Breathe | Two Poems

I do not have a guest post today. Instead, I offer two poems written [by Toi Derricotte and Ross Gay] in response to the murders of George Floyd and Eric Garner. Both men uttered the words, “I can’t breathe” before they died at the hands [or feet] of police officers.

Why I Don’t Write About George Floyd [2020]
Toi Derricotte

Because there is too much to say
Because I have nothing to say
Because I don’t know what to say
Because everything has been said
Because it hurts too much to say
What can I say what can I say
Something is stuck in my throat
Something is stuck like an apple
Something is stuck like a knife
Something is stuffed like a foot
Something is stuffed like a body

***     ***     ***

A Small Needful Fact [2015]
Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.


About the image: I shot [and edited] the photo above about 5 years ago while on one of my campus photo walks. A few days after George Floyd’s murder the photo “resurfaced” while I was looking through my archives for a different photograph.

Be Like the Bird | #WordlessWednesday

Be like the bird, who
pausing in his flight
on limb too slight,
feels it give way beneath him
yet sings,
knowing he has wings.

Victor Hugo, Les chants du crépuscule (Songs of Dusk), 1836


About the image: Did you spot the bird? I shot the “birdie-in-tree” a few days ago while checking out the scenery of my aunt’s new home. Even as I captured the image I knew I would [post] process it as a silhouette. The final lines of Hugo’s Songs of Dusk are a perfect fit. Don’t you think?

“there is prayer in poem”

Sadly, we’ve reached the end of National Poetry Month. There are so many poets, so many beautiful words I wish I could share, but only 30 days in April.

Wait. That’s a good thing.

This month was crazy–all the end of the semester madness amplified by Zoom teaching, learning, meeting, and sheltering-in-place. Thankfully, I was able to find some time to think and write, and I wrote poetry almost every day.

I’ve enjoyed our daily excursions, and we end with the words of nayyirah waheed, whose book salt goes everywhere with me. The poem below is from nejma, her second collection of poetry.  It is appropriate for today.

(all i can do is rest.)
my body is the middle of a poem.

there is prayer in poem.

when i am writing
i am praying.

all the prayers that are too soft.
too young.
too old.
to say.

nayyirah waheed, from nejma

Thank you for taking this journey with me. Although we will move on to other matters, we will return to poetry often. For now, I hope you were inspired to pick up a book of poetry and savor the words or grab a pen to write your own. More importantly, I hope you are on the way to living your poem.


About the image: The postcard above features the artwork of Melissa Shutlz-Jones. It is entitled “Birmingham Summer.” The card was among those Irene Latham distributed to students when she visited our campus, and probably because of the sunflower, a student gave the postcard to me. 🙂

[in Just-] spring

For today’s not #WordlessWednesday, I’m sharing a delightful spring poem by e.e. cummings.  Cummings has a way of drawing readers into his world through enchanting word combinations, positioning, and imagery.

in [Just]
e.e. cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

About the image: What says spring better than tulips? I shot these last spring while tulip-shooting with a friend. The purple tulips from the linked post were shot in the same area–perhaps, a different day.

“If There Be Sorrow…”

I’m sharing a poem today that I’ve loved most of my life. It is one of the first poems I scribbled into my inspiration notebook many moons ago. The poem, “If There Be Sorrow,” was written by Mari Evans (1923-2017), a writer-activist and major figure of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

I was and am drawn to the wisdom of the short verse, of living a life without regret.

If There Be Sorrow
Mari Evans

If there be sorrow
let it be
for things undone . . .
undreamed
unrealized
unattained
to these add one;
Love withheld . . .
. . . restrained


About the image: This is another photo card from the set  designed by my photographer/art journalist friend Diane W (midteacher on swap-bot). I shared a couple earlier this month with William Wordsworth’s “A Psalm of Life,” a poem with a message similar to Evans’.

Step by Step

I experienced a “letdown” a couple of days ago. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but it crushed me. In trying to sort things out and figure out the reason for the deep ache, I arrived at grief. It becomes entangled with everything: the loss of my sisters mingles with other [unrelated] losses; the wound reopens, the healing process begins again, and I have to remind myself to breathe.

