Monday
Jun202016

No one chooses refugee camps

On World Refugee Day, this poem 'Home,' by Warsan Shire. 

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
...
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
...
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Sunday
Jun122016

Wise trees stand sleeping

It was autumn when we left, summer where we went, and winter now we're back. So here, for now, is a winter poem, “Winter Trees,” by William Carlos Williams. 

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.


Saturday
Apr232016

This miracle in black ink

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
  O! none, unless this miracle have might,
  That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Since he was wont to muse on mortal things, it seems fit that Shakespeare’s supposed birthday (the true date, like so much else about him, is unknown) is also the day he died. Death — sad mortality — loomed large to him, and so it’s a marvel of poetic irony that 400 years since the day he died, the world still bears witness to his life. So much of his surviving verse bears out his belief that verse could survive death, his will that it would. The miracle of his work is that it worked. His hand, after all, was strong enough. On this day, he’s not 400 years dead; he’s immortal.

Tuesday
Mar292016

Easter Rising

Almost a hundred years ago, in the streets of Dublin, a small band of rebels led an armed insurrection against the British and proclaimed an Irish Republic. The Easter Rising of 1916 lasted six days. Five hundred people were killed. Most of the instigators were court-martialed and executed, including the artichect of the Rising, Joseph Plunkett, a poet and a journalist. On the day of his execution, Plunkett was married in the chapel of Kilmainham jail to his fianceé, Grace Gifford. Hours later, he was shot by a firing squad. He was 28 years old. 

This is his poem “I see his blood upon the rose.” It's a lyric magnificat of great power, full of the incarnation as well as the resurrection. It reminds me of Donne and Herbert, but with an Irish lilt. It has the pathos and intensity of someone whose own life, like Christ's, was brief and passionate, and whose end was bloody. It's not only about a way of seeing the world but a declaration of loyalty to that vision. It's in fact a hymn of allegiance. A creed.

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
 
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
 
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Friday
Mar252016

The gates of bliss

Over the past several Easters I've posted a number of George Herbert poems, but I've never posted his longest and most moving Passion poem: “The Sacrifice.” It's the story of Jesus' capture and execution from his own lips, overlaid with his God's-eye view of myth and mystery. Every aspect of the episode is given its symbolic resonance, its echo through the law and the prophets and the long history of God's forbearance. Even now, I won't post the whole thing because it's immense, but here are a few stanzas. You can find the whole poem here - it's six times as long, and full of riches.

Arise, arise, they come. Look how they runne!
Alas! what haste they make to be undone!
How with their lanterns do they seek the sunne!
Was ever grief like mine?

Judas, dost thou betray me with a kisse?
Canst thou finde hell about my lips? and misse
Of life, just at the gates of life and blisse?
Was ever grief like mine?

All my Disciples flie; fear puts a barre
Betwixt my friends and me. They leave the starre,
That brought the wise men of the East from farre.
Was ever grief like mine?

Ah! how they scourge me! yet my tendernesse
Doubles each lash: and yet their bitternesse
Windes up my grief to a mysteriousnesse:
Was ever grief like mine?

And now I am deliver’d unto death,
Which each one calls for so with utmost breath,
That he before me well nigh suffereth:
Was ever grief like mine?

Weep not, deare friends, since I for both have wept
When all my tears were bloud, the while you slept:
Your tears for your own fortunes should be kept:
Was ever grief like mine?

O all ye who passe by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climbe the tree;
The tree of life to all, but onely me:
Was ever grief like mine?

Lo, here I hang, charg’d with a world of sinne,
The greater world o’ th’ two; for that came in
By words, but this by sorrow I must win:
Was ever grief like mine?

But, O my God, my God! why leav’st thou me,
The sonne, in whom thou dost delight to be?
My God, my God ------
Never was grief like mine.

But now I die; now all is finished.
My wo, mans weal: and now I bow my head.
Onely let others say, when I am dead,
Never was grief like mine.