Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer's Shade


Summer's Shade
( Mississippi, 1964)
Oh! Child, sharecropper's girl,
you hold a book in your hands
under that tree with the flowers
so large and white -- it seems blasphemous.
The pages smell -- hope chest old
and the words are old
written by a slave woman
generations before.
On the water, a damsel fly
hovers around the wide leaf
of a water lily. its wings checkered
like the author's gingham gown
you saw on the cover.
The insect dances, delighting
in the wind's language of heat
and grass scent. In her poems,
the woman writes of singing
in  a warm grassland
where young women weave baskets
out of the  marsh straw
and cast their shadows proud
and slender on the foot paths.
From the evening bush, birds rise.
a sharp flock, a spear head
to honor their  grace and distaff.
The magic craft, the ancestral fingers
minding their skill.
Oh! Child, sharecropper's girl,
you  look at your own hands.
They bear the same color
as the writer's. They touch her book.
They will make a difference.
In the Summer of 1964, The Civil Rights Movement took a major step in promoting the education and voting rights of the African American community. At this time period, Southern States made if extremely difficult for black people to vote demanding they pass literacy tests and other questionable tasks to qualify. Many people of this ethnic group were poor and undereducated. Black people were not allowed access to  libraries among other educational facilities that served  a Caucasian  population. Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement recruited teachers and educators from all over the nation to come to Mississippi and train the  young Black kids to read and write with accuracy, encouraging their knowledge of literature and their own cultural identities. They were exposed to literature written by Black poets, essayists, historians and other people of great, ethnic distinction. My poem is an example of a young girl being exposed to a writer, a freed African Slave woman from the 19th Century, who wrote poems about her homeland in Africa where women were honored for their domestic talents, fertility, wisdom etc. A culture that was closely connected to nature and the grassland. Though, my character is fictitious , she does symbolize the opening of a door, the possibility of a young black female developing an awareness of herself and her historic identity/legacy. The slave woman referenced in this poem is actually based on some black women writers of the era I have found on-line. Several of which wrote poems but were simply titled as anonymous.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Contemplating A Rose

In the old books, a silk merchant
steals a rose for his daughter
from a private garden. The rose
is fabled to be the most exquisite
in the kingdom. Its pallor
could match that of the fairest maiden.
Often, I dismissed the idea
of a single rose gaining  such status
or summoning such desire. After all,
it was a storyteller's song.. Yet, last night
when the desert cooled at dusk
you found a branch of the rose bush
blocking the sprinkler. You snipped
the  sprig with a frail bud
about to open --  and brought it inside.
I placed the plant in a glass vase
with  water -- expecting it might die. This morning
a symmetrical  bloom
leans forward in praying mantis pink. Just there
bidding me to sigh, to trace
its contours with the light hand
of  the heroine in the fairytale,  to know
and feel as she did when first given
the flower, the coveted gift.
I sense her subtle pulse
radiating through  stem, leaf
and petal, the vine work
of my own wrist. This is Beauty's rose
our rose. Summer's offering
in the worst of dry  heat and rainless hours
A bribe to believe.

The lovely painting is by French artist, Marie-France Riviere and entitled --
"Une Première Dame en liberté ". More of her lovely work can be found here -- www.griviere.com/expo2000

Sunday, July 13, 2014

To Fate

(On a point called the rest area with no name.)
Come, bury  my fear
within this Salt Wash rock
where yellow flowers rise
from bone and ash -- remains
of a woman
who won daylight
from the creator
and shared her bright
gains with the tribe.
Come, sweep my breath
harried and hopeless
into stone lungs
that smell of rushing water
and pine. Come, let it fade,
seep and settle
into palisades
that shift and shatter
over time -- until
another sculpture
shoves its way
out of the ruin. An overhang.
A prow guarding its field
of tidal grass.
A solid calm.
where the shaken self
has been re-cast
into the wing drift
of mist or white-tailed hawk,
the presence of prayer.

