Sometimes the going seems to be tough, sometimes it is really tough. We watch creatures battling it out with nature, as we see in Margaret Gillies Brown’s poem, or we struggle with our memories and history as in Sandie Craigie’s poem Mother. Sometimes we lead ourselves a dance. Or things happen to us that don’t seem compatible with poetry, awkward events, regrettable outcomes, and the pure chaos of survival.
Most poets try to winnow subjects of sensibility, but sometimes as with Gary Beck’s sequence Hudson River, a larger field is approached, bringing more questions of assimilation and control – where do you start and stop such poems? What is the difference between history and poetry? I will leave you with this to read anyway. Oh yes and sorry, we had a weekend off because of other poetry activity and we all have deadlines to juggle.
Please remember to send us some previously published poems for this ongoing project, email them to sallyevans35@gmail dot com
I would also welcome proposals from poets to run a guest column on this site, collating previously published poems from your contacts, with their permission, and commenting on them.
Margaret Gillies Brown
Lark Singing in a Storm
Hard to sing a love song in a storm
When snow-cold gales blow over white Craigowl,
Last week was pleasant sundrift, bright and warm
But now the sting-sleet rain pelts on the soul
Yet far above me in the lift and throbbing high
A lark sings from a waste of murky sky.
His eggs drowned out, his nest all washed and cold
He knows the pattern, he will start again,
And uncomplaing will remake the mould
Oblivious to anguished loss or pain,
Though mate still shivering on the splashy ground
His hopeful song is yet a happy sound.
These water-fields will have to be re-sown
The grain that is un-chitted now will rot,
An instant loch – as small waves rise I groan
Yet sing within at austere beauty caught
And here I face the paradox again
The tug between deep happiness and pain.
Perhaps, then, it is not all unique
That when disaster strikes, still bliss can rise
The weather in the heart and head is freak
Nests drown, crops rot, too early blossom dies
But if the copious heart is filled with spring,
In spite of hardship some can always sing
First published in Of Rowan and Pearl, 2008
I look for her
in the faces of other women
in the queues of eyes
in the romantics
The last time I saw her
she was in a hospital bed
they told me on my birthday
she had died – I laughed
The woman at the station
betrays me, she has her
roundness – but the book
I don’t think she
even owned one
Once ina blear of wind
and rush of Christmas
I thought I saw her
but that was Princes Street
in nineteen eighty-seven
I look for her in eyes and
smiles and Irish accents
in Lochend pubs and
in the Waverley Buildigns
of the Cowgate
But even they are gone
Once I thought I’d
caught her eye
across a cafeteria
It was my own reflection
Blind and frightened
I turned to look for her
in other women
Performances c 1990, included in Coogit Bairns, Red Squirrel Press, 2015
HUDSON RIVER (TO GEORGE E. PATAKI)
Henry Hudson sailed upriver,
then only used by Indians,
who casually shared with fish, fowl, beasts.
How could he foresee, telescoping from his poop deck,
eyeing intimidating forests that concealed the new world,
crammed full of gold, goblins, god knows what,
on that Half Moon, half miracle observation spot,
the hopes, prayers, fears and lust that propelled the planks
faster than oars, the crew pausing only to commit
the first recorded crimes in the new world,
kidnapping and dispensing liquor to the Indians, without a license.
Although not actually boasting, history takes pride in you
Henry H., obviously overlooking your rough ways
and traditional discoverer’s crude exploitation,
for after all you helped introduce civilization.
Then the noble river ran,
clean and pure,
to the untainted sea.
The Dutch immigrants neared your shores,
at first intimidated by untamed forests,
then went wild for what they saw
and religiously, six days per week,
began to disrupt animal, vegetable, mineral,
anything interfering with the prompt establishment
of old Amsterdam in New Amsterdam.
They disported on the Sabbath,
cherished kitchen, children, church,
while underfed portraitists, enamored of rosy cheeks,
benevolent glance and shapely hands,
sanguinely rebrushed their subjects,
eagerly praising the purveyors of power,
the acquirers on the installment plan
of anything they could grab, snatch, ingest, digest,
as they inflicted traditional European values
on fruitful woods, rich earth, endless game,
and only the locals to deal with, fair or foul.
It didn’t take long for the colonists to notice
that the Indians lacked friends in high places,
so the inevitable encroachments led to conflict
and burgher housing replaced the wigwam.
Then the noble river ran…
Peter Stuyvesant stumped his city
dreaming a replica of the old world
and gave his loyal follower Joseph Bronck
a reward of a large chunk of the Bronx.
Then the English sailed into the harbor,
and their eyes popped at what they saw,
which they compared to their meager towns.
They promptly evicted the Dutch, who lacked the means
to resist the latest affliction on hospitable shores,
and English quickly shoved the local dialects aside,
spreading the word as fast as the forest fell to hungry axes;
We’re here to stay, no matter what you do or say!
