TCS: Thank You Day – The Slant of Hope

. .Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.

 – Gertrude Stein

 

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January 11th is International Thank You Day. It’s a good reminder of how little effort it takes to let someone know that we appreciate them for helping us, or doing their job well, or for so many daily interactions, small or large – everything from holding open a door when our arms are full, to saying exactly the right words when we need encouragement or comforting.

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Slant

by Suji Kwock Kim

If the angle of an eye is all,
the slant of hope, the slant of dreaming, according to each life,
what is the light of this city,
light of Lady Liberty, possessor of the most famous armpit in the world,
light of the lovers on Chinese soap operas, throwing BBQ’d ducks at each other
with that live-it-up-while-you’re-young, Woo Me kind
of love,
light of the old men sitting on crates outside geegaw shops
selling dried seahorses & plastic Temples of Heaven,
light of the Ying ‘n’ Yang Junk Palace,
light of the Golden Phoenix Hair Salon, light of Wig-o-ramas,
light of the suntanners in Central Park turning over like rotisserie chickens sizzling on a spit,
light of the Pluck U & Gone with the Wings fried-chicken shops,
the parking-meter-leaners, the Glamazons,
the oglers wearing fern-wilting quantities of cologne, strutting, trash-talking, glorious:
the immigrants, the refugees, the peddlars, stockbrokers and janitors, stenographers and cooks,
all of us making and unmaking ourselves,
hurrying forwards, toward who we’ll become, one way only, one life only:
free in time but not from it,
here in the city the living make together, and make and unmake over and over
Quick, quick, ask heaven of it, of every mortal relation,
feeling that is fleeing,
for what would the heart be without a heaven to set it on?
I can’t help thinking no word will ever be as full of life as this world,
I can’t help thinking of thanks.


“Slant” from Notes from the North, © 2020 by Suji Kwock Kim – The Poetry Business

Suji Kwock Kim (1969 – ) American poet and playwright of Korean heritage; several of her poems have been given choral settings by composer Mayako Kubo for the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus, Chorusorganisation, and Koreanische Frauengruppe Berlin. Her poetry collections are Notes from the Divided Country, which won the 2020 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Notes from the North. Her poems have also appeared in several anthologies and literary magazines. She is a 2020 Poet-in-Residence at The Wordsworth Trust.

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Missed Time

by Ha Jin

My notebook has remained blank for months
thanks to the light you shower
around me. I have no use
for my pen, which lies
languorously without grief.

Nothing is better than to live
a storyless life that needs
no writing for meaning—
when I am gone, let others say
they lost a happy man,
though no one can tell how happy I was.


“Missed Time” © by Ha Jin, published in the July 2000 issue of Poetry magazine

Ha Jin (1956 – ) is the pen name of  Xuefei Jin, born in China during the Cultural Revolution, served in the army, and earned degrees at Chinese institutions.  He came to  the US on a student visa to pursue a PhD at Brandeis University. He and his wife planned to return to China, until they watched the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989 on television. In 1990, he published his first book of poetry in English, Between Silences. It was followed by Facing Shadows and A Distant Center. He is a poet, a novelist, and an educator at Boston University. He won the 1997 PEN/Hemingway Award for his short story collection, Oceans of Words.

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First Snow, Kerhonkson

 by Diane di Prima

for Alan

This, then, is the gift the world has given me
(you have given me)
softly the snow
cupped in hollows
lying on the surface of the pond
matching my long white candles
which stand at the window
which will burn at dusk while the snow
fills up our valley
this hollow
no friend will wander down
no one arriving brown from Mexico
from the sunfields of California, bearing pot
they are scattered now, dead or silent
or blasted to madness
by the howling brightness of our once common vision
and this gift of yours—
white silence filling the contours of my life.


 “First Snow, Kerhonkson” from Pieces of a Song, © 1990 by Diane di Prima – City Lights Books

Diane di Prima (1934-2020) American poet, artist, author, teacher, and an activist for social justice, women’s rights, and against the Vietnam War. Her first book of poetry, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, was published in 1958. She was born and grew up in New York, and became part of the Beat Movement. She was co-editor (1961-1969) of The Floating Bear with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), a co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre, and founder of the Poets Press. On several occasions she faced charges of obscenity by the United States government due to her work with the New York Poets Theatre and The Floating Bear. In 1961 she was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for two of her poems which were published in The Floating Bear. She moved to San Francisco in 1968. City Lights Books published her Revolutionary Letters in 1971. She is known for her long poem, Loba, and her poetry collections, Pieces of a Song, The Poetry Deal, and Haiku. In 2009, she became San Francisco’s poet laureate. She was also awarded the National Poetry Association’s Lifetime Service Award. She died October 25, 2020, in San Francisco, at age 86.

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One Today

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
January 21, 2013

by  Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello / shalom,
buon giorno / howdy / namaste / or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together


“One Today: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, January 21, 2013” by Richard Blanco, © 2013 by the University of Pittsburgh Press

Richard Blanco (1968 – ) was born in Madrid, Spain; American poet, public speaker, author, and civil engineer. He is the fifth poet to read at a U.S. presidential inauguration, the poem “One Today” for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. He is the first immigrant, the first Latino, the first openly gay person, and the youngest person to be a U.S. inaugural poet. His books include How to Love a CountryCity of a Hundred Fires; Directions to the Beach of the Dead; and Looking for the Gulf Motel.

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Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons

by Diane Wakowski

The relief of putting your fingers on the keyboard,
as if you were walking on the beach
and found a diamond
as big as a shoe;

as if
you had just built a wooden table
and the smell of sawdust was in the air,
your hands dry and woody;

as if
you had eluded
the man in the dark hat who had been following you
all week;

the relief
of putting your fingers on the keyboard,
playing the chords of
Beethoven,
Bach,
Chopin
          in an afternoon when I had no one to talk to,
          when the magazine advertisement forms of soft sweaters
         and clean shining Republican middle-class hair
          walked into carpeted houses
          and left me alone
          with bare floors and a few books

I want to thank my mother
for working every day
in a drab office
in garages and water companies
cutting the cream out of her coffee at 40
to lose weight, her heavy body
writing its delicate bookkeeper’s ledgers
alone, with no man to look at her face,
her body, her prematurely white hair
in love
          I want to thank
my mother for working and always paying for
my piano lessons
before she paid the Bank of America loan
or bought the groceries
or had our old rattling Ford repaired.

I was a quiet child,
afraid of walking into a store alone,
afraid of the water,
the sun,
the dirty weeds in back yards,
afraid of my mother’s bad breath,
and afraid of my father’s occasional visits home,
knowing he would leave again;
afraid of not having any money,
afraid of my clumsy body,
that I knew
          no one would ever love

But I played my way
on the old upright piano
obtained for $10,
played my way through fear,
through ugliness,
through growing up in a world of dime-store purchases,
and a desire to love
a loveless world.

I played my way through an ugly face
and lonely afternoons, days, evenings, nights,
mornings even, empty
as a rusty coffee can,
played my way through the rustles of spring
and wanted everything around me to shimmer like the narrow tide
on a flat beach at sunset in Southern California,
I played my way through
an empty father’s hat in my mother’s closet
and a bed she slept on only one side of,
never wrinkling an inch of
the other side,
waiting,
waiting,

I played my way through honors in school,
the only place I could
talk
          the classroom,
          or at my piano lessons, Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary always
          singing the most for my talents,
as if I had thrown some part of my body away upon entering
her house
and was now searching every ivory case
of the keyboard, slipping my fingers over black
ridges and around smooth rocks,
wondering where I had lost my bloody organs,
or my mouth which sometimes opened
like a California poppy,
wide and with contrasts
beautiful in sweeping fields,
entirely closed morning and night,

I played my way from age to age,
but they all seemed ageless
or perhaps always
old and lonely,
wanting only one thing, surrounded by the dusty bitter-smelling
leaves of orange trees,
wanting only to be touched by a man who loved me,
who would be there every night
to put his large strong hand over my shoulder,
whose hips I would wake up against in the morning,
whose mustaches might brush a face asleep,
dreaming of pianos that made the sound of Mozart
and Schubert without demanding
that life suck everything
out of you each day,
without demanding the emptiness
of a timid little life.

I want to thank my mother
for letting me wake her up sometimes at 6 in the morning
when I practiced my lessons
and for making sure I had a piano
to lay my school books down on, every afternoon.
I haven’t touched the piano in 10 years,
perhaps in fear that what little love I’ve been able to
pick, like lint, out of the corners of pockets,
will get lost,
slide away,
into the terribly empty cavern of me
if I ever open it all the way up again.
Love is a man
with a mustache
gently holding me every night,
always being there when I need to touch him;
he could not know the painfully loud
music from the past that
his loving stops from pounding, banging,
battering through my brain,
which does its best to destroy the precarious gray matter when I
am alone;
he does not hear Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary singing for me,
liking the sound of my lesson this week,
telling me,
confirming what my teacher says,
that I have a gift for the piano
few of her other pupils had.
When I touch the man
I love,
I want to thank my mother for giving me
piano lessons
all those years,
keeping the memory of Beethoven,
a deaf tortured man,
in mind;
          of the beauty that can come
from even an ugly
past.


“Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons” from Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987, © 1988 by Diane Wakoski – Black Sparrow Press

Diane Wakoski (1937 – ) American poet and essayist born in California. At the Univerisity of California, Berkeley, she was took part in Thom Gunn’s poetry workshops. She lived in New York from 1960 to 1973, then moved to Michigan. Her many poetry collections include The Magellanic Clouds, The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems, and Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987, which won the 1989 William Carolos Williams Award, and The Butcher’s Apron.

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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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4 Responses to TCS: Thank You Day – The Slant of Hope

  1. Oh my…Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons! The way it pulled me along; I could NOT stop reading!

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