Tag Archives: poetry
From illness and tragedy, art always seems to bloom to place ourselves and our world into a grand perspective. After the “Black Death” rampaged through Eurasia and North Africa in the 14th century, the “danse macabre”, or dance of death, became an artistic representation of how death is the ultimate equalizer. Beginning in Western Europe and gaining popularity in the Middle Ages, it was a literary or pictorial representation of both living and dead figures – from pope to hermit – leading their lives as normal, before entering a grave.
Recently some pallbearers in Ghana envisioned the dance for contemporary deaths and the ensuing funerals. As many Africans tend to do, they celebrate death as the next stage of life – mournful and often tragic, for certain. Singing and dancing, they honor the deceased for the life they led on Earth and the glorious new life they should have in the next realm.
It’s how I view death. My paternal grandfather said he respected death more than any other aspect of the world because it’s not prejudiced or bigoted. It simply spares no one. I felt some measure of glee when I watch the ending of the 1997 movie “Titanic”, as the ship sank and the plethora of furnishings and luxurious items shattered. Not because I love seeing things destroyed! But because all of the vainglorious possessions of the vessel’s wealthiest patrons could not save them. They may have been rescued because of their wealth, as many of them entered the smattering of lifeboats first. But, whether dead at that moment or dead later, they would never be able to take those items with them.
We all come into this world naked and screaming, clutching nothing but our souls in our hands. We leave with the same.
I wrote this poem in the summer of 1986, just as things were getting better for me, and I began to have more confidence in myself and my abilities. By then, I had asserted my desire to become a professional fiction writer – much to the chagrin of my parents who still saw me as a computer geek. But that’s when I first began to affirm that goals for my life must be made and pursued by me. And I conceded I would also stand alone in accepting any unfortunate repercussions from those decisions.
I no longer feared life and he people who occupied it. My desire for learning more about the world around me exploded, as did my passions for reading and writing. I’d always loved the latter two, but they took on new levels of importance by 1986. Some of my closest family members and equally close friends may have a different understanding when they hear me speak of my “whorish” nature. And they are more than welcome to keep their mouths shut.
If I may sound critical of I.
But I realized once a short time ago,
That I’m a whore.
A whore of the spirits.
My mind and body and everything in between are open to everyone and everything.
It’s not that I have no moral turpitude.
I’m a glutton for emotion.
I’m a fool for curiosity.
I’m in need of knowledge.
And the people who possess it.
People like you.
I’m a whore of the spirits.
Your spirit and mine.
The spirit of anyone who’s lived in this world,
And wants to share their ideals.
I’ve let myself be used for good and bad.
For all others to enjoy.
Now I demand to enjoy myself.
And be a whore for my brain.
I have no more qualms of life.
I don’t fear mysteries of the human creature.
I frolic with my pod of friends,
In orgied lusts of the good.
Beneath a midnight sky or a crystal sun,
Call me as you please.
I gleefully admit,
I’m a whore.
Because I understand my true soul.
I’m in need of company,
But only to learn.
Always and forever.
I feed from that.
I must nourish from a bountiful mass of gray matter.
It’s my blood.
It’s my breath.
Shout at me, “You whore!”
And I laugh.
“Thank you, my friend!”
Because I know who I am.
One of the spirits.
Hungrier and thirstier,
For a tapestry of brilliant introspection.
Image: Harvard Gazette
This is something I scribbled down on night in the spring of 1985, shortly before college spring break. That year would turn out to be the single worst in my entire life to date. Just about everything went wrong. It was already starting to go wrong when I wrote this. I was failing academically; trouble with a stupid fraternity; problems with my parents; and a dog in faltering health. For me, the only good thing about 1985 was that it ended.
Almost midnight as the clock digitals glimmer,
And my arm has ceased to quiver.
Stopped for this moment to scribe this passage.
I want to relay a beleaguered message.
This day has run the gamut of my emotions.
They’ve slipped from private moments of joy,
To contained anger like silk lotion.
I feel a perverse love of this mixed décor.
It’s a delighted passion of my own soulful heart.
A concert of charms and spirits.
I grope in the dark amidst wrongs and rights.
