In the dahlia garden…
There are poems, and then there is poetry- there are pieces you read that do not effect you, or that you enjoy but never think about. Then there are poems that are poetry- words strung together that seem to grab whatever it is that feels like a soul inside you and rips it open, squeezes it dry. Demands that your eyes consume it again and again, in it’s entirety, in certain lines, or stanzas or coupling of words. There is poetry that builds a fire inside you and it burns with a heat the demands your attention. Makes you want to grab people, shake them awake, screaming, “This! This!” while jabbing at the words that are articulating what you never even knew you felt, you believed in.
The first poem I read by Jamaal May was “There are Birds Here”, found in an issue of Poets and Writers. I’ve harbored a fascination with Detroit that most likely stems from my grandmother being born in Michigan and my love of derelict buildings. But lately it’s the locals who have grabbed my attention, those who called it home and never left. Those who take care of their families, their neighbors, regardless of what the media says about their communities, what outsiders believe they know.
“There are Birds Here” tore me open. I must have read it a dozen or more time when I first discovered it. Over and over, hungry for it in pieces, in it’s entirety. It begins with a series of refusals to the darkness outsiders first perceive and ends with a song of light and shadow that illuminates the world. You can read it here.
Jamaal May has two bodies of work in publication; Hum and The Big Book of Exit Strategies. But how do you even begin to review them? There is so much here that demands attention; from the simple scene of three men clustered in a cold driveway, examining a nonworking car, to Jamaal pushing past marine recruiters in school hallways, hoping others will choose words over war. His poetry doesn’t just show you a point of view, it gives you his literal vision, distorted by earlier struggles, it gives you his wants and needs, his pain and his past. What his hands feel, what his heart perceives.
It must be said, even though I am a small voice in a cacophony of song; My United States stands for everyone, no exclusions. Acts of violence are deplorable, condemnable, but they are not a generalizations embraced by entire cultures, peoples, countries. We forget too easily the walls that we have brought down in the past. We don’t think about the people we see going home to families, worrying about the bills, falling in love. Experiencing things through the same set of neurons and synapse that the rest of us do. It shouldn’t have to be said, but we will keep saying it till then; Being different is OK, and you should not have to be afraid to be who you are, believe what you do, or look how you feel you should. We see you, and we want you here.
Yesterday, amidst the sleet and grey skies, running through the gusting winds, I had a sudden strong urge for summer. The middle of summer, to be specific, when it’s a glorious 100+ degrees Fahrenheit, and every morning starts with a riot of bird song, and the wind is still, waiting for September.
What better time to revisit a summer’s day spent at the river? The Yuba is dangerous most of the year, but once the snow melt runs through to the sea and the flood waters recede, it’s warm, clear waters and quartz-strewn banks will welcome us back.
How about a trip up highway 49?
She awoke, to find she’d been dreaming,
She awoke to find a light gleaming,
There in the distance, so golden and faint,
She awoke to find she’d been dreaming.
She arose to find she’d been laying,
She arose to find they’d been praying,
For her to be quiet, for her to stay still,
She arose, she was tired of staying.
She strode towards that far-off faint light,
She strode passed the limits of sight,
Into the shadows and into the wild,
She strode far away from their spite.
She struggled and fought to be free of their shame,
She struggled and fought and walked through the flame,
Unscathed and unbroken, no longer afraid,
to the freedom
she meant to reclaim.
She made a place for herself far away,
She made a home for her light to stay,
Away from their hatred, away from their ire,
She would keep all their demons at bay.
She burned all the brighter from her journey through hell,
She burned all her bridges, she tolled every bell,
There was no backward glance as she walked away,
She burned like a forest that no one could fell.
She basked in the light of the freedom she made,
She basked and she gloried, no longer afraid,
Of a time spent in shadow, in others regrets,
She reveled in glory, her light like a blade.
She cut through the shadows, she cut through the night,
She cut open the darkness, to let in the light,
It was there, in light’s bleeding, she found her kingdom,
Where she was the dragon, and she was the knight.
Every story was hers, to tell and be told,
Every tale was wondrous, every story was bold,
Filled with joy and forgiveness, pride and respect,
And the every day hope of a light made of gold.
Today is for the birds…