Tag Archives: poetry

Jane Kenyon’s “Otherwise”

Otherwise
by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon, “Otherwise,” from Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2007).

A. Van Jordan’s “Afterward but not Afterword”

Afterward but not Afterword
by A. Van Jordan

State of Florida v. Patrick Gene Scarborough, David Erwin Beagles, Ollie Odell Stoutamire, William Ted Collinsworth, 1959, case #3445.

Later I lower my head to my father’s chest,

the hollow where I hear his heart stop, if stop

meant speed to a stop, if hearts could gasp like a

mouth when events stun the heart to a stop

for a moment. His eyes fill with anger

then, collecting himself, he rises up to slump

his shoulders back down. The fists. The eyes.

Nothing can raise up, nothing feels essential,

a black body raising up in the south and all…

To a life starting here, ethereal, yet flesh, and all?

And even if you could, what all good would it do?

The damage and all. Black birds flock,

dulcet yet mourning, an uproar of need,

a cry of black but blue is not the sky

in which they gender. My God, if life is not pain,

no birth brought me into this world,

or could life begin here where it ends—

no shelter, no comfort, no ride home—
and must I go on, saying more? Pointing

them out in a court of men? Didn’t

the trees already finger the culprits? Creatures

make a way where there is no way. That way

after I lean into what’s left of me—and must I

(yes, you must) explain, over and over,

how my blood came to rest here—my body,

now labeled evidence, sows what I have yet to say.

About This Poem: “Betty Jean Owens was an African American woman who was raped by four white men—Patrick Gene Scarborough, David Erwin Beagles, Ollie Odell Stoutamire, and William Ted Collinsworth—in Tallahassee, Florida, on May, 1959. The trial was a landmark case, covered at the time by the BBC and international news outlets. This was the first case on record in which a jury of twelve white men found white-male assailants guilty of raping a black woman. Writing this poem, as a man, I can only approximate the emotion in the scene, even for the father as he tries to comfort her.”
A. Van Jordan

Copyright © 2020 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. Suggested to the Humanities Institute by Pauline Strong.

An Excerpt from Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen, An American Lyric”

Excerpt from Citizen, An American Lyric, a book-length prose poem by Claudia Rankine

The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.
At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?
It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.
I am so sorry, so, so sorry.

 

Claudia Rankine, Citizen, An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014).

 

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Spring”

Note: Posting this poem on June 29 gets the month wrong, but yesterday’s announcement that Austin metro had the highest rate of positive tests in the nation this week makes the poem’s mood feel timely nonetheless, and in a disturbing way. Though used in a different context, Millay’s phrase “opening stickily” has a sickly resonance, for me, with Texas’s “re-opening” process over the past several weeks.  ~ PB 

Spring (1921)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness

Of little leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.

The sun is hot on my neck as I observe

The spikes of crocus.

The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.

But what does that signify?

Not only under ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,

April

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Spring.” In public domain. Poetryfoundation.org.