poesy

Smelling tomatoes reminds me of June

of July—of that huge flat backyard

Of the garden and fireflies

Night lights, blue dark

and tree cover

—soil and sun spill

riven red metal

June loved the mountains 

they summoned her Irish aesthetic 

but I loved the neat clip 

the order of flat 

midwest squares

Canned green beans, sourdough bread

a checkered tablecloth, a 

brown bowl with spoon and lid 

meant only for sugar

summer storms, winter ice

Always the weather

always June

Following

Will America be discovered or is it made? Unmade? Never was? Will someone discover America still? They are coming to remove a tree from this address. It has extensive decay in the trunk, they say, and/or crown, and will be removed the week of 5/17 (tentatively).

Their note hangs on the front door. To be found. 

Do they drive by and monitor the trees? Or was this reported, requested by a neighbor? What if the tree doesn’t want to leave? What if I’m not ready? (I’m not ready.) I suppose I could call the Tree Management Division with questions and/or concerns. 

There is a pocket of sunlight in the scraggly mass of trees and overgrowth just behind the house, in a sliver of land that belongs to itself. In this illuminated cave the dead orange leaves shine like autumn and sun cracks open the tangled waist high weeds into petals of light. Green heavy limbs hang over me and block the sky above this porch. The female cardinal came to visit tonight, though I didn’t see the male, she stayed in the shaded corner and searched the grassless yard, picking among the dead leaves, dirt and slow growing weeds. She attached herself to a slender vine growing up lonesome from the yard and hung precariously horizontal, flitting her wings so that she appeared a strange long limbed creature; caught me so off guard I didn’t know what new animal was scrambling over itself at the bottom of this dusky sea. An owl hoots far above, buried deep in green, hidden by the many layered limbs, beyond where I can see.  A sad dusk song it sings, the opposite of a cock’s crow. That high up the leaves still catch the sun and just like that the song has gone. 

The tangled limbs, fallen tree parts, spring green vines, wrap themselves around this little yard and have become something to hold me. Home to the cardinal pair, the flying squirrels, the many birds I do not have the names for.

Hexagram 17: Thunder in the middle of a lake.

This place is in between everything. 

What do you think black people want? What do you think black people need? 

Do you agree with the _____ Blow argument that young, willing and/or able black people should reverse migrate and return to the south with the intention of controlling state governments, once their numbers have swelled to a majority, from Delaware to Louisiana? As an added bonus, leaving the west and north they might also be able to afford a yard. Recalling Reconstruction and Integration as just two examples, (is it strange that a black president was an afterthought?) will the center hold should all the chickens come home to roost? A slow moving revolution seems a shaky thing. Vulnerable. Too careful. My beloved James Baldwin wrote that revolutionaries “tend to be sentimental.” But that was in 1985 after Martin, Malcolm and Medgar were gone. 

James seemed to be speaking directly to white people in general, Dick Cavett in particular, and loathed to be sitting next to Dick’s final guest, who after being introduced smugly disagreed with much James had to say, because quite frankly, we all have our differences, or eccentricities, and they are varied, how silly to let ourselves stumble on the polarities of white and black. He then sat with arms folded across his chest, and one leg crossed over the other for the remainder of the program, perhaps holding in his fluttering stomach, such fire he received from the slim shouldered black man who chain smoked, and raged. Crawling outside of his words, his breath, his skin…

If Claudia Rankine’s own therapist barks at her to Get Out of Here! when she appears at the wrong door for her evening appointment (she was probably in Connecticut or New York)…

(38) In Layli Long Soldier’s poem she describes a journey taken annually by the Dakota 38 + 2 Riders to memorialize the (38) Dakota men hanged the same week President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Hung because they were displaced, betrayed, freezing and starving. They retaliated, revolted: the Sioux Uprising. The Memorial Riders travel from South Dakota to Mnisota, 325 miles on horseback, arriving in Mankato on December 26th, “the day of the hanging.” The memorial / an act. 

