For my Aunts Marianna, Helen, Bernice, Beulah, Zula, Della, and Blanche –
I ride along in the backseat; the aunt who can drive
picks up each sister at her door, keeps the Pontiac
chugging in each driveway while one or the other
slips into her overshoes and steps out,
closing her door with a click, the wind
lifting the fringe of her white cotton scarf
as she comes down the sidewalk, still pulling on her
new polyester Christmas-stocking mittens.
We have no business to be out in such a storm,
she says, no business at all.
The wind takes her voice and swirls it
like snow across the windshield.
We’re on to the next house, the next aunt,
the heater blowing to beat the band.
At the last house, we play canasta,
the deuces wild even as they were in childhood,
the wind blowing through the empty apple trees,
through the shadows of bumper crops. The cards
line up under my aunts’ finger bones;
eights and nines and aces straggle
and fall into place like well-behaved children.
My aunts shuffle and meld; they laugh like banshees,
as they did in that other kitchen in the ’30′s
that day Margaret draped a dishtowel over her face
to answer the door. We put her up to it, they say,
laughing; we push her. The man – whoever he was -
drove off in a huff while they laughed ’til they hiccupped,
laughing still — I am one of the girls laughing him
down the sidewalk and into his car,
we’re rascals sure as farmyard dogs,
we’re wild card players;
the snow thickens,
the coffee boils and perks, the wind is a red trey
because, as one or the other says,
We are getting up there in the years; we’ll
have to quit sometime. But today,
deal, sister, deal.
– Marjorie Saiser
from “Lost in Seward County”
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything.
Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way,
then the earth that invades as dust,
and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs
Don’t worry who uses whose toothbrush
or if anything matches at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic –
decide first what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
that place you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner again.
Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator.
Accept new forms of life and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows,
who collect patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at
or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
– Louise Erdrich
– Thanks, Louise. I’d forgotten your advice. We survived.
Don’t think for a blue minute
peace lies in dreamy eyes of smiling Buddha
blinking across fields of pink blossoms.
Peace is no quaint scene,
no warm aroma of homemade cookies.
Nor sound of luggage placed on holy ground.
Peace is constant motion,
careful balance, endless vigil,
rush of a purposeful journey.
Peace is not the people who sit quietly by
as civic injustice, office politics,
and environmental degradation
unfold before them.
Peace is the courage to speak out,
shatter comfort, demand justice.
Peace is not the people around you
suddenly linking arms and taking up song.
Peace is the cumbersome process
of controlling your own temper
so you can smile at ornery colleagues
and small children who contradict you.
That Buddha is not napping
in his field of delicate blossoms.
He’s resting from a conflict resolution conference
with his roommate.
He is considering the next move he will make
to stir petals into beauty.
Wake up to the people around you, he calls.
Steady yourself for a long life of patience,
sincere communication, bravery, love.
When you hear him
you will note
the vital peace of an artist’s hand
working paint onto huge canvasses.
– Kimberly Wilder NYC
It happens like this
The doctor walks towards me
His face is ashen
He says we have found something
It does not look good
There is a trap door in the seat of the waiting room
And I am falling
And as I fall I hear
The echo of him saying
As big as a mango
We can’t be sure
This falling goes on for days
Even though I appear to be walking
And giving speeches and riding on airplanes
I am falling
As the new doctor at the new hospital
As I wait to hear where it’s coming from
And where it’s gone
As I get pricked and probed and punctured
I am falling
As they first say it is not in my liver
And then later they can’t be sure
Until they drug me and wheel me off
For nine hours
And when I wake up
I am in a new country
Nothing is familiar
Because the possibility of not dying
Because I am now living in the land of the sick
Turns out my being a vegetarian-sober-nonsmoking activist
has not protected me at all
The surgeon tells me he has done 1,000 operations
and he has never seen anything like it
Then he uses the word fistula
First thing I think of course is
I knew from the first time I went to Panzi Hospital
I stood in the place that felt like an open barn
In the place where 200 women sat on benches
Their wounded heads
The strong smell of pee and shit from their fistulae
From the holes their rapist pierced into their bodies
Tearing them apart
I knew from that first moment
When I looked into their faces
And saw the crimes of this century burning in their eyes
500,000 raped women
500,000 vaginas violated
500,000 bodies massacred
500,000 wombs destroyed
I had no way to protect myself
From the hugeness of the atrocity
From the insanity of this disgrace
It rolled over me like a tsunami of pain and took me
Took me took me
I have never come back
And I never will
And I knew those women now owned me
There is no other place I could ever be
No other fight that is not this fight
It’s in your uterus
The tumor of rape
That is wild across the world
The tumor of rape
That exchanges women’s bodies for the price of a cell phone
Or gold and diamonds
