By TINA ARNOPOLE DRISKILL
Gillian Wegener, Dan Bellm and Terry Ehret will be introducing new books of poetry published by Sixteen Rivers Press (www.sixteenrivers.org) this month, including two readings in Modesto. (See calendar page) All three award winning poets are experienced educators with histories of political and social justice activism.
Gillian has been a featured Voices poet and is a junior high school English Teacher in Oakdale. Her poetry has been awarded top prize for 2006 and 2007 by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. Dan is a teacher, writer and advocate in the San Francisco Bay area and has been a peace and justice activist since the 1960's. Terry is a founder of Sixteen Rivers Press and has been a teacher, feminist, community volunteer and advocate for social justice since the Vietnam era. (Look for more of Dan's and Terry's poetry in future issues of Connections.)
ACTION: Gillian will read from her new book, "The Opposite of Clairvoyance", Wednesday March 5 at 7 p.m. in the Stanislaus County Library on I Street in Modesto. A joint reading from Dan's third book, "Practice," and Terry's third collection, "Lucky Break," along with Gillian's work will be held March 15 at the Mistlin Gallery at Tenth Street Place in Modesto. Both readings are free and open to the public.
The poems on page 9 are samples taken from the newly published works:
Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts.
How simple it ought to be, to practice compassion
on someone gone, even love him, long as he’s not
right there in front of me, for I turned to address him,
as I do, and saw that no one’s lived in that spot
for quite some time. O turner-away of prayer—
not much of a God, but he was never meant to be.
For the seventh time I light him a candle; an entire
evening and morning it burns; not a light to see
by, more a reminder of light, a remainder, in a glass
with a prayer on the label and a bar code from the store.
How can he go on? He can’t. Then let him pass
away; he gave what light he could. What more
will I claim, what debt of grace he doesn’t owe?
If I forgive him, he is free to go.
I should go home and make peace with my brother.
Trouble is, we’re not fighting. Where I come from,
we have such good manners we don’t talk to each other.
I should start a good fight. Trouble is, we don’t bother.
So I was there when Dad died, and not him;
so I should go and make peace with my brother?
What, did I steal something? I’ve known forever
which one Dad loved; all right. So who’s to blame?
We have such good manners, we’re each other’s
worst joke of a missing half; stand us together,
the macho man, the dreamer, we look the same.
I should go make peace with my hairy brother,
but I’d rather go on resenting him; he’d rather
go on paternally dispensing shame.
I have such good manners; I don’t say, It’s over
now: neither one of us gets to be our father
and play the God Almighty. I should go home
What It’s About
with thanks to Allen Ginsberg
Spring is about standing in the dark under the darker eucalyptus
and feeling the future like an ache in the throat,
in the lungs like drowning,
like waiting in silence for the bombs to fall.
Bombs are about who’s lying and who’s counting, and counting
is about numbers we agree to. Agreeing
is about investing your money in the same things.
Money is about money and also about what you don’t have.
Not having is about pain and pain is about being broken each year,
being broken by promises by grace by the bursting
seed-pods of deceit
and telling ourselves we will heal or if we cannot
telling ourselves it’s our place to be stupid and broken.
Our place is about three cars in the driveway
and streetlights and sidewalks
and sidewalks are about what’s worth protecting.
Protection is about terror and destruction and inevitable suffering
and suffering is always
about birth, about stains and mystery
and mysteries are always about the silence
the aweful, chilling silence that fills the right now before
whatever is about to happen happens.
March 18, 2003
How Words Began
Crab: from Old German krabben, originally Greek graphein, “to write”
Some say it began with a crab
scuttling sideways and clickety across the rocks—
across glistening gray-black sand. And a man
standing on the rocks and following,
first with his eyes, then with his feet,
the marks indented and dimpling the wet
tongue of the shore. A man wanting much
to hold the sun still, to lock the
here and missing here and missing sea.
A man turned over and over by the ends
of feelings, the light fleeing and returning,
the deep-in-the-bones ache pulling the living
from the dead each spring. Just such a man, kneeling
in the black-gray graphite sand, traced
with his finger the memory
of crab, of ragged claws, of urgent
return to salt.
