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.
Happy are the valiant, they that accept
with equal spirit failure or applause.
– Jorge Luis Borges,
from “Fragments of an Apocryphal Gospel”
This is a week to celebrate some triumphs in the long struggle for Universal Human Rights, but also a time to recognize the evil and cruelty of the past, and to rip off the masks of all of Evil’s present-day guises.
And for me, it’s a week of remembrance for two of my personal heroes:
William Wilberforce and Alice Paul.
August 23 – International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade & its Abolition
On the night of 22 to 23 August 1791, in Saint Domingue (now the Republic of Haiti), the uprising began that would play a crucial role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. It is against this background that the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is commemorated each year. This International Day is intended to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples. – UNESCO
August 24 – William Wilberforce Day
“Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we can not evade it; it is now an object placed before us, we can not pass it; we may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we can not turn aside so as to avoid seeing it; for it is brought directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences, the rectitude of the grounds and principles of their decision.”
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
– William Wilberforce, head of the English parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade. Small in stature, but with a fine speaking voice and a sharp wit, he tirelessly advocated for ending the slave trade, in spite of his numerous health problems, from 1789 until the passage of Abolition of the Slave Trade bill in 1807. William Wilberforce Day honors his persistence.
August 26 – U.S. Women’s Equality Day:
In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was officially certified as ratified. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
“To me, it was shocking that a government of men could look with such extreme contempt on a movement that was asking nothing except such a simple thing as the right to vote.”
“I think if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that it isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it.”
– Alice Paul, chief strategist for the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment, and author of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA was first introduced in Congress in 1923, then reintroduced in every session thereafter until it finally passed both houses in 1972 – in 1982, the ERA was stopped just three states short of ratification in very close votes. From 1985 to 1992, it was reintroduced in each session of Congress, but never got out of committee.
Persistence and courage are essential as we face this year’s disasters.
On June 24, 2022, the six extreme right Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the opening salvo in their plan to overturn the rights so hard-won by women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who as persons, and as citizens of the United States of America, are all entitled to “equal protection under the law.”
“Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.”
― Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
This is also a week of birthdays for twelve remarkable poets.
The Dark Girl’s Rhyme
by Dorothy Parker
Who was there had seen us
Wouldn’t bid him run?
Heavy lay between us
All our sires had done.
There he was, a-springing,
Of a pious race—
Setting hags a-swinging,
In a market-place;
Sowing turnips over
Where the poppies lay;
Looking past the clover,
Adding up the hay;
Shouting through the Spring song,
Clumping down the sod;
Toadying, in sing-song
To a crabbèd god.
There I was, that came of
Folk of mud and flame—
I that had my name of
Them without a name.
Up and down a mountain
Streeled my silly stock;
Passing by a fountain,
Wringing at a rock;
Throwing back their heads;
Fiddling for their dinners,
Kissing for their beds.
Not a one had seen us
Wouldn’t help him flee.
Angry ran between us
Blood of him and me.
How shall I be mating
Who have looked above—
Living for a hating,
Dying of a love?
“The Dark Girl’s Rhyme” from Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker – Vintage Classics, republished by Penguin Random House, 2022 edition
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was born in Long Branch, New Jersey on August 22, 1893; American poet, wit, editor, and literary critic. Her formal education ended at age 14, but Parker was a founding member of the famed Algonquin Round Table (circa 1919-1929). When the New Yorker debuted in 1925, Dorothy Parker was on the editorial board. As the magazine’s “Constant Reader,” she contributed poetry, fiction — and book reviews famous for pulling no punches: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” She made four failed suicide attempts, and said in an interview when she turned 70, “If I had any decency, I’d be dead. All my friends are.” In 1967, Parker did die, of a heart attack, at age 73. She bequeathed her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she had never met
by William Ernest Henley
Some three, or five, or seven, and thirty years;
A Roman nose; a dimpling double-chin;
Dark eyes and shy that, ignorant of sin,
Are yet acquainted, it would seem, with tears;
A comely shape; a slim, high-coloured hand,
Graced, rather oddly, with a signet ring;
A bashful air, becoming everything;
A well-bred silence always at command.
Her plain print gown, prim cap, and bright steel chain
Look out of place on her, and I remain
Absorbed in her, as in a pleasant mystery.
Quick, skilful, quiet, soft in speech and touch . . .
‘Do you like nursing?’ ‘Yes, Sir, very much.’
Somehow, I rather think she has a history.
