My Species

After weeks of heaviness and sorrow, weight and tragedy, I wanted a poem that contained everything deep and mystifying that is life on this earth right now, but wrapped in hope. I found that airiness that belies the power within in a Jane Hirshfield poem. I hope you enjoy it, and that your heart becomes tender.

My Species
by Jane Hirshfield

even
a small purple artichoke
boiled
in its own bittered
and darkening
waters
grows tender,
grows tender and sweet
patience, I think,
my species
keep testing the spiny leaves
the spiny heart

Aloha, Lili’uokalani

It has been ironic and inspiring—but certainly not surprising—that some of the most vocal opposition, both social and legal, to the controversies of the last few months have come out of Hawaii. Hawaiian poets have been speaking out against colonialism, government oppression, and the hidden and not-so-hidden perils of capitalism since their first contact with Europeans.

There are countless fantastic Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander poets and poems (many of which can be found in the excellent anthologies Whetu Moana and Mauri Ola). One that I’ve been drawn to recently is Kirby M. Wright’s “Aloha, Lili’uokalani,” a sobering lament for a bygone time and disappearing culture.

Aloha, Lili’uokalani
by Kirby M. Wright

Queen Lili’uokalani, where is our aina?
My memories are a mixture of slack key,
Plumeria, and Kona wind in the trees.
I measure the trades with a desperate tongue.
Kapiolani is a park. Kaiulani is a hotel.
It is no longer enough to watch
The winter tide test the persistence of shores.
Lili’uokalani, do you see what I see?
Do you see my hotel uniform drying
On a balcony overlooking H-1 Freeway?
Honolulu windows burn a thousand suns.
But it keeps raining out at sea.
The rain comes warm, unexpected.
Do you, Queen Lili’uokalani,
Hold back tears for what you lost?
Did you carry your grief into heaven?
Paradise falls to us in pieces,
Pieces governed by the highest bidders.
Their blueprints cover sacred land with walls.
Walls to protect investments.
Walls to exclude the less fortunate.
Walls to keep Hawaiians out.
Kapus make Hawai’i a land of strangers.
Beach access is a narrow path between estates,
A strip of crushed coral and flowering weeds.
Sometimes I see the rich dipping their toes
In the chlorine safety of oceanfront pools.
Dear Lili’uokalani, Hawai’i is fee simple.
Hawai’i is fair market value.
Hawai’i is for sale and already sold.
A shadow falls on Iolani Palace.
Now Kalakaua is an avenue
Ruled by stoplights and crosswalks.
Likelike and Kamehameha
Are remembered only as highways.
The majority encourages progress.
The majority is no longer Hawaiian.

Still I Rise

I’m reminded this week that, in the midst of daunting odds, constant anxiety, and an endless stream of terribleness, there are those who are not daunted, who are not anxious, who see joy and promise and hope for our collective future. Not everything that goes bad is bad, and not everything that is bad stays bad. It’s up to us to build the world in which we’d like to live, and that begins with having the power, positivity, and confidence to inspire ourselves.

There are few poems that exemplify this attitude and approach to the world better than “Still I Rise.” Maya Angelou’s work is perhaps the most consistently excellent of the 20th century. Every poem feels surprising and familiar at once, joyful and grave, lighthearted and sincere. Her words are spoken music, and they never fail to inspire.

Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

The Rhythm of Time

I’ve been absolutely floored by yesterday’s repeal of the ACA and replacement with the disgusting AHCA, which essentially robs the poor to lower taxes for the rich. I have to believe that time will prove these callous politicians to be in the wrong and that the march of progress will win out, but the fight looks to be a long one.

With this in mind I was reminded of the long fights that others have been through to secure rights and see their beliefs and freedoms recognized. Bobby Sands, a controversial Irish poet who died in prison in 1981 while on a hunger strike, wrote beautiful poems about this fight, this march towards the future, and the difficulties faced along the way.

The Rhythm of Time
by Bobby Sands

There’s an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend?
It has withstood the blows of a million years,
And will do so to the end.

It was born when time did not exist,
And it grew up out of life,
It cut down evil’s strangling vines,
Like a slashing searing knife.

It lit fires when fires were not,
And burnt the mind of man,
Tempering leandened hearts to steel,
From the time that time began.

It wept by the waters of Babylon,
And when all men were a loss,
It screeched in writhing agony,
And it hung bleeding from the Cross.

It died in Rome by lion and sword,
And in defiant cruel array,
When the deathly word was ‘Spartacus’
Along with Appian Way.

It marched with Wat the Tyler’s poor,
And frightened lord and king,
And it was emblazoned in their deathly stare,
As e’er a living thing.

It smiled in holy innocence,
Before conquistadors of old,
So meek and tame and unaware,
Of the deathly power of gold.

It burst forth through pitiful Paris streets,
And stormed the old Bastille,
And marched upon the serpent’s head,
And crushed it ‘neath its heel.

It died in blood on Buffalo Plains,
And starved by moons of rain,
Its heart was buried in Wounded Knee,
But it will come to rise again.

It screamed aloud by Kerry lakes,
As it was knelt upon the ground,
And it died in great defiance,
As they coldly shot it down.

It is found in every light of hope,
It knows no bounds nor space
It has risen in red and black and white,
It is there in every race.

It lies in the hearts of heroes dead,
It screams in tyrants’ eyes,
It has reached the peak of mountains high,
It comes searing ‘cross the skies.

It lights the dark of this prison cell,
It thunders forth its might,
It is ‘the undauntable thought’, my friend,
That thought that says ‘I’m right! ‘