The online journal Riddled with Arrows is up with a new poem of mine, “Portholes”. This issue features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction about writing. Always a favorite subject for writers. 🙂 A number of my favorite writers are in it too. Please check it out!
The Pulitzer Prize-winning new U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, is certainly a timely choice, and a voice for bringing poetry into our world, breaking down barriers and preconceptions. And what an advocate indeed; with the unforgettable found poem below, powerfully earth-conscious and bringing us a clear and stark vision of what exactly is happening to us and our planet as a direct result of corporate capitalist excess and greed. It’s a devastating poem that should give us all pause…and be moved to take whatever actions we have in our power to resist the now-openly-sanctioned ravaging of our selves, our bodies and our world, our only home, our future. What could be more important?? All kudos to Tracy K. Smith!
Note: the formatting of this poem did not properly transfer to this website (perhaps it could be but I didn’t know how to do it). To see the correct formatting intended by the author, please visit this site.
Tracy K. Smith
200 cows more than 600 hilly acres
property would have been even larger
had J not sold 66 acres to DuPont for
waste from its Washington Works factory
where J was employed
did not want to sell
but needed money poor health
Not long after the sale cattle began to act
footage shot on a camcorder
grainy intercut with static
Images jump repeat sound accelerates
quality of a horror movie
the rippling shallow water the white ash
trees shedding their leaves
a large pipe
discharging green water
a skinny red cow
hair missing back humped
a dead black calf in snow its eye
a brilliant chemical blue
a calf’s bisected head
liver heart stomachs kidneys
gall bladder some dark some green
cows with stringy tails malformed hooves
lesions red receded eyes suffering slobbering
staggering like drunks
It don’t look like
anything I’ve been into before
I began rising through the ceiling of each floor in the hospital as though I were being pulled by some force outside my own volition. I continued rising until I passed through the roof itself and found myself in the sky. I began to move much more quickly past the mountain range near the hospital and over the city. I was swept away by some unknown force, and started to move at an enormous speed. Just moving like a thunderbolt through a darkness.
R’s taking on the case I found to be inconceivable
It just felt like the right thing to do
opportunity to use my background for people who
really needed it
R: filed a federal suit
a letter that mentioned
a substance at the landfill
a soap-like agent used in
PFOA: was to be incinerated or
sent to chemical waste facilities
not to be flushed into water or sewers
pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds
into the Ohio River
dumped tons of PFOA sludge
into open unlined pits
increased the size of the liver in rats and rabbits
(results replicated in dogs)
caused birth defects in rats
caused cancerous testicular pancreatic and
liver tumors in lab animals
possible DNA damage from exposure
bound to plasma proteins in blood
was found circulating through each organ
high concentrations in the blood of factory workers
children of pregnant employees had eye defects
dust vented from factory chimneys settled well-beyond
the property line
entered the water table
concentration in drinking water 3x international safety limit
study of workers linked exposure with prostate cancer
worth $1 billion in annual profit
(It don’t look like anything I’ve been into before)
Every individual thing glowed with life. Bands of energy were being dispersed from a huge universal heartbeat, faster than a raging river. I found I could move as fast as I could think.
did not make this information public
declined to disclose this finding
considered switching to new compound that appeared less toxic
and stayed in the body for a much shorter duration of time
decided against it
decided it needed to find a landfill for toxic sludge
bought 66 acres from a low-level employee
at the Washington Works facility
(J needed money
had been in poor health
a dead black calf
its eye chemical blue
staggering like drunks)
I could perceive the Earth, outer space, and humanity from a spacious and indescribable ‘God’s eye view.’ I saw a planet to my left covered with vegetation of many colors no signs of mankind or any familiar shorelines. The waters were living waters, the grass was living, the trees and the animals were more alive than on earth.
D’s first husband had been a chemist
worked at DuPont in this town you could have
everything you wanted
DuPont paid for his education
secured him a mortgage paid a generous salary
even gave him a free supply of PFOA
He explained that the planet we call Earth really has a proper name, has its own energy, is a true living being, was very strong but has been weakened considerably.
which she used
as soap in the family’s dishwasher
I could feel Earth’s desperate situation. Her aura appeared to be very strange, made me wonder if it was radioactivity. It was bleak, faded in color, and its sound was heart wrenching.
her husband came home sick—fever, nausea, diarrhea,
an emergency hysterectomy
a second surgery
I could tell the Doctor everything he did upon my arrival down to the minute details of accompanying the nurse to the basement of the hospital to get the plasma for me; everything he did while also being instructed and shown around in Heaven.
Clients called R to say they had received diagnoses of cancer
or that a family member had died
W who had cancer had died of a heart attack
Two years later W’s wife died of cancer
They knew this stuff was harmful
and they put it in the water anyway
I suspect that Earth may be a place of education.
PFOA detected in:
American blood banks
blood or vital organs of:
Alaskan polar bears
California sea lions
Laysan albatrosses on a wildlife refuge
in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean;>
Viewing the myriad human faces with an indescribable, intimate, and profound love. This love was all around me, it was everywhere, but at the same time it was also me.
We see a situation
that has gone
from Washington Works
All that was important in life was the love we felt.
All that was made, said, done, or even thought without love was undone.
In my particular case, God took the form of a luminous warm water. It does not mean that a luminous warm water is God. It is just that, for me, it was experiencing the luminous warm water that I felt the most connection with the eternal.