“Lady Probationer” from In Hospital, by William Earnest Henley, originally published in 1903, republished in 2015 by White Press
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was born August 23, 1849; British poet, writer, critic, and editor in late Victorian England. He was the oldest of six children, and his life was beset with problems, beginning in 1861 with tuberculosis of the bone, causing a series of extremely painful abscesses, which led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee in 1868, the same year that his father died. His schooling and early career as a journalist were hampered by long stays in hospital because his right foot had become diseased. He refused to have it amputated in spite of warnings that he was risking his life, and instead sought treatment by the renowned surgeon and scientist Joseph Lister in 1873. He spent the next three years in hospital, where he wrote poems which were published as his first collection, In Hospital, which included Invictus. Robert Louis Stevenson was one of his frequent visitors during this ordeal, and became a close friend. Stevenson later confessed in a letter to Henley about his Treasure Island character: “It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver … the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.” Henley married in 1878, and he and his wife Anna had a daughter named Margaret, but she was a sickly child, and died at the age of five. Henley was devastated, but kept working. In 1902, he fell from a railway carriage, and the accident caused his latent tuberculosis to flare up. In July, 1903, he died at the age of 53. After his death, an American woman who knew him wrote in a piece for a Boston newspaper, “There was in him something more than the patient resignation of the religious sufferer, who had bowed himself to the uses of adversity. Deep in his nature lay an inner well of cheerfulness, and a spontaneous joy of living, that nothing could drain dry, though it dwindled sadly after the crowning affliction of his little daughter’s death.”
The Circuit Judge
by Edgar Lee Masters
Take note, passers-by, of the sharp erosions
Eaten in my head-stone by the wind and rain
Almost as if an intangible Nemesis or hatred
Were marking scores against me,
But to destroy, and not preserve, my memory.
I in life was the Circuit Judge, a maker of notches,
Deciding cases on the points the lawyers scored,
Not on the right of the matter.
O wind and rain, leave my head-stone alone!
For worse than the anger of the wronged,
The curses of the poor,
Was to lie speechless, yet with vision clear,
Seeing that even Hod Putt, the murderer,
Hanged by my sentence,
Was innocent in soul compared with me.
“The Circuit Judge” from Spoon River Anthology, originally published in 1915 by Edgar Lee Masters – republished in 2007 by Signet
Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1950) was born August 23, 1869 in Garnett, Kansas; American poet, novelist, and biographer; he rebelled against what he believed to be the hypocrisy of small-town life and went to Chicago, where he practiced law for thirty years. Masters published eleven books of verses, plays, and essays before beginning his masterpiece, Spoon River Anthology. He, Carl Sandburg, and Vachel Lindsay sparked a poetic renaissance in the Midwest, with Chicago as its center. He was awarded the Mark Twain Silver Medal in 1936, the Poetry Society of America medal in 1941, and the Shelly Memorial Award in 1944. He became a Fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1942. Masters died in poverty in a nursing home at age 81.
Elegy for a Woman of No Importance
by Nazik Al-Malaika
She died, but no lips shook, no cheeks turned white
no doors heard her death tale told and retold,
no blinds were raised for small eyes to behold
the casket as it disappeared from sight.
Only a beggar in the street, consumed
by hunger, heard the echo of her life—
the safe forgetfulness of tombs,
the melancholy of the moon.
The night gave way to morning thoughtlessly,
and light brought with it sound—boys throwing stones,
a hungry mewling cat, all skin and bones,
the vendors fighting, clashing bitterly,
some people fasting, others wanting more,
polluted water gurgling, and a breeze
playing, alone, upon the door
having almost forgotten her.
“Elegy for a Woman of No Importance” from Revolt Against the Sun, © 2021 by translator Emily Drumsta – Saqi Books, Bilingual edition
Nazik Al-Malaika (1923-2007) was born in August 23, 1922, to a feminist poet mother and academic father; Iraqi poet, one of the most influential women poets in Iraq. Notable as the first Arabic poet to use free verse, in her ground-breaking second book of poetry, Sparks and Ashes. Her poems covered nationalism, social and feminist issues, honour killings and alienation. She left Iraq with her husband and family in 1970 after the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party came to power, moving to Kuwait, until it was invaded by Saddam Hussein in 1990, and then to Egypt, where she lived for the rest of her life in Cairo. Her other books of poetry include And the sea changes its colour, Bottom of the Wave, and The Night’s Lover.
