Everything Becomes a Stranger

“. . . a poem is a silent tree in spate . . .”

This morning I read a new poem by Rajani Radhakrishnan that is a perfect description of how a poem is made and who it becomes as we let it go.  Rajani gave me permission to reblog it, so here it is.  Please visit her site, ThotPurge to thank her, and while you’re there check out her second blog Phantom Road  where she converses with Marcus in a series of haibun poems — equally as evocative.  Rajani, I am so grateful to have discovered your poetry.

Everything Becomes A Stranger

even a word in a sentence,
you hold it there, lock it in and
for a while it makes sense
then it begins to work itself loose
wanting to move
wanting to move on
another appears in its place
an unfamiliar voice,
saying something else;

a poem is a silent tree in spate
one by one its green eyes fall
one by one new eyebrows are raised
only you know it is a different tree
the shadows paint another dark
and whatever is flowering
is not caused by your being;

everything becomes a stranger
once it leaves, once it falls
words, worlds,
people,
even you walking away
carrying a poem
carrying a sentence
cast shapes angled into the sun
as if the light is making love to you
in a different language.

– Rajani Radhakrishnan

 

Stevieslaw: My poem “Studio in the Asylum” was published in The Ekphrastic Review today

Speaking of ekphrasis, here’s one from my friend Steve Deutsch. He has written a series of ekphrastic poems from the point of view of the artist, taking into account the era and their particular situation. Steve’s always right on point, whether he’s writing poetry or political satire. Take a look at his other posts for the satire part.

Stevie's Law

Studio in the Asylum (find the poem at Ekphrastic.net)
Dear Theo:

I am surrounded here
by the painter’s commonplace,
the half- filled canvases
that dot the ochre walls and
those ornaments of still-lifes—
the vases and jars standing
to attention on the sill,
empty of color and purpose.
I feel a tension, as if
a single dazzling orange
would shatter the calm
forever.

I have finished “Studio in the Asylum.”
It is a soothing depiction,
like a setting for a prayer.
Yet, I might well have named the piece
“The window in the wall”–
that brightness that separates
the therapeutic room
from the glory of the garden
and the grounds.
Soon, now
I shall make my way outside.
to paint the olive landscapes
and pasteled huts
and to color
the stars of the night sky.

Yours: Vincent

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Susanna IX

“You must let me go, Tomás…”

OK, I’ll admit it.  I’m a hopeless romantic, and Will Pennington’s series of poems and fiction about Susanna captures lost love so poignantly that I asked if I could reblog his latest poem.  To read more of the Susanna series, please visit Will’s site, and let him know your thoughts.

 

Is she the one, Susanna?
I do not know, Tomás.
You must know, Susanna.
Why, Tomás?
She makes me think of you.
She is not me.
I want you back, Susanna.
I’m dead, Tomás.
You died too soon.
Yes.
Why? Why? Tell me.
I do not know why, Tomás. It was my time to die.
It isn’t fair.
Life is not always fair.
Sasi makes me feel the way you did.
Then you must be with her.
What if I forget you?
You must forget me to be happy with Sasi.
I lost half of my heart when you died.
Then Sasi must replace that part of your heart.
No, Susanna. I can’t.
Yes, Tomás. You must.
I don’t want to forget you. You have the piece of my heart that makes me whole.
You must let me go, Tomás, so you can find love and happiness again.
No.
If Sasi is the one, she will hold the piece of your heart that makes you whole.
Yes?
Yes. Love makes the heart whole, not the person, Tomás.
Yes.
Do you love Sasi?
I’m falling in love with her, Susanna.
You must be fair to her, Tomás, and let her love you.
Yes.
You must forget me to love her, Tomás, or you won’t be happy.
Then I won’t be happy, Susanna.
Tomás.
I love you, Susanna.
I love you, Tomás.

– Will Pennington

Family Photo, 1899

To end April’s National Poetry Month, here’s a wonderful portrait written by award winning poet Joan Colby.  Joan’s latest poetry collection is The Seven Heavenly Virtues.  Learn more about Joan and her poetry here.