The French finally noticed the unruly Brits
and felt their threat to the fur trade,
as well as traditional rivalry and Gallic pride,
sufficient cause to deploy formal European armies.
Of course the distant masters of the new realms
had no idea how to dispute on the vast continent,
so their generals mostly fumbled and bumbled,
alienating the colonists with their haughty ways,
and provoking the Indians to unethical massacres.
clean and pure…
The leading members of the 13 colonies
did pretty well for themselves in the new world
and resented the distant rulership of kings.
They evaded or resisted authority,
as the well-to- do always seem to do,
never losing profits during upheavals,
though perhaps regretting the tea lost in Boston harbor.
Finally the armed conflict began
between the colonists and the home government,
and George III was appalled at their ingratitude.
War swirled up and down the Hudson and when it was over,
the sunken ships and cadavers made no impression on you, river.
And the towns and cities on your shores flourished
as fast as the new nation spread beyond the Appalachians.
But ex-mama England was still pining for her lost child
and tested the new owners in a clumsy war
that proved the old order unfit to rule vast America.
to the untainted sea…
So we whipped the British twice, and the Indians,
bought out the French, bluffed the Russians,
finally realized we had a huge land to settle
and opened the shores to white folk of substance.
The shock of shocks was when the barely human Irish
poured in by the thousands, tolerating degradations
just for the chance to grow a few subsistence spuds.
Some of them arrived in time to spill some blood
in the Mexican War, one of our finest land grabs,
that alerted the European powers that the new kid on the block,
puppy America, was voracious for expansion.
And steam began to replace sail to the promised land.
We quickly adopted ex-mama England’s industrial revolution,
littering your shores with crude manufactures, river,
and a new class of magnates soared in the North,
disdained, then feared by the agricultural barons of the South.
Invoking the traditional problem solving method, bloody war,
Americans slaughtered each other while their masters profited.
But enough Irish lost limb or life to claim their fair share
of the delirious promises made by the U.S. Constitution.
still clean and pure…
Then the soldiers Blue and Gray, weary of the bloody fray,
returned from the uncivil battlefields of decision.
The grateful government pointed the warriors west
for free land, with only pesky Indians in the way,
an easy chore after the rifles of Johnny Reb,
and once across the distant Mississippi
the battle hardened veterans weren’t around
to scrutinize the shady doings in Washington, D.C.
Crouched between your banks, river, you watched industry grow.
The ravaged South began to rebuild, still burdened
by many glances backwards to illusion time,
but others labored mightily to rejoin the present.
This time they crossed you, river, not to return,
and ever westward, in an ever mounting flow,
land grabbing peasants made their way
across mountains, rivers, deserts, no obstacles allowed
to halt the ravenous spread of manifest destiny.
The puppeteers who make government policy
hired clever propagandists to justify
serious snatching of someone else’s property.
Then again, America was founded on larceny.
7. Giant Step
We had a lot of new muscle to flex
and the land was pacified from sea to shining…
Except for the poor, dispossessed, needy and disadvantaged,
young America was happy, eager for a worldly role.
Factories sprang up on your shores, Hudson, new enterprises
of small pith and moment, hungry for profits,
discarding failure into your concealing waters.
So our masters looked around for the right adversary
and the decadent Spanish Empire was our lucky choice.
After a minimal investment of blood, limbs, lives,
we snatched Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines,
and suddenly we were a player on the world scene,
strutting, but not fretting, on the stage of power.
Yet the birds on your shores, river, the fish in your waters,
had no champion to protect their civil rights.
Too late to snatch juicy chunks of Africa or Asia,
young America defended the rights of the colonized,
as long as we could virtuously bark loudly,
but not bite the hands that fed our business.
We watched the big European dogs battle for the bones,
picked the winning side and became a big dog.
the slightly tainted sea…
So we won the first world war, then lost the peace,
bamboozled by those tricky Europeans
into squandering the fruits of victory.
So we picked up our marbles, went home and sulked.
We had a lot of bitter lessons to digest,
until we got bored and conjured up an economic storm
that targeted farmers and laborers,
who were tossed so deep into a depression
that they could not turn their wrathful eyes
on malfeasance in Washington, D.C.,
where officials babbled of a chicken in every pot.
Yet the smokestacks belched profits on your shores, river.
Now that the fertile ground was properly prepared
for the next war of acquisition, all that remained
was the appropriate selection of the candidate enemy.
We considered many choices, but opted for a former friend.
No one else was threatening enough to deny Pacific expansion.
So we sold Japan steel to build ships, planes, tanks,
then cut the oil supply that ran the cherished toys.
And when they came out of the sun that Sunday morning,
we the people screamed foul,
but the lords of profit whispered fair.
Then oil and blood began to taint the sea.
9. Wind-up Cop
Our legions strode across Africa, Asia, Australia,
finally arrived in Europe and crushed the German juggernaut.
