Other People’s Poetry: “A Litany for Survival” Audre Lorde

al-blackuni-2

 

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid.

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.


Source: Lorde, Audre. The Black Unicorn: Poems. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995. Print.

John Ashbery, 1927-2017

ash

“Fear of Death” by John Ashbery

What is it now with me
And is it as I have become?
Is there no state free from the boundry lines
Of before and after? The window is open today

And the air pours in with piano notes
In its skirts, as though to say, “Look, John,
I’ve brought these and these”—that is,
A few Beethovens, some, Brahmses,

A few choice Poulenc notes. . . . Yes,
It is being free again, the air, it has to keep coming back
Because that’s all it’s good for.
I want to stay with it out of fear

That keeps me from walking up certain steps,
Knocking at certain doors, fear of growing old
Alone, and of finding no one at the evening end
Of the path except another myself

Nodding a curt greeting: “Well, you’ve been awhile
But now we’re back together, which is what counts.”
Air in My path, you could shorten this,
But the breeze has dropped, and silence is the last word.

“Seven Aphorisms” by Alda Merini

I am a furious
little bee.

To mistake shit
for chocolate
is the privilege
of the overeducated.

Every man is a friend
to his own
pathology.

I never speak
when I am not
turned on.

The gun
I point at my head
is called poetry.

Every tibia love its fibula.

Alda Merini
is tired of repeating
that she is crazy.

 

Translated by Carla Billitteri


Source: FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry: An Anthology. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015. Print. P 493.

“Mocha Panties” by Arielle Greenberg

locallymadepanties

You have your skinny pants that you never wear
but that are the barometer. You have your fat pants
that you wear more than you need to. You have your
period pants that are dark and thick and forgiving
and comforting.

You have your period panties.

I have a new resolution not to wear my period
panties at non-period times. I have gotten into the
habit of wearing only my period panties and pretty
much never wearing my other panties, my nice
panties. My resolution is to wear nice panties every
day, even the days I don’t think l’m going to have sex,
even on the days when l’m going to ride my bike.

Once, in the locker room at the YWCA after tot
swim class, I saw another mom who was wearing
beautiful, chic mocha panties and a matching bra
even though she had just come from swim class and
had a kid. The panties and bra looked French, and so
did the mom. I swore right there and then to wear
my nice panties every day, even though my nicest
panties aren’t as nice as those panties were.

But then I got pregnant again and never felt like
wearing nice panties.

So that was three years ago. Exactly three years and
I am finally hoping to make good on my promise of
nice panties.

Thus far I have kept my nice panties promise for
about a week and a half. It’s been difficult. Almost
every day I reach for my period panties but I haven’t
relented. It does feel good to wear nice panties,
though it pains my heart to get on a bike or go to
sleep without sex when I am wearing them.

Even when the nice panties are not two-hundred-
dollar hand-washable silk tap pants, nice panties
are a conundrum.

spacer1

If you enjoyed this poem, please support the poet and purchase Arielle Greenberg’s fascinating, honest, nuanced and insightful book “Locally Made Panties”.

“The Sausage Master of Minsk” by August Kleinzahler

        I was sausage master of Minsk;
young girls brought parsley to my shop
and watched as I ground
coriander, garlic and calves’ hearts.

At harvest time they’d come with sheaves:
hags in babushkas, girls plump
as quail, wrapped in bright tunics,
switching the flanks of oxen.
Each to the other, beast and woman,
goggle-eyed at the market’s flow.

My art is that of my father:
even among stinking shepherds, bean-
brained as the flocks they tend, our
sausages are known. The old man
sits in back, ruined in his bones, a scold.

So it was my trade brought wealth.
My knuckles shone with lard, flecks
of summer savory clung to my palms.
My shop was pungent with spiced meat
and sweat: heat from my boiling pots,
my fretful labors with casings,
expertly stuffed. Fat women in shawls
muttered and swabbed their brows.
Kopeks made a racket on my tray.

But I would have none of marriage:
the eldest son, no boon,
even with the shop’s renown, was
I to my parents. Among mothers
with daughters, full-bottomed, shy,
I was a figure of scorn.

In that season when trade was a blur,
always, from the countryside, there was one,
half-formed, whose eyes, unlike
the haggling matrons’ squints, roamed
and sometimes found my own.
And of her I would inquire.
Before seed-time they always returned.

Tavern men speak freely of knives,
of this, of that. Call me a fool.
For in spring I would vanish
to the hills and in a week return,
drawn, remote, my hair mussed,
interlaced with fine, pubescent yarn.