This long poem is modeled after Allen Ginsberg’s America, so here are just the opening lines and an excerpt from:
The Open Letter to Europe
by Athena Farrokhzad
Europe, I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
Europe, 260 Euro and 76 cents January, 2018.
I can’t stand my own mind.
Europe, when will you end the human war? Go fuck yourself with your Christ complex.
Europe, one day the Lagos conference will take place and Africa will redraw your borders. Nigeria gets the Baltic states, except Lithuania, which goes to Angola. Algeria wants Poland, minus Warsaw. Cameroon takes everything between Normandie and Gibraltar. The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo agree on the rest. The official languages of Europe are Lingala, Kikongo, and Swahili. No one wants the Nordic countries, their forests have burned to the ground. The citizens captured as slaves and sold on the docks of Gothenburg. 38 39 Although the journey is short, many die at sea. Those who survive spread across the continent, ending up mostly in southern Sudan and Eritrea. Half of them quickly die of domestic diseases. But the children can work, and twenty-five Nordic generations are raised in slavery. No one wants England, but Botswana finally offers. After a vote, Scotland and Wales fall to Somalia. The only free European nation is the united Ireland.
To read the whole poem:
The Open Letter to Europe, © 2018 by Athena Farrokhzad, translated by Ilija Trojanow
Athena Farrokhzad (1983 – ) was born in Iran August 23, 1983; Iranian-Swedish poet, playwright, translator, literary critic, and controversial host of the Sverges Radio show Sommar since 2014; joint winner of the Karin Boye Literary Prize in 2013. The Open Letter to Europe was published in translation in numerous journals and sent to members of the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the European Commission.
by Robert Herrick
God will have all, or none; serve Him, or fall
Down before Baal, Bel, or Belial:
Either be hot, or cold: God doth despise,
Abhorre, and spew out all Neutralities.
This poem is in the public domain.
Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was baptized on August 24, 1591, in London; English lyric poet and Anglican cleric; best known for his book of poems, Hesperides, which includes “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” with the opening line “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”. He was long dismissed as a minor poet, until 20th century scholars began to reevaluate his work. His father was a goldsmith, who died when Herrick was an infant. He was apprenticed at 16 to his uncle, also a goldsmith, but left at age 22, and went to Saint John’s College, Cambridge, but limited means forced him to transfer the less expensive Trinity Hall. Little is known about his life from 1617 until 1629, when he was appointed as vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire, other than his taking of holy orders in 1623, and serving as a chaplain with the disastrous crusade in 1627 by the 1st Duke of Buckingham to liberate French Protestants on the Isle of Rhé. However, it is clear that he spent some time in London, and came under the influence of Ben Johnson, about whom he wrote several poems. He was a Royalist during the English Civil War, and was expelled from his parish in 1647 for refusing the Solemn League and Covenant. During his exile, he lived in London, living on the charity of his friends and family until the monarchy was restored. Herrick returned to his parrish in 1662, where he died at age 83 in 1674.
by Malcolm Cowley
Farmhouses curl like horns of plenty, hide
scrawny bare shanks against a barn, or crouch
empty in the shadow of a mountain. Here
there is no house at all—
only the bones of a house,
lilacs growing beside them,
roses in clumps between them,
a gap for a door, a chimney
mud-chinked, an immense fireplace,
the skeleton of a pine,
and gandy dancers working on the rails
that run not thirty yards from the once door.
I heard a gandy dancer playing on a jew’s harp
Where is now that merry party I remember long ago?
Nelly was a lady … twice … Old Black Joe,
as if he laid his right hand on my shoulder,
saying, “Your father lived here long ago,
your father’s father built the house, lies buried
under the pine—”
Sing Nelly was a lady
… Blue Juniata … Old Black Joe:
for sometimes a familiar music hammers
like blood against the eardrums, paints a mist
across the eyes, as if the smells of lilacs,
moss roses, and the past became a music
made visible, a monument of air.
