Do not think about
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Still-Within-Tanya-Hong-Hyonhye/dp/0998037567
Do not think about
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Still-Within-Tanya-Hong-Hyonhye/dp/0998037567
By Greg Bem
It rains morning to night
I still have enough to survive a hundred more years
so I’ll just lie down and sing
man’s forever song
about the infinite horizon
vast enough for countless cemeteries
we have a million lives
(from “Rainy Day Song,” page 1)
Through the mists and the murk of our global crisis, the current COVID-19 pandemic, a book of poetry arrives and may be able to inform and console, to demonstrate and guide. Paper Bells, a collection of poems written in Vietnamese by Phan Nhiên Hạo and translated into English by Hai-Dang Phan, is now available via The Song Cave. It is a collection rotating between storytelling and moments of rejuvenation that never loses its vision and momentum. The collection is a “selected” from his previous publications in Vietnamese and the poems he has written since he arrived to the United States in the early 1990’s. Most of the works come from the Summer Radio (published in 2019 in Vietnamese), which followed the 2005 Linh Dinh-translated Nigh, Fish, and Charlie Parker. Overall a combination of older and newer works, Paper Bells as a collection contain variations on visions of survival and what it means to thrive after difficulty. They share what has long been of interest to Phan Nhiên Hạo: documenting the lived experience of a Vietnamese refugee and exiled poet who has sought and continues to seek that thriving through poetry.
Thematically in this collection, Phan Nhiên Hạo’s works move back and forth between microscopic and macroscopic worlds within Vietnam and within the United States. A prose poem near the end of the book reflects the worlds in the context of time and memory. The poet writes: “Once on Ngo Thoi Nhiem Street I saw an old woman squatting against one of the high walls of the hospital, weeping, tears pouring out of her face like fresh juice squeezed from a sugar cane machine” (from “Saigon on a Good Day,” page 48). Many of Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poems contain images like this: remarkable moments of interruption and awe spurred on by the anonymous world around us, or a world surreally distanced in time and space. This convergence of experience and identity find life within their center and unity. There is a sense of the allegory, of the symbolic story, of the world that opens and blossoms sending into breath, or is rung, like a bell, sending reverberations from poem to poem. These reverberations also feel like brutal logic, feel of an urgent commonsense, as in “Fragments,” which calls forward the nihilism of machines and weaponry: “A rusty gun is still capable of killing someone, / but a feeble mind can’t do shit” (page 39).
Indeed, from within their logical core, line by line, to their larger impressions as individual works, the poems feel linked, and delicate, and unpacking the book of a poet who has seen and felt many worlds, many difficulties, and many moments in between, takes time. Time ultimately informs the poetry itself, which often uses rain as a circumstantial image, an image of transformation, and, like an ellipses, an image of pause. Included in this collection is Phan Nhiên Hạo’s “Seattle Memory,” which uses a city familiar with rain to serve as pin for connecting and opening vast distances: “Day rains, stops, afternoon blazes and night comes late. Summer in Seattle, I remember Da Lat” (page 5). Lines like this one reveal the poet’s interest in juxtapositions. The self may exist now, but continues to exist in other forms and locations.
Examining location and presence through Paper Bells is extremely fulfilling. I write this review in social isolation, in a world that is “on lockdown,” this lens seems to only widen as I engage with Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poetry. When he writes of “man’s forever song” in the poem “Rainy Day Song” quoted above, I think about my own longitudinal story in space, in community, in life and being. Though different, as all stories are, I cannot help but think of the world that becomes cushioned by patience, compassion, and rest. I think also of Jennifer Cheng’s House A, and her time spent moving around the continental United States with her parents, who as immigrants explored and discovered (and rediscovered) identity, location, and stability.
