A Cop was Shot near my School

by Publius

Although the high school where I teach was locked down for an afternoon,  it turns out we were never in much danger.   They caught the right guy, the actual guy who shot the cop, a couple of miles north of here.   When they cordoned-off this neighborhood, they surrounded the house of the wrong guy.   He saw a bunch of cops, so he ran home.   In this neighborhood, being black and running is probable cause.   They surrounded his house, and cut off the whole neighborhood for blocks around.   There were literally 100 cops telling this guy to “Come out with your hands up so we can shoot you.”   He was a little hesitant.   Armored cars, SWAT. snipers, loud speakers blasting…  I figured they were going to do the opposite of a Manuel Noriega, like, instead of torturing him with hours of rock and hip-hop, they’d play hours of Tammy Wynette.   Finally, he surrendered, and they saw that they had the wrong guy.   But they charged him anyway with five counts of fucking folks up, two counts of being Black and 25, and one count of looking like everyone else in the neighborhood.   He’s sentenced to twenty-two years of community service, to wit he needs to show-up at the 7th District police station once a week and help the police with their beat-down techniques.

_____

Inner City Teacher

by Publius

I am in awe of how little I actually exaggerate in these stories.   I tend to edit for continuity, so I will, for example, put two different events on the same day, and say they happened to just one teacher.   I’ll change a name and such for the sake of anonymity.   But, in truth, I invent nothing.   And I stand in awe of that fact. 

I’m really glad to have the opportunity to do this.   How many times, over the years, has someone said, “God, someone just has to publish this!”?   I think inner city teachers feel isolated.   Everyone thinks he or she knows something about teaching because everyone has been to school.   But I have to admit that even I, a teacher for at the time twenty-five years, had little clarity about the life of teachers fifteen minutes from my home until, ten years ago, I went to work in the city.   As just one example — 

Being the only black person in a room full of white people is a fairly common experience for black folks.   Being the only white person in a room full of blacks is an extraordinary experience for a white person.   Except, of course, if you’re an inner city teacher.   In which case, it’s just called work.   

Over the years, I’ve developed a number of defenses for the moment when a kid says, “Hey, man, this is slavery conditions.   I mean, look at this.   What does this remind you of?   A white guy giving orders to a bunch of black folks!”   To which I reply, ‘I don’t believe in slavery, but let me explain to you indentured servitude.   It’s the difference between having your butt forever, and having your butt till June.’ 

Well, my kids are doing a final, and I’ve got to act mean for a minute.

_____

The Carp by Yun Wang

by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Sometimes chance conspires and the laws of randomness cast good things in our direction at a time that seems exactly right. This is what happened to me this week, when I extracted from two giant reading piles—columns over four feet high, weaving even now a little precariously behind my desk—a thin chapbook by a poet I hadn’t heard of, The Carp, by Yun Wang. I took a break from guilt, put my feet up, and started reading.

But let me back up for a moment and tell you how I got the little chapbook, and why I’ve had it stashed away for two or three years.

My daughter studied bookbinding and letterpress techniques at Booklyn, in Brooklyn, New York (http://www.booklyn.org/) around the time of 9/11. (It’s an aside I won’t go into here, but I was in the air, on my way to JFK, to visit her that morning.)  A few years later she started her own press called Spruce Street, named after her then-street-address in Berkeley; she also went to work for a press called Whereabouts. (She’s a teacher now in a high school for English language learners; collectively the students speak a total of 29 languages. Last year she taught Romeo and Juliet; this year they’re doing The Odyssey.)

Whereabouts (http://www.whereaboutspress.com/) publishes prize-winning travel books that are unusual because they are not guides in the usual way—they are, rather, story collections—the country’s literature is what guides the traveler. The owner, David Peattie, is the nephew of the California poet Noel Peattie, who died a few years ago at the age of 72. Noel was the retired Special Collections Librarian for UC Davis, and a prolific poet, writer, editor and supporter of other poets’ work; he was also the son of naturalist writers Louise Redfield and Donald Culross Peattie. (His own poetry collections include Western Skyline, In the Dome of St. Laurence Meteor, King Humble’s Grave, Sweetwater Ranch, and The Testimony of Doves.) Over the years his imprint, Konocti, published poetry books by several of my friends. Noel and I knew each other for a couple of decades; he was a true bibliophile, with a vast collection, many of them rare editions.