Source: Kleinzahler, August. Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club: Poems : 1975-1990. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. Print.

“What Rings But Can’t Be Answered” by Rebecca Lindenberg

ratbo-sm

You are beautiful as a telephone, colors
of bone, rocket ship, and cocktail lounge—

Hmm, says the neon sign, starting
an unfinishable thought.

Where do we go from here?

I’m a balloon,
each minute you don’t call is a breath
you blow into me.

I want to be the crackers in your soup,
I want to be your brass compass. Oh, mister,
just thinking about you curls the ends of my hair.

The clock tisk-tisks.

Moon, you old spinster, don’t you mock me
with your pockmarks and your slow, slow travels.

Moon, what would you know, cold as cheese?

Hmm. Tisk-tisk.

Behind a far-off door, a thought about me is being formed
out of nothing but light.

And when that phone does ring—

spacer1

from “Love, An Index” by Rebecca Lindenberg

Kino Sadamaru (1760-1841)

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Though this body, I know,
is a thing of no substance,
must it fade, alas,
so swiftly,
like a soundless fart?

spacer1

Source: Sato, Hiroaki, and Burton Watson. From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987. Print.

Hezutsu Tōsaku (1726-1789)

affluence

Affluence—define it as:
pickled greens,
rice for supper,
nice wine, one bottle,
modest but never empty

spacer1

Source: Sato, Hiroaki, and Burton Watson. From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987. Print.

“Whatever the color and condition of things, open your eyes.”

ghalib3

Below is Robert Hass’s version of Aijaz Ahmad’s literal translation of a Ghalib ghazal:

The happiness of a drop of water is to die into a river.
When pain is unbearable, pain becomes the medicine.

We are so weak our tears become a mild sighing.
Now we really believe that water can turn into air.

When the spring sky clears after a heavy rain,
It’s as if it had wept itself to death.

So that you may begin to understand the miracle of the wind,
Notice the mirror becoming green in the spring.

Ghalib, the rose wants to be looked at.
Whatever the color and condition of things, open your eyes.

spacer1

Source: Hass, Robert. A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry. , 2017. eBook.

“To Psychoanalysis” by Kenneth Koch

I took the Lexington Avenue subway
To arrive at you in your glory days
Of the Nineteen Fifties when we believed
That you could solve any problem
And I had nothing but disdain
For “self-analysis” “group analysis” “Jungian analysis”
“Adlerian analysis” the Karen Horney kind
All—other than you, pure Freudian type—
Despicable and never to be mine!
I would lie down according to your
Dictates but not go to sleep.
I would free-associate. I would say whatever
Came into my head. Great
Troops of animals floated through
And certain characters like Picasso and Einstein
Whatever came into my head or my heart
Through reading or thinking or talking
Came forward once again in you. I took voyages
Down deep unconscious rivers, fell through fields,
Cleft rocks, went on through hurricanes and volcanoes.
Ruined cities were as nothing to me
In my fantastic advancing. I recovered epochs,
Gold of former ages that melted in my hands
And became toothpaste or hazy vanished citadels. I dreamed
Exclusively for you. I was told not to make important decisions.
This was perfect. I never wanted to. On the Har-Tru surface of my emotions
Your ideas sank in so I could play again.
But something was happening. You gave me an ideal
Of conversation—entirely about me
But including almost everything else in the world.
But this wasn’t poetry it was something else.
After two years of spending time in you
Years in which I gave my best thoughts to you
And always felt you infiltrating and invigorating my feelings
Two years at five days a week, I had to give you up.
It wasn’t my idea. “I think you are nearly through,”
Dr. Loewenstein said. “You seem much better.” But, Light!
Comedy! Tragedy! Energy! Science! Balance! Breath!
I didn’t want to leave you. I cried. I sat up.
I stood up. I lay back down. I sat. I said
But I still get sore throats and have hay fever.
“And some day you are going to die. We can’t cure everything.”
Psychoanalysis! I stood up like someone covered with light
As with paint, and said Thank you.
It was only one moment in a life, my leaving you.
But once I walked out, I could never think of anything seriously
For fifteen years without also thinking of you. Now what have we become?
You look the same, but now you are a past You.
That’s Fifties clothing you’re wearing. You have some Fifties ideas
Left—about sex, for example. What shall we do? Go walking?
We’re liable to have a slightly frumpy look,
But probably no one will notice—another something I didn’t know then.

paculum-spec2-sm

Source:

Koch, Kenneth. The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch. New York: Knopf, 2007. Print, p. 609.