Week 27: Still Going Sweet

A slender, unlikely stalk pokes through the damp soil
slowly winding up its pole, decade by decade
seeds planted long ago by pale men
with a pale notion of justice
nourished and enlivened by time, blighted by fear and envy
pollinated by the persistent buzz of optimistic workers
roots tended by humble worms beneath the earth
seasons of warmth and cold, tender buds appearing
sometimes nipped away by frost
sometimes blooming in sunlight

But spring fades—
petals shrivel and fall, and hope is lost
but then we realize there is something there
beautiful, green, and round, and full
still unripe on the vine, but slowly growing plump
in the summer heat

Land of incarceration, home of the insecure
promissory note still unfulfilled
those in despair, stung too often by hope
it is small comfort, and not enough—I know
but know this—we are not finished
we have not yet arrived
the fruit you long for has not gone sour—
it is still going sweet.

Author’s Notes:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

America has never fully lived up to this ideal. Often to an absurd degree. As a black man in 1852, when Frederick Douglass gave his famous Fourth of July Oration in Rochester, NY he very vividly pointed out how he was excluded from “the rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence,” bequeathed by our forefathers.

And 111 years later in 1963, in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir…It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note…” He also was unable to fully enjoy the promise of July 4th, 1776.

And now, 56 years later, we still live in a country working through the legacy of white supremacy and sexism—where voter suppression and Gerrymandering are used to entrench political parties—where money equals speech—where we have the highest incarceration rate in the world—where we’ve decided justice is to destroy the lives and communities of immigrants who simply want to partake in that promise.

But there is nothing more American than fighting to be an American, even in the face of hatred and power. It doesn’t happen fast enough, and it isn’t fair, but at least we can look back at people like Douglass and King and see that progress can be made. And even though it doesn’t happen fast enough, and it isn’t fair, I do believe we’re going to keep bringing more people inside that inheritance. That’s what makes the Fourth of July a holiday worth celebrating.

Favorite Line:
“it is still going sweet.”

Most Heavy-handed Line:
“Land of incarceration, home of the insecure”

Week 26: Haunted by Butterflies

He walks in sunlight, sparrows
on his shoulders, haunted
by butterflies, rabbit ears
poking through the grass, chipmunks
chatter as he wanders past

Lost in a flowerbed of thoughts
the shadows creep and grow—
quickly they swallow the path
and the mourning dove cries
as he is left standing alone
beneath the sickled moon.

Author’s Notes:

I had another week where I struggled to get a poem posted, but I got up, took a break, and got the camera out and took pictures of bugs in the flowerbed, and came back and started over.

I kept going back and forth and back and forth about whether to make this first person or third person, and I ended up landing on third person because it’s a little darker seeming in first person. And then I went back and forth on whether I wanted it to be she or he, and I decide to make it he because I thought it makes the vulnerability in the poem a little more interesting and more mysterious.

I did a search and found that this is the fourth time I’ve used the word moon in a poem. Not sure if it’s a lazy trope or a thematic repetition…for the sake of my dignity, I’m going to say that it’s a theme.

Favorite Line:
‘haunted by butterflies’

Most Cliché Line:
‘and the mourning dove cries’

Week 25: Flow Quickly

Waters flow quickly, like you mean it
Seep around the toes of mountains
Carve valleys and roll flat the loud cities
Build long deltas and bury proud harbors
Renounce your channels and your banks
Gash new landscapes and forget the old ways
Laugh your way through levees and dykes
Weep over feeble dams, dislodge the bridges
Reclaim your swamps and plains with violence
Spare none but the catfish
and his kingdom of mud and reeds.

Author’s Notes:

I’m not quite sure why, but this week’s poem feels a bit different from normal. I like the imagery, but I haven’t quite wrapped my head around what I think it is really saying. It seems very apocalyptic.

Favorite Line:
Gash new landscapes and forget the old ways

Most Evocative Verb Usage:
Laugh your way through levees and dykes

Week 24: And Now We Pass

Stranger whose silhouette I now see
whose footsteps I first heard over the hill
whose dark eyes I have daringly now just met

I have, without thinking, given you a name
I have given you a history and place in the world
I have given you dreams—I have dreamed them for you

And now I brush briefly against you and now we pass
into each other’s goodnight and already I miss you
sweet stranger, goodbye and live beautifully—
fade gently from my thoughts with the same grace
that first brought you by.

Author’s Notes:

I was really struggling to get a poem put together for this week and was getting frustrated, so I took a break, and then came back and found this one waiting for me. It only took about 15 minutes after that. Funny how that works.

Hmm…what are my thoughts? I like the way using the word ‘now’ a lot in the first stanza sort of flattens the poem out and makes it seem like it is physically unfolding moment-by-moment, and then how the second stanza switches completely
to ‘have’ which takes it out of that physical time into a kind of mental time, where things develop very rapidly. And then the third stanza ties those two worlds together.

Favorite Line:
And now I brush briefly against you and now we pass

Most Revised Line:
fade gently from thought with the same grace
that first brought you by.

Week 23: Collector of Small Things

I don’t want to know your favorite color—
you are not the movies you watch or the music
you play on your car stereo, or the books you read
or your bright sneakers, or beautiful hats
or the places you go, or went when you were young

Indulge me—I am a collector of small things:
the gap between breaths, the unconscious pauses
between words, the things you want to do
but have never thought of doing, uncatalogued desires
the distance between a smile and its laughter
the vowels you slightly mispronounce, the secrets
that you don’t realize are secrets, because
they are so small they slip through description
like minnows darting playfully, in and out
dancing through the loose weave of a coarse net.

Author’s Notes:

There is a tendency for people to tie their identity with the things they like to consume, which I think *can be* a little weird and sort of dull. It’s also something that I catch myself doing, and I think that it’s just a feature of the world that we live in, so I don’t think it’s awful. But it’s nice to be reminded that a person’s taste isn’t who they are.

I don’t really know how well this particular poem captures the breadth of that idea, but I like that it tries to. One thing that is interesting to me reading through it now is the ‘I’ that I created in the poem is trying to make this intimate sort of connection beyond just knowing what the other person likes, but can’t totally escape being a consumerist himself. He specifically calls himself a collector and is very performative about it.

Favorite Line:
or your bright sneakers, or beautiful hats

Line I Have the Most Ambivalence About:
Indulge me—I am a collector of small things

Week 22: On the Way Back Around

She lost something warm and dear out there
Somewhere in the movements of the planets

Too long to wait for an old hope
It’s more easily left behind and forgotten

If it’s still in orbit on the way back around
She’ll blow a kiss and wave as she shoots on by

Author’s Notes:

The idea of reencountering people or places or things that were important to you at one moment in your life is interesting because there is always a temptation to try to recreate something that is gone—to try too hard to relive the past or recreate something that is gone. I think being able to encounter the past gracefully, with joy rather than feelings of loss is admirable. But at the same time, I have some ambivalence because I think there is a version of doing this that trivializes and ornamentalizes the past in a way that is just a way of denying loss by saying it’s not that important. I’m not sure which I think that the subject of the poem is doing.

Despite my paragraph that perhaps over-explains my thoughts about it, I think this week’s poem is simpler and more accessible than last week’s, and I feel more comfortable with it, so I’m happy.

Favorite Line:
Somewhere in the movements of the planets

Saddest Line:
It’s more easily left behind and forgotten