Reverent

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.

 

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

 

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

The Young Poets of Winnipeg

scurried around a classroom papered with poems.

Even the ceiling, pink and orange quilts of phrase...

they introduced one another, perched on a tiny stage

to read their work, blessed their teacher who

encouraged them to stretch, wouldn’t let their parents

attend the reading because parents might criticize,

believed in the third and fourth eyes, the eyes in

the undersides of leaves, the polar bears a thousand miles north,

and sprouts of grass under the snow. They knew their poems

from Exhibits from the American Water Museum

99.

From an original rock painting in Topock, Arizona, now digitized on a

wall-mounted monitor:

 

Before this city, the Creator pressed his staff

into the earth, and the earth opened—

 

it wasn’t a wound, it was joy—joy!—!

Out of this opening leaped earth’s most radical bloom: our people—

 

we blossoms from the original body: water,

flowering and flowing until it became itself, and we, us:

                                              River. Body.

 

Let Us Be Fireflies

Let Us Be Fireflies

                          All day we

     practice morse code signals

                                telegraphing ghosts

                                                    of intent.

 

                                 Between us

                                               unsayable things

         heavy as bone.

                               For any hope of plain

                 speech we must do away

                                  with skin suit propriety &

 

From all you can is the best you can

i once shoved my foot through glass

getting to know my own anger

 

its patches of stupid

bloody love

 

stress is just a socially acceptable

word for fear

 

i’m ashamed of feeling too much

 

river edges like a cut

of laughter

 

left too long in the sun, a bloated

syringe of time between our kneecaps

 

i know you want

the piece of the story

 

that is clandestine

but i won’t give it to you

 

Cold Solace

When my mother died,

one of her honey cakes remained in the freezer.

I couldn’t bear to see it vanish,

so it waited, pardoned,

in its ice cave behind the metal trays

for two more years.

 

On my forty-first birthday

I chipped it out,

a rectangular resurrection,

hefted the dead weight in my palm.

 

Before it thawed,

I sawed, with serrated knife,

the thinnest of slices —

Jewish Eucharist.

 

The amber squares

Other

1

 

Men prefer an island

With its beginning ended:

Undertones of waves

Trees overbended.

 

Men prefer a road

Circling, shell-like

Convex and fossiled

Forever winding inward.

 

Men prefer a woman

Limpid in sunlight

Held as a shell

On a sheltering island…

 

Men prefer an island.

 

2

 

But I am mainland

O I range

From upper country to inner core:

From sageland, brushland, marshland

God the Tea Master

All the weapons we marshal to confront the day

You ask to be left by the door before entering.

The sword in its sheath must lie on the grass,

the quiver and bow hung off a branch.

Daily mind, that dons the armour of thought,

does not shed the weaponry easily; too many are the tasks

that require its particularity – its thrust-and-jab conquest

of the hour, the arsenal of muscle and aim,

to kill one after another, disappointment,

discouragement, or to dent the thick underbelly of despair.

 

My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink

                  of the bathroom at Sears

to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,

wudu,

because she has to pray in the store or miss

the mandatory prayer time for Muslims

She does it with great poise, balancing

herself with one plump matronly arm

against the automated hot-air hand dryer,

after having removed her support knee-highs

and laid them aside, folded in thirds,

and given me her purse and her packages to hold

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