While positivity and success tend to show up in many stories of survival, Phan Nhiên Hạo’s words are far from universally pleasant and straightforward. The poet here has crafted works founded in struggle that cannot be unbound from death and disruption. There is movement, flight, and escape, but a final sense of stability or rest seems impossible. Here we have a Catch-22, a schism that is profound and worth a dozen examinations: the poet’s commitment to rebirth, and the incessant loss of identity and heritage for that continued life. This poet figures this loss into his poetry in many ways. Typically, I examined loss in Paper Bells through the poet’s highlights of absurdity; they struck me as both feeling commonplace and containing multitudes of emotion:
the swampy city a breeding ground for mosquitoes
where breasts are squeezed in the beery halls until broken
and thrown into the bloody river with hyacinths
(from “Wash Your Hands,” page 31)
Phan Nhiên Hạo intercepts any sense of complacency with surprise, disorder, and decay. Nothing is perfect and rebirth will always come with a cost: again, the world is delicate and can be creased, and those creases are our memories.
Though dismal, the book is not a morass of challenge. Tension is alleviated; still, there is the rain. The rain that cleanses is also the rain that keeps us inside, keeps us at rest, keeps us centered to where our minds can transport through memory and commitment to our former selves, situations, and locations. And remain stable, fervent, integral.
As I read Phan Nhiên Hạo and think about his bus ride across the country, his time working as a delivery man and janitor, and the many other movements literal and symbolic contains in the poems and also described before and within this book’s incredible introduction, I think of the world within and beyond these poems. I refocus on COVID-19 and the crossing over from the poetry’s contained reality to the reality where the poetry is contained. While the spotlight on the virus does not equate to or replace war, oppression, and forced removal of peoples and cultures, I cannot help but think about the poet’s stories and how they seem relevant to our own shifting society. Much like Phan Nhiên Hạo demonstrates in Paper Bells, each of us can take the moments afforded to us to look at our own journey, our own stories, and the world’s rotations and rejuvenations. With that I ask, what are the greater implications of works like Paper Bells?
As long-time collaborator and translator Hai-Dang Phan puts it in the introduction: “The dissident politics of Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poetry resound precisely at a historical moment when the United States and Vietnam are reestablishing diplomatic and economic relations, and in the cultural and literary sphere much of the talk is about peace and reconciliation” (page xi). This publication of Phan Nhiên Hạo works, as translated into a thorough, indefatigable contemporary English by Hai-Dang Phan, feels of the very present, of these very days which we can learn to breathe deep and relearn, as both necessity and opportunity, our entire selves. It also feels of the future, of what can be, and where being can take us, as individuals and as a collective.
You can find the book here: https://the-song-cave.com/products/paper-bells-by-phan-nhien-h-o-translated-by-hai-dang-phan
Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com.
By Byron Beynon
The Painter J D INNES (1887-1914): A brief introduction to his life and work
James Dickson Innes was born in Wales in 1887, the third son of John Innes (1853-1923) an accountant, and his wife Alice (1857-1942) who lived in the Carmarthenshire town of Llanelli.
The year 1887 appears to have been a fertile one for the birth of painters. Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986), and LS Lowry (1887-1976) were all born in the same year as Innes. However, Innes did not have the luxury of living and painting into middle life let alone mature age. His life was tragically cut short, dying of tuberculosis at the age of 27. Nevertheless during a few short years, he produced several memorable paintings, rich in imagery with an exquisite harmony of colour, or as his friend John Fothergill (1876-1957) said, “he painted nature with the brilliance of stained glass.”
His grandfather Robert and his parents valued education and had a correct ethos towards the children. The grandfather had opened a school in Llanelli and was also secretary of the art class. His mother had been born in Lyon, France in 1857. She offered stability to the family. Her connection with France may have kindled the boy’s imagination and curiosity about her life there. I also believe the landscape of Wales; Carmarthenshire, Breconshire and Pembrokeshire awakened in him a sense of place, and a need to capture those landscapes creatively by sketching and painting.
Llanelli’s population in 1900 was approximately 36,000, an industrial town, it produced most of Britain’s output of copper. Although an industrial town it was in close proximity to unspoilt countryside and situated by the sea.
Innes attended Christ College, Brecon, before continuing his education at the School of Art, Carmarthen. He was inspired at first to follow JMW Turner’s footsteps (Turner had made five sketching and painting tours of Wales between 1792 and 1799), and travels through south Wales, visiting and painting Kidwelly, Carew and Chepstow castles, and Tintern Abbey. Innes would later visit north Wales; places such as Bala, Aberystwyth, Llanidloes and the Arenig mountain which became an important subject matter, obsessed by it, he acquired a passion for the mountain. A favourite story of Innes about the painter Turner was when a lady complained to Turner that she did not see in nature the colours Turner saw, he replied “and don’t you wish you could, Madam ?”
Innes seems to have been a delicate son, not as robust as his elder brothers, suffering bouts of ill-health. Undeterred, and with the support of his family, by the autumn of 1905, he was in London, studying at the Slade School of Art. He first lived at Wimbledon, but later moved to Cheyne Walk, and to Fitzroy street. It was an important period in his life, meeting fellow artists and contacts in the art world. He would meet early influences such as Walter Sickert (1860-1942), Augustus John (1878-1961), John Fothergill (1876-1957) and the Australian painter Derwent Lees (1884-1931). He also went on to exhibit his work at the Chenil Gallery, Chelsea.
In 1908 he travelled to France with John Fothergill. He headed south to Bozouls, and then to Collioure, following the paths taken by Matisse and Derain who had been there a few years earlier in 1905. Innes’ work became influenced by the strong sunlight and his colours became bolder after he moved to the south of France. He would visit France several times, spending time at Collioure, the Pyrenees, Perpignan and Paris. Hilary Spurling in her biography of Matisse quoted a contemporary traveller taking the train from Perpignan at the beginning of the twentieth century “All of a sudden as you emerge on the crest of a hill from the rocky corridor, Collioure! Radiant with light on the curve of a small bay, hemmed in by the last burnt foothills of the mountains, a blaze of reds and ochres…..Is this still France, or already Africa, with its clumps of agave, and its palm trees dotted here and there among the garden?”
In 1912 Innes also travelled into Spain, south to Ronda, and the mountains of Andalusia, capturing in his work the light and colour of the landscapes he saw and experienced.
In the same year he briefly visited Coole Park, in Galway, Ireland. It was the home of Lady Gregory, born in 1852, who was a great friend and influence on the poet WB Yeats (1865-1939). During his stay there Innes painted The Lake at Coole Park, Co. Galway. There is a tree standing in the garden, known as the Autograph Tree, inscribed by Innes; it also has the initials of Yeats, Bernard Shaw and others.
Back in north Wales he developed an extraordinary passion for painting the Arenig Mountain. He was fascinated by it and painted it over and over again, just like Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) did with his Monte Sainte-Victoire. Innes developed a wonderful sense of colour, and painted Arenig from different viewpoints, in diverse lights and weather conditions. The mountain situated in the middle of the moorland between Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog is a natural landscape which Innes painted with great intensity. Augustus John who had spent time with Innes in north Wales, was amazed by the restless and creative energy that Innes had acquired for the mountain.
In February 1913 five of his paintings were selected for the prestigious International Armory Exhibition of Modern Art which toured New York, Chicago and Boston.
Sadly, during the last years of his short life, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. By the end of 1913 and early 1914 Innes was seriously ill, and after spending a brief time in Morocco and Tenerife, he was taken back to England. First to Brighton, where his mother took care of him, and then finally he was moved to a nursing home in Swanley in Kent. It was there that this skilled artist died on the 22nd of August 1914.
Some of today’s critics believe that Innes’ work is the link between Turner’s experiments with light and colour and David Hockney’s work (b1937). The intense light of the south of France encouraged bolder and brighter colours, which his friend Fothergill thought was inspired by their stay in the town of Collioure with its “gemlike bay” and “fishing boats of antique build and scarlet sails;……and where his all-excelling sense of colour was awakened.”
Augustus John in a tribute later said, “His work will live when that of many happier and healthy men will have grown with the passing years cold, dull and lifeless.”
In 2014 the National Museum of Wales held an exhibition of his work, marking not only the centenery of his death but also to celebrate this gifted and prodigious artist, whose early death robbed Wales and the world of a great talent.
