Poem of the Week, by Richard Jones

Whatever brain function places memory within the context of time is lacking in me, which means that something that happened 20 years ago could have happened last year. That is why every Saturday, when I find the right poem to send out, I check my Sent files to make sure I didn’t already send it a few weeks ago. When I came to this one, which I’ve loved for twelve years because it feels like a tiny prayer of redemption, I was sure I’d sent it recently. But the only Richard Jones reference in any of my 64,428 emails was a note from my poetry-loving son in 2012, telling me about one of his professors in Chicago, a guy named Richard Jones, who was a poet whose work he thought I would like. Which goes to prove that 1) the world is small, 2) a beautiful poem transcends time, and 3) my son is so awesome.

After Work

- Richard Jones
Coming up from the subway
into the cool Manhattan evening,
I feel rough hands on my heart -
women in the market yelling
over rows of tomatoes and peppers,
old men sitting on a stoop playing cards,
cabbies cursing each other with fists
while the music of church bells
sails over the street,
and the father, angry and tired
after working all day,
embracing his little girl,
kissing her,
mi vida, mi corazon,
brushing the hair out of her eyes
so she can see.




​For more information on Richard Jones, please click here.
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Poem of the Week, by Chard deNiord

My favorite phrase in Mandarin is “Changjiang shangyou hen feiwo,” which translates to “The upper reaches of the Yangtze River valley are very rich and fertile,”a fact that has nothing to do with why I love it. If you could hear it spoken you might understand, because the way the chang rises up to meet the jiang (Chinese is a tonal language) and then swoops from the abrupt shang waaaay down to the you, the curving sonority of which is matched by the hen, the whole sentence ending with a slight curve of fei to the command of the WO! is entrancing. That whole rhythm=hypnotic thing is why I love this poem.

Anchorite* in Autumn
- Chard deNiord

She rose from bed and coughed
for an hour. Entered her niche
that was also her shower. Shaved
her legs with Ockham’s razor.
Rinsed her hair with holy
water. Opened the curtain
that was double-layered. Slipped
on her robe in the widening
gyre. Gazed in the mirror
with gorgeous terror. Took out
a cigarette and held it
like a flower. Lit it devoutly
like the wick of a pyre. Smoked
like a thurible in the grip of a friar.
Stared out the window
at the leaves on fire, fire, fire…

*If you, like me, aren’t entirely sure what anchorite means, it means “religious recluse.”

​For more info on Chard deNiord, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Dan Bellm

Many years ago I used to teach creative writing workshops at the Minnesota AIDS Project. One of the writers was a man named Kirk. His eyes were dark blue and his face, like his personality, was calm and reserved except for one day, in the midst of discussing a play, he half-rose from his chair and leaned forward and acted out a few lines from a scene. It was an instantaneous change from contained and quiet to blazing; the air around him was electrified. (I later found out that he had spent his career working in theater.) Kirk’s writing, like everything else about him, was precise, psychologically acute and unforgettable. I still remember the first piece he wrote for our class, a brief memoir about growing up, washing the dishes with his mother and aunts and female cousins after a family dinner, knowing that the kitchen, with the women, was where he was most at home. “This is where I belong.” Kirk is gone now, but I think about him often, and lines of his beautiful writing float around in my head. I’m pretty sure he would have loved this poem.

 

Twilight
- Dan Bellm

After the men had
eaten, as always, very
fast, and gone—I thought

of them that way, my
father and brother—the men—
not counting myself

as of their kind—the
time became our own, for talks,
for confidences—

I was one of her,
though I could never be, a
deserter in an

open field between
two camps. Even my high school
said on its billboard,

Give us a boy, and
get back a man
, a wager
that allowed for no

exceptions, like an
article of war. Gay child
years away from that

lonely evening of
coming out to her at last,
of telling her what

she knew already
and had waited for, I’d sit
in the kitchen with

her after clearing
the meal away, our hands all
but touching, letting

a little peace fall
around us for the evening,
coffee steaming in

two cups, and try at
ways of being grown, with her
as witness, telling

the truth as I could—
which is how, one night, that room
became a minor,

historically
unrecorded battleground
of the Vietnam

War. I think she knew
before it began how she’d
be left standing in

the middle with her
improvised white flag, mother,
peacemaker, when I

said I refused to
go; never mind how, I’d thought
her very presence,

her mysterious
calm, would neutralize any
opposing force, draft

board, father—it’s not,
we know, how that war came to
pass. For years I’d still

call her at that hour,
the work done and the darkness
coming on, even

all those years when Dad
was the one who’d come to the
phone first, and then not

speak to me. Twilight
times with her, when a secret
or what I thought was

one could fall away
beneath her patient regard,
though I would never

manage to heal her
hurts the way she tended mine—
those crossings-over

to evening when the
in-between of every kind
seemed possible, and

doubt came clear, because
she heard, and understood, and
did not turn away.


​For more information on Dan Bellm, please click here: http://www.danbellm.com/
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Poem of the Week, by Jill Bialosky

Once, maybe ten years ago, I was lugging a heavy bag of groceries home from the store. I turned the corner on my block to see a bunch of high school boys at the other end walking toward me with that easy slouchy not-in-a-hurry grace of teenagers. One of them was tall and rangy and there was something about the way he walked that I admired and I looked at him and thought, geeze, he would be just the type I would’ve had a crush on in high school, the type who never would have noticed me. As we got closer he raised his hand and said, “Hey Mom,” and I realized it was my son. Not sure why this poem makes me think of that day, that wonder and confusion and almost embarrassment, but it does.

 Daylight Savings
- Jill Bialosky

There was the hour
when raging with fever
they thrashed. The hour
when they called out in fright.
The hour when they fell asleep
against our bodies, the hour
when without us they might die.
The hour before school
and the hour after.
The hour when we buttered their toast
and made them meals
from the four important food groups—
what else could we do to insure they’d get strong and grow?
There was the hour where we were the spectators
at a recital, baseball game,
when they debuted in the school play.
There was the silent hour in the car
when they were angry. The hour
when they broke curfew. The hour
when we waited for the turn of the lock
knowing they were safe and we could finally
close our eyes and sleep. The hour
when they were hurt
or betrayed and there was nothing we could do
to ease the pain.
There was the hour
when we stood by their bedsides with ginger-ale
or juice until the fever broke. The hour
when we lost our temper and the hour
we were filled with regret. The hour
when we slapped their cheeks and held
our hand in wonder.
The hour when we wished for more.
The hour when their tall and strong bodies,
their newly formed curves and angles in their faces
and Adam’s apple surprised us—
who had they become?
Hours when we waited and waited.
When we rushed home from the office
or sat in their teacher’s classroom
awaiting the report of where they stumbled
and where they excelled, the hours
when they were without us, the precious hour
we did not want to lose each year
even if it meant another hour of daylight.

 

For more information on Jill Bialosky, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by V. Penelope Pelizzon

Every week in my classes we do a ten-minute write, any one of a bunch I’ve stored away over the years, e.g,. “Think of a powerful figure from your childhood, someone you haven’t seen since. Write about that person.” So often it’s a teacher who is the powerful figure, and there are many times we sit in respectful silence as the writer reads aloud through tears, sometimes of anger but mostly of gratitude and love. What students might not know is that it works the other way, too. Sometimes, when things feel impossible, I’ve stood outside the classroom thinking I had nothing left, no way could I go through that door and teach. But in I go anyway. And all it takes is one line or one look from one student to restore me to myself. The art of writing is a sacred one, and so is the act of teaching.

 

To Certain Students
-  V. Penelope Pelizzon

On all the days I shut my door to light,
all the nights I turned my mind from sleep

while snow fell, filling the space between the trees
till dawn ran its iron needle through the east,

in order to read the scribblings of your compeers,
illiterate to what Martian sense they made

and mourning my marginalia’s failure to move them,
you were what drew me from stupor at the new day’s bell.

You with your pink hair and broken heart.
You with your knived smile. You who tried to quit

pre-law for poetry (“my parents will kill me”).
You the philosopher king. You who saw Orpheus

alone at the bar and got him to follow you home. You
green things, whose songs could move the oldest tree to tears.

 

For more information on V. Penelope Pelizzon, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by ee cummings

I’ve always loved this amazing poet, from way back when I was a kid and I thought that all the weirdness of punctuation and lower-casing must be a typesetting mistake, and now I love this poet even more, for the way his love poems can be about romance and sex and remember-me-when-I’m-gone, and how in this particular one, love is a place and yes is a world. I also love ee cummings because I believe he would have no problem with me using the word “love” four times in that last sentence. Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

 

love is a place
- ee cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

 

For more information on ee cummings, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Jeredith Merrin

One of my sisters once said, about something she was trying to get past in her life, “If you don’t get over it, then. . . you don’t get over it. That’s your punishment.” That line has always stayed with me, because it’s true. Don’t forgive someone for something, live in bitterness. Shun love because someone hurt you, live with a stingy heart. In the end, you punish yourself. This poem, and the beautiful Rilke poem that inspired it, makes me remember what my sister said, and the sound of her voice when she said it.

