RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 19

Bobbie O’Connor

Maywood Memories

It wasn’t illegal to burn leaves
or have open fires, back then.

Every once in a while,
we’d rake up a huge pile of leaves
from our big oak trees on Fairmount Ave.

We’d bring them
to the end of the dirt driveway,
on the Coles Street side:
no sidewalks there.

The grownups would light the leaves
for a big bonfire.
It was usually early evening.

The neighborhood kids
would begin congregating there.

Soon, a few of the moms
would appear with lawn chairs,
one or two with a cup of coffee.
A couple of dads would meander over.

Someone would show up with a few hotdogs,
and some would bring marshmallows.

Quite a few would disappear
and be back shortly with a couple of potatoes,
which they’d stuff into the leaves
around the base of the fire, to bake.

The grownups would sit around,
talking a little.
We kids would hang around,
poking the leaves with sticks,
listening to the grownups talk.

Every so often, an acorn would pop.

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GV—POW 3 Celebration—March 29

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IRISH, LATINX, AND POETIC CULTURES COMBINE AT GAINVILLE ON MARCH 29!

The Magic Circle series returns to GainVille Café Friday, March 29, at 7 PM. We speak all kinds of creative this time! Our musical feature is Irish piper BRENDAN FOGARTY and Irish vocalist FIONA CONWAY in a popular St. Patrick’s Day encore. Latinx poet and prose writer REBECCA CARVALHO will demonstrate her focus on relationships/sex, wellness, food, and travel/leisure. And workshop poets from the POEM OF THE WEEK 3 anthology will share their best-in-show poetry. Also featuring the Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Bring-Your-A-Game open mic.

A $9 cover includes coffee/tea, dessert.

7 PM, GainVille Café
17 Ames Avenue, Rutherford
201-507-1800

RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 19

Mark Fogarty

IN THE RANDOM HOUSE

5. Warm

It’s warm in my house, overwarm even.

That makes me remember the raw day we visited the Wilson Ranch.
The Wilson Ranch is where Wovoka lived in Nevada
as a boy, under the Christian name Jack Wilson.
It was so generous warm in the sitting room I commented on it.

“The ranch is always warm,” said the lady of the house.
“I attribute that to Wovoka having lived here.”
Jack Wilson had lived at the ranch more than one hundred years before,
a long time to keep a place warm.
From there he proved out to be Wovoka, a great medicine man, a rain maker,
a bit of a trickster wearing a big hat until struck by a dream
that made believers call him the Messiah.
People came from all over to his part of Nevada to see him,
even me, eventually. They brought back his prayer dance to where
the soldiers gunned down his dreamers at Wounded Knee,
false-gold soldiers scared by a dream
that joined the Native and the Christian soul so beautifully.

They couldn’t tell it was a miraculous dream rather than a war dream.
Twenty of the soldier-butchers won the Medal of Honor.

The buffalo have come back, I have seen them,
he didn’t misdream that. His ghost dance
may be used again, some day. The great flood Wovoka saw,
to carry off the base invaders, to bring back the ancestors,
could happen any year now, with the climate change.
Maybe we should dance to ward it off,
feet bloody in the snow until we fall down spent.
Maybe that devotion would save the world we have,
that is on the point of ending as surely as the one the Indians knew.

I think we should; I think we should pray.
I should like to see my mother again. I should like to see my father.

They say if you looked inside Wovoka’s hat,
you could see the entire universe.
I don’t think he was bogus,
though he might have seeded the trees with ice
before he made the rain fall.
I can say I will call a white horse
down from the mountain, as he did,
but I don’t know if one will come, as one came to him.
I have felt his warmth one hundred years later,
a miracle if you like, and I take my hat off to him.
White horse, white horse. That
was a powerful dream, a warm dream for a cold day,
a dream that would make us all one people.

It is sleepy warm in my house this morning.
But that’s from the radiators, not me.

Maybe God is a magic God, a trickster God,
who zaps us with dreams so vivid
we rise into the air and know our true purpose. Maybe he likes
white horses and the warmth
of an oasis in the Nevada desert.
Maybe creation is only clear when we dance.
Maybe the old people do come back, and see through our eyes.

