Poems collected from participants in Dave Johnson’s 10*10*10*2 Workshops!
Episode 13: Mary Oliver & Direct Address
to the water
on the eaves of the leaves.
Listen to the voices at play
in the distance. Forget
all the streets of broken promises.
Glass is healed in the heat.
The layers of trees open to the sky,
you and your ears give life to the evening.
You don’t have to feel lonely.
You don’t have to eat from cable news
like an endless buffet.
Listen, the birds are singing.
Listen, the rain is making love
to the city streets.
Watch, the leaves give birth
and the trees that hold them.
You don’t have to be alone.
Drink from the stream
Pull yourself away from the world
the same way you would tug a child
away from an open flame.
Drink from the stream
drink and be well.
For my husband
You do not have to go back in time and change,
Nor apologize or regret,
You do not have to say your sorry,
And I do not have to say it either.
We live in the now —
You, in the clouds, on a mountain, moving freely,
While I walk in this transforming house,
And feeling our love.
Horses: April 21, 2020
Smell the peaty goodness of damp hay, the comforting mustiness of warm horses shifting lazily
Be stunned by the majesty and wonder of creatures so large why could kill or maim you, especially when they’re confined
So vulnerable they shudder when a fly alights
Light reflecting off terra-cotta masonry
Flags flying at half mast
Horses in herds moving across the world’s landscapes
Grazing, watching, resting, loving, leaving
You are doing great.
You may be struggling
to remember what normal is
back when you worried
about gas money.
The roads are sparsely traveled now
a lone truck barrels by
a startle of rare sound
dogs are free to walk down the center line
on a long leash.
We will be shortening their leads
and get back into our cars
and sit in traffic
and you may forget
how strong you were.
—Gina A. Turner
For You Grandma
You alone and isolated in a room.
You who drift between light and dark
As the drugs work their way
Through your body.
You who start to confuse
The beep of the machine
With your own heart.
If you turn your head slightly
To the window, you can see
A sliver of water.
That is called the ‘East River’.
And beyond that river, you will find
Living at the edge
Of each hour.
With eyes closed over bowed
Bodies, we send prayers back
Over those same waters.
If you listen closely enough
You can hear the birds
—Wing Yan Sang
How outside is inside and then a synthesis like the books could never show
You can start talking whenever you want. No one’s going anywhere until you do. Or say nothing.
We know how little words actually mean, how little they move the world.
You’ve seen them jump in silhouette and it’s made you jump out of your skin. The need to speak
of it is no need at all. But there is always one willing to listen even if it goes nowhere.
It may be none of this exists, that, truly, nihil verum nisi mors, and only death is real forever. But
still, there is one who wants to hear what you have to say, who will nod and not smile because
there’s nothing to smile about.
This is all a dangerous business, this thinking about life and what we’ve made of ourselves. It
can be the black hole of your nightmares that fear still implodes within you. And there is nothing
more paralyzing than this birth, for you know it is the death of all meaning in your life.
She does not love you. They never loved you. But their words were enough to soothe you in the
moment. That was then.
Now you’re ready for the Emptiness, you’re ready to fill it with everything you’ve ever wanted, all
the words and all the worlds you’ve been waiting to spring into being. These are the truths—not
truisms—that will never be denied.
They need no explanation, only your attention. Intention was never enough, but now you have
them all to yourself and any you might invite. This is how you win and live and love where they
think you’ve fallen, failed, and died long ago.
Snow in Spring, Brooklyn
You cannot know what world is real right now. On Saturday, you see snow in Spring, ice crystals fall onto
the daffodils, or maybe you only imagined the daffodils. Storefronts are gated “CLOSED.” The streets have no people, or just one person, wearing a mask, a hat, the costume
of The Invisible Man. The sky
is a solid apocolypse-grey, the quiet is not any other quiet you have known, not like night, or forest,
or lake of glass.
On Sunday, the sun shows up like a movie star. The park is glowing a brand-new green. The people look like magazine people: they have picnic blankets, a new baby, a pet turtle running in the grass. My son chases the turtle, laughing, calling her by her name, “Shelly!” Suddenly,
a man gets down on one knee under a tree and proposes. His Lover cries happy tears, the lawn audience claps and cheers. Someone plays a guitar. Just then, a hawk flies over us. All of Brooklyn “oooo’s” and “ahhhh’s.” The wingspan is wide and you wonder if all of this is a wild dream, and when it will end, or begin again, or what there ever was before or ever will be, and how much, and how soon, and how terrible, and how wonderful, and how wild and wide are these wings.
—Erica Miriam Fabri
You Don’t Have To Be Scared
You need to help me fight a dinosaur.
He is an alien-dinosaur
and he’s got one hundred eyes.
He also has alien-dinosaur friends.
He comes from outerspace.
Outerspace is a rainbow
above our planet.
This space ship
goes to outerspace.
I made this spaceship
with red, yellow, and pink,
and orange and blue
and white and green Legos.
You don’t have to be scared
because the alien is nice
—Jacqui Andre Fabri-Baksh (Age: 3.9)
Dare to jump through hoops unknown, traverse paths never taken.
Dare to be what is not expected, a new version of you.
Look beyond the horizon and wonder the possibilities. Mountain tops merge together against a blue dotted sky. They are filled with forests forming tight knit groups that never move beyond the fold. Will you plant yourself there? Or, will you stand tall on a hilltop alone dropping seeds for the future and marking another direction in which way to go.
Dare….for what is there to loose? The forest will always accept another. The hillside is wide open but, not forever.
Life Goes On
Hold on and hang in there family and friend.
You need not sit and wait behind closed doors
clothed in fear of what your lot may or may not be tomorrow.
You need not be afraid of a breath of fresh air.
Do exercise health and wellness precautions now!
Yes beloved, including social distancing that tugs at our hearts.
But don’t dwell on all the other political rhetoric
that pits neighbor against neighbor.
you cannot point finger at others without pointing finger at self.
And don’t dwell on all the political rhetoric
that raises anxiety and blood pressure levels.
It is okay to be afraid, but it is not okay to place fear over faith.
it really matters not who sings the morning birdsong,
Robin, Starling, or Sparrow perched on tree limb,
or on fire escape, or on church steeple, or on bedroom window ledge.
What matters is yesterday’s winter when the sky was shadowed
with darkness like widow’s black lace veil
until spring sprinkled its light upon us
and awakened us to chorus of chirping birds
ushering in another day of life all around us.
Sing and dance as the birds and trees do.
Noisy Neighborhood (2020)
Noises you hear in my neighborhood
I will try and make it understood
Lawnmowers at eight
Mowing – it could wait
The sounds of geese
Oh what a release
And there’s the cardinals
With their bird calls
Or the water fountain
Dripping with satisfaction
These seem normal enough
But what about other stuff
There are the drills, sanders and saws
For working on DIY projects, applause!
Wood chipper coming down the road
To grind up branches I suppose
Roar of engines in the sky
As jets and prop planes go by
Never forget about the garbage service
Let’s not give them a disservice
Now do you understand?
The noises that flow across this Land…
Noisy Neighborhood2 (2020)
It’s really not noisy after all
It’s relaxing hearing the birds call
Can I get you to understand
The kids are cute with their lemonade stand
And what about the release of joyful sounds
From children as they run around
And block parties
Don’t be tardy
The feet pounding the concrete
Oh wait we are empty nesters
Hurry and get married
And have that grand baby
So we can hear the pitter patter and childrens laughter
Don’t Be Bound
Don’t be bound by borders surrounding
Don’t be closed in a core of concern
Look beyond a haunting horizon
Past the pulsing pangs of despair
Remember the sunlight on water
Recall the bird chirp at dawn
Relive the ski down a mountain
On a twisting pine shrouded trail
Roil again on white water gushing
Past the rocks in a reckless stream
Hear again symphonic sounds
Adrift on the sweet summer air
The beauty of life can’t be savored
Without tasting the bitters it brings
Consider || Dream || Begin
Consider the life you are living today.
Dream of the individual you wish to become.
Begin to transform what is not to your liking.
As pelicans skim the spray of ocean waves,
and woodpeckers bore into trunks,
get close to your beloved existence.
Take it in like the forest breathes the trees.
You don’t have to know why or how,
you don’t have to ask to receive.
Open the window and smell what the rain has left,
what the sun has awakened.
Everywhere flowers flirt shamelessly,
nowhere have shades of green forgotten their charm.
Under this clear sky endless worlds are unfolding.
You have only to open the gate.
You open up your purse
you said you didn’t have a dollar
open your purse
there are things I wish to buy
like a slushie
cool, red, sweet
dude, let me see
the inside of your purse
there it is
pour it into my hands
like the slushie that will soon
go down my throat
You, Flufluns, are very naughty,
more than naughty, more than seductive, more than destructive.
You, Flufluns, you like your wine but more than that
you revel in the revels that make us poor humans forget ourselves.
You, Flufluns, only pretend to love the company of us simple mortals. The grace of your slight
paunch, your tumultuous greasy curls,
your disheveled chiton teasing with a glimpse of the line
of twisting black hair descending from your navel.
The wine you pour multiplies the way
rivulets combine to make a stream, to make a seething river.
You delight in the speed with which all so carefully crafted can be undone,
the slow labor of building, the instant betrayal of destruction. Your story is told on vases yet
seeing your own image you do not pause a moment,
yes, kick that amphora off its stand, tickle the young boy in a way
that he can never return from, too rebellious, then too resigned.
