lucille clifton poems

being property once myself
i have a feeling for it,
that’s why i can talk
about environment.
what wants to be a tree,
ought to be he can be it.
same thing for other things.
same thing for men.
nobody mentioned war
but doors were closed
black women shaved their heads
black men rustled in the alleys like leaves
prophets were ambushed as they spoke
and from their holes black eagles flew
screaming through the streets
new bones
we will wear
new bones again.
we will leave
these rainy days,
break out through
another mouth
into sun and honey time.
worlds buzz over us like bees,
we be splendid in new bones.
other people think they know
how long life is
how strong life is.
we know.

lucille clifton’s poems mesmerize us with vivid imagery, powerful honesty and dreamy melodies.  deceptively simple, clifton’s short poems contain entire landscapes, histories, declarations and songs of myself.  the beautiful language coalesces into deep metaphors and brave truths about race, slavery, war, sexism and civil rights.

in humanizing the exploited earth, clifton humanizes exploited people.  she returns us to our ancient and innate humanity where we come from the sun, putting forth healing energy.

the lack of punctuation and capitalization gives the poems in good woman a streamlined immediacy that we admire.  each line break is music that produces a complete sensation.

we’re sympathetic to the view that everyone should be allowed to be who they are: the tree, the woman,the man, the rain.

lucille clifton is one of our most beloved art ancestors.


work cited: clifton, lucille.  good woman: poems and a memoir 1969-1980.  brockport: boa editions limited, 1987.  print.

Spit Temple, Cecilia Vicuña

Spit Temple is a compilation of poetic performances and autobiographical memory by Cecilia Vicuña, one of the greatest visionaries of our time.  The 2012 release is a blending of metaphysics, aerodynamics, humor and honesty, unlike anything else.

Vicuña shows us how the body is a wave that can tremble with ecstasy or sorrow, and how being in the presence of the poem is like being in the presence of the sea.

The text is ancient & present–beautiful documentation of Vicuña’s power of incantation and improvisation that creates music by playing with the sun and wind.

Spit Temple explains Vicuña’s non-method, which brings us closer to the non-knowing of mystery and the eternal trust required for being an outsider rambler jangle planet eye bloom.

Vicuña muses,

A poem only becomes poetry when its structure

is made not of words but forces.
The force is poetry.
Everyone knows what poetry is, but who can say it?
Its nature is to be felt, but never apprehended.

This is an important assessment: the forces are the poetry; the words are the lips.

Vicuña describes being in animal presence—and how we can be the slick black wings over ice sky.  We can use animal instincts to pay attention to the receptors of fur, a natural sixth sense always communicating with the earth.  Spit Temple describes how Vicuña grew up with no separation from the land; as a small girl  a rooster literally watched over her in a field for hours, telling her how to see and crow.  Vicuña tells us about her other art ancestors as well, such as Violetta Parra and Gabriela Mistral.

A native of Chile, Vicuña emerged as a performance poet during a time when genocide was being committed against her peoples—the 1973 Chilean coup.  Spit Temple discusses Vicuña’s political, spiritual and artistic foundations, and shows a continuance of her roots—using poetry as prayer, healing, political commentary, incantation, and defendant of humanity and nature.

It’s especially divine how Vicuña describes her childhood of inventing ways to overcome her fears:

“When kids threw rocks at me, I imagined that I wasn’t a few feet away, but high above, among the galaxies, watching us on that tiny planet below.”


“I was afraid of going blind, so I healed my fear by rehearsing blindness.  I rode my bicycle with my eyes closed, trying to guide myself by sensing the irregularities of the pavement beneath the tires, like reading braille. “

Vicuña is an ambassador of seed survival:

dwindle dwindle dwindle ?
Remember that song?
80 percent
of seeds
available a century ago
now extinct
and now I speak of other forms
of extinction
People wanted to know how this music
of the seeds
how the seeds’ song
began for me
it began on a hot

She parallels destruction with the divine, and environmental consciousness with natural reality.