 

The Paiute medicine man Wovoka (ca. 1856-1932) had an apocalyptic vision in Nevada around New Year’s Day, 1889, inspiring the Ghost Dance religion which spread rapidly through the indigenous tribes of the West until its Lakota adherents were gunned down in the Wounded Knee, SD massacre of Dec. 29, 1890. The frenzied devotional dancing of the Indians made authorities believe they were planning an outbreak of hostilities. Wovoka (the name means “cutter” or “woodcutter” in Paiute), was also called by his Christian name, Jack Wilson, and was often referred to as the Paiute Messiah because he believed the proper performance of the Ghost Dance would resurrect the ancestors of the Native peoples. He is remembered by modern Paiute as a transformational holy man, and the Ghost Dance remains one of the most powerful manifestations of religious spirit ever seen on this continent. I once had the honor of hearing his granddaughter sing songs Wovoka taught her when she was a little girl.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 12

Janet Kolstein

Uber Man

Perhaps he wasn’t expecting
a woman in a wheelchair,
a puffy down coat thrown over
a pair of burgundy-red
plaid pajamas.

Leaden sky above, Hudson to the East;
it was a quick lift, a half-mile up the street.

The Uber driver could not read the sign
that said “Ambulences Only,”
and so he tried to decipher
the esoteric code for the keyboard
on the wall by the doors
which, of course,
would not open.

“Around the corner,” the ailing woman
repeated and repeated,
“Pull around the corner,” she said,
hand gestures and all,

so, he got back in the car
and drove to the other
“Emergency Entrance”
where he kindly offered
to wheel his fare
up the slight incline
which, at first,
she thought to decline,
not wanting to be
a bother.

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Blog – http://redwheelbarrowpoets.org
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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 5

Claudia Serea

The clarinet

When my grandfather walked into the room,
shorter and much older
than I remembered him,
playing the clarinet
with a group of musicians,

I was cooking six large mums
in a sweet and sour heart sauce.

I couldn’t see their faces
obscured by their woodwind
and brass instruments,
fat saxophones,
oboes, and duduks,
trumpets, trombones, and tubas,
gleaming like gold teeth.

When did you learn to play the clarinet?
I asked,
but he didn’t answer.

I served him the mums
and the bleeding hearts
and went outside to hang
silhouettes of unborn children
on the clothesline.

It was early spring,
freezing and raw.

My grandfather and the musicians
played their wind instruments
at the funeral of the century

and walked slowly over the hill
behind the truck with the coffins
until they disappeared.

Only the clarinet kept wailing
in the cold wind.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 19

John Barrale

My Mother’s Cancer

All the years
of her unhappiness
finally blossomed,

the wild flowers spreading
in sepia clusters,

in sepia clusters,

in sepia clusters,

(so many clusters)

(so many clusters)

the wild flowers spreading

from the soft pockets
of her bones,

from the soft pockets
of her bones,

(so many pockets)

(so many bones)

all her summer coins

in the pockets,

in the pockets,

in those pockets.

The light,
so many colors,
so many coins,
she whispered.


Frank Rubino

THE BLUE FAMILY

Our four, you never knew what was next.
We made our house twice as big and gave them all rooms
when we got married. We added bathrooms too.
When I was their age, we had one bathroom
for five people. A small nook with a tub
and toilet crammed in. A plunger in the corner.
I remember the narrow door, how I used to
bastion myself in there for hours with books.
I still read many of the same books
in the bathroom: I kept them all these years.
My mother used to say of the poetry,
“You are so much better!”

Dad’s aluminum coffee pot was three pieces stacked.
I could draw you a diagram today of the pourer
on the bottom with its nose-sized spout,
the basket set on top of it
where we’d scoop Maxwell House,
and the topmost piece, the dripper reservoir
that set in the basket pressing down the grounds.
I believe an understanding of this coffee process and its equipment
trained my mind to create global computer networks.
Most people can understand coffee,
but they don’t think they know
anything about computer networks.
Somehow I do. Somehow, they do.

With the drywall off, we found the original studs of our house
were all stained blue. The builders had never seen that
on any other job: I think that is what they said, in Spanish.
Barbara expected me to understand them.
Now we know every day there is a blue skeleton,
blue heartbeat. It makes sense for this family.
Our son went out this morning for new tires.
He’s going to expect a zoomy, new-sneaker feeling
like when he first tried skating, expecting to fly around the ice,
but his knees shook and his legs collapsed and he cried.
It took him years to try again; he showed me
a phone video, him finally steady on rented skates
at South Mountain Arena, his girlfriend’s voice in the background.
I put my hand on his shoulder, felt his strong chest: “You skated!”
Right now, he’s driving home on new tires.

