Monthly Archives: February 2017

Monday’s Verse 2/27/17

So the state of Michigan is lucky–they have Diane Wakoski in East Lansing, teaching at Michigan State, and over in Ann Arbor, Lorna Goodison (b. 1947) teaches at U. Michigan. Ms. Goodison is a Jamaican immigrant who has been publishing her poems in book form since 1980, and teaching in U.S. colleges since the 1990s. She also writes stories and paints, providing the cover art for most of her own books.

A poem needs a through-line to guide you: theme, repetition, alliteration (used in today’s selection), rhythm. Ms. Goodison knows this, hence her name’s anagram, "No rails, no good." Enjoy this poem from about 15 years ago. -ed.

THE YARD MAN: AN ELECTION POEM

When bullet wood trees bear
the whole yard dreads fallout
from lethal yellow stone fruit,

and the yard man will press
the steel blade of a machete
to the trunk in effort to control

its furious firing. He will dash
coarse salt at its roots to cut
the boil of leaves, try slashing

the bark so it will bleed itself
to stillness, and yet it will shoot
until the groundcover is acrid

coffin color, the branches dry
bones. Under the leaves it lives,
poverty’s turned-down image

blind, naked, one hand behind
one before. The yard’s first busha
was overseer who could afford

to cultivate poverty’s lean image,
but good yard man says since we
are already poor in spirit, fire for it.

-2003

Monday’s Verse 2/27/17

So the state of Michigan is lucky–they have Diane Wakoski in East Lansing, teaching at Michigan State, and over in Ann Arbor, Lorna Goodison (b. 1947) teaches at U. Michigan. Ms. Goodison is a Jamaican immigrant who has been publishing her poems in book form since 1980, and teaching in U.S. colleges since the 1990s. She also writes stories and paints, providing the cover art for most of her own books.

A poem needs a through-line to guide you: theme, repetition, alliteration (used in today’s selection), rhythm. Ms. Goodison knows this, hence her name’s anagram, "No rails, no good." Enjoy this poem from about 15 years ago. -ed.

THE YARD MAN: AN ELECTION POEM

When bullet wood trees bear
the whole yard dreads fallout
from lethal yellow stone fruit,

and the yard man will press
the steel blade of a machete
to the trunk in effort to control

its furious firing. He will dash
coarse salt at its roots to cut
the boil of leaves, try slashing

the bark so it will bleed itself
to stillness, and yet it will shoot
until the groundcover is acrid

coffin color, the branches dry
bones. Under the leaves it lives,
poverty’s turned-down image

blind, naked, one hand behind
one before. The yard’s first busha
was overseer who could afford

to cultivate poverty’s lean image,
but good yard man says since we
are already poor in spirit, fire for it.

-2003

Monday’s Verse 2/20/2017

Dear readers,

about a month ago I was very fortunate to go to a community event in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, featuring many groups and individuals who have contributed, and are contributing, to the ongoing struggle for basic rights and inclusion. One of the panels I attended featured the eye-opening documentary Struggles in Steel, presented by its creators Tony Buba and Raymond Henderson. Mr. Henderson, a near contemporary and one-time neighbor of my dad (they did not know each other), also had his book, My Three Books, on hand, and I bought it and read it over lunch — it’s short. It’s a memoir punctuated by poetry, and when I went to compliment him on it at another panel in the afternoon, he gave me permission to run today’s poem in a future Monday’s Verse. I tucked it away for Black History Month.

This poem strikes me as a nice companion piece with the current movie Fences. The attitude the poem describes — not the one it expresses — is all over Denzel Washington’s Troy Maxon. There’s some irony to Henderson’s title, a slogan of dignity on signs and in the streets during the civil rights era. He acknowledges the irony by invoking that usage in his first few lines, and then exploring its dark side in the lines that follow. To me, Raymond Henderson is an unsung, homegrown hero, and I’m proud to feature his writing with his blessing. -ed.

I AM A MAN

How often we used the term "I Am a Man!"
I have constantly heard it, coming from black men
Exaggerating their masculinity shaking their fists in defiance
I have done it myself, talking to my black brothers on the
Corner making those boastful claims of being a man.
Well, the years go by, still making the same claim but
With more thought and a lot of reservations.
I had learned how to shape the claim of being a man
Into what a man should be.
Have you thought about it? I hope you have.
Can you remember his woman or wife? Can you see him?
Slapping and punching this woman and shouting,
"I’m the man here and you will do what I say,"
And punching her one more time to force his claim.
Or you might remember your father coming home on
Payday, drunk, pockets either empty or short of the bill money
That he needs to maintain his family.
He throws his money at his wife and defies her the right to
Question him….. such as what happened to the rest?
When she does, he immediately berates her with
"I Make this Money" and it’s mine to do what I want.
Don’t you question me! Because he knows that he did wrong
He quickly enforces his authority by saying
This is my house and my money.
And he proceeds to beat her and humiliate her with the same
Old claim….. "I Am the Man in This House"…..
What a fine example this leaves on his children.
The son not liking it but quick to learn that he must
Because his mother submits.
The daughter looking and probably thinking that this is
The way it will be when she becomes a mother.
As you know, children do imitate their parents.
But the man doesn’t stop there. To make his claim complete
He proceeds to abuse his children making the same claim
"I Am the Man" and you will do as I say.
He proceeds to whip them placing fear and a wrong image
In their minds. There are numerous examples that can be used.
But my question is "What Is a Man?"
I refuse to believe that manliness is based on domination.
Understanding–Forgiveness–Compassion–
And most of all LOVE are attributes that are
Very rarely associated with being a man.
I guess our parents, just as we do, assume that
The good things are passed without
Telling them they exist!
How sad………

