So thrilled that Alabama Literary Review has published one of my sonnets, “Unspoken.” This issue is full of excellent poetry, as well as wonderful nonfiction. Their website is here.
Kate Light, poet, violinist, and librettist, died unexpectedly of breast cancer. Too young, too talented to die, she had so many plans in the works, so much she was looking forward to. One of the many fine poets with whom I was still unfamiliar despite her having been featured on the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. Despite being a poet who wrote in forms, and highly regarded. A brief selection from her many wonderful poems.
There Comes the Strangest Moment
There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free–
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.
Skin’s gone pale, your brain is shedding cells;
you question every tenet you set down;
obedient thoughts have turned to infidels
and every verb desires to be a noun.
I want–my want. I love–my love. I’ll stay
with you. I thought transitions were the best,
but I want what’s here to never go away.
I’ll make my peace, my bed, and kiss this breast…
Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.
How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.
The Self-Taught Man
A man schooled to bits bears a son, and the son
says, No way will I walk where you’ve walked,
and be taught in the methods you’ve been taught.
I want to find out everything on my own!
You see the beauty of it: this son’s untamed,
unbitten, unashamed; head-strong and heart-led,
people come to view him: the self-fed
man! He’s in a niche that stays unnamed
because it’s all his own. And you are drawn
to this one like a horse to water — drink drink drink
beside the self-taught man; listen to him think
as only he can. After he is gone
from the spot you linger, licking your wounds and scars,
because the son listens only, only to the stars.
Three of my poems have been published in Think: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Reviews — a truly wonderful print magazine. Including my first published Sestina, “Control.” Now that is indeed a thrill! A few years ago I went through a rather long Sestina-writing phase (possible sign of literary OCD). This was written after I stopped, with this one glorious exception. Thanks to David Rothman, Susan Spear, and all the excellent editors for putting together such a truly fantastic journal. I’m so proud and honored to be among the contributors, with so much amazing work! Subscription and submission info about Think can be found here.
Ahhh… Black History Month finished on March 29th, and I still have so many poets I’ve missed. March came and went, keeping me too busy to post a single thing. Here we are in National Poetry Month, and I still have a post on Nikki Giovanni, so I will post it, then catch up with some recent publications of my own.
Nikki Giovanni was for me a breath of fresh air, unabashedly speaking truth to power. I loved to see her slight figure, so much like mine, coming up with the most explosive poems in an era crying out for truth to explode the prejudices and oppression asserted insidiously everywhere. Yet after so many decades we still need that voice. A voice that also speaks of the truth of love. So here she is, in a small sampling of her voluminous work.
By Nikki Giovanni
childhood remembrances are always a drag
if you’re Black
you always remember things like living in Woodlawn
with no inside toilet
and if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath
from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in
and somehow when you talk about home
it never gets across how much you
understood their feelings
as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale
and even though you remember
your biographers never understand
your father’s pain as he sells his stock
and another dream goes
And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that
and though they fought a lot
it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference
but only that everybody is together and you
and your sister have happy birthdays and very good
and I really hope no white person ever has cause
to write about me
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy.
By Nikki Giovanni
the last time i was home
to see my mother we kissed
and unpleasantries pulled a warm
comforting silence around
us and read separate books
i remember the first time
i consciously saw her
we were living in a three room
apartment on burns avenue
mommy always sat in the dark
i don’t know how i knew that but she did
that night i stumbled into the kitchen
maybe because i’ve always been
a night person or perhaps because i had wet
she was sitting on a chair
the room was bathed in moonlight diffused through
those thousands of panes landlords who rented
to people with children were prone to put in windows
she may have been smoking but maybe not
her hair was three-quarters her height
which made me a strong believer in the samson myth
and very black
i’m sure i just hung there by the door
i remember thinking: what a beautiful lady
she was very deliberately waiting
perhaps for my father to come home
from his night job or maybe for a dream
that had promised to come by
“come here” she said “i’ll teach you
a poem: i see the moon
the moon sees me
god bless the moon
and god bless me”
i taught it to my son
who recited it for her
just to say we must learn
to bear the pleasures
as we have borne the pains