“everybody knows that Antarctica

a good part of it is about to
onto the sea
the water
Bill McKibben I’m sure you know him
he was telling a story
of how in a place in Tibet
people started planting trees
and this had changed
the speed of the wind
so people instead of being attacked
by a brutal wind
would be
by a soft
stopped by trees”

She explains a universal truth: just as the peril we inflict on nature comes back to harm humans, the love we give to nature comes back to protect us.

Vicuña shows how repetition of breath can create song, and how threads pass between our hearts invisibly, as well as ceremoniously and symbolically in her performances, to create living poems.

“I’m awake now
and I’m taking the bus
and I’m riding the bus
and all of a sudden
and what do i see?
Threads coming from a building
to building
but they were
not empty like this, the
threads have pictures
and photographs on them
and what is it?
it’s the photographs
of the desaparecidos
of the people that had been killed
by the military
so the women
had devised
a thread installation
to run
all across
La Avenida de Mayo
between the Congress
and the House of Congress
white threads
with the pictures

-Cecilia Vicuña

Cecilia Vicuña reminds us of the stories of the innocent killed, and of the lifeblood we share and struggle to protect today; how the spit inside my temple is the same as the sap inside the tree.

Jess Housty’s poetry & environmental justice for Great Bear Rainforest survival



Salmon scales, damselflies,
the tailfeathers of a hummingbird –

brittle barnacles, a mink’s teeth,
soft river silt –

some of the blood is mine.

Moss, scrub cedar, a deer’s jaw
bleached by pale sunlight –

Creekfoam, dark soil,
sparrowbones –

some of the blood is mine, love.

Starlight, starfish, starflower,
stone –

some of it is mine.


And I will move in centuries
over your body, in millennia, carving you
with my two bare hands like glaciers,

marking you slowly with my teeth
and my fingernails to build fishtraps
and rock art and sweet middens
across the landscape of your body.

And I will build villages in the crook
of your arm, and teach salmon to swim
in your veins of bright water,
and I will live and die in the deep inlets
of your soft body

with your hair like kelp,
with your hair like spruce roots,

wrapped around us both as we sigh
into the rain and the slow bleed.

Some of the blood is mine, love,
none of it is yours, some is the sky’s
and it will paint the brief story of our love
into the stone from which stories and blood
will someday be washed away,

washed into the sea like the bones of people
and the bones of birds.


Night slept on, and the shadow ocean
was like the taut, stretched breast
of a skinned jay,

like the inner surface of a mussel shell
when the meat is stripped away.

You sank your teeth in, love, my love,
and some of the blood was mine
and some was the ocean’s

and none of it was yours.


Some of the blood was mine, love,
and none of it was yours, and some of it belonged
to the little wrens with their fragile beaks
and their precious claws that harmed nothing
in this frail world.

-Jess Housty


Jess Housty’s poems remind us that we share the same blood air water music seeds & magic, and that what cuts the land sky & animals cuts all of us.

Her poems personify the earth – likening the creatures of wilderness to herself, contrasting the lyric joy of being in nature with spilled blood caused by human greed & carelessness.  “Stone” likens the narrator of the poem to the earth – a generous lover who shares her salmon, river silt, mink’s teeth and the stars – who are also me and you.

Housty’s youth, honesty, femaleness, indigenous North American heritage, and roll as a librarian place her on top of knowledge & righteousness.  She’s working to build the up and coming matriarchy of benevolence and justice – extending love even towards those who would like to destroy her for profit:

Some of the blood was mine, love,
and none of it was yours, and some of it belonged
to the little wrens with their fragile beaks
and their precious claws that harmed nothing
in this frail world.

Housty represents us new generation of leadership who are rising up from coast to coast as a fantastic symbol of hope and resistance and resilience.

Specifically, she’s using art genius & ecstatic beauty to protect the Great Bear Rainforest & protest Enbridge’s plan to dump oil thru the most holy places.  She’s in the thick of the struggle for justice, working for both sides – First Nations and environmental groups.