-2017

Monday’s Verse 2/13/2017

Dear readers,

Welcome to Monday’s Verse, valentine’s day edition. For 10 years or so we’ve been reading this poem on repeat. Over the course of reading it all these years, the deep, personal imagery of Diane Wakoski (b. 1937) has become my deep, personal imagery. Sometimes I send this poem with no introduction; other times I’ve taken a stab at how it works; once I created commentary by re-printing, anonymously, quotes that readers have sent me over the years. For rich content, you can check your inboxes, your deleted folder, or our blog. And don’t forget to follow this listserv on Twitter, @MondaysVerse. Happy Monday, everyone! -ed.

BLUE MONDAY

Blue and the heaps of beads poured into her breasts
and clacking together in her elbows;
blue of the silk
that covers lily-town at night;
blue of her teeth
that bite cold toast
and shatter on the streets;
blue of the dyed flower petals with gold stamens
hanging like tongues
over the fence of her dress
at the opera/opals clasped under her lips
and the moon breaking over her head a
gush of blood-red lizards.

Blue Monday. Monday at 3:00 and
Monday at 5. Monday at 7:30 and
Monday at 10:00. Monday passed under the rippling
California fountain. Monday alone
a shark in the cold blue waters.

You are dead: wound round like a paisley shawl.
I cannot shake you out of the sheets. Your name
is still wedged in every corner of the sofa.

Monday is the first of the week,
and I think of you all week.
I beg Monday not to come
so that I will not think of you
all week.

You paint my body blue. On the balcony
in the soft muddy night, you paint me
with bat wings and the crystal
the crystal
the crystal
the crystal in your arm cuts away
the night, folds back ebony whale skin
and my face, the blue of new rifles,
and my neck, the blue of Egypt,
and my breasts, the blue of sand,
and my arms, bass-blue,
and my stomach, arsenic;

there is electricity dripping from me like cream;
there is love dripping from me I cannot use–like acacia or
jacaranda–fallen blue and gold flowers, crushed into the street.

Love passed me in a business suit
and fedora.
His glass cane, hollow and filled with
sharks and whales. . .
He wore black
patent leather shoes
and had a mustache. His hair was so black
it was almost blue.

"Love," I said.
"I beg your pardon," he said.
"Mr. Love," I said.
"I beg your pardon," he said.

So I saw there was no use bothering him on the street.

Love passed me on the street in a blue
business suit. He was a banker
I could tell.

So blue trains rush by in my sleep.
Blue herons fly overhead.
Blue paints cracks in my
arteries and sends titanium
floating into my bones.
Blue liquid pours down
my poisoned throat and blue veins
rip open my breast. Blue daggers tip
and are juggled on my palms.
Blue death lives in my fingernails.

If I could sing one last song
with water bubbling through my lips
I would sing with my throat torn open,
the blue jugular spouting that black shadow pulse,
and on my lips
I would balance volcanic rock
emptied out of my veins. At last
my children strained out
of my body. At last my blood
solidified and tumbling into the ocean.
It is blue.
It is blue.
It is blue.

-1968

Monday’s Verse 2/6/2017

Dear readers,

MV is celebrating Black History Month. Next week we have our annual mind-bending, heart-rending poem, and the week after that I hope to share a special Pittsburgh poem.

But today I found this one from about a decade ago, from IU poetry professor Ross Gay (b. 1974). Mr Gay was born in Youngstown, OH, shout-out to readers from Youngstown! And shout out, as well, to readers who know what Youngstown symbolizes vis-a-vis the limits of executive power.

I enjoy this sort-of tacked-on sonnet; It’s 17 lines and it could have been 14, but you see where Gay makes his lines shorter and shorter as he reaches his conclusion where "something happens." I also admire how this short poem gets a little Miltonic in the middle: notice how he jumps from the beginning of line 6, "until," to the end of line 11, "I," syntactically, and inside, there is a cascade of subordinate phrases, linked by commas, that really impress the physicality of the scene. The first and last 5 lines, on the other hand, use simile and rumination to talk about the psychological experience the speaker goes through. Getting through the order and logic of it reminded me of reading certain passages of Paradise Lost where Milton describes his characters moving from one space to another, while all around them other things happen, too.

Enjoy this, and we’ll see you next week. -ed.

Pulled Over in Short Hills, NJ, 8:00 AM

Related Poem Content Details

It’s the shivering. When rage grows

hot as an army of red ants and forces

the mind to quiet the body, the quakes

emerge, sometimes just the knees,

but, at worst, through the hips, chest, neck

until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs

and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped

to squeeze words from my taut lips,

his eyes scanning my car’s insides, my eyes,

my license, and as I answer the questions

3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a vice,

his hand massaging the gun butt, I

imagine things I don’t want to

and inside beg this to end

before the shiver catches my

hands, and he sees,

and something happens.

-2006