Copyright © 2017 Tracy K. Smith.
Note re This Poem:
“‘Watershed’ is a found poem drawn from two sources: a New York Times Magazine January 6, 2016, article by Nathaniel Rich entitled, ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,’ and excerpts of the narratives of survivors of near-death experiences as catalogued on http://www.nderf.org.”
—Tracy K. Smith
Naomi Replansky, at 99 years old, is on full speed ahead, a poet with an entirely unique and powerful style, as well as political activist and pioneer in so many ways. Read a fascinating article about her here; it speaks of how the poet Philip Levine “rediscovered” her while in his capacity as Poet Laureate in 2013, and by shining a light on her, helped her gain the recognition that had eluded her for much of her life. Despite praise from many critics and poets for her first book, the National Book Award-nominated Ring Song, a bad review by Lawrence Ferlinghetti so upset her that she didn’t write another book until 1994, 42 years later. However she continued to write and to engage with poets and other writers, including Bertolt Brecht, whose work she translated, and her longtime partner, prose writer Eva Kollich. Now she has sadly stated that she will write no more, and to that end has penned the poem below. Also, she reads another poem “Inheritance” on a video link here.
About Not Writing
Tongue-tied, I stand before
Myself as inquisitor.
I loved to mark time
With a beat, with rhyme.
Time marked me with its thumb,
Slowed down the pendulum.
Slowed it down, or stopped:
Words were lopped, words dropped—
No use to devise
Reasons or alibis.
Now, strangely, I draw breath
Well past my ninetieth.
What’s begun is almost done,
Still, I must brood upon
The much that I sought,
The little that I wrought,
Till time brings its own
Lockjaw of stone.
Here is the text of “An Inheritance”:
“Five dollars, four dollars, three dollars, two,
One, and none, and what do we do?”
This is the worry that never got said
But ran so often in my mother’s head
And showed so plain in my father’s frown
That to us kids it drifted down.
It drifted down like soot, like snow,
In the dream-tossed Bronx, in the long ago.
I shook it off with a shake of the head.
I bounced my ball, I ate warm bread,
I skated down the steepest hill.
But I must have listened, against my will:
When the wind blows wrong, I can hear it today.
Then my mother’s worry stops all play
And, as if in its rightful place,
My father’s frown divides my face.
Raise the roof! Sound the chimes! Click the link! Bring on the rhymes! The June issue of the gorgeous online zine Orchards Is now live and I am the featured poet!!! This includes an interview (including a question about this blog) and a selection of my poems (eleven!). Needless to say, I’m on Cloud Nine, deeply honored to be featured on such a fine formal-friendly publication. So many fine poets are included in this issue, a stunning array of poetry, quite varied too. My highest-flying thanks to fantastic editors Karen Kelsay and Jeff Holt! Please check it out, the whole issue well worth your time.
For this first day of Ramadan 2017, I offer this poem by Mahmoud Darwish with its universal message and its emotional call for compassion.
By Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Fady Joudah
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy … ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me … and I forgot, like you, to die.
What a loss to the poetry world: Chana Bloch, poet extraordinaire, passed this month, on May 20, 2017. Besides having a long and storied literary career, her humanitarian contributions as a voice for justice and peace will be long remembered. Her lasting contribution as a translator should also be noted, including the significant translation of the Song of Songs. Two of her poems below show us a glimpse of her heart and passion for life and the living:
God blessed you with curly hair,”
my mother used to say
and dressed me like Shirley Temple.
On my bare scalp, Australia:
a birthmark that hid
in the thicket of my hair.
Unblessed in a downburst, I lost
my leafy summer, my lovely,
my crest, my crown.
I sleep in a flannel nightcap.
My wig sleeps in a closet,
comb and brush in a drawer.
I wake to a still life—
a clock that marks the hour
before it strikes.
No skull on my desk.
Just a face in the mirror,
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending
precious pottery with gold.
What’s between us
seems flexible as the webbing
between forefinger and thumb.
Seems flexible but isn’t;
what’s between us
is made of clay
like any cup on the shelf.
It shatters easily. Repair
becomes the task.
We glue the wounded edges
with tentative fingers.
Scar tissue is visible history
and the cup is precious to us
we saved it.
In the art of kintsugi
a potter repairing a broken cup
would sprinkle the resin
with powdered gold.
Sometimes the joins
are so exquisite
they say the potter
may have broken the cup
just so he could mend it.
Read it here. What a thrill to have a guest blog post on Trish’s fantastic site! Meriam’s book is definitely a must-read.
On March 19, 2017, the young and very accomplished poet Okla Elliott passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. He was also a novelist, fiction writer, translator, translator, and teacher, in academia and beyond. I discovered his poetry from Subtropics, where I read the first poem below.
The Patience of the Land Mine
Weeds grow over rusty death
in a field no crops
but many flowers
will populate. The land mine dreams
the sweetness of a child’s foot
or a dog’s paw to depress
its small detonator, dreams
the echoing boom
and the wet bloom of meat and bone.
It dreams its dream for years, decades,
does nothing but dream,
and never grows tired.
But I only experienced his considerateness firsthand when I published a review in the same issue of Tupelo Quarterly Review as he did, after which we became Facebook friends. It seemed as if I merely blinked, maybe twice, and he was gone. What a loss! This article gives an idea of how much he is missed and his legacy, as well as another of his fine poems.