“Blue Juniata” from Blue Juniata: A Life, © 1985 by Malcolm Cowley – Viking Penguin
Malcolm Cowley was born August 24, 1898 in Pennsylvania; American novelist, poet, historian, and critic. He was one of the ex-pat Americans who lived in Paris in the 1920s, which he wrote about in his lyrical memoir Exile’s Return (1934), but Blue Juniata was his first book of poetry, published in 1929. That same year, he became an associate editor of the left-leaning New Republic, and was involved in leftist politics in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Cowley’s friend Archibald MacLeish as head of the War Department’s Office of Facts and Figures, MacLeish recruited Cowley as an analyst, but Cowley soon ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. MacLeish was under pressure from J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to dismiss Cowley. In January 1942, MacLeish sent his reply that the FBI needed a course of instruction in history. “Don’t you think it would be a good thing if all investigators could be made to understand that Liberalism is not only not a crime but actually the attitude of the President of the United States and the greater part of his Administration?” he wrote. Nevertheless, Cowley resigned two months later. In 1944, Cowley began a new career as a literary advisor, editor, and talent scout at Viking Press. He worked on the Portable Library series, which began as an anthology of paperback reprints that could be mass-produced cheaply and marketed to military personnel. His first project was The Portable Hemingway, which sold so well, he followed it with The Portable Faulkner, which rescued Faulkner from falling into literary obscurity. He pushed for publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, edited an anthology of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories, and oversaw a reissue of Tender Is the Night. His memoir, The View From 80, was published in 1980. He died at age 90 in 1989.
When Sorrow Lays Us Low
by Jorge Luis Borges
When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of the mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to us,
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling as we count,
a sudden physical pain.
Eight million Shinto deities
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us―
touch us and move on.
“When Sorrow Lays Us Low” from Borges: Selected Poems, edited by Alexander Coleman – Penguin Books, 2000 reprint edition
Jorge Luis Borges was born August 24, 1899 in Buenos Aires; Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, a major figure in Spanish-language literature; best known for Ficciones, El Aleph, A Universal History of Infamy, Labyrinths, and The Book of Sand. His family moved to Switzerland in 1914, and traveled widely in Europe. He returned to Argentina in 1921, and began publishing his poems and essays in surrealist literary journals. In 1955, he was appointed director of the National Public Library and professor of English Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. He became progressively blind, and completely lost his sight by age 55. He died at age 86 in 1986 in Geneva, Switzerland.
by Dorothea Tanning
Now that legal tender has
lost its tenderness,
and its very legality
is so often in question,
it may be time to consider
long rows of them,
empty, black circles in clumps
presided over by a numeral
Admired, even revered,
of imaginary money
the open gaze of innocents
like a vision of earthly paradise.
Now the zero has
a new name:
As for that earthly
“Zero” from Coming to That, © 2011 by Dorothea Tanning – Graywolf Press
Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) was born on August 25, 1910 in Galesburg, Illinois; American painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer and poet. She moved to Chicago in 1930 to work as a commercial artist, and there she first encountered Surrealism at Chicago’s Museum of Modern Art. Her work for Macy’s department store so impressed their art director that he introduced her to gallery owner Julien Levy, who mounted solo exhibitions of her work in 1944 and 1948. Levy introduced her to other painters allied with his New York gallery, including Max Ernst, who left his wife, Peggy Guggenheim, for Tanning. They were married in 1946 in a double wedding with Man Ray amd Juliet Browner, and remained married for 34 years, living for many years in France, where she remained after his death in 1976. Her return to New York in the 1980s precipitated a shift in focus to her writing, which had been a secondary pursuit for most of her life. She published six books of poetry before her death at the age of 101.
The Green Eyed Monsters of the Valley Dusk
by Sherley Anne Williams
Sunset knocks the edge from the
day’s heat, filling the Valley
with shadows: time for coming
in getting on; lapping fields
lapping orchards like greyhounds
racing darkness to mountain
rims, land’s last meeting with still
This is a car
I watched in childhood, streaking
the straightaway through the dusk
I look for the ghost of that
girl in the mid-summer fields
whipping past but what ghosts lurk
in this silence are feelings
not spirit not sounds.
lights approach in the gloom
hovering briefly between
memory and fear, dissolve
into fog lamps mounted high
on the ungainly bodies
of reaping machines: Time
coming in. Time getting on.
“The Green Eyed Monsters of the Valley Dusk” from The Peacock Poems, © 1975 by Sherley Anne Williams – Wesleyan University Press
Sherley Anne Williams was born August 25, 1944; African American poet, novelist and social critic. She is a native of California’s Central Valley, and noted for her poetry collections The Peacock Poems and Some One Sweet Angel Chile, both nominated for National Book Awards, her novel Dessa Rose, and the non-fiction Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study of Neo-Black Literature.
by Taslima Nasrin
My life, like a sandbar,
has been taken over by a monster of a man
who wants my body under his control
so that, if he wishes,
he can spit in my face,
slap me on the cheek,
pinch my rear;
so that, if he wishes,
he can rob me of the clothes,
take my naked beauty in his grip;
so that, if he wishes.
he can chain my feet,
with no qualms whatsoever whip me,
chop off my hands, my fingers,
sprinkle salt in the open wound,
throw ground-up black pepper in my eyes,
with a dagger can slash my thigh,
can string me up and hang me.