A year or so before he died, Noel had obtained a book of my poems (published by my daughter’s press) called The Book of Insects, and he wrote me the kind of encouraging and appreciative note that we poets always hope to receive. After Noel’s unexpected death, David gifted me with a number of books from Noel’s collection, knowing that I would love reading them, and would also treasure them as a link to Noel. Since then I’ve read most of them a number of times, but somehow overlooked Yun Wang’s The Carp—until now.

I was so arrested by the poems in this little cinnamon-colored book that I began investigating Wang on the web. Born in China in 1964, she grew up during the Cultural Revolution. Her father was tortured and imprisoned, and sent away to the countryside to be “reformed.” The Carp is dedicated to Wang’s father, and many of the poems in her little book tell stories from that period. The stories are stark, terrifying, mysteriously beautiful and sad; they fuse into something intangible and true.

As I used what our idiotic and thankfully now former president called “the Google” to read more about Wang, I discovered that she has a more recent collection, the 2002 Nicholas Roerich Prize winner from Storyline Press, called The Book of Jade. I was also amazed to learn that she is a world-renowned scientist and cosmologist, known especially for her work on dark energy, and that she is currently Associate Professor of Cosmology at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. (You can read about her cosmological research, and also several  recent poems at her website: http://www.nhn.ou.edu/~wang/)

After reading The Carp I immediately ordered Wang’s full-length collection on Amazon. Then I emailed her. I found her email address at the U of OK, and sent a short note not unlike the one that Noel Peattie once sent me. Later that day, Wang acknowledged my note, thanking me graciously. Then she sent me a postscript: She had looked at my website and read some of my poems, and was writing to tell me that she too had enjoyed them.

And so, here we are, breathing in words, in conversation over poems that a few days ago we knew nothing about. There are poems in The Carp that would have brought Yun Wang imprisonment and torture like her father’s had she been old enough to publish them when the Cultural Revolution reigned. Perhaps the book would have been destroyed—though no doubt some devoted reader or fellow author would have tried to find a way to preserve its pages.

_____

How to Get some -que

by Publius

 

Yesterday, the last day of classes, we get a “Faith Based Initiative”.   Some preacher from the neighborhood decides to take all the kids who have been suspended a bunch, and give them a barbeque over in the football field.   The end result is that all the nice kids are in class doing various onerous tasks, while all the troublemakers are across the street, eating -que, tossing a football, shagging flies.   We can smell -que in my room.   One sweet little girl looks wistfully out the window.   She sniffs and says to no one in particular, “You think if I kick the principal in the balls that I can get a couple of wings and a drumstick?”

Today, in the middle of a final, I get called by a district pooh-bah.   I’m asked if I have any students who haven’t as yet taken this standardized reading test.

‘I’m giving a final examination.’

“Perhaps you can send down the ones who finish early?”

‘No.   Nobody will finish early.   That’s the way I design the test.   Did I mention that this test is a final?’

“Perhaps I can come to your room, and explain the results to the ones who did finish the test?”

‘No.   I’m giving a final exam.’

So the district pooh-bah comes up to my room anyway, and tells me that I should explain the results to the students, and give them their individual scores.   “When you have the time.”   Then she hands me the results for the entire school.   Almost a thousand scores with all manner of line and column, and I’m supposed to find my thirty kids in this ream of paper.   This is in the last thirty minutes of class, the reading portion of my exam.

I smile and say, ‘Of course.   Just leave the scores on my desk.’   Where they will remain undisturbed, and live happily for the rest of the summer.

_____

It’s All About China

by Songyi Zhang

I remember years ago when my American friend brought me a gift from Arizona, I accidentally spotted the “Made in China” label right away at the bottom of the item. I said to my friend that it was quite a trip for the present—going all the way to the U.S. and coming back home again.

