Homeward Bound: March 2005 Poetry Selections

HOMEWARD BOUND

In this computer age, reality travels with the speed of light in a newsroom. Everything is illuminated. There are no gray areas — no shadows.

An Associated Press advisory and story on the evening of March 22, 2005, left little to the imagination: "Gunman kills grandparents, seven people at his high school in Minnesota shooting rampage."

The rest of this breaking-news story about a northern Minnesota killing spree at a high school on an Indian reservation tried to answer the traditional journalistic questions starting with the five W’s and an H: who, what, where, when, why and how.

But it was too early for any answer except the "what."

Poetry, however, can give context to awful occurrences like this. Though not regenerating the slain nor correcting perceived wrongs, the art of putting words together can give perspective.

Susan Deer Cloud’s poem "Thanksgiving Day" provides an often overlooked point of view. Ms. Deer Cloud writes beyond the cliches about home. Instead, as a mixed-blood Native American, she writes in March’s featured poem: "Home. We know how bitter a word / that can be."

She and her Native American brothers and sisters daily feel the loss of a land their ancestors once called home. Her poem makes their pain real.

A line from a short poem by Katherine Bowman, an elementary school teacher on a Native American reservation in rural Minnesota, adds an ominous drum beat to "Thanksgiving Day." Ms. Bowman offers simply, "She listened to the shadows."

In Identity Theory’s March poetry selections, those shadows darken us all with the speed of light.

Charles H. Johnson
Poetry Editor
Identity Theory

 

“BABY GARDEN”

A poem by Cynthia Ris

The sign had fallen down
under the weight of the words.
Grass lay in scattered patches,
rough stones pressing into our soles
as if to prove this was no garden.
The day the sign first labeled
this patch of land must have been
the time hope felt pressed
to form itself into words: As if
the babies could edge up from under
their cocoon of soil, the crowns
of their heads the first emergence.
Like fiddlehead ferns, their curled bodies
would unfurl until they’d stand
on swaying legs, their nubby, pearl-smooth toes
grown ripe and faintly blushing, soft bellies
swelling with spring rain. Now, the heavy sky
rains its guilt down and unsteadies even
the ground we stand on.

Cynthia Ris — riscn@muohio.edu — is a freelance journalist and editor, and a professor of creative writing, composition, and literature at Miami University Hamilton (in Ohio). Her poetry has been published in journals including Rosebud, OJELA, and Pudding Magazine.

 

March ’05 Featured Poet: Susan Deer Cloud

THANKSGIVING DAY

You showed up at my Binghamton apartment, began
sobbing
after we embraced, sat down in my second-story dining
room,
the day’s pilgrim-gray light splintering across sister
hands outstretched
on table as though the yellow tablecloth were desert,
not a place
for sweet desserts, wine and laughter. Your heart had
just been broken
by a woman who said she was Seneca, claimed to be
Indian like us.
One thing for certain, she lied like any “white man” –
like the thieves
who concocted this holiday that we “mixed bloods” have
such long
mixed memories of – past Thanksgivings we shared with
blood relatives,
the ones still living, the ones now dead.

So you and I sat with the ghosts of parents,
grandparents, aunts, uncles –
and the ghosts of New England Indians who were so
kind, so giving
to those pale, bony people in stiff black with the
sharp-edged crosses
and cross faces. Last year I was the broken-hearted
one – perhaps still
I am in jagged pieces. Could it be that we of Indian
“blood”
never cease being all puzzle parts impossible to snap
together?
Maybe in my weeping last Thanksgiving and in your
weeping this,
there was something right, of truth – and in my
crying, again,
for your tears, for you, sister, who came smiling
violet-eyed
into this world eight years after I arrived.

Thanksgiving Day after our tears stopped flowing, we
ventured
out into the saddened world where the President we
didn’t vote for
started a war in Iraq, where we have blood on our
hands despite
our wanting peace, where Iraqi babies go hungry and
children lie
wounded and dying and our soldiers are confused and
also
are wounded and dying and coming home with minds
bleeding
nightmares in bright daylight. Home. We know how
bitter a word
that can be. We know how homesick we have been for
centuries –
we aging Indian sisters who wonder if we can survive
in this stolen land of the few rich and the increasing
poor.

