A Testimonial to Adrienne Rich

Prose and Prose Poetry by Bob Boldt.

The poet is dead; long live poetry!

Poet Adrienne Rich passed on Tuesday March 27. An internationally recognized, award-winning poet she wrote socially conscious verse that influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists. She was 82.

The following is a memory of her reading on the University of Missouri campus I wrote almost eleven years ago:

I arrived early on campus. At least five hundred chairs were deployed, awaiting the army of the erudite come to hear the poet, Adrienne Rich read. A small woman assumed the podium. She was slightly stooped with a professorial air that perhaps belied her sharp eyes. Sizing up the room she began to read.

For at least an hour, maybe more, she read from her life’s blood—the stream of words of passion for the world, its politics and injustice and the specific articles of her indictment of it all. And above all were those eyes–the eyes of one whom the world has wounded too often for her to give up her loving of it now.

When finished she seemed somehow used up, husked—the kernel delivered to perhaps her last generation.

I spoke something to her at the reception that fortunately I can no longer recall and walked out into the soft September night, the words of her last poem just beginning to fade from memory:

“But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather.
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rages of fog
where we stood, saying I.”

The reassuring campus and the smell of the late summer’s night in my nostrils filled me with joy and a fulfilling confidence. I was thinking that, in spite of it all, there was, after all, hope that we could surmount the present difficulties and find a peace in the world—a personal peace—even a planetary peace. My memory of that moment is still vivid as I write.

I went home and slept soundly through the last night of hope on earth before the end of the world that came the next morning—on September eleventh, 2001.

Family Reunion

A Poem by Brian Le Lay

The evening burned around the edges.
Sunshine scathed our retinas.
We walked the cemetery paths.
 
With too much inertia, our eyes
Caught fire, and our hair.                        
We were visiting relatives
 
None of us having written letters,
Or wielding white flowers
Wrapped in napkins, or golden
 
Tourniquets, but shock when we saw
The headstone with identical
Birth and death dates.

Ten Shades of Grey

A Poem by Brian Le Lay
  
Our imitation mouths chimney semi opaque
Secondhand smoke in a glass of turbid water.
I give myself an insulting look shattering the image.
How do I make nine lives last forever?
Our skulls a little grayer, daydreams like days
Themselves angel dust in an ashtray.
Shadows dance inside keyholes.
I hope the phantoms are well.

Training Wheels

A Poem by Kevin Ridgeway

never
came off
my bicycle
and the
rotten kids
laughed
they were
ten years
old
going
on
eighty
slowly
moving
uphill
on this
diminutive
road beast
of chrome
and
reflecting lights
in the
wavering sun
dodging
foaming
jaws of
neighborhood
dogs
carefully
guarding
a basket
full of secrets.

The Mirror

A Poem by Pat St. Pierre.

Looking in the mirror,
I see my mother beside me.
Her countenance clear,
But her blue green eyes hold secrets.
Has a fortuneteller brought her here?
Is it her troubled spirit?
She’s trying to tell me—
Doors should stay open,
Rainbows give hope,
Depression leads to misery.
She wants me to see goodness,
The happiness around me,
Contentment in love.
She says listen, you must.
If you don’t, then you’ll be
With me in the mirror.

Riverside National Cemetery

A Poem by Richard D. Hartwell

Again I’m drawn, summoned to these monuments of pain,
Drift among the sinking mounds and weathered granite walls,
Memorials and menace, as if cementing my relationship to those
With whom I share a bond and have outlasted inconveniently.
Still softness is broken by the rain, the protests of the mallards,
My shuffling solitude, and moans of unheard memories.
The plaintive notes of Taps ricochets, reverberating in the rain,
As tears strike me randomly, overflowing the banks of my eyes,
Coursing down the channels of my cheeks, unchecked:
Lines etched on stone by thoughts of multiple yesterdays,
Lines etched on my face by thoughts of singular tomorrows.

Quotation Marks

Quotations compiled by Richard D. Hartwell. 

When hate is in the seeds, you can only harvest weeds.
–Ernst Jünger, The Glass Bees

In joined hands there is hope; in a clenched fist, none.
–Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea

An eye for an eye only ends up making the world blind.
–Mohandas Gandhi, The Mahatma

The Dow Chemical Executive

A Poem by M. Lapin

–based on the poem, “The Colonel.” by Carolyn Forché.

