Thursday, March 9, 2017

Poems for March 1-2

‘I never seen such days as this’ by Sholeh Wolpé,
Other Fugitives and Other Strangers by Rigoberto González
The Soldier of Mictlán by Rigoberto González
Casa by Rigoberto González
Mimesis by Fady Joudah
Author’s Prayer by Ilya Kaminsky
The undertaker’s daughter by Toi Derricotte

"American poetry as a body is best when it reflects America's inherent pluralism and defies
the monoculture America never truly was>" Danielle Legros Georges

It is good to be reminded by poems, that "news" does not contain the reminders of our humanity,
and what it is to be human.

Each one of these poems shares a dark slice of life that I have not experienced. I appreciate the poems
for providing me another lens, and appreciate the discussion of how the poems touched both groups.

Taking the words of a 14-year old held in an Afghan prison as title, then repeating them as final line,
with just one added word: "Father". The poem spans the distance between the son, his story, and the father
hoping to earn money to pay his ransom... The opening stanza, which explains why ragged, hungry boys
would join an army... like the promises of the fox in Pinocchio... the unfinished sentences matching the age
of a victim and the number of people raping him...

The next three poems by Rigoberto Gonzáles, not only are eye-openers into the details of a Mexican-born, gay man's life, but also stunning examples of craft. Normally when we say, "I trust"... there is an implicit
understanding between the "I" and the "you" to which it is directly. Here, the poem starts with night, with unsettling details of a nightclub's neon lights, "red with anxiety", and the "I trust" applied to the anonymous drivers of cars, whose headlights are "white as charcoal", "not the swerve". Each "I trust" introduces a deeper angle of what it is like to hook up. "I dance, I drink, I follow>" Like Veni, vidi, vici... and "trust" becomes increasingly a demonstration of the opposite of what we would expect it to be. All traces will be gone; one stranger replaced by another. The fugitive however, leaves the reader wondering from what one flees... a mixture of loneliness, intimacy. The layers of anger burn in the headlights...the f's piling up of "fender, fury, false"
A stranger's tongue is trusted not to make connection, give promises. Trust acts as counter balance to pain/desire. The group remarked that the poem could be written by a woman.

The Soldier of Mictlán employs "soldier" as the last word on each line. Mictlán as underworld... the pied piper effect of the first poem returns in the penultimate line, as the rattle that summons a soldier to death... The emptiness, no promise ever of comfort. Soldier is applied as adjective to boots, word, nose, heart, palm, eyes, love, head, life... The "mayor of Mictlan" seems to show compassion, at first glance, but it turns into a request... that the newly-arrived soldier teach wonder and kindness... and the search for a moment, one moment
of "soldier bliss". Just as futile a request, as the request of the soldier for bread, cheese and wife.
from Unpeopled Eden. Copyright © 2013 by Rigoberto Gonzalez
One hears the soldier’s boots stepping-- in fact you can see a video of González reciting the poem, marching in place. The futility of being a soldier reminded David of the Odyssey – when Odysseus goes to underworld...and in order to speak must have some living blood. He concludes, "I would rather be a slave in world above than king of this underworld..."

Casa is a persona poem where the house is seemingly indifferent. The neutral position is so counter to how we would like to imagine the ideal "home" ... and yet there is something lovable about this house... sometimes cryptic, sometimes funereal, addressing "whatever launched this grim parade/ of exits. Quickly denying any feeling of abandonment with believable bravado. After dismissing the possibility of a house being any sort of wish, or provider of any attachment of value, the last line is enigmatic:
"a structure without soul for those whose
patron saints are longing and despair."
It leads the reader to contemplate what would give a house a soul...

The next poem by Fady Joudah is one of those simple constructs that confirms "less is more". A girl, a spider web in her bicycle's handlebars; a father telling her to get rid of the web so she can go on to play ... and the wisdom of the girl understanding web as home, and its destruction the way we treat refugees. Such a cursory
summary hopefully we make you want to read the poem...

We closed with The Undertaker's Daughter (Rundel didn't have enough time for the "Author's Prayer"-- which echoes the importance of writing). Like the Joudah, Derricotte uses a light sketch-touch... a little girl whose father deals with preparing people for burial, like Anubis except there is more here about the father...
just as there is more about all of us, not wanting to share fears and shames... just as there is a universal longing in all of us for a sense of nurture... just as also, we all have vulnerable spots others are not supposed to see...

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