SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MOTHER NIGHT

Edward-Robert-Hughes-Painting-003

MOTHER NIGHT
By James Weldon Johnson

Eternities before the first-born day,
Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
A brooding mother over chaos lay.
And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,
Shall run their fiery courses and then claim
The haven of the darkness whence they came;
Back to Nirvanic peace shall grope their way.

So when my feeble sun of life burns out,
And sounded is the hour for my long sleep,
I shall, full weary of the feverish light,
Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt,
And heavy-lidded, I shall softly creep
Into the quiet bosom of the Night.


(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)


James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. In addition to being known for his leadership of the NAACP, Johnson was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. (Annotated biography of James Weldon Johnson courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: This Yuletide season I have been thinking—and writing—about ancient holiday traditions that we still practice, and how we received them. So when I came across today’s poem I was struck by the homage it seems to pay to the ancient festival of Mothers’ Night. This winter celebration was held on the eve of Yule, and celebrated The Mothers (goddesses) giving birth to the sun and the new year.

Beyond its title, today’s poem is rich with images of this ancient holiday: the night of labor, the birth of the sun, and the cycle of a year, when “whirling suns shall blaze and then decay.” Yet just as winter is a kind of death, in the second stanza the poet turns “Mother Night” into a metaphor for his own eventual death, imagining that when his time comes he will “Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt” and “softly creep / Into the quiet bosom of the Night.”

Want to see more by and about James Weldon Johnson?
The Poetry Foundation
Poets.org

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HILA RATZABI


By Hila Ratzabi:


"Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess" broadside, designed by poet and visual artist MaryAnn Miller

“Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess” broadside, designed by poet and visual artist MaryAnn Miller.



SEDNA IN SPACE

             “Our newly discovered object is the coldest most distant place known in the solar
             system, so we feel it is appropriate to name it in honor of Sedna, the Inuit goddess of
             the sea, who is thought to live at the bottom of the frigid arctic ocean.”
                                                                                                                     ––Mike Brown, astronomer

Now you’re nothing
but a dwarf planet at the edge
of the asteroid formerly known as Pluto,

neighbor to demoted planet,
atmosphere-less,
stunted.

When the scientists ran out of Greek and Roman gods
they settled on you, “Big Bad Woman,”
as one tribe puts it.

You are made of water,
methane, nitrogen ice,
frozen all over.

It takes you
more than ten thousand years
to orbit the Sun.

I want to place a blanket
around your shivering surface,
tuck you in surrounded by stars.

Where I’m from, we’ve released
so much heat into the sky
it’s burning us back.

But I can’t turn up the heat
at your edge of the solar system,
can’t drag you any closer to the Sun.

From your corner the Sun
Is a wink of a star, so small
you could block it out

with the head of a pin.
Just look what a nothing it is
next to you, big girl.


“Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess” was previously published in Alaska Quarterly Review and “Sedna in Space” was previously published in Narrative. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Hila Ratzabi was selected by Adrienne Rich as a recipient of a National Writers Union Poetry Prize and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the author of the chapbook The Apparatus of Visible Things (Finishing Line Press). Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, Narrative, Alaska Quarterly Review, Drunken Boat, About Place, The Normal School, H_NGM_N, Cortland Review, and others. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and lives in Philadelphia where she founded the Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop.


Editor’s Note: In Hila Ratzabi’s Sedna poems the Inuit goddess becomes a symbol of the trauma of climate crisis as explored through the lens of feminist response.

In “Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess” we are introduced to Sedna’s creation myth. So, too, are we introduced to the misogyny and violence inherent in her tale. She is a “bitch goddess” whose father throws her to the sea and then cuts of her fingers when she tries to save herself.

In “Sedna in Space” we see Sedna rise again when a dwarf planet is discovered and named for her, but still she is “nothing / but a dwarf planet at the edge / of the asteroid formerly known as Pluto, // neighbor to demoted planet, / atmosphere-less, / stunted.” Through poetry, Ratzabi seeks to reclaim Sedna, to save her from the grips of oppression: “I want to place a blanket / around your shivering surface, / tuck you in surrounded by stars.” By shifting perspective, the poet empowers Sedna, making her grander than the sun: “From your corner the Sun / Is a wink of a star, so small / you could block it out // with the head of a pin. / Just look what a nothing it is / next to you, big girl.”


Want to read more by Hila Ratzabi?
Read recently published poems on climate change by Hila Ratzabi in About Place and Drunken Boat.
Learn about Hila’s poetry workshops in Philadelphia at The Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop.
Purchase “Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess” broadside (pictured above).
Purchase “Sedna in Space” broadside (poem above).
Purchase The Apparatus of Visible Things chapbook.