Five daughters, every one with hair
To her hips. Cumbersome dresses
Meant for Sundays. No one is smiling.
The mother’s hair skinned into a thick bun.
The smallest child on her lap. The father
Gallant with sideburns, chin whiskers,
A wave over one eye. Cravat and
Polished boots. That they lived, all of them,
In a one-room log cabin in the Uinta Mountains
Is not apparent, dressed in their finest, hair
Freshly washed and brushed so that
Every girl could be Rapunzel.
Two infant sons already buried.
The father will die by gunfire
At the age of 40. The mother will be nursing
Her last child: my father
Who will be photographed later
In a white lace baptismal gown.

– Joan Colby
First published in Poppy Road Review

P.S. New prompts are up on the Prompts page.

He Is Six and She Is Three

Danny Earl Simmons provides a devastating child’s perspective on family in this poem.  I follow Dan’s blog so I don’t miss any of his poems when they are published.  (I’m a fan!)  His new chapbook is The Allness of Everything.  You can learn more about him and his poetry here.

He is six and she is three
when they’re sent to spend what’s left
of their innocence with their aunt,
the older sister of their now-dead mother –

beaten to death with the fists
of their now-imprisoned father
who loved them both with a rage

so red his bare knuckles bled
into their screaming mother’s face
until there were no screams left

while the six-year-old brother held
his three-year-old sister curled
all the way under the bottom bunk

as she sobbed until there was breath enough
to ask why their mommy just won’t be good
and why isn’t he crying, too.

– Danny Earl Simmons
First published in Eunoia Review

 

what i did in the war

“. . .keeping the company of ghosts. . .”

Matt Borczon says he didn’t fight during the war in Afghanistan, but he’s fighting in its aftermath.  You can read more about this fine poet and his chapbook A Clock of Human Bones here.

it’s hard
to explain
to civilians
that my
gun was
locked up
in an iso
container
for the
whole time
I was
in Afghanistan
that I
did not
fight this
war I
worked in
a hospital
at the
craziest
point of
the war
but no
I did not
fight the
war
I watched
it from
the distance
of a
severed arm
watched through
the holes in
marines chests
and stomachs
through the
eye sockets
of children
shredded by
hellfire helicopters
but I
did not
fight the
war
I prepared
gauze for
wounds and
vacuums to
suction blood
I cleaned
dead bodies
for coffins
for planes
for home
for broken
families
I bleached
mattresses
between patients
and served
meals to
soldiers with
no hands
to eat with
but I
did not
fight the
war
I searched
for missing
limbs and
spoke with
angry village
elders and
was hit
by an
Afghan prisoner
for trying
to help
him stand
but I
did not
fight the
war
and it
wasn’t until
I was in
Kuwait at
a stress
debriefing
that I
ever heard
the words
compassion fatigue
or secondary PTSD
so I came home
unaware of
how it
would feel
to hear
helicopters
at night
or how
nightmares
could make
me soak my
sheets with
sweat and
how panic
would make
me ruin
my children
or how I
could lose
days upon
days in
memories
keeping
the company
of ghosts
fantasizing
about my
own death
in order
to feel
like an
end was
in sight
but I
did not
fight the
war
I inhabited
the war
was forced
by blood
to adapt
by death
to adapt
by shock
and awe
to adapt
until the
day they
sent me
home with
no gauze
no bleach
no morphine
pump no
tool or
instructions
to readjust
to turn
it off
to forgive
or forget
so no
I did
not fight
the war
but I
am still
fighting
every single
day

– Matt Borczon
First published in Fried Chicken and Coffee

The Wake Up Call

Jimmy Pappas was instrumental in introducing me to a cadre of wonderful poets through Goodreads who commiserate, critique one another’s work, and share common goals in our writing.  Jimmy is a Vietnam vet who will publish two books of poetry this year about his time in Vietnam.  Jimmy told me the poem I chose to share is one of the first ones he published.  You can learn more about Jimmy Pappas and his poetry here.

 

When it was time
to wake me up
to go fishing,

he stood at the end
of the bed and held
my foot in his hands

as if it were a piece
of crystal, the way
he must have done

when I was a baby,
but I was too tired
to wake up and

too young to understand
how much he needed
me to be his son.

