Seeing Out National Poetry Month

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we thought we’d leave you with some voices from around the world.

Margaret Reckord, Jamaica

she emitted
a cold radiance
that made all
who loved her
leave her alone
As well
they might -
hers was the single
silver track
to the moon.
Irina Ratushinskaya, Ukraine & Russia
(translated by David McDuff)

Above my half of the world
The comets spread their tails.
In my half of the century
Half the world looks me in the eye.
In my hemisphere the wind's blowing,
There are feasts of plague without end.
But a searchlight shines in our faces,
And effaces the touch of death.
And our madness retreats from us,
And our sadnesses pass through us,
And we stand in the midst of our Fates,
Setting our shoulders against the plague.
We shall hold it back with our selves,
We shall stride through the nightmare.
It will not get further than us - don't be afraid
On the other side of the globe!
Juana De Ibarbourou, Uruguay
(Translated by Marti Moody)

If I die, don't take me to the cemetery.
My grave is opening
right at the surface of the earth, near the laughing
clatter of some birdhouse,
near a fountain and its gossip.

Right at the surface, love. Almost above ground
where the sun can heat my bones, and my eyes
can climb the stems of plants to watch
the sunset, its fierce red lamp.

Right at the surface. So the passage
will be short. I already see
my body fighting to get back above the soil,
to feel the wind again.

I know my hands may never calm down.
The ghosts around me will be dim, juiceless, but my
will scratch like moles.

Sprout seeds for me. I want them growing
in the yellow chalk of my bones.
I'll climb the roots like a grey staircase, and watch you
from the purple lilies.

Olivia Gatwood Poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month, our Women’s Wednesday post this last week featured Olivia Gatwood. For this week’s blog, we offer you the first poem of hers that our founder ever heard – so profoundly impacted, she immediately purchased Ms. Gatwood’s collection, “New American Best Friend” and can’t recommend it highly enough.

Check out the links below the poem too!

(Please note that the pieces in italics should be indented, but the formatting is being fussy.)

after Jennifer Givhan

I want to write a poem for the women on Long Island
who smoke cigarettes in their SUV's with the windows
rolled up before walking into yoga, who hack and curse
in downward dog and Debra from the next block over, who
has strong opinions about Christmas lights after
New Years, who says that her body isn't what it used to be
but neither is the economy or the bagels at Rickman's Deli
so who really cares, who, during Shavasana, brings up
the rabbi's daughter, who got an abortion last spring,
and Candy in the corner, who is mousy and kind but
makes a show of removing her diamond ring before 
class because it's just too heavy, calls Debra hateful
and the class takes a sharp inhale through the nose
then out through the mouth. and after class, after Candy
rushes home to check the lasagna, Debra lights up
a smoke and calls her best friend Tammy
So then the girl calls me hateful
hateful, can you believe it? What a word
some kind of dictionary bitch over here
and so you know what I says? I says
you don't know the first thing about hateful,
wanna know what's hateful? Menopause.
And it doesn't really matter if Debra actually said that 
to Candy (which she didn't) because Tammy is so
caught up that Candy called Debra hateful (which she did)
that next week when Tammy runs into Candy while
shopping in Rockville Center and Candy asks Tammy
how she's doing, Tammy will adjust the purse strap
on her shoulder and say, We all have a little coal
in our stocking, Candy, and Candy will shuffle away,
certain that Tammy knows something about her marriage
that she shouldn't and she doesn't, she just loves
Debra, who just has a lot of opinions and had Candy given
her the chance to finish her sentence, Debra would have 
talked about the reproductive rights march she went to 
in the sixties and the counterproductive sex-shaming
methods of organized religion. I want to write a poem
for the women on Long Island, whose words stretch
and curl like bubblegum around the forefinger, who
ask if I have a boyfriend and before I answer, say
Don't do it. Don't ever do it. You know
my friend Linda, she's a lesbian,
like a real lesbian and whenever I go
over there, she lives on Corona by
Merrick, by the laundromat you know where
I'm talking about? Whenever I go over there
and see her and her wife, what's her name
I can never remember the girl's name
anyway whenever I go there I says you know
what I need? I says, a girlfriend, that's what I need.
The women on Long Island smoke weed once a month
on the side of the house after their husbands - Richard Larry
Gary Mike or Tony - go to bed, they let their teenage
daughters throw parties in the basement while they watch
the Home Network upstairs and keep a bat by the couch
in case anyone gets mickied, even if it's their own son
who did the drugging, the women on Long Island won't
put it past any many to be guilty, even their kin who,
after all, have their husband's hands and blood and
last week, when a girl was murdered while jogging
in Queens, the women on Long Island were un-startled
and furious, they did not call to warn daughters.
They called their sons. Took their car keys, their coats, 
locked the door and sat them at the kitchen table,
If you ever, and I mean ever, so much as
make a woman feel uncomfortable
I will take you to the deli and put your
hand in the meat slicer, you think I won't?
You hear me? I will make a hero out of you.
With mayonnaise and tomatoes and dill and onions
I want to write a poem for the women on Long Island
who, when I show them the knife I carry in my purse,
tell me it's not big enough, who are waitresses
and realtors and massage therapists and social workers
and housewives and nannies and tell me they wish
they would have been artists but
Life comes fast. One minute you're taking typing classes
for your new secretary job in the World Trade Center
and the next it's all almost over, life I mean, but I kicked
and screamed my way through it, and so will you,
I can tell by the way you walk. One more thing
when they call you a bitch, say thank you,
say thank you, very much.

Recommended Links of Olivia Reading

Featured poem:

2019 at the strand:


What We Never Learn, or Why “Battlestar Galactica” should be required viewing

By Leah S. Abrams

What I hope is that we learned, learned so very much, about how to make a different world rather than the familiar, severely broken one, how to live up to the promise of our species.

