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for Martin Espada and the other 1% on July 4, 2017

 

I read somewhere, long ago,

That in an orbit of the sun, four seasons,

Past birthdays, holidays, and one-quarter

Of an election cycle,

99% of Americans fail

To buy books of poetry. Yet,

 

We wonder what’s gone wrong with this country.

In 2006 then Senator John Kerry made a comment that was insulting to our military. While addressing students at Pasadena City College, he stated, “You study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.” (Hillary Clinton Joins Criticism) I was so upset by the underlying, negative assumptions Kerry’s statement made about those who serve in the military, that I quickly came home and removed my “Kerry 2004” bumper sticker from my car. Those who know me, know that this is no small gesture for a woman who still has her “OBAMA 2008” sticker proudly displayed on her station wagon.

Lately, however, it seems politicians have learned nothing from Kerry’s “botched joke.” Just last week, while trying to justify the cruel budget cuts suggested by the White House, politicians were throwing insulting assumptions all over the place. The budget director explained, “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” (Single Mothers Shouldn’t Have to Pay) The National Endowment for the Arts was also included in that assumption.

I am here to take offense at that assumption. I was a single mother for the first five years of my son’s life. During that time, although cash was quite limited for us, we visited art museums, I enrolled my son in arts programs. Both of my children are artists. They’ve taken music lessons and sculpting. My son took VLACS Economics, so that he could take Advanced Art and still graduate high school on time. Both my son and daughter intend to go to film school. I am a poet and a writer. I’m writing this now and I wrote a poem this morning.

Art is an integral part of our lives and just because we were poor for a while didn’t mean that we forgot about the importance of art to the human experience.

Today, the National Endowment for the Arts is more important than ever. Six giant corporations are the gate keepers for publishing most of our music, films and literature. They also control what and who gets promoted. The current climate in the United States is not one where someone who is an artist can easily make a livable wage doing such. The NEA offers grants and programs that allow artists to flourish. They offer schools  the opportunity to pay artists to bring their experience into schools. They help to fund educational programs like Poetry Out Loud.

I don’t know of any mother, single or otherwise, who wants her children to grow up in a culture that doesn’t value art and artists. I am offended that any politician would suggest such a thing. I vote for my tax dollars to go to artists and to PBS and to Meals on Wheels, before a single dime of it builds a bomb. No matter what those who currently hold power may tell me to be scared of, I am much more afraid of living in a world that doesn’t value art and artists than I am of the terrorists they constantly tell me to fear.

And, while we’re on the topic of insulting and down right ignorant assumptions, what parent, single mom or coal-miner,  hasn’t relied on Big Bird? As my students often say, “When you assume, it makes an ass out of you and me.” Maybe we should have an artist design a bumper sticker with that phrase on it.

 

 

a Valentine’s Day poem for Ruth Coker Burks

 

Flowers photographed

And posted on Instagram;

A selfie with

Heart-shaped hands.

 

Write love on your arms

To remember. She

Buried the young men,

Skeletons of their former

lives with love and sex

 

Dinner parties and

Dancing parades-

When their families

Would not face

 

Who the boys they’d

Raised were. She was

More than a marble

Spectre in Arkansas.

 

No real nurse’s training,

Just what she’d watched

From a vinyl, hospital

Chair. But she knew

 

How to take that

And mop a forehead

Or change a bed pan.

 

How to use her own

Savings at the crematorium

And to find cracked cookie jars.

How to transform a plot bought

 

Out of spite

Into the grave for 43

Dead men, abandoned

 

by judgement and health.

 

Hull of old memories,

Bebop and slow dances,

Soda-shoppe sundaes

After school, you-

DJ’d them all

With a quarter request

And the push of some buttons.

Records dropped

45 rpm and the long arm

Lowered itself onto each

Groove like a gentle

Lover. Scratching

Melancholy moods

And soft air.

Where your records are now

Melted ashtrays, ornaments

Hanging on diner walls, and

Skeet targets,

Digital music – so pure

And perfect, convenient –

Will never be

As romantic as

Standing arm

And arm above

The Wurlitzer choosing

Our favorite song.

~June 7, 2016 – Poem almost every day

Now I know, better

Than ever, why you exist.

(Tyranny, Militia, and the like)

 

So, my question becomes

What will be my weapon

Of choice: Poetry

or an AR-15?

 

This morning I laced-up

My Doc Martens.

Your mother wears combat boots.

Not a word written. 50,000

behind. I missed the roar

of 3 million fingers

racing on the keyboard –

 

my competitors; my companions.

No thick manuscript –

200 pieces of fresh copier

paper – speeding through

 

that printer finish line.

Regret. But there are others.

Novels complete

or hanging mid-sentence.

 

People I’ve birthed,

waiting for climax, dénouement,

a conclusion. Ever stuck

in rising action. Do not

 

regret that no new plot

twists developed on the screen

and page. (There were

 

plenty here on the ground.)

Make sure former characters are

well-rounded, not flat.

Get back to writing that.