Thanksgiving Day you and I wept, then delivered turkey
dinners
to people too broke or too shut in or too alone to be
able to celebrate
this day the way good Americans are expected to.
After we ferreted out
the dilapidated back-street apartments and the faces
not of
that America the President tells us we so luckily live
in, we
drove to our grandfather’s old farm and Boswell Hill’s
vast
fields, trying to re-live what it was like when we
were girls
hiding among cornstalks and swimming in the muddy wood
pond
and seeing how close we could get to the mean bull
watching us
past the trees, before such home was bought up by
lucky Americans.

And then we drove over country roads, hoping to find
the meadow
that surprised you with a herd of buffalo in early
fall – and one part
of us being Blackfoot we longed to be with buffalo on
this day
of greater homesickness than usual. Then we spotted
them,
their dark-smoke mass huddled together, great bulls
with glinting horns
and massive hung-down heads, the smaller females with
their calves nuzzling
under them, and we stopped and whistled and one of our
sister buffalos
drifted slowly towards us and our hearts leaped
towards her in lost happiness
from when our ancestors felt this same way before the
barbed wire was strung up,
railroad tracks spiked down, Earth divided, even Sky
World made smaller.

Beautiful, beautiful buffalo, all their bodies like
warm night countries –
the buffalos I ride across tall golden buffalo grasses
in my winter sleeps.
And you and I ceased saying words. We didn’t have to
speak how we felt
as I drove on and we in our silence wished we were
back there in that old
freedom of Montana and western Canada, living in tipis
and washing in rivers
and cooking outside and dancing under fierce suns.
And farther up the road
we both saw it. “White buffalo! Look, a white
buffalo,” we shattered
our silence, soaring by, then backing up to find
sacred White Buffalo beyond
asphalt road. And there she was, sunk in mud to her
knees, her mud-brown
eyes pleading with us as she swayed in November cold
and snow flakes.

And we sisters started laughing. “It’s a cow! A white
cow!” And you
rolled down your window and we spoke softly to her
standing, startled.
“We know that you are really sacred White Buffalo
Woman. We saw you,
all bedazzling with your blue moon eyes and snow
crystal fur – we know
you are more than a milked bought cow sunk knee-deep
in freezing mud.”
And that was how it was for us mixed-blood Indian
sisters, when you
drove from Catskills, broken-hearted, to be with me,
and we carried
meals to people but understood we were somehow feeding
ourselves, when
we drove out to the wildest land we knew, and on
Thanksgiving Day beheld
White Buffalo Woman, the extraordinary in the
ordinary, our first home.

Susan Deer Cloud — sdeercloud@stny.rr.com — has poems, stories and essays in numerous journals and anthologies, including Sister Nations, Native American Women Writers on Community, Unsettling America, Ladyfest*East 2004 Anthology and Shenandoah. She is a recipient of a New York State Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowship.

 

LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP

A Poem by Seth Wardell

You are far enough away that it makes me bring up love.
We talk about love. Around love. About children
and last names. About hyphenations and everything we
hate.

There are ways to get out of this conversation, but I’m faced
with making up my mind: whose last name, blood to use. Boy
or girl, you ask? I’ve always wanted a son, I say.

What matters if an imaginary child cannot bring us together?
We tried. Tonight, we really tried. Sometimes I lie in bed
with a clear head and see the world empty of you. It’s not so bad.

In October, after the light changed, you drove us to Harpswell.
We sat on the rocks, watching the surf break over tiny islands.
I took pictures, trying to capture sea-spray mid-air—the air.

You knew you were falling, and beckoned me to follow.
I skipped with you, my hands in my pockets, across wet
rocks until I slipped and fell backwards into the Atlantic.

The mystery was your strength: you lifted me up. Hooking
your arm to mine, you raised me like a crane hauling in
the scrap the boat had brought in. Some mystery

you’d always remember: like first seeing my baby pictures.