– Jimmy Pappas
First published in Poetry Breakfast

Faux Pas (false step)

“. . .no two people had ever been farther apart. ‘

Mark Shirey grapples with both unrequited love and cultural norms in this sensitive, introspective poem.  Mark is a member of my poetry workshop group which has met every other Saturday morning for 3 1/2 years.

 

I bought her a graduation gift at the Art Museum store –
a long, gold necklace that would glow on her brown skin
and follow her neck in graceful twirling arcs.
I wished the nights in the computer lab would never end,
spent with my beautiful Indian dancing friend.
When she went to India on a semester break, I looked at the moon
and thought no two people had ever been farther apart.
When she and her lily-white beau took a break, she was mine for a week.
When they got back together, she’d return to my mind forever.
I put the wrapped box on the table with other gifts.
Among the guests, saris and bindis, I danced and mingled.
I asked, “How do you tell which ones are single?”
“The married ones wear long, gold chains given to them by their husbands.”

– Mark Shirey

Someone else’s mother speaks to me for the first time

“. . .asteroid children fizzed about the hall. . .”

Few of us can capture a child’s reticence and awe like Robert Ford has in this poem about a kindergarten encounter.  You can find more great poems and learn more about this poet who lives in Scotland on his blog, Weezlehead.

 

It wasn’t quite my first day there, and while I sat at the safety

of a long wooden table, a mile-wide belt of asteroid children

fizzed about the hall, high on screams and random collisions,

pounding its feet on a sprung floor all glassy with new varnish.

Her long-fingered hands were working the grown-up scissors,

the chafing of the blades against each other making that noise

I still don’t know the word for. You’re very patient, she told me,

freeing me from my cosmic reveries like one of the starfish

she was busily fashioning from a stack of coloured card.

 – Robert Ford
First published in Red Eft Review

Back Porch, 1862

“. . .she knew this was not magic. . .”

This poem by Katie Bickham is a testament to sisterhood.  Katie’s chapbook The Belle Mar, from which this poem is taken, traces the history of a Louisiana plantation from 1811 to present day with unflinching honesty.  Read more about Katie and The Belle Mar here.

 

“You here, Missus? I cain’t see not a thing.”
The woman tugged her soft robe around herself
and watched Liza limp up to the porch in the darkness.
“I’m here, Liza,” she said, holding out her pale hand.

“You boil that water and get you a cup like I asked?”
The woman, who shook even in the summer evening,
nearly said “Yes ma’am,” but caught herself.

Old Liza, clacking her lantern down on the wood,
reminded the woman of a crumbling, ancient goddess,
a dusty sibyl with a spell for everything.

But she knew this was not magic, knew all the magic
had dried up from the earth like the streams
in drought. This was the dust left behind.

“Missus, you know now, you know your husband
cain’t know about this. You tell him — I’ll get strung up
like a windchime. Give me that hot water, now, and your word.”

The woman handed Liza the cup of scalding water,
said her promises, pressed her forearms
into her own stomach. Inside, her husband

lay sprawled in the bed, exhausted, no doubt,
from his nightly war on her body. Liza produced
purple flowers (“Pennyroyal, Missus”) from her pocket,

shredded the leaves, dropped them in the water to steep.
The woman lifted the cup to her mouth, but Liza,
brown skin shining in the lantern light, grabbed her arm.

“You drink that, ain’t no coming back from it. Thing’ll be gone
like it never was.” The woman’s stomach turned,
but she parted her lips and swallowed the tea all at once.

Liza pressed her own lips together and nodded her head.
“I think you a good woman, Missus,” she said.
The woman thought the tea might come back up.

“Go on back to your bed, Liza,” the woman whispered,
wiping her mouth with her sleeve like a savage.
“He’ll never know. You always tell me what you need,

and you’ll have it.” Liza patted her arm, scooped up
her lantern, and made her way off. The light grew smaller
through the minutes, like a soul with no body

steering the long dry road out of the world.

– Katie Bickham
From The Belle Mar