Poem-A-Day: Karen Paul Holmes

If you’ve been following this series this year, you’ll know that I missed a couple of days recently due to family events, and I’m trying to get caught up in a relaxed way that doesn’t inundate you with a bunch of posts all at once.

Seeing as it’s a weekend upon which various spring holidays are happening, the timing of which holidays has very much to do with the spring equinox and when the moon is full — if you want to know more about that, leave a comment and I’ll explain it — I thought a poem about planting would feel right, right about now.

This poem by Karen Paul Holmes first appeared in Still: The Journal and is also included in her book No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin, 2018).

If You Plant a Bradford Pear

Plant five in a line
along a road in Georgia
against a February sky
with clouds melding into light.

Clusters of white flowers
will foretell spring, petals will fall
instead of snow.

Plant them against a blue sky,
a chest-gripping blue, where
the black-silver river brews rocks.

Where the trees present you
with autumn’s gamut—like these
on the shortcut to Jasper:
four Bradfords stippled
green, purple, bronze-red.
The fifth, a crimson upturned heart.

Every season they will sway
psalms for you, keep you mindful
of those who stood by you
in your blaze.

***

Karen Paul Holmes has two full-length poetry collections, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin, 2018) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich, 2014). She was chosen a Best Emerging Poet by Stay Thirsty Media and included in their 2019 poetry volume. Other publications include Prairie Schooner, Valparaiso Review, Tar River Poetry, Poet Lore, and many more.

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Poem-A-Day: Jenna Le

I was talking to my students this past week about the logical fallacy that is the ad hominem attack, and “stay in your lane” came up. Such nonsense, and ironic at that.

Did you read my post from yesterday? If so, you know why I’m posting this poem today.

To a Physician Killed by Gun Violence

You climbed the stairs to middle age
and just beyond, your footsteps trained
to make no creaking noise, your veined
hand mute upon the balustrade

so that your snoring spouse, his cage
of matted hair propped on a doubled
plinth of pillows, could sleep untroubled,
your daughter with her snaking braid

doze undisturbed when you returned
from work. You wore your own hair short,
like shadow—nothing here to court
notice, to creak or squeak or glint

or gleam. Those seeing you discerned
no youth, no unformed possibility;
they only saw someone who willingly
did the work until she didn’t.

***

Jenna Le is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011) and A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2018; 1st edition published by Anchor & Plume Press, 2016), which won 2nd Place in the 2017 Elgin Awards. Her poems have also appeared in AGNI Online, Bellevue Literary Review, Denver Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and West Branch.

Poem-A-Day: Saba Husain

I was driving to work when I first heard the news of the Columbine shooting. I was driving to a school where I was going to teach young people how to write poems and tell their stories. I was driving to a place where we never worried about anything more serious during a fire drill than how long we would be standing in the sun before the all-clear. I was driving down a tree-lined Houston street, enjoying the gorgeous weather, listening to the breaking news on the radio of something I could not have fathomed before.

This weekend is the 20th anniversary of that heinous tragedy, one which for many Americans was the first of its horrible kind, the hallmark of a wretched new reality. If I had a time-turner, oh the things I would change.

Like Homemade

One boy said it was like
cotton candy  
.                           moist bits
.                           on face and arms
warm batter
.                       splattered on walls
smudged notebooks
splayed in the halls
                  From under the desk
the ceiling appeared
.                                muffin-pocked
the air hard
like taffy at the point of no return
.                           crackling caramel
the light
of a hundred-thousand suns
piercing the classroom window
.                           maple sugar
when it burns

***

Saba Husain is a poet from Houston. She has published poems in Cimarron Review, Barrow Street, Natural Bridge, The Texas Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol VIII: Texas, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Anklebiter’s Press: Kill Line, Mutabilis Press: The Enchantment of the Ordinary, and Jaggery Lit. She was a finalist for the 2014 New Letters Poetry Prize and received the Lorene Pouncey Memorial Award at Houston Poetry Fest. Saba went back to school to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing at University of Houston, after her three girls had completed their undergraduate education. She grew up in Karachi, Pakistan.

Poem-A-Day: Nia KB

Last month I did a reading at Malvern Books in Austin, Texas, and reading along with me that night was a poet from Austin named Nia KB. They were awesome, and I’m totally going to look them up next time I’m there! This is a poet to watch for.

KB read several poems I really enjoyed and was gracious enough to let me use one for the series this year. It took so long for me to decide which one, because they were all so good, but here it is, “Greetings from Fort Worth, Texas.” And if you go to Malvern Books’ Facebook page and scroll down to March 16th, you can find a video of them reading their work that night.

Greetings from Fort Worth, Texas
after Delana R. A. Dameron

I want to love this city. The street I grew up on where
three men brown as church pews roll in dirt as cops
suffocate their wistful wrists, dogs sniffing through the
newly built house that’s since been boarded up. The corner
store where Ramey and Stalcup meet, where I first
smoked weed with a young boy in orange shoes who now rocks
an orange jumpsuit. The brown sauce-smothered pork chops
at Stormie Monday’s that fill your tummy til you feel
a kind of heaven. I want this city to be loved for downtown
& eastwood equally. When I went to university up the street
they told me not to drive past the train tracks cause it’s
sketchy over there. Like being thrust into whiteness isn’t sketchy
enough. Like wax-dripping candles at Dunbar High vigils aren’t
just as pretty as the Christmas parade of lights on 7th street.
I hate to love this city. Where the stop sign on Berry has “6”
painted under “Stop” so you know what hood it is.
Where I first felt love. Like true, true love
breathing on the side of my neck on the littest of school nights
from a boy who these days pushes daisies. Damn, I love this city.
If you lay on the wood and rusted rail where southside
and the burbs meet long enough you hear church ladies humming

