High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Robert Garrett

16403407_10103555321683718_111071533205757261_oA note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, many of these poems are an analysis of gendered, racial personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are all current students whose work I found to be brave and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

I chose this poem for its insistent rhyme that is both grounding and unsettling. The devastation is palpable, and the vision of a violence-free future is essential.


Shell

Life is an empty shell
because of a shell.
I wonder if you fly in the sky
or cry in hell?

I hope your killer rot in jail
in an uncomfortable cell.
As I sit back and reminisce
the memories bliss–

I remember the near miss that almost kissed
My skull instead
it leaked your lung
then the blood
ran down as your eyes hung.
Still, in that moment, it never seemed real.

Till I heard the sirens squill.
I still remember the feel I caught
the chills but didn’t cry, and I can’t
remember why, but I had this feeling
that day I should’ve died.

Time moved fast; it was your funeral now.
Tears dropped, hearts stopped
The room froze,
you could hear a penny drop
The preacher walked
to the stage, cleared his throat
and flipped the page.

Said a prayer to start
then read off your obituary–
your age,
the whole crowd sighed in dismay.

They said, “He was a good kid,”
“He had bright future,”
But all I thought about was the weapon
that took your life was a Ruger.

And as I sat I had a dream
like Martin Luther King Jr.
of a world filled with peace.
Man it was nice, you could walk down street
without looking twice.
You could walk at night
when the lights wasn’t bright
without hearing gunshots left and right.

Then reality set in, and I was back
in the war zone
where guns are easy to get in.
And at least once a day
somebody becomes “a dead man”.

A place where hope is destroyed
and the whole country wants to fit in.
With the depiction of weapons
that Hollywood is setting.

But they’re not showing the truth,
because the truth don’t sell.
We watch as it fails the youth
and floods the cells.

It’s time to break through the shell
of ignorance.
You can no longer
claim your innocence.

You just need to open your eyes;
they say it’s a beautiful world, but it’s a disguise.
Cause every other day, a child’s mother cries,
as their precious one floats to the sky.

At the hands of the “necessary evil,” the picture deceitful,
because if they get one, you get one, we all get one.

We need to change the soil
that is growing the seeds doing the bad deeds.
Like cutting the dead roots from sick trees.
Cause now we just watching the leaves
turn brown as the sun goes down
nobody looks around to notice that world
is a continuous run from danger.

The feeling when a stranger can rearrange
your life, wonder where we made a left
cause this world ain’t right.

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Robert Garrett is a high school senior who enjoys reading, social activism, and volunteering. He loves playing baseball and is a 4-year starting centerfielder. He is currently very busy applying to colleges.

 

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: BLACK LIVES MATTER POETRY





“It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates



Editor’s Note: Every word I have attempted to write here has been wholly inadequate. I can only offer you poetry written by those who have lived an experience that I have only witnessed from the sidelines, in abject horror.


BLACK LIVES MATTER POETRY:

“Standing In Courage” by Jacinta V. White

“The All Black Penguin Speaks” by Roger Bonair-Agard

“Black Woman” by Georgia Douglas Johnson

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut

Black Lives Matter: A Roundup of Worthy Reads – The Poetry Foundaton

10 Artists of the Black Lives Matter Movement – Sojourners

Poets for Ferguson

Black Lives Matter – Renee Mitchell Speaks

‘Black Lives Matter’: A Poem by Nikkita Oliver

Anthony McPherson – “All Lives Matter: 1800s Edition”

Black Lives Matter/Freddie Gray Poem



SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DECENCY


Decency


From DECENCY
By Marcela Sulak:


selections from SOLIDARITY

vi. Virginity

It’s not that you get tired, it’s that it starts to be the only thing,
starts to disappear you.

Your parents phone you at college to ask: how is your virginity
doing? Did your virginity have a good day?

What does it want to be when it grows up? Your virginity sounds
a little sad this morning. What kind of cake does your virginity want

for its birthday? your girlfriends saw the most amazing shoes
that your virginity would look terrific in!

Want to go shopping? your boyfriends—would your virginity like to see
a movie? What about dinner?


ix. witches

My daughter is named for my grandmother, a midwife
who attended the births of 90 babies in rural Texas

before they had cars and after they finished having witches
but before there were doctors. Now you may understand

what I mean when I say another woman
gave my daughter a book called “The witches and the rabbi”

for her birthday. Here is the plot: a village is terrorized by a plague
of witches who fly from their cave when the moon is full,

on brooms through the sky except when it’s raining. I’m not sure
what the witches actually do to the village, since no one

actually goes outside on those nights. Gary, Indiana, could use
an infestation of witches—no stabbings

or gunshot wounds on evenings of full moons.
But one full moon when it is raining the rabbi shows up

with twenty townsmen. The witches
are so delighted they make them a feast of all the good things

they have. The rabbi tricks them into dancing with him and
the vigilante men, out into the rain,

which kills them. I knew her father’s mother was secretly
glad when I started to hemorrhage. She didn’t want me

to have a homebirth with a midwife.
“What kind of rabbis are these?”

