My husband is a sixth-generation Arkansan. A few of his ancestors came here to perpetuate a system in which they had power, but the majority were trying to find a better life. Instead they ended up drifting as cheap labor in a system that took natural resources, then moved on to take somewhere else. Used up that way, people and land don’t last long. We are fortunate to be part of a better place now thanks to national action on conservation, occupational safety, and health. The scars remain as a warning. You can visit this in “Vesta,” which appears in the latest Quarterly West.
Some images I can return to when I close my eyes. One is the scene in “Spring (The Garden)” by Thomas Wilmer Dewing. When I visit Crystal Bridges, I love to stand in front of this piece and listen. But physical presence isn’t required for me to have this vision. “In the garden without trees” in the latest Moon City Review springs from this painting.
When I came across Sandtown Road on a map, I thought, what would it be like to live in a town of sand? It didn’t take long playing with the idea to realize that we all already do. From that comes “Sandtown Road” in the latest issue of Arkansas International. Attempts to perpetuate injustice in terms of equal rights and the environment plus a vacuum of leadership as we face a pandemic can make the world feel mighty dark these days. This poem echoes that, even though it was written some time ago. But it also offers hope to those willing to take a hard look.
This spring, I’ve had a number of publications, and I’ve shied away from sharing them. All things considered, it just hasn’t felt like they matter. But that’s part of the trick, isn’t it? If we feel insignificant, we keep quiet. So I will share my backlog. In this instance, I do so not only with thanks for the good space for my work, but also for the subjects of this poem, who have become even more dear to me this spring. My youngest child appears front and center with her brother and father in “Star Witness, a Moth” in the latest Zone 3.
Two ragged sonnets, “Catoptromancy” and “Visual Field,” work with the garden and creation in the latest issue of Sou’Wester. This journal is located at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. My mother graduated with her Master’s from SIUE when I was little, so being published here always means a little extra to me. One of these two poems was featured at Verse Daily last week, so that adds meaning as well.
If I say anything, if I say nothing, I will be wrong. This is no different than I’ve ever felt but is amplified by everyone’s frustration about the pandemic and systems being used to perpetuate problems, rather than being transformed to facilitate progress. That we can see it but are told we don’t, leads to more tension.
My father demonstrated for social justice, so often that he never told me much about it except when little anecdotes popped out if I asked the right question. The one I’ve returned to lately is when he marched with fellow students across the Brooklyn Bridge and was met at city hall by police on horses, how tall the horses suddenly seemed to him as he faced them. By his example, he taught me that we don’t talk about our work for social justice. We just do it.
Part of his frustration, his depression later in life was that despite his efforts, he felt he hadn’t made a difference. The country he loved still had the same problems. In his eyes, that must mean he had done something wrong. I learned from that example, too.
But my thoughts have also returned to a class I taught over a decade ago. My students and I were discussing racism and my frustration about the system crept through. A student smiled and said no, every bit of work done so far had made a difference and still would as we carried it forward. This African-American woman was the youngest in a family of many brothers and the mother of sons, so she did not speak from a place of what we now call privilege. O- – -a, it is your gentle correction and encouragement that I hold close.
So, I will keep working towards social justice in my own way. That includes writing poetry, with the faith that it matters. That includes posting to offer this sonnet, originally published at Sou’Wester, featured yesterday at Verse Daily, to you.
“The Books on the Library Shelves Looked like Stained Glass even before They Burned” and “Trailing Point” appear in the latest issue of Inkwell. This has seemed inconsequential compared to all that’s going on. But these poems – one delighting in words, one playing in ditches – reflect me as a child and my children. I mustn’t forget there’s more than one way to stop breathing. There’s a reason these poems are in a special section in the journal called Sanctuary, after all.
“The coreopsis is crushed in an oval where the deer must have slept” appears in the latest issue of Colorado Review. I usually have to submit a poem many places before it is accepted for publication. This was one of those rare times when it found the right space on the first try.
“A Turn of the Plow, a Furrow, a Line of Writing” appears in the latest issue of Cherry Tree. This poem examines how environmental degradation and misogyny go hand-in-hand, with a root in a beautiful but disturbing destructively rendered verse, Proverbs 30:18-19 (ESV):
“Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.”
Two poems that appear in the latest volume of Denver Quarterly continue what has become this week’s theme: work that originates with my youngest daughter. While “I have taken my daughter to the garden” uses free verse with slant rhymes, and “In the closets in the daytime, there are horses” uses two octaves with a quatrain, both poems turn around apples.