When we were little girls, my three younger sisters and I loved singing together. One of my sister Karlette’s favorite songs was “Step by Step,” a traditional gospel song. My sister Angie and I sang it to her in the hospital two days before her passing, and again at her funeral. I don’t think I’ve sung the song since, but today a poem my friend Chella shared put the song in my head. Both the song and the poem are what I need right now–when I feel immobilized by disappointment and loss.

We are all experiencing loss right now, trying to find our way and a new rhythm. Maybe, you need these words too.

Midwives of the Soul
Elena Mikhalkova

My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You see?
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Praise yourself.
Take another step.
Then another.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

About the image: The lovely purple and yellow flowers were created and sent to me by Love Noter Rae L. She sent the postcard for International Women’s Day 2020.

I Know My Worth.

Today’s offering is the brief Alfa Holden poem my Love Notes friend/literary twin, Bianca N, wrote on the back of the gorgeous floral postcard (above). She sent the card and sassy, woman-affirming message for International Women’s Day 2020–a perfect fit for my current state of mind.

I know my worth.
I’ve paid dearly
for every ounce of it.

Alfa

Alfa, as she is more popularly known, is considered a “social media” poet since it is through Twitter and Instagram that she gained a large following. Be sure to click the links to check out more of her work.

Until tomorrow…

Still Dews.

“Vetch and Milk Thistle.” Photographer, Art Wolfe.

As I head into the weekend and to Sabbath rest, I am whispering in my spirit the penultimate verse of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Soma.”

Many recognize the words from the hymn, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” but do not know they come from the longer poem. What they also may not know is that Whittier–seeing it as showy or unnecessarily dramatic–was not a fan of singing in church; he believed that God should be worshipped in silent meditation.

Worshipping God through song is the gift I can always offer [alone and with other worshippers], so I do not agree with Whittier’s stance. However, there is incredible value in quiet contemplation and meditation, so on that point, he gets no argument from me.

May these last two verses from “Soma” usher you into a period of quiet rest, meditation, and contemplation.

from “Soma”
John Greenleaf Whittier

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
Thy beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the hearts of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be numb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!


About the image: The card above came from Karen B, one of my partners for Love Notes 31. The “Vetch and Milk Thistle” scene–from Cappadocia, Turkey–was shot  by photographer-conservationist Art Wolfe.  A portion of the proceeds of the Pomegranate card supports the Sierra Club’s efforts to preserve and protect our planet.

#ThursdayTreeLove | “Thank You, Tree”

I found an adorable poem today when I went to play with Earth Stanzas. It was written by 11-year-old Fatou M’baye, a 5th grader in Kent Ohio. I am not only impressed with her poetic skills but I am also impressed with her mature relationship with trees.

Thank You, Tree
Fatou M’baye

Tree, you put the spark
back in my body.
And when I take a breath,
the lights behind my eyes
are turned on, and the fire
in my furnace crackles.
The whole world stops buzzing.

For once the Earth
will have a chance to think
and remember why we’re here.
On that day, I’ll look at you, tree,
through your leaves, your bark,
your sapwood, all the way to your heart—
your beating, beating heart—

and say, Thank you.

Fatou talks about the inspiration for the poem here: Thank You, Tree.


About the image: The postcard above was sent to me by my friend Christine B as an extra in Love Notes 26 (last year). The photo, shot by Reinhard Eisele, features “Stone Pines by the Gulf of Baratti” in the Tuscany region of Italy. Another translation tells me the trees are “Umbrella Pines.” [Which one is it?]

I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Gifts from the Earth and “A Brave and Startling Truth”

Today’s poem is a little lengthy, but it is worth the read. “A Brave and Startling Truth” was written by one of America’s favorite sages, Maya Angelou (1928-2014). She wrote the poem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations (1995), but when I saw an excerpt of the poem used in an Earth Day activity, I thought why not share the whole poem today.

After reading the poem, be sure to go to Earth Stanzas and write your own Earth Day poem. The activity comes complete with prompts and model poems.

A Brave and Startling Truth
Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.


About the images: I had a bit of Photoshop fun with today’s images. Each photo subject is a gift from the earth. I will eventually share the original images. Until then, do you have any idea what they are? No? Well, I’m pretty sure you can [generally] guess this one: