TCS: Across a Cultural Cosmos – Three Poets

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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“Looking out into the universe at night,
we make no comparisons between right
and wrong stars, nor between well and
badly arranged constellations.”

– Alan Watts

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Sonia Sanchez and Belinda Subraman married men from different cultures than their own, and kept their former husbands’ last names even after the marriages ended. Christine Rhein’s father was one of the German children who escaped to America during World War II, and he taught her to speak fluent German. Rarely are authors in the United States solely influenced by the prevailing culture — the land is too vast and varied, and many people are only their family’s first or second generation born in their hometown.

So Belinda Subraman’s ‘Cultural Cosmos’ resonated with me, and helped me see connections between these poems I might otherwise have missed. See if the idea does the same for you.

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Five Thousand Times

by Christine Rheins

If it’s true, you, me,
five thousand times more likely

to crash in a car than
in a plane, we should kiss

as we are kissing now—outside
the airport, in a downpour—

every bleary morning, every time
one of us grabs the keys,

kiss hard enough to register
the friction, the precise

tilt of our heads, hint of salt
on our lips, heat or thaw

of something nebulous,
edgeless, that we long to carry—

a willow tree swaying with all
our many-weathered kisses,

the fringe of every held breath,
and this one-and-only gaze

in the rain, in the splatter—
the car horns and thunder—

one of us to head inside,
the other to drive away,

our last smiles flashing
through the pulse of wipers—

blades sweeping fast, faster.


“Five Thousand Times” first appeared in Scythe Literary Journal, Volume 1.

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Woodpecker

by Christine Rheins

Again he startles me,
mid-stanza,
words left hanging,
rhythm lost
to his rapid-fire knocks,
a crazy Morse code.
I curse this bird
who doesn’t know
house from tree.
Three times this morning
I’ve opened the window,
rattled the blinds,
shouted him away.
He doesn’t understand
his one-note scolds
are not the bones
of poetry.
Not oriole,
all color and song.
He can’t help
his shadow-gray feathers,
his diligent digging.
He’s hungry.
Let him bore
into the wood,
hammer out
o after o after o
in straight little rows
as he hunts for food
he cannot see— is the taste
always a surprise?


“Woodpecker” from Wild Flight, © 2009 by Christine Rhein – Texas Tech University Press

Christine Rhein born September 6; American poet, teacher, and speaker; a former mechanical engineer in the automotive industry.  She is fluent in German. Her poems have appeared in the Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Southern Review. Her collection, Wild Flight, published in 2009, won the Walt McDonald First Book Prize in Poetry. Asked what she believed in, Rhein replied, “the pulse/ of algebra, all those x’s busy intersecting / all those y’s, points aligned” then added, “the tangle of science and poetry.”

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My Indian In-laws 

 by Belinda Subraman

I remember India:
palm trees, monkey families,
fresh lime juice in the streets,
the sensual inundation
of sights and smells
and excess in everything.
I was exotic and believable there.

I was walking through dirt
in my sari,
to temples of the deities
following the lead
of my Indian in-laws.
I was scooping up fire with my hands,
glancing at idols that held no meaning for me,
being marked by the ash.

They smiled at the Western woman,
acting religious, knowing
it was my way of showing respect.
It was an adventure for me
but an arm around their culture for them.
To me it was living a dream
I knew I could wake up from.
To them it was the willingness
to be Indian that pleased.
We were holding hands
across a cultural cosmos,
knowing there were no differences
hearts could not soothe.
They accepted me
as I accepted them,
baffled but in love
with our wedded mystery.


“My Indian In-laws” from Left Hand Dharma, © 2018 by Belinda Subraman –
Unlikely Books

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Wayward Wind 

by Belinda Subraman

My patient, Paul, wrote in a poem
that he belongs to the wayward wind,
a restless breed,
a strange and hardy class.
I’ve been with him for two years
and now he is dying.
“Are you in pain, Paul?” I ask.
“I AM pain,” he said.
But he is refusing medication
although his cancer has spread
from his kidneys to his lungs, brain and bones.
Somehow bearing this pain to the grave
is his last act of defiance/bravery/repentance.
My hands are tied.
My job now is to protect his choice
and later as promised
to collect his ashes,
read his poems in my garden
then set him free in the wind
where he belongs.


“Wayward Wind” from Blue Rooms, Black Holes, White Lights, © 2012 by Belinda Subraman – Unlikely Books

Belinda Subraman born September 6; poet, writer, publisher, and registered nurse. She worked as a hospice nurse (2001-2007) in El Paso, Texas. While living in Germany in the 1980s, she started Gypsy Literary Magazine and the Sanctuary Tapes series of the writings and vocal performances of an international array of poets. She traveled extensively, and was part of an East Indian family for 22 years. She was on the Texas Green Party State Executive Committee from 2001-2003 and served as the El Paso County Green Party Co-chair (2000-2004). Currently she is politically independent and only works with peace groups. Her solo poetry collections include Blue Rooms, Black Holes, White Lights and Left Hand Dharma, and she has also published The Innocents, in collaboration with Lyn Lifshin and David Transue.

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Haiku

by Sonia Sanchez

i count the morning
stars the air so sweet i turn
riverdark with sound.


“Haiku” from Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums, © 1998 by Sonia Sanchez – Beacon Press

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This Is Not a Small Voice

by Sonia Sanchez

This is not a small voice
you hear     this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Darryl. Shaquille.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river
mouths.

This is not a small love
you hear       this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet
with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the
water sails
mends the children,
folds   them    inside   our    history
where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the
alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron
and lace.
This is a love initialed Black
Genius.

This is not a small voice
you hear.


“This Is Not a Small Voice” from Wounded in the House of a Friend, © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez – Beacon Press

Sonia Sanchez born September 9, 1934. as Wilsonia Benita Driver in Alabama; poet, playwright, activist, professor, and a leader of the Black Studies movement. She moved to New York in 1943, earned a B.A. from Hunter College in 1955, and studied with poet Louise Bogan in graduate school at New York University. Sanchez began teaching in 1965, first on the staff of the Downtown Community School in New York and later at San Francisco State College (now University). There she was a pioneer in developing Black Studies courses, including a class in African American women’s literature. Her poetry collections include Homecoming; We a BaddDDD People; Shake Loose My Skin; and Does Your House Have Lions? Sanchez was honored with the Robert Front Medal for distinguished service to American poetry, and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award.

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Top left: Sonia Sanchez –
Right: Christine Rhein
Lower left: Belinda Subraman

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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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