Something else during construction: we had a big soft cat
who liked to hide in clever places. One wall that had been open
to blue studs was closed that day and the cat was missing,
and putting my ear to the closed wall I discovered
she was hiding back there behind the nailed in, spackled
dry-board. With claw hammers, we cracked through to free her.

The workmen saw the ragged hole next day and laughed,
making cat jokes in Spanish I only half-caught.

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WCW—Frances Lombardi-Grahl & Melene Kubat Mar 6

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For the month of March, the Gang of Five is excited to co-feature Fran Lombardi-Grahl and Melene Kubat, two NJ-based poets of exceptional talent.

Please join us on Wednesday, March 6th, 2019, 7:00 PM at the William Carlos Williams Center, One Williams Plaza in Rutherford NJ to hear Fran and Melene.

About our features:

Fran Lombardi-Grahl’s poetry explores family and relationships with wry wit, gentle humor, and above all with great beauty. In Fran’s own words: “ My poetry is based on family memories and relationships that have shaped my life. Poetry has always been a way of both rejoicing in nature’s gifts, as well as recording those small daily acts that make up our lives”.

Melene Kubat’s poetry, like a fine diamond, draws us into a multi-faceted center that is a blend of many truths. While often contemplative and serious, Melene’s poems are also playful. Her inspiration comes from the natural and spiritual worlds, and the sorrows and joys of the human condition, and at sometimes, her poems perfectly express the resilience of the soul by allowing Melene’s keen sense of humor to have the last word.

Please note: We must now pay $100 per month rent for the use the Williams Center for our readings. This is in addition to the $100 per month rent the Red Wheelbarrow workshop must pay for the use of their space in the Williams Center. 

We need your help to survive and continue to hold our monthly readings. We will be asking for donations. A $5 per person donation is suggested. If we all contribute, we can pay the rent!

You can follow everything about the Red Wheelbarrow, its events and poets at these sites:
Blog – https://redwheelbarrowpoets.wordpress.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RWBPoets Twitter – @RWBPoets.

A Tribute to Michael O’Brien

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We are very saddened to announce the passing of poet, mentor, and teacher Michael O’Brien who joined the poetry workshop in another dimension on Sunday. RIP, Mike, you will be missed by all.

Posting this piece by Jim Klein in O’Brien’s honor.

Finally a Decent Guy in Grad School

We are teaching assistants at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, in the late sixties registering freshmen. I get manic and silly. I have good fastball, a curve, and a change-up going right away. Then I start mixing in the junk: a screwball, an emery ball, and this guy with horned-rim glasses and a trimmed black beard, O’Brien, he stands in there and rattles one down the left field line, goes into the gap in right with the next, bloops one over first base, and then pulls a low, outside pitch over the left field wall out onto Waveland Avenue.

We had a powerful effect on each other, found ourselves acting as one. We left together yakking and started walking somewhere we each thought the other knew where we were so busy talking. Finally, a decent guy in grad school.

After a while we got organized enough to find our cars and buy a case of beer and go to my trailer. He and his wife would come over for supper. Here was this great guy! Our wives, who had never met, couldn’t catch up. Voices blurred and the night ended with O’Brien and me staring at the cold chicken and potato salad as they tried to make conversation. It was embarrassing. The next couple of years we even passed a few times pretending not to notice.

In 1969 I had a fellowship and began working on John Barth, specifically Giles Goat-Boy, full time. I had a library carrel, but before work I’d drink coffee and read the Chicago Sun-Times in the K-room of the Y with a few friends, now including O’Brien. As the year wore on I got into the habit of leaving my reading in the middle of the afternoon and wandering over to Room 206 in the English Building, a huge room with about 60 desks. I was struggling with Barth, and without the release of teaching I had a backlog of things to talk about. If one of us hadn’t read something, we said so.

He had read a lot more, and I had read some things better. While I talked into a critical dither, he would sit there looking into the middle distance through his horned rims, smoking Pall Malls, playing with his beard and dropping modifications and new leads into my spiel. Sometimes it worked the other way. But he had a little speech glitch, and I wasn’t one to give people an extra count in an interesting conversation. He was more metaphorically-minded, and I could tangle his metaphors together. We complemented each other beautifully. Together, we were one genius.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 29

John J. Trause

So Rest Relax

Sorry I missed breakfast. Was so rest relax…
Female Japanese guest’s
inscription in the guest book

In the Pomeroy Room of Hollycroft on
Lake Como at the Jersey shore in winter,
I noted the ivy motif of the room,
newly renovated, and read the guest book.

Almost all the prior guests remarked on the
“great breakfast”, “special touches”, “unusual
tranquility” of this frilly B&B.
I too made a contribution in the book:

“Many others have remarked on the special
touches, but I will be the only one brave
enough to name my favorite. I so love
the way the end of the toilet paper is

“folded into a perfect arrow shape to
correspond with the way the face cloths are all
arranged over the towels”. I included
a hand-drawn diagram. They will think you are

a serial killer, exclaimed the TV
comedienne staying in the room down the
hall with whom I stayed up late the night before,
laughing, while the other writers were asleep.

NOTE: Inspired by a writers retreat with Sensations Magazine at Lake Como, New Jersey, January 31 – February 1, 1997.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 22

Claudia Serea

Wild cannabis country

I take a few pictures to show my friends the ten-foot-tall ditch weeds, feral Cannabis sativa, cânepă sălbatică.

We walk through vineyards we once planted, now choked by morning glories; through sunflower fields with their dry, sweet scent, and through curtains of tall grasses, thorns, brambles, thistles. I didn’t know the village has become a wild cannabis country inhabited by ghosts. When did the weeds grow so tall, wall after wall of plants on the roadside?

Soon, they’ll take over—they already are. The weeds will bury the road, the few remaining homes. The dirt wings will close over the last houses standing.

The sphinx moths flutter in the windows, trapped, and the wild cannabis country smokes and whistles in the wind.

*

Like any abandoned place, the church smells of piss from the road. The door is missing, and all the windows, too. We startle a flock of pigeons into flight, and, in the commotion, a few bricks fall.

The girls step over the debris, bending under the crumbling arches. We could do a fashion shoot here, I tell them. The contrast between young skin and torn walls, long hair, smoky eyes, pouty mouths, ripped jeans, it would all look great. All the glossy magazines do that. The models and the photographers go to abandoned places and shoot the collections of fancy clothes in piss-smelling ruins.

The saints watch us from the skinned walls, stiff arms raised in a deaf-mute blessing. Jesus is long gone from the tower. A small cross marks the missing altar like a grave. Several other crooked crosses guard the yard. How come the whole village abandoned this place? Was it cursed? Did the ghosts move in before, or after the people left, swirling in smoke?

I look up at the sky circled by pigeons: Is anyone there looking down through a huge camera lens, at us, moving around, dazed by heat? Is someone taking photos of the girls circling the ruined church? Let’s get out of here before we get a hundred years old, I tell them.

*

The gray ribbon of the road ties together like charms the sunflowers, the weeds, a paper-thin frog flattened by a horse-drawn cart, a yellow caterpillar, the girls’ bare feet, and an old woman carrying empty tin buckets. The road runs by the cemetery, through the village, and out, out into the vast plain. It’s the only way out of here, the only way into the world. It’s a good thing we’re visiting only once a year, so we don’t romanticize the past too much. This road is the only way from the past to the present, from the dead to the living. I feel relieved when I walk it back.

*

Meanwhile, the whole village moved to the cemetery. High noon: high weeds and locusts mince the sun. We walk the streets in the cutting wind, the abandoned homes looking as if the inhabitants left in a hurry: piles of things, cars, tin tubs, a tractor, tools, houses with furniture inside, and lace curtains at the windows, empty chicken coops, sheep pens, and satellite dishes on the roofs. It’s true, you can’t take anything with you.

The cemetery extended its new developments into the cornfield. Through the dappled shade, red rows of lord’s cows climb the walls.

*

The caterpillars devoured the plum trees, the Rose of Sharon, the cherry, locust, mulberry, and walnut trees, leaving them bare, brown, disfigured, covered in sticky webs, skeletons instead of leaves.

We find the house invaded, furry creatures clinging on curtains and walls, falling in cups, twitching on the porch, too many for sparrows and swallows to eat.

Unhurried, they won’t stop chewing, the silent crawl and chew of life and death.
This summer, and every summer, they win.

*

Like charms on the road ribbon, we carry everything with us: the abandoned church with all its saints, the wild cannabis, the caterpillars, the people who moved away and the ones who were disappeared, the old women who stayed behind, and the ghosts.

We start dying when we’re born, I tell you, and place the charm bracelet on your wrist. This will remind you the wild cannabis country is waiting, but you only have to go back once a year. It will remind you how far we’ve come, my dear. How long we have to go.

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