Wondering if I serve purpose on this Earth.
Thinking my impact may be a single laugh.
Eyes pleading for justice.
This is the kill holding my fate.
Image: Christine Deschamps
Last week I posted a haiku writing from a close friend, Preston*, who I’ve known for more than 20 years. Haiku (or hokku) is a Japanese verse form of poetry that follows a very strict composition of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables and is often a prelude to a longer poem or a story. The terse nature of haiku verbiage always challenges the writer to capture what is absolutely necessary for that particular moment. Such brevity is more difficult than most imagine, but just a few carefully chosen words can evoke extraordinary visions in the minds of an audience.
Smiling was easy
When our eyes were bright and clear
We were so naïve.
A friend of mine, Preston*, has recently taken to poetry writing, or more specifically to haiku writing. Haiku (or hokku) is a Japanese verse form of poetry that follows a very strict composition of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Not popular in Western cultures until about the early 1900s, haiku are often accompanied by an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a particular moment in time. Their brevity is occasionally an introduction to a longer poem or a story, but its central purpose is to focus the reader’s attention on that one single moment that struck the poet’s mind as critical or somehow significant; a moment where everything came into focus; where the complexities of life were abruptly reduced to what is – and what is not – essential.
I trust and admire Preston greatly. I wrote about him nearly 6 years ago in “One Good Friend.” He’s truly one of those rare individuals who is focused and level-headed. For us writers, focus is always a challenge, while level-headedness is sometimes elusive.
Time is a bandit
Reducing our hopes and dreams
To mere memories
They have experienced the glory and the pain.
They have weathered through generous pride and torrid shame.
They have felt the hate and the love.
They have lived through peace and seen blood.
They worshipped then, as now, both sun and moon.
They have guarded their temples and slept quietly in their tombs.
They have fought savage invaders and their very own.
They have been dragged through dirt and scraped their bones.
They have suffered through individual and collective emotions.
They have seen painful strife and been betrayed by unwanted notions.
These are the people who looked down from the mountains and built a nation on a lake they named Texcoco.
These are the people of a land called México.
I wrote this poem in the early 1980s and had it published in 1984 in “Our World’s Most Beloved Poems”, a compilation of poetry by the World of Poetry Press. There’s not much information available now on WPP. They published my poem for free, but – of course – I had to buy the gigantic book in which it appeared. Yes, it’s amazing how naïve people can be at the age of 20.
Odd, but I never considered myself a poet. A writer, obviously; yet poetry generally ranked somewhere between Reader’s Digest and the local classified ads, as far as I was concerned. Still, outside of my blog, letters to a newspaper editor and a couple of anonymous romance inquiries circa 1990, it’s the only thing I’ve officially had published.
Image: “El Mercado de Tlatelolco” by Diego Rivera, c. 1935.
Natasha Trethewey has reacted humbly to her selection as the 19th Poet Laureate for the U.S. Library of Congress, even though she’s unintentionally broken the mold. At 46, she’s the youngest U.S. Poet Laureate and, as a native of Gulfport, Mississippi, she’s only the second one from the South. Poetry often has been considered the ugly stepchild of the literary world; no one wants to deal with it unless it’s absolutely necessary. But, Trethewey approaches the craft “without preaching,” said James Billington, the Librarian of Congress.
Trethewey has attained some significant accomplishments, notably receiving the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her collection “Native Guard.” She is the author of two prior poetry collections, “Domestic Work,” (2000) and “Bellocq’s Ophelia” (2002), and the 2010 nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” Another collection of poetry, “Thrall,” is set to be published later this year.
“I’m still a little in disbelief,” Trethewey told the New York Times this week, before her selection had been publicly announced.
Trethewey discovered her poetic muse after a brutal personal tragedy. While still a college alpahmore, her stepfather killed her mother. Trethewey started writing poems “as a response to that great loss.”
Trethewey, who is currently Mississippi’s poet laureate, will serve the term as U.S. poet laureate concurrently. She has elected to live and work in Washington from January through May of 2013, becoming the first U.S. poet laureate to choose to work in the Poets Room at the Library of Congress during her term.