America, Canada #Thanksgiving #poem #Cuba #coffee #Pumpkin

To read the poem skip the long into 🙂

Peanut butter Jam sandwiches came to my notice with a cartoon book by Gary Larson. He showed two cartoons -one of his far side and one of Dennis the Menace- where the quotes under the cartoons had been accidentally (?!) swapped. The Far Side cartoon showed, I think, two dinosaurs fighting ostensibly over peanut butter and jam sandwiches. So…they became my “healthy” after exercise favourites. Nuts are healthy. Fruit is healthy.

My parents being from Indonesia, we ate spicy peanut butter sauce a lot. The derogatory term for families like us in Dutch is “katjangs” (peanuts).  A famous Dutch children’s book is called How the Peanuts came to the Boarding School of mr. Small Tummy (who actually had a fat belly): it is about two mixed Indo-Dutch boys who are sent to the Netherlands.

I guess from the poem that Cubans in Cuba don’t eat much peanut butter, or the generation Blanco talks about anyway. Fried plantain chips though! We had those on Aruba too. And an Indonesian staple as well. Fried plantain so good. It is lovely to have a small store in your neighbourhood where you can the fruits and meats from your childhood or your background.

The poem seems to be about food and food until you read it again and notice some political stuff: stanza I mentions food donations by the Immigration Department. Was this before foodstamps?  II mentions the cuban community coming together to hold on to their dignity and to close their eyes from the loss of status and connections and the racism that would rob them of jobs, of chances, of promotions, of recognition.

III mentions colouring books in class that depict yams and presumably native americans who help the pilgrims survive the winters. A fiction that colours genocide with yellow, brown, and turkey red.

IV is all about politics and the illustrates perfectly the empty words that freedom, liberty and justice can become without hearing all the stories of colonization and opportunity and murder and riches and plantations and community.
I like this verse the least because it feels empty. I like how the child is supported by their family by making concessions on foods.

V The other food, the American food, is judged to be dry and pumpkin pie not suitable for celebrations, for isn’t it medicinal? They tried pleasing everyone and thus pleased no-one.
Who doesn’t forget their worries with dancing…The joy of hearing your sounds, being back where you belong. Or think you belong. When we would go to Indonesian or Caribbean events in the Netherlands, dancing and food were the success we judged the party by. Dancing with someone else of course. None of this on your own nonsense. No loss of connections allowed. Everything aimed to glue us together. Forget the loneliness of another culture for a night.

América
By Richard Blanco

I.
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half a dozen uses for peanut butter—
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer—
Mamá never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.

II.
There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year’s Eve,
even on Thanksgiving day—pork,
fried, broiled, or crispy skin roasted—
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips, and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio’s Mercado on the corner of Eighth Street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything—“Ese hijo de puta!”
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another’s lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.

III.
By seven I had grown suspicious—we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn’t.
We didn’t live in a two-story house
with a maid or a wood-panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on the Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke’s family wasn’t like us either—
they didn’t have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn’t have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.

IV.
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain’s majesty,
“one if by land, two if by sea,”
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the “masses yearning to be free,”
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.

V.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamá set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolas,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworth’s.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
“DRY,” Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly—“esa mierda roja,” he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—
it was 1970 and 46 degrees—
in América.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.

Richard Blanco, “América” from City of a Hundred Fires. Copyright © 1998. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, http://www.pitt.edu/~press/. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
Source: City of a Hundred Fires (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998)

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Love your mama/s and your papa/s. Loving your family!! “Monument in Black” by Vanessa Howard #ValentinesDay #BlackHistorymonth #BlackLivesMatter

I think this is a great idea. Father, mother, grandfather and brother because

they built and sweated the nation.

Easy visual way to think back to what happened and how important they are. I would like to see the aunt and the nieces on the nickels too. All steps in one time. People would forget most of the day who is on their money of course and that’s okay: it can be part of the remembering, one step, one drop or one butterfly flapping. Slow is how it goes. Too slow. Pardon the pun.

Monument in Black by Vanessa Howard!

