An aside on poetry readings

Catching up on my stack of Harper’s magazine, I came across a remembrance of the poet Etheridge Knight, and it stirred a long buried memory.

Etheridge? I paused, before remembering he was a black inmate of the Indiana State Penientiary when he began writing seriously. Damn good stuff, as I discovered.

My introduction came in the mid ’70s when Roger Pfiingston asked if I wanted to go with him up to Indianapolis, aka Naptown, to a reading and open mic. I was free that night. The trip from Bloomington was a little over an hour, and he was driving.

The event was at a bar in the inner city, not a familiar terrain, and Etheridge was hosting. I should go back to my journals for details, but I recall it as a warm and comforting evening. I think Jared Carter was the featured reader. Another damned good Indiana poet.

I was a bit nervous about one of the pieces I’d brought with me, one that quoted a friend’s father about a lover in the ’30s, but I read it anyway.

The line in question triggered delighted, loud laughter from Etheridge, especially. I was sooooh relieved!

Looking back, I see it as one more confirmation – and welcome – as my identity as a poet.

What a wonderful community!

AS A FOOTNOTE AT THE TABLE

I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.

These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)

Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.

Returning 1

~*~

For the poems, click here.

SOMETHING MORE COMPELLING

Looking at my new lineup at Smashwords, I felt one cover just didn’t match.

The first round of my editions there had covers that were an homage to Richard Brautigan’s classic books of the ’60s, each of which had a portrait of a pretty young woman.

As I looked at the cover image, though, it felt dated. Looking closer, I realized it also didn’t reflect the edginess of the contents. I wanted something more compelling than a woman in quiet reflection.

So here’s what we have now:

Blue Rock

Rather than this:

Blue Rock

Whaddya think? For more, go to Blue Rock.

FAMILY VALUES

Mrs. Richardson had been yelling at the kid
the fifth-grade girl who came around to our door
begging money to pay the babysitter

Mrs. Richardson yelled at the grandchild
for three days, and spanked her

then they were crying, in different parts of the building
all the while, their phonograph repeated
“the angels sing, glory to the newborn king”

~*~

Mrs. Richardson was pale as death
her face, hollow as a skull; hair, powder gray
her lips were chalky, and the eyes barely moved
she was thin as a broomstick

her son returned, with a cardboard suitcase
and cowboy boots
he wouldn’t stay long, if he could help it

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015

 

PRELUDE & FUGUE 28/

an elephant with flowers painted
around the eyes and painted toenails

four zebras sipping water

*   *   *

luxurious green tent on safari white bone
ornaments through noses armed for the hunt
and cocktails already served
three African bushmen in a field of wrinkled flesh
eyelid (the elephant) the rain
is needed, sticky or no sticky (unlike the rhino)

zebras, black and white in a splash of vibrant green
with netting over the bed
luxurious green tent on safari white
bone ornaments through their noses
armed for the hunt and cocktails
already served three bushmen in a field
of wrinkled African flesh, an eyelid (the elephant)
the rain is needed, sticky or no sticky
(unlike the rhino) zebras, black and white

in a splash of vibrant green            with netting
over the bed’s luxurious green safari tent
white bone noses armed for the ornamental
hunt cocktails served by three bushmen
in an African field of wrinkled eyelids needing rain
sticky or no sticky the elephant (unlike the rhino) or
zebras, black and white in a splash
of vibrant green netting over the bed ornaments

beasts leaping from dust into a tropical river
before a tiger atop a car spirals between
four zebras sipping water the way
a camel’s nose runs ahead of its mouth:

the hairy trunk and mouth of an elephant, so spotted
forages on hind legs, trunk and tusks upraised to the tree

the elephant with flowers painted
around the eyes and painted toenails
still leaps from the dust into a tropical river

a camel’s nose runs ahead of its mouth from hind legs
upraised to the tree in front of the tiger
atop a car of spiraling spots

the hairy trunk and mouth with flowers painted
around the eyes guarding four zebras sipping water
and the foraging beasts leap from dust into the river
running ahead of its mouth

a camel on hind legs, the tree painted with flowers
and toenails a feeling of life finally coming together

atop a car, four zebras leap from the dust
into a hairy river and forage
a feeling of life finally coming together these days

~*~

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see all 50 Preludes & Fugues, click here.