His goal: to control my heart
so that I would love him;
in my lonely house at night
sleepless, full of anxiety,
clutching at the window grille,
I would wait for him and sob;
tears rolling down, I would bake homemade bread,
would drink, as if they were ambrosia,
the filthy liquids of his polygynous body
so that, loving him, I would melt like wax,
not turning my eyes toward any other man.
I would give proof of my chastity all my life.
So that, loving him,
on some moonlit night
I would commit suicide
in a fit of ecstasy.
– translated by Caroline Wright
NOTE: It is curious to me that so many critics have interpreted this poem as being written by a woman who obsessively loves her abusive husband. To me, this is a poem by a woman who hates this man (“His goal: to control my heart so that I would love him”). I think the last stanza is bitterly ironic – she thinks suicide may be her only way out.
“Happy Marriage” from The Game in Reverse, © 1995 by Taslima Nasrin – George Braziller, publisher
Taslima Nasrin was born August 25, 1962; Bangladeshi author, poet and physician who has been in exile since 1994. Her first writings were mainly poetry, often about female oppression and written in graphic language. In the early 1990s, she published three collections of essays and three novels. In 1993, her novel Lajja (Shame), about a Hindu family attacked by Muslims, radically changed her life. Muslims, outraged by her negative portrayal of Islamic philosophy, called for a ban of the novel, and she was threatened and physically attacked. The Council of Islamic Soldiers, a radical fundamentalist group, offered a bounty for her death. In 1994, she was misquoted in a newspaper interview, and was charged with “making inflammatory statements.” Thousands of demonstrators labeled her “an apostate” who vilified Islam. After two months in hiding, she escaped to Sweden, ceasing her medical practice to become a full-time writer, and activist for women’s rights and freedom of expression. When her Bangladeshi passport was revoked, she was granted citizenship by Sweden, and spent time in Western Europe and America. She has also lived at times in India, but her books continue to be feminist, frank about her sexuality, and critical of Islamic subjugation of women, so the protests, banning of her books, and fatwas calling for her death have continued. She has also been honored with numerous awards; including a 1994 Human Rights Award from the French government, the 1994 Kurt Tucholsky Prize from Swedish PEN, 1994 Feminist of the Year from the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the 2002 Freethought Heroine Award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation
The New Cotton
by Nikky Finney
They are just boys
Chain ganged to the side of the road,
Dressed to the nines in sunny orange,
That shade of red that never
Seems to set, familiar color
Of that foreign flower,
The kind you can close your
Eyes in sleep and still see,
But these boys are not flowers
Anymore, no thing that can be
Seen to bloom has been left to bloom,
In this place where a chain around a
Black man’s ankle is that state’s
Jewel, but if you still own your
Eyes, you know, they are still boys.
They do not yet know how
To bend, someone has not yet
Passed on the secret of how
To save their backs for the rest
Of the journey, someone forgot
To offer the old way of how
To get through the whip
Of their young days in order
To reach the sweet rock of
Their old, they angle
And arc carelessly, not knowing
They are matchsticks of American
History, never squatting down low
In the grass, never bending
At the ankle or thigh.
They are such proud brittle lion
Trees about to break in every
Direction, but free, the weave of
All their fabric wasted
In the constant picking up
Of useless plastic things,
That as I get closer to them,
That as I pass,
Looks white and sticky plump,
Some kind of new cotton
Stuck inside their reaching
“The New Cotton” was published in Appalachian Heritage quarterly, Fall 2012 issue
Nikky Finney was born August 26, 1957; in South Carolina; American poet and educator; her father was a lawyer, and her mother, a teacher. They were both active in the Civil Rights Movement, and Finney has long been an advocate for social justice and cultural preservation. She was the Guy Davenport Endowed Professor of English at the University of Kentucky (1993-2013), and is currently the Bennett Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina. She won the 2011 National Book Award for Head Off & Split, and the 1999 PEN/Beyond Margins Award. Her poetry collections include On Wings Made of Gauze, Rice, Heartwood, The World is Round, and Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry.