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Poetry


 
 

Poetry Section Contents

 

Suheir Hammad, "a prayer band"

 

Thomas Sayers Ellis, "Groovallegiance"

 

Lorraine Healy, "Where They Were"

 

Stephen Paul Miller, from "I’m Trying to Get My Phony  Baloney Ideas about Metamodernism into a Poem"

 

SUHEIR HAMMAD

 

a prayer band

 

every thing

 

you ever paid for

you ever worked on

you ever received

 

every thing

 

you ever gave away

you ever held on to

you ever forgot about

 

every single thing is one

of every single thing and all

things are gone

 

every thing i can think to do

to say i feel

is buoyant

 

every thing is below water

every thing is eroding

every thing is hungry

 

there is no thing to eat

there is water every where

and there is no thing clean to drink

 

the children aren’t talking

 

the nurses have stopped believing

anyone is coming for us

 

the parish fire chief will never again tell anyone that help is coming

 

now is the time of rags

now is the indigo of loss

now is the need for cavalry

 

            new orleans

i fell in love with your fine ass   poor boys   sweating   frying catfish   blackened life   thick women   glossy   seasoning   bourbon   indians   beads   grit   history of races  

and losers who still won

 

            new orleans

            i dreamt of living   lush   within your shuttered eyes

            a closet of yellow dresses   a breeze on my neck

            writing poems for do right men and a daughter of refugees

 

i have known of displacement

and the tides pulling every thing

that could not be carried within

and some of that too

 

a jamaican man sings

those who can afford to run will run

what about those who can’t

they will have to stay

 

end of the month tropical depression turned storm

 

someone whose beloved has drowned

knows what water can do

what water will do to once animated things

 

a new orleans man pleads

we have to steal from each other to eat

another   gun in hand   says we will protect what we have

what belongs to us

 

i have known of fleeing desperate

with children on hips in arms on backs

of house keys strung on necks

of water weighed shoes

disintegrated official papers

leases   certificates   births   deaths   taxes

 

i have known of high ways which lead nowhere

of aches in teeth   in heads   in hands tied

 

i have known of women raped by strangers   by neighbors

of a hunger in human

 

i have known of promises to return

to where you come from

but first any bus   going any where

 

tonight the tigris and the mississippi moan

for each other as sisters

full of unnatural things

flooded with predators and prayers

 

all language bankrupt

 

how long before hope begins to eat itself?

how many flags must be waved?

when does a man let go of his wife’s hand in order to hold his child?

 

who says this is not the america they know?

 

what america do they know?

 

were the poor people so poor they could not be seen?

 

were the black people so many they could not be counted?

 

this is not a charge

this is a conviction

 

if death levels us all

then life plays favorites

 

and life   it seems   is constructed

of budgets   contracts   deployments   of wards

and automobiles   of superstition  and tourism

and gasoline   but mostly insurance

 

and insurance   it seems   is only bought

and only with what cannot be carried within

and some of that too

 

a city of slave bricked streets

a city of chapel rooms

a city of haints

 

a crescent city

 

where will the jazz funeral be held?

 

when will the children talk?

 

tonight it is the dead

and dying who are left

and those who would rather not

promise themselves they will return

 

they will be there

after everything is gone

and when the saints come

marching like spring

to save us all

 

Suheir Hammad is the author of several books, including her latest

collection of poems, ZaatarDiva by Cypher (http://www.CypherBooks.com). She

is an original cast member and writer of Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. Her website is http://www.SuheirHammad.com.

 

                                    THOMAS SAYERS ELLIS

 

                                                                                                           

Groovallegiance

 

for Michael Veal

 

    A dream. A democracy. A savage liberty.

    And yet another anthem and yet another heaven

and yet another party wants you.

    Wants you wants you wants you.

    Wants you to funk-a-pen funkapuss.

Wants you to anthologize then re-troop your group.

Wants you to recruit prune juice.

    My peeps.

    My poetics.

    My feet.

    All one.

    All one.

    All one, heel and toe.

    My peeps.

    My poetics.

    My feet.

    All one.

    All one.

    All one, lowly heel and toe.

    Br'er feet and br'er beat repeatedly beaten.

Repeatedly beaten repeatedly beaten.

    Br'er feet and br'er beat repeatedly beaten.

Repeatedly beaten repeatedly beaten repeatedly beaten.