Says my rabbi, stopped by for a quick hello. My daughter
wanted to show him that we had a book about rabbis. “They’re

engaging the poor witches
in mixed dancing and leading them astray,” he says.

This is the broom which sweeps the sky of the stars you have
to be too drunk to write about, as Daisy put it.

This is the housework the princesses do disguised
as village maidens. These are the constellations that form

in the shadow of the stars.
Silent are the women in the village

who took their cloth packets of herbs and were silent
when their husbands rushed off to kill the witches in that story.



CHOCOLATE

The day I won the custody case my lawyer gave me a bitter chocolate
in black and silver paper. Once I saw cacao pods
drying in a Venezuelan village square

during Easter week; through the open church doors, peeling saints sniffed
        and were carried
like colicky children through night streets. The local hot chocolate
was thickened with cornmeal and canella bark

somebody tore from the trees. To reach that village we found a fisherman,
        plowed
through rows of porpoises, then hiked five kilometers
inland through banana and cocoa trees,

which like shade. Once only men could drink
chocolate. Women were permitted cacao beans as currency,
to buy meat or slaves or pay tribute. It feels good to imagine a single seed,

hidden in the forbidden mouth, the tongue
curled, gathering the strength to push. The Aztec king discarded
each gold-hammered cup after its initial use; his chocolate was red as fresh
        blood.

He was a god to them. It was frothy,
poured from great heights. When we bathed in the village river, girls
gathered around me, whispering, why is your skin so pale? Why is your
        hair so straight?

Can we braid it? Dime, eres blanca?
The judge, our lawyers, her father, and I decided the fate
of my child. The dark liquid we poured was ink, initialing our little
        negotiations.

Who can know the heart of another, the blood
spiced with memory, poured from one generation to the next
over great distances? The Mayan word for chocolate means bitter. The
        village

used to be a plantation; now it is a co-operative, owned by descendants
of the former slaves. At Easter Vigil the women lined up
behind the most beautiful, in a long sky

-blue dress adorned with gold stars. Between the decades of the rosary she
        called out,
while we shuffled our feet in merengue beat, bearing the saints
through the streets, someone shot off a Roman

candle. The men’s procession paused for rum. I know I’ll be paying for it
        the rest
of my life. The Mayan word means bitter water. The cacao
tree was uprooted from paradise.



HOW TO USE A NAPKIN

Understand the napkin
has been unnecessary
for most of human history.

Understand the world is filled with people
eager to bend
things to their will.
We shall practice on the napkin.
When you have finished eating
place your napkin loosely
next to your plate
.

It should not be crumpled or twisted,
which would reveal untidiness or nervousness;
nor should it be folded,

which might be seen as an implication
that you think your hosts
might reuse it without washing
.
.
It is a delicate affair.
Don’t argue with me
said my husband

who had called for my advice
about the apartment he was renting
when he didn’t want to live with me.

It is largely
symbolic today
except for barbecues.
Lightly dab the lips.

I suspect the word
argue is the space
in the mouth for things
to come apart in.

The napkin must not be left
on the chair, it might seem
as if you have an inappropriately

dirty napkin to hide
or even that you are trying
to run off with the table linens.

It takes great trust
to use a napkin.
It takes an act
of faith to leave
the table.



Today’s poems are from Decency (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Marcela Sulak, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



Decency: Poetry. Jewish Studies. Women’s Studies. Decency celebrates the spunky wenches, the unfortunate queens, the complicated translators, the wistful wives who have been hustled off the spotlit stages of history. Through the lens of Victorian manuals of etiquette, through the unfolding of religion from the Middle East to the American Southwest, Decency thinks through the brutal things we do to one another, recording the ways the individual operates in relation to society’s mores and harms. From the Sumerian queen Puabi to contemporary female recruits to the Israeli intelligence’s “Honeytrap” operation, Decency is a mix of the documentary and the lyrical, the wrathful and the joyful.