Or anything that can be extracted and stolen from their land
The tumor of rape that began growing in me when I was only five
And is now the size of a mango
That’s what the doctor said
Which of course in the fruit of the Congo
The most delicious in the world
The women of the Congo are in my body
First gift I realize — I am not alone
I have imagined what it feels like to lose
your uterus or your ovaries
And inside the emptiness of my missing womb
There is space
There is a hunger
To just be still
Cancer stopped me
Trying to prove my worth
It stopped me
From apologizing for the truth
It made me stay in one place
For six months
It brought me back to my sister
It allowed me to commune with my friends
It forced me to take in love
And be cared for, which made me human
It took away the privilege of the well
And made me a patient
It taught me a new kind of pain
And now I see ever more clearly the sick, the poor,
the raped, and the oppressed, and I know we are family
And in the majority
And that what divides us is illusion
Created by our refusal to feel
Maintained and manipulated by those in power
And I know I almost died
and that it was only a couple of inches
And a few months that kept me here
And I now live with death as my companion
And sometimes she scares me
and sometimes she comforts me
But mainly she inspires me to be braver
And I no longer have any desire to be invincible
Because it isn’t possible
I am vulnerable and porous
And outraged and crazy-happy and alive
And I know what care is
And what isn’t
How someone can stick you with a needle
And never see you
Or they can stick you and take the time so it doesn’t hurt
And I feel in love with nurses
And I know everything is ass-backwards
That we idolize people who steal our money
And own everything
Rather than those who get
And I know that chemo can be a metaphor
As well as a physical treatment
And that the poison is not meant for me
But the cancer
And it’s okay to imagine them dead, mutilated and destroyed
Because we need an outlet for our rage
I know that after I was battered for years by my father
And raped by him
I held his badness
As if it were my own
And the surgery finally removed it
And the chemo burned it off
And I know that no one will ever again
Convince me I am bad
Nor will I tolerate being undermined
I know that the abscess that grew around my wound
After the operation, the 16 ounces of puss
Became the contaminated Gulf of Mexico
And the catheters they shoved into me
Without proper medication
Made me scream the way the Earth cries out from drilling
I know that everything is connected
And the scar that runs the length of my torso
Is the markings of an earthquake
And I am there with the 3 million
Who are living in the streets of Port au Prince
And the fire that burns in me
On day 3 through 6 of treatment
Is the fire that is burning the forests
of so much of the world
Cancer made it clear
That time is short
And we must decide
If we devote ourselves to wrestling power
Inside the crumbling walls of patriarchy
Or if we are ready and brave enough to build the new world
And after searching for so many years
To figure out what we’re doing here
I finally get that we are being alive
And there must be time to linger
And time to enjoy
And time to remember
And time for nothing
And everything is precious
The Indian sari curtains glittering in late summer sun
The morning fog
The coconut popsicle
And I know that avoiding suffering is impossible
Stop defending against what is being done
Stop pretending you don’t see the ragged man
With his arm outstretched
Or hearing the cries of the Earth being slaughtered
Or rationalizing the immoral war being fought in your name
Or finding ways to let famous rapists off the hook
Stop spending 900 billion dollars on unjust wars
While 30 million Americans are unemployed
Or justifying one genocide by another
Or burying your own story
Because you can’t bear how much it hurts
Dying is the only way of being born
My cancer is blessedly gone now
My hair is growing back
I have a scar
A warrior rack that runs down
My 57-year-old body
Each time I look at it I am reminded
That I was opened up in order to remove the darkness
I was laid bare in order to be free of the pain
I surrendered in order to find my power
Each time I see my scar
I am reminded that I was lucky
That I had insurance
That I could afford the most extraordinary and loving
Surgeons and doctors
That I was surrounded by an embarrassment of love
And friends and family who brought me soup and presents
And rubbed my feet and made me eggs
at 6 in the morning when I was ready to throw up
I am reminded that I mattered
And because of that I have recovered
I know that every single person deserves this attention
Every single person
And so my scar has become a permanent tattoo
Calling for inclusion and joy
I know that what truly kept me alive
Is the women of the Congo
Whenever I grew despondent
Or sorry for myself
I would think of the women and girls who still dance
After six million of their brothers and sisters
Have perished from the Earth
Who still dance even after the international power elite
Has forsaken them for 13 years
Who dance now knowing that V’Day’s City of Joy
Will open February 4th
And they will have their place, their fields
Their village to turn their pain to power
And become leaders in their world
How blessed I am to be forever linked with their destiny
I could not die
Simply until they were safe and free and running things
I bow to the woman of the Congo
And thank them for saving my life
– Eve Ensler
author, playwrite, activist
from her speech at The Women’s Conference
Long Beach, CA October 2010
Tomato pies are what we called them,
those days, before Pizza came in,
at my Grandmother’s restaurant,
in Trenton New Jersey.