Great Bear Rainforest


Corporations like Enbridge are eager to drill thru fragile North American ecosystems such as the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia and bring huge tanker ships through the pure waters for oil money, but some of the blood is mine.  We don’t want our lifeblood sliced out & filled with parasites that seek to fatten off the sacredness of our existence while we waste away to sickness.

Housty’s poems give an essential voice to a place and a people who are one in the same.  As Housty herself has said of her poems, “They’re just about relationship to place. If they do anything, they give people who have never been to the GBR a window into what that relationship looks like in its most intimate terms. And I think maybe the poems demonstrate that for some people (like my people), identity is not separable from place.”

And as she has said about her environmental justice work, with its focus of stopping the Enbridge pipeline from destroying the Great Bear Rainforest, “This project has become a national issue in Canada. It has the potential to be an international one. Certainly the Tar Sands are creeping into the North American imagination and culture in ways we’re only just beginning to understand, and all I’m doing is giving a voice to a place that’s become a threatened symbol of pure wilderness and deep history – a real voice, from someone on the inside, whose roots in the GBR go back to time before memory.”  And time before money.  Housty understands that what happens to the land happens to each of us, and she’s spreading the word.

On October 22 there will be a solidarity event in Victoria, BC to defend the wilderness from tar sands and pipelines:

And to learn more about the GBR / pipeline issue please go here & here & here.

Down in My Heart, William Stafford resists conscription

One of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, William Stafford is a peacemaker, a lover, a teacher and a giver.  His first book Down in My Heart: Peace Witness in War Time, published in 1947, is a testament to the righteous courage & uncompromising integrity that allowed such a stunning poet to emerge.

Each chapter of the book is preluded with a poetic setting the scene, “fur of winter for the hurt mind,” which contrasts great beauty with the horror of war and destruction.

No one knew, in that spell while war came on in the 1930’s – no one knew how civilization would find ways to destroy itself. 

Down in My Heart is inspiring to artists like us who are working for a life of peace and justice.   The story of Stafford’s time spent as a conscientious objector during WWII is told with wisdom and humility, from the clear perspective of a young poet who was marginalized for his beliefs, during a very difficult time -when men were forced to fight war, go to jail or go to camp.

In the book, Stafford lives in a camp as a Civilian Public Service laborer, doing intense work such as fighting fires.  He also recognizes that his fate is easy compared to people like the Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Down in My Heart is that the book is in’t didactic.  Like many of Stafford’s poems, this testament presents life-giving images of tenderness, humanity and generosity, in contrast to the mainstream narrative of male white dominance.  Stafford states his convictions of non-violence resistance and his position of working toward a peaceable kingdom & common good for all.

We met continual frustration and every magazine, newspaper, movie or stranger was a challenge to convictions that were our personal, inner creations. 

In the face of taunts and tormentors from those who could not understand the refusal to kill, Stafford tells how the COs remained non-violent, silent, thoughtful, prayerful, and artistic.

Almost always the tormentor is at a loss unless he can provoke a belligerent reaction as an excuse for further pressure or violence.  

Down in My Heart demonstrates how the work of non-violence is done by listening – an activity akin to mysticism in this book – which allows understanding and consensus building to occur.

As the conscientious objector camp director says after Stafford and his friends were attacked by an angry mob for painting, reading, and writing poems:

“I know you men think the scene was funny, in spite of its danger; and I suppose there’s no harm in having fun out of it; but don’t think that our neighbors here in Arkansas are hicks just because they see you as spies and dangerous men.  Just remember that our government is spending millions of dollars and hiring the smartest men in the country to devote themselves full time just to make everyone act that way.” -22

This statement eerily foretells of the monstrousness capitalist war machine, which still works hard to suppress equality, sustainability, pacifism, and opposition to violence.

The hero of Down in My Heart is Stafford’s friend George: George, you see, lived for a life of reconciliation, of kindness, of governing the mind and its retributive feelings. 

When the war is finally over, George tells us to maintain our consciences,

“’But how long will it be before all the soldiers still alive can come back?’ George reminded us.  ‘Before there’s no more fighting anywhere, no more intimidation of people in their own homes by strange uncomprehending men in foreign uniforms with foreign speech and foreign money.’” – 81

Stafford drives home the importance of being non-violent pacifists and devoting our lives to good causes always – not just when there’s war.

“I felt then, while listening to George, how good it would be—he made me see it—if that stretch of street could remain forever closed to automobiles, if for six blocks of a city’s shopping center people could again have spaciousness.  If they could sometimes get that feeling we often got on the truck, rolling along through the open country, gesturing broadly around at the mountains and the tall trees, knowing that we could relax with friends and confess our doubts, fears, ambitions and confusions—and that just over the hill was the back country, or rebellion, or any other adventure endless with possibility and serenity.” -83

William Stafford shares the ecstasy of being alive & the longing of those of us who wish for a sustainable way of life and and a future where we slow down and take better care of ourselves and nature.

Stafford with his wife Dorothy.

The 2006 of Down in My Heart contains a moving introduction by William Stafford’s son, Kim Stafford:

Sometimes decisions seem impossible.  Enemies of peace abound.  “Justice will take us millions of intricate moves.”  And yet—and yet, there is a clarity.  By writing, or living a local life, we cherish simple things.  In quiet, we honor the feelings found down in our hearts.  We think our own thoughts, and go our own ways.  We are accountable—to society, to friends, to nature, and to the natural processes of imagination and vision that no government can legislate—and so we are free.  

Stafford on a bicycle; from tinhouse vol 12 number 4

Down in My Heart reminds us of the great poem by Maine poet Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Conscientious Objector
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall; I hear the clatter on
the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans,
            many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he cinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.
Though he flick my shoulders with his whip, I will not tell him
            which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where the black
            boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on
            his pay-roll.
I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my
enemies either.
Though he promise me much, I will not map him the route to
            any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to
Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me:
Shall you be overcome.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

And here’s a poem by William Stafford from The Darkness Around Us is Deep:

It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things we live by.
Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders—we
encounter them in dread and wonder,
But once we have tasted far streams, touched the
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.
Suppose an insane wind holds the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and
where we are, sturdy for common things.

dwellings, linda hogan

The pages of Linda Hogan’s Dwellings smell like crow feathers – a perfume of roots and sky and leaf.

Dwellings is a wise, reverent Spiritual History of the Living World, containing beautiful poetics highly relevant to today’s earth, which is constantly assaulted and threatened by corporate and war interests that seek to profit few while killing our most precious, essential resources – life on this planet and future generations.

The book shows how plants and animals have language – they have feelings – and just like people, they’re impacted by trauma and the destruction of their ecosystems.

Hogan describes how all living matter has conscious energy that is embedded with human cells.  We are all affected by the history of shared air molecules, shared water molecules, and passed on DNA containing the stories of our ancestors – and we all feel global tragedies and desecration of life – stories carried on the wind.

Dwellings helps us remember the divinity of all life, the sacred fragileness, how our instincts are real and should be followed above societal madness of being closed off and human-centric.

“Do you remember the friend that the leaves talked to?  We need to be that friend.  Listen.  The ears of the corn are singing.  They are telling their stories and singing their songs.  We knew that would be true.”

Hogan explains how the earth is a generous giver who wants peace and natural balance.  It benefits all species – human, plant, animal and molecule – when we “participate in a reciprocal and balanced exchange with life,” gratefully receiving the gifts of the present, while giving back with compassion.

Nature is the deepest reality of earth and the universe, and to deny that reality causes us to suffer from toxic life: pollution, global warming, broken heartedness, emptiness and loneliness.

Hogan says:

This far-hearted kind of thinking is one we are especially prone to now, with our lives moving so quickly ahead, and it is one that sees life, other lives, as containers for our own uses and not as containers in a greater, holier sense.

Even wilderness is seen as having value only as it enhances and serves our human lives, our human world.  While most of us agree that wilderness is necessary to our spiritual and psychological well-being, it is a container of far more, of mystery, of a life apart from ours.  It is not only where we go to escape who we have become and what we have done, but it is also part of the natural laws, the workings of a world of beauty and depth we do not yet understand.

Hogan gives examples of how she’s seen animals treated carelessly, like wolves being shot and killed from planes.  From a chapter on wolves…

 Environmental work, like tribal issues have been for us Indian people, is subject to very negative reactions, to what we call ‘backlash.’  This situation is especially fragile, complicated by the psychological fact that wolves carry much of the human shadow.  They contain for us many of our own traits, ones we repress within ourselves.  More than any other animal, they mirror back to us the predators we pretend not to be.  In that way, we have assigned to them a special association with evil.

Close up, there is even more beauty in the wolf than any of us have seen from a distance.  The fur is shadowy gray and golden.  The jawbones with their circular valleys are smooth, outlined by the bare, lean winter.  Inside the mouth, the teeth are layered and worn down.  There are strawberry leaves, frozen in place, on the wolf’s teeth at the gum line.  The tenderness of such an image moves me.  I feel it in the heart.  And there is something delicate about the legs, something gone from wandering earth, something that ran so far it left the body behind.   

This compassionate description of connection with the wolf comes from someone truly alive.  The line, “something that ran so far it left the body behind” is stunning.

In Maine, all the wolves have nearly been slaughtered – some say there are no wolves left here, others think they are scarce and hiding but still around.  And now in this state there is a culture of coyote killing mobs – unlimited numbers of coyotes are allowed to be hunted in Maine, a blood sport that serves no practical purpose.  Why is it seen as okay for humans to kill deer but evil if wolves or coyotes hunt for food?

Hogan observes, “What we really are searching for is a language that heals this relationship, one that takes the side of the amazing and fragile life on our life-giving earth.  A language that knows the corn, and the one that corn knows, a language that takes hold of the mystery of what’s around us and offers it back to us, full of awe and wonder.  It is a language of creation, of divine fire, a language that goes beyond the strict borders of scientific inquiry and right into the heart of the mystery itself.”

Dwellings describes the importance of listening to this language of mystery, and to our own intuition, feelings and dreaming, which provide intrinsic knowledge and understanding.

Hogan describes how our role as intelligent human guests on life-giving earth is that of care takers and compassionate stewards.  We can help reestablish a balanced world by simply praising the miraculousness of all living things – this praise-giving attitude of tenderness helps the creatures by letting them know we share an allegiance of wanting health, respect and love for nature; in turn, such actions sustain ourselves and life on this planet.

“Here is a lesson: what happens to people and what happens to the land is the same thing.” -Linda Hogan

in my country

from “In My Country”
This is not my country.
In my country, men
do not play at leaders
women do not play at men
there is no god
crucified to explain
the persistence of cruelty.
In my country
i don’t hesitate to sit
alone in the park, to go
to the corner store at night
for my child’s milk, to wear
anything that shows my breasts.
In my country
i do not stand for cutbacks,
layoffs, and pay union dues
companies do not close down
to open up again in far-off
places where eating is the
main objective
In my country
mend do not sleep with guns
beneath their pillows.  They
do not accept jobs building weapons.
They don’t lose their mortgages, pensions,
their faith or their dignity.
In my country
children are not abused
beaten into adulthood
left with sitters who resent them
for the meager salary a single parent
can afford.  They do not grow up
to repeat the pattern.
In my world, i breathe clean air.
i don’t anticipate nuclear war.
i speak all languages.  i don’t
negate aging, listen to myths
to explain my misery or create them.
In my world the poet sang loud
and clear and everyone heard
without recoiling.  It was sweet
as harvest, sharp as tin, strong
as the northern wind, and all had
a coat warm enough to bear it.

 -Ana Castillo, from My Father was a Toltec

Bring on Castillo’s world of poetic equality!

Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms, Lily Yeh

Lily Yeh’s 2011 Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms awakens people and communities to their innate creativity.  A formally trained artist, Yeh selflessly spreads joy and vision thru community art projects.  She helps to beautify impoverished places in cities throughout the world by making public art installations.  She includes community members who use the spaces in these projects, helping to train them and providing materials.  She wrote this book in hopes that it would help others embarking on similar projects.

Awakening Creativity documents a project Yeh began in 2004.  She helps students and teachers transform their school using art in her home-country China.  The Dandelion School is for children of migrant workers.  These kids are very eager to work and participate and have a chance to pursue education within China’s highly competitive school system and society.  They come from incredibly poor, dislocated families; many live in shantytown junkyards.  The Dandelion school has dorms so children can live and study soundly.

Yeh begins the artistic transformation of the drab school by first awakening creativity in the teachers.  She knew in order to get energy and excitement within the school, the teachers would need to get involved.  She began mural and mosaic making lessons with the teachers, who then led the children in building and painting huge mosaics and murals throughout the school.

This is a gorgeous, inspiring book, full of pictures and art from the project, as well as beautiful poems, stories, drawings and paintings by children from the school.  Lily Yeh nods to her art ancestors throughout the book, noting how she gained much of her style from admiring traditional Chinese folk art that is full of color and lively design.

Yeh shows how everybody is a natural artist and how the patterns and spirit of art is all around us.  She also realizes our profound relationship with our environments and how greatly our surroundings influence us.  Seeing the Dandelion School transformed from a drab place to one of colorful, positive images and story heightened the imaginations and joy of the students, and also their pride in their surroundings and concern for the environment.

I knew of Lily Yeh because Robert Shetterly painted her.  He told me he would, and has, gone to the ends of the earth to follow Lily Yeh.  He introduces this book.

Lily Yeh says:

“My life’s journey has been about returning to that ‘dustless world’ depicted in the Chinese landscape painting.  It is a place filled with beauty and poignant meaning.  Time and again, I have found my way back through working with people in broken places.  When fragments are made whole, beauty returns.  When people’s voices are heard, when the community is given opportunity to envision and be empowered, people’s lives become richly meaningful.

I am not a brave person.  But the one daring action I took in the summer of 1986 was that I listened to my inner voice and acted accordingly.  It ignited my passion and changed the course of my life.  This flame within, the light of creativity, has been guiding me along my life’s journey.  In my work, I try to pass it on and light other people’s pilot lights so that we can all shine together to dispel the darkness around us.  I believe that through self-awareness and actions that benefit others, together we can make our world a better place.” -191

Good morning blues

Blues Poems, an Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets book edited by Kevin Young, is a fascinatingly crucial, diverse, and succinct look at the poetry of the blues, the rawest emotion of living.

This wide ranging selection includes many of the greatest poets of the last century and today, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, Cornelius Eady, Etheridge Knight, Sherman Alexie, Amiri Baraka, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, June Jordan, and lyrics from several of the original blues masters, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly and Big Mama Thornton, all in a thin 3×5” volume that can easily be carried close to the waist.

Blues has always been a subversive art.  The state of having the blues is most often rooted in oppression, and oppression is often tied with brutal racism and living with myriad disadvantages in a white supremacist society.  In this context, all blues is protesting the ills of society.  Some of the later poems are bolder in calling out the racism, classism, poverty, sickness, violence and overall desolation enacted against people, like “The FB Eye Blues” by Richard Wright:

That old FB eye
Tied a bell to my bed stall
Said old FB eye
Tied a bell to my bed stall
Each time I love my baby, gover’ment knows it all.
Woke up this morning
FB eye under my bed
Said I woke up this morning
FB eye under my bed
Told me all I dreamed last night, every word I said.
Everywhere I look, Lord
I see FB eyes
Said everywhere I look, Lord
I find FB eyes
I’m getting sick and tired of gover’ment spies.
My mama told me
A rotten egg’ll never fry
Said my mama told me
A rotten egg’ll never fry
And everybody knows a cheating dog’ll never thrive.
Got them blues, blues, blues
Them mean old FB eyes blues
Said I got them blues, blues, blues
Them dirty FB eyes blues
Somebody tell me something, some good news.

