Wednesday, July 04, 2018

litany - Mahogany L. Browne


I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me —Nina Simone

today i am a black woman in america
& i am singing a melody ridden lullaby
it sounds like:
              the gentrification of a brooklyn stoop
              the rent raised three times my wages
              the bodega and laundromat burned down on the corner
              the people on the corner
                          each lock & key their chromosomes
                          a note of ash & inquiry on their tongues

today i am a black woman in a hopeless state
i will apply for financial aid and food stamps
          with the same mouth i spit poems from
i will ask the angels of a creative god to lessen
          the blows
& i will beg for forgiveness when i curse
          the rising sun

today, i am a black woman in a body of coal
i am always burning and no one knows my name
i am a nameless fury, i am a blues scratched from
the throat of ms. nina—i am always angry
i am always a bumble hive of hello
i love like this too loudly, my neighbors
think i am an unforgiving bitter
            sometimes, i think my neighbors are right
            most times i think my neighbors are nosey

today, i am a cold country, a storm
brewing, a heat wave of a woman wearing
red pumps to the funeral of my ex-lover’s

today, i am a woman, a brown and black &
brew woman dreaming of freedom

today, i am a mother, & my country is burning
           and i forget how to flee
from such a flamboyant backdraft
                       —i’m too in awe of how beautiful i look
            on fire

Brown Girl Has Walked Into the Wild, Palms Open - Barbara Jane Reyes

Brown Girl Has Walked Into the Wild, Palms Open

  See how she lists. The body is bent as light, as wind will it.
And so you must tread light. Mind the rocks under foot. You must tread slow.
There has been drought; see where water has long ago troughed, has carved her.
  See how she branches, twisting, her many hands reaching.
Her roots also reach, sweetened from reaching. When fire arrives, she toughens.
She will slough away the thick. She will be slick, and dark beneath the rough.
She will mimic the fire her bones remember. Know her bones glisten.
  See how she rests. The body will fall, as time wills it.
See how it hollows, how her pieces return to earth.
 And from her thick trunk, mushrooms cluster—
   Her belly a nest of moss and poison.
When broken open, see what of her mother she has kept,
   what of her father, what of the stars.

United - Naomi Shihab Nye


Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

When sleepless, it’s helpful to meditate on mottoes of the states.
South Carolina, “While I breathe I hope.” Perhaps this could be
the new flag on the empty flagpole.
Or “I Direct” from Maine—why?
Because Maine gets the first sunrise? How bossy, Maine!
Kansas, “To the Stars through Difficulties”—
clackety wagon wheels, long, long land
and the droning press of heat—cool stars, relief.
In Arkansas, “The People Rule”—lucky you.
Idaho, “Let It Be Perpetual”—now this is strange.
Idaho, what is your “it”?
Who chose these lines?
How many contenders?
What would my motto be tonight, in tangled sheets?
Texas—“Friendship”—now boasts the Open Carry law.
Wisconsin, where my mother’s parents are buried,
chose “Forward.”
New Mexico, “It Grows As It Goes”—now this is scary.
Two dangling its. This does not represent that glorious place.
West Virginia, “Mountaineers Are Always Free”—really?
Washington, you’re wise.
What could be better than “By and By”?
Oklahoma must be tired—“Labor Conquers all Things.”
Oklahoma, get together with Nevada, who chose only
“Industry” as motto. I think of Nevada as a playground
or mostly empty. How wrong we are about one another.
For Alaska to pick “North to the Future”
seems odd. Where else are they going?

- 2016

Frederick Douglass - Robert Hayden

Frederick Douglass

Robert Hayden, 1913 - 1980

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Unhappy 4th of July

Having seen the horrors in store for America under this presidency, it's hard to be happy this 4th of July. I'm struggling to remember why I love America. Why it's still great, not just a promise of something great but something actually worth celebrating.

I think about tolerance. How it's still the most respected value.  (But losing ground too quickly.)