Fears in Solitude
Coleridge, alone and afraid, wanted to
cry out. Instead he grew angry
at the way politicians juggled the name
of God. Instead he grew sick
of the owlet atheism hooting in the twilight.
Instead he took long walks in the country
with William and Dorothy, packed his books
and left England to take long walks in Germany
with Kant and Goethe. Everything hurt him.
Everything he loved turned away. In his sleep,
a wind was blowing, and it brushed the strings
of his fears. Waking, he moved among
the shadows of figures that shone bright
in those dreams. If there is a God, he thought,
we are His severed hands, playing
a brutal music He cannot stop,
and cannot help but hear.
God stops at Latif’s for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.
The orange vinyl of the booth creaks a little under his weight.
The circle of coffee in the cup is the exact opposite of the moon
and both are reflected in the eye of God as he looks at them.
The waitress taps the pencil against her order pad.
God cannot decide on which pie to have.
The apricot is good, but so is the coconut cream.
The waitress says, ‘I’ll give you another minute,’
but what is a minute to God? He orders the coconut cream.
God admires the fine order of the rows of booths,
the way the scrubbed high chairs stand at attention in the corner,
and all the coffee cups, tucked into their tray upside down,
anticipating the morning rush with its usual scent of bacon.
God sighs in satisfaction and looks around to speak, but no one’s listening.
At the counter, the busboy is filling salt shakers.
Across the aisle a group of farmers linger over coffee,
speaking the sensual language of weather and root stocks.
God glances at the sky: rain over the weekend, but no frost.
The waitress brings the pie, refills the coffee. (God does not drink decaf.)
God eats and thinks, if he had to do it over again, pie
would play a more important role in the way of all things.
How can you not like pie, thinks God, licking meringue from the fork.
The farmers’ fingers are rough and gnarled as olive branches,
the waitress’ shoes squeak on the linoleum when she turns.
God contemplates the goodness of this particular moment
and is happy, but he has to move on. He leaves his money
on the table under his coffee cup. The waitress is pleased.
God, it turns out, is a mighty good tipper.
In a Rapidly Expanding City
Driving through streets,
asphalt so new and black thoughts wander
into dank mines to rest.
Houses snapped together, blocky and bland,
coordinated colors, tinted windows
gaze blindly at the twin across the street.
Here, someone reads the mail addressed to Resident.
Dust flies between stuccoed walls, dragging its feathers.
No protection from the long blankness of day.
The new sidewalk ages and gaps.
The dog in the yard starves for honest green.
Lawns like tidy factory carpets,
and the requisite city tree, resigned,
leaves already withering.
Here, someone arranges spices on the rack:
mace, nutmeg, oregano. Makes a note to buy paprika.
With no common language, the houses
ally themselves to nothing.
The resident lines up a snow globe collection
on a windowsill, listens to a garage door open and shut.
On the corner, the dust spins itself a tower.
Inside, under ceilings tall as winter skies,
grow the ghosts of vanquished walnut trees.
Below them, foundations slowly crack and shift.
The woods are oaks and spread their woody fingers over us.
Paint peels on the aging signs, this one a toothy squirrel
holding up a paw: You must be this tall to ride alone.
The girl running the carousel is a madonna, that serene.
Tickets are 10 for 10 dollars and curl in the hand like a pet.
Music falls out of the smaller trees, splashes and evaporates.
You must be this tall to ride alone on the child-sized roller coaster,
the tilt-a-whirl, on mini airplanes, on dervishing tea cups hot to the touch.
The bumper cars are broken, heaped together in a junkyard pile, and
the painted eyes on the squirrel are the almost-blue of skim milk.
The boy running the roller coaster can’t stop looking at the carousel madonna
while her horses lift up and down, leather reins worn to brittle strips.
The airplanes have names like Thunderbird and Thundercloud and
there’s no waiting in line here. Two kids on that ride, one on this.
Under the roller coaster, weeds with feathery leaves bend and flower.
Music falls out of trees and into our laps, a little sticky, a little cool.
The rides click and whir, creak to stops, jolt to starts.
The oaks spread their woody fingers and pattern the pavement.
The roller coaster boy has left his post and whispers his plans
into the carousel girl’s benevolent ear. She smiles, still serene, and
takes the curled ticket of a child who runs to find the perfect horse,
who cannot imagine a more shining moment than this.