Wednesday, April 12, 2017

National Poetry Month in a Dark Time

It's a dark time in the U.S. right now. There's little doubt about that. Every day, news of several new scandals erupts. Possible Russian agents or assets in power in the White House, entire departments of the federal government essentially wiped out, bans against Muslims, the wholesale rounding up and imprisonment of Latinos, attempts to wipe out health care and health insurance as we know it today (seriously, health insurance that doesn't cover hospitalization???), attempts to wipe out all programs that help the poor, the elderly, children, the disabled, the disenfranchisement of ever more American voters--the list goes on and on. 

Just yesterday, an airline lost almost a billion dollars in share value after it beat up a paying passenger because he refused to leave a seat he'd already paid for to make room for spare airline employees. Then, Eric Trump, the inconvenient, inadvertent truth-teller in a family of pathological liars, told a reporter that the President of the United States sent 59 missiles flying into a Syrian airbase because Ivanka, his much-too-beloved daughter, felt sadness over photos of dead children and told him to do something--and, Eric added, this should prove that his dad, the President, is not beholden to Russia. And finally, on this first full day of Passover, Sean Spicer, the presidential press secretary, said Hitler never used chemical weapons--at least, not against his own people--well, against innocent people--no, he meant against his own innocent people in their homes because he took them off to Holocaust Centers to gas them.

And yesterday was a light day in the dark news department, compared to what has happened lately. Oh, I almost forget in the press of the other dumpster fires, also yesterday, we saw for the first time the FISA warrant obtained against Carter Page, foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump's campaign, stating that the FBI had reasons that the FISA court found credible to believe Page was a Russian spy.

When we have possible Russian spies running our government, determined efforts to destroy said democratic government, and a President who wants to become an actual dictator and is rapidly stripping away our rights and protections against that, we live in dark, dark times. In the words of beloved children's book author, Susan Cooper, "The dark is rising." We have never needed National Poetry Month more. So here is a poem for the dark times.


BLESSING FOR THE DARK TIMES

Creator reminds us daily
through the fragrant winds,
the re-leafing trees,
the dark-of-morning bird chorus,
the taste of rain on upheld faces,
that this world was built in beauty,
made for harmony and wholeness.

We must remember
it is we humans
who break what is shining and whole.
It is our species that creates dark times.
We must learn to live
in tune with creation once more. We must sing
balance back into this bountiful earth.

As we work together
to mend the broken world—
against the forces among our own kind
choosing destruction over grace—
may we keep in our imaginations
the ancestral memory
of this world as it was created to be.

May we will it into existence
again. May we move always toward healing
and wholeness. May we never forget
the force of willed action
and words of power.
May we create a blessed light
in these dark times in which we find ourselves.
May we know
deep inside our bones
that, no matter how broken,
our world is always
worth the labor of mending.

© Linda Rodriguez 2017


Monday, November 28, 2016

Final Poem for Native American Heritage Month and Standing Rock

We are ending Native American Heritage Month in a few days, and throughout the entire month, militarized police have been violently attacking the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, leaving hundreds with hypothermia and injuries, especially one elder in cardiac arrest, one young woman with a torn retina, and one young woman with an arm that she may lose, even after several surgeries. This poem is one I wrote about rivers and the concept of river, and perhaps it will offer a different way of looking at these great entities of creation beyond the concept of commodity or barrier to profit. Too often we forget that water is truly life.


WHAT RIVER SAYS

The Cherokee call me Long Man,
yun wi gun hi ta,
because my body stretches and unravels
with my head in the mountains
and my feet resting in the ocean.
I constantly speak words of wisdom
to those who can understand me—
fewer every day.
It takes a quality of attention
fit for magicians or poets.
I have much to tell those
who expend the time and energy to listen.
I have seen so many things.
I know the history of rain
intimately, leaning on the world
to feel it on my skin
and take it inside me
to swell my body. Maybe,
they should have called me Long Woman.