    Br'er feet and br'er beat repeatedly beaten.

    Feet feet feet.

                           Every feet a foot and free, every feet a foot and free,

every feet a foot and free.

    A foot and free.

    Agony and defeat, a foot and free.

    A foot and free.

    Every feet a foot and free, every feet a foot and free,

every feet a foot and free.

    A foot and free.

    Agony and defeat, a foot and free.

    Feet feet feet

    Reverend feet, a foot and free.  Reverend feet,

Repeatedly beaten

    Feet feet feet.

                            A million marchers.

                            Two parties.

                            One Washington.

                            One Washington.

                            Two parties.

                            A million marchers.

                            An afterparty.

                            An afterparty after marching.

                            The aftermarch.

                            An aftermarch-afterparty after marching

                        all the way to Washington.

                            Another march another party.

                            Another aftermarch after another afterparty.

                            After another afterparty after marching.

                            After another march afterpartying and after marching

                        all the way to Washington.

                            Always Washington always Washington.

                            Uncle Jam, enjambed

                        all the way to Washington.

                            After all that marching after all that partying.

                            Uncle Jam, enjambed.

                            Always Washington.

                            A million marchers.

                            Two parties.

                            One Washington.

                            One Washington.

                            Two parties.

                            A million marchers.

                            Footwork.

                            If feet work for page shouldn't feet work

                        for stage, run-on.

                            Run-on platform.

                            Run-on floor,

                        run-on.

                            If feet work abroad shouldn't feet work

                        at home, run-on.

                            Run blood, run-off.

                            From run flag.

                            From run bag,

                        run-on.

                            Run and tell it.

                            Run tell tag run tell toe, run tell, tell it.

                            De-decorate intelligence.

                            If so also de-decorate form. If so also de-decorate war,

                        run home.

                            In every war bloods leave and bloods bleed

                        and don't come home. What for in every war,

                        what for, and don't come home.

                            For war for war for war.

                            In every war bloods leave and bloods bleed

                        and don't come home. What for in every war,

                        what for, and don't come home.

                            For more for more for more.

                            That for, in every war.

                            That for, for every drug.

                            The war on drugs is a war on bloods,

                        run tell it.

                            A line is played. A section plays.

                            All up, into it, and involved, into it into it

                        and involved, all up into it and involved.

                            Footnote.

                            Take joke.

                            Take note to toes.

                            Clip note.

                            Go home.

                            Take note to foot.

                            Race note.

                            Footnote to feet.

                            Foot hurt.

                            Footnote to note.

                            Cite hurt.

                            Toe note to foot.

                            Bottoms up.

                            Sore foot to church.

                            Stop running.

                            If office, if oath.

                            Broken votes.

                            A line is played. A section plays.

                            A protest you press to test repeating itself.

                            A section plays. A line is played.

                            A protest you press to test repeating itself.

                            My peeps.

                            My poetics.

                            My feet.

                            Some ally.

                            Some enemy.

                            Mostly tradition.

                            The jive end.

                            Br'er rear.

                            Br'er rear end isms.

                            Pass out the words.

                            The kitty is not a toy.

                            Pass out the words.

                            The kitty is not a toy.

                            I owe roots and books to groundwork's underground crosstalk

                        of African Telephone Churches.

                            All one all one all one, star-spangled funky.


An associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio), Thomas Sayers Ellis is a coeditor of On the Verge: Emerging Poets and Artists (1993), and a contributing editor of the journal, Callaloo. His poem, "Groovallegiance," appears in his recent book The Maverick Room (Graywolf Press, 2005, www.graywolfpress.org), and is reprinted here by permission of the author. He is currently compiling and editing Quotes Community: Notes for Black Poets.
 

 
 

Lorraine Healy

 

Where They Were

 

For Anne Marie Macari

 

 

They were in Sweden, in Paris.

In Mexico City. In Venezuela.

The thirty thousand, the however

many had not answered

the latest roll call.

 

So said the general. The colonels.

Some lieutenants. Even the few

cadets of the Army School I knew.

Gone to Denmark. To Barcelona.

Zipping through Rome in little

 

scooters. Sending postcards. Asking

their poor mothers for more money.

Who were the mothers in the Plaza?

Covering up for the gone.

Making a wretched, wretched noise.

