was accomplished with mirrors—

look: where is your image now?

where your inheritance,

on what rock stands this pride?

Oh,

I counsel you,

leave History alone.

She is exhausted,

sitting, staring into her dressing-room mirror,

and wondering what rabbit, now,

to pull out of what hat,

and seriously considering retirement,

even though she knows her public

dare not let her go.

She must change.

Yes. History must change.

A slow, syncopated

relentless music begins

suggesting her re-entry,

transformed, virginal as she was,

in the Beginning, untouched,

as the Word was spoken,

before the rape which debased her

to be the whore of multitudes, or,

as one might say, before she became the Star,

whose name, above our title,

carries the Show, making History the patsy,

responsible for every flubbed line,

every missed cue, responsible for the life

and death, of all bright illusions

and dark delusions,

Lord, History is weary

of her unspeakable liaison with Time,

for Time and History

have never seen eye to eye:

Time laughs at History

and time and time and time again

Time traps History in a lie.

But we always, somehow, managed

to roar History back onstage

to take another bow,

to justify, to sanctify

the journey until now.

Time warned us to ask for our money back,

and disagreed with History

as concerns colours white and black.

Not only do we come from further back,

but the light of the Sun

marries all colours as one.

Kinsmen,

I have seen you betray your Saviour

(it is you who call Him Saviour)

so many times, and

I have spoken to Him about you,

behind your back.

Quite a lot has been going on

behind your back, and,

if your phone has not yet been disconnected,

it will soon begin to ring:

informing you, for example, that a whole generation,

in Africa, is about to die,

and a new generation is about to rise,

and will not need your bribes,

or your persuasions, any more:

not your morality. No plundered gold—

Ah! Kinsmen, if I could make you see

the crime is not what you have done to me!

It is you who are blind,

you, bowed down with chains,

you, whose children mock you, and seek another

master,

you, who cannot look man or woman or child in the

eye,

whose sleep is blank with terror,

for whom love died long ago,

somewhere between the airport and the safe-deposit

box,

the buying and selling of rising or falling stocks,

you, who miss Zanzibar and Madagascar and Kilimanjaro

and lions and tigers and elephants and zebras

and flying fish and crocodiles and alligators and

leopards

and crashing waterfalls and endless rivers,

flowers fresher than Eden, silence sweeter than the

grace of God,

passion at every turning, throbbing in the bush,

thicker, oh, than honey in the hive,

dripping

dripping

opening, welcoming, aching from toe to bottom

to spine,

sweet heaven on the line

to last forever, yes,

but, now,

rejoicing ends, man, a price remains to pay,

your innocence costs too much

and we can’t carry you on our books

or our backs, any longer: baby,

find another Eden, another apple tree,

somewhere, if you can,

and find some other natives, somewhere else,

to listen to you bellow

till you come, just like a man,

but we don’t need you,

are sick of being a fantasy to feed you,

and of being the principal accomplice to your

crime:

for, it is your crime, now, the cross to which you

cling,

your Alpha and Omega for everything.

Well (others have told you)

your clown’s grown weary, the puppet master

is bored speechless with this monotonous disaster,

and is long gone, does not belong to you,

any more than my woman, or my child,

ever belonged to you.

During this long travail

our ancestors spoke to us, and we listened,

and we tried to make you hear life in our song

but now it matters not at all to me

whether you know what I am talking about—or not:

I know why we are not blinded

by your brightness, are able to see you,

who cannot see us. I know

why we are still here.

Godspeed.

The niggers are calculating,

from day to day, life everlasting,

and wish you well:

but decline to imitate the Son of the Morning,

and rule in Hell.

Monday’s Verse 1/16/2017

Dear readers,

This weekend I was in the presence of two 7-year MVers, Maureen Kats our host in Phoenix, and Nydia Shajahan of Hell’s Kitchen. We decided that the appropriate poet for this week is the late-20th century Walt Whitman, Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011). Here Mr. Scott-Heron shows his links to America’s bard by: chronicling a journey with companions; choosing an emphatic, euphoric title; and self-mythologizing (his reference to "The Bottle" is to a single from a previous album, a minor hit). My own favorite line, though, is "Steelers on my color TV," since that’s also something we did together on the 15th in Phoenix. Euphorically.

The rare MV entry with both an audio and a visual component. If you have not checked out Gil Scott-Heron before, I will only say you’re missing out. Here’s a video (really more for the audio, as the video only shows the album cover) of the song-poem in question. A lot of his spoken word poems/monologues are also available on Youtube. And photos of the whole crew at hole-in-the-rock in Phoenix. -ed.

HELLO SUNDAY! HELLO ROAD!

Agent told me where I’m going
Tom and Keg Leg got the map
The Steelers on my color TV
And Henry riding in my lap
I said, “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!”
Lord, and what would my grandma say?
To see me out here loving music
So much that I live this way
But then again, she’s right here with me
Watching every place I go
Whoa, did you tell me it was my move?
(Yes it is)
Say, “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!”
Hello Sunday! Hello Road!

Manager we had just couldn’t manage
So midnight managed right along
And it’s got me out here with my brothers
And that’s the thing that keep me strong
Say, “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!”
Seems like we’re coming up on a town
And the children on their way to Sunday school
And I’m tipping my hat to Miss Chocolate Brown
And it was on a Sunday I met my old man
I was twenty-six years old
No, but it was much too late to speculate
I said, “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!”
Hello Sunday! Hello Road!

