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Poetry

The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri

November 25, 2014 | by

A man unzipping his fly is vulnerable to attack.
Then the zipper got stuck.
An angel flies in the window to unstick it.
A drone was monitoring all this
In real time
And it appears on a monitor on Mars,
Though of course with a relay delay.
One of the monitors at the Mars base drone station
Is carefully considering all your moves for terror output.
But not to worry. Forget about about about it.

The body of the man you were
Has disappeared inside the one you wear.

Reminds me of the story of the man who had nipples
Where his elbows should be and whose skeleton
Was on the outside of his body.
The guy walks into a shop on Madison to buy some clothes
And buys some and walks out wearing them
Wearing them and into the Carlyle bar.
One of the waiters, originally from Algeria of all places,
Recognizes him and says with the strong accent
He has despite many years of living in the United States:
Your usual?

A man has disappeared inside his corpse.
His corpse has disappeared inside a cause.

Reminds me of the video of Robert Kennedy
Announcing to a largely black audience at an outdoor campaign rally
At night in Indianapolis
That Martin Luther King had been shot
And killed and by a white man.
Martin Luther King is dead.

Skin color is the name.
Skin color is the game.
Skin color is to blame for Ferguson, Missouri.

The body of the man you were
Has disappeared inside the one you wear.

I wouldn’t want to be a black man in St. Louis County.

A man unzipping his fly is vulnerable to attack.
Then the zipper got stuck.
An angel flies in the window to unstick it.
Here comes light-skinned Billie Holiday, Lady Day, no angel!

A drone was monitoring all this,
Which appears on a monitor on Mars,
Though of course with a relay delay.
One of the monitors at the Mars base drone station
Is carefully considering all your moves for terror output.
But not to worry.
Fuhgeddaboudit.

Reminds me of the story of the man whose smile
Shot out flames and whose skin
Was on the outside of his body.
The guy walks naked into a shop on Madison Avenue to buy some clothes
And buys some and walks out on fire wearing them and goes straight
Across the street in flames to the Carlyle bar.
One of the waiters looks as if he’s having a stroke
And raises his hands in Arabic,
Palms in, and murmurs a prayer,
And brings God a glass of humble water.

You can change
From chasing Communists
And chasing Jimmy Hoffa, the mobster union president
Who however supported civil rights,

And change to blessing and being blessed.

Some victims change from a corpse to a cause.
You can change

Reminds me of the video of Robert Kennedy
Announcing to a largely black audience at an outdoor campaign rally
At night in Indianapolis
That Martin Luther King had been shot
And killed and by a white man.
Martin Luther King is dead.

 

Frederick Seidel received the 2014 Hadada Prize. This poem will appear in our Winter Issue, available next month.

1 COMMENT

Lady Liberty

April 4, 2013 | by

47_BetamaxAlexandra Socarides of The Los Angeles Review of Books’s  has a lovely and informative piece on “New Colossus,” the Petrarchan Emma Lazarus sonnet that famously adorns the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. We learn about the poet and the poem’s formal and political import; Socarides frames “New Colossus” as a bold statement for immigrant reform and tolerance, Lazarus herself as an engaging figure worthy of study.

My own history with the iconic poem is less exalted. I remember distinctly the first time I heard it: I was three years old, in bed with one of the migraines that had arrived with the news of my mother’s pregnancy with a new brother. My father read me the poem, his voice choked with emotion, explaining that it had heralded my great-grandparents’ arrival in New York. Then he left me to sleep, drugged with pain and the red liquid children’s Tylenol that always stained the sheets.

When I woke up a few hours later, cautiously better, the words were still in my head. “Yearning to breathe free …” I thought.

I wandered into the other room, where my parents were sitting on the bed with my new baby brother, hideous and red-haired. My father was making a videotape with his Betamax camera, not that the baby was doing anything interesting. I casually stripped off my cotton underpants, lay down on the bed, and began kicking my legs in the air.

“Look at me!” I said. “Look at me!”

“Sadie, put on your underpants,” said my mother.

“But, Mama!” I cried. “I’m yearning to breathe free!”

The baby rolled or something.

“MY VAGINA IS YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE!” I shouted, in case they’d missed it.