FOR FURTHER READING
James Dickson Innes 1887-1914 by John Hoole and Margaret Simons Lund Humphries (2013)
James Dickson Innes by John Fothergill Ariel Books on the Arts Faber &Faber (1946)
Matisse the Life by Hilary Spurling, Penguin Books (2009)
In Montmartre Picasso, Matisse & Modernism in Paris 1900-1910 by Sue Roe Fig Tree imprint of Penguin Books (2014)
Post-Impressionism Royal Academy of Arts London 1979-80 catalogue published by
Weidenfeld & Nicolson London
The Great Bohemian The letters of Ida John Bloomsbury Publishing (2017)
Carmarthenshire The Concise History by Dylan Rees University of Wales Press (2006)
Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Poetry Wales, Cyphers, San Pedro River Review, The London Magazine, The Worcester Review and the human right anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). He coordinated the Wales’ section of the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). He is currently working on a project with Dr Barry Plummer about the artist J D Innes
By Ray Greenblatt
The Outermost House is one of my favorite books. I have read many Nature works , but this one is unique. I have read about the ocean, its types of fishes, and the underwater geology, but this book is light on science. It focuses on the beach; that is partly why I came to live by the waters of the Chesapeake. This book speaks to me and for me because it uses poetic language. Beston is able to probe the vastness of the sea and the heavens.
Henry Beston (1888-1868) decided to live close to nature as Thoreau did at Walden. In 1928 he built a house right on the beach of Cape Cod. The Walden cabin was 10 X 16; Beston’s structure named the Fo’castle was 20 X 16. He lived there for a year, recording the change of seasons. In 1929 he married the poet Elizabeth Coatsworth, to whom he was married for forty years. They then went on with their lives living on a farm in Maine.
Since Beston writes in such an orderly manner, we shall simply follow his Table of Contents commenting on the richness of his observations. His first chapter truly focuses on the beach. “The flux and reflux of ocean, the incomings of waves, the gatherings of birds, the pilgrimages of the peoples of the sea, winter and storm, the splendour of autumn and the holiness of spring—all these were part of the great beach.”
Beston was especially aware of the light of the beach and the colors it revealed. “It has many colours: old ivory here, peat here, and here old ivory darkened and enriched with rust. At twilight, its rim lifted to the splendour in the west, the face of the wall becomes a substance of shadow and dark descending to the eternal unquiet of the sea; at dawn the sun rising out of the ocean gilds it with a level silence of light which thins and rises and vanishes into day.” He is also apt to point out miniscule things as well. “There is always something poetic and mysterious to me about these tracks in the pits of the dunes; they begin at nowhere, sometimes with the faint impression of an alighting wing, and vanish as suddenly into the trackless nowhere of the sky.”
Autumn, Ocean, and Birds
This chapter is dedicated to his observation of birds. He is fascinated by the migrations. “Now comes the sea fowl and the wild fowl to the beach from the lonely and darkening north, from the Arctic Ocean and the advancing pack, from the continental fragments and great empty islands that lie between the continents and the pole, from the tundra and the barrens, from the forests, from the bright lakes, from the nest-strewn crevices and ledges of Atlantic rocks no man has ever named or scaled.”
“Standing on the beach, fresh claw marks at my feet, I watch the lovely sight of the group instantly turned into a constellation of birds, into a fugitive Pleiades whose living stars keep their chance positions; I watch the spiraling flight, the momentary tilt of the white bellies, the alternate shows of the clustered, grayish backs.” He is even in awe of individual birds. “I wonder where it was that she forsook her familiar earth for the grey ocean, an ocean she perhaps had never seen. What a gesture of ancient faith and present courage such a flight is, what a defiance of circumstance and death—land wing and hostile sea, the fading land behind, the unknown and the distant articulate and imperious in the bright, aerial blood.”
“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
The Headlong Wave
In this chapter Beston tries to interpret the sound of waves, something only a poet would attempt. “Hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea. And not only is the great sound varied in the manner of its making, it is also constantly changing its tempo, its pitch, its accent, and its rhythm, being now loud and thundering, now almost placid, now furious, now grave and solemn-slow, now a simple measure, now a rhythm monstrous with a sense of purpose and elemental will.”
During midwinter Beston observes a variety of things. “To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimage of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him and feeling for him which made even the most primitive people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline . . . We lose a great deal, I think, when we lose this sense and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.”
The sun is obscured by a storm. “With the turn of the tide came fury unbelievable. The great rhythm of its waters now at one with the rhythm of the wind, the ocean rose out of the night to attack the ancient rivalry of earth, hurling breaker after thundering breaker against the long bulwark of the sands. The Fo’castle, being low and strongly built, stood solid as a rock, but its walls thrummed in the gale. I could feel the vibration in the bricks of the chimney, and the dune beneath the house trembled incessantly with the onslaught of the surf.”
Strange sights were to greet him after the storm was over. “There crumbled out the blackened skeleton of an ancient wreck which the dunes had buried long ago. As the tide rose this ghost floated and lifted itself free, and then washed south close along the dunes. There was something inconceivably spectral in the sight of this dead hulk thus stirring from its grave and yielding its bones again to the fury of the gale.”
In an earlier chapter “Headlong Wave” Henry Beston attempted to capture the sounds of the surf. In this chapter he speaks of bird sounds. “Sometimes wings whistle by in the darkness. The sound of a pair of ‘whistler’ ducks on the wing is a lovely, mysterious sound at such a time. It is a sound made with wings, a clear, sibilant note which increases as the birds draw near, and dies away in the distance like a faint and whistling sigh.” “Turning toward the marsh, I saw a flock of geese flying over the meadows along the rift of dying, golden light, their great wings beating with a slow and solemn beauty, their musical, bell-like cry filling the lonely levels and the dark.”
However, this chapter excels in word landscapes as vivid as any painting. “There are patches of snow on the hay fields and the marshes, and, on the dunes, nests of snow held up off the ground by wiry spears of beach grass bent over and tangled into a cup. Such little pictures as this last are often to be seen on the winter dunes; I pause to enjoy them, for they have the quality and delicacy of Japanese painting. There is a blueness in the air, a blue coldness on the moors, and across the sky to the south, a pale streamer of cloud smoking from its upper edge.”
Then he expands his vision. “There was the ocean in all weathers and at all tides, now grey and lonely and veiled in winter rain, now sun-bright, coldly green, and marbled with dissolving foam; there was the marsh with its great congresses, its little companies, its wandering groups, and little family gatherings of winter birds; there was the glory of the winter sky rolling out of the ocean over and across the dunes, constellation by constellation, lonely star by star.”
Lanterns on the Beach
The author describes the wrecks that occur every year off Cape Cod. One has to remember that in the 1920’s many sailing ships were still used for transport. “Rigging freezes, sails freeze and tear—of a sudden the long booming undertone of the surf sounds under the lee bow—a moment’s drift, the feel of surf twisting the keel of the vessel, then a jarring, thundering crash and the upward drive of the bar . . . Stranded vessels soon begin to break up. Wrecks drag and pound on the shoals, the waves thunder inboard, decks splinter and crack like wooden glass , timbers part, and the iron rods bend over like candles in a heat.”
Despite their urgency, flares even have their aesthetic qualities. “The signal burns and sputters, the smoke is blown away almost ere it is born; the glassy bellies of the advancing breakers turn to volutes of rosy black, the seething foam to a strange vermilion-pink. In the night and rain beyond the hole of light an answering bellow sounds, ship lights dim as the vessel changes her course, the red flare dies to a sizzling, empty cartridge, the great dark of the beach returns to the solitary dunes.”
The men who prevent many wrecks and try to save those in peril are the local surfmen. “Winter and summer they pass and repass, now through the midnight sleet and fury of a great northeaster, now through August quiet and the reddish-golden radiance of an old moon rising after midnight from the sea, now through a world of rain shaken with heavy thunder and stabbed through and through with lightning.”
An Inland Stroll in Spring
Beston began to live on Cape Cod in the autumn. Now that winter is over, he remarks on the ever-returning fecundity of spring. “I began to reflect on Nature’s eagerness to sow life everywhere, to fill the planet with it, to crowd with it the earth, the air, and the sea. Into every empty corner, into all forgotten things and nooks, Nature struggles to pour life, pouring life into the dead, life into life itself. That immense, overwhelming, relentless, burning ardency of Nature for the stir of life! And all these her creatures, even as these thwarted lives, what travail, what hunger and cold, what bruising and slow-killing struggle will they not endure to accomplish the earth’s purpose?”