I remember when
the mountains were home only to gods.
I knew your ancestors,
now tangled in the ground.
I swallowed my share and more.
I have seen innumerable generations
living into their deaths.
I am acquainted with the bones of earth,
ancient as the word of God
and stronger by far.
Men have tried forever
to change me and chain me,
but I still wander where I will
when I grow tired of being tame.
I remain the promise of tomorrow,
the hope of new growth
that haunts the night with hypnotic murmurs
and softens the edge between act and dream.

When all hope has fled,
come to me.

Published in TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, 2015

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Poem for Native American Heritage Month--Dreaming Fox

I wanted to put another poem up for Native American Heritage Month, and I decided to post this one.

I’ve always taken for granted that I could see more of the natural world’s plants and animals, even in the city, than most other people I know here, who seem totally oblivious to a pair of golden eagles stunt-flying on the thermals overhead or the waddle of a beaver across a grassy knoll to his creek home. I know I owe this gift to my grandmother and aunt and uncle who taught me when I was young to pay attention to the land around me and its plant and animal inhabitants—and thus vastly enriched the rest of my life.


When the rest of my family erupted in chaos and violence, focusing on the natural world of which I was a part saw me through the pain and desperation. Nothing pulls me out of despair like going to water to see the dawn in and watch the dance of the real world behind the shabby drapery of made-up, pretend, commodified daily existence. 



DREAMING FOX

Early on a Sunday walking
past a bank drive-through on a hill
above a creek running through the city
surrounded by a narrow band of wild growth
I see him and freeze
big dog fox stopped at the sight of me
one foot still in the air
tail of fire just brushing the uphill
shrubbery from which he came
we stand and stare
unable to move or breathe
his eyes staring into mine
against a background
murmur of morning traffic
neither of us supposed to be here
not me at this just-after-dawn-in-summer hour
not him in the middle of the city
curiosity more than fear
behind his big eyes I had always
thought foxes had small close-together eyes
from cartoons or wildlife films or something
like that but his are set attractively
distant from each other
an intelligent face staring
me down wanting me to turn
and run from the predator
he must have a den nearby
with mate and kits so he will stand
against me forever
if need be he must be afraid
he knows humans are dangerous
to his kind especially
if he lives here in the heart of the city he must
dread the moment he will have to take
me on so many times his size
and probably with noisy metal weapons
against his needle teeth and claws
feeble in the world of cars motorcycles sirens
thrown rocks gunshots in this neighborhood he will
do it nonetheless I watch him set down his foot
lightly the muscles of his haunches tense
to spring in one final hopeless suicidal
attack to damage and drive me off
away from the den down among the brush
on the banks of the urban creek
hidden deep among the willows
I wish I could follow him down there
to see his mate and babies
he is right to fear me and attack
that human curiosity impulse to know
to somehow own experience fatal
to him if someone less harmless sees
and follows he hunkers down on his tail
silent no warning growl prepared
to launch himself through the air at my throat
only he will not be able to leap
that high from the lower ground
where he stands he will have to settle
for chewing my waist and legs
taking pity on us both
I back away slowly still
holding his vulpine gaze he turns back
to the shelter of the woods with only
one long look back
to make sure I don’t follow
to make sure I was real
one flash of movement and all trace
of red gone only undergrowth he might
never have stood and stared into my human eyes
so early on a Sunday morning
in the heart of the city
leaving us both to wonder
if we dreamed he of a human
who did no harm me of a fox
who did not run improbable dreams
intertwined


© Linda Rodriguez 2016

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Native American Heritage Month--A Poem for Standing Rock and #NoDAPL

I've been so frigging mad about the news coverage of the Standing Rock protests. The media, for the most part, can't be bothered to go out and actually investigate what's actually going on. No lattes out on the prairie. So they just take the word of the lying sheriff and governor. After NPR's recently, I just blew, and my poor husband had to listen. Finally, I decided to try to tame the anger in form. So, a sestina for Standing Rock.



