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I met Michele Battiste about twelve years ago at the Nimrod conference in Tulsa, and at the poetry reading that Saturday afternoon, she read this amazing poem, and I fell in love with it.  Since today is Earth Day, I wanted to share it.  (And by the way, Happy Earth Day!  Please do something wonderful for the planet all week.)

Michele Battiste is the author of two poetry collections: Ink for an Odd Cartography (2009) and Uprising (2013), both from Black Lawrence Press. She is also the author of four chapbooks, the most recent of which is Lineage (Binge Press, 2012).  Her poems have appeared in journals and magazines such as American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Review,  Anti-The Awl, and Verse Daily, and her reviews have appeared in Rain TaxiOpen Letters Monthly, and Rattle.

She has received grants, awards, and residencies from The Center for the American West, AWP, the Jerome Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Poetry Society of Virginia, and the Blue Mountain Center. Michele has taught creative writing and literature at Wichita State University, the University of Colorado, and Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City, but she currently raises funds for nonprofits undoing corporate evil.

***

Precita Park, April 22

 

For once it’s warm enough to uncover skin and I
do normal things.  Like this.  A festival.  Two buses
and dozens of walked blocks to get here, but it was
either this or laundry.  Wash the kitchen floor.  We
all make choices and the ad said Earth Day.  Free.
Come.

Eleven months ago you said come to San Francisco.
I said no.  You asked why not and I had no reason
other than it made no sense to haul my mother’s
bedroom set 3,000 miles and so.  Here.  Precita Park
in the Mission’s heart and only four porta-johns for
a crowd of thousands.  Most drinking beer.  We all
make choices and I could shed my sweater, shoes.
Uncover skin.  I always complain about the cold but
you love this city.

A rock icon takes the stage to back a sit-com star
preaching bio-fuel, woodless paper, travel mugs and
I want to call my mom.  My parents share Earth Day
with their anniversary, not by choice, by chance.
And so by chance I confuse ecology with devotion
and act accordingly.  Compost food scraps.  Reuse
plastic sandwich bags.  I never planned to stay past
the year.

An eco-singer asks us all to touch the earth and I do,
thinking somewhere, sometime today you’ll touch
it, too, but for now I’m part of something larger
than self-inflicted circumstance: sequestered
redwoods, Leonard Peltier and marijuana for purely
medicinal purposes.  B.E. Smith walked point in
Vietnam and today he’s walking point in the drug
war.  Served time for self-medicating post-traumatic
stress.  We all make sacrifices for something larger
than ourselves, or should, and see, I’m learning
something.  It’s warm enough today and I’m
forgiving you for leaving.

I do normal things.  Yesterday I made cornbread, I
watch lovers all the time, I walked miles to see a
rock star read someone else’s speech.  Sign
petitions, mailing lists.  I wasn’t ever staying past a
year but you love this city.  Hated leaving.  I only
hate the fog, hate it some times.  You said come,
never love, but maybe I did, and we all make
choices.  Turn away when we should.  I wanted to
see redwoods and you took me to the forest before
you left.

The microphone cuts out and celebrities are
jumping up and down in the crowd to hold our
attention.  In San Francisco nothing seems odd
except, for once, I’m warm, thinking of devotion
when I should be thinking pesticides, buying
products made from hemp.  Be a little more
supportive.

Today is Earth Day and I’m barefoot in Precita
Park, forgiving.  Yesterday, walking home from
market, loaded down with cageless eggs and local
milk, I turned onto our block.  Twilight caught the
windows of every house and transformed the street
to strange, unfamiliar.  For a moment, I thought I
had it wrong.  Thought I turned too early.  Or too
late.

 

When I first met Andi, she was in 9th grade and writing avant-garde plays.  Over her time in high school, she developed a voice as one of our funniest memoirists — who also succeeded in writing from a place of real depth, of profound meaning, every time.

Her inventive style showed up in her poetry, too, to our delight.

***

“perception: n. The capacity to be affected by a physical object, phenomenon, etc., without direct contact with it; an instance of such influence.1″/>

 

PST: September 3, 03:10:59 AM / EST: September 3, 06:10:59 AM
Early morning,
.          before the yolk begins to fill the sky,
.          He and She patiently write scientific equations.
Radon, xenon, krypton -
.          the study of chemical bonds and chemical discords.
Charcoal scratches numbers and definitions on the mute, lined page:
(Exact likeness -
          a purely theoretical phenomenon.
          Unavailable through nature.
          How can everything come in
pairs of two?)
.          She sighs; He sighs too.
.          Although exact carbon copies,
.          neither knows the other exists.
Time is separated
in hours of three and space is separated by
Oregon and Tennessee.
.          Without pausing, He and She
nod, as if one has acknowledged the other.
.          Both continue scribbling,
.          unaware of their counterpart
.          seconds and miles away.

_______________

1″/>perception, n.
Third edition, September 2005; online version June 2012. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/
140560; accessed 04 September 2012. An entry for this word was first included in New English
Dictionary, 1905.

 

 

Okay, so I’ve decided to go with a classic today.  It probably doesn’t need a lot of introduction.

***

Easter, 1916

 

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
.
That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.
.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Tonight’s featured poet is yet another one of my former students — because, frankly, I love being able to showcase these amazing people here, people who were talented and accomplished before I’d ever met them and who have gone on to continue doing exceptional things. I was lucky to have the chance to work with them when they were in high school, and I’m fortunate still that they’ve chosen to stay in touch.