I didn’t know then years later when I am in America I really can see a plethora of products, from daily necessities to local handicrafts, are made in China.

After returning from my two-week field seminar in Southern Louisiana, I couldn’t help thinking about the souvenirs that were manufactured in China. It wasn’t the first time that the “Made in China” label had turned me off when I was about to purchase a token of the scenic spot in the United States. In Pittsburgh, in Boston, in New York, in Washington D.C., in Denver and even in the pristine Amish Community in western Pennsylvania, Chinese goods seem to have penetrated the local markets extensively.

Strolling in the French Market in New Orleans, I wondered if the place ought to change its name to Chinese Market as eight out of ten stalls sold souvenirs produced in China—Mardi Gras beads and masks, New Orleans magnets, trinkets and key chains, not to mention my new “Made in China” Sony camera purchased on Canal Street.

I don’t know if the “Made in China” label gives American consumers faith in good quality or only assurance of low price. But I notice one reason that Americans like to order take-out Chinese food is because its price is reasonable. Yep, I’ve heard of remarks on expensive Japanese food but not yet on Chinese food.

As a Chinese national in the United States, I have a mixed feeling about the Chinese approach to globalization. On one hand, China makes positive contributions to the world economy. On the other hand, these “Made in China” products have consumed enormous amount of raw materials from China, which means China now not only sustains 1.3 billion Chinese people but also maintains 300 million lives in the United States and elsewhere in the world by exporting tons of goods abroad. Will the natural resources in China come to exhaustion sooner than any developing countries in the world? How can the local economy survive when facing the impact of low cost and cheap labor from the Middle Kingdom?

China often says she won’t harm the interest of other countries and wants to develop a just and harmonious economic market. I feel ashamed to see that Chinese products actually have stifled the creativity and competition among small local businesses around the world.

I wish I could see more than voodoo dolls, Mardi Gras beads and masks in any souvenir shops of New Orleans.

As a foreign tourist, I wish I could buy more “Made in USA” handicrafts than made in elsewhere when I am travelling in the country. 

_____

The Female Moratorium

by Elizabeth Kirschner

Everyone knows that the writing of poetry, of becoming a poet, entails a long apprenticeship. Mine began at age nineteen, which was when I wrote my first poem. Both an initiation and a damnation, it was Plathian and full of deep, female associations: mother, womb, kitchen knife. In the years to come, I would carve out a womb of my own, a place of artistic nurturance. The world would not do this for me, in fact, it would tear out the fragile membranes of the fetal self I attempted to assign to writing.

My apprenticeship, then, was a long travail, a rupture that stained more than a decade. Like Plath, I made a bad miscalculation after graduate school and subverted my energies by trying to write short stories. This is what Ted Hughes had to say about Plath’s digression: “It was only when she gave up that effort to ‘get outside’ herself, and finally accepted the fact that her painful subjectivity was her real theme, and that the plunge into herself was her only real direction, and that poetic strategies were her only means, that she finally found herself in full possession of her genius.”

As for myself, it wasn’t until my life caved in to complete despair that I was able to adequately bear what James Hillman would term my daimon and my calling. Even so, I was still decades away from hitting the vein of my own painful subjectivity, a vein struck and mined, at last, in my latest book, My Life as a Doll, which emerged, evolved, became my most genuine work.

Carol Heilbrun, in Writing a Woman’s Life applies Erik Erikson’s term “the moratorium” (used by Erikson only of males) to the lives of women. He describes this state as “a time when the individual appears to be getting nowhere, accomplishing none of his aims, or altogether unclear as to what those aims might be.” Writing of Dorothy Sayer’s despair at the age of twenty-eight, Heilbrun diagnoses a case of the female moratorium: “With highly gifted women, as with men, the failure to lead the conventional life, to find the conventional way early, may signify more than having been dealt a poor deck of cards. It may well be the forming of a life in service of a talent felt, but unrecognized and unnamed. This condition is marked by a profound sense of vocation, with no idea of what that vocation is and by a strong sense of inadequacy and deprivation.”

