SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NOME EMEKA PATRICK

By Nome Emeka Patrick:


MONOLOGUE IN A ROOM WITH THE PORTRAITS OF MY DEAD BROTHER

You were my brother until your eyes wore a dragon’s breath until your hands grew into an orchard of blood until your mouth unwound into a coffin. May the blood that hums in our veins like a river knifing past a dark forest bear me witness. I love you brother with all the birds psalming in my bones. I love you o brother. In this sanctuary that’s my mouth, brother there’s a prayer burning wild –a lamp in the wrinkled hands of a monk searching God in a dark room. You were my brother until the ten o’ clock news says a young man walks into a market with explosives strapped to his body like a life jacket. On the TV your face appears like a surprise & so it is. A scar glitters like a promise on your neck & so it is. How you got the scar: we were god’s descendants in a garden one afternoon when you said let’s play a game –a game of stones. Everything always started with you even the morning fajr. You hurled your stone but I ducked. Mine stabbed your neck into spittle of warm blood. We both knelt like two unfurling hibiscuses. We both cried like a night wind behind a chariot until the ambulance came. & today the scar glitters on every neighbour’s screen. That’s your lips o brother where prayers & ablutions grew wings & flew into the heavenly nest of a whistling God beyond. O brother the dancing firefly in a dark museum. O brother the lonely lamb where the forest is wildest. Until your eyes wore the skin of night & your hands grew into a garden of cold fallen leaves, you were the vision I never had. You were all the places I always dreamt of. You were the only prayer I learnt to keep in my heart before opening it into Allah’s eyes. O you were my only dear brother. How do I pray for your soul when every song that leads me to you is a dirge stuck on a raven’s beak?



Reprinted with permission from the author. This poem first appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Flapperhouse.


Nome Emeka Patrick is a blxck bxy and student in the University of Benin, Nigeria, where he studies English language and literature. A recipient of The 40th edition of Festus Iyayi award for excellence (Poetry) in 2018. His works have been published or forthcoming in Gaze journal, Beloit poetry journal, FLAPPER HOUSE, Crannóg magazine, Puerto Del Sol, Mud Season Review, The Oakland Review, Notre Dame Review, Gargouille, Barnhouse journal and elsewhere. His manuscript, We Need New Moses. Or New Luther King, was a finalist for the 2018 Sillerman First Book Prize for African poets. Say Hi on twitter @paht_rihk

Guest Editor’s Note: In this poem, a river knifes past a dark forest, and a scar glitters; memory of shared experience becomes love, and a brother questions his own mourning in the wake of a terrible devotion in “a prayer burning wild.” The speaker addresses his brother and cries out for meaning in a senseless world that broadcasts the terror and disregards the humanity. The speaker talks of their kinship in the past, signaling its destruction at the moment the bomb exploded, leaving the speaker with an unresolved grief.

Original similes are sometimes hard to come by, but this poem surprises with each comparison that contains images igniting all of the senses and lines delving deeper into the emotions associated with a brother’s death. Remembering how they dealt with tragedy in their youth, the speaker compares them to “two unfurling hibiscuses,” kneeling and crying. The poem is a visual and musical lament that uses personal memory and imagery to convey intimate sorrow and grief, universal human feelings that rely on recollection to commemorate loved ones and keep close those times that define life in the living and not in its end.

Want to read more by and about Nome Emeka Patrick?
Gaze Journal
FLAPPERHOUSE
Vagabond City

 

Contributing Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), Blood and Roses: A Devotional for Aphrodite and Venus (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Gluttony (Pure Slush Books), The Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, Random Sample Review, Into the Void Magazine, Allegro Poetry Magazine, and Rivet Journal.

