Invictus, Harlem

5 December 2014

Dear Friends,

On the one year anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela and a morning after participating in a demonstration (I am grateful to have had the opportunity and appreciate that I was not arrested, even though the organizers were) in Indianapolis for respect for young Black males–Black Lives Matter–I share a poem that was read at the protest–“Harlem,” by Langston Hughes and “Invictus,” by William Henley. The latter is a poem that inspired Nelson Mandela, and its words, “Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed” seem appropriate today and every day. I am captain of my soul, I am master of mine own destiny–as are you.

BY LANGSTON HUGHES
What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Invictus

BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Solitude

29 October 2014

Dear Friends,

To commemorate both my sister and my dear friend Jennifer’s birthday, I wanted to use an Edgar Allan Poe poem to celebrate Jennifer’s hometown of Baltimore, charm city. But, as anyone of you knows who has read an Edgar Allan Poe poem, you know how sad and dreary they are. So I’ve chosen this beautiful palm and hope that you enjoy it as well.

Solitude
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth,
But has trouble enough of it’s own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits

27 October 2014

Dear Friends,

My dear friend Peter Temes shared this poignantly ironic poem with me years
ago, and for some reason I have been thinking about it this weekend. Perhaps
the reason is that the cashier at my local market has this name, and every
time he calls me Michael, I am fearful to call him by his name.

Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits

No one asks
where I am from,
I must be
from the country of janitors,
I have always mopped this floor.
Honduras, you are a squatter’s camp
outside the city
of their understanding.

No one can speak my name,
I host the fiesta
of the bathroom,
stirring the toilet
like a punchbowl.
The Spanish music of my name
is lost
when the guests complain
about toilet paper.

What they say
must be true:
I am smart
but I have a bad attitude.

No one knows
that I quit tonight,
maybe the mop
will push on without me,
sniffing along the floor
like a crazy squid
with stringy gray tentacles.
They will call it Jorge.

— Martín Espada

Icarus’ Fall

24 October 2104

Dear Friends,

On this cold, dreary morning, I hope that you enjoy this allusion to the boy who flew too close to the sun.

Icarus’ Fall
by Jeanette P. S.
As he fell into autumn
He marvelled
And smiled
Despite his fate
Her colours so stong
And her powers unreal
His hands
Still not cooled
After the fire he felt
When he reached out
To touch her hair
Under a perfect blue sky

He fell
And with the colours he faded
Into different shades
Of darkness

Trees

23 October 2014

Dear Friends,

What a beautiful poem. I hope that it’s simplicity inspires you.

Trees
by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Leisure

Dear Friends,

After a leisurely weekend, either celebrating Columbus Day or Rethinking Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day, I thought that you would enjoy this poem, which will gently bring you back into the work week.

Godspeed,

Michael

W. H. Davies

“Leisure”

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Anne Sexton’s “Courage”

A sobering poem by a strong 20th Century voice:

Courage
It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
comver your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.​