Two poems by Adrienne Rich

 Long After Stevens

A locomotive pushing through snow in the mountains
more modern than the will

to be modern The mountain's profile
in undefiled snow disdains

definitions of poetry It was always
indefinite, task and destruction

the laser eye of the poet her blind eye
her moment-stricken eye her unblinking eye

She had to get down from the blocked train
lick snow from bare cupped hands

taste what had soared into that air
--local cinders, steam of the fast machine

clear her palate with a breath distinguish
through tumbling whiteness figures

frozen figures advancing
weapons at the ready
for the new password

She had to feel her tongue
freeze and burn at once

instrument searching, probing
toward a foreign tongue

This is not the Room

of polished tables lit with medalled
torsos bent toward microphones
where ears lean hands scribble
"working the dark side"

--glazed eye meeting frozen eye--

This is not the room where tears down carven
cheeks track rivulets in the scars
left by the gouging tool
where wood itself is weeping

where the ancient painted eye speaks to the living eye

This is the room
where truth scrubs around the pedestal of the toilet
flings her rag into the bucket
straightens up    spits at the mirror

The Last Horse of Sand / Ben Gulyas

the last horse of sand
the night sewn into its spine
like a dark curve
the mark of the mole
the mark of the hedgehog, the tortoise,
the leather winged bat
the mark of the 4-legged possum
white ghost out of the side of the eyes
gnarling in the night over crocus nectar
and turnips—

the last horse of sand
returning to us all
as a dream
hoof beats in our heads…
cactus blooms, all rose and butter,
silent and startling—

like elf owls watching
the moon
reflecting off the sudden movement
of the earth
a scratch of blood
claw, beak & belly bound
the nectared bones of the cactus
the juice, the scent of color…

and the owl, the owl…
is a lonely bird…
exiled to a hushed dim flight
of darkness,
and a hunger of shadows…
or any little light that moves…
too awkward or beaten
or just
a half-beat

and what faces then,
the grip of the throat,
listening to the light
being pulled out
and let go…

the owl, the owl…
its exile…

while the last horse of sand
doesn’t give it a paused beat
but runs nose flared
eyes wide wild
among all those life-eaten blankets,
under the bridges…
under the bridges…

where there, a moment of dim sunrise…
holds all dreams to be true—

Compassion Lies Outside the Land / Bob Ambrose

 When reptile brains assert command
and timid hearts give way to fear,
compassion lies outside the land.

When hate is staged and rage is planned,
mistrust is sewn, emotions steered
so reptile core retains command.

When Roark sells his selfish brand
and liberality is jeered,
compassion lies outside the land.

When righteous dictates make demands
to smite the stranger, scorn the queer,
then reptile spirit steals command.

When bleeding hearts buck up and stand
against oppression, be of cheer:
compassion creeps upon the land.

When loving-kindness countermands
the ancient bonds that buttress fear,
then reptile brains release command,
compassion lies astride the land.

Introversion / Ginny Jones

This is an intro to one version of my story.
Don’t mistake it for an allegory,
because I am nestled in these words,
tucked in the curves of all the Cs, Ds, and Ss
you won’t have it guess if this is the truth.

See, it started in my youth.
Actually, it started in the womb
where, I, entombed then forced out into this world,
presented the countenance of a shy little girl,
but, honestly, I just didn’t want to be bothered.
I was too busy authoring stories in my mind
to find the time to socialize with everyone.

I could carry on for hours
devoured by the inner workings of my brain,
insanely creating worlds that only I could live in,
and refusing to give in to social norms.
I had different forms of pleasure
that I treasured far more than fitting in,
and making friends was never my top priority.
As the majority of my time was spent on imagination,
mental creations of multilayered scenarios.
From the ethereal to the very depths of darkness,
there was a sharpness in me that had me always slightly on edge.

Teetering on the ledge of fantasy and lucidness,
I was always presenting an elusiveness that kept everyone at bay.
Wondering why God made me this way,
I really began to hate my introversion.
I found it disturbing that I wasn’t quite like everyone else.
I hated myself for being so strange,
but I couldn’t seem to change who I was inside.
No matter how hard I tried,
I still found the greatest joy in aloneness.

So, I started to own this part of who I am,
stopped condemning myself for who I ought to be,
and caring of what people thought of me.
That’s when I found that I was free to live in harmony.

You see, I can be disarmingly charming when I’m not so packed into a      box.
It was then that I got some social stock and capital by
realizing that actual friends love you even when you’re “weird.”

Your conscious can be clear,
because you know they love your quirks.
They don’t think that you’re a jerk.
They “get” that you’re an introvert,
and they learn to make it work, because that,
That is what friends do.

Shoot, some of them are introverts too so they really understand,
and don’t demand that you change the way that you were made.

So I stopped being jaded about it.
I no longer doubted that it was a gift from God or
if I was odd, but blessed with creativity.
The ability to create solar systems with words,
I could craft a whole universe in my head alone.

And that...
that’s a sign of the throne,
because God created mankind in His own image.
Who am I to pillage his creation with criticism
or have cynicism about how he has formed me
and transformed this personality for His glory?

And this…
Well, this is just an intro to one version of my story.