Put my black father on the penny
put his smile at me on the silver dime
put my mother on the dollar
for they’ve suffered for more than
three eternities of time
and all money couldn’t repay

Make a monument of my grandfather
let him stand in Washington
For he’s suffered more than
three light years
standing idle in the dark
hero of wars that weren’t begun

name a holiday for my brother
on a sunny day peaceful and warm
for he’s fighting for freedom he
won’t be granted
all my black brothers in Vietnam
resting idle in unkept graves.

.

From: My Black Me: A Beginning Book of Black Poetry (A Puffin Poetry Book)
NEW and USED: Abebooks.com My Black Me: A Beginning Book of Black Poetry 
NEW at independent bookstores NEAR you: My Black Me

Yusef Komunyakaa and God.

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Photo: True Groove Records

Interesting spiritual lines, (more beautiful in the poem, so read it all). Yusef Komunyakaa’s first book was the christian bible, and he was a black muslim for some time. The cadence of the bible drew him closer to the texture of language. Komunyakaa is the last name of one of his grandfathers before becoming enslaved and given the name of his owner.

Komunyakaa considered desertion due to his opposition of the Vietnam war; however, he remained in the service in order to “bear witness.”

“Someone could stand here
contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
or the prophecies by fishermen,…

& till the church-steeple birds
fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
he intones redemptive harmonies.

To lie down in remembrance
is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
& sky,

the mind comes back to rest,
stretching out over the white sand.”

 

ISLANDS
For Derek Walcott
An island is one great eye
gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
of glass on the mainland, a seagull’s
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
out to where the brain may stumble.But when a mind climbs down
from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
& has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
& plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
filled up with centuries of waiting.

Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
& seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors’ parrots spoke of sirens,
the last words of men buried at sea.

Someone could stand here
contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
behind today, but tomorrow’s beyond
words. To behold a body of water
is to know pig iron & mother wit.

Whoever this figure is,
he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger’s log,
ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
he intones redemptive harmonies.

To lie down in remembrance
is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
& sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun’s blinding eye,
born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
stretching out over the white sand.

The African Burial Ground

They came as Congo, Guinea, & Angola,
feet tuned to rhythms of a thumb piano.
They came to work fields of barley & flax,

livestock, stone & slab, brick & mortar,
to make wooden barrels, some going
from slave to servant & half-freeman.

They built tongue & groove— wedged
into their place in New Amsterdam.
Decades of seasons changed the city

from Dutch to York, & dream-footed
hard work rattled their bones.
They danced Ashanti. They lived

& died. Shrouded in cloth, in cedar
& pine coffins, Trinity Church
owned them in six & a half acres

of sloping soil. Before speculators
arrived grass & weeds overtook
what was most easily forgotten,

& tannery shops drained there.
Did descendants & newcomers
shoulder rock & heave loose gravel

into the landfill before building crews
came, their guitars & harmonicas
chasing away ghosts at lunch break?

Soon, footsteps of lower Manhattan
strutted overhead, back & forth
between old denials & new arrivals,

going from major to minor pieties,
always on the go. The click of heels
the tap of a drum awaking the dead.

Helene Johnson- Bottled

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Bottled

Upstairs on the third floor
Of the 135th Street Library
In Harlem, I saw a little
Bottle of sand, brown sand,
Just like the kids make pies
Out of down on the beach.
But the label said: “This
Sand was taken from the Sahara desert.”
Imagine that! The Sahara desert!
Some bozo’s been all the way to Africa to get some sand.
And yesterday on Seventh Avenue
I saw a darky dressed to kill
In yellow gloves and swallowtail coat
And swirling at him. Me too,
At first, till I saw his face
When he stopped to hear a
Organ grinder grind out some jazz.
Boy! You should a seen that darky’s face!
It just shone. Gee, he was happy!
And he began to dance. No
Charleston or Black Bottom for him.
No sir. He danced just as dignified
And slow. No, not slow either.
Dignified and proud! You couldn’t
Call it slow, not with all the
Cuttin’ up he did. You would a died to see him.
The crowd kept yellin’ but he didn’t hear,
Just kept on dancin’ and twirlin’ that cane
And yellin’ out loud every once in a while.
I know the crowd thought he was coo-coo.
But say, I was where I could see his face,