Monday, July 7, 2014

What Comes To mind

(Travelling  through the mountains along Interstate 70.)
The wide. wingspread fall
of a raven
shadows the canyon.
A dark lament
cast from its stone ribcage
to seek prey.
The song must be old
and mysterious. A legend
that saddens yet satisfies
this ancient void.
Awe has sunk enough silence
into these tectonic bones. Poetry
hungers to breathe, bewitch;
and its voice must sing,
sing of someone, half human, half divine
who gave this deep place
a spirit, an echo. And maybe,
it was a woman
waiting, threading her needle
with patience and long  water,
a river --The Colorado.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Trip


In Native legends, the large beast glitters in the sky

looking for a place to lie down or someone to protect.


On the cargo train  rattling north

through the coastal  mountains,  a young mother

sits fatigued as hair clings to her  skin

like black seaweed. Her face aimed toward

then receding from the landscape's view. The trees

and those dark slits inbetween -- hint at wild tinder,


sudden fires. Heat she has known in her village

as grenades, land mines, a kitchen blaze burgeoning

from a broken  lamp. The chairs and table charred, a lost

altar for sharing bread or catching one's breath.

But in that part of the country, she  could barely catch hers, 

it was always out of reach. The pale moth  (her toddler  tried to grab)

hovering with its nervous wings  around a thorn bush.


Now her son huddles close holding a tan bear. Last night

the bear was stitched with stars and filled with a brighter portion

of the universe. She had hope. Today, its' stuffed with straw

and  soiled from their long journey here. Reynosa

is still miles ahead ---

                            and the trees a waiting line of  millions.


