Singing in Dark Times – #8 in a Series – Kitty O’Meara’s Gone-Viral Poem! In This Case How “It Went Viral” Means a Cure not a Disease. A Vaccine that Sings!

German poet Bertolt Brecht (1989-1956)

Epigraph from Motto

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing
About the dark times.

Bertolt Brecht from Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956, edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, Eyre Methuen, 1976

Back in 2017 I started this series. After seven posts it petered out. But with the Covid-19 pandemic on our hands it seems a good time to keep it going. Especially as people send out so-called “Pandemic Poems” to try and make emotional sense of this. A way to make peace with it. (To see the earlier posts in this series please go to my home page and scroll down to Bertolt Brecht in the index of Posts on the righthand side of the page.)

I love how language works. For years we have referring to any popular online  meme or post that gets thousands, if not millions of hits, as something that went viral. Meaning in a good way. Not the way Covid-19, nasty virus, is going viral in a bad way. Good to make the distinction.  But I so delight in the idea of poems going viral! Not making people sick or causing death but by bringing light and hope to sagging spirits.

And one such poem that’s been doing a lot of emotional healing work for a the past few days as it “sings” its way on through the internet’s highway is a prose poem originally posted on Facebook by a retired American, Kitty O’Meara, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. To learn more about Kitty, as discovered in the past few days by Oprah Magazine Online, please click here.

And the People Stayed Home

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed. 

Kitty O’Meara from Oprah Magazine Online, March 19th, 2020
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Hope Matters – A Poem for Today’s Pandemic Crisis and Much More: A Celebration of Poems by a Acclaimed Indigenous Canadian Poet and Mum, Lee Maracle, and her Daughters, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter

Indigenous Canadian poet Lee Maracle

HOPE MATTERS

    Hope lives inside  the artist:  instrument, brush
    voice, pen,  sculpture, body.  Hope breathes life
    inside  those   shadowy   crevices  where  doubt
    waits  to   feast  on   our weakened  and dimmed
    inner  light. Hope gives  us strength to trudge
    through   the  muck  and  the   mire  to  find
    solid   ground. Hope  is the home of curiosity,
    imagination,  intelligence,  and  compassion.
    Artists are  an  empathic link between hope and
    the outside world. Hope frees, hope relieves, hope
    moves us. Artists move people from inspiration to
    action and direct hope toward a new reality that
    can be shared by everyone. In the end.

Columpa Bobb, Lee Maracle and Tania Carter from Hope Matters, Book*Hug, 2019

Indigenous Canadian poet, actress, photographer and playwright, Columpa Bobb, great grand daughter of Chief Dan George.

Thanks to a young indigenous counselling intern at the residential facility where I lead poetry therapy sessions I heard for the first time of the acclaimed poet and scholar Lee Maracle. The intern told me I had to find Maracle’s poem Blind justice which I did (please see below). And then I also found her new book Hope Matters written with her daughters and with an introduction by her friend Senator Murray Sinclair who Chaired the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015. To hear Maracle read at the launch of Hope Matters please click here.

If I heard Maracle correctly in the video of her launch of the book she said she and her daughters wrote the poems in five days on her porch! None of the poems are credited specifically to any one of them but at the launch she said which of them wrote each poem she read. The title poem, Hope Matters, was written by her daughter Columpa Bobb. And Maracle shared a sweet story about it. Columpa was interviewing her grandfather for material for a poem and according to Maracle he said: If there’s no hope in it, it won’t wash! Well, she doused it in hope!

At this time of unprecedented social changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic I couldn’t think of a better poem to share. A poem that exemplies the inspirational role of poetry in tough times to give us back our courage and resolve. As Columpa says: Artists are an empathic link between hope and/ the outside world. And as a multi-faceted artist herself, Columpa creates that link especially with these lines: Hope breathes life/ inside those shadowy crevices where doubt/ waits to feast on our weakened and dimmed/ inner light. And remember these lines are coming from a woman whose people’s history is full of dislocation, mistreatment and broken promises made to them. Yet she can talk of hope this convincingly. If she can what excuse do I have to not hold hope like a beacon in my dark days!?
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An Ongoing Honouring of International Women’s Day – # 3 in a Series – A Consoling Echo Poem by Margaret Noodin

Margaret Noodin, an American of Anishinaabe descent, also a scholar, linguist and poet (1965 -) Photo Credit:University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Navendamowin Mitigaakiing

Apii dibikong gaashkendamyaan miinawaa goshkoziyaan
endigwenh waa ezhichigewag bagoji Anishinaabensag odenang,
mitigwaakiing izhaayaan miinawaa anweshinyaan.

Nimawadishaag zhingwaakwag miinawaa okikaandagoog
Nibizindaawaag zhashagiwag miinawaa ajiijaakwag.
Nimaatookinaag zaagaa’igan ogaawag miinawaa apakweshkwayag.
Niwaabaandaanan wesiinhyag-miikanan miinawaa nakwejinaanig

Miidash apii bidaaban niswi giosewag miinawaa
niizhwaaswi nimisenhyag dibiki-giizhigong gaazhad
baabimoseyaan nikeye naawakweg zoongide’eyaan.

Margaret Noodin from Native Voices, ed.CMarie Furman & Dean Rader, Tupelo Press, 2019

Woodland Liberty

When in the night I am weary and awake wondering
what the wild young Anishinaabeg of the cities will do,
into the woods I go and rest.

I visit with the white pines and the jack pines.
I listen to the herons and the cranes.
I share the lake waters with the walleye and the cattails.
I marvel at the complexity of wild paths and webs woven.

Then when the dawn hides the three hunters
and seven sisters of the night sky
I walk bravely toward the noonday.

Margaret Noodin , trans. Margaret Noodin, from Native Voices, ed.CMarie Furman & Dean Rader, Tupelo Press, 2019

You may hear an echo of another famous poem (copied below) in Noodin’s poem. But first I wanted to celebrate this poem on its own and its last line. I walk bravely toward the noonday. And how it makes me wonder what it is I need to do to walk bravely toward the noonday of the Covid-19. We read that faced with deeply troubling thoughts Noodin goes into a meditative space surrounded by things she loves in the natural word. Her poem forces me to also ask where do I find succour in these troublous times? And where do you?

I was thrilled to come across Margaret Noodin’s poetry in Tupelo Press’s 2019 volume Native Voices, an  anthology of Indigenous American Poetry, Craft and Conversations. Even better to discover that Noodin writes her poems first in Anishinaabemovin, the native language of the Anishinaabe whose lands surround the Great Lakes in the U.S. and Canada. Noodin then translates her poems into English through a process she calls lyric explanations.

In Native Voices Noodin says: Only by combining a poet’s love of words and a linguists passion for  detail with many hours of  Objibwe conversation did I find my own voice. And what a voice it is even in English. I so wish I could hear her read it in her Anishinaabemovin version above.

Noodin is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is also active in teaching the Anishinaabe language in her varied cultural communities. And on-line I found this biographical information as well which ties in I think to her featured photo for this blog post: With her daughters, Shannon and Fionna, she is a member of Miskwaasining Nagamojig (the Swamp Singers) a women’s hand drum group whose lyrics are all in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe).

When I read that first line in English of Woodland Liberty I instantly heard the echo of Wendell Berry’s well-known poem, The Peace of Wild Things. And as I kept reading I realized the poem was, in a sense, her indigenous translation of Berry’s poem. On Poets.Org she calls her poem her response to The Peace of Wild Things. I find her response or translation a reinvigoration of Berry’s poem. It brings it to life in a fresh way and in key places is less abstract which adds to its impact. And by this I don’t mean it diminishes Berry’s poem but makes it stand on its own as something new and not an inferior copy.
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Celebrating Women Poets Following International Woman’s Day – Two Poems by Samantha Fain and One by Me

American poet Samantha Fain

Woman as Wet Collection

He tells me, this is science.
These are facts. Your body
bakes the bread. Your knees
bond to the floorboards. Scrub.

