TCS: The Blood Shines Inside Us

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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
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Blood is that fragile scarlet tree we carry within us.
 – Osbert Sitwell


June 14, 2004World Blood Donor Day: started by the World Health Organization (WHO) to encourage people to voluntarily give blood. The limited period that blood can be safely stored, and the number of people in need of transfusions means there is a constant demand for donors, especially from people with rare blood types.

We tend to take for granted the blood that pulses in our veins, until we are wounded, and it starts seeping out of us.

We use blood as a symbol of both Life and Death, of ancestry and nationality, and its pulsing as a sign for both sexual arousal and for terror. It is frequently used as both metaphor and reality in stories of Birth, Love, War, and Death.

Here are six poets who’ve written wildly different takes on blood.    



by Naomi Shihab Nye

“A true Arab knows how to catch a fly in his hands,”
my father would say. And he’d prove it,
cupping the buzzer instantly
while the host with the swatter stared.

In the spring our palms peeled like snakes.
True Arabs believed watermelon could heal fifty ways.
I changed these to fit the occasion.

Years before, a girl knocked,
wanted to see the Arab.
I said we didn’t have one.
After that, my father told me who he was,
“Shihab”—“shooting star”—
a good name, borrowed from the sky.
Once I said, “When we die, we give it back?”
He said that’s what a true Arab would say.

Today the headlines clot in my blood.
A little Palestinian dangles a truck on the front page.
Homeless fig, this tragedy with a terrible root
is too big for us. What flag can we wave?
I wave the flag of stone and seed,
table mat stitched in blue.

I call my father, we talk around the news.
It is too much for him,
neither of his two languages can reach it.
I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,
to plead with the air:
Who calls anyone civilized?
Where can the crying heart graze?
What does a true Arab do now?

“Blood” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye – Far Corner Books

Naomi Shihab Nye (1952 — ), born in St.Louis, Missouri. Daughter of a father who came to America as a Palestinian refugee, and a born-in-America mother. “I grew up in St. Louis in a tiny house full of large music – Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson singing majestically on the stereo, my German-American mother fingering ‘The Lost Chord’ on the piano as golden light sank through trees, my Palestinian father trilling in Arabic in the shower each dawn.” During her teens, Shihab Nye lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University.

Blood of Earth

by Stanley Burnshaw

Weep not that some day suddenly our hearts
Will crumble into death by those strange hands
That crumble stars and turn all hearts to time:

Breath will still be breath, and human hearts
Must move together as before, when earth
Wove all men’s hearts together in her song . . .

Nor weep that the trees of earth, the lakes and stones—
Companions of our living days—at last
Must turn to death like us, and like our ways

Rest but a living dream in sleeping hearts.
For, being of the blood of earth, like men,
Trees, stones, and waters cannot pass away:

They will remain with us and we with them—
We with our tongue they cannot understand,
They with their faces lifted toward a sky . . .

Parted from earth and seeking the last home.

“Blood of Earth” from Stanley Burnshaw: The Collected Poems and Selected Prose, © 2002 by Stanley Burshaw – University of Texas Press

Stanley Burnshaw (1906-2006) American poet, author, and biographer, who worked as an advertising manager, editor, drama critic, and book reviewer, then became editor-in-chief for the Cordon Company before starting the Dryden Press, where he was president and editor-in-chief until it merged with Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston in the late 1950s. He was at the same time a prolific writer of poetry, prose, and fiction, frequently with social justice and political themes. Among his best-known works are The Seamless Web, a discussion of the conflict between “primal and civilized thinking” in poets, and Robert Frost Himself, Burnshaw’s biography of his close friend of many years, who also served as Frost’s book editor for several years. Burnshaw continued to write until his death at age 99 in 2006.

The Bloody Sire

by Robinson Jeffers

It is not bad.  Let them play.
Let the guns bark and the bombing-plane
Speak his prodigious blasphemies.
It is not bad, it is high time,
Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values.

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?
Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values.

Who would remember Helen’s face
Lacking the terrible halo of spears?
Who formed Christ but Herod and Caesar,
The cruel and bloody victories of Caesar?
Violence, the bloody sire of all the world’s values.

Never weep, let them play,
Old violence is not too old to beget new values.

(First published in Poetry magazine’s December 1940 issue)

“The Bloody Sire” from Be Angry at the Sun, © 1941 by Robinson Jeffers – Random House

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) and his new wife Una first came to Carmel, California, in 1914, and bought land there in 1919. Jeffers reached the height of his popularity in the early 1930s, but his star began to wane in the 1940s when he spoke out against America’s imperial ambitions and against the nation’s involvement in WWII. He espoused a philosophy of inhumanity, that people were detrimental to the Earth, and spurned by an uncaring God, they would eventually become extinct, leaving the planet to heal in a return to Nature. This was not popular in the 1950s, but his work was re-discovered in the late 1960s by budding environmentalists, who rallied in the 1970s to save his beloved Tor House and Hawk Tower from developers. The property is now affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Written in Blood

by Sue Owen

What was blood
but a dream circulating,
so that the stars
would swing, and the

wind of the breath would
move, and the mind
would wake to a temporary
knowing that seemed endless?