NO MORE (SESTINA FOR STANDING ROCK)

I have run out of time
and patience with news coverage so
lazy and biased with a bow
always to
the company owners, powerful and rich,
and to what they want said.

It never matters what my people have said
again and again. Every time
government or corporate forces, so
violent and powerful, require us to bow
in submission, and we won't, the rich
dictate what's broadcast—and written, too.

When I try to explain to
well-meaning white friends, they've said,
“But disorder!” to which I reply each time,
“But oppression!” and sow
seeds of doubt in their comfort. The bough
must break some time and dump the rich

into the mud with the rest of us. The rich
tapestry of cultures that we are can't be reduced to
only WASP—Native, Black, Latino said
to be lesser, negligible, inferior. Each time
I hear this, the fire of anger grows within, so
hot and fierce. It's time for the ruling class's farewell bow.

So long we've stayed peaceful. Soon, it may be time for bow
and lance and rifle, if the rich
can't be compelled to lift the boot, too
sure of their own power to listen to what we've said.
They don't realize it, but they're running out of time.
In arrogance, they rip the fabric of the nation we sew

back together in new, shiny shapes, so
colorful, strange, stronger, tied with the bright bow
of human dignity and rich
gleam of equality and justice. To
those who've always had power and said
to the rest of us, “Give us time
to dole out bits of freedom,” we say, “No,” so...

You've run out of time. Now, reap what you sow.
We'll no longer bow in submission to
the demands of the white and rich. Hear what we've said.


© Linda Rodriguez 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Enough Already, 2016!

I have had it. I'm fed up with this year. We won't even talk about all the talented, loved figures who've died this year. There are always deaths like that, but this year, we were hit hard in this arena. Aside from the Angel of Death hovering over our favorite writers, actors, musicians, and other artists, this year has been downright ugly and mean—one could even say, nasty.

The election has thrown its grotesque, sinister shadow over the entire year, dredging up thousands of people who are happy to do and say—nay, shout—things that insult and demean whole swathes of the citizenry—immigrants, women, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, Natives, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA people, teachers, veterans, journalists, and just about every other segment of society you can think of that isn't privileged White male. We've had one candidate running who's made no secret of his admiration for ruthless dictators and intention to become one himself and another candidate who's faced accusation and investigation after accusation and investigation, only to be repeatedly found innocent but tarred with the constant scandals, and we've had a national media who've falsely focused on those faux scandals while giving the would-be dictator a pass and billions of dollars of free publicity.

Every day, we think we've seen a new low in this election, surely the lowest it could ever go, only to have a newer, lower low replace the old one in the next day or so. We've watched Nazis, white nationalists, and the Ku Klux Klan roll out from under the rocks beneath which they'd had to hide for decades and parade openly with swastikas and Confederate flags in the would-be dictator's rallies, unashamedly retweeted by him and his campaign. The election has become a sickness infecting the entire country.

Then, there are the extrajudicial executions of people of color by modern, militarized police, the same police that our would-be dictator intends to use as shock troops to impose his will on the country, rounding up millions of people “from the first hour of [his] presidency,” the same police who enthusiastically endorse this man who openly brags about breaking laws and disregarding our constitution.

Add to all this, the standoff at Standing Rock, where Native nations from all over the United States have gathered to protect the Missouri River and their own sacred lands from destruction by a rapacious corporation. I have friends and relatives with the Oceti Sakowin Water Protectors, who are being attacked by dogs, pepper-sprayed, maced, teargassed, beaten, shot at, dragged from ceremonies and sweat lodges, strip-searched in public view, and caged, naked, in dog kennels by militarized police from seven different states—sort of a preview of what many of us in this country could expect at the hands of the would-be dictator if we're foolish enough to give him that power over us. When young students must throw themselves physically on top of elders to protect their more fragile bodies and bones from beatings with billy clubs and batons by men in law enforcement uniforms and combat gear, it seems the final straw in an ugly, hateful year.