 

Late Harvest
(after Rilke’s “Herbsttag”)
- Jeredith Merrin

Time, it is time.
Summer has been
long-stretched-out, full.
Go ahead, Fall:
shrink down the days
and sugar the grapes
for late-harvest wine.

Anyone still unknown
to herself will stay,
probably, that way.
Anyone unlinked by love
will be love-
left out now—waking,
mind-pacing
up and down
up and down,
restless as leaf-bits
and papers in the street.

 

For more information on Jeredith Merrin, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Saeed Jones

I don’t know exactly what it is about this poem that haunts me, but I keep coming back to it. It might be a bunch of things – the Skoal-tin ring in the back pocket and the work-calloused hands that make me think of a lot of boys I grew up with, the fact that I love whiskey and bourbon, the way the self-hatred in it makes me sad and tired and thinking of a line from Mary Oliver that goes You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves, and how hard that is for so many people.

 

Body & Kentucky Bourbon
- Saeed Jones

In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back
to your work-calloused hands, your body

and the memory of fields I no longer see.
Cheek wad of chew tobacco,

Skoal-tin ring in the back pocket
of threadbare jeans, knees

worn through entirely. How to name you:
farmhand, Kentucky boy, lover.

The one who taught me to bear
the back-throat burn of bourbon.

Straight, no chaser, a joke in our bed,
but I stopped laughing; all those empty bottles,

kitchen counters covered with beer cans
and broken glasses. To realize you drank

so you could face me the morning after,
the only way to choke down rage at the body

sleeping beside you. What did I know
of your father’s backhand or the pine casket

he threatened to put you in? Only now,
miles and years away, do I wince at the jokes:

white trash, farmer’s tan, good ole boy.
And now, alone, I see your face

at the bottom of my shot glass
before my own comes through.

 

For more information on Saeed Jones, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness” seared itself into my brain the first time I read it. She’s another of those poets to me, one whose name I google to see if she’s got another poem out there, one that I haven’t ever read before, let alone memorized. This particular poem makes me feel as if she’s with me throughout the day, happy in the same way, that feeling of secret love when the boiling water begins its steeping of the grounds, or the sheets and blankets are shaken out over the bed, or the sun slanting through the window makes soap bubble rainbows in the sink.

 

Daily
- Naomi Shihab Nye

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips
These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares
These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl
This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out
This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky
This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it
The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world.

​For more information on Naomi Shihab Nye, please click here.

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Four Sentences from the Road

On Day One she pointed the car south and drove through the frozen tundra of Minnesota, the barren cornfields of Iowa and the vaguely southernish-feeling byways of Missouri until she reached a place where the highway rest stop could be broached without the aid of mittens, hat or parka, and that land was called Kansas, and there, ignoring the fact that the entire motel smelled vaguely of poop, she slugged back some Jim Beam and rested.

On Day Two she angled the car southwest, fought the gale-force winds of western Kansas, crossed into the enormous flatness of the northern Oklahoma panhandle, shut the windows against the dense smell of manure and piss as she passed through massive holding pens of cattle in northern Texas, crossed into the Land of Enchantment to behold the vast magnificence of that rangeland and its fiery setting sun, and cruised through invisible mountains until the lights of Albuquerque twinkled in the distance.

On Day Three she pointed the car west-northwest, set the cruise to 78 and sang along with Greatest Hits of the 70′s all the way across New Mexico –a state that she fell in love with due to its unearthly beauty and the smiles and kindness of every single person she met eyes with or spoke to at gas stations, Cracker Barrel, rest stops and traffic lights– then crossed over into Arizona and made her way to Sedona, where she hiked Bell Rock and tried to feel the mysterious vortex energy but instead felt only an unmysterious happiness, after which she drove into the sunset to Prescott, where she took herself out for an old-school martini and made friends with the waitress, a woman born and raised in NH who two years ago took six weeks’ vacation to ride her motorcycle to Arizona and never went back.

On the Last Day she passed through a hundred miles of Arizona desolation, outposts with crumbling stores surrounded with razor wire, observed that the cars crawling their way up and down a steep and narrow road looked like bugs clinging to the side of the mountain, realized that her car was one of those bugs, crossed into the California desert at a gateway where every vehicle was photographed and where traffic began inexorably to multiply, until the wind turbines stood sentry by the hundreds on ridgetops and the sense of speed and density was so omnipresent and oppressive that she kept both hands gripped on the wheel and tucked the tiny car between two giant trucks, the better to hide for a while, until at long last she reached a small and beautiful town perched on the far western edge of the country where the mountains meet the sea, and that town was her destination, so she parked, unpacked, and drank some wine.

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