Genocide in the Senate / Jay Morris

There was a genocide in the Senate
And although no one wants to admit it
It goes by the name of SB 458
Many people think you need Germs, Guns, and Gold
For there to be genocide
But genocide can be the hand that steals the pen
From someone who wants to learn how to write
Or the burning of a book in front of someone
Who wishes they could read
Genocide is banning someone from a university because they were born
On the wrong side of a border
As if there was some natural order
That draws the line
Of human rights
At asinine geographic sights
And it disgusts me that we have yet to shake the yoke
Of the manifest destiny encouraged by James K. Polk
So we are stuck in this mentality of give and take
Give them hell and take their heaven as they tremble in our wake
I don’t think it’s such a big deal
That the red, white, and blue
Can be the rojo, blanco, y azul too
This is a war of conflicting interests and cultural suicide
Where pride and dollar signs shine brighter
Than the hopeful eyes
Of first generation undocumented students grasping in the dark
For acceptance of equality
But the gleam of self-destructive bigotry
Steals the light and leaves darkness
Where once was flame
Breaking down onto long, weary knees
And shuddering sighs because that’s the only way dreams
Can die
Not with a bang, but with a desperate cry
Of Dios why?
And the desperate howl
Of What now?
Who gave who the right to take mine away?
Is there ever going to be a day
When the same political blowhards that cry parasite
Will realize that the New World was founded
On the parasitic usurpation of murderers
Like Hernan Cortes and Franco Pizarro
And With every bill they pass
That prioritizes humanitarian values last
They continue to walk the footsteps
Drenched in blood
Upholding a sordid tradition of disenfranchisement.
Where is the red, white, and blue in this?
Where is the poetry in this?
The world is growing restless America
And your creed is becoming nothing more
Than heedless words.
There is no affirmation of life found within the parchments
Of your Constitution.
There is only evidence of death
This is genocide.
This. Is genocide!

The Invitation / Michelle Castleberry

             for Aralee Strange and Word of Mouth, Athens, GA

To this day, given a space between two rows of anything…chairs, people, trees…given an aisle, I am compelled by some strange pull, to walk. And there has to be a song playing, a song sonically and lyrically tuned to that key halfway between longing and guilt. Maybe you know the ones, like:

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

     This is the altar call, in some churches called the Invitation, the point after the sermon in which the preacher steps down from the pulpit into the aisle to invite souls to Christ. The tradition extends even to funerals, the overdressed dead reclining through their last sermon, serving as both congregant and case in point. My first lessons in imagery came from altar calls at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.

     Here’s one: Brothers and sisters, tonight, perhaps you don’t understand the gravity of your indecision. Should you step out that door and meet your death, do you know without a shadow of doubt what will happen to your soul? If you understood how long eternity was you would make sure of your fate. Eternity, my friends, is like a great mountain five miles high. A deathless eagle flies by that mountain once ever century, brushing the tip of one wing to the mountain. Dear brothers and sisters, when that mountain is worn to a pebble by that eagle, eternity will have just begun. Let us pray, with every head bowed, and every eye closed…

     So it went, the pastor wrung out his prayer, shuddering to God that He would draw us down the aisle to our salvation. He begged and prayed as we sang, while the verses took a dark turn:

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.

     Is it any wonder I kept walking, sweaty and shaky-legged? Three times baptized, countless times “rededicated” to Christ like I was some love song repeatedly called into a radio station by an obsessive ex-boyfriend. I just couldn’t ever get it right, could never feel SAVED. The song said “Just as I Am” but it didn’t mean it. In a relationship involving a savior, for it to work, you must be in constant need of rescue. Loving Jesus felt like loving an ambulance. I started craving a god that didn’t smell like blood, that didn’t want to scare the bejesus out of me to put the Jesus in.

     Recently, my mama asked me if I had found a “home church,” you know, because on vacation and while traveling you visit other churches. Your home church is your regular church. I said I wasn’t looking, tried to explain why, but the truth is something else.

     I do have a home church. It meets once a month in a blue upstairs room. In something like a dream, my church serves whiskey. My church has attendants and deacons who call the order of worship. Like Revelations, we have a book of names. We have a Strange and wondrous preacher, who unlike others, hands us the pulpit. At times the spirit falls so hard you can almost see it. We say, in our own way, amen and amen. We have confessions and lamentations, we have praise and worship. In our midst we have prophets that cry out against injustice, as loud and wild as John the Baptist. We have ministers of mercy for the broken-hearted. Among us, many have the gift of the Tongue. No hymnal except for what is folded among the page and lungs. No offering plate passed, but your voice is required of you tonight, my friends, along with your ears and your heart.

     So now it is time for the Invitation.
     With every head raised and every eye open, we call on the Word. In the beginning was the Word and so it remains. Lord Word, maybe there is one among us who is afraid to speak, but who has a poem burning in them to share. Let them come. Let them remember there are others here, yea, even tonight, who have been ministered to by a word, said rightly, read true. Testify if you have seen the word leap across a chasm of grief and sadness to tether another, at least for a moment, to the knotty miracle of life.

     Raise your hand if the Word has made you laugh, which is another way to pronounce “Amen.” Who among us has felt joy run like a shiver along your skin, from hearing a poet speak? So let the poets speak. God Word, remind them of the cloud of witnesses that cover them and give them strength…from the nameless bards who wrote in air and smoke to Sister Dickenson, Brother Whitman, Brother Ginsberg, Sister Clifton, Brother Donald. Spirits embodied and unseen lift us in our work. And so, Lord Word, be with us tonight when we leave this place to gather up poetry and bring it back. Until then, go in passion and peace,

Amen and amen.