The election will be over in a couple of days, and I hope and pray that the majority of voters in this land prove themselves to be sane and decent. But that will not do anything about the many others who have proved not to be either. As a country, we'll still have to deal with them, especially since they talk loudly about riots and violence if their dictator doesn't get the chance to rule us all. We'll still be dealing with militarized police who act like an occupying army in their own country. (I've had combat vets tell me they never rolled out in Afghanistan or even Fallujah in all the equipment these guys are using against their own citizens.) My relations will still be standing firm and peacefully as they're attacked, humiliated, and caged out in North Dakota. I want all of this nightmare to be over with the election, but I know it won't be. 2016, hateful year that it's been, seems determined to carry on its ugliness and hate into 2017.

Against this, I try to impose the facts that my husband and I are happier than we've ever been in our own private life, even as the public world seems more dangerous to us and more frightening, that I've come through a dark, physically threatening personal ordeal and am heading back to normal, that I have so many wonderful friends of all colors, races, ethnicities, classes, religions, and all other backgrounds who believe in the same love and tolerance that I do, that I do believe—in the long run—goodness, love, truth, and justice eventually triumph over hate and bigotry (though I fear that sometimes the long run is awfully long), that there are an awful lot of us working to bring decency and equality back into our public sphere.

2016, you've made it downright hard to remember these good truths, but I keep reasserting them against your miserable meanness. I can hardly wait to see your backside, nasty year. Good riddance, even though we won't be rid of most of your pestilent detritus. But it won't be the first time in this country's history that we've had a big moral cleanup job to face after a horrible paroxysm, i.e., mass deportations of citizens of Mexican descent in the 1930s, the camps for Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, the McCarthyism of the 1950s, the violent segregationists of the 1960s, and more before and after those. Every so often, the worst this country contains comes out publicly. Then, the good, decent folks, who usually spend their time quietly minding their own business, have to come out and clean house—and then work hard to mop up the resulting mess. But we always do. I remind myself of that.


2016, you've done your worst, and it's been pretty bad, but we decent folks of the U.S. are coming after you finally. We've had enough, and we're bringing our brooms, mops, and disinfectants with us. Your time has finally come.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Poem for National Breast Cancer Month--TO THE NURSE WHO TOLD ME TO GRIEVE FOR MY BREAST

Yesterday was my birthday, a time for reflection. I realized that National Breast Cancer Month had almost passed without me posting anything for it. In a way, that's a very good sign, a sign that my life is getting back to normal. After a battle with breast cancer that made me focus on that disease, I'm now too busy to pay it a lot of attention, except when I go in for my periodic appointments with my oncologist and my semi-yearly visit to the chemo clinic. 

Yet, I don't want to forget or ignore this month. It's important to recognize the struggle I've made and that countless other women are making every day. This year, as a way of giving back to the cancer clinic that gave me such excellent care, I'm giving a writing workshop for breast cancer survivors later this week. As usual, writing helped me through the ordeal, and I hope to give these women tools to help them make it through, as well.

To all the survivors out there, I salute you. To all the nurses and doctors and therapists who work with breast cancer patients, I thank you. And to all the caregivers out there, those spouses, lovers, parents, siblings, children, friends, who've cooked and cleaned and driven to radiation and chemo treatments and held us while we cried after diagnoses, surgeries, and pathology reports, I am in awe of your strength, courage, and love, and I know a lot fewer of us would make it through if it weren't for you.


TO THE NURSE WHO TOLD ME TO GRIEVE FOR MY BREAST

I sit here unable to understand.
My breasts have been good to me,
I’ll admit to that—
lots of sexual pleasure
through the years,
large cup size when it mattered
to the world around me,
never any problem with infection,
mastitis, fibrosis, cysts.

When I had babies,
my breasts overflowed.
No problem nursing—
I pumped breast milk
for La Leche to deliver
to neonatal preemies.
Men and women who were born too soon
and struggled to live
may be alive today
in part because of my breasts.

It’s not like we’re talking
a hand, an eye, a leg.
It’s just a breast,
mostly a big inconvenience,
always in the way and vulnerable.
Not something I can’t do without.
Losing it won’t cripple me.

And the son of a bitch tried to kill me.

(Published in Black Renaissance Noire, 2015)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A War Against Women in a Rape Culture (with poem)

At the debate tonight, I saw Donald Trump make light of his leaked video admissions of being guilty of serial sexual assault. I saw him get away with it and have read the comments of many men who say, "It's no big deal." To them, apparently, it's not, but to millions of women, it's a terrible, terrifying reality that we have had to deal with since we were girls.

We know that, any time we are around men, we are at risk of being assaulted. Nowhere is safe. We've been assaulted in churches and schools, on buses and trains, at home and our friends' and relatives' homes--everywhere. We also know that this society doesn't take these assaults--or us--seriously.

I have a poem that I've written about this. I don't read it a lot when I give public poetry readings because it's long and because it's such a grim subject, but whenever I do read it, I always have many women from the audience come up to me afterward, sometimes in tears, to tell me that it struck home, that something similar had happened to them.

Here is that poem.

P.O.W.

I

Before I fall into the past,
I drive to the library,
thumb open a book
about the death of a child
in Greenwich Village and
plunge
back
in
time
to trash-filled rooms smelling
of milk, urine, beer and blood,
doors locked and curtains drawn
against the world,
dirty baby brother caged in a playpen,
mother nursing broken nose,
split lip, overflowing ashtray,
and father filling the room to the ceiling,
shouting drunken songs and threats
before whom I tremble and dance,
wobbly diversion, to keep away
the sound of fist against face,
bone against wall.

The book never shows
the other little brothers and sister hiding
around corners and under covers,
but I know they are there
and dance faster,
sing the songs that give him pleasure,
pay the price for their sleep
later, his hand pinching flat nipples,
thrusting between schoolgirl thighs,
as dangerous to please as to anger
the giant who holds the keys
to our family prison. Mother
has no way to keep him from me,
but I can do it for her and them.

Locked by these pages
behind enemy lines again
where I plan futile sabotage
and murder every night,
nine-year-old underground,
I read the end.
Suddenly defiant, attacked,
slammed into a wall,
sliding into coma, death
after the allies arrive,
too late, in clean uniforms so like his own
to shake their heads at the smell and mess—
the end I almost believe,
the end that chance keeps at bay
long enough for me to grow and flee,
my nightmare alive on the page.

Freed too late,
I close the book,
two hours vanished,
stand and try to walk
to the front door on uncertain legs
as if nothing were wrong.
No one must know.
I look at those around me
without seeming to,
an old skill,
making sure no one can tell.
Panic pushes me to the car
where the back window reflects
a woman, the unbruised kind.

In the space of three quick breaths
I recognize myself,
slam back into adult body and life,
drive home repeating a mantra,
“Ben will never hurt me--
All men are not violent,”
reminding myself to believe the first,
to hope for the last.


II

Years later, my little sister will sleep,
pregnant, knife under her pillow,
two stepdaughters huddled
at the foot of her bed,
in case her husband
breaks through the door
again. Finally,
she escapes
with just the baby.

My daughter calls collect
from a pay phone on a New Hampshire street.
She’ll stay in a shelter for battered women,
be thrown against the wall
returning to pack
for the trip back to Missouri,
a week before her second anniversary.
With her father and brother,
the trip home will take three days,
and she will call for me again.

Ana and Kay, who sat in my classes,
Vicky, who exchanged toddlers with me once a week,
Pat and Karen, who shared my work,
and two Nancys I have known,
among others too many to count,
hide marks on their bodies and memories,
while at the campus women’s center
where I plan programs for women students
on professional advancement
and how to have it all,
the phone rings every week with calls we forward
to safe houses and shelters.

In my adult life, I’ve suffered no man
to touch me in anger,
but I sleep light.


Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)