Whisper. Speak white noise
but don’t sleep. Warm my shadow.
Keep your knuckles beneath the table
or in the dough. Don’t ask me
to repeat myself, don’t question
my tongue collection on the shelves.

You come from women who float
and marinate in formaldehyde,
who scooped their eyes into jars,
boiled their lips, and served
silence for dinner. Inherit
their dormancy. Be stiff.

He tells me, your body
is my temple. Perish.

Samatha Fain from The Indianapolis Review, Fall, 2017

When I read this poem a few weeks ago I was struck by its unapologetic harshness. Woman as object. Woman as subject to a man. Woman as subjected to a man. But as jarring as the poem felt, the craft and power in it captured me. I trusted its narrator. This awful isness of domination. Of inequality, in any form.

The cold confidence of so many of the lines: Speak white noise; don’t question my tongue collection on the shelves; who scooped their eyes into jars,/ boiled their lips, and served silence for dinner.

The startling imperatives that slow down the poem. That interject like slaps against the face. Scrub, whisper, speak, keep, don’t ask me and the awful final imperative: Perish. Whew. But as harsh a poem this, as disquieting, I an grateful to Samantha Fain for creating an isness that many women in the world still live under in one form or another. To remind us that inequality between men and women is still very real and present. A good reminder in the shadow of International Women’s Day. This reality many women still live under.

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A Few Days Late – A Heck of a Poem (And One Other!) to Celebrate International Woman’s Day!!! Or to Celebrate Women on Any Darn Day!!!Please Say Hello to American Poet Bianca Spriggs!

American poet and multidisiplinary artist Bianca Lynne Spriggs (1981- )

What Women Are Made Of

   There are many kinds of open.
        — Audre Lorde

We are all ventricle, spine, lung, larynx, and gut.
Clavicle and nape, what lies forked in an open palm;

we are follicle and temple. We are ankle, arch,
sole. Pore and rib, pelvis and root

and tongue. We are wishbone and gland and molar
and lobe. We are hippocampus and exposed nerve

and cornea. Areola, pigment, melanin, and nails.
Varicose. Cellulite. Divining rod. Sinew and tissue,

saliva and silt. We are blood and salt, clay and aquifer.
We are breath and flame and stratosphere. Palimpsest

and bibelot and cloisonné fine lines. Marigold, hydrangea,
and dimple. Nightlight, satellite, and stubble. We are

pinnacle, plummet, dark circles, and dark matter.
A constellation of freckles and specters and miracles

and lashes. Both bent and erect, we are all give
and give back. We are volta and girder. Make an incision

in our nectary and Painted Ladies sail forth, riding the back
of a warm wind, plumed with love and things like love.

Crack us down to the marrow, and you may find us full
of cicada husks and sand dollars and salted maple taffy

weary of welding together our daydreams. All sweet tea,
razor blades, carbon, and patchwork quilts of Good God!

and Lord have mercy! Our hands remember how to turn
the earth before we do. Our intestinal fortitude? Cumulonimbus

streaked with saffron light. Our foundation? Not in our limbs
or hips; this comes first as an amen, a hallelujah, a suckling,

swaddled psalm sung at the cosmos’s breast. You want to
know what women are made of? Open wide and find out.

Bianca Lynne Spriggs from Black Girl Magic, Haymarket Books, 2018

Call it what you will: list poem or catalogue poem, this poem rocks! And what a celebration, what a hallelujah for women! I love reading it with attitude at poetry retreats! First released in Poetry in April 2018, by Ohio University English professor Bianca Spriggs, I came across it in the fabulous anthology, Black Girl Magic, volume two in the The BreakBeat Poets series published by Haymarket Books in 2018. To hear Bianca perform her poem please click here.

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Gone for a Year, Today – Dear Patrick, Poet and Friend, Bless You. And Thanks for Your Great Kid’s Book Poem! It Cheers Me Up!

Patrick Lane – March 26th, 1939- March 7th, 2019. Photo: with thanks to Liz McNally

An excerpt from Milford and Me – An Illustrated Kid’s Book

(Milford in this poem/book is a small turtle)

We walk along down by the turnips.
There is no one but Milford and me.
We’ve been sharing a cucumber sandwich
is the shade of a very tall pea.

There are things I don’t know about, Milford,
I say when I take my last bite.
Who is God and where is he living?
Is God in the day or the night?

It can be quite confusing, says Milford,
to explain God and all sorts of things,
like maple trees, wagons and turtles,
and baseball, and robins, and swings.

You see, god is more than just seeing,
or having, or being, or not.
God isn’t a He or a She thing.
God’s an Everything, so I was taught

when I was a very large turtle
back in the days before days.
god’s an inside, an outside, an all-thing,
a backwards, a forwards, a maze.

But mostly God is a Not-Name.
A word that is never a word.
Something you can’t put your eyes on,
like a song when you can’t see the bird.

I thought about Milford and Not-Names,
I thought and I sat while I sat,
and I know now I know what I’m knowing,
so I think I’ll go play with the cat

cause if God is an Everywhere-Always
then my cat is part of God too,
like Milford and my mother and father
and all of my best friends and you.

Patrick Lane from Milford and Me, Coteau Books, 1989

I have written a lot of serious blogs on Patrick Lane since he died a year ago today. And I thought, why not find something serious yet light hearted, which led me to Patrick’s  kid’s book illustrated by  Bonnie McLean and published back in 1989. I love this book-length poem written in a young boy’s voice talking to the turtle Milford. A poem exploring as the book’s back cover says: a child’s many wonderings about life. And what could be a great wondering than the wondering about God!

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A Poem – My Response to the News of the Sexual and Relationship Abuse of Women by the Once-Celebrated Canadian Jean Vanier

Instead of a picture of Jean Vanier whom I feature below I want to recognize the unknown women abused by him in a  betrayal of his spiritual leadership position.

This Impossible Math – The Grace and Rightness
You Were Minus the Wrong You Were, Equals, What?

I grieve to speak of love and yet not love as I should.
I ask forgiveness of the many I have wounded
And of the many I have passed without seeing their wounds.
Pray for me, my brother

   — Jean Vanier from Tears of Silence, 1971

so who’s the laugh on, you or us:
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha,

pray for us, our wounds, my brother, my sister,

not love as I should… the many I have wounded
and Christ, to think this could have been about you,

your body, not the body of a saint, on their bodies,
some twisted sacrament made to look holy,

pray with us, our wounds, my sisters, my brothers,

so who’s kiddin’ who when holy, holy, holy
turns into, good god, is this some sick joke, sick,

sick, because god knows we know what they did,
Weinstein, Cosby, Ghomeshi, was wrong

awfully, awfully wrong, but did anyone ever compare
them to a saint as we did you, or stronger still, to Jesus,

because of all the light you shone on dark places,
your outstretched loving arms to the dispossessed,

the rejected, the over-looked and lonely? But now what
to do with the news of the overshadow your long body

cast on women in thrall to the light in you and talk about
not loving as you should, talk about when a crowbar hits glass,

trust shattered like that, and all along how you lied
about it, crowbar, crowbar, crowbar and now,

as if in a mirror, that crowbar hits you
and something in me shatters, too,

pray for us, my brothers, my sisters.

Richard Osler, unpublished

For me and many others, what a shock! The shadow side of a previously revered human being – Jean Vanier. Celebrated founder of the L’Arche healing communities all around the world. If ever we need yet another reminder that even the seemingly great and wonderful among us, especially men, carry a shadow (especially a sexual one) and need to do lots of work on it to keep it from making a mess of their lives and the lives of others, this is it!

But even sadder for me, is that if you read the thirty or so books of Jean Vanier, he got so clearly that brokenness in each of us. He got the shadow and the way it lives in the world. But somehow he missed dealing with his own. It is so sad he was unable to bring it out into the open and begin healing it for himself. And of course, it is not just the great and celebrated who deal with their shadow. All of us do.

But as  American Robert Bly, one of my favorite poets, says, the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. And in a poem that is part of the following excerpt from A Little Book on the Human Shadow, he refers to a Babylonian version of the Noah story to illustrate what he means:

We notice that when sunlight hits the body, the body turns bright, but it throws a shadow, which is dark. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. Each of us has some part of our personality that is hidden from us. Parent, and teachers in general, urge us t develop the light side of the personality –  move into well-lit subjects such as mathematics and geometry – and to become successful. The dark part then becomes starved. What do we do then. We send out a crow.

The dove returns: it found no resting place;
It was in flight all night above the shaken seas;
Beneath dark eaves
The dove shall magnify the tiger’s bed;
Give the dove peace.
The split-tailed swallow leaves the sill at dawn;
At dusk, blue swallows shall return.
the crow, the crow, the spider-colored crow,
The crow shall find new mud to walk upon.

Robert Bly from The Little Book on the Human Shadow, HarperCollins Publishers, 1988

For me here’s where the math doesn’t add up. Jean Vanier does immeasurable good in the world and immeasurable bad he did in the lives of the women he mistreated,  And yet the very good he did, his understanding of how we are broken and can mistreat each other, how much we need to reach out in love, seemed to fail him when reaching out to his shadow.  His sexual wound.

Bly says a person who has eaten their shadow (a healing response) spreads calmness and shows more grief than anger. That seemed so true for Vanier.  But somehow, to use Bly’s metaphor, Vanier must have left out a big part out of that eating! Look at his poem/ prayer which is the epigraph to this post:

I grieve to speak of love and yet not love as I should.
I ask forgiveness of the many I have wounded…

But, but, he was unable to do this, it appears, with the woman he harmed. In fact, in some cases he seems to have showed indifference to their complaints, their anguish.

Another huge but. Not to do with Jean Vanier. But to do with me. And what others might do, especially in the L’Arche communities devastated by this news, Instead of a blind acting out against Vanier because of my disappointment what can I do to not activate my own shadow in this? What can others do? For me it is to keep seeing the unhealed resentments, the holier than thous, and other shadow bits in me so to limit what I act out in the world. How do I learn not to send out my crow instead of being with it in my own mud, now. Deal with my brokenness and have that become healing nourishment.

Now the news flash: a week or so ago, L’Arche International, announced that after an extensive investigation, Jean Vanier (1929 – 2019), considered by some, including me, a modern day saint and celebrated with highest honours, had inappropriate (some coercive) sexual relations with at least six women over a period of many years and hidden his involvement in disturbing sexual practices for more than sixty years.

As someone who had met Jean in a transformative moment in my late teens the news of his wrong doings was a remarkable “oh no” moment for me. As it has been for others like Krista Tippett of the On Being Project on the US NPR and for Ian Brown, celebrated journalist with the Canadian Globe and Mail. I urge you to read these thoughtful pieces. Especially Ian Brown’s. His story of visiting L’Arche/Daybreak  in the Toronto area last Friday. To sit in the goodness there Jean helped create. But also to share in the upset and confusion created by the news. Bless you Krista and Ian. Links to these pieces below.

For my previous blog post three years ago on Jean all about his impact on my life and the then clear math of all the good he had done in his life please click here. For Krista’s searching look at her reaction to the Vanier news click here. And for Ian’s reflection on his long-term relationship with Vanier and what these revelations stir up in him please click here.

How at odds this shocking revelation about Jean was with the public image of a man who was celebrated as a theologian, inspirational author and Roman Catholic social innovator who in 1964 founded the L’Arche federation which now consists of about 140  home communities in 38 countries, providing safe and loving homes for people with intellectual disabilities and those who assist them. And now I and many others try to figure out how to reconcile the great good he did with this shocking abuse of his spiritual power. And, as in his prayer above, how to forgive him. And to keep asking forgiveness for myself especially when I act out of the uneaten parts of my shadow. And to ask for healing for the women hurt so badly by Jean’s unresolved, unhealed shadow.