This is what is true. I went to the Dow Chemical executive’s house. He had a servant, a very plain-looking girl, probably from strong stock, with wide-open eyes and thin lips–the kind you cannot kiss. She brought into the room 
a tray of coffee, tea, cream and sugar. His daughter sat at the table that filled the space playing a handheld video game, his son sat near her watching the small screen. On the only other piece of furniture in the room, a long antique couch, lay a The WALL STREET JOURNAL, two cats, and an opened book faced down. The sun had left the sky and outside a piece of moon streamed light onto a small pond like steam. The executive offered me a seat at the table. That was all that was in the room: a couch and a table with eight chairs around it–no television, no shelves full of books, not even a computer. He asked his children to leave, asked the servant to bring his wife in, and then turned to me and asked if I had dinner yet. Near the doorway was an expensive box hiding an alarm system. Through the large picture window I could see bright lights go on and off throughout the yard when a deer decided to take a walk across the lawn. The deer, caught in the light, decided to stay. Suddenly two large dogs ran at it and it fled instantly into the brush and over a large fence. The executive watched the chase with amusement. We ate braised beef, good wine, vegetables he bragged came fresh from the garden. The servant brought in sour sop, mang cow, a half dozen chom choms and a large dragon fruit. None of these could be purchased at the store. I was asked about my blogs, my forums, a few other things. I, a guest in his house, invited, answered each request with tight brief sentences, asked how he had obtained all of this Vietnamese fruit. The servant cleared the table. At my question, the executive looked me intently in the face, did not give me a chance to reply, raised his hand and excused himself. He came back with a box that made noise when he placed it on the table. He opened it and took out one vial, then another, and still another. He picked each one up and placed them carefully on the table until there was nothing left in the box. At first I thought I was looking at brine, blood samples maybe, simple vertebrae in salt water, early embryos I studied in school, and then I realized each bottle did hold an embryo, an underdeveloped baby–could it be?–, deformed, in some instances unrecognizable as a human. They were like
 creatures from a H. G. Wells’ Doctor Moreau. How else can I describe them? The executive lifted one vial of an embryo beyond deformity, shook it in our faces, dropped it back onto the table where we watched it roll until another vial stopped it. I want this noise stopped, he said. As 
for compensation or anything else, no, tell your group they can fuck themselves. He paused. I have the cause for this in this house. I can show you if you wish. Forty years I’ve collected these abortions, these imploding genes. Then he smiled. Something for your blog, no?  the executive’s wife asked. Her husband laughed and placed the vials carelessly back in the box and the servant came into the room and removed it.

The Monsanto Executive

A poem by M. Lapin

–based on the poem, “The Colonel,”  by Carolyn Forché

This is what is true. I did go to the Monsanto executive’s house. He had a servant, tall and strong, with wide-open eyes and exquisite posture.  She brought in 
a tray of coffee, tea, cream and sugar. His daughter sat with her back to us playing a handheld video game, his son sat near her watching the small screen. The WALL STREET JOURNAL, two cats, and an opened book lay face down next to him. The sun had left the sky and outside a piece of moon streamed light onto the small pond near the house. He offered me a seat and I noticed right away there was no television in the room, no shelves full of books, not even a computer. He asked his children to leave, asked the servant to bring his wife in, and then turned to me and asked if I had had dinner yet. Near the doorway was an expensive box hiding an alarm system. Through the large picture window I could see bright lights go on and off throughout the yard when a deer decided to take a walk across the lawn. I heard the bark of a few dogs. The deer, caught in the light, decided to stay. It looked towards the barking sounds, looked towards the light, then bent its head to eat. We had
 dinner, braised beef, good wine, vegetables he bragged fresh from the garden. The servant brought in sour sop, mang cow, and other fruits you cannot get at the store. I was asked about my blogs, my forums, a few other things. I, a guest in his house, invited, answered each request with tight brief sentences. The servant cleared the table. His wife asked why I felt the way I did. The executive looked me intently in the face, did not give me a chance to reply, raised his hand and excused himself. He came back with a box that made noise when he placed it on the table. He opened it and took out one bottle, then another, and still another. He picked each bottle up and placed it carefully on the table until there was nothing left in the box. At first I thought I was looking at oxen parts in brine, pig parts maybe in salt water, embryos I studied in school, but then I realized each bottle held a child, a baby, deformed, in some instances unrecognizable as a human. They were like
 creatures from a H. G. Wells’ Doctor Moreau. How else can I describe them? Experiments with dioxins and genes in Monsanto’s labs?  The executive opened one bottle and took the deformed baby into his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it back into its bottle and we watched in silence as it sunk back to the bottom. I want this noise stopped, he said. As 
for compensation or anything else, tell your group to fuck themselves. He paused. I have the cause for this in this house. I can show you if you wish. Forty years and I’m still collecting these Vietnamese and American monsters. Then he smiled. Something for your blog, no?  the executive’s wife asked, her husband laughed and the servant came into the room, placed everything back into the box and removed it from the room.

The Camp and the Hope

In the German concentration camp of Auschwitz, a group of Jews gathering around their Rabbi for evening prayer decided to put God on trial. Because of the horrors they were facing, had already lived through and were seeing on a daily basis, they could no longer believe in what they felt was true and just. If God was All Knowing, He could have stopped the Holocaust. If He was unable to stop it, He was impotent. If He was capable of stopping it, but chose to do nothing, He was a monster.

They condemned God to death.

Then the Rabbi took his place in front of the congregation and said, “It’s time now for evening prayers.”

Escape

A Poem by Amit Parmessur.
 
My mind slips into her soft sepals,
creeping along her petals
like ladyfingers frolicking on the keys of a grand piano.

I rest gently beside her
like a boy playing in Christmas snow
waiting for holy, miraculous lights.
 
I pull her leafy gown down, slowly,
during sunset, like a thirteenth century atheist     
turning the pages of a most sacred book.
 
My mind plays the guitar on her ribs
like a miner who has discovered
a cave with golden letters in a faraway forest.
 
Then I disappear from her thirsty eyes,
a guilty crab walking along a vast
beach at dusk, lest she will stick
to me like the tentacles of an octopus
holding onto a runaway boat.