I think about being a nation of immigrants, all of us here to make the best of our lives for ourselves and our loved ones. (And immediately think of the uneven playing field. How loans are given. How we are policed. How some of us are educated better than others. How housing and job opportunities still change based on color and accents and appearance.)

I think about freedom, how we laud it. (How millions of us - mostly people of color - are jailed. How we regularly march our troops into other countries to help them stay "free.")

I think about freedom of speech, how we can still protest, write unflattering articles, and not fear jail. (But it's only some of us who have no reason to fear. Undocumented people, people of color have to think hard about whether it's worth stepping into that spotlight of suspicion.)

It's still America, and there's still so much good here. But we are under attack on so many fronts. And our rights and privileges are being swept away so quickly.

I will remember that America is worth fighting for. That Americans are worth fighting for. That justice is worth fighting for.  That the future is worth fighting for.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Feeling out of control

I've lost 15 pounds since Christmas, quit smoking, started going to the gym at least 2 times a week, and look better than I have since I got married. All good things. Great things.

But tonight, like most nights, all I want to do is EAT. Because I'm bored and unhappy and lack something. Something that cheese or chocolate or donuts (my favorite) or something else I can cram in my mouth without thinking or tasting or feeling would help fill.

So what is the answer? Drink more water. Think carefully about the craving and give myself just a bit of that specific thing.  Journal instead. Sleep. Change my life. Yeah yeah yeah. All of that.

But every night?  Always?  And yes, I can see the glimmer of possibility that this has nothing to do with eating and everything to do with addiction. With salving. Glossing over. Anesthetizing. But I'm not ready to change my life. And donuts taste so good.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

When we let Spirit Lead us -- Alice Walker

When we let Spirit
Lead us
It is impossible
To know
We are being led.
All we know
All we can believe
All we can hope
Is that
We are going
That wherever
Takes us
Is where

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Optimism -- Jane Hirshfield

From Given Sugar, Given Salt

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs -- all this resinous, unretractable earth.

Another Way to End a Relationship - Demetria Martinez

from Devil's Workshop

If you can't pull it up
By the roots,

Take it out

Of the sun, stop
Watering it.

I Don't Want Love - Demetria Martinez

from Devil's Workshop

    Not love, but something
That, when it loses its green,
Holds its form
Like ocotillo,
Long flutes of cactus
To build a ramada
At the threshold of my house.
My house, my home,
In my name.
When I love myself
As I loved you,
I will invite you in.

Thousands of Feet Below You - Alice Walker

Thousands of feet
Below you
There is a small
Running from
Your bombs.

If he were
To show up
At your mother's
On a green
Sea island
Off the coast
Of Georgia

He'd be invited in
For dinner.

Now, driven,
You have shattered
His bones.

He lies steaming
In the desert
In fifty or sixty
Or maybe one hundred
Oily, slimy

If you survive
& return
To your island
& your mother's
Where the cup
Of lovingkindness
The brim
From which
No one
In memory
Was ever

Gather yourself.

Set a place
For him.

Balance - Dorianne Laux

From What We Carry

I'm remembering again, the day
we stood on the porch and you smoked
while the old man told you
about his basement full of wine,
his bad heart and the doctor's warning,
how he held the dusty bottle out to you,
glad, he said, to give it away
to someone who appreciated
its value and spirit, the years
it took to settle into its richness
and worth. I'm watching again,
each cell alive, as you reach
for the wine, your forearm exposed
below the rolled sleeve, the fine hairs
that sweep along the muscle, glowing,
lifting a little in the afternoon breeze.
I'm memorizing the shape of the moment:
your hand and the small bones
lengthening beneath the skin
as it tightens in the gripping,
in the receiving of the gift, the exact
texture and color of your skin,
and the old man's face, reduced
to its essence. That,
and the brief second
when both of you had a hand on the bottle—
the thing not yet given,
not yet taken, but held
between you, stoppered, full.
And my body is flooded again
with an elemental joy,
holding onto it against another day
in the unknowable future when I'm given
terrible news, some dark burden
I'll be forced to carry. I know
this is useless, and can't possibly work,
but I'm saving that moment, for balance.

