A group of poems offered by the poets to be a part of the "I Am An American" show at Cove St. Arts, Portland, Maine.
What is the face of America
granite, limestone, rock face
upthrust delta rich
soil and deep forest
swift rivers flowing
deep ice and first peoples
where are the borders
mountain, river, glacier's edge
wind water night sky stars
great flocks flying
great schools swimming
great herds moving
touching the edge of ice
seeds on the breeze
put your roots down and
you are welcome here
The Earth-wide waste dump
is half full
The chain saw
to the giant trunk of the tree
If there is smoke
there is a gun
or a barbecue
I am alone in the basement
panting on the treadmill
how vast this country
Driving on I-95
I think how the Mississippi River
flows only in one direction
all the cherry trees blossomed
even those around the White House
From the top of the Washington Monument
I see the capital city from all directions
my hand touches the air
Silk Road Silk Road
everybody is talking about the Silk Road
caterpillar go in your cocoon
It may take a deluge
for my house to float
toward your house
There is light
at the end of the tunnel
I Am An Arab American
Because I tend the fig tree as earnestly as the dogwood and the pine
Because nutmeg and anise, cumin and cardamom inhabit my shelves and senses
Because I make both baklava and blueberry pie for my family
Because melodies of the oud and guitar dwell in my ears
Because poems by Mahmoud Darwish and Lucille Clifton are my daily bread
Because I am awed by the blueness of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea
Because I see Gaza when a protester raises a fist in Ferguson
Because I've touched the splendor of a brown child in my womb
Because I write in languages that flow in opposite directions
Because Arabic and English are both my touchstones
Because my name is unfamiliar to some and a comforting word to others
Because I grow jasmine to conjure the fragrance of my first home
Because to me, the olive tree is an ancestor, a food source, a healer
Because my Palestinian parents were refugees and I am an immigrant
Because my children see more than one world, inherit stories that astonish
Because I want to protect the purple mountains and shining seas everywhere
Because I know that everything we decide now affects the next seven generations
I am an American.
Today, not someday.
Inserting my authentic African self in every city, every state, and every history book that
has been written.
I am an American.
Not because I was born here.
But because my heart, my soul, my sorrows, and my future promises are buried deep
down into the soil and concrete of this nation.
Yes, I am an American.
Not because I speak English.
But because my tongue knows how to roar in many languages,
knows how to comprehend, read, and rewrite the stories that haven't been written.
I am an American.
Not because I drink my morning coffee with a little cream but because I drink it dark,
just like how I was taught in the motherland.
With every sip I take tasting the bitterness of my experiences.
I am an American.
Not because I take the subway to my place of work, but because I have walked miles on
stones to find my final destination that I call home.
I am an American.
Not because I wear a T-shirt and pants but because I wear my Abaya and hijab proudly
with no fear.
Not sitting at the dining room table or eating from one plate, it's the floor in the center
of our living room that has become our threshold.
Our Thanksgiving meal does not include turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, but expect
Fufu and plantains to be at the center of our meal.
I am an American not because my father fought in the Civil War that eventually ended
but because he, I, and many others still have cut open wounds with no medication or a
plan for a renewal healing.
My eyes cry for my America while my feet dance to my African beats.
Holding on to home on the tip of my tongue.
Sewing this diverse piece of fabric of my many identities,
leaving each needle to write its own story.
I am an American.
Whole Food dolma, I explain, is simply
grapeleaves rolled with rice, a paradox
oilysmooth, lemontart, crisp stone
mountains wrapped in viridescent fields
breeze leavened, the hot summer days.
I cannot make them see
my great-grandmother's hands,
roadside gathering, mason jars filling
browngreen leaves like pondlilies
underwater strata, layers of lost growth.
How once, even my grandmother canned
acorn squash, rich earth of her own garden
tomato vine, hidden arbor. How once,
there were blueberries wild on Federal Hill
my father picked them as a child, his favorite
memory, how morning tasted on the backporch
brightknit like a rainbow afghan and I
leave all these things on my tongue
unspoken, taste the dolma somewoman,
somewhere, has made.
Katherine Hagopian Berry
For Adrienne Rich
You tell us that we have
the drive/to connect. The dream of a common language.
That No one sleeps in this room without/the dream of a common language
But how do you dream
of a common language
when you are surrounded
by faces that do not know you?
There are those who
have been in this room for a lifetime.
Who dream stories in languages
that aren't written down
in this place.
I once heard a story about a man with dementia who walked into an industrial bread mixer.
No grand metaphor here, just a man
dazed/ and/ confused.
Lost his way.
Walked through a door and a door and a door and off a ledge.
Found himself trapped - in a concave well - mixed in with remnants
yeast/ and/ flour.
Can you imagine?