Seth Wardwell — swardell@mail.unomaha.edu — was born in Houston, Texas. He has lived in western Maine and currently lives in Omaha, Neb., where he is a student in the Nebraska Writer’s Workshop and serves as editorial assistant at Zoo Press.

 

BELIEVING SHE COULD HEAR

A Poem by Katherine Bowman

Believing she could hear
She tilted her head to the sun
Into the light she ran
But stopped along the way
She listened to the shadows
She knew what she had done
Into the darkness she walked
The moon became her sun

Katherine Bowman — bowmankat@yahoo.com — is an elementary school teacher on a Native American reservation in rural Minnesota. Along with a teaching license, she holds a B.A. in psychology.

 

SEX IS KNOWING YOU’LL DIE

A Poem by John Grey

Sure, we’ll die of something

there’s no cure for.

Ignorance, in other words.

We’ll live those days

when we just don’t have enough
of it in our systems yet.
So close the drapes,
hush the lights,
unbutton your shirt.
The warmth of the flesh
is just a stone to turn over,
reveal the rotting beneath.
Touch is a desert
awaiting the next sandstorm to blow over,
steal away the shapes
it’s made for itself.
Read your romance,
loosen your inhibitions
to that string section of the stars.
Be as naked as
the savior in your head.
Sex is gruel is what I’m telling you.
It’s mud.
It doesn’t connect the bodies
but measures them for
fossilization.
When it’s done
and we’re lying back
and feeling like this bed’s a carriage
toting us into the future,
remember tomorrow is
a hungry worm,
a momentary bulge
in his food zone.
Call it passion if you want.
The worm doesn’t.

John Grey — jgrey10233@aol.com — lives in Providence, R.I. His latest book is What Else Is There from Main Street Rag. He recently has been published in The Arkansas Review, Big Muddy and Off The Coast.

 

LOVE POEM

A Poem by Anthony Salerno

Sometimes I would like to watch you
missing me
as if this would give me a sense
of myself
beyond the emptiness
of shirts and pants
shoes and socks
toothpaste and deodorant.

I would like to be as useful
as a kitchen utensil
when you cook
a pillow
when you sleep
a blanket
in February’s
empty cold.

I would like to leave
traces of myself
like breadcrumbs
through the woods
and you can be the bird
who knows how I disappeared.

Anthony Salerno — ASalerno@CityTech.Cuny.Edu — lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y. He has recently published in Thunder Sandwich, 3rd Muse Poetry Journal and Sidereality.

 

WASH OF THE DAY

A Poem by Wendy Anderson

Josemene rises at five every day
to start the fire
to heat the water
to do the wash
in a bucket on the stoop
that she puts between her bony legs,
holds steady with her bare feet.
She grabs a man’s red shirt
and scrubs with her small fists,
in time to a music in her head -—
something she heard on the radio —
the furious rhythm of a girl who
yet pretends she is someplace else.
Her hands move like a fighter’s—
jab, jab, punch,
jab, jab, punch,
before she aims for the rinse bucket,
before she stands on tiptoe
to pin the shirt firm to a line.
This way, one thing at a time,
every morning while the house sleeps,
Josemene, a girl of ten in Port-au-Prince,
to a fight song in her head
and to thoughts that she must get a meal on
soon, before the house wakes,
gives the wash of the day a good thrashing.

She lives with Auntie Fritz, who is not her aunt
or even anyone her family of farmers,
way back in the mountains, with seven other kids,
knows.
But they know Mamie George in a neighboring village,
and thank their god every day for sending her
to take their oldest child to a city home
to care for her, maybe educate her,
so they would not have to feed her.

Mamie George watches out for girls like Josemene,
who was seven then, and now keeps
one nice dress she wears twice a year
when Mamie George fixes her up
for the long journey to the mountains.
She cannot hide her prunelike hands,
but she looks pretty and to her family
like she lives a life of luxury.