My grandfather is rolling meatballs in the back.
He studied to be a priest in Sicily
but saved his sister Maggie from marrying a bad guy
by coming to America.
Uncle Joey is rolling dough and spooning sauce.
Uncle Joey, is always scrubbed clean,
sobered up, in a white starched shirt,
after cops delivered him home just hours before.
The waitresses are helping themselves
to handfuls of cash out of the drawer,
playing the numbers with Moon Mullin and Shad,
sent in from Broad Street.
1942, tomato pies with cheese, 25 cents.
With anchovies, large, 50 cents.
A whole dinner is 60 cents (before 6 pm).
How the soldiers, bussed in from Fort Dix,
would stand outside all the way down Warren Street,
waiting for this new taste treat,
young guys in uniform, lined up and laughing,
learning Italian, before being shipped out
to fight the last great war.
– Grace Cavalieri
from “Sounds Like Something I Would Say”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.
“It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a
long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you,
then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.
“When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked,
“or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become.
It takes a long time. That’s why is doesn’t happen often to people who
break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept.
Generally, by the time you are Real all of your hair has been loved off,
and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.
But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real
you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he
had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.
But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many
years ago but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again.
It lasts for always.”
– Margery Williams
from “The Velveteen Rabbit”
If one billion people in the world think peace –
we’ll get peace.??
You may think “How are we going to get one
billion people in the world to think PEACE?”
Remember — each one of us has the power
to change the world.
Power works in mysterious ways.
Visualize the domino effect
and just start thinking PEACE.
Thoughts are infectious.
Send it out.
The message will circulate faster than you think.
It’s time for action.
The action is PEACE.
Spread the word.
I love you.
– Yoko Ono
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes,
spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains,
then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one,
a story told by out silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges
arrayed like rainbows begging out praise.
Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper- bricks or milk-
teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean table, read ledgers, or save lives –
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day;
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain the empty desks
of twenty children marked absent today, and forever.
Many prayers, but one light breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues,
warmth onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk of corn,
every head of wheat sown by sweat and hands,
hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm,
hands digging trenches, routing pipes and cables,
hands as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind — our breath. Breathe.
Hear it through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues
symphony of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables. Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos dias
in the language my mother taught me — in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives without prejudice,
as these words break from my lips.
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed their majesty,
and the Mississippi and Colorado worked their way to the sea.
Thank the work of our hands:weaving steel into bridges,
finishing one more report for the boss on time,
stitching another wound or uniform,
the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work:
some days guessing at the weather of our lives,
some days giving thanks for a love that loves you back,
sometimes praising a mother who knew how to give,
or forgiving a father who couldn’t give what you wanted.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight of snow,
or the plum blush of dusk, but always — home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country - all of us -
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it –
– Richard Blanco
read at the Inauguration of Barrack Obama 21 January 2013
Christmas is a place, like Jackson Hole,
where all agree
to meet once a year. It has water,
and grass for horses;
All the fur traders can come in.
We visited the place as children,
but we never heard the good stories.
Those stories only get told in the big tents,
late at night, when a trapper who has been caught
In his own trap, held down by icy water, talks;
and a man with a ponytail and a limp
comes in from the edge of the fire.
As children we knew there was more to it –
Why some men got drunk on Christmas Eve
wasn’t explained, nor why we were so often near tears
nor why the stars came down so close,
why so much was lost. Those men and women
Who had died in wars started by others,
did they come that night? Is that why
the Christmas tree trembled
just before we opened the presents?
There was something about angels.
Angels we have Heard on High
Sweetly singing o’er the Plain.
The angels were certain.
Be we could not be certain
whether our family was worthy tonight.
– Robert Bly
from “Morning Poems”
In the old days,
before houses were warm,
people did not sleep alone.
Not even widows went by themselves
into the cold sheets of night.
Rooms were lit by lanterns and
children were encouraged to jump on their beds,
before they crawled inside.
You might sleep with your cousin, or sister,
your nose buried in the summer of their hair.
You might place a baked potato in your blanket
to help it remember warmth.
A fire would be lit, but after a while,
it would smolder down
to the bone silence of ash.
Everything was cold:
the basin where you washed your face,
the wood floor,
the windows where you watched your breath
open over the framed blur of snow.
Your hands and feet were cold
and the trees were cold: naked,
traced in ice.
You might take a dog to bed
or two or three,
anything to lie down with life,
feeling it breathing nearby.
from “Moving the Piano”