Poetry Friday: “The Grackles” by Betsy Sholl

Poetry Friday Grackles Poem BigHere is a poem that silently enacts a conversion.  The poem starts off with a string of scornful terms for the speaker’s new neighbors, culminating in the almost mean pun on their child’s “grin” as “grim.” But right after this, the speaker begins to soften her terms: she notices a “warmth” in this noisy, dirty, low-class family. Then by the start of the fourth stanza, a switch in point of view has occurred: the speaker sees herself through their eyes. So when the poem’s title image enters (in the inner-rhymed “racket grackles”), the poet intentionally leaves ambiguous whether it’s the speaker or the previously demeaned family who are the bullying grackles. Whoever they are becomes irrelevant, though, in the poem’s closing lines, which focus on the birds themselves. As the sunlight strikes them, the speaker’s previously negative terms for them turn glowingly positive: “they’ve got the spectrum’s full iridescent gleam.” The poem is ultimately suggesting here that whomever or whatever we demean will—when seen in a new light— shine with this richly full gleam.

—Peggy Rosenthal


The Grackles by Betsy Sholl

Down the block, our new neighbors, not unlike
the old, could be named the Grackles, given
the way everything they have is loud: cars,
children, stereos, parties. It all spills out
into the street—broken bikes, pizza boxes,
a nasty looking dog with nothing to restrain it

but the owner’s curse. Giving the mutt wide berth,
stepping around a rusty bike rim, I glance
at the weary-looking man, the angry woman,
sullen teen, younger girl with a smudged grin.
Grim, it seems. But there’s a warmth here, too,
the father teaching his son to make the car

loud by tweaking something on the exhaust,
as the mother spit-washes the baby’s face,
laughs through smoke and sunken eyes
at her barefoot daughter’s new skip rope trick.
When the son grabs the dog’s collar—sorry
the stupid pooch frightened me—I watch him

slowly size up my jog-reddened face,
amused disdain on his for the type I am,
flitting around the block in ragged sweats
as if life’s a matter of tips from slick
magazines. Such a racket grackles make,
like castanets, scolding the song birds

they’ve chased up into the trees, giving them
flack for not even trying to bully back. Now
the sun flashes on them its brightest beam,
so it’s clear from light’s point of view,
however drab they may look in the shade
they’ve got the spectrum’s full iridescent gleam.

 

Betsy Sholl’s most recent book of poems is Otherwise Unseeable (Wisconsin). She teaches in the MFA program of Vermont College of Fine Arts and was poet laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011.

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Poetry Friday: “Meditation on the Evangelista” by Karen An-Hwei Lee

Meditation on the EvangelistaWhat if God turned up at your door in the form of a brush salesman? That’s the premise that Karen An-Hwei Lee’s prose-poem plays with. Mystery and comedy merge in this delightful meditation. First, an unnamed “He” does not do certain everyday things, like shampooing your carpet. Then “God” slips into the poem as the essence of love. Soon the brush salesman is speaking in tongues and the poem’s speaker is wafted heavenward. Although “without a psalmist,” the speaker utters some words of a psalm. In closing, she implores the God who is love to “brush me,” as if she were the salesman’s carpet—a final play on the wild sudden entrance of the divine into our most ordinary doings.

—Peggy Rosenthal


Meditation on the Evangelista by Karen An-Hwei Lee

He does not shampoo your carpet or show you how to brush it clean.
He does not shower you with roses for Sunday’s wedding or funeral.
He does not put his hand in your hair or ask if your spouse is at home.
He only opens a book of words in two columns, one in your language.
He is the salesman with a suitcase of brushes—no gospel tracts.
No, not uncertain whether God loves you from one moment to the next—
your being is love, moves in love, as God does. Man with a case of brushes
shows up at the door. Leans on the frame, whispers a word, evangelista.
Soon he speaks in tongues, but you do not know where this utterance
will go. Upstairs to heaven or sideways, as though sleeping in holiness
on the man’s sleeved arms. You never see the sky open, a ladder of angels
ascending and descending. Instead, a book closes, and the glory-cloud
engulfs you. Without a psalmist, you say—O God, you touch my heart
with love. If I find shelter in the shadow of your wings—brush me.

 

Karen An-Hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of JoyArdor (both from Tupelo), and In Medias Res (Sarabande), winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. Her work has appeared in The American Poet, PoetryKenyon ReviewJournal of Feminist Studies and ReligionGulf Coast, and Columbia Poetry Review.

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The Beautiful Attitudes

By Dyana Herron

2956313375_8e911e6a09_mI clearly remember the last day of being nine. I stood in front of my house on the porch, its cement stained from summer, when my brother and I felt through the thick fur of our chow chows for fat ticks that we plucked, shook off, then smashed with rocks.

On the last day of being nine, I stood on the stained cement crying. I was upset because although the next day was my birthday and would bring all the extravagances of a birthday, I would be turning ten.

As in, going from a one-digit age number to a two-digit age number. And I realized I wasn’t likely to reach the three-digits. [Read more…]

Contemplative Fail

solitudeA few years ago, I decided to become more contemplative.

By nature, I am an action-oriented person (I frequently overuse the word “overwhelmed” and yet refuse to stop plowing forward). My husband and I work for a Christian non-profit with core central values of contemplation and activism. As we live and work in a diverse, chaotic, lovely neighborhood, we have been encouraged to regularly find time to be alone—to refresh and recharge in a culture of frenzy and productivity.

So two years ago, we tried it. We secured babysitting for our daughter and booked a twenty-four hour retreat at a nearby Catholic retreat center.

[Read more…]

Girl Meets God in the Classroom, Part 1

girlmeetsgodI had used Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God once before in class, an honors freshman colloquium on the theme of metamorphosis of body, heart, mind, and spirit. On the first or second day of discussing the book, comments made by a few students surprised, stunned, and, ultimately, silenced me.

“I wasn’t raised with any religion,” one student said, “so I can’t relate at all to this book.” A couple other students agreed.

We had barely begun exploring the text. We hadn’t gotten to looking at Winner’s experience and understanding of God, who, if not the main character, is one of the book’s two main characters. That’s how I had intended to discuss God—as a character, the same way we’d discuss a fictional character.

[Read more…]


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