Getting ready for our Nutmeg Designs 2017 Open Studio and Food Drive for Manna on Main Street, I thought of this poem, Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Nye tells the story of being at the airport and hearing an announcement asking if anyone spoke Arabic, and she goes to Gate A-4 where a woman in Palestinian dress is crumpled on the floor. Nye talks with her, and we are all transported to the shared sacrament of mamool cookies that the woman pulls from her bag.
Our show is an occasion to bring food for Manna on Main Street, which began with the vision, “That everyone one might be fed,” for those simply in need of a good meal and company. Our visitors brought an estimated 450 food items, and heartened me with their generosity.
Take a minute to listen to Naomi Shihab Nye read the whole poem. It is wonderful. This is the world I want to live in, the one where hearts open rather than break.
Margaret Walker(1915-2015) had her Centennial in 2015. I wrote about her poetry for a previous Margaret Monday, and it was a pleasure to discover that places were planning events for the Centennial. The University of Delaware Library had an exhibit, Margaret Walker: A Centenary, with a cool series of book covers, which you can view online.
I resonate with this quote:
“When I was about eight, I decided that the most wonderful thing, next to a human being, was a book.”
This last strawflower in our garden caught my eye, as autumn fades, a beacon of hope in orange. My heart feels brittle like the dead leaves, with the grief of this world. To notice remnants of beauty is a hopeful act. To offer my sliver of beauty from my studio is what I will do right now, even as I continue to pay attention to the grief, to notice what I see and what I don’t see. Muriel Rukeyser’s poem the Ballad of Orange and Grape stays with me:
Ballad of Orange and Grape
After you finish your work
after you do your day
after you’ve read your reading
after you’ve written your say –
you go down the street to the hot dog stand,
one block down and accross the way.
On a blistering afternoon in East Harlem in the twentieth
Most of the windows are boarded up,
the rats run out of a sack –
sticking out of the crummy garage
one shiny long Cadillac;
at the glass door of the drug-addiction center,
a man who’d like to break your back.
But here’s a brown woman with a little girl dressed in rose
and pink, too.
Frankfurters frankfurters sizzle on the steel
where the hot-dog-man leans –
nothing else on the counter
but the usual two machines,
the grape one, empty, and the orange one, empty,
I face him in between.
A black boy comes along, looks at the hot dogs, goes on
I watch the man as he stands and pours
in the familiar shape
bright purple in the one marked ORANGE
orange in the one marked GRAPE,
the grape drink in the machine marked ORANGE
and orange drink in the GRAPE.
Just the one word large and clear, unmistakeable, on each
I ask him : How can we go on reading
and make sense out of what we read? –
How can they write and believe what they’re writing,
the young ones across the street,
while you go on pouring grape in ORANGE
and orange into the one marked GRAPE –?
(How are we going to believe what we read and we write
and we hear and we say and we do?)
He looks at the two machines and he smiles
and he shrugs and smiles and pours again.
It could be violence and nonviolence
it could be white and black women and men
it could be war and peace or any
binary system, love and hate, enemy, friend.
Yes and no, be and not-be, what we do and what we don’t
On a corner in East Harlem
garbage, reading, a deep smile, rape,
forgetfulness, a hot street of murder,
misery, withered hope,
a man keeps pouring grape into ORANGE
and orange into the one marked GRAPE,
pouring orange into GRAPE and grape into ORANGE forever.
We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,
or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,
for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,
cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,
all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.
The word of nourishment passes through the women,
soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,
white towers, eyes of children:
saying in time of war What shall we feed?
I cannot say the end.
Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.
This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.
Years over wars and an imagining of peace. Or the expiation journey
toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,
fierce pure life, the many-living home.
Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all
new techniques for the healing of the wound,
and the unknown world. One life, or the faring stars.
Looking through my poems from another lifetime ago, I found Cherry Tree Sonnet, which would have slid easily into the 40 Below Anthology. My poems often came to me in an image, and my mosaics spring from the same source. H.D. and her Imagist poetry made wonderful sense to me.
Cherry Tree Sonnet
My mother made jam from Nanking cherries.
The tree was wedged in by the garage,
gasoline smell of this half-shelter which ferried
the car to rest and the warmth of wattage
coursing through the planked walls to run
the block heater, so the engine would start at 40 below.
My mother stood by the window, knowing the sun
through jam jars on our table could show
Jesus’ heart. Mary bore him in the half-shelter of a stable—
I knew making Nanking jam was keeping
a tree that was rare, lone, delectable,
that these preserves woke a tongue that had been sleeping,
and took on its witness of bright true red,
first fruit growing out of my mouth, that birthing shed.
as the invisible is too large, compassing
light and shadow both;
yet there is
a bond that makes them one.
(From Always Now: Collected Poems of Margaret Avison)
July 1st is Canada day, and it fell on a Monday where I on occasion write about Margarets, and I thought of the Canadian poet Margaret Avison. I am sure I read some of her poems in high school in Canada, as her name appeared unbidden, but when I started to read more about her, I did not realize that she wrote contemplative poems, poems arising out of her renewal of Christian faith in 1963. She grew up the daughter of a Methodist minister, and had some missing years from the church.
While reading about Margaret Avison, I came across a blog called A Month with Margaret, and when I looked at the author of this blog, I recognized a familiar name, Sally Ito, also a Canadian poet. She studied poetry at the University of Alberta with my father. I remember reading Sally Ito’s work when I was writing my own poems, and resonating with her imagery from the Bible and faith. Sally spent a month with Margaret Avison, in the archives, gathering the sense of the late poet, and reflecting upon her.
What a lovely serendipity to find A Month with Margaret on Margaret Monday!
For Martin Luther King Day, it is apt to pay tribute to Margaret Walker(1915-1998), African-American poet. I first read her powerful poem, For My People, when I was an undergraduate. The poem first appeared in Poetry Magazine in 1937, and became her signature piece, the poem by which she was known. In 1968 she founded the Institute for the Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People (now the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center). The Margaret Walker Personal Papers Digital Archives includes scanned images of her journals, with her own handwriting. Here are the last two stanzas of For My People:
For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless
Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be
written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
rise and take control.
The full poem and an audio clip are available at the Internet Poetry Archive. Below is a video of Leah Ward Sears, Supreme Court Justice of Georgia, reading For My People, as part of the Favorite Poem Project.
Another photo from my and Stratoz’s trip to the Philadelphia Art Museum, of Marsden Hartley’s Sextant. I knew Hartley’s name, but as as poet, not a painter, from my days of writing poetry and going to school for an MFA. The sextant reminded me of Stratoz’s drafting tools, many of which came from his father, a draftsman(who learned Autocad in his 60’s so he could keep working), especially the compass. Both a sextant and a compass have a moveable limb, and can measure angles, though sextants are for navigation, and compasses for drawing, but both are a way of finding our way and knowing the world. Stratoz made a video of his doodling, which starts with a compass. His stained glass arose from a desire to take his doodles and incarnate them in glass. I love watching Stratoz draw, as he spins the paper, and the lines blossom.
Here is a poem by Marsden Hartley, which originally appeared in Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936). Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1920.