Put your poems (or those credited to others) here...

I put The Consumer by Marge Piercy (which I read as part of my "political self" project) on the Seminar Reflections page. -Jenn

Here, below, is another one of my favorite poems, and I was thinking of it as we discussed our "invisible people" interactions. -Jenn

Singapore
--by Mary Oliver

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something
in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that's not possible, a fountain
rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop
and fly down to the river.
This probably won't happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn't.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.



And When You Leave,
Take Your Pictures With You
-Jo Carrillo

Our white sisters
radical friends
love to own pictures of us
sitting at a factory machine
wielding a machete
in our bright bandanas
holding brown yellow black red children
reading books from literacy campaigns
holding machine guns bayonets bombs knives
Our white sisters
radical friends
should think
again.

Our white sisters
radical friends
love to own pictures of us
walking to the fields in the hot sun
with straw hat on head if brown
bandana if black
in bright embroidered shirts
holding brown yellow black red children
reading books from literacy campaigns
smiling.
Our white sisters radical friends
should think again.
No one smiles
at the beginning of a day spent
digging for souvenir chunks of uranium
of cleaning up after
our white sisters
radical friends

And when our white sisters
radical friends see us
in the flesh
not as a picture they own,
they are not quite as sure
if
they like us as much.
We’re not as happy as we look
on
their
wall.



At the River Clarion
--Mary Oliver

1.
I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a
Water splashed stone
And all afternoon I listened to the voices
Of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck the stone it had
Something to say,
And the water itself, and even the mosses trailing
Under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me
What they were saying.
Said the river: I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered
The moss beneath the water.

I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through
All the traffic, and ambition.

2.
If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then
Keep on going.

Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God)
Would sing to you if it could sing, if
You would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert
Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing
Their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician,
The poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?

Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and
Each of you too, or at least
Of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own
Constant joy
Which was better by far than a lecture, which was
Comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.

3.
Of course for each of us, there is the daily life.
Let us live it, gesture by gesture.
When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?
And should we not thank the knife also?
We do not live in a simple world.

4.
There was someone I loved who grew old and ill.
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do

Except to remember
That we receive
Then we give back.

5.
My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest,
She is given back.
But the river Clarion still flows
From wherever it comes from
To where it has been told to go.
I pray for the desperate earth.
I pray for the desperate world.
I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much.
Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.

6.
Along its shores were, may I say, very intense
Cardinal flowers.
And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them,
For heaven’s sakes—
The lucky ones: they have such deep natures,
They are so happily obedient.
While I sit here in a house filled with books,
Ideas, doubts, hesitations.

7.
And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river
Keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its
Long journey, its pale, infallible voice
Singing.

*

The Panther
Rainer Maria Rilke

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

*

Elephants in India

are chained to pegs when
they are very young and weak.

Day-by-day they grow bigger
and stronger
until they could easily
snap the pegs that hold them,
and walk off.

But they never realize this,
docilely walking
their barrow circles.

Held back from freedom
only by their illusions.
- Anonymous


(not exactly a poem)
Pema Chödrön, Buddhist Teacher

The whole globe is shook up, so what are you going to do
when things are falling apart?
You're either going to become more fundamentalist and try to hold things together,
or you're going to forsake the old ambitions and goals
and live life as an experiment,
making it up as you go along.


For Strong Women (by Marge Piercy)

A strong woman is a woman who is straining.
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing Boris Godunov.
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn't mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears
in her nose.

A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren't you feminine, why are
you soft, why aren't you quiet, why
aren't you dead?

A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid, She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you're so strong.

A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which is issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.