“Today, Charlie is four months old,” my dad was narrating. “We are on Seventy-Sixth Street. Sadie, would you like to say something to the camera?”

“Camera!” I screamed. “MY VAGINA IS YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE!” I waved my legs in the air vigorously.

“Anything else?”

“MY VAGINA—”

“Enough with the vagina, Sades,” said my dad.

This is all on videotape. I recently saw it when I took a bunch of Beta tapes to be digitized. I apologize to Emma Lazarus.

*

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

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On the Twelfth Day of the Twelfth Month of 2012…

December 12, 2012 | by

... we bring you an excerpt from Russian Symbolist poet Aleksandr Blok’s 1918 poem The Twelve. “Today I am a genius,” he wrote after completing the twelve-canto chronicle of the October Revolution. The opening lines are amongst the most famous in Russian literature.

Black night.
White snow.
The wind, the wind!
It will not let you go.
The wind, the wind!
Through God’s whole world it blows

The wind is weaving
The white snow.
Brother ice peeps from below
Stumbling and tumbling
Folk slip and fall.

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Watch: Dorothy Parker “Reads”

June 13, 2012 | by

We have long been intrigued, fascinated, and terrified by the ingenious work by the folks behind Poetry Reincarnations. While the reincarnated Walt Whitman and the Ruined Maid deserve mention, in honor of tonight’s Strand event, we bring you Dorothy Parker “reciting” “One Perfect Rose.”

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‘Echo’ in Madison Square Park

September 29, 2011 | by

Jaume Plensa, Echo, 2011, white resin and marble dust. Installation view in Madison Square Park, New York. Photograph by James Ewing.

“A poem is never finished, it is abandoned,” said the sculptor Jaume Plensa, quoting Paul Valéry on a sunny September morning in New York City, as he watched Echo, his forty-four-foot sculpture of a female head, being dismantled piece by piece.

My husband Jonathan Wells and I are Flatiron residents. We had lived alongside Echo since she arrived in May and, for Jonathan, she had become an object of fascination and reverence. He had been working on a poem about her for months but found himself unable to conclude it. He had refamiliarized himself with the myth of Narcissus and Echo; he had learned all he could about Plensa and the nine-year-old neighbor in Barcelona who had inspired the piece, a child who had taken shape in the statue with the timelessness and serenity of a Buddha. On this, the statue’s last morning, Jonathan recognized the Catalan sculptor standing between the cranes and the crew.

“I always hoped my work would inspire other artists,” Plensa told my husband, as they discussed myth, marble dust, art collectors, and teaching schedules. “Please send me your poem.” After watching Echo come apart, Jonathan knew he had an ending. Here is what he sent to Plensa:

Echo

White as x ray bone she rises through
The trees in stone as if she were sublime,
As if she knew what this grace was
And she was only nine, framed
Between her errands and her games.
Her nymph’s body surges underground
Not knowing what this buried love
Is for.

Beneath her neighbors play Frisbee
On the grass and strangers take her
Photograph. The final sun pours
Into her sealed eyes and mouth as though
She were the saint of radiant stillness
Who says this marble flesh is a prison
Stone yet the mind flies with
The confetti of birds, soars into
The beliefs of summer.
Silence succumbs to air and the blossoms
Sail down, the clocktower’s fretted hands
Notched against her ribs.

Questions flood her blood
And darkness, flee and then she’s gone,
Taken from our vanquished arms but
She still speaks in the autumn leaves,
In the furrowed bark, in the singsong
Of the childrens’ swings.

Jonathan Wells’s collection, Train Dance, will be published by Four Way Books in October.

4 COMMENTS

Poem: Remembering the Children of First Marriages

September 1, 2011 | by

Lucy Tunstall’s poems leaped out at us from the slush pile for their fresh, unfussy takes on the vagaries of contemporary life; she is one of those poets whose voice already seems familiar. “Remembering the Children of First Marriages” invokes the structured repetition and close observation that make Christopher Smart’s “Jubilate Agno” (“For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey”) so extraordinary; here, Tunstall, a British poet, turns her gaze not to a winsome cat, but to children of divorce, as if they, too, could be held up to the light and anatomized. An irony, of course, is that there is nothing singular about children of divorce. —Meghan O’Rourke

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