***

Nia KB [they/them] is a Black queer nonbinary poet, editor, and educator. They’ve received fellowships from Lambda Literary, Winter Tangerine, The Speakeasy Project, and UTSA’s African American Literatures and Cultures Institute. Their poetry appears or is forthcoming in Rising Phoenix Review, Pamplemousse, Eleven40Seven, Pink Plastic House, and elsewhere. When they’re not blessing stages or writing pages, they serve as Associate Poetry Editor for fields Magazine, Curator/Host of the open mic/reading series Austin Interfaces, Teaching Artist for Austin Library Foundation’s Badgerdog Creative Writing Program, and proud member of Lenguas Loc@s Writer’s Collective. If you got this far, follow them on the interwebs [at] nia_kb.

“Greetings from Fort Worth, Texas” first appeared in the emerge: lambda literary 2018 anthology.

Poem-A-Day: Edgar Allan Poe

Today’s my daughter actual birthday, so I asked her what her favorite poem is, and she said “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. She likes its rhythm and rhyme scheme and the fact that “it’s a creepy story,” which she pronounced with an adorable grin.

So here you go! Read it out loud by candlelight. It’s a totally different experience.

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
        Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
.          Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me — filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door —
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; —
.          This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you” — here I opened wide the door; —
        Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” —
.          Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore —
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; —
.          ‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —
        Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
        Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door —
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
.          With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered — not a feather then he fluttered —
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before —
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
        Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
        Of ‘Never — nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
        Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
.          She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite — respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
        Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —
On this home by Horror haunted — tell me truly, I implore —
Is there — is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”
.          Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us — by that God we both adore —
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
.          Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked, upstarting-
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
.          Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
        Shall be lifted — nevermore!

***
This version of the poem is from the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, September 25, 1849. It is generally accepted as the final version authorized by Poe. Earlier and later versions had some minor differences.

***

Edgar Allan Poe is considered by many to be a pioneer, at the very least, in both the short story form and the horror genre. He led a troubled life, which should be no surprise to anyone who has read his work, suffering through personal loss and substance abuse. It’s quite possible he drank himself to death. One of the most important things I ever learned about the craft of writing, in junior high, was a bit of advice from him: when you’re trying to create a mood or tone in a story, draft the manuscript and then remove everything from it that doesn’t contribute to that mood or tone. Words to work by. If you want to find some entertainingly weird pictures of him, Google “edgar allan poe images.” Have fun.

 

Poem-A-Day: Galway Kinnell

My sophomores are doing the Dear Poet project this year; it’s the first time I’ve taught it, but I’ll be doing it for my foreseeable future teaching years, I think, because it has been wonderful. My students engage with a newish poem by one of the chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, and then write a letter in response to the poem, to the poet. Maybe one or two of them might even get a response from the poet. You never know.

One of the historical poets included as part of the warm-up activities is Galway Kinnell, for his poem “The Gray Heron.” I did not know that poem before this project, but now every time I read it or my students discuss it, I like the poem more and more. I just love the way the imagery carries the comparison of the lizard to stone almost all the way to the poem’s suddenly magic-realist ending.

The Gray Heron

It held its head still
while its body and green
legs wobbled in wide arcs
from side to side. When
it stalked out of sight,
I went after it, but all
I could find where I was
expecting to see the bird
was a three-foot-long lizard
in ill-fitting skin
and with linear mouth
expressive of the even temper
of the mineral kingdom.
It stopped and tilted its head,
which was much like
a fieldstone with an eye
in it, which was watching me
to see if I would go
or change into something else.

***

Galway Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1927. He had an illustrious career which included military service, teaching, a seven-year stint as a chancellor for the Academy of American Poets, meaningful work in the Civil Rights Movement, and a list of publications as long as my arm. He died in 2014. You can learn more about him here.

Poem-A-Day: Shaindel Beers

The thing that gets me is that sometimes people ask questions in the guise of getting to know you, but it’s clear they’re really just challenging you.

The thing that gets me is that sometimes people dismiss women’s poetry because it encompasses a whole range of human experience they just don’t have access to, and they feel that’s a threat to their perceived apexhood.

The thing that gets me is that I won’t ever stop adding poems like this to my April series until people no longer need to be educated about feminism, and not even then, because then everyone will just get it and the poems will be meaningful to them, too, and not just to some of us.

Why, look, it’s another poem I absolutely love!

I Am Not a Narrative for Your Entertainment

The male poet asks, Why are you single? What’s
the narrative? like I’m a show he’s been meaning
to catch up on. The male poet says, Remember  

the sexy poems you used to write? You’re not
writing mommy poems now, are you? I want
to tell him even my mommy poems are too sexy

for him, especially too sexy. I know because
the tongues that have flickered over my C-section
incision have told me. My abdomen, like Zeus’s

head, has sprung warriors. And if that’s not sexy
then nothing goddamned is. I want to tell him
I’m single because I’m a beautiful disaster.

Not the Little Match Girl but the whole fireworks
factory ablaze. You can watch me burn for miles,
hear about it on the national news. My every move

is a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter.
You just didn’t know because you’d been blocked
from my universe.

***

Shaindel Beers is author of the poetry collections A Brief History of Time (Salt Publishing, 2009), The Children’s War and Other Poems (Salt, 2013), and Secure Your Own Mask (White Pine Press, 2018). Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, and serves as poetry editor of Contrary.