My moratorium felt bottomless—although I knew my calling, I trained it in all the wrong directions and was totally without the wherewithal necessary to enact it meaningfully. This, to me, may be peculiarly female—to know what one must do, but to be without the confidence crucial to its realization. Will was not the issue for me, nor desire, but I was very much undermined by “inadequacy and deprivation.”

In the end, my writing was the bridge I built over despair. If the soul of my writing has a primarily female disposition, and I think it must, I will study it—its curvaceous geometry, shifting nature and unforeseeable appearances. Now I may need to write about my mother, as I did in My Life as a Doll, in order to accomplish this or, as in one instance, about a lawn ornament, but my private hell of a moratorium, though I didn’t know it at the time, was my breeding ground and yes, the fish do multiply.
_____

No Window: Poetry, Memory, History

by Arlene Weiner

I recently returned from a trip to Greece, which has me thinking about Homer.

Years ago I was astonished but convinced by the argument that the Iliad was not originally written, but was composed orally. Part of the evidence was gathered by Albert Lord, who journeyed through the Balkans and found men singing long traditional narratives in taverns. (Singer of Tales, 1960.) These bards were keepers of historical memory. A good bit of the content of the Balkan songs, as of Anglo-Saxon verse and the Iliad, is the memory of old battles and praise of the ancestors’ honor. What’s more, they didn’t simply recite memorized pieces—they varied a song from performance to performance.

As individuals we sometimes remember through verse. How many days in November? Does S come after U? Many of us will quickly run through Thirty days hath September, or the ABC song. Even when normal memory is lost—when someone has suffered neurological damage—a person may be able to remember sentences set to a tune.

Oral composition is more than passive remembering. Verse forms enable the very skilled bard to compose, to improvise as he recites. (The bard in the Balkans was a he.) Actors in a Shakespeare play will sometimes be able to fill out a blank-verse line that they’ve partly forgotten. I’ve had, and maybe you’ve had, the experience of making up words to a folk song as I went along, or a line to a popular song I don’t remember. If you ever sing the blues (literally), while you are repeating your first line (Went to the grocer’s, didn’t have my bag/Went to the grocer’s, didn’t have my bag) you can think what your concluding line will be. (I’m sorry to say the ending feeling like a hag leaps to my mind.)

On the flight back from Greece to the U.S., I had no window, but I could follow the course of the flight on a map displayed on a screen in front of me. We headed north from Athens and in a very little time we were over Serbia, Romania, Hungary. So many countries close together (at least in the jet age), countries that have known much suffering and war, and recently. And I recalled that during the Bosnian War, I was horrified to realize that the tavern songs Lord heard memorialized the battles between Serbs and Muslims hundreds of years ago, especially the battle of Kosovo. Poetry may have inflamed the ferocity of that war.
_____

The Courage of Li-Shen

a letter from our friend Rong-Bang Peng in Taiwan

Dear Mike, Jamie, and Una,

Thank you for the heart-warming email. 

Mike, don’t blame yourself for not knowing what to say; in face of the Real, no words really convey.  You know Li-Shen and I talk a lot, but in front of her suffering, I don’t know what to say either.  Words do not do much at this time, but a few words of kindness convey love and care, which I felt deeply when I read your email.

Li-Shen is going through a lot of pain today, but in her clear moment, she said to me, “don’t be afraid of what I am going through.”  I burst into tears and told her, “I am not afraid, it is just so difficult to see you suffer.”  The tumor cells are progressing very rapidly, which is causing her a lot of pain.  But if we are able to look beyond her bodily suffering, something wonderful and profound is happening at this stage of her life.  People here say that Li-Shen has made a lot of Shan Yuan (good connections) with others in her life, and indeed, those whom Li-Shen made Shan Yuan with show up to offer all kinds of help.  I am deeply touched by their kindness, and I am so proud that I married this wonderful wonderful woman.

To be born to this world is a difficult process, but we all forget about it; to leave this worldly body is also a difficult process, and I am witnessing it without fear (but with a lot of tears).  Li-Shen said to me once, “don’t be afraid of death, it is the nature of life.  There is birth, and there is death.”

