Monday, July 22, 2013

To my brothers- and sisters-at-arms

Strangely, I am getting a lot of hits on this poem, first posted on April 24, 2013.  Here, by popular demand:

To my brothers and sisters at-arms (veterans)

“I will write the evangel poem of comrades and of love,
For who but I should understand love with all its sorrow and joy?
And who but I should be the poet of comrades?” --Whitman

That bitter, acrid taste that war
and combat leaves in your mouth -
cleaves your tongue -
and gives you a sixth sense about things…

For example, the guy out front:
the leader. Will he die for you?
If so, then you will die for him,
or live, make his mission yours,
and accomplish it.

But if he won’t,
and your sixth sense will tell you so,
then neither will you for him.
And his goal is his alone and can go to hell.

And if you are out in front,
will you die for the men and women
in your care?
If so, then they will die for you,
or live, and make your mission theirs,
and accomplish it.

But if not, you should quit faking
and just go home. Because those
behind you, in your charge, following you,
will already have a sixth sense of things.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A poem for Grandpap Dick Rankin

A poem about my great great grandfather, from things my father told me. Of course, my father was only six when his great grandfather died.  And my father passed away over 30 years ago. It all leaves much to the imagination to recreate (i.e., he probably made shit up, and I am probably making some shit up too!).

Grandpap Rankin

First of all, thank you for visiting the cemetery
every now and then, and cleaning the graves

of the old folks.  New generations have forgotten,
but they wouldn’t be, now, if we had not been then –

When I was barely a boy, I run off with rebel soldiers,
did odd jobs, cooked for them, tended to the horses.

None of us farmers knew that much about war.
Legend is true, I returned to Browns Summit with a box full

of Confederate money.  Warn’t no count, no way.
Rebel soldiers give it to me. I swear.  It was my pay.

Buried that box in a tobacco field in Jackson after the war,
same field where I buried mason jars of moonshine I made,

to keep it cool and to hide it from the revenuers.
Cool on a summer day.  Best in Guilford County,

the white folks used to say. The war freed the slaves, or
so they said.  I didn’t know much about politics, still don't,

or taking sides, or fighting, but I did know we had a good master,
a kind, Christian man.  Now your daddy and his sister were just children

when I transferred to the next world.  But I watched them grow up and
tried to take care of them, best I could.  It ain’t easy

moving back and forth between worlds.  And yes, I made
a bit of moonshine in my day.  Drank a little, too,

more towards the end.  Best in Guilford County.
Hid it from the revenuers.  Cool on a hot summer day.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Channeling Grandma Lena

Locust Grove

“Will all visitors please stand and state your name?”

“Again, will all visitors please stand, and state your name?”

“You, in the middle, you may start us off!”

My name is Raymond Maxwell.

“Raymond Maxwell, are you Raymond’s boy?”

Yes sir, I am.  They went to Jackson Methodist,
down the road a piece.  But my grandmother was a
member here, and my Aunt Roxie, and my Aunt Liza.

“So, brother Raymond, what is your testimony today?”

Well, I didn’t exactly come prepared…

“What you mean, prepared?  Your grandmother would have testified.

“Yeah, brother Raymond, she and her sisters, they all would testify!”

“Yeah, brother Raymond, you gotta testify!”

ok.  OK! 

If Grandma Lena were here today,
She would call this is a beautiful day,
And she’d say our God is a Gracious Master.

But she would warn us
“judgment is turned backwards,
and justice standeth afar off …”

She would tell us
“truth is fallen in the streets,
and equity cannot enter…”

Then she would pause, and squint,
and look each member of the congregation 
in the eye –

And she would say, “Truth faileth,
and he that departeth from evil
maketh himself a prey…”

And she would report that the Gracious Master
saw what was going on, and it displeased him
that there was no judgment –

“And he saw that there was no man,
and he wondered why there was no intercessor –

And her eyes would brighten,
and she would tell us that the Lord’s
own right arm brought him salvation,
and his righteous, it sustained him…
and that we needed to do the same.

That is what she would tell you today.

That is my testimony. 


For a Friday: poem by Jennifer

Power, an oft-grievous foe,
can scorch the path
of the mightiest man--
even when righteousness 
steels his soul
and strength is his only sin.
Fear not the altered road
or the uncertain horizon.

