SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: PAUL NEMSER

4.28.13
MEETING YOU AFTER CHERNOBYL
By Paul Nemser


The last frozen day had come and gone, and we were
sleeping in the elbows of trees in the elbow of a town,
our sutures all sunken together as if we shared one wound,
as if we had climbed from a single pit

like a race of dinosaurs grown from a fused lump of eggs
that had slept in valley ice for three shifts of the North Star,
as the leaves undecorated the last few branches
which were skinny as bat bones or the bones of a squirrel.

There were cattle blotched with waning alphabets.
And there were eyes that had seen too many lights,
so we didn’t recognize the wells
we had drunk from all our lives, nor

the creek that flowed with clothes and flesh,
nor the seeds brought from all over the countryside,
from knived sacks in waterlogged barns, from pods
trembling on grotesque grasses.

We talked to each other until we could not talk.
It was gobbledygook, was joy, nothing to remember:
We would not be overrun like ants by a larger horde of ants.
The darkness would not come closer.

A dog would lift its howl to where the wind left
the tablecloths—crumpled, clawed up, drying in the sun.
A phalanx of trucks that had jostled our vertebrae
would sound like bubbles in a bottle.

I never missed you so much as waking from that sleep.
And I dream of you now lingering barely below ground,
all your twenty fingers warbling together as on flutes.
My pores open to you as to rain.

Years give way to lakes of white dust, to unyielding dirt-land.
The snouts of oxen stain pale as marble
when the beasts haul blades through the hardness that remains
of what decades ago had been garden.


(Today’s poem originally appeared in AGNI, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Paul Nemser’s book, Taurus, chosen by Andrew Hudgins as winner of the 2011 New American Poetry Prize, will be published by New American Press in November, 2013. His chapbook, Tales of the Tetragrammaton, will be published by Mayapple Press in summer, 2014. Nemser’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Blackbird, Fulcrum, Per Contra, Raritan, Third Coast, and elsewhere. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife Rebecca and practices law in Boston. Some of his family came from Chernobyl.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is one of those thoughtful, emotive, beautiful lyric poems that better expresses itself than I ever could. Some days the poems just speak for themselves. Are you listening?

Want to read more by and about Paul Nemser?
Read poems from the forthcoming Taurus on Blackbird
Two poems in White Whale Review
Poem in Unsplendid
After publication in November, 2013, check out Taurus on Google Books

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: PRAYERS LIKE SHOES

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FROM PRAYERS LIKE SHOES
By Ruth Forman


STAND

why so afraid to stand up?
someone will tell you
sit down?

but here is the truth
someone will always tell you
sit down

the ones we remember
kept standing



PRAYERS LIKE SHOES

I wear prayers like shoes

pull em on quiet each morning
take me through the uncertain day

don’t know
what might knock me off course

sit up in bed
pull on the right
then the left
before shower before teeth

my mama’s gift
to walk me through this life

she wore strong ones
the kind steady your ankles
i know
cause when her man left/ her children
gone/ her eldest son without goodbye
they the only ones keep her
standing

i saw her
still standing

mama passed on
some things to me
ma smile   sense a discipline
ma
subtle behind

but best she passed on
girl you go to God
and get you some good shoes
cause this life ain’t steady ground

now i don’t wear hers
you take em with you you know
but i suspect they made by the same company
pull em on each morning
first the right    then the left

best piece a dress
i got



THESE HIPS

these hips ripe plums
don’t believe
come
taste

these midnight moons
made a sugar’s juice
know how to curve a line
make a knife shiver
in anticipation

these hips ripe plums
don’t believe
run yr hand long this

n tell me

God did not know what She was doing
when She
gentled her hand
in a half moon
two times
smoothed
the most perfect
fruit
on earth



THE AIR ABOVE OUR TONGUES

We do not speak. afraid
of what might happen to us

the air above our tongues
prays for us to speak. afraid
of what might happen
if we don’t



Today’s poems are from Prayers Like Shoes (Whit Press, © 2009 Ruth Forman), and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Prayers Like Shoes: Whit Press, in partnership with Hedgebrook, presents this magnificent collection of poetry from highly acclaimed writer and poet Ruth Forman. “Ruth Forman’s Prayers Like Shoes is a book you will carry with you for life, give to people you love, and turn to in times of joy and sadness. Her words are as natural as grass and air, and the stories they tell will travel from the page to your heart.” — Gloria Steinem


Ruth Forman is the author of three award-winning books: poetry collections We Are the Young Magicians (Beacon, 1993) and Renaissance, (Beacon, 1997) and children’s book, Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon (Children’s Book Press, 2007). She is the recipient of the Barnard New Women Poets Prize, The Pen Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award, The Durfee Artist Fellowship, the National Council of Teachers of English Notable Book Award, and recognition by The American Library Association. She provides writing workshops at schools and universities across the country and abroad, and has presented in forums such as the United Nations, the PBS series The United States of Poetry and National Public Radio. Ruth is a former teacher of creative writing with the University of Southern California and June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley and an eleven-year faculty member with the VONA-Voices writing program. Also an MFA graduate of the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, she frequently collaborates on film, music, dance, theatre, art and media projects. Her latest collection is Prayers Like Shoes (2009) on Whit Press. When not writing and teaching, she practices a passion for martial arts: classical Yang family style tai chi chuan, tai chi sword, bo staff and karate. Ms. Forman currently lives in Washington, DC.


Editor’s Note: Today’s feature is more than a book of poetry, it is a gift. When my father passed away I found myself more determined to go on, to function, than to break down and mourn his loss. It was a book of poems that enabled me to weep, to grieve. It is a rare book that allows you to access the real human being who dwells within you, beneath the surface of what you imagine to be your ‘real life.’ This is such a book.

On the strong recommendation of a friend I bought Prayers Like Shoes. Because time is a luxury in my life, I began reading it while waiting for the bus. By the time the bus arrived—by the time I reached the bottom of the first page—I was in tears.

I read from cover to cover, on bus and train, first on my way into the world, then on my way home again. At times I felt the Woman inside me awaken, celebrate. At times I felt inspired to speak up in the name of peace. I wondered at love, at the nature of man. Throughout—within the delicate, vibrant, intricate fabric of Forman’s weaving—my heart was so close to the surface that the tears fell when they would.

I wondered what the people on the bus thought of me with my book of poems and my well of tears, but, mostly I was inspired. I was reminded of what I love in poetry. Experience. Connectivity. Reading someone else’s words and feeling that I am not alone, that I am part of a community, of a human world. That life is beautiful and painful and hard and that it is poetry—honest, vocal, unapologetic, lived, felt, lyric poetry—that makes the living more bearable, that gives us permission to experience emotion while offering us an outlet for the same.

I chose the quote above by Gloria Steinem because, first of all, what poet is touted by Gloria Steinem?!, but also because it speaks the truth about this book. I want to give a copy to my mother, to my Sisters, to the people I love and admire who engage with poetry as I do. I will turn to this book when I want to feel, and also when I want to remember why I write poetry. I cannot imagine a greater gift than that.


Want to see more by Ruth Forman?
Ruth Forman’s Official Website
Buy Ruth Forman’s books

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: EYES, STONES


                                   Cover illustration of Eyes, Stones: Threshold, by Kate Quarfordt


FROM EYES, STONES
By Elana Bell


LETTER TO JERUSALEM

To hold the bird and not to crush her, that is the secret. Sand turned too quickly to cement and who cares if the builders lose their arms? The musk of smoldered rats on sticks that trailed their tails through tunnels underground. Trickster of light, I walk your cobbled alleys all night long and drink your salt. City of bones, I return to you with dust on my tongue. Return to your ruined temple, your spirit of revolt. Return to you, the ache at the center of the world.


YOUR VILLAGE

Once in a village that is burning
               because a village is always somewhere burning

And if you do not look because it is not your village
               it is still your village

In that village is a hollow child
               You drown when he looks at you with his black, black eyes

And if you do not cry because he is not your child
               he is still your child

All the animals that could run away have run away
               The trapped ones make an orchestra of their hunger

The houses are ruin        Nothing grows in the garden
               The grandfather’s grave is there        A small stone

under the shade of a charred oak        Who will brush off the dead
               leaves        Who will call his name for morning prayer

Where will they—the ones who slept in this house and ate from this dirt—?


HOMELAND: A FABLE
             Michalya

They are the trees and we are the birds.
The birds have conquered the trees.
Now we’re saying to the trees:
We were trees before you were trees.
And the birds are saying: Well,
you’re birds now. You’ve been birds
for a really long time. And
you’re shitting on us.