All day Josemene cleans and fixes meals
and changes and feeds and rocks two babies
while Auntie Fritz, who is twenty-six, tends her shop.
Sometimes she helps with the shop, too.
One day she stood all day at the counter,
with welts behind her knees,
where Auntie Fritz beat her with a switch.
She had dropped a dish the night before.
If she drops a plate again, Auntie Fritz says
she’ll use a piece on her.

Josemene knows Auntie Fritz to be a woman of her word,
who works long, goes to church, and prays daily.

(She prays her business stays good.
She prays her man never leaves her.
So far, her bed still smells like they do,
but every night she checks it
for something more; she checks it
for the sour-earth smell of Josemene.)

In Haiti, where she is ten,
Josemene rises at five every day
to start the fire
to heat the water
to do the wash
in a bucket on the stoop.
Her small fists dart and weave against the cloth
to a music in her head.
Before a rooster crows,
she gives that wash a thrashing.

Wendy Anderson — writersattic@comcast.net — is a longtime journalist who has her own writing/editing business. She has taught at the grad level at the journalism school at Northwestern University. She teaches a poetry workshop at the Highland Park Community House and has been published in Rhino, the Beloit Poetry Journal, East on Central, Hammers and Down East magazine, among othes.

 

ASTROLOGY

A Poem by Ben Hastie

The old man rests
on a bench
in the park
and remembers
how he came
to be there,
and just sits,
existing,
alone in
the shade,

No one would
be interested in
documenting
his tale and
no one else
would care
to read it,

And there are
millions and
billions and
trillions of
others in places
I know I’ll never
even see,

So I wander
amongst them
in markets, shops
and bars and I strain
my eyes trying to see,

Then I go home
at night
and sit
there alone
wondering if
someone,
somewhere,
is thinking the
same about me

Ben Hastie — benhast@hotmail.co.uk — of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, has had several poems and short stories published in local small press journals. He edits Horace, an independent poetry magazine.

 

Anger
— a couchant lion

The brothers took turns
at the chores:
shoveling the coal
into the furnace;
sifting the ashes out;
dragging the heavy ash cans
to the cellar stairs
and manhandling them
with knees and chest
up and out
and down the blacktop path
to the street
for the trash men
to heave into their truck
and bang on the sides
and throw out
to stick in the snow.

Their mother never knew
whose turn it was —
they swapped off a lot.
But she knew
the clatter
Cain made
coming back
throwing the barrels
down the stairs
and she knew
Abel’s whistle of satisfaction
as he walked them down
and she hoped the One
who walked in the Garden
would understand her sons
and that Adam would show —
whatever he said —
how much
he loved them both.

Jim Whelden — treebard@aol.com — retired from the N.Y.C. Finance Department as computer programmer/documentation writer. He has published three poetry chapbooks and was awarded The Byron Reece Award, 1st Prize, Georgia Poetry Society 1999; Whiskey Island Award, 3rd Prize, Cleveland State University 1999; The Denny Poems, (Honorable Mention, The Denny Prize, 1998); and 2nd place, Earth Beneath, Sky Beyond, Tall Grass Writers Guild, March 2000.

 

THE SEEKER

A Poem by Gina Larkin

We set up the chairs
on the silver lit grass
to watch the eclipse.
It is eleven,
long past the bedtime of this
whirl
of five year old energy
exploring moonlit shadows
while moonlight lasts.
Where are the birds?
Why are the crickets still making noise?
Does the sun hide like the moon does?
Questions birth questions
seldom waiting for the answers
I search the encyclopedia for.
Are bats blind?
Will the moon be back?
Are there people up there
waiting and watching, too?
The moon is half gone
obscured by earth,
by us, I tell him.
The half light
shifts shadows
blurs trees and bushes
to shapes unknown.
Will the house be here
when the moon comes back?
Can the blind find their food?
Is it dark where grandma is?
In the nearing blackness
he sits next to me
slipping under the blanket.
Where do we go when we die?
Why do people die?
Can God see me in the dark?
Dark devours the last morsel of light
silences the crickets and questions.

He stares into the blackness
Sometimes, mommy,
even when it is day
and my eyes are open
sometimes, I feel this dark.

