Poetry of Love, Resistance, & Solidarity

robert-l-dean-jr-author-photoAleppo

A man begs us not to step over his family. He wears rags and tears and dust. Behind him a pile of rubble. Perhaps he once lived here. Perhaps also the legs and arms and heads before which he kneels. We do not know. We pass on by.

M10 hospital. We bandage. Stitch. Amputate. Slip, slide on blood, bowels. Don garments of stinking flesh. In a corner, a woman babbles, boy on a litter, eyes gone deaf. Windows shatter. Concrete dances. Barrel bomb. We burrow deeper. Carry wounded. Wounds. Dying. Death. What we carry, we become.

Ahead of us, a torch. Someone whispers: Crawl faster.

Sambisa Forest

When the men speak, it is not Chibok. Maybe Hausa. Arabic. They rip off the abaya, the niqab, the black they make us wear to cover our shame when it suits them, our only concealment, our one refuge, the cold ash of our village, our hearts. They ram into us, thighs banging buttocks. We are 14, 12, 8. Our mounds weep red. Husband, they say, in our language. Before the next one sticks it in.

Helicopters in the monkey-bread trees. Alone in our huts like graves. Blessed Virgin, we whisper: Blessed G.I. Joe. Machine guns. Rockets. Kaboom. Fingers laced, we listen. The hiss of snakes. The swagger of the husbands. What we are left with.

We eat bloody dates. Drink strange-leaved tea. Pledge mubaya’a. Birth their babies. Detonate in crowds of strangers. The husbands say we go to Paradise. And we do.

Juárez

The Dead Women haunt the maquiladoras. Assemble into printers, TVs, cars. Sigh spreadsheets in Wenatchee, dust up Sioux City back roads, number Days of Our Lives in Brooklyn. They tire of trash dumps, sewers, creosote, cactus. Gardens of red crosses.

Mummies grin on morgue slabs. Sons. Uncles. Brothers. Those we ransom two times, three. Fifteen-year-olds in Escalades and Yankees caps collect. Quinceañera bouquets wither. Carnicerías, discotecas fire the night.

Make-shift altars: tequila, Marlboros, the things She craves. Black candles. Mariachis sing: Santa Muerte, Bony Lady, Lady of the Shadows, Lady of the Holy Death. We shoulder grappling hooks, machetes. Wade the river. Shimmer in the moon’s image. Tired. Poor. Huddled. What we are not: wretched.

Stars whisper. We climb. The eyes of gringo guns.

 

Robert L. Dean, Jr. majored in Music Composition at Wichita State University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Illya’s Honey, Red River Review, and I-70 Review. His chapbook Doors was a finalist in the 2014 Dallas Poets Community contest.

Guest Editor Roy J. Beckemeyer is President of the Kansas Authors Club. His poetry book, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014) was a 2015 Kansas Notable Book.

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I see him walk between railroad tracks,

black braids sway back and forth,

beads interwoven,

long fringed vest jangles,

entwined stones collide.

 

A dog, black and sleek nudges his leg at ready.

Above his head a metal rod with prongs

looms like a goalpost.

Two hawks perch

stately, poised.

 

Hunter? Wanderer?

 

I scramble to the railroad trestle

keeping him in sight,

grass bites bare legs,

my hand runs along outcropped rock,

traces charred hobo codes

 

left by transient workers

during the Great Depression,

lined drawings, meant to guide

simplistic signs

danger ahead, shelter, food.

 

Now draped across his back

the folded platform.

On his shoulders, the hawks hunker

yellow-banded curved beaks

yellow claws clutch.

 

Shelter taken in the shade

of persimmon trees that line the field’s edge.

His fingers probe the bark

small, square blocks

as if searching for signs.

Note: During the Great Depression, nomadic workers traveled on freight trains to garner work that they could find, not spending too much time in any one town. A unique Hobo Code (hoboglyphics) was developed to communicate and give information about places to camp or find a meal or dangers that lay ahead. In Parsons, Kansas a quilt designed with hobo codes was auctioned during Katy Days in celebration of the strong heritage of freight life in Kansas.

Debbie Theiss is an emerging poet. She won 3rd place in the Japanese Haiku Festival Contest and published poems in the Skinny Journal, Paddle Shots: A River Pretty Anthology, Vol. 2, I-70 Review (September, 2016) and was accepted in Interpretations IV in Columbia, MO. She enjoys nature, bicycling, and gardening.

Guest Editor Denise Low: The University of Nebraska Press published Denise Low’s 2017 memoir The Turtle’s Beating Heart, about her grandfather’s Lenape heritage. Other recent books are A Casino Bestiary: Poems (Spartan Press 2017), Mélange Block: Poems (Red Mt. Press), Jackalope (short fiction, Red Mt. Press), and Natural Theologies: Essays (The Backwaters Press). Low is former Kansas poet laureate and past board president of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. She teaches for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies.

There are more ways to terrorize

than stack bricks on the border higher than Denali.

More sinister ways to banish.

Darth Vader lurks on the screen

and with a flourish of a golden pen

rewrites the narratives of children’s lives.

Lizet, whose name means “beauty” and sounds like love,

composes words that weep her Mamá’s tears,

confesses worries desperate as packed suitcases

waiting by the front door.

“Mamá says if she goes, I go with her.”

~ Rhiannon Ross

Rhiannon Ross teaches youth poetry workshops for In Our Own Words, a Missouri Arts Council-funded program. She serves on the Riverfront Reading Series committee, the Jump Start Art KC board, and as a regional co-coordinator for Poetry Out Loud. She received a 2012 Rocket Grant for community project, Vox Narro.

Guest Editor Denise Low: The University of Nebraska Press published Denise Low’s 2017 memoir The Turtle’s Beating Heart, about her grandfather’s Lenape heritage. Other recent books are A Casino Bestiary: Poems (Spartan Press 2017), Mélange Block: Poems (Red Mt. Press), Jackalope (short fiction, Red Mt. Press), and Natural Theologies: Essays (The Backwaters Press). Low is former Kansas poet laureate and past board president of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. She teaches for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies.

Snowmelt scours the Rockies until the creeks flash.

Gravel and sand wash into Beaver Creek and the Solomon River.

Cows are calving as water sweeps the land.

The jet stream drops from the north like a Cheyenne raid―

Rain slams the high plains, rivers churn,

and spring calves stumble into the drowning snarl

that roars through the Smoky Hills.

Anvil-grey thunderheads rumble the Flint Hills.

 

Thirty million bison roamed the tall grass prairie

before General Sherman’s final solution to the Indian problem―

kill, skin, and sell until the buffalo is exterminated.

They shoot them down on foot, horseback, and from trains:

The hides are stacked, hacked, carcasses left to rot―

to starve out the Pawnee and Osage tribes:

 

Now bison bones still wash into angry creeks,

with mastodon teeth, arrowheads, deer antlers.

The surly boneyard river reminds whose land this was.

Barbed-wire fences bristle and glint in slanting rain,

Angus, Herefords, and yearlings graze on wet bluestem grass.

The drenched bovines munch ancient fodder,

the white settlers keep Sunday clean.

Soon the calfs―fattened under the summer sun―

move to feed lots and holding pens.

When the box chute opens to the kill floor

the cows will know the bison’s fate: kill, skin, sell.

~ Jemshed Khan

Jemshed Khan has published poems in Number One Magazine, Wittenberg Review, #BlackArtMatters (2016), Read Local (2016), Rigorous (2017), NanoText (Medusa’s Laugh Press, 2017). The author is slated for Clockwise Cat, Issue 36 (2017) and I-70 Review

Guest Editor Denise Low: The University of Nebraska Press published Denise Low’s 2017 memoir The Turtle’s Beating Heart, about her grandfather’s Lenape heritage. Other recent books are A Casino Bestiary: Poems (Spartan Press 2017), Mélange Block: Poems (Red Mt. Press), Jackalope (short fiction, Red Mt. Press), and Natural Theologies: Essays (The Backwaters Press). Low is former Kansas poet laureate and past board president of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. She teaches for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies.

…tell me if I am right. — “Report to Crazy Horse”

You lived long, and carefully.
You knew the prairie wind,
how it can call all through long January nights,
how sometimes settlers would listen
and step from their houses, thin topsoil crunching
under boots or rising to meet bare toes,
and in the morning there would be no trace
of their passing. The storm does this.

 

I have listened to the wind’s song, and I think
I will not live so long. It does not concern me.
But this: I matured in a decade
of madness, assaults on an enemy
we were told was hiding in desert ratholes
or mountain caves, where people hold
centuries-old ways, and older
grudges. (the ones who say this think we are different.
I do not know who they mean by we.)

 

They fight a concept,

 

a tick growing fat on assassinations, uranium shells,

 

drone strikes (this is a convenient way of killing
as impersonal as any strip mall).
No one can tell me if they believe they will win,
if they think fighting makes them strong.

 

You have been gone twenty years now, more than twenty.
They award Peace Prizes to men who have done nothing,
and worse than nothing. The wind does not care
about Mr. Nobel. It does not care about you, Bill,
or me. It is the wind.

 

I do not know if monsters can be overcome,
if the new great extinction can be halted, or slowed.
I dream of that gleaming face, at times.
Will you tell me what this means?
Yesterday, at dusk, a cold front came battering
against my door, sweeping from the West,
striking bare branches against windows,
stirring the dog as he watched the fire burn low.
A shriek. I rushed in terror to the window.
Two children chased each other in circles, laughing.

~ Izzy Wasserstein

Izzy Wasserstein is the author of This Ecstasy They Call Damnation, a 2013 Kansas Notable Book. Izzy teaches at Washburn University, runs long distance slowly, and shares a home with a cat and three dogs.

Guest Editor Tyler Robert Sheldon is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of First Breaths of Arrival (Oil Hill Press, 2016), and Traumas (Yellow Flag Press, 2017). His poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such venues as Quiddity International Literary Journal, The Midwest Quarterly, Coal City Review, The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature, The Dos Passos Review, Entropy Magazine, and others. He earned his MA in English at Emporia State University, and is now an MFA candidate at McNeese State University. View his work at tyrsheldon.wixsite.com/trspoetry.

I’m so choked up
at the Kevin Young reading
that I will my copy
of To Repel Ghosts
to my student, Ralvell.
I write a note, say, “Take this book,
and ask Young to sign it, keep
these words in remembrance,”
though I make it to the water fountain,
clear my throat,
spot my student
chatting Young up,
two black men
in a white sea, a moment
for which we raced
100 miles, sailing
blacktop in a borrowed
college car.

~ Kevin Rabas

Kevin Rabas is the Poet Laureate of Kansas. He teaches at Emporia State University, where he leads the poetry and playwriting tracks. He has seven books, including Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner.

Guest Editor Tyler Robert Sheldon is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of First Breaths of Arrival (Oil Hill Press, 2016), and Traumas (Yellow Flag Press, 2017). His poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such venues as Quiddity International Literary Journal, The Midwest Quarterly, Coal City Review, The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature, The Dos Passos Review, Entropy Magazine, and others. He earned his MA in English at Emporia State University, and is now an MFA candidate at McNeese State University. View his work at tyrsheldon.wixsite.com/trspoetry.

So many white, so many
men, tape their mouths in protest
at the DNC. They black out signs.
Their eyes shine. They boo the black
congressman, the Hispanic
congresswoman. They chant.
They walk out. They will stay home
in November, chop fallen trees
into firewood, grill steaks while milking
beers for the last time this year.
They will stare at the black sky
while their neighbors’ TVs blare
too quietly to tell who won.
During roll-call, I cry. I cry but do not
post my joyful tears on Facebook,
where so many white, so many
men post cheater, criminal, cunt.
I do not think of these men. I think of
the women crying with me—
in Alabama, Wyoming, Maine,
in living rooms and Laundromats and bars,
college dorm rooms and cars, women
wishing their dead grandmothers
alive, women reliving sixth grade
career fairs, women with
daughters asleep in their beds.

Melissa Fite Johnson received her Master’s in English literature from Pittsburgh State University in Kansas. Her first collection, While the Kettle’s On (Little Balkans Press, 2015) won the Nelson Poetry Book Award and is a Kansas Notable Book. Her poems have appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Broadsided Press, The New Verse News, velvet-tail, and elsewhere. Melissa teaches English and lives with her husband in Kansas. For more, visit melissafitejohnson.com.

Guest Editor Tyler Robert Sheldon is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of First Breaths of Arrival (Oil Hill Press, 2016), and Traumas (Yellow Flag Press, 2017). His poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such venues as Quiddity International Literary Journal, The Midwest Quarterly, Coal City Review, The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature, The Dos Passos Review, Entropy Magazine, and others. He earned his MA in English at Emporia State University, and is now an MFA candidate at McNeese State University. View his work at tyrsheldon.wixsite.com/trspoetry.

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