Night on the Great Beach
Different aspects of darkness are considered. “For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars—pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time. Fugitive though the instant be, the spirit of man is, during it, ennobled by a genuine moment of emotional dignity, and poetry makes its own both the human spirit and experience.”
A mystery occurs on the night beach. “Every spatter was a crumb of phosphorescence; I walked in a dust of stars. Behind me, in my footprints, luminous patches burned. With the double-ebb moonlight and tide, the deepening brims of the pools took shape in smouldering, wet fire. So strangely did the luminous speckles smoulder and die and glow that it seemed as if some wind were passing, by whose breath they were kindled and extinguished. Occasional whole breakers of phosphorescence rolled in out of the vague sea—the whole wave one ghostly motion, one creamy light—and, breaking against the bar, flung up pale sprays of fire.”
The savior in the night is the lighthouse. “A star of light which waxes and wanes three mathematical times, now as a lovely pale of light behind the rounded summits of the dunes. The changes in the atmosphere change the colour of the beam; it is now whitish, now flame golden, now golden red; it changes its form as well, from a star to a blare of light, from a blare of light to a cone of radiance sweeping a circumference of fog.”
The Year at High Tide
What stands out most in this chapter is the author’s sense of smell. “I like a good smell—the smell of a freshly ploughed field on a warm morning after a night of April rain, the clovelike aroma of our wild Cape Cod pinks, the morning perfume of lilacs showery with dew, the good reek of hot salt grass and low tide blowing from these meadows late on summer afternoons.”
Orion Rises on the Dunes
A very apt final statement made by Henry Beston is found in this concluding chapter. “The creation is still going on, that the creative forces are as great and as active today as they have ever been, and that tomorrow’s morning will be as heroic as any of the world. Creation is here and now. So near is man to the creative pageant, so much a part is he of the endless and incredible experiment, that any glimpse he may have will be but the revelation of a moment, a solitary note heard in a symphony thundering through debatable existences of time. Poetry is as necessary to comprehension as science. It is as impossible to live without reverence as it is without joy.”
There were and always will be Nature writers—a most obvious statement that could be made about poets as well. They tell us about the state of the natural world that we are often unaware of or too busy to notice. Henry Beston’s book has a cosmic feeling—the sea and sky, the major characters, cannot be larger. That factor provides an energy that makes its reading so stimulating. Beston’s prose style is full of imagery that gives pungency and further aids in making the book mystically fly!.
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Outermost-House-Year-Great-Beach/dp/080507368X
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.
North of Oxford is currently open to submissions of poetry, book reviews, art reviews, and commentary. Please follow our submission guidelines located here: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/ for consideration of publication. Our pandemic issues are now closed.
Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #4 from North of Oxford. In order of appearance we present: J Thomas Brown, Emily Bilman, Akshaya Pawaskar, Jason Kaufman, Naila Francis, Donna J. Gelagotis Lee, Linda Nemec Foster, Wayne-Daniel Berard
Hart Island by J Thomas Brown
They come to me, a time-worn island, once more.
They come to me in rows two wide, in layers three deep,
and I am too weary from the holding and can hold no more.
A child, grasping a handful of my grass, once said to a poet:
What is this grass? He answered he did not know,
that it seemed to be the beautiful uncut hair of graves.1
The tides, in unceasing motion, have worn my sides away.
My belly of earth, no longer fit for the task, splits, gives up its secrets.
See the clean white bones on their march into the bay.
Here, the water laps a shoulder blade resting on my gale eaten shore.
Nearby, protrudes the thigh of a Union prisoner who starved in the South,
and here, the ribs of one too poor to pay.
Over there, the jaw of a woman who died alone,
unsaved by burning pitch and cannon blast to scare Yellow Jack away.
Close by, the bones of a homeless man found in an alleyway.
Enough, enough. Today, a backhoe and fresh scrobis2
for the unclaimed who have passed.
May at last their dreams be happy,
beneath the leaves of grass.