Gina Larkin — ginalark@optline.net is the editor of the Edison Literary Review and teaches Poetry in the Classroom in the Edison/Metuchen, N.J., area.

 

PANTOUM: THE COUNTRY I CALL HOME

It occurs to me that I am America
I am talking to myself again

— Allen Ginsberg

A Poem by Tammy Paolino

America has cracked free of its Faberge egg
We are experiencing operating difficulties, please
stand by
Keep arms and legs inside the vehicle
It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind

We are experiencing operating difficulties, please
stand by
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses
It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind
Thank you for holding, your call is important to us

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses
You have the right to remain silent
Thank you for holding, your call is important to us
Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear

You have the right to remain silent
This program has committed a fatal error
Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear
God bless America, free cell phone service

This program has committed a fatal error
Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear
God bless America, free cell phone service
You have the right to remain silent

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear
Thank you for holding, your call is important to us
You have the right to remain silent
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses

Thank you for holding, your call is important to us
It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses
We are experiencing operating difficulties, please
stand by

It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind
Keep arms and legs inside the vehicle
We are experiencing operating difficulties, please
stand by
America has cracked free of its Faberge egg

Tammy Paolino — njbarefootpoet@hotmail.com — is a newspaper editor and op-ed columnist and lifelong resident of New Jersey. Her poems have appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Edison Literary Review and other publications. Her poetry collection "confessions of the restless,” received honorable mention in a chapbook contest judged by Billy Collins.

 

AFTER THE BREAK

A Poem by Kris Bronstad

North America loves its classic rock.
You are listening to zero point zero four
the tiger, the wolf, the howl.

To the highways:
the class of 1982 will now salute you.
This display courtesy of
the two hundred and fifteen hearts
of two hundred and fifteen civil servants,
still pumping as they burn away.

Watch as they douse their Firebirds in gasoline.
Watch as they burst with the shimmering wingspan
of official propagation. Thank you to our sponsors,
who kindly supplied the matches.

Up next after the break, a song by the hometown boys
who went and made it big. Up next after the break,
a song you can squeeze between
your forefinger and thumb. Wipe the blood on your
shirtsleeve,
and hum along.

The sons and daughters of North America
love its schmaltzy pop. Up next after the break,
Bette Midler covers Beast of Burden
with her old raincoat, and feeds it the magic wine
of a wayward Christ, who hovers over them
with his famous lantern.

This summer, make sure to visit the towering mountains
and majestic rivers of rock hard and soft,
harnessed for chalk and muscle. Take the family
on a tour of the cathedrals of instrumental solo.
Witness the mystery of Christian rock.
Pet the toupee of rebellion.

Up next after the break, a song that will smell
like the cold burned stew of space
where my voice will reach
in three hundred years, when we are all dead
to the stars that brought us.

Kris Bronstad — lkbronstad@mail.utexas.edu — is a Michener fellow at the University of Texas in Austin, where she was also born and, for the most part, raised.

 

IN THE FLASH OF A LIGHT BULB

A Poem by Elly Geldwerth

It falls out of my head and runs off
Down the street, like a dog unleashed
Sprinting in and around crowds
I can barely keep the pace
Panting and barely breathing
Trying to slow my heart for only a second
To determine if this is all worth the chase
Is it really that grand or even plausible
Is success just around the corner
Waiting to be caught in my greedy palms
There it is, or is it, I cannot tell any longer
The more this goes on the less I remember
Its look, its build, its implementation, et al
Oh well, this is not the first time I have been beaten
Outrun by my own inspiration, seeking its completion
Inherently knowing my lack of patience
Running into the ambitious arms of someone better
suited
Only to check in months or years later
From atop a billboard, or from the television
Maybe a magazine, never mind the medium
For there it is in its splendor
Shining like a newborn star alighting the night
Grinning madly at me with a sparkling set
Glad to be whole and ready to serve
And slyly needling my lack of verve

Elly Geldwerth — henryfool3@yahoo.com — is a vice president for an employee leasing company in Far Rockaway, N.Y.

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