Poetry Day 30 – in my own words

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On the last day of the National Poetry Month, I am sharing something I wrote a couple of years ago and have been tinkering with since then.  I have never claimed to be a poet and I won’t start doing it now.  Just seems right to share this on the last day of a 30-day challenge of reading, watching, listening to, talking about and thinking about poems of others.

The Persimmon Tree

1

In the sloped backyard

Under the unforgiving July sun

The tree yields fruit

Smallish and green

Quite feeble –

She says over and over

“It’s too soon” –

They never make it to the

Size or color

Worthy of the ceremonies

She must now observe in

October

This new kind of October –

Because it’s not their time

Because it’s their time

They fall

Unceremoniously –

And this leaves her yearning

Disappointed

Even guilty

Though she doesn’t know

What she could have done

What could she have done? –

2

This new kind of October approaches

Again for the third time – she

Keeps sorrow at arm’s length

With her attention on the ceremonies –

She prepares the fish

just the way he likes it – the fruit

just the way tradition demands – the  photograph

just the way he used to be – the smile of Buddha

3

For the man who left

Three Octobers ago

When October was just October –

He seems to leave again and again

Each October

Though he had not fulfilled his destiny –

Because he had fulfilled his destiny

4

Quite unexpectedly

As the finishing touches

Grace the ceremonial preparations

The tree yields fruit –

Quite unexpectedly

Again – this time to grow large

Turning from vibrant green

To warm, mature orange –

Just in time she plucks the fruit

Stacks first three

One on top –

When the white smoke rises

She pours a drink

Which she will later empty into a bowl –

And for this gift of grace

Of the persimmon fruit –

She kneels

Bows her head

Folds her hands together in prayer

Of thanks

5

If this be October – and the fruit bears again

She just might make it to another October

And another October

And another October

And maybe even another

———————————————-

Laura Yoo

October 27, 2013

Poetry Day 29 – “Kindness” by Yusef Komunyakaa

                When deeds splay before us
precious as gold & unused chances
stripped from the whine-bone,
we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in. Each praise be
echoes us back as the years uncount
themselves, eating salt. Though blood
first shaped us on the climbing wheel,
the human mind lit by the savanna’s
ice star & thistle rose,
your knowing gaze enters a room
& opens the day,
saying we were made for fun.
Even the bedazzled brute knows
when sunlight falls through leaves
across honed knives on the table.
If we can see it push shadows
aside, growing closer, are we less
broken? A barometer, temperature
gauge, a ruler in minus fractions
& pedigrees, a thingmajig,
a probe with an all-seeing eye,
what do we need to measure
kindness, every unheld breath,
every unkind leapyear?
Sometimes a sober voice is enough
to calm the waters & drive away
the false witnesses, saying, Look,
here are the broken treaties Beauty
brought to us earthbound sentinels.

Poetry Day 28 – “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall

(On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)

“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”
“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”
She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.
The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.
For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.
She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”

Poetry Day 27 – Walt Whitman’s “The Great City”

For Baltimore –

The Great City

by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

The place where a great city stands is not the place of stretch’d wharves, docks, manufactures, deposits of produce merely,
Nor the place of ceaseless salutes of new-comers or the anchor-lifters of the departing,
Nor the place of the tallest and costliest buildings or shops selling goods from the rest of the earth,
Nor the place of the best libraries and schools, nor the place where money is plentiest,
Nor the place of the most numerous population.

Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators and bards,
Where the city stands that is belov’d by these, and loves them in return and understands them,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place,
Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons,
Where fierce men and women pour forth as the sea to the whistle of death pours its sweeping and unript waves,

Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside authority,
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President, Mayor, Governor and what not, are agents for pay,
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,
Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,
Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men;
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands,
Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands,
Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands,
Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands,
There the great city stands.

Poetry Day 26 – “Incident” in Baltimore

Incident
by Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

Poetry Day 25 – speaking of yellow: Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai

A recent article on nbcnews.com featured Asian-American Poets to Watch in celebration of National Poetry Month, and that’s how I was introduced to Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai’s performances.

Tsai is a spoken word poet, and her works range from a beautiful tale of Lili, an overseas “contract worker” from Philippines who works as a maid for Tsai’s aunt in Taiwan, to a message to presidential candidates about race in America called “Black, White, Whatever.”

I find her entertaining, powerful, and bold.  She speaks things that I think I have thought many times but didn’t have the words or the guts to articulate them – and I realize in a very real way what “voice” means.

As a mother, now I see the importance of having representation of all Americans in our cultural and arts media.  Recently, Misty Copeland made history by becoming the first and only African American dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. If young African-American boys and girls don’t see African-American ballet dancers performing onstage, they can’t imagine themselves becoming ballerinas.

And if young Asian boys and girls don’t see people who look like them performing poetry on stage, they couldn’t imagine themselves becoming spoken word poets.  I think it’s a well known stereotype that Asian children are pigeon-holed into certifiable careers like lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, and even an academic. And these are important works and it’s noble to serve our world in those capacities. However, I think, what hurts is when we can’t or don’t give our children access to a myriad of other fulfilling works that also serve the world – like dancers, singers, writers, artists, poets, comedians, filmmakers, actors, and so many more.

In most of what my son watches on TV or movies, no one looks like him.  When they do look like him, they have thick accents and they act silly. The other day, he got so excited when he heard a cat speaking in Korean in a show called Little Miss Pet Shop. As I sat there watching it with him, I felt a little sad for him. Even as an American boy born in the States to one parent who was also born in the States and another who has been living in the States since adolescence, he is in danger of being treated or seen as an outsider or “the other.”

I fear the day when something or someone will make him see himself differently from his friends – and my fear is not that he will see the difference but it is about how he will feel about that difference. And it’s daunting – the task of preparing him for that moment – so he can face it without bitterness or hatred or self doubt or sadness – so that he can face it with pride and understanding and hope and goodwill toward others and himself.

Poetry Day 24 – the blackbird moved

I am tempted to say that there are no words to describe the events of the Blackbird Poetry Festival. But that would be a lie.  I have many words.

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The morning and afternoon activities engaged Howard Community College students in exploring poetry. The morning workshop led by two poets – Steve Mendes and Chris August – asked students to read, write, and share poetry.  There were more than 50 students in that room, but Chris and Steve created a sense of community among those students through poetry. 

The afternoon’s Sunbird event is really a unique one as it offers a platform for student poets to read their own works and share the stage with master poets – last year it was Billy Collins and this year it was Taylor Mali.  Sunbird event allows students the opportunity to learn from other poets while – through performance – gaining confidence as poets in their own right. I’ll never forget the student who walked up to the podium somewhat timid. He was soft spoken and shy but he read his poem about a friend whose talents he admires. As he read, I think, his voice got stronger.

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Listening to Mali’s performance was great, of course, but what was really special was watching him speak with student poets off stage, joke with them, comment on their works, and even tease them a little.  Nsikan Akpan of HCC will always remember reading her poem to Mali during an intimate lunch gathering and having him sign her poem. Faheem Dyer of Atholton High School will always remember sitting on the stage next to Mali for a chat. Katy Day of University of Maryland (formerly of HCC) will always remember her talk with Mali about “dropped titles”.

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The readings and the performances of Sunbird and Nightbird brought words to life – made me laugh and cry.  But it is Mali’s moments of teaching and sharing with students that I will always remember and appreciate about Blackbird Poetry Festival at Howard Community College. (That and Mali’s demonstration of how a 3-legged dog pees.)