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Personified Poems (After Joy Harjo)

Poems collected from participants in Dave Johnson’s 10*10*10*2 Workshops!

Dancing Chair

Alone at home, when all
have forgotten my existence,
I listen to the music
through the wall, through the floor,
through the ceiling, each neighbor
in a different rhythm. I step one
leg over another to the sound of my own
understanding. No one
will ever know
the joy I deliver
to the furniture
and the dog
who listens with
solo amusement.

Dave Johnson

The Grieving Desk

Resolute, it sits within an oval space
with nautical bearing. Once it shifted
with the swells of waves rocking the
mother ship.
Recruited by greatness, transported to
its colorless home, it sat beneath the
hands and sheltered the knees of giants.
Documents of grave import littered
its broad back and its carved face
gazed upon history being made.
Now, used as a prop by a
mindless manikin posing as
president, it weeps in silence
and longs to return to sea.

—Gerald Harris
“Loved this morning’s exercise and the joy you add to each day. Hope this program will be extended further during these trying times.”

I Bump into the Circle Table

And I say:
Get out of my way, Circle Table!

And then I say:
Mommy! Yell at the Circle Table,
it hurt your baby.

-Jacqui Andre Fabri-Baksh (Age 4)

The Feeling Rock

Sitting along this path, I wonder if anyone knows I’m here.
I notice them.
They sit upon me….. leaning into my back searching for respite from their hikes. I feel their warmth in the winter, their sweat on a summer day. I feel the clothes they shed and then tie around their waists, their untied shoes upon my spine being secured. Their snacks and water bottles being laid out to share.
I smile at their laughter, cringe at their pain and wonder about their disagreements.
Where are they going? Where did they come from?
Will they return? Do they feel the tears I shed in their absence?
All alone I will sit and wait for another, always ready to welcome and feel whatever they will share.
-Ellen Goldstein

Speaking to Plants

They do not move, except
slowly, or when I am sleeping.
I wake up to find
they have peeked
a new head up
from the dirt. I say:
Come on. Come out. Be taller.
They are well-behaved,
though named after sly
animals: Snake Plant,
Leopard Plant, Zebra Plant.
I care for them, my children,
my patients, my zoo. What joy
they bring. To have something
to feed. To have something
not die. They fool me to believe
there is some outside in here. P
They teach me to appreciate
the days, in simple ways:
to Love the arrival of light,
to lift a hand, an arm, a face
toward the morning window,
as if it is a miracle, as if it is everything I will ever need.

-Erica Miriam Fabri

Resting Music Box
How many times must I play
the same tune? The little girl
won’t tell that I quit. She thinks
she wound my spring too tight.
The mother dusts my inlaid brass
lid and ignores my silence. Maybe
I’ll engage my gears again when
somebody new wants to listen.
Grandfather Clock understands.
I get no sympathy from Doorbell.

-Joan Blessing

The Giving Star

Shining speck in the black night sky,
faithful, distant friend,
patient and persistent, I wait to be useful.

At times I’m admired, spark unexpected joy.
At times I’m simply noticed and evoke a sense of peace.
At times I’m watched with intensity and give promise of universes unknown.

When wishes drift up to me, I embrace them
tenderly, thoughtfully, and always
grant them, one way or another.

Like a calm, wise parent I remain,
love, listen, inspire
and ask nothing in return.

—Jean Lamberty

Swaying Weed

I grew up in one day finding a tiny path to the sunlight
I squeezed myself through a crevice so narrow I could hardly breathe
I am bright summer green and my defiant leaves find a perfect perch between an old brick building and its sidewalk
From here I can dance and sway and enthrall quietly
With the exception of an occasional dog’s relief I am invisible
I behold the magic of Oz and it is all mine.

—Shellie Winkler
“Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this inspiring workshop. I always wanted to write poetry and this is such a beautiful and safe forum in which to get started.”

Crying Shoes

Empty too long
neatly placed side by side
on the shelf
in the dark
we remember:

the warmth of stockinged toes
and the pressure and release
of moving through space.

Dipped in puddles
scuffed on gravel
heels aslant because of
a pronated gait.

We became more ourselves
the more we were worn.
—Gina A. Turner

The singing chickens

There is the woodpile covered in tarp,
then a shovel stuck into the dirt at an angle
like it was about to dig that dirt up all by itself,
then there are the chickens in their coop and run,
the roof flocked with redwood needles,
the electric fence to protect them long defunct.

Two red, two speckled black, all elderly,
they pace up and down their ramp and trace their fencing.
Chickens have a homely song, a chuckling cough,
endlessly repeating their plaintive complaints.
Listening, it is right to call their voice a squawk.

These chickens have been caught swelled breast to breast,
eye to eye, beak to beak, not peaceful at all as they bellicosely peck.
Their grievances, their cries, operatic in spirit if not in tone,
fretful mutterings of incoherent woes, disorderly, not artful,
their harsh voices unable to give voice to all their longing, the maternal feeling
in their bosomy breasts, the revulsion against their monastic cloistering.