Then the sons of the good old USA went home,
renouncing military conquest for college credits.
Meanwhile, the sons of Mother Russia had no tractors,
so they refused to go home and starve on the cold steppes,
and remained in half of Europe, gawking, stealing, replacing the Nazis
with Uncle Joe’s version of post war government,
while Uncle Sam’s kids, weary of the years of slaughter,
went back to school to prepare for a better life.
And the corporations gave the ex GIs jobs,
while they dumped their waste in your waters, river.
Yet the lords of profit could have established Pax Americana,
but lacked the will, or balls, or feared the loss of net income.
Instead they sniped at the red menace, dividing countries
that became festering sores on the unhealthy world body,
until one fine June day, half of Korea invaded the other half,
and GI Joe was abruptly yanked from the classroom
and sent unprepared, halfway around the world
to fight half an Asian country, without knowing why.
But Uncle Sam said trust me, you have to go,
so our loyal sons dusted off their weapons
and faithfully marched off to war again.
Radiation juices seeped into your waters
and the grateful fishes glowed in the dark.
So we dwindled the not-a- war in Korea,
until the opponents faced each other at the starting point,
where the sons of the red, white and blue had been fought to a standstill
where the sons of the red, white and blue had been fought to a standstill
by the hordes of Gengis Khan, who mocked our legions.
And the national spirit was soured by non-victory.
But the lords of profit achieved their greatest dream,
a standing army that needed endless supplies,
food, shelter, clothing, weapons, wine, women, song,
all provided to Uncle Sugar for top dollar.
And the chemicals were too costly to dispose of,
so PCB’s were dumped into your waters, gentle river,
that never surged like the Ohio or the Nile,
that destroyed its helpless neighbors.
And your fish became contaminated,
yet few noticed the toxic assault on your navigable body,
for the times they were a changing and undercitizens
demanded constitutional rights and children of the privileged agreed.
So the lords of profit selected a new Asian diversion
and sent our sons to fight another war with half a country.
Our loyal kids died by the thousands, obediently serving
a terrible cause that was unworthy of their sacrifice.
Yet the coffers of the rich gained as never before,
replacing over and over again, lost planes, tanks, guns, lives.
And when the dying was done and the survivors came home,
no one was held accountable for the bumper crop of body bags.
Chemicals and oil now stain your murky currents.
And the legions returned from the ‘Nam’,
scorned by their fellow Americans
for answering the call to arms,
just like their heroic daddies did.
No welcome home parades greeted them,
because they betrayed our country
by patriotically serving
in the first war of American defeat.
And the engineers who planned the war
chortled with glee when they got away with murder.
A large dose of public entertainment and comforts
made it easy to eat the flower of forgetfulness,
and renounce the shameful past for the promised dream,
excluding the usual underclass.
For the wealthy have decreed that some must always do without,
so others will appreciate their rank and station.
Then many benefited from democracy
and the sons and daughters of prosperity
forgot their obligations to the nation.
And The healthiest inhabitants of your waters, river,
old tires, plastic bottles, chemical gunk, used condoms,
race the few remaining fish to the polluted sea.
Good old Uncle Sam took it on the chin
from everybody for a while,
until the Wall came tumbling down
and the people danced in the streets.
The lords of profit grimaced
when the lucrative cold war ended
and quickly considered new conflicts.
But doubt had seeped into our genes,
so the right opponent was needed
to divert us from drugs, crime, AIDS, not caring.
We had been kicked out of Africa,
defeated in Southeast Asia,
we were being easedout of Europe
and we couldn’t mess with the touchy Latinos.
All that was left was the oil bitch middle east.
Khaddafi was still sulking in his tent,
so the wheel of fortune selected Saddam,
who won the ugliest man in the world contest.
And when our soldiers squashed him a bit,
the simple-minded rejoiced at old-fashioned victory,
despite the paltry opposition,
and awarded the legions a triumph.
We approached the year 2000, apprehensive
that our computers would not function.
And distracted by our superficial pleasures
in Armani suits and costly imported cars,
we ignored the march of drugs and AIDS
that ravaged our country like plagues of eld.
Now that assembly lines are run by robots
and food is grown in automated fields
and production is controlled by the oppressive few,
the programmers of the world will not unite
to support the endless struggle for liberty,
for they lack the toughness and endurance
for the age old conflict with the bosses.
Software does not prepare our sons and daughters
for sacrifice on the altar of freedom.
It is too late to resurrect the callused hands and stubborn backs
of farmers, workers, laborers, those accustomed to resist,
although they must always be defeated
by the tyranny of the lords of profit.
The stock market crash, river,
will fill your waters with the corpses
of those who can’t survive loss of comfort.
that we all breathe the same air.
Then corporations purchased legislators, river,
who passed laws that allowed the flooding of your waters
with toxins, while the people slumbered.
From Civilised Ways