Word Cloud: SLOW-BURNING

by NONA BLYTH CLOUD

Poetry covers everything. If it ever was, or somebody dreamed it happened, or if somebody felt it happen, then there’s a poem about somewhere.

But in these hard times, I’ve been searching for the answers to the questions in this poem:

For the Consideration of Poets

by Haki R. Madhubuti

where is the poetry of resistance, the poetry of honorable defiance
unafraid of lies from career politicians and business men,
not respectful of journalist who write
official speak void of educated thought
without double search or sub surface questions
that war talk demands?
where is the poetry of doubt and suspicion
not in the service of the state, bishops and priests,
not in the service of beautiful people and late night promises,
not in the service of influence, incompetence and academic clown talk?


“For the Consideration of Poets” from Run Toward Fear © 2004 by Haki R. Madhubuti – Third World Press


I’ve found the location of some of the poetry of resistance that Haki Madhubuti has been looking for.

Harlem. New York City.

Not the Harlem of the Harlem Renaissance, but today’s Harlem of #BlackLivesMatter, protests against out-of-control police, the Covid-19 pandemic, and #MeToo.

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“I started this poem at the beginning of the pandemic. I am part of an incredible women’s writing group led by the incomparable Cheryl Boyce Taylor and she had tasked us to write through the uncertainty. I could not help but make the correlation between the inability to take in breath—a symptom of COVID-19 and the loss of breath at the hands of the police—a reality of being Black in America. This was before we knew that this virus would take us in such higher numbers compared to white folks. This was before George Floyd and all that has happened and continues to happen and will continue to happen as we try to get free.” — Yesenia Montilla


a brief meditation on breath

by Yesenia Montilla

i have diver’s lungs from holding my
breath for so long. i promise you
i am not trying to break a record
sometimes i just forget to
exhale. my shoulders held tightly
near my neck, i am a ball of tense
living, a tumbleweed with steel-toed
boots. i can’t remember the last time
i felt light as dandelion. i can’t remember
the last time i took the sweetness in
& my diaphragm expanded into song.
they tell me breathing is everything,
meaning if i breathe right i can live to be
ancient. i’ll grow a soft furry tail or be
telekinetic something powerful enough
to heal the world. i swear i thought
the last time i’d think of death with breath
was that balmy day in july when the cops
became a raging fire & sucked the breath
out of Garner; but yesterday i walked
38 blocks to my father’s house with a mask
over my nose & mouth, the sweat dripping
off my chin only to get caught in fabric & pool up
like rain. & i inhaled small spurts of me, little
particles of my dna. i took into body my own self
& thought i’d die from so much exposure
to my own bereavement—they’re saying
this virus takes your breath away, not
like a mother’s love or like a good kiss
from your lover’s soft mouth but like the police
it can kill you fast or slow; dealer’s choice.
a pallbearer carrying your body without a casket.
they say it’s so contagious it could be quite
breathtaking. so persistent it might as well
be breathing                        down your neck—


“a brief meditation on breath” © 2020 by Yesenia Montilla — originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets

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“I was in a room full of women, discussing the #MeToo movement, and it was no surprise to me that we were all survivors. Later, the one man who had been in the space says to me, ‘I was shocked. That was a shock. Were you shocked?’ And I just said ‘no’ quietly, sitting with the heaviness of twenty women of different backgrounds, faiths, identities, upbringings, everything, having suffered a very similar fate at the hands of men. Much later, I came back to the Borzutzky quote and tried to unpack it against my own sense of self, my own love of body, of consensual touch, and maybe even tried to give some power back to these women. I think I was trying to figure out how I had not gotten to this poem sooner.” — Yesenia Montilla


Searching for My Own Body

by Yesenia Montilla

Which is to say that like a good theoretical objectified body,
my identity was created not by me but by the various desires
and beliefs of those around me. – Daniel Borzutzky