The smoothness of the walls.
The futility of motion.
The fear giving way to surrender.
And so, as the story goes, he tired and lay still
at the bottom of the basin
in the fetal position.
This is how they found him - covered in white
fetal/ and/ flour.
How could he explain his journey?
What led him to leave his home
to walk, through a door and a door and a door?
What language to describe what compelled him?
How does he respond to the why? To the how?
How can we name a common language that makes him intelligible to these faces that
How do I wrap my tongue around that, Adrienne?
You tell us that Language cannot do everything.
You tell us that No one lives in this room/ without confronting the whiteness of the wall
/ behind the poems.
For a moment
think of whiteness
and think of
For a moment
think of other journeys.
think of other migrations.
of collective movement.
Know that migration is beautiful.
Migration is human.
Migration is animal.
Hold in your mind a tapestry.
Know that behind the poetry of promise
is something ominous
barbs/ and/ teeth
that will shred the tapestry
reconfigure it into a new likeness
translate it beyond recognition
that will scoff at dreams
will deny common language
will bark out
how/ and/ why
I cannot conjure a common language that will save us.
I don't know what to tell you, Adrienne.
american flags from red wounds
blue bruises shredded pulp
of human flesh
people torn from ancestral lands
for brown skin blankets
of blood bouquets
of ripped muscle
crushed back...broken bones
heads drowned chained to cold
concrete starved & suffocated forced
to take drugs american citizens safe
comfortable from the agony
of brown people
I AM AN AMERICAN (VETERAN OF THE AMERICAN WAR IN VIET NAM)
Low Intensity Warfare (1985)
we're working up
this winter's wood
below the Rio
below the Durangoes
in the fruit section
of our global IGA
deep in the sweet underbelly
we're stacking up
fall is in the air
the mornings are crisp and clear
the leaves die beautifully
in earth browns
are slipping into puddles
of mangled skin
is hard at work
the morning air
smells of burning flesh
is as usual
* "Willie Peter" is army slang for white phosphorous
Prometheus Again (1976)
When the infantry ran into trouble, they'd call on the artillery to "bring fire down on such-and-such coordinates"
He once brought fire down
on some village children
in that latest crazy forgotten war
Now he's come home
to spend his days asleep
beneath newspapers of inconsequence
to spend his nights chained
against our trash cans
Retching our guts up
into the relentless dawn
Unexploded Ordnance: A Ballad (2007)
for Chuck Searcy and the thousands of Vietnamese who have labored off and on since 1975, working to undo what we have done
So I was maybe all of twenty-one
when they whipped me
into some kind of soul-less shape
Yet another one of America's
weeping mother's sons
sent forth into this world
to raze, pillage, and rape
And now it's coming on
to another Christmas Eve
and the songs of joy and peace
fill up our little town
How I ask myself
could I possibly believe
I could do what I did
and not reap what I had sown
In that land far away
from what I call home
a grandfather leads
his granddaughter by the hand
into a field where we did
what had to be done
They trip into a searing heat
brighter than a thousand suns.
I embrace colder than a witch's tit.
New Year's Eve 2017
The predator-elect stated, after comments were made that his 14 cabinet appointees are collectively worth as much as the "bottom" one third of the US population,
"What's wrong with Rich, isn't that what we want?"
I am here to say I embrace
colder than a witch's tit
hoar frost, bitch, dyke,
the entire list of Samantha Bee's vagina monologue.
I embrace squaw mountain, Nasty woman, man hater
I embrace every pejorative name for women,
from mother in law to Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher,
I embrace them in every language for the 3.5 billion women on the planet
I am here to say
We are not backing down,
you can call us whatever, we aren't biting that bait
if you think calling us names will make us think we aren't woman enough,
good enough, smart enough, tough enough sweet enough sexy enough
man enough to play the game and join the club, you're wrong.
Hillary did that, and if she can't break the misogyny wall
if she can't win with 3,000,000 more votes
none of us can.
I am here to say
we are going back to our radical roots,
the ones we never left
we don't want to join the club,
the pistol, the rifle, the drone, the bomb.
We don't want the weapons glorified in the shape of your penis
wreaking havoc and destruction over and over again ad nauseum
We don't want to be rich-queen,
we want none of us to be poor,
and clean water.
I am here to say I am done with
the glorification of the father
the adoration of the son, whatever you call them
I am so over the male narrative, the hero and the golden fleece,
I am so done with boys will be boys.
I am here to say
I totally embrace the mother
and celebrate the daughters
the people who make life happen every sunrise every sunset,
all that unpaid labor
who give birth, get food on the table, laundry done,
who nurse, teach languages, manners,
the women who do all the work at churches, nursing homes hospitals schools
while a few men at the top push papers and a few men off to the side at the
bottom push brooms and fix the washing machines
I embrace the mother goddess,
who has no name in patriarchy
I embrace the 101 names of the mother
the billions of nameless daughters.
And for any men squirming in the audience
I am over White supremacy too,
I reap the benefits of institutionalized racism,
absolutely have access to more resources easier,
cause I'm white.
Being, oh gee, uncomfortable cause we get called out on privilege,
Buck up, become men against patriarchy, white people against racism
I am here to say I am totally over
not acknowledging, recognizing,
this country's wealth was built on
the labor and legacy of black people
being enslaved by white people,
there is no poetry in that
or that our glorious first black president
wasn't obstructed at every point because he was black.
and even he...can and did last week address the nation, saying
"we didn't take the territory of our enemies after the wars, we helped
leaving out that we took a continent
and nearly annihilated its first people
ain't no poetry in that.
I am here to embrace Nasty woman, Code Pink, One Billion Rising,
Veterans for Peace, Black Lives Matter, Seed Savers, Greenpeace -
I am here to embrace disarmament, Standing Rock.
I am here being
embraced by the Mother,
The Earth, our planet,
that force of nature who gives us the whole kit and kaboodle
every sunrise, every sunset
I don't want a gold throne, to be Queen,
I want no one to be poor and
clean water, clean water...clean air
for the great and glorious diversity
of all living beings
who make my world
So so Rich.
WORD FOR THE DAY:
Greek hu- (in compound hubris) violence, outrage, insolence
Latin brutus- (suffix) heavy, unwieldy, dull, stupid, brutish
"pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall"
(Book of Proverbs, 16:18)
pride that blinds/ a committer of hubris acts in foolish ways that belie common sense
often associated w/lack of humility; also ignorance
as for pleasure in hubris, its cause is this:
naive men think by ill-treating others
they make superiority their own.
in ancient Greece, hubris was outrage, actions that violated
the natural order,
sometimes for gratification of the abuser
a crime at least from the time of Solon
it indicates overestimation of one's own accomplishments,
lost contact w/normal reality
When the rich or young men think they are better than others they are
hubris lusts for victory not reconciliation
General George Armstrong Custer's decisions in the Battle of the Little Big Horn illustrate
hubris as history:
"Where did all those damned Indians come from?"
as the incumbent president cruises along in his motorcade surrounded by throngs of
adoring supporters, he rasps to the Cabinet Secretary seated beside him,
"Incredible isn't it? After this I could never return to ordering windows.
It would be so boring."
Sir Thomas's Baptismal Rite on the 5th of July (he was born on the 4th):
Soliloquy from a homeless encampment on the Kennebec River
" Oh and how the dark forces celebrated with
bombs offending the sweet night air, and frightening
the fauna, whose tender steps hurried
to dens to hide from the sulfurous wind. The lights
of war as if boasting that death can assume
yonder rainbow's gentle arc, and the epicurean
crowds in a bacchanalian feast of short haggis, small
bread and mead looked with glee upon this
colored display of fallen innocent ones.
Are we to gaze upon this hour
of our discontent idly whilst the
hounds of hell's dominion smiled
upon by Mars himself decimate
the innocent blush of young lovers
on this plane?
Having not known a kiss from their
beloved, so saddened the crushed
rose upon the hand of darkness where
even Odin is bruised and dug
in the rib as to not allow an unkindness
of ravens to fly the night sky.
Is it the condiment that resembles blood that
makes them thirst for hardship against not their own.
Bloodlust inspired by what they eat, making it possible
for genocidal tendencies towards Native Americans and
putting Africans to slavery, and closing borders to
immigrants, and spending as Midas bringing some
fool's gold to the dark tendencies of their consciousness.
Or perhaps the pickled condiment is the fiend spread
upon their short haggis; does it intimate a
sweet relish for suffering, giving feasts whilst our defeated
army lay in this forest with tattered tents and clothes ill fit.
Methinks it is the mead, however. The sweet elixir of
Falstaff that creates from blank canvas masterpieces
of life's mundane moments, that shows no talent beyond
what a fond moment can be in unrivaled beauty when
articulated with unencumbered mind.
Oh what a day this is, good sir!
What day breaks across the hills, sweet Silas?"
"It is July 5th, sir."
"Come, dear friend, we have only moments before the day
steals our good nature and we become again a huddled mass
of tormented memories unfit for angels, children of
humanity's brutality and apathy."
Thomas leads the community of the homeless and baptizes
in the river. Next week a caseworker will show up and try
to convince Thomas to take medication and to come away
from the forest to live in relative comfort.
His answer is always the same:
"Who shall guard the ramparts of palatine dreams of
righteousness, before innocence is stolen yet again
and the very night air lay heavy with sulfuric wind..."