Inside these chickens is a song they are singing, or believe that they sing,
a melody of love and contentment and tenderness,
that is garbled as it bursts forth, that whispers and chitters and sighs,
it wheezes like an accordion cast aside after the song is done,
yet the thread of the tune starts again and again,
it is enough to start at the tune, to open the throat, to imagine the song,
it is not the song that comes out, but it is singing.

—Devin Dougherty

Weeping sidewalk

The aching sidewalk is sick.
Blackened bubble-gum plasters hide a rash
of excoriated pebbles,
and each crack itches.

When it rains, earthworms tickle the sidewalk
until galoshes crush them.
They swell like dead-white cotton
absorbing salt-free tears.

—E.B. Fouts-Palmer
“Thank you for another great video — I am looking forward to reading more of Joy Harjo’s poetry!”

Boxing tree

Shadow boxing
outside my window
is a city tree, fists up
its knuckles gnarled
an old boxer.

So long you have been
fighting shadows:
pollution, climate change,
people simply not caring.

Standing in a concrete box
jabbing, weaving, upper
cutting flowers.

Teach me your dance
the boxing of shadows
so, I can box my own.

—Mike Cunningham


they say you lean too far

you just longing for light
they say you are a space guzzler

pushing to its demise the bigger pine
to the north you

have to take what you can get
forced to lean hard
toward the house

they say you have to come down

down down come the trees
all over the greedy world
another object in the way

we trimmed you to give you
a chance ran a rope to the poplar
itself no sure thing

tethered you knowing
we cannot hold you here
without help and you

never dark-minded you go on
spreading your parasol giving
your arms to the feathered

and the furred you put up with
the ladder bear gladly the hammock
witness to the weather

a wind-sifter moon catcher
holder of small hands and large we
encircle your long bark-body

grace and shelter in our lives
you will fall helpless as we they’ll turn
you into logs to stack to burn

unable they will not hear you cry
loving so much as they do the roar
of the saw

—Karen McDermott

Weeping Church Bells

“In London there is a man who screams when the church bells ring.”
—H. P. Lovecraft

Ringing loud but softly early in the morn,
all through the day awakening
ears, awakening eyes, awakening feet,
awakening hands, throughout
neighborhoods confined
to sights of morning, noon, night
sun, moon, stars, twilight.

Neighborhoods confined
to sounds of nature’s creatures bright.

And sadly, we say yes beloved,
neighborhoods restricting touch,
but not the smell of a weeping willow
nor bitter-sweet taste of weeping church bells
begging you not to scream in fears
but hear my chimes and wipe our tears.

—Kiswana Dee

The Talking Black Box (In Response to Personification and Joy Harjo)
The black box with the yellow knob on the lid,
the only furniture beside table and bed
in my first flat:
A wooden cube painted black
with a round hold on his back.
Hidden inside the leaflets
from the 68 student rebellion
screaming and chanting for freedom,
chorusing elbow in elbow
Ho-Ho-Ho-Chi -Minh
are trying to lift the lid.
Bulging from their squabble
the box talks to them
with square rationality,
steadies them,
soothing the wish to be openend again
like Pandora’s box.
Beware of the last curse!
Do not hope anymore!

—Christine Heiss


In my Garden
A Feline appears
She glances in my direction
I see you
But don’t get too close
The Squirrel chirps
And waves its tail
Frantic movement
You too
Keep your distance
The Starling bursts into Song
Females are referred to as Birds
In England
Is it because we are Verbose
Or prone to
Flipping the Bird
On occasion

—Sophie Tucker

My Father’s Forsythia
April 2020

From the narrow view
of our window, I saw only green
new shoots on the fig tree
pale stems of day lilies
jade hearts of ivy
clinging to the side wooden fence
all signs of hope
even weeds pushing through patio cracks.
Longing for spring and summer past
of planting and harvesting
of light, mostly light,
I enter the garden
and there it was
tall yellow branches
standing majestic
spring flowering
my father’s forsythia
cuttings from forty years before.
In quarantine from the Italian word , quaranta
think forty days of isolation,
Bubonic plague in fourteenth century Venice,
think forty days wandering
in the heat of desert,
forty days of rising water
for Noah and his ark,
forty days of Lent,
forty days after, Ascension,
think forty in dream numerology
an angel warning you to be steadfast
the way what is rooted
in soil becomes a talisman.
And all that comes before
is, also, often within.
—Lillian Rossi Maida

I am the memory of the felled tree,
the one over which you cried
and placed your hand on my woody
heart to offer comfort.

Spring, you cannot help your splendor
the warmth of maternal embrace
bare shoulders open to light.
—Bhikshuni Weisbrot