Mother of Myths - V.B. Price

From Chaco Trilogy

We read of the Hopi (that’s all we can do)
that the dead are clouds,
that the dead rain down their souls on earth,
that life depends on their essence.

I felt a closing when my mother died,
felt the past had pulled itself from my life;
where she was
now nothing.

              Where did she go?

Is she anywhere more than a sorrow,
more than something gone?

              I am starving for new stories.

I have no heaven for her, no Elysium.
She isn’t waiting, in pillows and poppies,
for curtain calls from the gods,

              She is a memory
              I often forget
              has no memory itself.

But at Hopi
the dead never leave.
Rain is soul.
And the souls of Chaco
sill feed them.
All history’s in the sky,
the crops, their bodies.

              Any meal is a communion.

But my mother and I are as far apart
as I am from faith
in the Fall from grace.

She is like the canyon was on a Tuesday
7,000 years ago, or a Monday just last month,
a detail
in the history of time.

The canyon is
every day it was,
as the species is
every person it has been.

              But she
              is my mother,
              not a day in the shape of stone,
              and I don’t know where she is.

She is not in her bones,
not in her ashes I put in the waves.

She is an idea
I have not yet formed
like clouds unborn in the sea.

              I want her home with me. I want
              death, all death, to be
              a right proximity.

In Chaco, at least, I know
the canyon is
where the past remains.

              I know it is not
              only now.

So can I say
it is time’s common grave,
a mother of myths,
where death conceives, where memory
gives birth to the future?

Can I say she is somewhere there
waiting for doubt to leave?

Running to Wijiji - V.B. Price

From Chaco Trilogy

When you know who you are
you do who you are,
polishing a mountain
without a goal

(There is
There is

At ten,
I did who I was;
I had no choice;
                     knowing and doing were not apart;
and where I was
was as much of myself
                               as what I did.

                               (Now is
                               a holy

Then years of trying
          and coming apart,
polishing stones
not the mountain
          the canyon
          wore me away
so I could see myself
                               singular as rocks,
                               as shadows, clouds
                               as cliff curves, edges,
                               water scars and swirls,
real as skin,
clear as sudden change,
                                         my body
                                         opening to the stars
                                         like Chacra Mesa
                                         on the skull of the world.

Now at 50,
I am the place again.
                               (The front
                               and the back
                               are part
of the same.)

At ten, the place
                    was a forest street
where I did who I was,
          biking to eskape
          tender failures,
sailing through arbors of high ponderosas,
winding like grassy streams
                     through Saturday morning sun.

When you are who you are
you do who you are.
                               (The sacred
                               and the profane
                               are sacred.)

At dawn near La Fajada,
breathing in
the rising light,
                    I am
ten and 50 all at once.
Running through fossil fields of corn,
running the cool space of canyon shade
as one runs memories through the gorge of time,
I see myself
                    in the shadow at my side,
bike rider, now
                               dawn runner
reaching Wijiji
the sun
wildflower light,
          lighting white
over the canyon rim,
over the edge of my brain.
                                         Stunned by God
                                         again and again,
why should I doubt
                               any longer?


Now is
a holy

There is
There is

The front
and the back
are part
of the same.

The sacred
and profane
are sacred.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Getting in the Christmas Spirit by Lynn Ungar

I suspect that I am far from the only one having a hard time getting in the Christmas spirit these days. It’s hard to feel all ho-ho-ho when the news is full of the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Aleppo and a string of outrageous and appalling appointments from a president-elect who was voted in under the auspices of a foreign power.