Love,

Rong-Bang

_____

The Wonder of Unexpected Supply

by Rachel Hadas

Intertextuality, allusion, remembered scraps of poetry: all gifts we
didn’t know we needed till they arrived.  Three recent and very different,
but all happy, examples:

1)  Here in the country, I’m getting to spend some time with my 25
year-old son for the first time in many months. The other night, I said
something to him and his girlfriend about the precariously hung curtains
in the freshly painted room they’re sleeping in.  “The curtain cord she
likes to wind,” said Jonathan quietly. These seven words brought back
Eliot’s “The Old Gumbie Cat,” and the days when I read it to Jonathan, and
the fact that he and I both remembered most of this eminently memorizable
poem – remembered it from when he enjoyed it almost 20 years ago.  I refer
interested readers who don’t know this wonderful poem to OLD POSSUM’S BOOK
OF PRACTICAL CATS.  The gift this little quote bestowed was at least
double: bringing back a wonderful poem, and a past (but not past) layer of
shared life.

2) I’ve been working on a poem, or maybe a series of poems, about a
consuming subject: my husband’s dementia.  But more specifically, this
poem is about uneasy sleep, lying as it were curled up around or humped
over a problem.  Hard to find words for.  But an essay about Sylvia Plath
which recently arrived from my friend Adrianne Kalfopoulou in Athens
turned out to contain a quote from a poem in Plath’s THE COLOSSUS which I
hadn’t known and whose title even now escapes me – something about
“Hardcastle Crags;”

All the night gave her, in return
For the paltry gift of her bulk and the beat
Of her heart, was the humped indifferent iron
Of its hills, and its pastures bordered by black stone set
On black stone.

Was Plath thinking of me when she wrote these lines? Naturally not.  Do
they help me now?  Yup.

3)  My former student Keith O’Shaughnessy recently published a poem that
gives me several gifts whenever I read it, and which was itself in a way
occasioned by a gift I gave him, as well as by his love for two poets and
also by a cultural event ceelbrating one of these poets.  There is a lot I
could say about Keith’s poem, from its triumphantly appropriate deployment
of terza rima and of poetic allusion, but I think I’d rather quote it in
full. (Please think of words in quotes as italicized.)

Il Mio Tesoretto     by Keith Devlin O’Shaughnessy

At an annual reading of Dante’s INFERNO

Just a bit more than halfway through my life’s journey,
I find myself raising Cain at the Cathedral
Of Saint John the Divine.  It is Maundy Thursday –

Or Hallows Eve for fans of the infernal.
When I was just a bit less than a quarter
Way through the same hellish pilgrimage, an aging James Merrill

(Alumnus of my high school) stood like an immortal
Limbo-bent, before a room of sighing adolescenets
And taught them how a man makes himself eternal.

Now, as if to mingle breath with incense,
I mutter with the cantor, “Ah, Ser Brunetto,
Are you here?” and make tactile his winded spirit’s omnipresence

Through a shade as ethereal as that patrician ghost’s.
One reader finishes.  Another adjusts her glasses,
Declaims a Medievalist’s Florentine.  At my elbow

Sits my own “miglior fabbro,” Rachel Hadas,
For whom my alma mater’s James was simply Jimmy;
Under her chair, wrapped in plastic shopping bags,

Lies a tiny, wood-framed portrait of Sr. Alighieri
She tells me belonged to him.  When at last that “maestro” moored
His lithe craft along the verge we make out so dimly,

His companion found it sitting in a drawer
And passed it on to her, who took it home
And, as if gliding back from the same murky shore,

Buired the little treasure in a chest of her own.
At midnight she, in turn, will pass it on
To me, who will carry it through this Dis’ divinely comic underground –

By subway, ferry, rail – further down, like the baton
At Verona, where the green cloth waves at the foot of the stair
To flickering stars, and the last man in, panting for Marathon,

Crows like the damned at blank space, through dead air,
To proclaim himself, if not the winner, there.

Dancing with Shadows

by Maryam Abdul-Qawiyy

            “Are you praying?” my mother asked, her voice quavering through the phone. She repeated it again and a sick silence followed.