Why was blood
spinning on course, if
not to make the body
and time seem endless,

to make gravity what
the heart was called to,
the in and out of the voice
itself, that calling

back to the world and
blood running to greet it?
Where was blood going
when it described those

orbits that a life is,
that perfect cycle that
a circle is, as pure as
the moon and as filled with

a light, the red glow
that the blood shines inside
us, so that every word
rising up is filled with it?

“Written in Blood” from The Book of Winter, © 1988 by Sue Owen – Ohio State University Press

Sue Owen (1942 – ) American dark humor poet who earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Goddard College, in Vermont, before joining the faculty at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where she taught poetry. She won 1988’s  The Journal Award, given by Ohio State University Press, for her poetry collection, The Book of Winter.  Her other poetry collections include Nursery Rhymes for the Dead, My Doomsday Sampler, and The Devil’s Cookbook. Her poems have been read by Garrison Keillor on Writer’s Almanac, and on the BBC. Some of her poems have been translated into Swedish and Russian.


Blood Pressure

by Sandra M. Gilbert

The white-sleeved woman wraps a rubber
sleeve around your arm, steps back, listens,

. . . . . . . . . . How it pounds in you, how it
urges through you, how it asserts
its power like a tide of electrons

flashing through your veins, shocking your fingertips,
exhausting the iron gates of your heart.
Alive, alive, always alive, it hisses,

crackling like the lightning snake that splits
the sky at evening, alive, a black rain
lashing the hollows of your body,

alive,  alive.
. . . . . . . . . . You sit quietly on the cold table,
the good boy grown up into

the good man. You say
you want nothing, you’ll diet, you
won’t complain. Anyway, you say,

you dream of January weather,
hushed and white, the cries of light
silenced by a shield of ice.

Behind your eyes, something
like a serpent moves, an acid tongue
flicking at your cheeckbones, something

voracious, whipping your whole body
hard: you’re sad, you flush a
dangerous pink, you tell her

you can’t understand the fierce rain
inside you, you’ve always hated that awful
crackling in your veins.

“Blood Pressure” from Blood Pressure, © 1988 by Sandra M. Gilbert – W.W. Norton & Company

 Sandra M. Gilbert (1936 – ) American literary critic and poet, noted for feminist theory, and psychoanalytic criticism. She is best known for The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th century Literary Imagination, and No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the 20th Century, which she co-authored with Susan Gubar, both considered a classic feminist works. She is Professor Emerita of English at the University of California, Davis. Gilbert was president of the Modern Language Association in 1996, and won a Patterson Prize for her poetry collection, Ghost Volcano, and has also published her poetry collections Blood Pressure, Judgment Day, and Emily’s Bread. She was married to Elliot L. Gilbert, Chair of the Department of English at University of California, Davis, until his death in 1991. 


Blood Test

by May Swenson

Alien, the male, and black. Big like a bear.
Wearing whitest clothes, of ironed cotton scaled clean.

I sat in a chair. He placed my arm on a narrow
tray-table bound in towel. As if to glut a fish.

“Mine the tiniest veins in the world,” I warned .
He didn’t care. “Let’s see what we have,” he said.

Tourniquet tied, he tapped his finger-ends inside
my elbow, smartly slapped until the thread vein fattened.

Didn’t hurt. He was expert. Black chamois wrist and hand,
short square square-cut nails, their halfmoons dusky onyx.

I made a fist. He slid the needle, eye-end in, first try.
Then jumped the royal color into a tube.

Silence. We heard each other breathe. Big paw
took a tuft of cotton, pressed where the needle withdrew.

“That’s it!’ Broad teeth flashed. Eyes under bushy
mansard hair admired, I thought, that I hadn’t flinched.

I got up. Done so quick, and with one wounding! I’d as soon
have stayed. To be a baby, a bearcub maybe, in his arms.

“Blood Test” from May Swenson: Collected Poems, © 1987 by the Literary Estate of May Swenson – The Library of America 2013 edition

May Swenson (1913-1989) was born in Logan Utah, American poet, translator, and playwright; considered one of the most original poets of the 20th century. Her many collections of poetry include: A Cage of Spines; To Mix with Time: New and Selected Poems; Half Sun Half SleepIconographs; and In Other Words. 



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Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 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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