Brown

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http://www.cc.com/video-clips/qpq2hr/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-kevin-young—highlighting-the-joy-and-pain-of-the-black-experience-in–brown-

Trevor Noah, on The Daily Show, closed out National Poetry Month with an interview with Kevin Young. Young described the inspirations for his new book Brown.

From James Brown to John Brown to Linda Brown (and Brown v. Board of Education), Young explains how this collection draws on history and current events.

I can’t help but think of Michael Brown and all of the brutality that has historically accompanied the color brown. It also makes me think of the brutality of pink.

My friend has breast cancer and hates pink: the twisted satin tint, the toothache-sweet shade, even the rosé ribbons furling each sunrise. She loathes peonies, camellias, the blushing magnolia in her neighbor’s pristine yard.

My friend insists the cruel incongruity of cotton candy color saturation is mockery.

  • Don’t just describe the pink morning sunrise; show us the precise shade. Then, tell us about the charcoal chrome shadows of the trees and the lavish lavender clouds punctuating the sky.

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My Poetry students have InstagramCRCPoets

Happiness Is…

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When I was young, I had a tall glass that had a jubilant Snoopy and Woodstock and the words: “Happiness is a root beer float.” This stein, even when filled with milk or water, made me happy.

For me, happiness hasn’t changed too much since then. I still delight in birthday cake, mom’s cooking, and afternoon naps.

***

Yesterday, as I was Spring cleaning my office, I observed how I display, for students and for myself, all sorts of reminders about the value of happiness: a poem by William Stafford, photos of celebrations and loved ones, favorite words, quotations, papel picado.

In tidying, I noted that one of the photos contained a person who has, over the past year, hurt me. He seemed to hang on the edge of an otherwise fondly-recalled celebration.

So I lopped him off the picture.

***

I immediately was not sure what to do with him, this quarter-inch-slice. I mean, I wondered if I should slip him into a book, throw him into the trash, slide him into an folder and file him.

All I knew was that I instantly felt happiness that he was no longer in my  office.

So, I recycled him.

***

I have a sore throat. One of my friends says that a sore throat is from not saying what you need to say, but I’ve been to the doctor and it is just an end-of-winter cold.

Despite the fact that my voice was scratchy and tired, I told M last night, “I felt like a sixth-grader this afternoon. I cut X– out of that birthday photo of all of us on the patio. It made me happy.”

He laughed at me; he knows that happiness is sometimes acting like a kid who is not trying to making anyone else happy.

***

Happiness

–Raymond Carver

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

***

  • My colleague, K–, recently did an activity with her students to make abstract concepts tangible. She shared some of the creative images her creative students concocted.

Lost: a sad song trapped in an empty jar

Chaos: a spilled box of dry spaghetti

Forgiveness: the sweet taste of a Sour Patch Kid

Joy: A free scoop of coconut ice cream

Despair: Writing a ten-page paper for days and forgetting to turn it in

Here are some abstract nouns for feelings, what do they remind you of?

 

Adoration, Amazement, Anger, Anxiety, Apprehension, Clarity, Delight, Despair, Disappointment, Disbelief, Excitement, Fascination, Friendship, Grief, Hate, Helpfulness, Helplessness, Infatuation, Joy, Love, Misery, Pain, Pleasure, Power, Pride, Relaxation, Relief, Romance, Sadness, Satisfaction, Silliness, Sorrow, Strength, Surprise, Tiredness, Uncertainty, Wariness, Weariness, Worry

 

And the Man in the Park?