            “No Maam…,” I stared at the floor and saw nothing.

            “Girl, you have to pray.” I nodded as if she could see me. In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful. But she was in Costa Rica and I was in Belize.    

            “You hear me girl? This keeps happening, so you have to pray. Seek refuge in God, okay?”

            “Yes Maam.” I seek refuge in Allah, from the accursed Shaytan.

 

            A week before my mother left for Costa Rica, my little sister, Amina got the chicken pox. My mother boiled and stirred herbal remedies that kept off the severe itching; however, when she left Amina’s chicken pox got worse and she walked around constantly scratching. Her pimpled body twitched during sleep; her contagious itching could spread; so she had to sleep in the living room. The creaking floors and grainy cement walls would be her only allies when the itch crawled on her skin.

            A tattered mat, made of sponge, was covered with a thin floral sheet and Amina molded into its soft lumps. She slept in the living room, behind the couch, for an entire week and would come into my room and wake me.

Her hands shook me one night, “Maryam, something’s in the living room.” She was holding the floral sheet tightly around her body; she was too awake for the hour; too alert.

            “Aright, I’m coming.” I got up and followed her into the unlit living room. Amina tiptoed as if she didn’t want to disturb the sleeping, but the wooden floor moaned under our steps. Her petite silhouette and head full of dreadlocks were the only things I could make out in the dark. We crouched to the floor to avoid bumping into the bookshelves; our fingers searched for the softness of the sponge.

            Soon, Amina was breathing deeply in her sleep. I stretched my body on the soft mat and felt the humid air tighten. The mosquitoes’ high pitched singing was faint. The television was a box without lights. Dark figures stretched themselves across the room: the shadow of the breathing curtain, the lazy broom, a crooked bookshelf. And then…something else.

            The thing stood tall: shapeless and wispy at the edges but with human form. An angular body and round head came into focus. Its human-like-shadow was near the couch; as if it leaned any closer it would loom over me and Amina. My body tightened. It braced itself, as if it were ready to charge. It pushed its upper torso and head forward, but appeared stuck. I stared in disbelief. It tried again. Something was keeping it away from us: Liquid-like glass created a wall between us and the Jinn.

             A copy of the Quran was on the bookshelf. The bookshelf was adjacent to the couch, half of it blocking the Jinn with its holy powers. I recited the prayers that I knew could delay the bad-spirited creature. I looked at Amina and recited and recited. I knew that Allah created things of which ye know and which ye know not, and a Jinn stood in the living room.

             I prayed until I fell asleep.

 

            My mother’s flight got cancelled and her stay in Costa Rica lasted a week longer than expected. The Jinn visited again the following night. SLAP! SLAP! SLAP!  It stomped up the stairs and my stiff body was rigid, unmovable. This time it did not stay in the living room.

It lingered in the bedroom doorway and then stepped on the bed. The sheet dipped in small, scattered craters. It walked up to my thighs and then stepped onto my torso, clawing at my stomach and chest. It stood on my chest and its feet scratched at my neck. The air stopped coming inside. My head felt lighter and a dizzying feeling pursued, but suddenly a glowing snake sprang from the ceiling and the heaviness on my chest was gone.

            I woke up Amina and told her what happened; she sat with me and we prayed. The Jinn visited every night until my mother returned. Some nights it came into the room and did nothing. Other nights I prayed and prayed and it left me alone. Other nights it didn’t.

~

            I realized later that when my mother wasn’t around, a Jinn was. I thought that I was crazy. But I believed in the Jinn.  Now, I know that the Jinn represented the physical manifestation of how powerless I felt when my mother left. It was a symbol that reflected my inner confusions and terror. The uncertainty that lurked in my psyche during her absence.  

             In the sacred pages of my journals, I struggled to record most of what happened and I tried to make sense of it. That’s what writing was, a means to make sense of something that in reality, was illogical, unreal.

 

 “Undated entry, year 2000,

Something is in this house. Something is here. Something is watching me.

I am scared because my mom isn’t here.” 

_____