As a way to grieve, to mourn, where do black people return? To that tree? To that bit of ocean, snatched? Is this reverse migration the appropriate action? Is it a remembering? For won’t there be tears? Is it time yet for tears?  Middle Passage, Slavery, Reconstruction, Sharecropping, Jim Crow, Black Laws, Great Migration, Segregation, Redlining, Crack, Incarceration. There are so many holes. Is the answer political power? A foothold in the delta, the tidewater, the pinelands, the red hills, east of Appalachia? 9 gems, jewels, starbright from Delaware to Louisiana – a cocky half grin in the deep black face of the south.

James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket

Layli Long Soldier, Whereas

Dominique Christina, Anarcha Speaks

Who is she, who is he, who are they? 

The underdog, the outlier, the loner, the quiet one, 6-10 on the bench, 11,12,13, the ones who ask, “where am I in this, what am I doing here?” The questioners, the thinkers, the wanderers, the road weary, the magi, the ones whose gifts do not always shine, the ones unsure of who they are, or what they’re meant to do, or how they fit in, to all of this. 

The ones who could care less about the outcome and simply love to run, to feel the wind whip, step out onto the green earth and smell it rise, spend their sweat and be all of us together for a night. To be the body rip of song. 

Some are riveted on that singular point, they have sacrificed, they are spun with love’s gold, they have brick laid years in the gym, craving the repetition of those same movements, mastering those same limbs, dreaming those same wins and they are likely more complicated than we can know. All of them together. 

But all of them so different too and somehow that’s ok, that can be allowed, that can thrive in this brief season, these fleeting youthful years. We can put our selves aside and want what’s best for her, for him, for them, want   her   him    them 

to be free, to go before our selves, and that’s the motor that moves, propelling this game. 

Athletes should play, and speak. 

2.

A warm morning.  Sitting on the second story screened-in porch attached to my bedroom I can unobtrusively look into the backs of surrounding homes, their yards, the vaulted air around their lush trees, the young slender Buddha seated in the garden just below.  I am not so sure of moving here, to this city by the sea I’ve yet to meet.  A neighbor somewhere nearby closes the heavy plastic lid of a trash bin.  The sudden clattering rattle of a garbage truck, one street over, reminds me of my car parked on the street: hopefully it will start this morning.  A horn somewhere.  

The streets were quiet last night.  There was nothing much memorable about the brief drive into the city; headlights, a bridge, a monument. An old black man carrying a small plastic bag across a main thoroughfare, to continue down a street with no sidewalk, only a slim path worn down next to the road.  Grand homes with porches and pillars lining cobble stoned streets. I am staying in a soft pink house – are these the people of the wood?  The southland is certainly a deep and dark forest, though just now a jet screams loudly through the blue sky and a siren howls in response. 

The man, the father, is charismatic, returning home from work in a sleek black suit, white button down left open at the neck, no tie.  Arriving promptly an hour late, he pops through the doorway and does not want us to all stand at once, so sorry to have kept us waiting.  He is an accountant by trade but tomorrow he will explain that he is not just an accountant.  He will go upstairs to change into soft, slender black jeans and a casual black t-shirt; his glasses have clear frames.  I feel less comfortable with him, more comfortable with the woman, the mother.  She is calm, steady, warm.  She made a soup and even allowed me to politely decline it when I first arrived; welcomed me to the pale yellow pot when I’d finally gotten up my nerve.  Her dark hair is now luminously streaked with gray.  From the safety of this back porch I think – I would go west for my adventure – though it seems quite far away now.  The Bay? Or Montana? Or the Olympic Peninsula? Some faraway woods.  It didn’t seem to matter to the writer who gave me advice over breakfast in Bethlehem: go back to school and don’t pay for it.  

After writing, shower, put on clothes, go downstairs, drink coffee at the dining room table, make breakfast.  A guest with the house to herself.  I am ready.  Or maybe not.  Yet again, it seems I am braced to run though there is nowhere to go.  Can you write something worthwhile and submit it by January?  Can you write your way out of this? 

On Wilmington

1.

Before my visit, I envisioned Wilmington as a respite. The place I would go to write, granted a residency by the benevolent beyond.  It would be the place of My Little Apartment and going there was making good on a dream’s directive.  Perhaps even subject matter it would give: the successful coup and what remained of that Reconstruction. I imagined miles of empty winter beach and pedestrian-free streets where I might walk my dog.  That this family of the Dutch were the good people of the wood who pour forth to receive the escaped woman for her time of necessary transformation. I would run to this, the deep woods, with my babe wrapped to my chest and be made.  

But on the drive down a slight sense of dread and a brewing cold hung overhead as I tried to beat the sinking sun in my race to the city on the coast. The nearly full moon was my partner, alighting on my shoulder and watching me from the driver’s side window high above fields sprayed with hog shit in Duplin County. We strode together along the slash of highway heading south and east, accompanying the water that soaks into the Cape Fear river basin.  Streams and marshes, lakes, swamps and wetlands surrounding the port city are fed by this water, who like many a traveler, must humbly pass through the kingdom of shit steeped fields. It seems unadvisable to drink the port city tap water, though surely some do, having no other option and with enough cushion in their gut.  The Carolina landscape in this eastern part of the state is sour and rough.  There are a few soft looking plants and edges; in the dimming twilight the pines lining the interstate shine their own imposing beauty, but flattened fields seen in quick flashes between a break in the trees remind of the human machinery of this state.  Here and there the stench of hog shit spraying wafts into the car.  The scattered trailers and flimsy one story structures briefly seen from the road are peopled by the descendents of the bent over black, brown and white poor.  Carolina here is a hole.  And seems an empty, flat, hard state, skimmed by the ultra rich who inhabit the slender ivory coast. 

I pulled up to my host’s pale pink home once evening had firmly planted itself.  We had a pleasant visit but I was tired from the drive and the cold that just held.  Though unspoken, I felt every day would be spent with this family, in some capacity.  It would not be a visit for myself alone and I buckled at the thought of disappointing them their guest, their dinners and drinks and tours of the town.  They were, after all, letting me stay. 

After describing my plans for the coming day, and deciding when and how we might meet up later on, I climbed the wide pine stairs up to my bedroom at the back of the house.  I had successfully sold them on my kindness, my innocence, that I might be permitted to stay.  I lay in bed and wondered what I’d done while the almost full moon watched from the window just above the white rim of the bed’s slender metal frame.

The Presidio

I took the covid vaccine yesterday (I got the jab – I got the juice!) and today I feel strange.  One of those restless spring days, when I can concentrate on absolutely nothing, have no patience for adult work, serious work, study, myself.  I can’t even read. My head feels like a balloon, my heart is in the car, driving west. Wind. Night. Sky. I am nothing anyway; a tongue flying off, riding off, going and seeing and doing something new.  This is a day for a porch or a rooftop, a pair of sunglasses and bottomless drinks. Or a mountain, or the Dead Sea. The water. For something wide and everlasting. Who owns a boat? I have outgrown this little plot. I want to go grab every friend and pull them away from their desk, their family, their small little life so we can go, go, go to San Francisco, to the Vesuvio, to the Golden Gate, into the seedy divey dank night.  AHHHHHHHHHHHH, I can’t sit still. 

Sick of boiling eggs and sticking holes in sweet potatoes, folding laundry, watering plants. I want out! No more sweeping porches, mopping floors. Let’s go! Bottle this up, can it save for winter deep? AHHHHHHHH.

Shape shifting cool fall day, sliding sun scale, let me out!

Get the juice. 

Ok. 

Back to Four Weddings and A Funeral

the heron

Spring has turned a corner here and more of the days are tilted toward a plateau of sun; a platter of matte blue sky and flat light.  Less is murky, or muddled, or shifting throughout the day — the light holds, the warm winds blow, the trees out back shiver in green. Winter is just a memory now. 

The early morning and late evening hours are the only ones to hold the magic of change and the soft movement of water. Last night, walking Miles down by the river, the water rippled black even while the sky still held so much falling light, and a heron greeted us as soon as we hit the water, just before the first long turn.  

It seemed a good omen on this new beginning of beginnings. This new moon spring. We stood and stared at the heron, landed on a bank of waterbound scrummy marsh, for a few quiet minutes. It was only when another dog, owner attached, came loping down the boardwalk towards us that the bird vanished. In the midst of all that now feels half-formed and unknown, seeing the heron (I imagine) was confirmation of mystery, of the gift that the muted end of day can offer. So much magic to pull you along. 

I have stories I want to tell. I am beginning to realize, slowly, their shape and form. And that feels like a scary thing, even though they are small, because the more it becomes real and insistent, the more I know what I will lose if I turn away.  

Last week I watched a movie directed by Amy Pohler, called Moxie. I’ve sobbed every time I’ve watched it (now the count is up to three).  It moves through me and stirs up so many broken pieces, but I do think the crying is helping to clear out the gloom.  It reflects back to me a way of seeing so embedded in my psyche, deeper even, that I am appalled to find I’ve taken it on as my own. 

What broke me open in this movie was the good.  At every point I imagined there might be discord, or betrayal, or arrogance, the good held firm. It went higher and deeper, it stayed, it grew.  And that just broke me open. 

Revealed to me: a guarded, cynical woman. Low expectations. Mistrusting, jealous, limited. Restricted. Obedient. Unbelieving, ever suspecting, depleted. Always ready to run. Always anticipating violence — a range of violence. Many forms. Be it blunt force, or the violence of apathy, or the gaping hole of not being seen. Left watching a weeded over bridge untraveled and God forbid I walk it. God forbid I dare to build the bridge as I go. 

It led to a long reach back through the years, a long looking and weighing and remembering and removing and tears, many tears.  

“What are you?” 

A question I have been asked many, many times.  A question I dreaded, avoided, ran from. Hoping never to be asked. Never satisfied with my response, the response itself an avoidance, a running, an omission, a sidestepping. Who could see me, if I couldn’t see me? Who could offer love to what I couldn’t even name? When might they find out I was unnamable, unknowable land? 

It has been a long week of seeing into each layer, another new meaning revealed, light shedding itself into dawn, into day.  

But see, there is a rhythm underneath, and words can only grasp at it, words do not even really matter once you catch that rhythm, that whir.  Once it arrives, there are no wrong words.  The words will come.

The plateau is merely temporary, today’s cheerful blue sky will weep into that black river. The good will hold. The bridge will be made. The light will fade, will fall, will whiten through dusk and into the deep. And watching it I will remember that this is who I am.

apartment

I

The second floor with a shiny red door

Set back from the road our school bus rumbled along 

when thick forest still rippled down the hills. 

Two skinny little boys emerge after the turn waiting

to climb aboard. Angry wet eels dripping up the aisle 

Woodsoaked, concave, Appalachia faces.

One bedroom with ugly brown carpet, galley kitchen, 

palatial rooms and a washer dryer. A mansion. 

II

A grey cave, smooth wood floors, one bathroom,

three women.

Walls pressed into pyramids of brick soaked light. 

Slivers of space. 

The neighbor’s kitchen sink; their cat for company. 

A narrow closetless room painted 

easter egg green. 

An architecture of clinging

to Jupiter’s island. 

III

Solitude. Bay window. Shipstern. Studio. 

Ivory curved intestinal radiator

Creaking, worn wood floors, unpainted 

bathroom door. Tree kissing fire escape. 

TALL STREET FACING WINDOWS. Naps. Quiet.  

Cove shelled dividing wall. 

AN ENTIRE WALL OF CLOSET SPACE. 

Transplanted to mainland. Harboring

port along the river. Lowtide.

IV 

Flat panelled planes of sun. Heavy 

hammered lanes of light. 

Sandy bottom desert waves. Steps from the beach, 

the bustle, the crowd, the Pacific bellowing

beyond acres of white. Vendors, 

shops, muscle beach. Hotbox, fruited flat skies,

sandwiched, bellied. A whale mouth street 

of endless summer holiday. A neighborhood

of canals, palms, thighs, wonder.   

V

Complex. Third floor. Community. 

Three women (again). Black leather couches (again).

Hand me down furniture to soft sock footed carpet. 

A large bedroom, books shelved on the floor.

Your own linoleum bathroom, gold-plated frosted-glass shower. 

Balcony blessed sun come over mountain 

line. Contemporary 

modern artifice, peelable, duplicitous. 

Post graduate haven. Professional facade.  

VI

Matte blue sky today and today and today and

today summer long. Forever fertile in paradise.

Hollowed white bungalow. Gravel

yard, wood fence, light shadow passing

pedestrian. Lush green quiet

Empty bicycle blocks. Beach. 

Sun drenched piano keys. 

Backyard washer dryer on

California Avenue.

VII

Frigid freezer of shag carpet underground club 

Feet of snow and ice, frozen

laked town of the middle west; play pen. Family 

dinners, gray skies, cold wooden

houses, sidewalks, baby sitting. Cave

dwelling adolescent patina: futon,

single bed, open concept, cinderblock, 

well positioned poster art. Pass words. Hand shakes. 

Climbing at walls in winter hats and snowpants. 

VIII

Glossy gray kitchen cabinets, laminate light 

wood floors, no legal second exit: the district underground. 

The tangled green garden and strange fit 

 of another’s city, upgraded abode of new spring love. 

The back alley fenced in becoming

multi colored, multi roomed, new kitchen appliances

lining the hallway, bathroom in a back corner, 

caved in concrete floored, security deposit stealing 

grave of love. 

IX

Mountain views. A little (gasp) yard. 

Wide smiling porch with blue wood chipped floors. 

Ripped window screens, inescapable laminate

pasted in tub, the ant return 

each spring. 

East facing plateau. Tree bound, circle wrapped walking trail 

down a gravel path. Hills, geese 

deer, copse 

cloud and sinking sun. 

April Fools

Recently I have started swiping left on my phone. As if instagram wasn’t enough of a distraction, I sought yet another way to waste the hours of my life. Swiping left brings up a range of corporately culled news articles. The top story on the screen always seems to be governmental or presidential in nature, which seductively attempts to legitimize your time wasting endeavor, but as you scroll down, the stories blend into a mixed bag of celebrity gossip or whatever hodge podge compilation a staff writer has managed to condense into a three minute read. 

I found myself reading one of these stories last week; a list of anti-suffragette cartoons from the early 20th century. The suffragettes were overwhelmingly ugly, brutish and masculine. Taller than their husbands, ruddy faced, bespeckled, flat chested or overweight.  A woman voter?! Why, Men would be Left at Home! Alone to tend Children and watch the Soup!  These befuddled, neglected husbands wore wrinkled shirts and sad faces; sat in rocking chairs holding toddlers, stood over a boiling pot while two or three children ran amok. All abandoned by the devil suffragette who was breezing “Off to the Movies!” leaving a home in disrepair; purse in hand, head high, taking leave of her husband whose shoulders slump with domestic obligation. A run of three posters showed voluptuous women with sensual mouths dolled up as sheriffs, cops, mayors – Would You Elect Her?? – the posters decried. Can She be Your Sheriff? Can She Hold the Key to the City? A small shin sized man drooled and ogled his affirmative. Several cartoons depicted women at rallies, or with pickets; ugly, red faced, yelling. Most prevalent throughout:  Suffrage for Women = Down with Men.  Liberation hinging on oppression. Sound familiar? 

To require professional women athletes to organize and strategize and somehow create the maneuvering to secure their own paychecks – feels a little like DEI employees – largely black and brown – being the ones to teach white people in corporate america, higher education and government how to treat them better, how to “be nice” to people of color, how to value all that is not white. After lunch let’s learn how to dismantle white supremacy from your mind, from your policies, from hiring practices, from jokes and sentences and words – and it will be the oppressed to teach you. 

I am thinking more of the WNBA – a league that is predominantly, overwhelmingly black and lesbian – and whose players have been told, among other things, to stop complaining.  Stop complaining about the pay gap. You don’t bring in revenue (if you weren’t aware) which means you aren’t valued as a product, as a commodity, as entertainment.  You need to organize and strategize and take action. Tell companies and investors that they should value you. They should care. Make them. Hold corporate sponsors accountable to tell your stories and invest in the longevity and profitability of your place of employment; your product; you.  Go and be the DEI employee, on top of your professional athletic career and commitments, and teach those people how to treat you, how to value you. Don’t just complain. Then all the focus goes to your complaining and nothing gets done.  

Another unsolicited, elucidating argument criticizing women for their own good. 

This player rightly holds corporations accountable with their empty “women’s empowerment” messaging but I wonder if he understands this extends to his own employer, the NBA, and why he couldn’t make this argument on behalf of WNBA players, advocating for them and encouraging those in power (himself included) to use their leverage. Why instead does this twitter episode become some type of tactical critique?  

And why the harping on complaining? Why is it problematic when women complain, when women are angry, march, lead, decide, speak?  Why is he uncomfortable or annoyed or disheartened by women complaining? He claims it’s ineffective and instead there needs to be an action plan – developed and executed by WNBA players –  in addition to being professional athletes. Teach them how to value you. On top of all the time and energy and effort you put into being a professional athlete, which, he concedes, he does as well and therefore understands. 

In an Audre Lorde interview taped for public radio in 1982, her interviewer talks about being out on the road, in various small towns and small colleges, in the muted corners of this country and really feeling hopeful. Hopeful in 1982. Sound familiar? She says, the young people, the young women, it seems are really getting feminism and equality – they’re really understanding what this is about and demanding more. 

Audre’s response is underwhelmed.  She shares her repeated shock when the students she teaches, each wave, each generation, without fail, continue to come to her wet behind the ears not knowing their history, not knowing the fight, not knowing who came before and what they fought for and what we are fighting still. She wonders: why did no one tell you?  Why didn’t your big brother or big sister let you know what it was? Why are our stories and our struggles not being shared?  Why is it we keep having to remake the wheel, one generation after another?  

This is why you COMPLAIN. Because the entities who invested in the NBA, who wrote the checks or moved the money, motivated not by a desire to pay players based upon their worth, but to create an industrial entertainment complex making them wealthier than some nations, don’t care about NBA players and they certainly don’t care about their stories. They don’t care about Lebron James and Akron and his single mother. They care about profit. Revenue. COMPLAIN because you are speaking for those single mothers, the ones who worked more than one job and kept the lights on and went without so their children could have and the millions of invisible women who never get their stories shared because those stories don’t bring in REVENUE and those lives aren’t valued until their SONS stand in front of important people and receive awards and SEE THEM, SHARE THEM, THANK THEM. AND THAT’S ONE WAY TO USE YOUR PLATFORM.  This is not about a game. The gulf male athletes see between themselves and a female athlete speaks only to the success of systems designed to keep us apart, in a hierarchy, in a box, with a dollar amount attached, terrified of someone ripping it down or setting it on fire. Because who would you be then? 

COMPLAIN. RAGE. Be misunderstood, be labeled angry, or confrontational, or difficult, or overbearing. RAGE. COMPLAIN because you are changing the world while some people think this is about a paycheck. Rage for the 12 year old girl who is shooting in her driveway or in the after school league and who has NO IDEA the extent to which she is not valued, she is not profitable, she is irrelevant, simply because she’s not a man. RAGE and COMPLAIN so that she will grow up and hopefully, hopefully know what you are RAGING against.  She will walk armed knowing that this world is not fair or free but that others have come before her to fight it. She will be prepared to make choices and live with their consequences because being quiet, or polite, or a mother, or a wife will not make her safe.  RAGE so that another generation doesn’t have to walk into any gym not knowing the fight, not knowing who came before, not knowing the very real violence threatening at every corner. COMPLAIN and COMPLAIN and COMPLAIN for her. COMPLAIN LOUDLY so she will grow up knowing she can RAGE and rest as needed. This is the world she lives in – not some false, flowery other. BE ANGRY and COMPLAIN to EVERYONE and tell most of all HER. AND HER. AND HER.