And somehow, I could see him dancin’ in a jungle,
A real honest-to cripe jungle, and he wouldn’t leave on them
Trick clothes-those yaller shoes and yaller gloves
And swallowtail coat. He wouldn’t have on nothing.
And he wouldn’t be carrying no cane.
He’d be carrying a spear with a sharp fine point
Like the bayonets we had “over there.”
And the end of it would be dipped in some kind of
Hoo-doo poison. And he’d be dancin’ black and naked and      Gleaming.
And He’d have rings in his ears and on his nose
And bracelets and necklaces of elephants teeth.
Gee, I bet he’d be beautiful then all right.
No one would laugh at him then, I bet.
Say! That man that took that sand from the Sahara desert
And put it in a little bottle on a shelf in the library,
That’s what they done to this shine, ain’t it? Bottled him.
Trick shoes, trick coat, trick cane, trick everything-all glass-
But inside-
Gee, that poor shine!

http://voices.cla.umn.edu/artistpages/johnsonHelene.php That page was researched and submitted by Crystal EsparzaCaroline Klohs, and Camille Cyprian on 12/16/05.

“The man is described as similar to the bottle because both were stolen, labeled, and put on display.

… she takes the bold risk of writing in a negative tone embracing danger, impurity and shame.

She simply states the truths of oppression and racism and brings light to the negative labels and stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream culture.

Johnson’s decision to rejoice in the beauty of darkness was an extraordinary risk due to the racial and gender discrimination that was taking place at the time.”

 

Poem

Little brown boy,
Slim, dark, big-eyed,
Crooning love songs to your banjo
Down at the Lafayette–
Gee, boy, I love the way you hold your head,
High sort of and a bit to one side,
Like a prince, a jazz prince.   And I love
Your eyes flashing, and your hands,
And your patent-leathered feet,
And your shoulders jerking the jig-wa.
And I love your teeth flashing,
And the way your hair shines in the spotlight
Like it was the real stuff.
Gee, brown boy, I loves you all over.
I’m glad I’m a jig. I’m glad I can
Understand your dancin’ and your
Singin’, and feel all the happiness
And joy and don’t care in you.
Gee, boy, when you sing, I can close my ears
And hear tom-toms just as plain.
Listen to me, will you, what do I know
About tom-toms? But I like the word, sort of,
Don’t you? It belongs to us.
Gee, boy, I love the way you hold your head,
And the way you sing, and dance,
And everything.
Say, I think you’re wonderful.    You’re
Allright with me,
You are.

 

America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be! Langston Hughes, Ferguson!

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A writer dreams.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Black History Month- poetry. The Source of the Singing by Marilyn Nelson Waniek

ImageImage

The Source of the Singing

[…]
Under everything this movement,
stars and wind circle around the smaller
circles of the grass, and the birds caged
in the kitchen sing it over and over,
inexplicably in their sweet chirps.

I feel it like sometimes like today
somewhere in my torso, perhaps
sweet in the belly; this must be
what carrying a child is like.
I sit at the table and feel something
move with the pain of just before tears.
What is it the body says to me,
these tender aches that make me glad?
Not even one syllable is clear,
but if you were near I would tell you,
and you might lay your hand where the talking
starts and the pain, where my life
is still moving[…]
and push your warmth into mine,
here, into the source of singing.

Marilyn Nelson Waniek

Black History Month- poetry.

I know why the caged bird sings. Paul Dunbar and Maya Angelou.

Aside

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I know why the caged bird sings”. A line by Paul Dunbar that inspired Maya Angelou.

Sympathy

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

The above poem was published in Lyrics of the Hearthside by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1899.
~~
This is the poem that inspired Maya Angelou’s poem.

© Paul Laurence Dunbar. All rights reserved

 

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou