Posts Tagged ‘workshop poem’

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Sept 24

September 25, 2019

Zorida Mohammed

Crossing the German Border


Crossing the German border back into Denmark,
a very modest, rustic monument caught our eye.
Four narrow boards, the color of barn siding, about 4 or 5 feet tall,
each bearing the name of a concentration camp,
stood next to each other on a platform.

Dachau was the easiest to remember.
The other 3 names were long and complicated
and I did not write them down, I’m sorry to say.

The Danes were observing the anniversary 
and had placed wreaths and flowers at the base of the boards.
I stood for a picture on the platform
that I later realized had been one of the train stations 
where Jewish citizens were collected.
My sister-in-law’s voice fell low 
when she mentioned that the Danes were also complicit.

I wanted the camera to capture
an emaciated body
leaning a bit to one side from hunger.
I held my own hands to remain steady.

Who was I to stand in the presence of such 
unfathomable innocence and guilt?
My tears could not find their way out.

As I was stepping down from the platform,
a shiny clean train
that knew nothing about Dachau
or of concentration camps
went almost silently by.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Sept 17

September 18, 2019

John Barrale

Moon Island


Under a furnace sun, where the rocks are too hot to touch,
and the crone-like shrubs hide their bitter leaves
behind walls of thorn, water was the moon’s gift.
By luck, there were caves, mysterious places,
temple-like and roofed in pale stone. What rain fell
seeped down and gathered there in shimmering pools
the First Ones called moon eyes. At winter’s end,
when the caves were full, water poured
from wound-like springs onto hillside terraces.
There, Fertility, the moon’s promiscuous wife,
gave her lovers grapes and figs. Wildflowers,
their perfume hers, tumbled down the hills.
Mornings drifted in from the sea like a song.
Under summer’s green bowers, when sons came home
from the sea, fathers roasted goats over open-pit fires
and poured red wine into inscribed clay cups,
the wine from jugs kept cool in deep, bell-like wells.
And I, who never came home, would go there if I could.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Sept 10

September 16, 2019

Bobbie O’Connor

VACATIONS ON MY GRANDPARENT’S FARM


I’d take my little brother for a bumpy ride
in Grandma’s antique doll carriage
past all the orange tiger lilies
that lined the long dirt lane
open on both sides.

We’d stop at the field
full of black raspberries
and eat our fill.

Then, we’d visit Pearl and Ammon,
the old couple who lived 
at the end of the lane.

I got a kick out of how the chickens
were free to roam in and out
of their kitchen all day,
and how, as Pearl’s cotton dresses
would get worn out,
they’d become aprons
and, later, dust rags.

At night, Mommy would carry a kerosene lamp
to walk us up to bed
and tuck us in.
With no electricity,
everybody would go to bed early.

Whenever I woke up early enough,
I liked to watch Grandma brush her hair
before putting it back into a bun.
I was fascinated at the way it was so long,
it came to her knees,
and how the bottom foot of it
was red instead of gray.

As a teenager, I was expected to be helpful.
As a girl, that meant helping with meals
and all those dishes to be washed
after three big, hot meals every day.

It was much more fun to go work 
in the fields with Daddy and my uncles.
I’d get stuck with kitchen work
soon enough, when my brother 
was old enough to be a help
instead of a hinderance.

I loved standing, balanced,
on the flat-bed wagon,
pulled by the hay baler,
which was pulled by the tractor.

Using a big hook, I’d grab each hay bale
as it came up the chute from the baker
and stack it behind me.
I’ll never forget how horribly itchy 
hay dust is on sweaty skin.

There was no bathroom on the farm, 
just the outhouse and the pump 
for filling buckets of water for washing
when a shower
would’ve been so much easier.

Grandpa’s brother, Uncle Clarence,
had the farm next door.
After Aunt Maggie died,
he bought an old school bus,
had it towed to his farm,
moved into it 
and rented out the house.

A friend of the family, Fred,
lived nearby.
Sometimes we’d visit him.
There was a little brook to cross,
but the bridge was long gone,
so everybody just drove through the water
and up to his house.

After heavy rains,
he just didn’t leave
or get any company.

The front steps were gone also.
Instead of replacing them,
he just dumped shake in a pile
and built a little hill
slanting up to the porch.

Once, when Grandma was feeding the pigs, 
one charged at her
as if he was going to run between her legs,
but her longish dress got in the way, 
and she was thrown onto his back,
so she had a little ride,
but she was riding backwards.

While at the farm, the big treat 
was when one of my uncles 
would drive into the town in the evening
and come back with ice cream.

We’d all sit around the big kitchen table
and enjoy eating it in the glow
of a kerosene lamp.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Sept 3

September 4, 2019

Mark Fogarty

A FAINT ORGASMIC TINGLE

Franz Liszt used to pay prostitutes
To sit in the front row at his concerts
And faint at his music’s crescendo. One night
He looked up from the piano. The chairs
Were empty. The faithless whores
Had taken his money but hadn’t shown.
So that night at the crescendo of the piece
Liszt fainted, slid right off the piano stool.

I myself have never fainted at music.
I do remember a faint orgasmic tingle, though.

One night at the Bottom Line I thought I discerned
People paid to kvell. It was for Jimmie Dale Gilmore,
A handsome, sweet-voiced Buddhist cowboy from Texas,
Discovered by the suits after his hair had turned silver.
I think they paid some of their women to swoon,
To audibly crush on the country crooner. I liked
Jimmie Dale, loved his early band, the Flatlanders,
Who got a contract in Nashville and recorded an album,
Only to see the label fold, the vinyl shelved, though they had only made
Eight-track tapes of the band’s Texas folk music.

Immortal as Liszt, those eight-track tapes.

Almost unnoticed was the Olympian
Who opened the show, Townes van Zandt, the crush of every songwriter.

When Kris Kristofferson won his songwriting CMA
He pointed at Townes in the audience and said,
Give it to him instead. Brilliant drunk Townes,
Memory zapped by early shock treatments,
Whose recollection began at about age eighteen,
But he wasn’t fooled by that, horrible sad shit
He couldn’t remember any more which drove him to call
His album, made twenty years before his death,
The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt.

Either you get Townes or you don’t. I myself
Used to think of him, when he sang “I’m tyin’ on
My flying shoes,” every time I flew. When drunk,
Townes was a clown prince, playing like Lennon
When he wore a toilet seat to entertain
The drunken German sailors of Hamburg.
That’s where you feel the juice stir, at the Star Club,
And there’s doomed Stu Sutcliffe trying his best
To play the bass at 4 AM, trying to keep up
With Lennon and McCartney and Harrison.
I’m giving you lot up, he said the night
He quit the Beatles. Life’s too short,
And I’m going to spend it with my Astrid.

That night at the Bottom Line, Townes
Was sober as a judge, thinking maybe the suits
Would give him a second chance. They didn’t.
He died of a heart attack after a drunken fall
A few years later. People will tell you he was a savant,
And I will, too.

Bob Dylan’s genius was parked somewhere else
The night he played at Jones Beach. No one knew
Who Laura Nyro was when she opened for him,
A brave woman out there with just a piano
And songs like “Eli’s Coming.”
“Eli’s coming, hide your heart, girl!”
She had the tingle, too. I never knew
Who Eli was, but I was ready to hide.

Later, when I wrote about the show, I said hearing bad Dylan
Was like listening to Mozart whistle.
Why would you pay to hear Mozart whistle?
On the other hand, it was Mozart whistling.

The music publisher said he would give me $50 a story
For every review of Townes, of Laura, of Dylan.
But he stiffed me, only gave me forty.
So, for the lack of ten dollars, I stayed covering the criminal geniuses
Of the savings and loan business, publishing the lists of their infamies.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—August 27

September 4, 2019

Mary Ma

Nothing tastes the way it used to

I can’t find any hair ties,
and I have two unfinished sewing projects 
and one untouched first draft,
and we need to take out the recycling.

Instead, I’m trying to write something new
and, I swear to god, every barista 
behind the counter 
is zoning out 
in my direction.
I zone out too.

I keep thinking of this house 
on our block. I pass it on the way 
to our car. The front is all garden,
no lawn.

The patch of grass 
between the sidewalk and the curb 
is filled with large stones. They’re warm 
and round. 

In the patch, there’s a small path 
barely wider than my feet. 
I like to walk on it the same way 
I like to grab the leaves 
when no one is looking.

When you’re born, there won’t be much green,
but we can visit the stones.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—August 20

September 4, 2019

Arthur Russell

No One In My Family


The ordinary violence of family life
is the sawyer’s craft, making planks out of people.

My dad was the tablet Moses broke.

No one in my family ever spoke to god
or called out to their mother
in the night as adults.

After an evening of tongue twisters,
the big black bug’s black blood
was on all our minds for days.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—August 13

August 14, 2019

Arthur Russell

The Harmonica


In this poem, my mother is my mother,
and the harmonica is the Hohner 
chromatic harmonica she’d been saving 
to give me on the last night of Hanukah.

The candles in this poem are the multi-colored,
crayon-shaped candles I arranged 
in the menorah so the colors went 
blue, white, yellow, blue, white, 
with a white one slightly higher than the rest,
in the menorah
on the white Formica countertop
in our kitchen when I was sixteen,

and the flames in this poem
are the flames on those candles,
the tallow-smelling yellow, black, 
and orange flames 
I’d lit after saying the prayers,
and really, it’s the flames
that connect us to the distant past.  

The underwear in this poem
is the pack of white Hanes briefs
wrapped in holiday paper
that my mother excused herself
a moment to bring in 
through the dining room door
as her gift to me 
on the fifth night of Hanukah.

The tantrum in this poem
is the fit I pitched when 
I unwrapped the underwear,
one of the first in a line of angry fits
I pitched at her from 
time to time through 
youth, adulthood, and marriage,
through her own widowhood,
until she died forty-five years later.

Any effort to reconstruct
the logic of any of those fits
would be embarrassing,
and I’d be happy
to be embarrassed that way 
if I could remember the logic,
by which I mean the trigger,
but all that’s left in memory
are the fits I’d pitch
and the knowledge 
that whatever caused them 
still lives in me like a cramp.

The stairs in this poem 
are the beige, carpeted stairs
my mother ran up to get the harmonica, 
frightened, maybe panicked,
by that young male anger. 
Who knows what she thought of, 
who she remembered,
what fears of her own were triggered
by my meltdown, 
maybe as far back as Brighton Beach
and the chaos of her own teen years,
the brutal anger of boys and men,
even though I can’t see my grandfather among them, 
maybe only as far back as my father’s
secret, bully machismo, hidden under that calm
undertone I heard coming from their room next to mine
the nights when he didn’t get what he wanted
and her whispered entreaties broke into shouted “no.”

She ran to get the harmonica, 
but only in the way that she would run 
to get a towel if a pipe burst,
panicked and calm,
and handed it to me.

The peace in this poem is the peace 
that overwhelmed my anger 
when I held the harmonica in my hands,
a peace as deep as morphine 
it was, and, for that moment,
and, maybe for the last time,
it brought me all the way back
to loving her.

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