Here Wright gives voice to the tragedy and disgrace of having the “man” encroaching upon the most sacred, private aspects of being alive, such as lovemaking and dreaming.  “The FB Eye Blues” is a sorrowful, wonderfully Orwellian poem that uses blues standards of rhyme and sung story, while calling out the evil ways of the government that preys upon people because of their race.

Blues Poems demonstrates the brilliance of blues motifs.  The blues tells huge stories of life’s aches, contrasted with life’s joys and loves, in few words.  Blues hooks us with rhyme and refrain and playful use of language, such as double entendre.

As Kevin Young says in the forward, “For in spite of navigating the depths of despair, the blues ultimately are about triumphing over that despair—or at least surviving it along enough to sing about it.  With the blues, the form fights the feeling.  Survival and loss, sin and regret, boasts and heartbreak, leaving and loving, a pigfoot and a bottle of beer—the blues are a series of reversals, of finding love and losing it, of wanting to see yourself dead in the depths of despair, and then soon as the train comes down the track, yanking your fool head back.  The blues are having the gun, but no bullets to fit it.  As one saying goes, the blues ain’t nothin’ but a good man (or woman) feelin’ bad.  But another saying knows the opposite is true: the blues ain’t nothin’ but a bad woman (or man) feelin’ good.”

This brings to mind the JB Lenoir song, Feelin’ good, in which Lenoir declares that all the money in the world is spent on feeling good.  It’s the joy, and the love of life that we’re fighting for, and that we get the blues for when it’s taken away.

Young’s book shows how the blues embodies some of the most spare, poignant, razor bone poetry there is; and how blues often draws on gospel and has hopeful, spiritual redemptions.

Here’s an apt poem for International Worker’s Day, by Fenton Johnson:

I am tired of work; I am tired of building up somebody
else’s civilization.
Let us take a rest, M’Lissy Jane.
I will go down to the Last Chance Saloon, drink a
gallon or two of gin, shoot a game or two of dice and
sleep the rest of the night on one of Mike’s barrels.
You will let the old shanty go to rot, the white
people’s clothes turn to dust, and the Calvary Baptist
Church sink to the bottomless pit. 
You will spend your days forgetting you married me
and your nights hunting the warm gin Mike serves the
ladies in the rear of the Last Chance Saloon.
Throw the children into the river; civilization has
given us too many.  It is better to die than it is to grow
up and find out that you are colored.
Pluck the stars out of the heavens.  The stars mark
our destiny.  The stars mark my destiny.
I am tired of civilization.

Poem sums up despair so deep you feel booze wrecked and helpless.  Having to work all the hard long days so the capitalists can stay rich.  Wanting to save the children from the violence of oppression.  Wanting to remove the beauty of the stars because they map out a cruel destiny.

It’s easy to see from this volume of Blues Poems how blues, rock, folk, pop songs of today all have origins in the old blues – timeless, oral, roots poetry able to instruct, comfort and heal.

the turquoise ledge, leslie marmon silko

Reading The Turquoise Ledge makes me think of Silko seeing the other plane sometimes when the light is just right.

And how the scales of snakes have the same composition as feathers, letting them fly over the ground.

Silko who treats all creatures with love and respect gets that love and respect back.  She lets all she comes across know she means no harm, and she receives trust back.

Silko who recognizes the air’s influence on us.

Silko reminds me the instincts I had as a child to love & sympathize with all life were correct.  She is careful of all, including bees, realizing they have a purpose, and if you pay attention, they tell you things, like when it’s going to rain.

Silko’s lessons in Nahuatl language, experiments with writing rain chants, and naming the cloud types, remind us  to be in tune with beauty and of how we are connected with all matter.

Since reading Turquoise Ledge, I’m reminded that clouds are alive beings, capable of communicating, “Family members and the ancestors show their love for us when they return as clouds.”

The Turquoise Ledge reclaims the world of nature – the world of authentic reality – with adoration.  Silko shows us that the desert where she lives is a fascinating and lush place.  She gives perspective on living that’s considerate to roots, story, memory, plant, animal, human, molecule.

Bits of poetry in Turquoise Ledge drip down effortlessly from the prose like a stream from a lake,

            Pansy moth
         yellow and brown. 
            Last night you
                            landed on the moon
                      in the water.
                      This morning
                      you are floating
                                     between the
                      water lily leaves.

In this moment, when blood money is determined to destroy the planet that sustains life, Silko’s understanding and respect of nature is important testimony, and teacher.  Silko offers a voice of witness, which speaks of the miraculousness of natural reality.  She translates the language of non-human species who need our affection now more than ever.

Telepathic love’s a real thing, so is the life-giving matriarch of strength and compassion.

woolgathering, patti smith

Patti Smith is our lantern through the dark, and we thank her for bringing so much light to us moths.  Her small memoir Woolgathering is like a book of proverbs, a manual on living.

The original Woolgathering came out in 1991, and this new expanded edition was released in 2011.  It’s a book about remembering our roots, ancestors, stories, magic and connection with all life.  It’s about becoming a misplaced Joan of Arc, and reconciling with existence thru omens in the clouds, which echo back:

What do we do Great Barrymore?
We stagger
What shall we do simple monk?
Be of good heart

Patti Smith gathers us into the gauzy realm of childhood, memory and imagination,

“There was a hedge composed of great bushes framing my view.  The hedge I regarded as sacred…
skipping home, we’d salute all that charmed us.”

hedges, fields, hidden people, her brother and sister, owls, Indian rubies – these are Smith’s places of worship.

Woolgathering expels legends: an old ancient man who sells minnows by his shack outside the grave of his dead wife reveals the name of the tiny beings Smith hears whispering in the field and bush.  These are the woolgatherers, he tells her.  The story revolves around her connection with the woolgatherers, who ultimately give her wings.

The act of woolgathering is likened to Patti Smith’s lifelong ritual of collecting objects for her knapsack, found treasures imbued with jinn, and to Patti Smith’s great-grandmother, “through her I possessed the soul of the shepherdess, through her I was drawn to the dreamer’s life and I imagined tending a flock, gathering wool in a leather pouch, and contemplating the color of the clouds.”

These kind of sentences tingle our waters and keep us waking to bird song.

“I would gaze, gauge and just like that, be gone – vane aviation, flitting from earth to earth, unconscious of my awkward arms or wayward socks.”

Patti Smith is sensitive to the unspoken and unseen.  She speaks to her dog with her heart silently, and the dog understands.

She brings us to child wonder, where we adore all life and look to the water, crows, and people with unifying love.  Here we reclaim our connection to the stars, our original source, and see the best in all things, including ourselves.  Woolgathering reminds us how to pray, to converse with the night sky, and to stay receptive to the mystery.

“Having my breath what more could I wish for.  All of my being rose in pursuit.  I had the advantage of the sky with its ability to become, in the twinkling of an eye, everything.”

Patti Smith is an interplanetary aviator and hero to many, yet she’s stayed true – humble, human, tender, lyrical.  She’s stayed outside society, aligning herself with the earth, emotion, rocknroll, art, gandhi, ocean, the marginalized and the persecuted.

For our birthday in June, Patti Smith is coming out with a new album, Banga.  We heard the single off it, April Fool, and it makes the rain.

Patti Smith doesn’t use gasoline, she loves bicycling and “gliding above the grass with recycled souls, tears, the babbling of children and crazy laughter.”