Marcela Sulak‘s poetry collections include Decency (2015) and Immigrant (2010), both with Black Lawrence Press. She’s translated four collections of poetry from the Czech and French, and, most recently, the Hebrew: Orit Gidali’s Selected Poems: Twenty Girls to Envy Me (University of Texas Press, July 2016). She’s co-edited the 2015 Rose Metal Press title Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. Sulak directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University. ​​


Editor’s Note: If there is a question driving the poems in Marcela Sulak’s sophomore collection, it is a question of the ways in which we are and are not decent to one another. As individuals and as countries. As intimates and strangers. Both within and across the (real or artificial) divides of race, creed, culture, and nationality. Sulak pursues the answers to this question with the keen eye of an academic and a researcher, then relays her observations and discoveries with the skilled and deliberate abandon of an artist. These questions of decency are considered and depicted through the lenses of history, relationship, and etiquette. The result is a brave yet dainty collection. A powerful yet vulnerable collage. A work that charms the reader with its quaintness so that its harsh truths and difficult revelations go down like chocolate–bitter yet sweet, delicate yet bold.

Among the many long poems in this collection is one that stopped me in my tracks when I heard the poet read it aloud at the book’s New York launch last year. “Solidarity” is a stunning inquiry into rape–its ramifications and its afterlife and the endless experiences that collide with sexual violence in concentric circles. Today, for example, are Sulak’s reflections on misogyny and witch hunts, virginity and agency. Of virginity she writes, “It’s not that you get tired, it’s that it starts to be the only thing, / starts to disappear you.” Determined that her daughter know the truth about the history of hysteria, misogyny, and women healers, she considers witches through the skewed twin lenses of history and scaremongering: “Silent are the women in the village // who took their cloth packets of herbs and were silent / when their husbands rushed off to kill the witches in that story.” If I could have, I would have reprinted this long poem in its entirety. But then, you really ought to buy the book so that you can read this breathtaking work for yourself.

Throughout this masterful collection the poet’s own experiences are coupled with the larger lenses of the book–history and etiquette, for example–so that what is gleaned by the reader is at once deeply personal and delightfully educational. “The day I won the custody case my lawyer gave me a bitter chocolate,” Sulak writes of her unique experience, then later, in the same poem, writes of the history of chocolate: “Once only men could drink / chocolate. Women were permitted cacao beans as currency, / to buy meat or slaves or pay tribute.” Yet these ideas are not disparate; they are finely woven together by the poet’s skilled hand. The genius of this interrelation is beautifully evidenced by moments like this, in a poem that appears to be about the history of the napkin, but is equally about the poet’s leaving her husband: “It takes great trust / to use a napkin. / It takes an act / of faith to leave / the table.” The art of the poem–like the collection that houses it–is enriched beyond experience and information by a powerful lyric: “It feels good to imagine a single seed, // hidden in the forbidden mouth, the tongue / curled, gathering the strength to push.”


Want to see more from Marcela Sulak?
Marcela Sulak Official Website
“Jerusalem” in the Cortland Review
Decency” and “Raspberry” in Haaretz
Buy Decency from Black Lawrence Press, Book Depository, or Amazon

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: EMMA LAZARUS


Emma_Lazarus


1492
By Emma Lazarus

Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred.
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,
A virgin world where doors of sunset part,
Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”


Today poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here accordingly.


Emma Lazarus (1849 – 1887): A descendant of Sephardic Jews who immigrated to the United States from Portugal around the time of the American Revolution, Emma Lazarus was born in New York City on July 22, 1849. Before Lazarus, the only Jewish poets published in the United States were humor and hymnal writers. Her book Songs of a Semite was the first collection of poetry to explore Jewish-American identity while struggling with the problems of modern poetics. (Annotated biography courtesy of The Academy of American Poets.)


Editor’s Note: I wanted to share with you today a poem for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of newness, ushered in by sweet wishes of the year to come. But we spend the days that follow in contemplation of those regrets we have from the year past, in asking for forgiveness, and in letting go. When I came across today’s poem I thought of the Syrian refugees, of how the plight of exile has plagued my own people in the past, and how others are suffering from it today.

5776, the Jewish year that begins at sundown on Sunday September 13th, will be a “two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate” for countless Syrian refugees. That fate that my own people have suffered in the past is today their reality: “The West refused them, and the East abhorred. / No anchorage the known world could afford, / Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.”

Emma Lazarus is most famous for penning the words that appear at the base of the Statue of Liberty, wherein the “Mother of Exiles” declares, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” As we celebrate a new year, may the words of the Mother of Exiles find their way into the hearts and minds of ports and borders across Europe and throughout the world, “Saying, ‘Ho, all who weary, enter here!'”


Want to read more by and about Emma Lazarus?
The Academy of American Poets
Jewish Women’s Archive
The Poetry Foundation

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