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A scruffy-looking white guy is propped against his white Titan truck. He has been in the park for more than an hour. I am returning from an errand, and he still looks confused.
The magnitude of confusion is far beyond not knowing a word or how to conjugate a verb correctly or where the neighborhood Volcanes–that name they’re always hollering out of the bus window–is.
No, this confusion is tremendous, more like: How the heck did I arrive in Mexico? Am I really this far south? What am I going to tell my boss?
And where are my shoes?
Before he became my subject, I was thinking about how North American I am, too North American I thought–before seeing this dude.
I’m focused mostly on how my frankness, forthrightness, perhaps directness often come across as impolite.
Going to the butcher and asking for two pounds of meat without first:
1. Making eye contact.
2. Saying hello and good afternoon.
3. Broaching the subject with “please.”
4. Softening the request with “might I be able to have…”
5. Finishing with two pounds of meat
is akin to running into an establishment and demanding:  MEAT!
In Oaxaca, I never fail to be delighted that a man with a scowl will soften at a: “Hello, good afternoon,” from even the most foreign-looking stranger on the street.
It’s all about manners, I think. So I practice what I will say to the man selling hot tortillas. The more I improve my petition, the fresher the tortillas are. This morning I got a quarter kilo straight from the machine.
And, the man in the park?
I’m going to leave him there for now, for I’m quite certain that’s where he’ll be when I head out next.
Lost in the Forest
–Amy Gerstler
I’d given up hope. Hadn’t eaten in three
days. Resigned to being wolf meat …
when, unbelievably, I found myself in
a clearing. Two goats with bells
round their necks stared at me:
their pupils like coin slots
in piggy banks. I could have gotten
the truth out of those two,
if goats spoke. I saw leeks
and radishes planted in rows;
wash billowing on a clothesline …
and the innocuous-looking cottage
in the woods with its lapping tongue
of a welcome mat slurped me in.
Read the rest at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43397/lost-in-the-forest
  • Get your speaker this lost; take her off course; plunge her into the middle of the motion somewhere she’s never been before.

Finding the Saint of Finding Things

 

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In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html

I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.

C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.

It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.

The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.

He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.

C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.

The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.

Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.

I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.

I’m in the Art Show

Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.

I knew nothing of the artist, Sigmar Polke. I went because it was free and on the way to a free jazz show. The art was an interesting blend of painting with printing and stamping. The images were intriguing, but, for me, the titles were the arresting element. One painting was named something along the lines of:  an old man and a punk rock young man are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the young punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the Saturday intercambio, I am sitting with Julio, Valentina, Mariela, and Gabriel. I mention the show and the vast titles to Gabriel who wants to learn German. Valentina says my description of the title reminds her of a truck commercial in which a man says to his son, someday all of this will be yours, referring an expanse of property. And the son asks: and the truck?
I am walking along the pedestrian corridor planning what I will say to the woman at the bakery as I request a sandwich. I walk and negotiate with myself, and then I am interrupted. An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I cannot hear him though my ears are open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that my entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?

Pisa and the Fallen Angel

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We spent the first afternoon of the new year in Pisa.

The leaning tower with a fallen angel on the lawn near it made us feel as if we’d walked into someplace dangerous.

What could have taken down such a ginormous messenger? And why?

And, had the same force tried to take out the tower, leaving it with its magnetic slant that draws thousands of pilgrims and onlookers as we on this cold winter afternoon? For a geo-technical engineer, as M is, the building is more than messenger, it is a harbinger and admonition for what could go wrong.

The rest of the spectators seemed oblivious to how these monuments were blaring warnings. Perhaps they were in denial or still hung over from new years reveling. It was hard to tell.

This scene seems like something people see and say: “You should write a poem about this…” And, it reminds me of Amanda Earl’s “Ars Poetica 3”:

A poem, not all poems, but some poems, or maybe just this

poem is uncertain, it falters. A poem crawls on its belly out

of shadow, but avoids full-on sunshine. A poem is made

from ashes, nightmare, solitude, erasure, the unknown. It

names itself or it doesn’t. A poem cannot fully articulate or

understand the pattern of synapses made by the brain. A

poem is a long sentence or a line or a group of lines or a

school of images, a fish that swims through uncertain

Read the rest of this poem at the link below.

 

  • Celebrate National Poetry Month this April with Poem in Your Pocket Days: https://www.poets.org/sites/default/files/poeminpocketday_2017b_0.pdf