But we have been here before.  Nothing, except maybe The Big Bang, and probably not even that because surely it too was replicating a previous event, is actually unprecedented.  I am about as weary of that term as I am the word “pivot” and the most worn-out phrase of them all, “lean in.”  How many songs, poems, essays, lectures, etc., etc. tell us how “it’s all just a little bit of history repeating”? (If the reader is interested, the writer hears the great Shirley Bassey in her head while typing that.)

At the cult favorite’s highly contested final episode of the early 00’s “Battlestar Galactica” remake, I wept, a good deal.  Now, if you’ve watched a show or film with me, you know this is not all that unusual.  Early on, I learned that the people who torment you for being too sensitive, crying too easily, will largely give you a pass on the behaviour if it’s in a dark theatre, in response to something seemingly external like, say, “E.T.” (And here the writer would like to thank Adam F. Goldberg for “The Goldbergs” episode addressing those of us who had a hyper-emotional response to the 1982 Stephen Spielberg hit.)  The art that affects me that powerfully hits somewhere fundamental to my core, often a message I take as commentary on the human species at large.

I remember watching that last “Battlestar Galactica” episode and thinking I would opt for Captain Adama’s choice – just sit it out, alone, peaceful, quiet, with a stellar natural view, lost in time with recently deceased love-of-life.  (Did I not warn you that there are spoilers? They remade the thing nearly two decades ago, so this is on you.)  After all that battling and seeking, to come to realize there’s nothing most humans (or cylons) can offer that will bring the calm of solitude, of giving the brain over to the person who created joy, inspired, was your comfort and confidence and confidant, even if they’ve departed to another dimensional energy.  For me, then, I imagined spending eternity with memories of my dad who died a couple of years before the show came out.

If I could, though, I also thought at that viewing, I would opt for the Starbuck out.  To realize the pattern never ceases repeating, that the only way out for real is to let go entirely of the self, to accept that a thousand lifetimes will pass and the humans will keep not retaining the great lessons supposedly learned, doomed to be the species that willingly rejects its ability to transcend all its innate potential, forever choosing instead to give over to its most base selfishness and savagery.  One may say it’s the chimp in us beating down the inner bonobo.

But the truth of it is that I’m still a bit of a Lee Adama – having seen the potential to do it all differently, holding onto the dreamer’s vision of actually creating a global society where cities and countries and borders are at last dispersed with in the great realization that they are a construct like so much of our lives.

Frankly, it is a shame that our global pandemic has not featured a universal required viewing of that “Battlestar Galactica” redux.  There they were – years of warring and re-learning to literally save the species from extinction, a species thrown from its own planet, searching for this mythical Eden called Earth.  Too many of us humans refuse to recognize just how close to the brink we are and that our supposed progression has largely amounted to over-population and unnecessary infringements on our planet, resulting in catastrophic destruction.

Chew on this offering from biologist Edward O. Wilson on if humans were to suddenly disappear: the earth “would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten-thousand years ago.”  But “if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”  Why do I raise this point?  Insect numbers and diversity are declining at alarming rates:  a decrease of 80% in numbers and 40% in diversity of New Hampshire’s beetles, Netherlands’ butterfly numbers down 85%, in Germany, a 30% drop in species in widely protected grasslands and forests. (Kolbert, Elizabeth; “Where Have All the Insects Gone,” National Geographic, 05-2020.)

There is only one answer for surviving ourselves and we learned, throughout this last year, that it is achievable.  Already, though, I fear we are largely turning our back on the lessons.  Our worldwide break from “flying the friendly skies” and clogging up roads and bridges every morning and night in some bizarre insistence that all the humans go to their little cubes at the same time, largely resolved our climate impact problem.  I am not suggesting we stop everything for all time, but what if we were able to collectively celebrate that success, so inspired by its actuality that we came together and rose to our potential?

We choose to poison the planet.  We choose to create societies around money and power, both made up by us.  What we value, how we categorize and judge and demonize other members of our species?  It is all made up by us.  We have within us, and we have now seen real-time evidence of this, the ability to team up more universally to create a better reality for the entirety of our own species while simultaneously reversing our massacre of every other living species and our shared home, a planet revered above all else in “Battlestar Galactica.” 

The more time marches itself along in the linear fashion we’ve put upon it, the more confounded I am by we humans.  Over and over, we willingly battle; destroy; see things as winning over someone else, succeeding only when we can see another lose, suffer.  Instead of realizing that the energy spent tearing others down could be rerouted to create what amounts to “paradise on earth” for all, we prefer to boost ourselves at the expense of others.

Still, like the younger Adama, I can’t quite let go of the glimpse of the possible.  And I can’t quite help feel but the last year has taught me more about what is actually important and how our time could be spent if we weren’t in such a hurry to return to the constructs of martyring behaviour that leaves us at our worst, doomed forever to the repetition of global illness.

Days of Covid: Empty Springside Hill

By Leah S. Abrams
Clove cigarettes
the scent of them
wafting on breath
of breeze
tasting like 
dreamy memory
pure delight of
small human
in its natural habitat
the constants
the guaranteed smile
makes you
Breathe deep
Become aware of
the world
that is beyond
the world
In childhood
nothing so sweet as
smell of spring
fresh grass
warm cushion of it
idyllic sun-basked bed
And now
May 2020
empty hillside
clover green
as a lover
as satisfying
air filling the senses
a gift from
the heavens themselves
and you
who does
fathers’ advice to
stop! smell the roses
cannot fathom
how much more
could be
so forbidden
a thrill