Two poems by Juan Gelman. (The post directly below treats Gelman’s life and times.)
Yes, I will paint my tower in lapis lazuli
(That immortal color)
And command my cavalcade
To toss my cheep-cheep machine
Down the escalator.
I’ll make peace between the humming bird and hawk,
And greet the poet of Paumanok
On the stairs up the deck,
Or walking through piles of curling leaves
Still waiting for spunky Japanese red maple compadres
To drop and join them in flat bouquets
The racket above is like an old school, non-green,
New York City traffic jam where cabbies blast
exhausted horns and Yiddish-bang their steering wheels—not too hard—
not to get anywhere, just on a Racing Form stage for their passengers’ tips
On the Anniversary of Kristallnacht, Donald Trump is Elected President
It starts with breaking glass,
a brick thrown,
Jewish storefront shattered.
The vile Other punished.
(All that has been worked for
If I didn’t know,
the German word sounds pretty,
tinkles, conjures flutes of champagne
raised in toast.
If we didn’t know.
The Late Estrellita loved Leonard Cohen who was up there with the new Nobelist in her personal tower of song. Take this lyric as her grave tribute to one of her soul brothers.
let it be remembered that America’s literary pantheon
is full of nuts and felons
My father said he was a horse:
strong, stupid, black.
He used to make a fist
like a colt’s muscled knee
when he spoke such verities.
More than a hand
not pressed obediently to a heart.
More even than my muscled ass
still seated when my teammates soared.
My purple-lipsticked pout
My messy (read “Black”) hair
honest with disappointment
This story poem about a working class hero’s lost weekend, which First originally published in 2012, is a favorite of Mark Dudzic and it brings home class struggles that inform Dudzic’s analysis of Trumpism. (See Mr. D.’s post below.) Like Dudzic, Smucker is alive to the difference between the collective idea that still shapes aspects of working class culture and the ethos of “The Golden Boy on the Way Up.”
Smucker finds lyricism in lives at risk of being trumped now, if only in the society of spectacle. Whenever this editor re-reads “Norton’s Big Check,” I’m reminded of Hemingway’s memorable mockery of proletarian lit in the bar scene late in To Have and Have Not. But “Norton’s Big Check” is no joke. Though it’s not solemn. It even has something like a happy ending. While Smucker isn’t beamish, that finish is a sign he believes in more than Hem’s nada. B.D.
A woman’s body is a pool.
Jump in. Splash around.
The piano I can play
The singing comes harder
I notice that on the beach
When I walk it after my long swim
Having taken the current down
No fighting with it to get back
Mimi Lang’s Corsets & Bras
On Wilshire Boulevard
Heart of The Miracle Mile
The late Carmelita Estrellita submitted this lyric to “First” back in 2013. Your editor didn’t post it then but now is better than never.
Carmelita (AKA Natalie) Suzanne Estrellita died last Friday. She was 60 years old.
The transgender rhymer was a world-class wit who realized, per Oscar Wilde, “those who see any difference between soul and body have neither.” Like Wilde, Estrellita got off some of her best shots in conversation, but many of them made it into lyrics she published in “First of the Month/Year”: “anguish as a second language”…”loss is more”…”Am are I?”…”knee-jerk heart”…”jerk de soleil”….”you don’t know me from ishmael/I don’t know you from dick…”
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, Van Fleet Mississippi 1928
(After Isabel Wilkerson)
ida mae’s most memorable toys were
she dangled them
from the tips of sticks tossed the snakes
into the air & caught them (on the sticks
not in her hands)
Roxane Beth Johnson’s first book of poetry, Jubilee, won the Philip Levine Award for Poetry and was published by Anhinga Press. In awarding the prize, Levine commented: “These luminous poems depict a world I never knew—or knew as a child and since forgot—and they do so with the authority of a totally mature voice. The artistry that unifies this collection is so perfect it is almost invisible. Altogether an amazing debut.”
Here’s a poem from Jubilee:
People who speak Spanish all have outside jobs, my daughter announces
as the Mow ‘n Blow crew descend from a truck to ravish our lawn. I read her a book about dark children dancing, playing drums with wrinkled elders, eating fried plantains. Bored, she grabs Dr. Seuss.
I’m not Latin Mommy.
I’m light pink like you.
If your family would call, I tell my husband or if you made rice and beans.
Maybe if we got somebody white to cut the grass.