My body is a small cave door
       it’s a slick whale . . . a jubilant
sea of tall grass that sways
& makes its way across countries         
& lovers . . . . . I love . . . . . . . love-making
I don’t remember a time when
I wasn’t interested in touch
I have these breasts
& some . . . . would want to come
on hands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  & knees to worship them   
call me flower . . . . or  . . . . . . . . . . . .  desert
Maybe I was only supposed to be
stone or a baby eel
long & layered . . . . . . . . . . . . .  a nun?
I don’t remember ever saying
. . . . . . yes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . just . . no
I am searching .  for my own body
not the one I was told is so
I want to be always  open
. . . . . . . . . . like a canyon
Maybe I was only supposed to be
tree or temple
In some circles I am
just an open gate
a sinful  bauble

Once someone said you are . . . . . . . . this
& I  never questioned it

I am searching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . my own body
for . . . . . . .  God     

or someone like her—


“Searching for My Own Body” © 2018 by Yesenia Montilla — originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets
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The Day I Realized We Were Black

by Yesenia Montilla

my brother Hector was four hours late coming home from work
when he entered the house   He was angry I was holding his pet
rabbit in my arms watching The Godfather — which part I can’t remember
did I mention he was angry . . sixteen and angry

and he said his legs ached like what the wind must feel against a tumbleweed
and he said he was tired like death seemed easy like rice and beans
and whatever meat we had that night was too hard to swallow
and he said he wished we were white
and I stood up startled my much lighter skin than his
could not wrap my coarse hair around the idea that we were not that

because my mother is Cuban with grey eyes
because my father had an afro once but I had not noticed then
because my grandfather once said “I wish I were King Kong so I could destroy Harlem and those
fucking black cockroaches”
because my godparents were Irish-American
because I had suppressed my blackness
because my brother shook me when I told him he was stupid   we were Latino
because he had missed his Jersey to Port Authority bus
because he was walking to the nearest train station and lost his way
because he was stopped by the police
because he was hit with a stick
because he was never given the right directions even though he begged
because trash was thrown at him from the police cruiser’s window as he walked
because he was never the same
because we’re black
because we’re black and I never knew . . I was twenty-two


“The Day I Realized We Were Black” © 2015 by Yesenia Montilla

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“This poem is a meditation on immigration and on dreaming of a borderless world. I am a daughter of immigrants and so I wanted to honor my parents and their journey. It is dedicated to Marcelo, a great poet, a dear friend, and someone who has suffered deeply due to our need to draw lines.” —Yesenia Montilla


Maps

by Yesenia Montilla

. . . . . – For Marcelo

Some maps have blue borders
like the blue of your name
or the tributary lacing of
veins running through your
father’s hands. & how the last
time I saw you, you held
me for so long I saw whole
lifetimes flooding by me
small tentacles reaching
for both our faces. I wish
maps would be without
borders & that we belonged
to no one & to everyone
at once, what a world that
would be. Or not a world
maybe we would call it
something more intrinsic
like forgiving or something
simplistic like river or dirt.
& if I were to see you
tomorrow & everyone you
came from had disappeared
I would weep with you & drown
out any black lines that this
earth allowed us to give it—
because what is a map but
a useless prison? We are all
so lost & no naming of blank
spaces can save us. & what
is a map but the delusion of
safety? The line drawn is always
in the sand & folds on itself
before we’re done making it.
& that line, there, south of
el rio, how it dares to cover
up the bodies, as though we
would forget who died there
& for what? As if we could
forget that if you spin a globe
& stop it with your finger
you’ll land it on top of someone
living, someone who was not
expecting to be crushed by thirst—


“Maps” © 2017 by Yesenia Montilla – originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets

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Yesenia Montilla is an Afro-Latina poet & a daughter of immigrants, born and raised in New York City. She is a founding member of Poets for Ayiti (Haiti) a collective of poets from diverse backgrounds committed to the power of poetry to transform and educate. Her poetry has appeared in the chapbook For the Crowns of Your Head. She earned a BA from Hunter College and an MFA from Drew University in Poetry and Poetry in translation. Her first poetry collection, The Pink Box, was published by Aquarius Press in 2015, and was long-listed for the 2016 PEN Open Book award. 

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Visuals

  • Ventilator
  • “Woman Bodyscape” — by Johan Swanepoel
  • Young Black man resting in the dark
  • Map of Rio Grande, Texas and Mexican border
  • Yesenia Montilla photograph

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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