Jean Vanier. Photo Credit: The Templeton Prize

 

When an Orange is a Heck of a Lot More than an Orange – Poems by Jeanette Lynes and Lorna Crozier

What to Make of an Orange

But maybe first I’ll start with banana
as in the joke: Knock knock. Who’s there?
Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there?
Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there?
Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn’t say
banana? And Orange you wondering where this is going
and why? And I’ll tell you why. Orange you glad?
Because I found two poems on an orange,
one quite sad and the other more a mixture, some happy
some sad. A seemingly simple orb, the stories we tell
about it; about us, of course. Two poems to savour
or not. What to do when a loveliness is not enough?
When the sweetness cannot last? Only this: to write
about it. Like Crozier and Lynes. Two poems.
I invite you. Take a bite. Or two. Or more.

Richard Osler, unpublished

Hello. Hello. Almost two months away from my blog. But it’s never been far from my mind and heart. Still recovering from writing thirty-one poems in thirty-one days in January with five others! But now, this one blog on two poems with an orange as the central metaphor by two renowned Canadian poets: Jeanette Lynes, who spent a fair bit of time back east in Nova Scotia teaching at St Francis Xavier and editing the Antigonish Review and now teaches in Saskatoon; and Lorna Crozier a Saskatchewan native now based here on Vancouver Island and no stranger to these blog pages.

Canadian poet Jeanette Lynes, 2015

A few months ago a good poet friend from Halifax suggested I include more poets from her neck of the woods and I was glad of the suggestion with my focus here on the West Coast. Funny though, that when I decided to feature Jeanette Lynes I had not realized she had moved out these ways!

What has struck me with these two poems is how an orange becomes  the central image in the relationships described in these poems yet how differently it is used. And it is not what the orange represents on its own but how it’s meaning is impacted by how the characters in the poem relate to it in their own lives.  The orange in these poems is secondary but my oh my how it adds the emotional punch.  Especially in the Lynes poem.  Orange as the image of pure sorrow! Ouch.  The first line of her poem a text book example of a great first line.


The Inner World of the Orange
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My Mistake – The Correct Version of the Poem “Leaving Green” from my Post on Canadian Poet Martha Royea, Dec. 30th, 2019 – Sorry, Martha!


Leaving Green

Montreal, hot-as-hell August 1968. I lope along
an early morning side street of modest homes
wearing a black boy’s body, swinging
the biggest boom box you ever saw in one hand,
finger-snapping time with the other,
my lips mouthing Motown all around the town, oooh ya!

Oh, sure, I’m watching the boy from the third floor balcony
of the only walk-up on the street, my little earthbound
heart pulling me down, down into nothing but envy
‘til I turn around to where a husky-throat bad-assed lezzzbian
sits I her underpants at the kitchen table looking me up and down,
sweat tricking over her white breasts and a sidelong grin
like Mama knows best and I too wanna be a long-limbed
black boy, boom-boxing the world out of my way
in no-future, no-past hypno-bliss mojo.
What skinny white lesbian wouldn’t?

And me, summer-struck, I think I’m in love with this
pheromone machine who’s made it her business
to keep me at a distance, protect me from “the life”,
by whuich she means there are drugs involved,
and sex, sometimes in groups. I imagine a smoky room
all mattress, no lights, limbs and lips and moans
I’ve never met before and probably wouldn’t
want to on any dark-night side-street, or even
in the light of day – maybe especially in the light of day.
And smells. I imagine Melmac salad bowlas full os
multicolour mix n match-not jellybeans by any means.
You, she says to me, are a green girl from the country,
and furthermore far from home. This life is not for you.

It was worse than that; I was a married woman
with two children under six. I was running away from a fist
on a spring and a hand stuck to a beer glass perpetually full.
Running away to a sweat-steamy kitchen on a street where
black boys swing up an everyday feast for the eyes.,
set the beat of the neighborhood hormones throbbing
and move on, move on, medicine men in the making.

