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NaPoWriMo — April 30

Thanks to all the Just Poets who shared a “favorite poem” for National Poetry Month.  We conclude with three poems:

Colleen Powderley offers John Chapman from American Primitive by Mary Oliver

Almeta Whitis offers Nonno’s Poem from the Night of the Iguana,  by Tennessee Williams

Laura Klinkon offers Longest Duration to Stand Motionless—by Frank Giampietro

and says “hope it is not too grizzly”.

 

Colleen Powderley comments on John Chapman: “I have admired this poem for years because it has everything–the plain language of everyday speech, folk history, wisdom, line breaks unlike most I’ve seen, and images that linger long in the air after the poem finishes.  One to ponder and to emulate, if I ever get that good.”

JOHN CHAPMAN

                        from American Primitive by Mary Oliver

 

He wore a tin pot for a hat, in which

he cooked his supper

toward evening

in the Ohio forests. He wore

a sackcloth shirt and walked

barefoot on feet crooked as roots. And everywhere he went

the apple trees sprang up behind him lovely

as young girls.

 

No Indian or settler or wild beast

ever harmed him, and he for his part honored

everything, all God’s creatures! thought little,

on a rainy night,

of sharing the shelter of a hollow log touching

flesh with any creatures there: snakes,

raccoon possibly, or some great slab of bear.

 

Mrs. Price, late of Richland County,

at whose parents’ house he sometimes lingered,

recalled: he spoke

only once of women and his gray eyes

brittled into ice. “Some

are deceivers,” he whispered, and she felt

the pain of it, remembered it

into her old age.

 

Well, the trees he planted or gave away

prospered, and he became

the good legend, you do

what you can if you can; whatever

 

the secret, and the pain,

 

there’s a decision: to die,

or to live, to go on

caring about something. In spring, in Ohio,

in the forests that are left you can still find

sign of him: patches

of cold white fire. 

 

**

Almeta Whitis comments on “Nonno’s Poem”: “When I first heard this poem in 1964, as it was constructed during the unfolding of a modern day morality play by an old man at the end of his life, I was an unwed, expectant teenage mother and profoundly touched, for it has remained with me – as a welcome friend and comforting harbor against the vagaries of fortune and the buffetings in my life – becoming a sweet sustenance with the passing of years.

 

Nonno’s Poem from Night of the Iguana — by Tennessee Williams

 

How calmly does the olive branch

Observe the sky begin to blanch

Without a cry, without a prayer

With no betrayal of despair

 

Some time while light obscures the tree

The zenith of its life will be

Gone past forever

And from thence

A second history will commence

 

A chronicle no longer gold

A bargaining with mist and mold

And finally the broken stem

The plummeting to earth, and then

 

An intercourse not well designed

For beings of a golden kind

Whose native green must arch above

The earth’s obscene corrupting love

 

And still the ripe fruit and the branch

Observe the sky begin to blanch

Without a cry, without a prayer

With no betrayal of despair

 

Oh courage! Could you not as well

Select a second place to dwell

Not only in that golden tree

But in the frightened heart of me

 

 

 

 

 

**

 

Laura Klinkon comments on her choice:  “I like this poem because it is emotionally “gripping”, and because it creates a Herculean figure who carries all the world’s miseries, not so much on his shoulders, but within himself–barely withstanding them because of love.”

 

Longest Duration to Stand Motionless—by Frank Giampietro

—Om Prakash Singh stood motionless for 20 hours 10 minutes 6 seconds at Allahabad, India on August 13-14, 1997.

 

The first night after you smacked my face and I moved

out of your apartment, I walked down to the Ganges.

How could I just go back to my flat? I hadn’t changed

the sheets in three months. I couldn’t imagine

turning the key, pulling the fan’s chain,

lighting the stove for tea. The second night,

I walked down to the river again.

It’s so dirty, Savita. The air was fleshed

with the smell of burning carcass.

I could hear a mother keening up river.

A small funeral raft came toward me.

I saw embers, what must have been a boy’s ribcage

smoldering. And then it passed.

Why those people won’t buy enough wood

to properly cremate their dead children I’ll never know.

It makes me sick. I walked past your apartment building then.

And I doubled back and climbed the stairs past our—

your door, and climbed to the roof.

On the very gravel where we first kissed,

I stood so still and let it come, your smacking me

for staring at the waitress, my refusal to smack you back

like you asked me to, even then—

but it’s not as if I’m bleeding, Savita.

The next night, same thing,

only I didn’t drink any whiskey first.

I stood there until my fingers went numb.

Then, last week, I climbed down the fire escape

and stood in front of your bedroom window

on the rusted metal. But I didn’t look in at you.

You know me better than that.

Terrified of falling, I hugged the wall with my back.

I could hear you though, talking to Punjab

and then your mother on the phone—

both happier for you now, eh? Those same black flies

that would settle in our mangoes were a nuisance,

crawling to the salt in my nose.

Tonight it is my piss running down my leg

and through the metal grate that worries me.

Remember how Mrs. T banged on her ceiling that night

after the football match, yelling through the floor

about her ugly children trying to sleep.

It was after we beat Manchester,

when we fell off the couch fucking

and fucking. Tonight I can hear her sweeping,

humming. I’m afraid she will hear my piss, wonder

and look up and see me. I’m braced-up so hard

against the wall that bits of brick grout

have settled on my neck. But she hasn’t noticed me yet,

and Savita, I wish you could see this, I just—don’t—move.

Instead I stare out at the lights, the darkness,

and the Ganges. I think of the bodies of the untouchables

floating down river and the filth and the wood and the fire.

 

 

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