To Die at the River

“. . . Train fare is cheaper when you’re alive.”

Hilary Hauck’s poem of the River Ganges is a powerful statement of death and of life.  You can read more about Hilary’s work here.

 

Street sleepers line both sides of the avenue
like colorful rows of dolls.
They’re old or sick the guide says. Train fare
is cheaper when you’re alive.
He leads us to where time hasn’t changed,
alleys glowing oil-lamp yellow,
so narrow we meld our backs
to the stone walls to let a sacred cow pass.
A loudspeaker chants
impersonal prayers, bells toll.
The buildings end on a terrace
above the cremation ghat,
where lucky bodies bandaged
in cloths wait their turn.
Smoke of flesh emanates,
we cover our faces with scarves
but he says it’s an insult to
imitate Indian dress
so we breathe in the dead.
Only the wealthy can buy
a thick sandalwood pyre,
the poor make do with scant scraps
whose flames are unable to devour whole bones.
Attendants pick through cooling ashes
and body remnants,
pocketing gold the dead
had meant to keep, sweeping
the bones into a basket to be tipped
into the well-fed drift of the
Holy Ganges,
where by day crowds bathe and
float islands of flowers on leaves
and pray for those able to die here,
because they are the ones that escape
the eternal cycle of life,
spared, by moksha, from reincarnation,
released into heaven
for a final kind of death.

– Hilary Hauck

Better in French

D. E. Green is right.  Everything does sound better in French.  See if you don’t agree.  You can learn more about Doug Green, and read more of his poetry here.

for Diamonique Walker

Why does everything sound better in French?
Wittier? More pointed? More apt and apropos?
You know, with savoir faire and all that merde.
A woman I know from Cote d’Ivoire
likes to say how much she hates things,
but she does it with panache. Sometimes
she even says, je vous déteste. Sure, she’s saying
she hates me, but, god, doesn’t it sound
great? I mean I could be hated all day
by everybody as long as they said, je vous
déteste. And I want to do some je déteste-ing
of my own. Je déteste le sandwich de pain rassis.
It’s just stale bread, but it sounds like something
you’d hear at the United Nations, even the Louvre.
Wouldn’t it change the whole sorry dining
experience to walk into a MacDonald’s
and say, je déteste votre Big Mac? To tell
a bombastic politician, Assez, monsieur! Assez!

D. E. Green

 

Grace

“She is beautiful and blameless. . .”

Dave Bonta is the only poet I know who could write an insightful and compassionate poem about a mosquito.  Dave lets us share the mountains and forests he calls home every day from his blog Morning Porch.  I guarantee you’ll become a fan.  And for more from his mountains, check out his new book Ice Mountain: An Elegy, a poetic six month diary of daily observations about a mountain losing its battle with man.  You can learn more about Dave here.

*Aedes vexans*

On the last day of summer, drifting
slow as hope through the thick air of evening,
she chances into a plume of CO2
& follows it upstream until she senses my arm’s
telltale heat. She hovers, then sinks
the last few inches straight down
into my pelt with all her landing gear extended,
proboscis going into the skin
even as the slight craft of her body
still rides the hairs down, her feet stretching
one by one down, down,
& I am here. Lord, I am here.
She is beautiful & blameless & I in a mood to share
the beer in my veins, watching as her banded abdomen
turns dark, inflates.
A long minute later she pulls out, rises unsteadily
& sails off singing her single note.
Then comes a rapid patter across the field, the yard,
staccato on the porch roof & into the woods –
suddenly it’s pouring & the treetops are bending,
swaying under the weight of it
even before the first drops
penetrate all the way to the forest floor.
A wheal rises where the mosquito took
the only blood supper of her purposeful life.
While I sit waiting for God knows what,
it has fallen to me, what she no longer needs:
the goad of her saliva.
Her fierce itch.

– Dave Bonta

On the Fifth Day

“The facts were told not to speak. . .

Jane Hirshfield wrote this insightful and cautionary poem and will read it on April 22nd during the program for the March for Science.  It was published in Sunday’s Washington Post.   Read more about this wonderful poet’s work here.

 

On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.
The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
were silenced,
and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.
The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,
while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking,
of rivers, of boulders and air.
Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.
They spoke, the fifth day,
of silence.

– Jane Hirshfield

P.S.  There are new prompts on the Prompts page.

Things to Believe in

“. . .the generosity of apples.”

A hopeful poem for Easter and Passover, by Patricia Monaghan, an activist in the women’s spirituality movement.  You can read more about her life and her impressive list of publications here.

trees, in general; oaks, especially;
burr oaks that survive fire, in particular;
and the generosity of apples

seeds, all of them: carrots like dust,
winged maple, doubled beet, peach kernel;
the inevitability of change

frogsong in spring; cattle
lowing on the farm across the hill;
the melodies of sad old songs

comfort of savory soup;
sweet iced fruit; the aroma of yeast;
a friend’s voice; hard work

seasons; bedrock; lilacs;
moonshadows under the ash grove;
something breaking through

– Patricia Monaghan
First published in Grace of Ancient Land

The Cottage

“. . . The smell of earth turned by a trowel.”

Since Poetry Breakfast was kind enough to publish another of my poems today, I’m going to take time out of the month of poets I admire to put it here on my blog too.  I hope you’ll stop by and take a look at the Poetry Breakfast site.  One of my favorites.

 

I’ve grown quiet here. My mind
has opened to woodsong
and the smell of earth turned
by a trowel.

I enjoy solitude, even when regrets
or the throb of an old lover happen by.
Sometimes I invite them in, make
a ritual of teacups on starched linen,
a silver server for the scones.
We reminisce ’til shadows trace
across the floor, call them away.

Afterwards, I tidy up, wipe away
drops spilled in the pouring. I save
the leftovers though they’re getting stale.
I may crumble them on the porch rail
tomorrow for sparrows
before I garden.

– Sarah Russell
 First published in Poetry Breakfast

In Lieu of a Photograph

“. . . she curved to her task with deft, balletic grace.”

I wish I knew the full name of this poet.  I found this poem several years ago in one of the monthly Goodreads contests, with the name “Jordan” as the author.  Every time I read it, I fall in love with the images all over again.  If anyone knows more about this person, please let me know.  Google has been no help at all.

 

I am no good at photography.

I lack the necessary subtlety–I am too literal.
I shove the lens right into the center of my subject,
Like a punch to the gut,
Causing the context to crumple around it.

But I sat once at close of day, looking up at a bridge where
Women, silhouetted against the setting sun, made their graceful ways home carrying
Great buckets and baignoires on their heads.

You will have to imagine, I’m afraid, the way their dark bodies were made darker in relief
And the herd-like elegance–not of mindless association,
But natural interconnectedness–of their movement.

A familiar noise made the baby look up from the mat where we were playing.

I followed his gaze to find my sister framed in the doorway, the sheer curtain fluttering between us.
She was folded over a calabash bowl of rice
Making the starch-laden rinse water cascade across her caramel-colored arm,
Which she curved to her task with deft, balletic grace.

There are some–employed by National Geographic, no doubt–
Who could have captured the beauty of this moment–
The way the early Fall light made everything jewel-bright–
With a single “click” of a camera shutter.

But I am no good at photography.

– Jordan

War Poetry

Iranian poet Nooshin Azadi’s work is simply elegant. You can find more of her poetry and her beautiful photography here.  An interview about her book written with Francis Scudellari is worthwhile reading too.

write me
a poem
in which
all birds
are prisoners
of love
and the only bloody war
is between
my fingers
and the thorns
of the rose
i’m offering
to my beloved

Nooshin Azadi

Living Too Long

“. . . we learned the cost of attachment.”

David Sloan, a poet from Maine, captures aging and frustration in this poem about chickens.  There’s a great interview with David on The Houseboat — a blog I highly recommend, that has an eclectic assortment of artists and poets.  Read the interview about his writing process here.

 

Some nights I feel I’ve lived too long,
when the moon’s a squint-eyed mute,

oak branches turn fish bones,
and the wind’s a whimper.

I hobble out to the shed, our old chicken
coop.  How you’d loved those hens,

made the mistake of naming them —
Blackie, Maude, the rest.  We never figured

out how the owl got in, but we learned
the cost of attachment.  The path I cleared

through the woods is overgrown now,
so I lean against the maples in the yard.

How many more tattered moons
will seek me out?  You embrace this waning,

but I can’t find a way to love the less.
You said, Yes, we lose leaves, but we gain sky.

I say, Give me back my legs.  Let me
scale this tree, turn panther, pounce

on an owl under a hatching moon,
pillow the night with a fury of feathers.

– David Sloan
from his book The Irresistible In-Between

Tia Lucia Enters the Nursing Home

“…She is reduced to another being.”

I love this poem not only for the humanity it shows, but also for its many layers of meaning.  Deborah Paradez teaches at Columbia University.  You can read more about her and more of her poetry here.

All morning my daughter pleading, outside
outside. By noon I kneel to button her
coat, tie the scarf to keep her hood in place.
This is her first snow so she strains against
the ritual, spooked silent then whining,
restless under each buffeting layer,
uncertain how to settle into this
leashing. I manage at last to tunnel
her hands into mittens and she barks and
won’t stop barking, her hands suddenly paws.
She is reduced to another being,
barking, barking all day in these restraints.
For days after, she howls into her hands,
the only way she tells me she wants out.

– Deborah Paredez
First published in Poetry Magazine