We know true power
lies in the man's mirror--
framed by freedom and faith,
family and friendship.
Unfettered, he can move forward,
unburned, with love as his salve.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday thoughts

I did a close read of Rachel Jeantel's remarks last night and I found her words to be, actually, quite profound.

"The Jury,
they old.
That's old school people.

(not a jury of Zimmerman's peers, and especially not a jury of Martin's peers and he is the one who is actually on trial here. The jury members have an old, antiquated way of thinking that defies logic or reason, an old, defective school of ignorance and division and false attribution)

We in a new school.
Our generation."

(there is a marked generational divide that has nothing to do with old divisions like race, gender, national origin, or even educational level. The new school is the one that will solve the problems of the old because the old school has run out of ideas. The new generation has solutions, and if we allow them, they will save us as well.)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Some thoughts for a Thursday (Liner notes from a Stevie Wonder album)

From Stevie Wonder's Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants 

"Each life has its own beat,
moving through space
at its own pace,
standing still for no one,

and yet you,
as if not caring,
though knowing how precious
it was to you,
gave to me selflessly,
life's most priceless possession,
your time. 

It is only my wish
that you feel your time
not to have been given 
in vain. 

For waiting is not
what I meant for you -
but to share with me
the images of life
that God has sent me through -

and if this life affords me 
the chance to share with you
the new 
and hidden knowledge,
through song,
I will move as swiftly
as life demands -
but never so fast
as not to give you
my very best."  
                               --Stevland Morris 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fragments 7/8/13

walking up the hill from the Brookland Metro Station,
crossing the street and entering the engineering building,
these words wafted past me like a southern breeze:

“Pray for Egypt.  
Umm al Dunya, we pray for thee.
God Almighty, hear our prayer.”

Stickball - Chuck Sullivan (A Summertime Poem)

In the middle
of the concrete heat
boys manning our
sneakered positions tarred
in the block’s summer field
We hustled out
fates into shape
on the city’s sweating face
in the lean, bouncing grace
of our broomstick, rubber ball game
bound by the sewers and parked cars
of our Outlaw Little League
While on the sidelines
dreaming in our cheers
the old men watched
bleachered on brownstone stoops
and iron fire escapes
making small book on the shadowy
skills of stickball stars
lost in the late-inning sun
of the stadiumed street’s
priceless, makeshift diamond

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pashto Landay

ُExamples of Pashto landay.

پاس په كمر ولاړه ګله!
 نصيب دچايي اوبه زه درخيژومه
O Flower that you grow on the mountain side;
The duty to water you belongs to me, but to whom would you belong?

زړه مي هلك دي راته ژاړي
چه رانه غواړي دپردي باغچوګلونه
My heart is like a child; it cries,
and demands flowers from a stranger’s garden.

ستا به د ګلو دوران تير شۍ
زما به پاته شۍ دزړه سوۍ داغونه
The blooming season of your beauty will pass;
But the scorched patches on my heart will always remain fresh.

په ګل ګلاب دي و ويشتمه
تر لاس دي جارشم دښمنانو وليدمه
You have thrown a rose at me;
blessed be thy hands, but malevolent eyes have noticed.

مخ دي ګلاب سترګي دي شمعي
نه پري پوهيږم چه بورا كه بتنګه شمه
Your face is a rose and your eyes are candles;
Faith! I am lost, should i become a butterfly or a moth?

زه دپسرلۍ تر ګل تازه وم
ستا په بيلتون كښي لكه پاڼه زيړه شوم
I used to be more fresh than spring blossoms, O Beloved!
But your separation has turned me yellow like an autumn leaf.

ستا په يوه تومت رنګ زيړشو
زه دتومت جامي په غاړه ګرزومه
Your cheeks have been paled with only one slander;
while I am clothed from head to foot with calumnies.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Some poetry by Fred Douglass on July 4, 1852

The words of Frederick Douglass' speech of July 4, 1852 resonate with us today, and with today's American slaves and trafficked human beings:

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour."

Here's a link to the whole speech, performed by Danny Glover.  Priceless!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sonnet #51

Dinner and the Revolution

Filomena is on the phone
with Teresinha in Lisboa

I always know because they
speak a Portuguese I can’t follow

um crioulo duplo
uma lingua de cozinha

it’s tudo bem for me,
‘cause the revolution
will not be circumcised

so they can have their
kitchen secrets, just as long
as they remember to call me --
‘cause I want to be around
for dinner and for the revolution...