Hannah Rosenthal is an officer in the U.S. Army, serving her second tour right now overseas. Even when she was in ninth grade, her writing and personality and work ethic demonstrated a willingness to serve and a selflessness that was unusual among other, more typical students in her age group. She won numerous writing awards as a student and then distinguished herself further her senior year by being, if I’m not mistaken, the first girl from our school to be accepted to West Point, the school where she matriculated.

***

Never Let Me Go

 

Days last twenty-four hours in the tradition
we clench so tightly our fists mottle gray
from unswayed overuse. We say the sky is blue
because that beautiful color lowers the massive
panorama close enough for us to see, but still too high
to touch. We don wings with hearts of stone

and the mechanics of birds, but birds with stones
for souls and pebbles in their blood, propelling tradition
closer and closer to the stars we can’t even count, their high
shine and brilliant composure blinding us to the gray
puddle of grit they actually are. For centuries massive
mysteries have mystified and choked us until we are blue

in the face. We fail to realize that our oceans have no blue
left in them, only the sick grease of oil washing up on the stones
along the tarred seashores, pulling the massive
net of ozone slowly to the ground. This is our tradition,
and we cannot let it go. Our appetite for the itchy gray
of sophisticated ruin goes unparalleled amongst the high

ranks of nature and order and whatever higher
calling we choose to believe in or disregard. The blue
dyes of nature bleed slowly into an overly sanitized gray
conjecture, like watching a picture-perfect girl turn to stone.
Imagine photographs with all the color and tradition
washed out, the road open to men with massive

guns and only their carnality left inside. The massive
implications of our ways lead us blind into a high
stakes game of spin the time-bomb, like a kiss of tradition
horribly misplaced. Today, we see the sky as an ocean of blue
filled with dreams. Today will never last forever. The stone
castles will crumble into dust, the same gritty texture of gray

as the stars we honor at night. Cormac McCarthy saw the world gray
with ash, from sunrise to sunset, if the sun could overcome the massive
hole in its fiery heart. When the brightest star turns to stone,
we might finally see the world out of its high
rolling clothes, dressed down to basic faded blue,
the original color of health and peace. Sadly, tradition

barrels on. Blue skies always give way to gray misery because
we have forever played the stakes too massive, too high
for any other tradition to overcome what is set in stone.

 

Tonight’s featured poet is Mike Alexander. I first came across Mike in the mid-1990s when he was going by M. Alexander and reading regularly on the poetry scene here in Houston. We ended up reading on the same stage more than once, and I became a fan of his work.

Those of you in H-town can catch him reading tomorrow afternoon as well, at the New Book New Poems Reading at 2:00 at the Houston Public Library (500 McKinney 77002). Here’s a link to the Facebook event page. Also sharing their work at this shindig will be Robin Davidson and Peter Hyland. The event will be up on the 4th floor of the main building. Check it out!

You may also find Mike’s book RETROgrade at P & J Poetics.

***

Le Coup de Vent: Mistral Noir

 

This is a drunkard’s dance.

.                                        Courbet’s terrain
distorts a sober regiment of oaks,
into a bacchanal of greens, the strain
apparent in the pressure of brush strokes
& knifework. Boughs, unnaturally skewed,
leaves shaking. Wind-swept canvas, it evokes
the pagan frenzy of a nymph pursued
by satyrs,
.                    Orphic lute,
.                                        ecstatic cries.

The landscape sprawls, unfettered, like a nude
discarding her quotidian disguise,
more sacred now she’s shown herself profane.

Inebriated by a beauty eyes
cannot explain, she drops what veils remain,
& spins,
.                    the painter’s brush
.                                        her weather-vane.

 

I suppose it wouldn’t be right to get through National Poetry Month without featuring a little slam.  When I was in my 20s and thought the world was laid before me, I briefly considered trying my hand at poetry slam so I could go on tour like a rock star. No kidding. It was happening in other parts of the country, so no reason I couldn’t do it, too, right? Well, except that I never really got the hang of the slam myself. Just not my style most of the time, much as I like being in the audience.

This fantastic video came across my screen today, and I had to share.

Click here to watch this awesome poetry slam video. (I don’t know why it’s only letting me post the link rather than the video itself.)

The performers Amina Iro and Hannah Halpern presented this poem at the Brave New Voices 2013 Quarter Finals in Washington, D.C.

Tonight’s featured poet is James Houlihan, a man I greatly admire not only because he is a very esteemed colleague at the school where I teach, not only because he was a very esteemed professor at the university I attended, not only because he’s a polyglot, but also because he’s brilliant as well as personable.

His author’s resumé is two pages long, but here are some of the highlights:  numerous translations, essays, and individual poems in numerous different publications, and three books of poetry, which are Unified Field (Wooten Press, 1985), Driving Cabeza (Inleaf Press, 2000), and Thirty-One Superior Poems of our Time (Inleaf Press, 2004).

***

J’s Further Appearances

 

What can you say to me

When I came through the ice-blue window?

I came for beauty

Where did you think I came from?

That place I appeared and you answered

Is deserted now

Here it’s not metaphor, it’s moral

Every soul guides a chariot with two winged horses

It must be what appears is what I can understand

Condescended to by imagination

I must look like a dragonfly all right angles

Swallowing gnats above a bluish pool.

Why aren’t you listening?

Humans can’t see for very long

Suddenly there are lilies, but where lilies vanished

A misunderstood saint.

 

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