Monday, June 9, 2014


Cold water washes over the rocks
stirring leaf and branch
moss and sediment.
Everything at the bottom
swells and swirls into swift turmoil.
Frenzy has left the poet
and leaps into this stream
lending Spring –
her pulse, her power.
Near an oak, her lover
lingers in despair. His shadow
spreading over the branches
like tarnish over an old candelabrum.
Drained of breath and light
he leans into memory, the first
sighting of his lost rapture.
She did not appear in a garden
of blossoms or a wood of vine-tangled roots
but on cliffs overlooking the tide. Her long hair
the slanting rain
his body absorbed with a thirst
for inspiration; and her figure gowned
in the blue of slate and sea, its curves
holding mysteries he hungered
to probe, decipher. Magnetized
by her presence, his tongue
drew words from stone and grass,
sand and river, star and cloud.
His jointed fingers
turned to lightning in seconds
inserting his will in the ways
of fin and wing, hoof and claw.
And though his ancient name
meant fortress by the sea,
he became pregnable, beguiled
by a force that would render him
addicted  to magic. Her spirit cast
into the scrolls of his lungs – and locked
behind gates of bone
until she unlatched the cage
letting herself loose. Now free
to stimulate the thaw, possess another.
Awen is a Welsh word for poetic inspiration. In the Welsh tradition, awen is the inspiration of the poet bards; or in its personification, the inspirational muse of creative artists. The word literally means  "flowing spirit" and  defines spirit energy as the main flow or the essence of life.
In this poem,  the name alludes to the seductive muse, Nimue, who enslaved Merlin, the shaman/scholar from Arthurian folklore, with her beauty and beguiling ways.  Her presence sends him into a state of rapturous frenzy that totally absorbs all his senses and infuses him with the extraordinary powers of perception and imaginative creativity. When she leaves him, he is both mentally and physically depleted. His magic, his art, has been diminished to a lover's lament, a longing for the one thing that allowed him to breathe and exist in a mundane world. Taking artistic liberty, my version is  quite different from the original.
In the ancient texts, Nimue was a beautiful, young girl wanting to learn the ways of sorcery that were an inherent part of Merlin's mind and heart. She deliberately seduced him and used one of his own spells to entrap him in an oak where he was rendered invisible and could only be heard by those who passed with a keen ear and mind. Namely, those who believed in the supernatural. In some alternative versions of the tale, Nimue lured him into a cave and locked him away forever. One of  the most  lyrical poems describing this view of the myth, is a poem called "The Story of Nimue"  by Thomas de Beverley
Merlin, by arts of Grammarie,
Had woven a spell, right cunningly,
That his mortal life prolonged should be.
 Of herbs he had made an elixir quaint
 To prolong his life, ere his years were spent;
 But Fate hath frustrated his intent.
 A chalice, he lifted in his hand,
 To drink the elixir which fate had banned.
 It fell and was spilt upon the sand.
 "But," he thought, "it is not as yet too late.
 I will go at once, nor a moment wait;
 Though the night be dark and the hour be late."
 Nimue knew of Merlin's guile;
 How evil he veiled in a simple smile.
 How his heart was laden with many a wile.
 She had gone by night to a churchyard grey
 And the herbs she had torn from the earth away.
 And Merlin will curse this evil day.
 For the wizard will be appalled to think
 That he is trembling upon the brink
 Of the grave: Life's elixir no more he'll drink.
 Old he grew in a single night;
 His limbs were palsied, his hair was white.
 Helpless was he to set it right.
 Nimue was a fairy maid,
 In a Grecian garment of white arrayed.
 And her hair was bound with a golden braid.
 Black was her hair as ebony,
 Her eyes the fairest a man might see,
 Shining with magic mystery.
 "Now," she cried, "is the hour mine own,
 As Merlin shall for his sins atone;
 His power for evil is past and gone."
 When Merlin crawled on his weary way,
 The little children would pause at play
 To jeer at the wizard, old and grey.
 He sat him down by a hollow tree,
 And unto him came Nimue.
 She sat her down on the Wizard's knee.
 Long had the dotard followed her;
 Chasing the fair one, near and far.
 "Nothing now my desire will bar."
 He thought for her long white arms entwined
 Round his shrunken neck; and the wanton wind
 Blew her hair in his face; and she seemed kind.
 His shriveled lips upon hers were pressed;
 His hands were fondling her warm soft breast;
 As this lady weird he in love caressed.
 He told her of many a subtle spell;
 And, hearing his secrets her heart doth swell
 As she cries, "O Merlin, I love thee well!"
 "I am thine for ever, for good or ill,
 If the wish of my heart wilt thou fulfill.
 If thou wilt obey me, thou hast thy will."
 " 'Neath yonder stone, hast thou said to me,
 Is a cave and only by grammarie,
 From its mouth, that great stone moved may be."
 "But to me it seemeth impossible
 That the stone could be lifted by any spell.
 Raise it for me; for I love thee well."
 Merlin arose with an air sedate,
 To a certain doom, impelled by fate,
 He openeth now the rocky gate.
 "Further, I'll prove thee," then said she,
 "Enter this magic cave for me;
 Shut thou the door, by grammarie."
 "Then shall thou roll the rock away,
 Proving thy power by this assay,
 Thou shall stand again in the open day."
 She spake, and the stone was rolled aside,
 And the old man entered the cavern wide--
 Besotted by love and by foolish pride.
 Loud laughed the fairy Nimue:
 She uttered some words of mystery,
 No more shall that dark cave opened be.
Even in the opening lines of De Beverley's verse, there is the reference to the magic of grammarie or grammatical language. In Celtic and Druid tradition, language when spoken, became an invocation, a prayer, a casting of a spell. It was the release of the imagination's voice,  a messenger sent to  embody the world with song and prophecy. And so we come back to the idea of poetry being this gift, this enabler of visionary insight.  Awen is the perpetual energy, the unstoppable muse that possesses the artist, at her will,  and allows for this to happen. She becomes the individual's  passion/ obsession to shape and form, to change and enlighten those around him. In short, she is the breath of his creative being and furnishes his ability and reason to create.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

While Praying

A brown thrasher sang.  His plainsong
now a sifted echo
as the moon enters our room
with her lamp.
               Its translucent flame
lengthens the legs of the dresser
in shadow. Parallel lines
that frame this flat stretch of waiting
in-between --
                  one moment to the next.
                  one pearl bead to the other.
Your shoes and shirt lie dishelmed
on the floor.
              I want to restore
the ease you felt walking
under green pines
the cool comfort of cotton
billowing against your back
                But I cannot
you  rest on a rug
curled in pain, knees clutching a pillow.
Your spine's inflamed
waiting for the massive ache
to pass -- and my breath's caught
like milkweed on its bone briar;
While I wait
for The Holy Mother
To intercede.