Your talent is to rap your host’s precious kylix,
precisely snapping off its handles, the laughter is uproarious.
What farmer tangled behind a plow would not rather join your band
along the lane, with warbling pipes and glimpses of rhythm that might be
dancing girls? What potter slave kicking at his wheel would not pause at the tune
and squint and squirm to get away? What miner for tin if he heard from high above
a raucous tinkling of bells and songs and caterwauling, would he not
drop his tools and, if he was not chained, climb out from below covered in soot,
join in with the band, wriggle his way deep in among the revelers?
Someone might pour wine straight onto his head,
all twisting, his seeking tongue like a reptile’s after a scent,
and Flufluns himself with his goatskin might squirt more wine
straight down into his soul.
Flufluns, we are not gods like you, yet we play at being gods. Flufluns, we parrot your god’s
gaiety at our peril.
Flufluns, your regenerative aspect is obscured from us,
and we delight in destruction.
— Devin Dougherty
Hear my cries in Space
Calling to what is near
All of Nature
The Lone Wolf
Baying at the Moon
after Mary Oliver
Today in the garden you watch me.
You who usually fly in packs are alone.
Ventriloquist, marauder, iridescent blue
small olive pits for eyes, your yellow beak
startled me in a tangle of weeds.
Two centuries ago, one hundred of your ancestors
were brought to Central Park
as birds in Shakespeare’s plays.
Cousin of choughs, crows, blackbirds and kites
Sky denizen of larks, owls, nightingales and wrens
What grace is there to wing?
Today, Starling, I think of 9-11
how blue and clear the sky was
and afterwards even with acrid smoke
geraniums bloomed in pale pink and blood red
the grass a verdant green.
Today, Starling, Cherry and Pear Blossoms flower
and amidst discarded masks and rubber gloves
a Dutch gift of a thousand bulbs multiplied
in parks and city streets.
Is not hope, also grace?
—Lillian Rossi Maida
Did you smell my song in your garden
Lifting snowflakes from the honeysuckle
With your smokey trowel?
Then, did you taste my cry in your coffee,
Sitting by the fire near the shuttered window?
I’m out here, juggling Saturn’s rings,
On the nightingale’s frostbit melody.
Call to me from your galaxy
This dry, moonless evening—
I’ll play hopscotch on the constellations
To send wild strawberries for your neck.
Tell me where you go
wrapped in black sequins.
Tell me who gets there before
cobblestones glint under neon,
open water reflects confusion,
the harbor hides from the moon.
Tell me where you travel
in search of steady illumination.
Tell me who will dance the answers.
listen for the high scree of swallows
in the rafters little jets streaming home
to cows lowing like clockwork for feed at four
you do not need to do anything just catch
your breath the violin will rise to its most
delicate note as the small cops owl hoots
a metronome in the distance
exhale into the wind the rain float out
like an oboe at the fullest moment don’t mess
with the syncopation of sudden pond of mud
of grain in seeded rows pushing ever up
note the perfect timing of necessity
from nest to the gentle coda feed stored
stables bedded you cannot conduct this
symphony you are integral to its orchestra
listen breathe the music into your body
bow down hand over heart
—kayelemm 22, Avril 2020
(to an Afghan girl on a photo)
Small girl, don’t wriggle your hands,
Small girl, don’t let the red pour in your ears
Because you are just a girl.
Justice with her head at the rim of the clouds
And her feet on the concrete of the streets
Will untie the bind over her eyes
And bend to you
And show you the balance
inclinating in favor of you
with your name.
—Christine Heiss (Berlin)
written on the 22.04.2020 at 10am Berlin time, for 10*10*10*2, Poet House, New York, Digital
Walk along the Berlin Wall.
Trace the former border with your feet.
Feel the pain of those who fell
chasing the truth in JFK’s speech:
“Freedom is indivisible and
when one man is enslaved, all are not free”.
You “lift your eyes” as Kennedy asked
and as the crow flies, so you travel South,
spot a lonely girl of thirteen,
among trash-piles in the border camps,
among the voices of death in the air,
you hear the voice of hope in her head repeat:
“when may I join my brother in Berlin?”
You glide further South to Greece,
see human beings behind barbed wire fence,
defenceless against Covid-19 and the world’s siege of refugees.
and you ask yourself – are these not free women and men
and as such, also citizens of Berlin?
And come to rest on a rock by the ocean,
you lift your eyes from the pastel seashells on the beach,
past the full rubber boat, barely afloat in the treacherous sea
and as the calls in the breeze turn from fear to the notion of help,
you ask the spirit of hope in the air: What can I do?
—Rachel Clarke (Berlin)