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It was August. For years it was August . . .
there was heat like wet gauze and a high, white sky
and music coming from everywhere at once.
— Paula McLain, A Ticket to Ride
I am temporarily offline, so I am reposting this piece. I’ll be back soon!
Please forgive the pun – it was irresistible. The ‘dames’ are four Western Hemisphere women poets who were born in the first week of August:
Aline Murray Kilmer, born August 1, 1888
Anne Hébert, born August 1, 1916
Lorna Goodison, born August 1, 1947
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, born August 4, 1958
While their backgrounds are very different, in each case, their writing has been influenced by loss and hardship.
by Aline Murray Kilmer
WHY don’t you go back to the sea, my dear?
I am not one who would hold you;
The sea is the woman you really love,
So let hers be the arms that fold you.
Your bright blue eyes are sailor’s eyes,
Your hungry heart is a sailor’s, too.
And I know each port that you pass through
Will give one lass both bonny and wise
Who has learned light love from a sailor’s eyes.
If you ever go back to the sea, my dear,
I shall miss you–yes, can you doubt it?
But women have lived through worse than that
So why should we worry about it?
Take your restless heart to the restless sea,
Your light, light love to a lighter lass
Who will smile when you come and smile when you pass.
Here you can only trouble me.
Oh, I think you had better go back to sea!
“Light Lover” is in the public domain
Aline Murray Kilmer (1888-1941) American poet, children’s book author, essayist, and from 1908 until his death in 1918, the wife of Joyce Kilmer, a poet who is mainly remembered for his poem “Trees,” and for dying young in the ‘War to End All Wars.’ She was the mother of five children, but their oldest daughter was stricken with infantile paralysis and died at age four in 1917, shortly before her husband was deployed to France. He was killed in 1918 at age 31 by a sniper’s bullet at the Second Battle of the Marne. Aline Murray Kilmer turned to writing children’s books and publishing her poetry to support her four remaining children. Her second son, Michael, died at age 11 in 1927.
by Anne Hébert
All it took was one light note
By one calm slave
A single note a supple instant
For the muffled clamor of offense
Tucked at the back of black veins
To rise and burst into the stirless air
The master knowing not what to do
Before such tumult
Commands that the piano be closed
– translated by A.Z. Foreman
The Original French:
Il a suffi d’une note légère
D’un seul doigt frappée
Par un esclave tranquille
Une seule note un instant tenue
Pour que la clameur sourde des outrages
Enfouis au creux des veines noires
Monte et se décharge dans l’air immobile
Le maitre ne sachant que faire
Devant ce tumulte
Ordonne qu’on ferme le piano
“The Piano/LePiano” from Anne Hébert: Poems, © 1975 by Anne Hébert – Musson Book Company
Anne Hébert (1916-2000) French Canadian poet, novelist, and short story writer writer. Her father was a poet and literary critic, and she began writing poetry at a very young age – by her early 20s, her poems had been published in several periodicals. Her first poetry collection, Les Songes en Équilibre (Dreams in Balance), published in 1942, won Quebec’s Prix David. Much of her poetry reflects the tragic early deaths of her sister and a cousin. Hébert earned a living in the 1950s working for Radio Canada, and the National Film Board of Canada. She won Canada’s top literary honor, the Governor General’s Award, three times, twice for fiction and once for poetry. Her best-known work is her 1970 historical novel Kamauraska, a classic of Québec and Canadian literature. Kamauraska won the Prix des libraires de France, and the Grand prix of the Académie royale de la langue françaises de Belgique. Hébert died of bone cancer at age 83 in January, 2000.
Praise to the mother of Jamaican art
by Lorna Goodison
She was the nameless woman who created
images of her children sold away from her.
She suspended her wood babies from a rope
round her neck, before she ate she fed them.
Touched bits of pounded yam and plantains
to sealed lips, always urged them to sip water.
She carved them of wormwood, teeth and nails
her first tools, later she wielded a blunt blade.
Her spit cleaned faces and limbs; the pitch oil
of her skin burnished them. When woodworms
bored into their bellies she warmed castor oil
they purged. She learned her art by breaking
hard rockstones. She did not sign her work.
“Praise to the mother of Jamaican art” from Collected Poems, © 2017 by Lorna Goodison – Carcanet Press
Lorna Goodison (1947 – ) Jamaican poet, writer, and painter; she was born
in Kingston on the first day of August, which is Emancipation Day in Jamaica. “I don’t think it is an accident that I was born on the first of August, and I don’t think it was an accident that I was given the gift of poetry, so I take that to mean that I am to write about those people and their condition, and I will carry a burden about what they endured and how they prevailed until the day I die.” Goodison was the first woman to be appointed as Poet Laureate of Jamaica (2017-2021). She has been honored with the 1999 Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for literary contributions, the 2018 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in Poetry, and the 2019 Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry; her poetry collections include I Am Becoming My Mother; Oracabessa; and Supplying Salt and Light. Goodison is also a talented painter, and the covers of her books are usually illustrated with her artwork.
by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
Right across Turk Street, south side intersection Hyde,
in the tenement where 911 won’t summon up a blue,
a man beats his woman,
the twentieth time or more, their kids bawling.
Over here, in this flat up on the third,
above blazing red neon signs highlighting
the Triple Deuce Club low below, I listen while
wired white hippies move furniture across checkered tiles
other side my sister’s arched plaster ceiling till way past 3 a.m.
Shuffling with a sofa as if rearranging the heavens in my mind.
Me, I sleep. Or try to. Nothing else I can do.
Each day I slip off and out looking for work, gliding into the
Streets of San Francisco
winding, curving, like turbulence.
Daybreak brings sweet Cambodian street children out
into a Feinstein-era playground,
still filled with hypes, winos, yellow-green from the night before,
still smelling like piss and lizard.
These kids though, they climb atop steel swing-set bars,
fifteen, twenty feet high,
as if they’re walking joint lines in concrete.
Easy balance, Mohawk grace.
Their sisters provoke a paper war in the street,
closed-off block party.
Paper flying by, I
catch a piece, fold it origamically, create
a mock financial pyramid, toss it back,
watch little girls with black shiny ponytails make confetti
for this ongoing ticker-tape parade,
right across Turk Street, intersection Hyde.
“Street Confetti” from Off-Season City Pipe, © 2005 by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke – Coffee House Press
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke (1958 – ) American poet and editor born in Texas, raised in North Carolina and Canada, of mixed Native American and European heritage. She dropped out of high school to be a field worker and sharecropper in North Carolina, but earned her GED, and took some classes at North Carolina State University, before fleeing from domestic violence to California. She later earned an AFAW in creative writing at the old Institute for American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and an MFA from Vermont College. Her poetry collections include Dog Road Woman, winner of the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award, Off-Season City Pipe, and Blood Run. She has worked as a mentor and teacher on reservations, in urban areas, in juvenile facilities, mental institutions, in prisons, with migrant workers and at-risk youth. Hedge Coke also founded and directed youth and labor outreach programs in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.