 

I went from thirteen to eighteen

eating the white  sour bread of lie,

and the way we sang bland rock ‘n roll

quieted the whispers, kept us

light-blue and innocent.

 

They were in Lima, crowding Madrid,

smoking la frula of Amsterdam,

on the long solitary walk of exile;

alive but skinless with nostalgia,

alive and breathing the rare foreign air.

 

So said the majors. And the beautiful,

immaculate Navy cadets on deck,

and the police. The news anchormen

tut-tutting the rumors, patting their gilded

hair. Were they homesick, the gone?

 

And we awoke and were so heavy

with the black-green years. So much mud

to go through, sifting for little things,

an earring, one of the wrist bones, a name.

We had been celibate for the motherland.

 

There was such a roar instead of singing.

The news came from abroad in empty envelopes.

The full things were the ditches where

the gone were entwined and known only

to themselves and each tangled other.

 

The cadets wore royal blue crossed

with red silk sashes. They could dance.

Nobody knew how we had come to own

so much hatred. Nobody knew. Nobody.

Nunca supimos nada.
 

 

Lorraine Healy is an Argentinean poet and photographer living on Whidbey Island, Washington. She is the author of The Farthest South (New American Press, 2003, www.mainstreetrag.com/LHealy.html) and The Archipelago (Finishing Line Press, 2005).
 

 

 

STEPHEN PAUL MILLER

 

From "I’m Trying to Get

            My Phony Baloney Ideas  about

            Metamodernism into a Poem"

 

 

I forget

        our SeaWorld

                          discounts.

                                 “We save

                                                  30 or 40 dollars.”

                                                       “So what?”

                                                                  objects

                                                          my 7-yr.-old son,

                                                                      Noah.

                                                        “Money’s

                                          a stupid little man

                                         who makes you

                                       buy things.”

                    Post-17th century

          modernism

pushes what follows

                                like a vacuum cleaner

                                                                   salesman

                                                                                 selling

                                                                                          one

                                                                     more part,

                                              says Bruno Latour.

                             We turn and

              Noah calls

      the highway—

a thin

        valley between two

                      South Californian hills—

                                                    “a lowway.”

                 At the Delmar Hilton, we run into a new doctors’

         convention

and I enjoy coffee in a china cup

                          “Can there be

                           an invention convention?” asks Noah from

     the back seat on the way to SeaWorld.

Greeks say “postmodern.”

         to describe

               a style

after one 

                                           “of the moment,”

                                                   —as modern means—

                                                                        but now

                                                              the postmodern

                                                       follows

                                         World War II,

so say “post-World War II/modernism.”      

                                                       Thank you!!!  

                                                                                               World War II

            globalizes America.

Postmodernism Americanizes

        the world.

     I’m not

   so much

American as

         similar to it.

                                  That’s bull.

                                     Noah sees me writing

                                        “invention convention” and says

                                        “anything you say can be a poem.”

                                       Example?

Near three SeaWorld sprinklers 

                       he reads Shamu the Whale’s

                                   cartoon bubble: “Caution, Wet Area.”

In the bathroom Shamu says:

                    “Caution, Wet Floor.”

                                 “Shamu really cares if

people slip,” jokes Noah. We soak in the sprinklers

                                                          though you never know

                                     which sprinkler will squirt.

 “We’re always naked,” says Noah,       

   “You have to grow clothes you can’t take off not to be….

               Sprinklers are more enjoyable with shirts on….

            Don’t throw away any

        of your old T-shirts—

     they might fit me.” I’m not so much American

                                 as similar to it, the idea, I mean,

                                                 the reports tricking  people into coming to North America in the 1620’s

                                                      and Iraq in 2003. “I don’t see why they call it SeaWorld, where’s the sea? They should call it         

       WaterWorld. SeaWorld doesn’t sound good. I don’t

              mean the music.I mean the word.”

                  The sound  system plays “Elephants on Parade.”

           “Whatever happens to Dumbo’s mother?”

asks Noah, “I forget.”

         “Dumbo gets a good job and uses his influence to

bust his mom from jail.” “Oh yeah,” he recalls,

       “The stork makes a mistake and delivers

                                       an African elephant with big ears

                            to an Asian mother.”….

 

                   On Ocean Beach I meet Risa, a

              seventies friend of a friend,

now an Atlanta social worker vacationing

          with her family.  Risa’s happy to see me.