1. From Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, 1892 version . . .it seemed to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
2. scrobis: a trench or grave
J Thomas Brown has had short stories published in Scarlet Leaf Review and Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet. I am a contributor to Lingering in the Margins: A River City Poets Anthology, Rattlecast, and Grotesque Quarterly Review. Mooncalf, a collection of poems, was self-published as an ebook and as an audiobook by Authors Republic. Two novels, The Land of Three Houses (historical fiction) and The Hole in the Bone (historical adventure fantasy), were published in 2018.
Two Poems by Emily Bilman
Will Covid-19 spread from the fish markets
into a metallic pool where we will mutate
into primordial fish while others remain above
the disintegration of Time? Will we, at last, leave
the bats, foxes, and pangolins in the own
kingdoms, safe from our manipulations
to avoid Covid’s thousand mutations?
Will we slow down our pace as in our
confinement to prevent Dali’s warped Time
from turning the metallic pool into bullets? Or
will our broken Time dry out all the olive trees?
Will flowers mutate into plastic objects floating
on a jelly-sea of brine below the surface? Or
will currents still circulate in the oceans
and clear the air we breathe? In the post
Covid-19 space, will our Time be stretched
into the poem’s eternal present, allowing
us transformative change through
language, rhythm, and thought?
The Stages of Cruelty
1751 & 2020
While a gentleman offers a tart to stop the murderer
The dog is killed with an arrow stuck to its body
While another boy pulls on his throat with a rope.
A youngster ties a bone to another dog’s tail and grins
While the dog tries to catch it. Cats are hung on a pole
And a bird’s eye is cauterized with a stick as boys watch.
The sadism of Hogarth’s slum-boys that turns boys
Into tyrants, in turn, makes men into poachers who murder
Pangolins and sell their scales for medicine, their meat for food.
Bitten by bats, pangolins, traded and consumed for their meat
Spread the Covid-19 virus, killing thousands by lung
Constriction, leaving the rest of us in mute confinement.
Dr. Emily Bilman is London Poetry Society’s Stanza representative in Geneva where she lives and teaches poetry. Her dissertation, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published by Lambert Academic in 2010 and Modern Ekphrasis in 2013 by Peter Lang, CH. Three poetry books, A Woman By A Well, Resilience, and The Threshold of Broken Waters were published by Troubador, UK in 2015 and the latest in 2018
Two Poems by Jason Kaufman
Day #1 of Ohio’s stay-at-home order
54,856 Covid-19 cases in the US
780 Total deaths in the US
225 People died today in the US
I bear dim witness
to ticker counters on a phone screen,
the virus’s exponential spread
veering northward on Logarithmic charts.
The endless scrolling of Nasdaq and the S&P
replaced by real-time rising death rates.
I’m out of work and nervous about making ends meet.
It’s week one in quarantine.
My list of renovation projects is dwindling.
Our house gets cleaner by the day.
We throw family dance parties and laugh.
I embarrass myself for the love of this moment.
My wife and I make love like teenagers,
in this room and that.
I wonder why it took a pandemic
for us to begin living our lives.
Ruptures and Articulations
Day #3 of Ohio’s stay-at-home order
83,206 Covid-19 cases in the US
1,201 Total deaths in the US
174 People died today in the US
Is there anywhere on earth untouched by this? Anywhere
inside of you untouched by fear.
McCarthy calls man a lesser God,
insatiable and malignant, whom no ceding could appease
nor any measure of blood,
but I see caped cashiers and superheroes in the stockroom.
Homebound Troubadours singing from balconies
about a dark age, not so long ago, when humankind believed
they were created to serve the stock market.
Have we broken
through to a new truth?
Have we broken
from our legacy of blood and war?
Has this pandemic ruptured the chain of bestial replicas?
Will we stand up out of the rubble and discover we are new species entirely?
The potential of profound change, born at the intersection
of our heart and this burdensome cross.
Jason Kaufman is a poet and visual artist living in Bellville, Ohio. The major influences on his work are fatherhood, backpacking, Post-Structuralism, Buddhism, theopoetics, and mental health advocacy.
And have you cried yet today by Naila Francis
And have you cried yet today, let
your eyes become water become
wonder, become soundless kiss
on the brow of this soft-skinned world?
Listen, in Hanoi, a water tank spills rice
into residents’ bags daily, in Ho Chi
Minh City around the clock.
Air pollution is plummeting, a 30 percent drop
in America’s Northeast, a breather
in the bellowing of tailpipes and power plants
that has polished the sunset to a truer hue
in China, raised handclaps in outer space.
In the oceans, cruiseless and calm, whales
can keep singing, and so, too, the creatures
who glide less stressed, their dreams
of motherhood tucked in the quiet deep.
Today, I read of a coffee shop giving
a month of profits to medical first responders,
a landlord canceling three months’ rent.
The math these days is dizzying, grim:
34,376 deaths in the US, globally 141,452,
in my city 311 new cases since yesterday,
in Italy a generation — gone.
Here, where I write from among them, 22
million unemployed, a shortfall of millions
of tests needed per week to open the economy,
thousands of gallons of milk dumped by farmers,
and still more produce, without a system
to funnel them to the miles-long food bank lines.
But there is also $20 shoved anonymously
through a front door, two young boys
in blow-up dinosaur costumes billowing joy
in their duo of a neighborhood parade, one
85-year-old nurse leaving her retirement
to care for other seniors, 78 children
receiving free meals every day from a teacher
who walks five miles to deliver them.
How else to take the sorrow, terror
if not with beauty, too?
How to keep counting the days
without the moments that gather
in the good, remind us “Here Comes the Sun,”
which is played in a Michigan hospital
whenever a patient is weaned off a ventilator.
How many tears have you cried?
Will they ever be enough, a trail we follow,
from here inside this keening dark,
to where our hands will meet?
First Three Issues
North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1
https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/__trashed-2/ Poets: Howie Good, Marion Deutche Cohen, Alan Toltzis, Charles Rammelkamp, Gloria Parker, Len Krisak, Ed Krizek, Mervyn Taylor, Carl Kaucher, M. J. Arcangelini, Eileen R. Tabios, Bryon Beynon, Greg Bem, Richard Nester and John D. Robinson.
North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2
Poets: Ray Greenblatt, Cathleen Cohen, Cameron Morse, Ed Meek, Joan Mazza, Hiram Larew, April Penn, Grace Andreacchi, Mary Shanley, Bruce E. Whitacre, Jonie McIntire, Liddy Warrell, Nicole Yurcaba, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Mike Cohen.
North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3
Poets: Don Riggs, John Macker, Lorna Wood, Michael Steffen, Matthew Ussia, Belinda Subraman, Susan Champion, Carlos Hernández Peña, Phil Saunders, Arlyn LaBelle, Peter Scheponik, and Ben Mazer
Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #2 from North of Oxford. In order of appearance we present: Ray Greenblatt, Cathleen Cohen, Cameron Morse, Ed Meek, Joan Mazza, Hiram Larew, April Penn, Grace Andreacchi, Mary Shanley, Bruce E. Whitacre, Jonie McIntire, Lindy Warrell, Nicole Yurcaba, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Mike Cohen.
Cathleen Cohen is the Founder and creator of ArtWell’s core program, We the Poets, and a member of ArtWell’s Board of Directors (effective 2018). Following her retirement in 2015 as a treasured member of ArtWell’s staff as Education Director, Cathy continued in a volunteer capacity. As a master teacher, poet, and literacy specialist, she serves as a vital mentor to new Teaching Artists and volunteers. Cathleen holds a Ph.D. in Learning Disabilities from Northwestern University, an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University, a BA from The Johns Hopkins University and a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Ed Meek has been published by Dash, Constellations, Blue Mountain Review, What Rough Beast, Red Wheel Barrow Review. My new book, High tide, is coming out this summer..
April March Penn is a queer poet who visits Anne Sexton’s grave and conducts tarot readings for real and imaginary friends. Penn’s poetry is published in What Are Birds, The Offing, The Fem, The Deaf Poet Society, Maps for Teeth, Provocateur, and other literary magazines. They have featured in Boston at the Cantab Poetry Lounge, Out of the Blue Gallery, and Stone Soup Poetry. Follow them on Instagram: @pennapril
Thaddeus Rutkowski lives and writes in New York City. Thaddeus Rutkowski
Mike Cohen lives and writes in Philadelphia. You can find him at: MIKE COHEN SAYS