Friday, February 23, 2018

The Living Dead

Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he cinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me shall you be overcome.

– Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

In times of war, governments are inclined to introduce conscription, the compulsory drafting of young men into the military. That makes refusing the draft a criminal offence, for which conscientious objectors can be imprisoned. In both the United States and Australia this happened during the Vietnam War. Many conscientious objectors went into hiding; many others were arrested and imprisoned.

Even when the draft was not compulsory, refusing it could be seen as an act of cowardice or a lack of patriotism, as in Britain during the First World War.

This poem suggests that the Conscientious Objector of the title not only does not wish to die too early himself but also doesn't wish to kill others – which of course has always been the main reason for such a stance. Many such men (we are talking of times when combatants were always male) chose to serve as stretcher-bearers at the front, rather than fighters. (My late husband Andrew's father was one. He survived the war.)

I like the speaker's defiant refusal to countenance Death – at the same time as making a few small jokes about him.

Most if not all of us dislike the idea of war; however a case can be made for the necessity of defending one's country or even coming to the aid of others. (I was glad when Australia and other nations intervened to stop Indonesian aggression in East Timor.) Nevertheless I can sympathise with the speaker in this poem – and with the way the poet slyly likens military service to both fox-hunting and the worst evils of slavery. A manipulative argument, perhaps, but valid enough sentiments to put in the mouth of one who is so anti-death.

It is the anti-death (rather than anti-war) message that speaks to me at present, in the wake of yet another school shooting in the US. No matter how one thinks this matter should be addressed, I'm sure we are all agreed that there has been far too much death!

A brilliant and popular poet (and a favourite of mine) Millay has appeared previously at Poets United – quoted frequently in "Midweek Motif" and featured 
by me in "I Wish I'd Written This", by Kim Nelson in "Classic Poetry" and by Robert Lloyd in "Poet History". Both Kim's and Robert's articles detail her life story, if you'd like to know more about her.

Her books are still extensively advertised on Amazon, where several biographies also appear.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Voice

Daniella Zalcman’s project “Signs of Your Identity” explores
the legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools

 Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015

“When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” 

“. . . she was afraid of hearing her own voice come out of her heart and be covered with blood. . . . ” 

"Powerlessness and silence go together.” 

“. . . . only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. 
And that is not speaking.” 

"Cop in the Head"
Graphic by Morgan Andrews
Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed

Midweek Motif ~ Voice

In this motif, voice is not a literary technique, but the willingness to speak from a specific point of view despite fear of consequences.  That is today's theme: the bravery or bravado of insisting on having a voice.

According to Voltaire, "“Writing is the painting of the voice.”  I love the ambiguity of this definition when applied to today's motif:  Does "the voice" paint?  Does writing paint "the voice"?  

Your Challenge:  In your new poem, paint a voice and make us hear it.  


― excerpt from Woman and Nature: 

“He says that woman speaks with nature. That she hears voices from under the earth. That wind blows in her ears and trees whisper to her. That the dead sing through her mouth and the cries of infants are clear to her. But for him this dialogue is over. He says he is not part of this world, that he was set on this world as a stranger. He sets himself apart from woman and nature.

And so it is Goldilocks who goes to the home of the three bears, Little Red Riding Hood who converses with the wolf, Dorothy who befriends a lion, Snow White who talks to the birds, Cinderella with mice as her allies, the Mermaid who is half fish, Thumbelina courted by a mole. (And when we hear in the Navajo chant of the mountain that a grown man sits and smokes with bears and follows directions given to him by squirrels, we are surprised. We had thought only little girls spoke with animals.)

We are the bird's eggs. Bird's eggs, flowers, butterflies, rabbits, cows, sheep; we are caterpillars; we are leaves of ivy and sprigs of wallflower. We are women. We rise from the wave. We are gazelle and doe, elephant and whale, lilies and roses and peach, we are air, we are flame, we are oyster and pearl, we are girls. We are woman and nature. And he says he cannot hear us speak.

But we hear.” 

"There's machinery in the butterfly; 
There's a mainspring to the bee; 
There's hydraulics to a daisy, 
And contraptions to a tree. 

"If we could see the birdie 
That makes the chirping sound 
With x-ray, scientific eyes, 
We could see the wheels go round." 

And I hope all men 
Who think like this 
Will soon lie 
so he said: you ain’t got no talent   
    if you didn’t have a face   
    you wouldn’t be nobody

and she said: god created heaven and earth   
    and all that’s Black within them

so he said: you ain’t really no hot shit   
    they tell me plenty sisters   
    take care better business than you

and she said: on the third day he made chitterlings   
    and all good things to eat   
    and said: “that’s good”

so he said: if the white folks hadn’t been under   
    yo skirt and been giving you the big play
    you’d a had to come on uptown like everybody else

and she replied: then he took a big Black greasy rib
    from adam and said we will call this woeman and her   
    name will be sapphire and she will divide into four parts   
    that simone may sing a song

and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu

so she replied: show me someone not full of herself   
    and i’ll show you a hungry person


Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—

    (Next week Sumana’s Motif will be ~ Carpe Diem / Seize the Day)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Poems of the Week ~ by Mary, Wendy and Kathleen

This week, my friends, we are contemplating poems written by Mary, who blogs at In the Corner of My Eye, Wendy, of Words and Words and Whatnot,  and Kathleen Everett, of The Course of Our Seasons. Each poem seems, to me, to be a wonderful response to the darkness of the news we are taking in these days. Each poet has a unique response and, taken together, I hope they uplift your heart and help you keep your balance as we move through troubled times. Let's take a look.

We are Ready

We are ready to dance
not the slow cheek to cheek dance
not the sensual melodic tango
but the we-will-fight-through-the-night dance
the we-won't-ever-give-up (take that!) waltz
where we clench teeth and raise our arms
we shake fists in the face of injustice.

We are ready to dance
not the sumptuous sexy samba
not the kick the heels kind of jive
but the don't-you-dare-mess-with-me dance
you can't fool us with your lies
we put no stock in your twisted words
we shake fists in the face of injustice.

We are ready to dance
not the hate and-racial-discrimination dance
not the stomp-on-gay-and-immigrant-rights dance
but the fight-for-life-and-do-it-now dance
you can't trample the ones we love
we will rise again before too long
we shake fists in the face of injustice.

We are ready to dance!

Sherry: I love the liveliness, fire and determination in this poem. We will not only Overcome, we will sing and dance while doing so! I loved this, Mary!

Mary: In this poem, I wanted to express, in a unique way, a sense of being empowered to take action. So I thought about different types of dances and how they could be used to express what I wanted to portray. I was actually quite pleased with how it turned out, and each time I read it again I can feel my adrenalin flowing (LOL), so I feel I succeeded in accomplishing my goal.

Sherry: I feel you did, too. Wonderfully!

burden of ancients

I had expected
I would be more at peace
at this place in my life, for ...
I have sought it
these many years,
in my way

I carry the weighty woes
of this planet,
like a big bass drum,
to the fragile heartbeat
of our earth

to know
what it is, to live …
is to know,
that survival is precarious and hard

perhaps, ancients
are not meant
to find peace
in bearing witness to
failure to exist harmoniously
and with diligence

perhaps, it is part of the price we pay,
for the gift of long life –
the burden of owning
the state of the world
we will leave behind, at passing

“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit. … We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.” – David Suzuki: Canadian environmentalist, scientist, and writer.

Sherry: I so feel the weight of it, Wendy, the burden of the world we are passing along to our children and grandchildren. Worse at this moment than we ever could have foreseen.

Wendy: The theme of ‘burden of ancients’ is climate change – but, more than that, it is about humankind’s utter ineptitude to come to terms with it.  The staggering arrogance and ignorance of the ‘powers that be’ who could and should put in place, a strategy for combatting the truly frightening planetary changes, we are facing, is shocking.  The possibility of world leaders arriving at a consensus of basic, common sense initiatives, that might, at the very least, slow the decline (while innovative scientific and technological solutions are sought) seems – at this point in time – further out of reach, than ever.  For those of us who care about life on this planet – who care about the quality of life we are leaving to our children – it is a constant heartache.   That is probably why, I find my way to this theme again and again – even when I don’t set out in that particular direction.  It is very much on my mind. 

I have mentioned the findings of the 2007, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change before, but it bears repeating.  That panel (of 2,500 scientists in 130 countries overseen by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization) warned that millions of human lives and nearly a third of the planet's wildlife and plant species could be wiped out if global temperatures rise as little as 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius.  The Panel predicted a rise of between 1.8 and 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, if measures are not put in place to reverse the current trend.  Needless to say, the earth will be feeling the effects of global warming long before the end of this century.  Indeed, it already is.  Climate change is real.  We see the effects of it, virtually every day, on our nightly news.   

The stunning prediction by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was issued 10 years ago.  Since then, very little – in terms of what is required to stem this looming disaster – has been enacted.  In fact, it could be argued, that we are moving backwards.  In a move, many experts deemed: catastrophic, the United States (under the leadership of President Trump) opted to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord in June of 2017, denouncing it as a violation of U.S. sovereignty.  I find that terrifying:  not for myself (I have lived my life); I find it terrifying for the children of this earth and for all life on this planet.  It is a burden, I fear, I will carry with me to my grave … as will my fellow ‘ancients’ of conscience. 

Sherry: As will I, my friend. Thank you for these wise words. 

Kathleen and her mother,
whom she sadly lost last year

an invitation

"Into this world,
this demented inn,
where there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes, uninvited."
- Thomas Merton

Turning off the news

(Suffering world)

I walk down the path to the waters edge

(Despairing angels weep at every fence post)

The cold wind whips the water into a froth against 
the gray stony bank

(Where is He in all of this?)

Autumn's landscape has changed to winter

(Pray for us now)

The world, hard and cold, in its fallow season

(And at the hour of our death)

I toss pieces of bread to the small wild ducks

(Peace be with you)

As they sail away,

(and also with you)

I turn toward home.

Sherry: So sorrowful, so beautiful, Kathleen.

Kathleen: This poem was written a few years ago at the beginning of the Advent season after another mass shooting in our country. The saddest part of that statement is that I can't tell you which one.

 I had run across the quote and, adding that to the season of the year and the news of another tragedy, the poem came together in a kind of call and response. 

Using religious imagery and scenes of the natural world that I find outside my door, this poem became quieter and more prayerful- an invitation, an invocation.

Sherry: One feels the prayerfulness, reading your beautiful words, Kathleen. Thank you for sharing the beauty and peace of this poem with us. You give us a place to go for comfort when the news is just too dark – out into the beauty of the world, waiting so patiently for humankind to awaken.

[My friends, Kathleen wanted me to tell you she has had a computer crash and may not be able to come in and respond to comments, as she only has her tiny phone. But she will read and be most appreciative of your words, nevertheless.]

Thank you, Mary, Wendy and Kathleen, for your beautiful, uplifting and inspiring words.  We hope these poems helped add something positive to your day, my friends. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!