Thunder in the night
ice in the morning
spring not yet, still
winter-clad finches feeding
no sunshine but
a bright glow behind the clouds.
A soldier, seeing Russian troops coming too fast for a remote detonator shouts farewell and runs onto the bridge blowing himself up with it. Thirteen guards on a tiny island, facing the enemy, hear "Surrender or we bomb you." Replying "Fuck you Russian warship!" they die. Brave Ukrainian patriots, men and women who have never held a gun watch internet videos and learn to fire Kalashnikovs. A woman confronts a Russian soldier: "You’re occupants, you’re fascists. Take these seeds and put them in your pockets so at least sunflowers will grow when you all lie down here." President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks, defying invasion, staying in Kyiv: "We are all here. Defending our independence. Our country. And so it will continue." No matter how courageous the stories, no matter how inspiring the ballads, I want live people planting their own flowers, no more dead heroes.
The bombs fall down and the markets go up
weep crocodile tears
for rising prices of food and gas,
which at least they see–
unlike far away invisibly burning
homes and children.
And the beat goes on.
Dusk descends a little later every day,
morning brightens earlier,
promising another spring, new life, warmth
in the teeth of west winds
gusting to 60 miles an hour,
so the radio tells me and I
feel less wimpy about giving up
and turning toward home.
I see no sign of spring except
the promise implicit in lengthening days,
which will have to be enough to carry me
through the waning days of winter.
On my evening walk, I count a dozen dogs still romping in the winter park, schnauzer-size to Great Dane. At 17 degrees above zero, the Great Dane wears an elegant royal purple coast and matching boots. Canine apparel seems more fashion-forward than their humans’ parkas. I do not approach today, but other days I’ve enjoyed enthusiastic canine greetings.
On a farther hill, children and parents slide on bright red, orange, yellow, green sleds or saucers, cheerful, laughing, enjoying outdoors. Beyond the hills that I can see, beyond those I can count, more dogs and humans race and slide and play, on crisp snow tracked by hundreds of skis, boots, and paws.
Today, the stream and pond, the ducks and hills and snow are free. For a few frozen months, we roam freely through this winter park, until spring returns it to the golfing overlords.Continue reading
I have finished reading The Woman I Kept to Myself by Julia Alvarez. I may never finish reading The Woman I Kept to Myself by Julia Alvarez.
In years past, I read Alvarez’s critically acclaimed first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), and In the Time of Butterflies (nominated for the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award), a wrenching account of life and death under the Trujillo dictatorship. While the novels are wonderful, her poetry resonates with my own combination of writing and political life. My favorite in this volume may be “Ars Politica,” which begins with the child who dives headlong into reading and writing and ends with the fully adult poet’s conclusion:
“The inhumanity of our humanity
will not be fixed by metaphor alone.
The plot will fail, the tortured will divulge
our names, our human story end, unless
our art can right what happens in the world.”
As a writer, I found myself saying a resounding YES to “Why I Write,” which begins:
“Unless I write things down I never know
what I think, no less feel, about the world.”
“As far as I’m concerned the world’s a blur
which each word in a sentence focuses,
as if I were fine tuning the lenses
on my binoculars from bird to thrush
to Bicknell’s thrush singing in the maple …”
This collection of Alvarez’s poetry speaks so intimately and powerfully to me that it will remain permanently on my desk, where I can turn to it for inspiration as well as for the beauty of story and phrase.
I read Nikki Giovanni’s first book—Black Feeling, Black Talk—when it was published in 1968. I read her most recent book—Make It Rain—when it was published last year. And I’ve read a few in between. So I was already a fan—and then I read her December 2021 New York Times interview.
Her job, she told the New York Times, is to get people to think. And to be honest. Some of her views have changed over the past 50+ years. “There are things that I have learned and things that Earth has learned,” she says. Race, for example, is “illogical” and “a construct that is destructive.” Saying that does not erase her anger over racism and its destructions. For example, she sees no hope of redemption for Kyle Rittenhouse, and she hates Donald Trump.
“I as a Christian know that Jesus didn’t love everybody. When he was on the cross, he turned to the man on the right to comfort him, and the man on the right said, ‘You say you’re God, but you’re up here with the rest of us.’ Jesus, he realized, That’s a fool, and I’m not going to waste my time on a fool. He turned to the man on his left, and the man on his left said, ‘I do believe you are God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You will be with me today in heaven.’ You can’t assume that every fool is going to be saved. Because they’re not.”
I wanted to go back and reread that first book, that book that opened up for me not only black feelings and black talk but also the possibility and promise of poetry.
Searching the internet, I could find only a 1970 version: Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgement. This book has all of the poems I remembered, and more besides. Some are raw, some are lyrical, some are funny. (As is the New York Times interview, in parts, especially the part about the little drummer boy at the very end. Go read it.)
She is still a dreamer, Giovanni says. Dreamer, teacher, truth-teller. Not a bad role model.
I’m going to reread the Nikki Giovanni books I already own. And then I’m going to look for the rest of them.
Waiting for this new year
like your birthday or
the first day of school,
one more chance to
get it right
Not for me
some ball dropping in Times Square
some crowd of people drinking somewhere
funny hats and horns and sparkly everything.
Instead, I write. Because I can.
And hope. Because I must.