And I’ve been digging life through my window
And that’s the way it’s always been
The snow in Nashville, rain in Philly
No matter. Get back on the bus again
Say, “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!”
Don’t get down, try the optimistic side
‘Cause me and Stick done seen a lot of babies
Dancing to "The Bottle" while we ride
It’s sure nuff good being with the brothers
Carrying good news wherever we go
Yeah, well let me get myself together, man
Say, “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!”
Hello Sunday! Hello Road!

-1977

Monday’s Verse 1/9/2017

Dear readers,

The New Yorker — a safe space for elite, liberal, eurocentric, high culture — ran a piece in its online edition over the weekend about how the most popular translations of Rumi elide his devout attachment to Islam. In particular, the author, Rozina Ali, takes on the currently popular, new age-y translations of Coleman Barks, not himself a reader of Persian. Barks attempts to capture the "spirit" of Rumi’s poetry in versions that are accessible for contemporary audiences, working off of earlier "literal" translations — although Ali notes that the religious scrubbing dates back to the Victorian era.

Two paragraphs of her essay bear reprinting in full, since they offer not only a good biographical sketch, but a summary of her argument as well:

Rumi was born in the early thirteenth century, in what is now Afghanistan. He later settled in Konya, in present-day Turkey, with his family. His father was a preacher and religious scholar, and he introduced Rumi to Sufism. Rumi continued his theological education in Syria, where he studied the more traditional legal codes of Sunni Islam, and later returned to Konya as a seminary teacher. It was there that he met an elder traveller, Shams-i-Tabriz, who became his mentor. The nature of the intimate friendship between the two is much debated, but Shams, everyone agrees, had a lasting influence on Rumi’s religious practice and his poetry. In a new biography of Rumi, “Rumi’s Secret,” Brad Gooch describes how Shams pushed Rumi to question his scriptural education, debating Koranic passages with him and emphasizing the idea of devotion as finding oneness with God. Rumi would come to blend the intuitive love for God that he found in Sufism with the legal codes of Sunni Islam and the mystical thought he learned from Shams.

This unusual tapestry of influences set Rumi apart from many of his contemporaries, Keshavarz told me. Still, Rumi built a large following in cosmopolitan Konya, incorporating Sufis, Muslim literalists and theologians, Christians, and Jews, as well as the local Sunni Seljuk rulers. In “Rumi’s Secret,” Gooch helpfully chronicles the political events and religious education that influenced Rumi. “Rumi was born into a religious family and followed the proscribed rules of daily prayer and fasting throughout his entire life,” Gooch writes. Even in Gooch’s book, though, there is a tension between these facts and the desire to conclude that Rumi, in some sense, transcended his background—that, as Gooch puts it, he “made claims for a ‘religion of love’ that went beyond all organized faiths.” What can get lost in such readings is the extent to which Rumi’s Muslim teaching shaped even those ideas. As Mojadeddi notes, the Koran acknowledges Christians and Jews as “people of the book,” offering a starting point toward universalism. “The universality that many revere in Rumi today comes from his Muslim context.”

I looked back in the old data banks and was surprised I could not find an instance where we’ve read his work together, though I was sure we had. Well, if our incomplete archives are correct, today we remedy that. Here’s a short poem by Rumi, translated in what a blog calls a "literal" version, by Nevit O. Ergin. I actually liked it better than the "poetic" version printed aside it. Have a good week,

-ed.

GHAZAL 1506 – NOT LIKE THIS BEFORE

I wasn’t like this before.

I wasn’t out of my mind and senses.

Once I used to be wise like you,

not crazy, insane, and broken down

like I am now.

I wasn’t the admirer of life

which has no trace, no being.

I used to ask, “Who is this?

What is that?”

and search all the time.

Since you have wisdom,

sit and think

that probably I was like this before.

I haven’t changed much.

I used to try to make

myself better than everybody.

I hadn’t been hunted

with the ever-growing Love before.

I tried to rise about the sky

with my ambition

yet I didn’t know

I was just wandering in the desert.

At the end, I have raised

a treasure from the ground.

Trans. c. 1993

Monday’s Verse 1/3/2017

As Monday’s Verse charges into its 20th year…

Apologies for my absence a couple weeks there. My west coast MV swing in the fall ended with a night at my home-away-from home, Jeff & Tara’s place in the Mission, San Francisco. Or, as Tara always calls it, Frisco. There, I ate one of the best steaks of 2016. In some impossibly hip, slightly overpriced, local-sourced eatery? No, in Tara’s kitchen. People, when the instructions say let the steak rest for 10 minutes, they mean it.

A couple weeks back, necessarily, we read Yeats’s "The Second Coming." Here’s the same theme — world history, dreams, slumber, monsters, circularity — by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Pessoa published only 1 book of poems in Portuguese during his life, and 3 in English. He is famous for his use of "heteronyms," like pseudonyms, but with a fully-developed poetic voice and persona for each name. He employed 4 main ones in his work, but used over 70.

Where Yeats let the wakened beast pull his sonnet into a sonnet-and-a-half, here Pessoa uses a unique 7-7 stanza split for a regular old sonnet. A sonnet from the Portuguese? -ed.

ANTEMANHA / DAWN

The monster at the end of the seas
Came from the shadow to seek
The dawn of the new day,
Of the new day without cease;
And said: "Who doth sleep remembering in peace
That the Second World it did reveal,
But the Third it refuses to seize?"

And the sounds in the darkness of it going round
Disturb the sleep and it confound,
The servant monster circled and went
Because its master for it came and found.
Because its master came and called aloud–
Called to He once Lord of the Sea
And who now slumbers in a sleep profound.

-July 8, 1933