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with two new Contributing Editors, including the one featured here today. I am now thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RACHEL HEIMOWITZ


REFRESH
By Rachel Heimowitz

We raise them in lemons, in buttercream, in cornmeal,
we cut the crust off every loaf and serve blueberries
to those who can’t abide the crumbs. We let them

ride our arms like cowboys, and when their imaginations
cry elephants, we give them elephants, thick skinned
and wrinkled, but theirs. We sail them off due west,

into the froth of their own desires, tell them their lives
will roll like the hills behind the hills behind the hills
into a mist the color of tamarind and smoke. Lovely

parenthood, open and bright, sunlight through a window,
a hand smoothing sheets, Lego basketed in a corner.
The refresh button under my index finger, set to the local news site

pressed over and over and over to discover
if my child has gone to war.

 

Today’s poem previously appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Prairie Schooner (Volume 91 Number 4) and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Rachel Heimowitz is the author of the chapbook, What the Light Reveals (Tebot Bach Press, 2014.) Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Spillway, Prairie Schooner and Georgia Review. She was recently a finalist for the COR Richard Peterson Prize, winner of the Passenger Prize and she has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Rachel received her MFA from Pacific University in Spring 2015 and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California.

Guest Editor’s Note: This is a poem of immense restraint, power, and impact. How we are lulled by its lyric, set softly adrift amid its imagery, then gutted by its simple, brutal truth. How effortless the poet makes it appear to live this unbearable life, to write this poem.

Today’s poem is dedicated to the children’s lives lost to gun violence. It is offered as a battle cry as we take to the streets today with the #NeverAgain movement to save our children, to march for their lives. So that the next time this poem is written it does not end: “The refresh button under my index finger, set to the local news site // pressed over and over and over to discover / if my child has died at school.”

Want to read more by and about Rachel Heimowitz?
Rachel Heimowitz Official Website
Buy What the Light Reveals from Amazon
Atticus Review
Twyckenham Notes
Tinderbox Poetry Journal
Cutthroat
The Missing Slate

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. It is an honor and a unique opportunity to now share this series with a number of guest editors, and we’ll be hearing more from them in the coming weeks. Today’s feature, however, is a labor of love from yours truly.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SUSAN RICH

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MOHAMUD AT THE MOSQUE
By Susan Rich

                  ~ for my student upon his graduation

And some time later in the lingering
blaze of summer, in the first days
after September 11th you phoned –

if I don’t tell anyone my name I’ll
pass for an African American.

And suddenly, this seemed a sensible solution –

the best protection: to be a black man
born in America, more invisible than
Somali, Muslim, asylum seeker –

Others stayed away that first Friday
but your uncle insisted that you pray.
How fortunes change so swiftly

I hear you say. And as you parallel
park across from the Tukwila
mosque, a young woman cries out –

her fears unfurling beside your battered car
go back where you came from!
You stand, both of you, dazzling there

in the mid-day light, her pavement
facing off along your parking strip.
You tell me she is only trying

to protect her lawn, her trees,
her untended heart – already
alarmed by its directive.

And when the neighborhood
policeman appears, asks
you, asks her, asks all the others –

So what seems to be the problem?
He actually expects an answer,
as if any of us could name it –

as if perhaps your prayers
chanted as this cop stands guard
watching over your windshield

during the entire service
might hold back the world
we did not want to know.



Today’s poem was published in the collection Cures Include Travel (White Pine Press, 2006), and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Susan Rich is the author of four poetry collections including Cloud Pharmacy, recently shortlisted for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize and the Indi Fab Award. Other books include the The Alchemist’s Kitchen, a Finalist for the Washington Book Prize, Cures Include Travel, and The Cartographer’s Tongue: Poems of the World (White Pine). She is a co-editor of an essay collection, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders published by The Poetry Foundation and McSweeney’s. Susan’s poems have been published in 50 States and 1 District including journals such as New England Review, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry International, and World Literature Today.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is a stunning and moving commentary on racism in America today. A thoughtful reflection, now, with the 15th anniversary of September 11th this past weekend. How far have we come in moving past anti-Islamic sentiment in America? In the world? And how many steps backward have we taken in America’s racism against black men? What of the poem’s notion that “the best protection” is “to be a black man / born in America, more invisible than / Somali, Muslim, asylum seeker”? And what of those asylum seekers? How, in a country whose emblem bears the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” have we opened our doors to Syrian refugees? And what of those Americans who are threatening to vote for a man whose response to our neighbors is to build a wall to keep them out?

Today, as much as it did when it was written, this poem asks: Who are we, America? Who are we, and how do we treat our fellow human? I, for one, fear that this America–this world–is “the world / we did not want to know.”

Want to see more from Susan Rich?
Buy Cloud Pharmacy from The Elliot Bay Book Company
Susan Rich’s Official Website
The Alchemist’s Kitchen – Susan Rich’s Blog
Twitter: @susanrichpoet
Facebook Author Page

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KEETJE KUIPERS

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GETTING THE BABY TO SLEEP
By Keetje Kuipers


Sometimes the baby can’t reconcile
the self with the self: too hungry
to eat, too tired to sleep. I know

the feeling. O, America, on those nights
when you are too beautiful for me
to continue to forgive you any longer—

for allowing us to kill each other
with your graceless bullets, or exile
our neighbors across your fictitious

border, or argue over the ownership
of each young girl’s body as if its freedom
is a lie she must stop telling herself—

I go out into your radiant embrace.
The baby and I drive through your streets,
over the bridge and its light-chipped

waters, under a moon so big, so full
of itself that though I know it belongs
to the world, it can’t be anything but

American. I hang my arm out the window
and skim the air like touching skin.
I breathe you in, and the baby sleeps.


Today’s poem was originally published in Blackbird and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Keetje Kuipers has been the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College. A recipient of the Pushcart Prize, her poems, essays, and fiction have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best American Poetry. Her first book of poetry, Beautiful in the Mouth, won the 2009 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and was published by BOA Editions. Her second collection, The Keys to the Jail, was published by BOA in 2014. Keetje is an Assistant Professor at Auburn University where she is Editor of Southern Humanities Review.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem absolutely blows me away. It is too powerful to contain, and yet it is perfectly wrought as if chiseled from marble. It is metaphor and life, politic and country, as near as a closely-held infant and as far as the moon. It is the American affliction: needless gun violence, our backs turned and hearts hardened against immigrants and refugees, our deep seated fear of women’s sexuality, freedom, independence. “O, America, on those nights… you are too beautiful for me / to continue to forgive you any longer.” Absolutely stunning. Heartbreaking. An outcry in the form of a quiet, contemplative drive, cruising America in an attempt to get the baby to sleep.

Want more from Keetje Kuipers?
www.keetjekuipers.com

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DEVIN KELLY


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FEAR OF
By Devin Kelly

We are discussing the roots of things. How phobia
means fear of, and we make them up. Bookaphobia.
Classroomaphobia. Girlaphobia. I say there will be
a quiz. They laugh. It is evening in a small room
in Queens where the desks are miniatures
of the things they should be and the children
sitting in them too close to me and my coffee
so soon done. Then I ask them if they are afraid.
Then I ask them of what. The word penis. Spiders.
The people who hate me for my name. How a moment
turning stills to a moment stilled. How silence,
even in silence, breathes. Their pages of homework
loiter upon their desks. Fifteen words they had
never seen before, and fifteen meanings, written out
beside. Benevolent. Ailurophile. I spoke, upon the hearing,
of opposites, to think of words as people, rooted,
experimenting with different prefixes. To think of words
as lovers, hungry for what it might be they want.
What is her name? It lingers a moment before
it hassles its way out of my mouth. The shape it takes,
unfamiliar, awkward. A word I have never spoken before.
And her skin brown. How she taught me the way
to count to ten in Arabic. The people who hate me
for my name. The people who hate me. The people.
Across an ocean, a man kneeling does not see the hand
that holds the gun that fires the bullet that splits
his head in two. Across an ocean, someone laughs
at a fence of severed heads. I do not know
what to teach anymore. Graphophobia. Philophobia.
Fear of writing, fear of love. And all these children
who do not have a name for their sorrow. At night,
in bed, I turn her name for the hundredth time
and find its beauty. The soft grace of wanting
to be held. A child, scared, moving in dark
from room to room to find the mother who named her,
the father, too, and their reasons why.


Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. His collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence, is forthcoming from Anchor & Plume Press. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Armchair/Shotgun, Post Road, RATTLE, The Millions, Appalachian Heritage, Midwestern Gothic, The Adirondack Review, and more, and his essay “Love Innings” was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in Manhattan, teaches Creative Writing and English classes to high schoolers in Queens, and lives in Harlem. You can find him on twitter @themoneyiowe.

Editor’s Note: June 26, 2015 was a day of imperative progress in American history. A day of change. A day when love triumphed. I celebrated this historic event in the most wonderful way I could have imagined, at the wedding of two women whose love is beshert. But when one of the brides gave her speech, she reminded us that there is still more to be done. “Today we celebrate,” she said, “but tomorrow, we keep fighting.” Even amidst a joy so great she shared it with the entire country, the blushing bride reminded us that we can—and should—always be working to make the world a better place.

Today’s poem was written in response to Islamophobia. A Muslim girl in a classroom. What is she afraid of? “The people who hate me for my name.” The families of the victims of a racist hate crime—a terrorist act—in Charleston, SC have what to teach us about love and forgiveness. But what are they truly the victims of? “The people who hate me. The people.” We speak words today that carry with them the chalk outlines of the hatred that flows from fear: Black Lives Matter; I can’t breathe. “I do not know / what to teach anymore,” writes the poet, but he knows “all these children / who do not have a name for their sorrow.”

Let us shout our joy from the rooftops and dance in the streets because yesterday love won. And today, tomorrow, and in the days to come, let us fight until love triumphs over fear and hatred, until there is justice and equality for all.

Want more from Devin Kelly?
The Adirondack Review
District Lit
Little Fiction
Warscapes
Devin Kelly – Published Work

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KAREN ALKALAY-GUT

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By Karen Alkalay-Gut:


HER STORY

I have never been able to tell her story
Sometimes it escapes me, sometimes I am not sure
It could really have happened, sometimes I read
Different accounts of her demise, or a paragraph
From some testimony jogs my memory and the terrible days
When I first heard what happened to her return.

This much is in my blood:
I was conceived on the day she died.
This much is in my blood.
She blew up trains.
The courage came from her uplifted chin
And the two infants she watched
Dashed against the wall of their home.
Avram twelve months old and Masha two years.
My first cousins.
They too – in my blood – all that is left.

If I can write of these babies,
I can manage the rest –
Following her path as she escaped
The prison camp with her husband
And joined the Otrianski Otriade
Lenin Brigade, Lipinskana Forest.

I can feel her mouth, her narrow lips clamped
As she bends over the delicate mines,
Solemn as in the photo when as a child
She sat for with the rest of the choir
Unsmiling amid the festive singers
Unwilling perhaps to feel poetic joy
Perhaps destined for so much more.

There are at least three accounts of her death:
The partisan Abba Kovner told me she was caught
In a mission and hung. He looked away when he spoke,
Not piercing me as always with his tragic eyes,
And I knew there was more he would not say.

Another book says she lagged behind the platoon
Escaping an attack, perhaps pregnant,
And was imprisoned in Zhedtl.
The jail was ignited, perhaps by accident,
And she was just one of the victims.

When mother first told me the story
She had just heard at the hairdresser’s,
I must have been fifteen, and outraged
That she was weeping, tears
Rolling down her face. She knew
All I cared for was my own life,
And her latest discovery
Of the fate of her youngest sister
A disruption.
But who else could she tell?

