It has been months since I posted here, for reasons far too numerous to mention. In any case, today’s Poem-a-Day from Academy of American Poets spoke to me so deeply that I decided to break my silence by sharing it here.
This question of writing about flowers is in fact very near and dear to my heart. The need arises in all of us who live close to the earth, to the heart, to what pulses through and connects all of life. As a poet, I love the idea of writing a bouquet of poems arising from a common seed. I also love the sublte metaphor and its shift through the poem. It draws me into multiple layers of meaning. [Clearly, my weeklong poetry workshop wtih Marge Piercy is still with me!] And, of course, I love how a simple experience can evoke such a powerful poetic response.
How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This,
by Hanif Abruddaqub
dear reader, with our heels digging into the good
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something
about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown
& lord knows I have been called by what I look like
more than I have been called by what I actually am &
I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this
exercise, which, too, is an attempt at fashioning
something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anytning
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics
arrive to the tongue first, say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather
clock, he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning,
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.
The poet writes of this poem:
I was at a reading shortly after the election, and the poet (who was black) was reading gorgeous poems, which had some consistent and exciting flower imagery. A woman (who was white) behind me—who thought she was whispering to her neighbor—said ‘How can black people write about flowers at a time like this?’ I thought it was so absurd in a way that didn’t make me angry but made me curious. What is the black poet to be writing about ‘at a time like this’ if not to dissect the attractiveness of a flower—that which can arrive beautiful and then slowly die right before our eyes? I thought flowers were the exact thing to write about at a time like this, so I began this series of poems, all with the same title. I thought it was much better to grasp a handful of different flowers, put them in a glass box, and see how many angles I could find in our shared eventual demise.
Does it speak to you in some way?
The current issue just arrived from Wellesley Centers for Women on my computer screen. An impressive collection of serious writing about thought-provoking issues, from academia, tenure and feminism to historical and current events, criminal justice, sex museums, marriage equality, and so much more. Including poetry. And on the last page (32), two poems of mine.
When I first received the invitation to submit poetry to Wellesley College’s Women’s Review of Books, the call was for pairs of related poems. The challenge intrigued me, as I was just assembling a new collection about my sister. Of the three or five poem pairs I submitted, they accepted “Late Spring” and “Early Spring.” You can read them here.
The Wellesley Centers for Women, according to their website, “is a premier women- and gender-focused, social-change oriented research-and-action institute at Wellesley College. Our mission is to advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing through high quality research, theory, and action programs.”
The Women’s Review of Books is one of their significant publications, and I am beyond honored to have been published by them twice now. (see my author’s note for HEAR ME, SEE ME).
I have resisted my impulse to combine several days’ worth of one-word WP Daily Prompts into a single post, opting instead to focus my profuse gratitude for an ER physician into this single post.
Dr. Singh is an Emergency Room physician in a hospital south of Boston. It happened that my youngest had been having a remarkably rough sequence of events following an innocent cat bite…
Well, revise that: if you know about cat bites, you know they are anything but innocent. The string of unfortunate events is a shaggy dog story of its own. What brought her to the ER was the result of treatment, and plenty scary. Here, I want to focus on the extreme professionalism, compassion, and cut-to-the-chase sensitivity of this particular physician. He observed the late hour – the distraught parents – the millennial putting on her brave face – the boyfriend with overnight bag in tow – the month-long medical record of interventions and their impact – and, avoiding platitudes, unnecessary overviews or demeaning talking-down, simply addressed us as the concerned and aware people we are.
In turn, I was feeling especially vulnerable on his behalf. Although this was Boston, well-known for its cultural diversity, tolerance and inclusion – all my growing-up years I knew Boston as the ‘melting pot of the nation’ – it was also the first-year anniversary of this country’s most divisive, uninclusive, intolerant period in our modern history. All I could think, as I watched and listened to this soft-spoken man with extreme expertise and learning, as he looked at each of us with searching dark brown eyes between his black turban and thick black beard, was how grateful I was for him. It was only later I realized how grateful I was on his behalf that he is in Boston; and simultaneously, how outraged I felt at the daily confrontations with uncertainty and bias he must face as he goes about his work. After 30 years of dedicated medical practice and doubtless thousands of well-treated patients, he deserves better.
I want to acknowledge his presence at my daughter’s bedside the other evening; and thank him for giving us information, confidence and a caring experience that I will never forget.
JOURNEY TO PEACE
Hope is not a strategy
but a way of living,
letting loose what lives within
into a wanting world
a way of living rising
from roots planted
in the soil of love, twisting
outward to bear lessons
from all those years
of unfurling and return,
the unknown entered
in trust blessed
by seasons of rest
and ripening, their light
illuminating the one
thing that matters –
trust in our instincts
as nature’s creatures
sending peace ahead
of every breath.
With thanks to sister-blogger and supportive reader Philippa Rees for her recent comment in which she shared a phrase that inspired this post:
The mighty tree is alive with its roots deep in you…
Let what it sees guide you.
I spent the better part of yesterday – and it was the better part, I can assure you! – creating the collage and afterward, the poem. Thank you, Philippa, for the encouragement from afar that resonated so deeply within.
woman gazing outward, swb, 2018
This year started off dragging a long bag of the last with it. I have been slow to drop it behind me. Especially when the bag included a veritable stream of rejections received the first week of this year for pieces sent with high hopes in the second half of 2017.
I needed to regroup. Hence, for instance, the uploading of a new sub-page under ‘Creative Endeavors’ (collage).
But the new year brings with it lovely surprises, as well. Such as hearing from a favorite poet that you have been accepted into her 2018 Poetry Intensive Workshop. Yep, you read that right! Marge Piercy — who only wants ’12 serious poets’ to work with in her coveted workshop — chose me as one of them.
The new year is looking brighter already. Perhaps it’s time to start that collection from my recent trip to Portugal; to polish up some of my earlier attempts at more public (political) pieces; to sort through accumulated poem drafts and consolidate, trash or face-lift the old … and generally, to remember that rejection is not a statement of whether or not one ‘should’ write. It’s just a goad to keep on doing so.
As Marge writes in the final stanza of her powerful ‘At the New Moon’ from “The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme,” Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1999:
Let the half day festival of the new moon
remind us how to retreat and grow strong, how to
reflect and learn, how to push our bellies forward,
how to roll and turn and pull the tides up, up
when we need them, how to come back each time
we look dead, making a new season shine.