On the other hand, there is something in my little Jewish-UU heart that is reaching out toward Christmas this year. The story of Mary and Joseph traveling because they had to sign themselves onto a government registry. The story of the couple looking for shelter in their time of greatest need. The story of a fragile king who ordered the slaughter of innocents because he couldn’t handle the prospect of a threat to his own power. The story which imagines the nature of the new-born king to be something so different from the despotic Herod that even now we have a hard time imagining what sort of a king could align himself with the poor and the outcast, insisting that power means something utterly unlike the kind of power that the crowned kings tried to grab and maintain at all cost.

I’m not doing well with Santa and jingle bells and presents under the tree, but I might just find my way into the Christmas spirit of a little family finding warmth and comfort in with the friendly beasts. I am trying to work my way eventually to the Christmas spirit of the Wise Men, who trusted that there was something out there—although they didn’t know exactly what—that was worth looking for. Who didn’t really get that this was a totally different kind of king, and brought him presents fit for the kind of king that they understood, but who didn’t walk off in disgust and bewilderment when what they had sought for so long turned out to be a baby, with the kind of power that babies have, not the power of kings.

I don’t know that I will get there, but what I am hoping for, what I am aiming toward, is the Christmas spirit of the shepherds, who have always been my favorite part of the story—partly because I have always found it hilarious. I mean really. Here are ordinary guys doing the most ordinary things, just out on the job, keeping an eye on what needs to be watched. And suddenly the sky is full of angels, and Luke tells us right in the text that they were terrified. Who wouldn’t be? It’s all completely absurd and unbelievable and no one in their right mind (which neither the shepherds nor the sheep probably were in under the circumstances) would have the faintest idea how to respond. Any reasonable person would conclude that the sky was falling and hunker down. But these guys, these plain, extraordinary guys, get their sheep together and go out to look for a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths.

Think about that for a minute. Swaddling cloths are what everybody those days wrapped their babies in. It’s like saying “You will know for a sign when you see a baby in a onesie.” But these dudes were like, “OK, sure, fine. Let’s go see what they’re talking about.” I love that. Also, I am so not there. Not yet. But I think maybe that’s the Christmas spirit I’m looking for. The spirit that in the face of terror and confusion is willing to entertain the possibility that wonder could be in the mix as well. The spirit that is willing to be amazed, and curious and brave enough to say “Let’s go see,” even when the instructions aren’t very clear and you don’t know the road.

Let’s go see. Let’s go see together.

"Time Is a Child Playing" by Richard Lewis

It's summer. School is out. The streets and the parks of New York City have begun to change. Fire hydrants are opened; swimming pools are filled; drinking fountains begin to overflow--and in playgrounds throughout the warming city, sprinklers shower into the air.

For the lucky child a daily visit to one of these sprinklers is not only a way to cool off--it is to challenge the great leaps and boundings of this watery paradise. Some children, too excited to change their clothes, simply dive in, running through the spray until they are soaking wet. Others, in bathing suits, cautiously approach the surging waters and with their empty hands reach out to feel how strong or how cold this oldest of the elements might be. Like sand pipers, the children dart in and out of the sprinkler's splaying waters, constantly inventing ways to outwit its fluid movements. They squirm and hop, they jump and kick, and then suddenly, as if in prayer, they stop in the middle of a large plume of falling water and, looking up, serenely drink in every moment of its playful wetness.

Sitting on a bench nearby, I feel envious that I cannot take part in their abandon, their rightful enthusiasm in being a player with the play of water itself. If William Blake is correct and "Energy is Eternal Delight," then what I see is a field of energy, a field of playing in which these children have let go of our all-too-human constraints. They have become, each in their own way, partners in the play of liquid forces that make these waters alive. Perhaps this interplay of the human and the surrounding elements is part of the genius of childhood. To run with the wind, to play with the sand, to play with water are not merely idle statements of language, but real descriptions of what a child does when he or she encounters these properties. Through this profound gesture of our playing, we enter the life of the wind, sand, and water--or as one eight-year-old, Johnny, recently wrote, "When I am playing I feel like hugging the wind and kissing and singing with the air, pushing the air far away. I am very, very happy."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use By ADA LIMÓN

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,

black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.