I was what, twenty eight? We shared a sun sign, it had to be fate.
It was lust; you know it! The bird in my belly went haywire
the first time I heard her speak, and that was years before
on the Canadair factory floor. Skinny boy-girl,
swaggering me invoices to copy in the photostat machine
that burned chemical holes in my clothes and made
my eyes burn red. That wicked husky chuckle,
those half-hooded eyes. Jesus, was I scared!

It’s because of you I married the bastard, I tell her.
Go home, she says. Come here, she means. Doesn’t she?
I cross the floor, cunt full of feathers, I cross the floor, kiss her on the lips.
I’m gong, I say. I’m going. Not home.

Martha Royea from because it was the fifities, 26 leaves with little bird media, 2012

My huge apologies to Martha Royea for omitting a crucial stanza from her poem Leaving Green in yesterday’s blog post! I have now corrected that mistake in yesterday’s post but wanted to feature the complete poem here as well. Too fine a poem to mis-publish.

This poem is a great example of Martha’s narrative flair. How she doesn’t sacrifice poetic craft for the story. How her craft enhances the dramatic impact of the narrative. How she keeps the tension and momentum in the poem by her skillfull use of syntax.  As an example listen to how well these lines add a dramatic colour to the narrator:

I was what, twenty-eight? We shared a sun sign, it had to be fate.
It was lust you know it!…

First an offhand question, then a statement followed by an even more declartive statement: It had to be fate. Then the lovely admission and contradiction: It was lust you know it. I also love how she adds for emphasis the music of the “t” sounds that end each sentence in these three sentences.And through this use of syntax I begin to get a real sense of the narrator. She comes alive on the page. She feels full-blooded and three dimensional.

Martha Royea – #2 in the Patrick’s Poets Series – Poets I Met Through the Poetry Writing Retreats of Canadian Poet Patrick Lane

Canadian Poet Martha Royea (1941 – )

The Return Journey
— After T.S. Eliot, The Return of the Magi

“They’re coming! They’re coming back!” I went shouting,
skirts flying and my hair not combed; I ran to the barns
to tell father, and then to the cookhouse, and then to shoo the gambling men
from the doorway again, and light the lamps, for it was almost dark.
And, there being still time, I pushed my hair up into a pretty cap and
put on a clean apron before going out to the road to greet them,
for they had complained on the way through of cold reception
and mean lodgings everywhere on their travels.

But when they were near I saw that they rode like defeated soldiers instead of kings.
They’d left here wearing fine embroidered robes,
crowns and jeweled bands and – oh, it was splendid
to see the three of them, tall and straight atop the swaying camels,
snow and mud splashing out behind them and all their men
and beasts of burden following in the slush.
“We go as kings to greet a king,” the dark one said to his grumpy camel man,
and I thought King Herod of course, knowing of no other,
but father, who travels often into the towns, spat on the ground, “Pah! Herod is but
Ceasar’s ass. A rumoured true King of Jews is what they’re looking for. Idiocy!”

And so, when they came back this way all draggled and slumped,
I knew my father was right and they had not found their king.
But they had found something; it made their faces grim,
and they were silent over their food and retired early
and the next morning they were away at dawn.
I watched them moving slowly up the long hill eastward
into the sun just rising in a sky as red as blood.

Martha Royea, unpublished, 2009

It was at Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island, about ninety miles up the coast from Vancouver in 2005, I first met Martha Royea. It was the first of many Patrick Lane generative poetry writing retreats that we both attended. And at each of those retreats our friendship deepened and my appreciation for Martha’s striking poetic voice kept growing. As did my admiration for Martha’s courage both as a poet and a woman telling of difficult things in her poems  like domestic abuse, but not in a victim’s voice, but with a self-aware and fearless clarity. How in poems Martha is able to embody the ghosts of her narrator’s and our collective past, face them and then, let them go.

And as I think of Martha and how it is she first published in her seventies I think of the similiarities between Martha and the celebrated American poet Ruth Stone who didn’t become well known until her seventies and eighties.  And I think of the similiarities in the narrative force of the writing by both women. And how their narrators so fearlessly and without any shlockiness or self pity describe painful losses. Stone , the loss from suicide. Royea, the loss from violent domestic abuse.

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