Today’s poems are from Eyes, Stones, published by Louisiana State University Press, copyright © 2012 by Elana Bell, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Eyes, Stones: In this debut collection, Elana Bell brings her heritage as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to consider the difficult question of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

The poems invoke characters inexorably linked to the land of Israel and Palestine. There is Zosha, a sharp-witted survivor whose burning hope for a Jewish homeland helps her endure the atrocities of the Holocaust. And there is Amal, a Palestinian whose family has worked their land for over one hundred years—through Turkish, British, Jordanian, and now Israeli rule. Other poems—inspired by interviews conducted by the poet in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and America—examine Jewish and Arab relationships to the land as biblical home, Zionist dream, modern state, and occupied territory.
(Description of Eyes, Stones courtesy of ElanaBell.com, with edits.)


Elana Bell is a poet, performer, and educator. Her first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones was selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award and was published by Louisiana State University Press in 2012.


Editor’s Note: I would like to present today’s post to you as a love story. Imagine one day a young poet sees a post come across her facebook news feed announcing the winner of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award for poetry. Imagine this young poet loves Walt Whitman and wonders what sort of poet wins such a prestigious award. Imagine this young poet follows a link to the poem “Letter to Jerusalem,” reads the poem, and knows her life will never be the same again. Such is the power of poetry, I propose. I read the words “the ache at the center of the world,” and knew I was forever changed.

“Letter to Jerusalem” inspired me to dedicate an entry in this series to Israeli-Palestinian Peace Poetry. Through community—an idea crucial to the existence and flourishing of poetry—I reached out to Elana Bell and began a correspondence. This led to my featuring Elana on the series, and our friendship, which grew out of my unending awe of and respect for this immensely talented and dedicated artist, resulted in my attending the book release party for Eyes, Stones this past week in Brooklyn.

What I witnessed at the book release party was no less than true genius. Elana Bell has collaborated with theatrical, musical, and dance artists to transform Eyes, Stones into a performance piece of unrivaled beauty. The book itself, now officially released by Louisiana State University Press, is a heartbreaking work of true art in its own rite. This is a book that everyone should read. Poets, artists, performers, lovers of poetry, and those dedicated to bringing about peace in the middle east should read this book. But so, too, should Palestinians and Jews alike, no matter their political stance, because this is a book crafted to inspire and bring about peace. This is a book meant to open eyes, minds, and hearts, and I, like Elana Bell, hope that this is a book that will change the world. In its newest incarnation as a performance piece, Eyes, Stones has the ability to speak to new and greater audiences, and with my whole heart I look forward to seeing this work reach the far corners of the earth.

When selections from the live performance are available in video form, and when dates are announced for live performances of the work, I look forward to sharing the work of Elana Bell again, in yet another format, and continuing my dedication to promoting one of the most important pieces of political art of our time. It is an honor to share with you today the release of Eyes, Stones, and to feature the poem that made me fall in love and changed me forever.


Want to see more by Elana Bell?
Buy Eyes, Stones from Amazon.com
Elana Bell’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: PEGGY SHUMAKER

BEYOND WORDS, THIS LANGUAGE
By Peggy Shumaker

The morning I was born
                       you held my hand.

The morning you died
                       I held your hand.


What’s left
                       to forgive?



Today’s poem appears in Gnawed Bones (Red Hen Press, 2010), and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Peggy Shumaker is Alaska State Writer Laureate. Her most recent book of poems is Gnawed Bones. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. She’s at work on Toucan Nest, a book of poems set in Costa Rica. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop. She is founding editor of Boreal Books, publishers of fine art and literature from Alaska. She edits the Alaska Literary Series at University of Alaska Press.

Editor’s Note: I recently had the extreme pleasure of seeing Peggy Shumaker read with Amber Flora Thomas and Li-Young Lee at New York’s Poets House, at an event sponsored by Red Hen Press. It was one of the most moving and charged readings I’ve attended, and Peggy Shumaker delivered a deliberate, thoughtful performance. Today’s poem was recited from memory—Shumaker’s eyes locked with the audience—and tears ran down my cheeks.

On my way into the world, my father held me. On his way out, I held him. This was a gift. Being a reader and writer of poems is also a gift; an entry into shared experience, an outlet for the personal.

Want to see more by Peggy Shumaker?
Peggy Shumaker Official Website
Purchase Gnawed Bones from Red Hen Press
Read, Watch, and Listen to Peggy’s work online

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ELANA BELL

ON A HILLTOP AT THE NASSAR FARM,
OVERLOOKING THE SETTLEMENT OF NEVE DANIEL
By Elana Bell

This is for Amal, whose name means hope,
who thinks of each tree she’s planted like a child,
whose family has lived in the same place
for a hundred years, and when I say place
I mean this exact patch of land
where her father was born, and his father,
so that the shoots he planted before her birth
now sweep over her head. Every March
she plucks the green almonds and chews
their sour fuzzy husks like medicine.

I have never stayed anywhere long enough
to plant something and watch it settle into its bloom.
I am from a people who move.
Who crossed sea and desert and city
with stone monuments, with clocks, with palaces,
on foot, on skeleton trains, through barracks
with iron bunks, aching for a place we could stay.
All our prayers, all our songs for that place
where we had taken root once, where we had been
the ones to send the others packing and now—

Amal laughs with all her teeth and her feet
tickle the soil when she walks. She moves
through her land like an animal. She knows it
in the dark. She feeds stalks to the newborn
colt and collects its droppings like coins
to fertilize the field. Amal loves this land
and when I say land I mean this
exact dirt and the fruit of it
and the sheep who graze it and the children
who eat from it and the dogs who protect it
and the tiny white blossoms it scatters in spring.

And when I say love I mean Amal has never married.

All around her land the settlements sprout like weeds.
They block out the sun and suck precious water
through taps and pipes while Amal digs wells
to collect the rain. I am writing this poem
though I have never drunk rain
collected from a well dug by my own hands,
never pulled a colt through
the narrow opening covered in birth fluid
and watched its mother lick it clean,
or eaten a meal made entirely of things
I got down on my knees to plant.

And when I say settlement I mean
I love the red tiled roofs,
the garden in the shape of a garden,
water that comes when I call it forth
with the flick of my wrist and my hand on the tap.
Only lately I find that when I ache
it takes the shape of a well.
And when I bleed I emit a scent
something like a sheep in heat,
like dirt after rain,
like a patch of small white flowers
too wild to name.

(“On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm, Overlooking the Settlement of Neve Daniel” originally appeared in CALYX Journal Summer 2011 issue, Volume 26:3, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

See Elana Bell Read in New York 8/24/2011:
Rediscovering Literature by Women:
Readings by CALYX Authors
Elana Bell, Claudia Cortese, and Janlori Goldman
Bluestockings Bookstore, 172 Allen St. New York, NY 10002
Wednesday August 24, 2011 at 7 P.M.

Elana Bell was selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award for 2011. Her first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones, will be published by Louisiana State University Press in 2012. Elana is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, and the Drisha Institute. Her work has recently appeared in Harvard Review, CALYX Journal, Bellevue Literary Review, and Storyscape. Elana has led creative writing workshops for women in prison, for educators, and for underserved high school students in Israel, Palestine, and throughout the five boroughs of New York City. She currently serves as the writer-in-residence for the Bronx Academy of Letters and sings with the a cappella trio Saheli.

Editor’s Note: Peace poetry, like peace itself, is not always easy. An effective peace poem gets the reader thinking by pushing them to the edges of their own comfort zones, thereby shifting their stance, if only a little. Today’s poem pushes me to the edges of my own mindset, makes me a little uncomfortable, and leaves me thinking about Israeli Palestinian borders in a slightly altered way. Elana Bell has a true gift for this. Before the work she does, before who and what she stands for, I am humbled. But at the end of the day, the poem itself must capture me for me to share it here with you. When I first laid eyes on her words, Elana Bell had me at “the ache at the center of the world,” and today she blew me away with “Only lately I find that when I ache / it takes the shape of a well.”

Want to see more by and about Elana Bell?
Academy of American Poets
Harvard Review
Storyscape
Union Station

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HUGH MANN

BROTHER
by Hugh Mann

I’m not well
If you are sick

I’m not rich
If you are poor

I can’t live
If you’re not free

I depend on you
And you can depend on me

A brother is no bother
We all have the same Father


(“Brother” was originally published in organicMD, Envisioning Peace, and Poets Against War in Canada, and is reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)


Hugh Mann, MD is a holistic physician-poet whose website, organicMD.org, promotes peace and health by publishing Peace Poetry. His work has been published in various poetry anthologies, websites, and medical journals, including MIT’s Envisioning Peace, British Medical Journal, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, Jerusalem Post, and Poets Against War in Canada.

Editor’s Note: In keeping with our recent discussion on this series about peace poetry, today’s poem is by a poet who has dedicated his life to bringing about peace through poetry. Short, sweet, and to the point, today’s poem highlights how simple peace ought to be.

Want to read more by and about Hugh Mann?
Hugh Mann’s Official Website
Envisioning Peace