09 April, 2010

Fight Like a Girl #1

Lalla Fatma N'Soumer

One That's Stuck With Me

From a little paperback anthology of American women poets found on a dusty shelf in a second-hand bookshop years ago...this one has stuck with me.
The Poet's Wife Makes Him a Door So He Can Find the Way Home
by Nancy Willard

Nobody else makes doors like a poet's wife.

If she made a revolving door,
summer and winter would run like mice in a wheel.
If she made a door for the moon,
the dead would cross over alive.

Each door is a mirror.

So when the poet loses his way,
crossing the desert in search of his heart,
his wife hoists her lintels and straw on her back
and sets out, feeling his grief with her feet.

She calls up a door that shimmers like water.

She unfolds her palm trees and parrots.
And far away, his belly dredging the dunes,
the poet hears his heart spinning
straw into gold for the sun.

The palms bow. The parrots are calling his name.

He remembers the way home.

07 April, 2010

The More Things Change...

Nefarious War
by Li Po (c.750)
Translated from the Chinese by Shigeyoshi Obata
Last year we fought by the head-stream of the So-Kan,
This year we are fighting on the Tsung-ho road.
We have washed our armor in the waves of the Chiao-chi lake,
We have pastured our horses on Tien-shan’s snowy slopes.
The long, long war goes on ten thousand miles from home.
Our three armies are worn and grown old.

The barbarian does man-slaughter for plowing;
On his yellow sand-plains nothing has been seen but blanched skulls and bones.
Where the Chin emperor built the walls against the Tartars,
There the defenders of Han are burning beacon fires.
The beacon fires burn and never go out.
There is no end to war!—

In the battlefield men grapple each other and die;
The horses of the vanquished utter lamentable cries to heaven,
While ravens and kites peck at human entrails,
Carry them up in their flight, and hang them on the branches of dead trees.
So, men are scattered and smeared over the desert grass,
And the generals have accomplished nothing.

Oh, nefarious war! I see why arms
Were so seldom used by the benign sovereigns.

Remembering Namir and Saeed

“We talked about photography and what we would do after the war. Namir was good, he was a kind man, he was brave.”
Namir Noor-Eldeen was the Reuters photojournalist killed by U.S. forces, along with his driver, Saeed Chmagh, and ten others, in the shooting documented in a classified military video recently released by the Web site Wikileaks. Lens, the photography blog at the NYTimes Website has this remembrance that includes some of his amazing work. And here are the tributes from colleagues and friends on Reuters' blog from the day after the shooting in 2007.

06 April, 2010


I grew up by the ocean in south Florida. I learned to swim early enough that it's been said I spent nine months in the water (the womb), nine months out, and hopped right back in. Another friend once said God must have screwed up in the lab because I obviously should have been born a fish. I've been a diver since I was a kid and even spent a stretch working as an instructor after college. Even these days, when I'm away from the ocean for far longer than I'd care to be, I find ways to surround myself with little reminders - a bowl full of grain of rice-sized cowrie shells and quarter-sized sand dollars I picked up on dives back home, some paper-thin, deep purple shells I collected in southwestern Turkey, an intact seagull skull scavenged from the beach near my mom's, and lots of sea glass and sea beans. These days it may be a year or more between dives for me instead of the six or eight a day routine I kept up while working on dive boats, but the feeling is always the same when I hit the water and swim straight for the bottom - like going home.

Given all that, you can imagine my reaction to Pres. Obama's announcement on the expansion of offshore drilling. It's not a solution to anything and including it in climate change legislation is insulting. We've still only managed to explore about five percent of the world's oceans and seem intent on destroying them, one way or another, before we can even get a glimpse at the rest.

(images from the Surfrider Foundation, map from NYTimes)

"Collateral murder" and Langston Hughes

Wikileaks reveals video showing U.S. air crew shooting down Iraqi civilians

Let America Be America Again (1938)

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

05 April, 2010

Happy National Poetry Month

OK, I'm five days late, but...April is National Poetry Month in the U.S. Unfortunately, the way most people are introduced to poetry in school seems to lead to them swearing off it forever for fear of not getting it. I keep poetry books by my bed the way some drunks stash a bottle. Gets me through. I'll try to share some of the good stuff over the next few weeks. Loosen up, read a little, and try to stop worrying about "getting it" and focus on feeling it. Also try this in front of certain works of art and at the opera or ballet. I've converted more than a few in my time.

Eating Poetry
by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.