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.
When you use the term minority or minorities
in reference to people, you’re telling them that
they’re less than somebody else.
– Gwendolyn Brooks
Two American women, both writing from their experiences as women, and as members of groups badly treated throughout U.S. history. They were both born on June 7, but 37 years apart: Gwendolyn Brooks in 1917, and Louise Erdrich in 1954.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is one of the most influential and widely read African American poets of the 20th century. She was the first black author to win a Pulitzer Prize, for her poetry collection, Annie Allen, in 1950. She was also the first black woman Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1985–1986). Among her many books are A Street in Bronzeville; In the Mecca; Riot; and In Montgomery
by Gwendolyn Brooks
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”
But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.
“kitchenette building” from Selected Poems, © 1963 by Gwendolyn Brooks – Harper & Row
We Real Cool
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
by Gwendolyn Brooks
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
“We Real Cool” from The Bean Eaters, © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks – Harpers
The Children of the Poor
by Gwendolyn Brooks
People who have no children can be hard:
Attain a mail of ice and insolence:
Need not pause in the fire, and in no sense
Hesitate in the hurricane to guard.
And when wide world is bitten and bewarred
They perish purely, waving their spirits hence
Without a trace of grace or of offense
To laugh or fail, diffident, wonder-starred.
While through a throttling dark we others hear
The little lifting helplessness, the queer
Whimper-whine; whose unridiculous
Lost softness softly makes a trap for us.
And makes a curse. And makes a sugar of
The malocclusions, the inconditions of love.
What shall I give my children? who are poor,
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,
Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand
No velvet and no velvety velour;
But who have begged me for a brisk contour,
Crying that they are quasi, contraband
Because unfinished, graven by a hand
Less than angelic, admirable or sure.
My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.
But I lack access to my proper stone.
And plenitude of plan shall not suffice
Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone
To ratify my little halves who bear
Across an autumn freezing everywhere.
And shall I prime my children, pray, to pray?
Mites, come invade most frugal vestibules
Spectered with crusts of penitents’ renewals
And all hysterics arrogant for a day.
Instruct yourselves here is no devil to pay.
Children, confine your lights in jellied rules;
Resemble graves; be metaphysical mules.
Learn Lord will not distort nor leave the fray.
Behind the scurryings of your neat motif
I shall wait, if you wish: revise the psalm
If that should frighten you: sew up belief
If that should tear: turn, singularly calm
At forehead and at fingers rather wise,
Holding the bandage ready for your eyes.
“The Children of the Poor” from Annie Allen, © 1949 by Gwendolyn Brooks – Harper & Row
Louise Erdrich (1954 – ) American author, novelist, children’s book writer, and poet. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a tribe of the Anishinaabe, and considered one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. Her first novel, The Plague of Doves, was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She won the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction for her novel The Round House. Erdich has also published three collections of poetry: Jacklight; Baptism of Desire; and Original Fire. She owns Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis which focuses on Native American literature.
Indian Boarding School: The Runaways
by Louise Erdrich
Home’s the place we head for in our sleep.
Boxcars stumbling north in dreams
don’t wait for us. We catch them on the run.
The rails, old lacerations that we love,
shoot parallel across the face and break
just under Turtle Mountains. Riding scars
you can’t get lost. Home is the place they cross.
The lame guard strikes a match and makes the dark
less tolerant. We watch through cracks in boards
as the land starts rolling, rolling till it hurts
to be here, cold in regulation clothes.
We know the sheriff’s waiting at midrun
to take us back. His car is dumb and warm.
The highway doesn’t rock, it only hums
like a wing of long insults. The worn-down welts
of ancient punishments lead back and forth.
All runaways wear dresses, long green ones,
the color you would think shame was. We scrub
the sidewalks down because it’s shameful work.
Our brushes cut the stone in watered arcs
and in the soak frail outlines shiver clear
a moment, things us kids pressed on the dark
face before it hardened, pale, remembering
delicate old injuries, the spines of names and leaves.
“Indian Boarding School: The Runaways” from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems, © 2003 by Louise Erdrich – HarperCollins Publishers
I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move
by Louise Erdrich
We watched from the house
as the river grew, helpless
and terrible in its unfamiliar body.
Wrestling everything into it,
the water wrapped around trees
until their life-hold was broken.
They went down, one by one,
and the river dragged off their covering.
Nests of the herons, roots washed to bones,
snags of soaked bark on the shoreline:
a whole forest pulled through the teeth
of the spillway. Trees surfacing
singly, where the river poured off
into arteries for fields below the reservation.
When at last it was over, the long removal,
they had all become the same dry wood.
We walked among them, the branches
whitening in the raw sun.
Above us drifted herons,
alone, hoarse-voiced, broken,
settling their beaks among the hollows.
Grandpa said, These are the ghosts of the tree people
moving among us, unable to take their rest.
Sometimes now, we dream our way back to the heron dance.
Their long wings are bending the air
into circles through which they fall.
They rise again in shifting wheels.
How long must we live in the broken figures
their necks make, narrowing the sky.
“I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move” from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems, © 2003 by Louise Erdrich – HarperCollins Publishers
Advice to Myself
by Louise Erdrich
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
“Advice to Myself” from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems, © 2003 by Louise Erdrich – HarperCollins Publishers