The loft in the barn, she said,
They were hiding there – three women,
Her husband and her. They came
And set the barn afire. He helped
The women first, and his wife came last
But didn’t come, was burnt alive.

Malcah Malcah who saved all our lives
Malcah who was waiting for them
When the ship brought them back to Danzig
After they were barred from the Holy Land,
Who found them the agricultural visas to England
And saw them off the night that Hitler invaded.
But there is no real story.
All that remains is a faded snapshot
A few sentences in unread memorial tomes,
And me, who cannot tell any story for sure.


Today’s poem was originally published in Prairie Schooner and appears here with permission from the poet.


Karen Alkalay-Gut is now easing out of a fifty-year academic career at Tel Aviv University and beginning to concentrate on writing. Born in London during World War II, she was raised in Rochester, New York and moved to Israel in 1972. She has published almost 30 books in English, and Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian translation, and has collaborated on half a dozen music CDs.

Editor’s Note: Is it possible to read today’s poem without being moved to tears? To wax poetic (this is the place for that, after all), when I read today’s poem the first words that come to mind are “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” No, really. Let me.

1) Parallelism, as both an incantatory device and as a conversation between the poem and biblical poetry. “This much is in my blood: / I was conceived on the day she died. / This much is in my blood.” “Malcah Malcah who saved all our lives / Malcah who was waiting for them.” This parallelism is working on more levels than we might imagine. To echo the Bible in this way is a tradition that dates back to the earliest World War II and Holocaust poetry. But, in fact, it dates back to long before the Holocaust, finding rich roots among the varied history of all Jews in exile, and particularly those in Spain’s Golden Age and the time of the expulsion.

2) Vivid imagery that does not let us forget the many tragedies of “her story.” “[T]he two infants she watched / Dashed against the wall of their home,” “I can feel her mouth, her narrow lips clamped / As she bends over the delicate mines,” “He helped / The women first, and his wife came last / But didn’t come, was burnt alive.” This poem is rife with what Aristotle termed Pathos, the emotional connection to the audience. This is not a poem that you can read without feeling, deeply.

3) The poet herself shines through as a character, real and flawed and human. We know her struggles and her failings, and we experience them with her. “If I can write of these babies, / I can manage the rest,” “When mother first told me the story… I must have been fifteen, and outraged / That she was weeping… She knew / All I cared for was my own life, / And her latest discovery / Of the fate of her youngest sister / A disruption.”

4) Malcah, on the other hand, is made a hero through raw nostalgia. Malcah means “queen,” and while the poet did not invent her lost aunt’s name, bringing her name into the poem elevates the heroine to near-godly proportions. “She blew up trains. / The courage came from her uplifted chin,” “Malcah who saved all our lives / Malcah who was waiting for them / When the ship brought them back to Danzig / After they were barred from the Holy Land, / Who found them the agricultural visas to England / And saw them off the night that Hitler invaded.” Malcah the martyr, who did not die before first ensuring that the poet and her family would live.

5) “Her Story.” It is no secret that I am a big fan of herstory. I created a project to revive and celebrate it. But herstory, as today’s poem makes clear, is multi-faceted. It is women’s history, it is one woman’s history, it is women’s stories, and it is one woman’s story. But in today’s poem it is also the admission that there is no one story. (An idea I am incredibly interested in, as I spent the fall of 2013 researching my own family’s history through the lens of varying versions of the same story, much as today’s poem does.) In today’s poem we are given every known version of Malcah’s story, but the poet twins the telling of “her story” with the idea that “there is no real story” to tell. This is as true to an accurate historical retelling as anyone can come.

Want more from Karen Alkalay-Gut?
Karen Alkalay-Gut’s Official Website
Interview in The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism
Tel Aviv Radio
Buy The Encantadas: Evolution and Emotion from Amazon
The Bridge at Raqqa (eBook)
Youtube