                “You haven’t changed at all: When I think ‘Steve

                              Miller,’ I think ‘borderline depressed.’”

                    Why are we in California anyway?

              To me California means back to the Garden—

           but more immediately I’m here  to cheer my son.

Risa tells me her sister has what my wife has

 and her nephew Ray thinks Risa’s his mother.

  On the highway, I point at a Red Lobster remind Noah

   of how Mommy liked going there with us. He doesn’t

    want to remember. To cheer him up, I tell the Risa and  

     Ray story. As we drive to lunch Eric Clapton’s  song to

      his dead son plays. I tell Noah about it to make him feel  

       better, and it works. Noah is very critical of Clapton’s

        son’s mother as we pass an intricate accident shaving

         off a car’s front end. Feeling better, Noah enjoys

          pancakes at a Denny’s where the bathroom door says

           “MENS.” “It should be ‘M-E-N-apostrophe-S’ or 

            ‘M-A-N’S.’ Hey,” speculates Noah, Maybe, this is

             THE MAN’S bathroom.” The urinal mat says  “Say  

              NO to Drugs.” “What does the toilet have to do

               with it?” wonders Noah. “Do they want you to   

                throw your drugs in the toilet?” he asks. I phone

                 my LA friend Ken Deifik who says he forgot

                  how articulate the counterculture in Woodstock

                   is until seeing the new director’s cut. Whatever

                    the sixties is it melds natural and human   

                     concerns unlike unions of “human” and

                      “natural” science 

                            resembling Nazi laboratories and Utopias.

       The modern is the nature/human split, says Latour, and

      Latour  andLatour’s right: “We’ve never been modern,”                 

     meaning modernism’s always an illusion—a dynamic

    one we can see through but not escape—We’re meta-,

   not post-, modern. The new contains all. We’re between  

  bad (e.g., Nazi) and good (e.g., sixties) people/nature  

 distanceless reunions. Noah plays in the playground sand

near the main La Jolla Beach. “Nice warm sand,” a kid

 says. Ideally, California’s public space is everywhere—

  even if it’s really nowhere. California should be one big

   Woodstock. Okay, I know it’s maybe the apotheosis of

    the suburb, the death of public space, and the

     Enlightenment’s close, since public space enables  

      discourse—why suburbs (lacking much publicly owned

       common space) and retro Enlightenment Nazis can

        blur. But California can be intimate public space

         where it’s easy to have Noah write my poetry, I

          finally see  as Fahrenheit 911 makes you feel though

           you thought you already felt.

            I should settle for academia not killing me.

             Proficide is a crime only recently named. 

              A downside of tenure is scarcity of senior hires,

               tying profs to one plantation, so employers

                have a cheap, stable work force                                       

                                                   and can only fire professors

                                                  by slowly icing them.

                                                The university can be one big

       Florida election—overlooking or lying about evidence,

      misinterpreting rules, stonewalling, not admitting error

     so turning more and more wrong until it’s full blown

    inhuman torture. Insensitivity turns brutal—they might

   see it in Bush but think they’ve solid rationale that just

  feels right, just as Neocons think they don’t need to make  

 sense because they’re cool. Sometimes I feel that way but it’s weird how my job sort of well…misused…well….They

 put me through this amazing 14th Amendment-like role-

  reversal-thing where they hit you with your best shot.

   They think of it as using your weight against you—

    flipping you—the way Bush v. Gore uses the right to

     vote to take votes from African-Americans, again, like

      Groundhog Day, you know, because Florida

        has no uniform way to count votes, but then it stops it

         from being corrected because never mind. 

          Similarly, the idea is for your protection

           they can’t use past application descriptions,

            assessments, and judgments of research and  

             publications against you so they say you can’t use

              past research and publications at all and call

               a book as past if you just thought of doing it five

                years ago, no matter when it’s published,

                 thus disqualifying you

                  for their creative indiscretion.

                   And then when my wife gets sick,

                    the university human resources dept. backs

                     the college of conservative arts by denying

                                        me a family leave because they

                                                           say my wife’s too sick

          and needs care outside the home and hence I’m

not caring for her. Huh? It allows them to, as women

                                    so often experience, wash their hands

               of harmless special accommodation for dire needs

        and screw up childcare

for the good reason

                of them winning.

                          In another poem I’ll be more specific, I

          guess, or, oh, forget it.

They’re just doing

  what they’re supposed to do.

   I shouldn’t take it so

    personal[ly],

     but focus instead on

     eating pizza on the beach

      with Noah

       who asks me what I’m thinking.

                      I lie and substitute my last thought: “1968 and

what would have happened?” “Huh?”

                                                       The sun’s

                                                             setting in the Pacific

                                     where Bobby Kennedy dies again.

                               How could he get out of Vietnam?

Johnson, McNamara

  et al. already know you can’t win and

   they’re not stupid.

    But

     losing

      is off the charts. 

       To help Noah on a monkey bar

         I take my eyes off the white sun

           and miss the sunset

             yet catch its pink tail.

               We drive off

                         and see Mars and a crescent moon.

                                               There’re no tall

                                              buildings near

                                                                     so the

                                         ocean/light/sun/west

                                  seem in the same sky

              with the south/moon/Mars/night-

       like side-by-side stage sets.

Kissinger says if we prolonged the Vietnam war

                                                                        indefinitely.

                                                       the Russians would

 have respected us, not gone into Afghanistan,

and presto

               no 9/11! Don’t worry,

                                              though. If the best we can do’s

                                    eternal quagmire,         

we lose one in Vietnam

                           to gain one in Iraq.

                                                     Noah whines and I tell him to use his

                             words.

                        He tells me to use my brains.

         We all want credibility.

The problem is Kissinger wants credibility

                                                      on being God,

                                                            and Bush can’t wait to

                                             spread good

                             government

    when he doesn’t believe

  in any government. 

But Bobby Kennedy can and will end the war.

      We won’t dwell on it

         for as long as we actually do—I mean still are.

         Noah and I take a long trip by feeling at home. When we fly home

           we won’t go anywhere.

         In the morning,

      Noah builds a “castle-hole”

    from a wall

he makes to protect him from water

    when he notes the “hole”

        can project upwards.

            The kids copying him,

              he says,

                show they like him.

                   Four bathers pass.

                      “That’s awesome,” says one.

                           “You raised him well,”

                                    a college-age woman

                                         wearing a bikini tells me

                                            in a Czech accent.

                                              It’s lucky I get lost

                                                 going to the zoo

                                                                        and stop

                                                                             at wherever

                                                                        this beach is.

                      One reason for a vacation is to be nowhere.

              On the hotel radio

         we hear about an “international sand castle contest,”

exciting Noah.

        He says he wants to build a castle without being

                                                                                    judged,                                                

                      though, at the very end, he wants to

                 win.

Noah tells the judges,

      two thin middle-aged women writing on pads,

                                 his castle has “special features.”

                                                  He alerts them to the charms

                                     inside the castle: “a path to the roof”

      and “a tunnel to a hollow room.”

They call all 20 or so (12 and under) kids

                               onto a stage facing away from the beach

                      but only acknowledge 3 winners,

leaving the other kids to droop off-stage.

           Noah’s castle was the only one with formal integrity.

       Though three-dimensional and partially hidden,

  it’s of-a-piece

in terms of it sight lines and psychological space.

                                        “The judges know I won,

                                                      they keep their judgments

           on the inside when they should be outside.”

        Then he clarifies

their apparent

    incompetence:

    “They’re too serious.”

        Noah and I have collaborated

             on a marvelously imperfect meta-vacation

               made of grainy meta-thinking

                and to celebrate          

                  JetBlue pleasures us

                   with snacks,

                     no meal of course,

                      but supplement,

           nothing but excess.

            Blue feeds you like Social Security—

                         it’s best not to need it.

                          Bring it on,

                           they suggest,

                            and you can eat                           

                             watching TV.

                              There’s no movie

                                but everyone gets

                                 a television and

                                  their house flies.

 

Stephen Paul Miller is the author of four books of poetry, including Skinny Eighth Avenue (Marsh Hawk Press, 2005, www.marshhawkpress.org), from which this poem has been excerpted and reprinted by permission of the author. A professor of English at St. John's University in New York City, Miller is also the author of The Seventies Now: Culture as Surveillance (Duke University Press) and coeditor of The Scene of My Selves: New Work on New York School Poets (University of Maine's National Poetry Foundation).

 

 


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