Poetry Friday: “The News”

11793323376_2b9390cd6e_zWhat do I do with the daily news of disasters? Do I mumble a quick prayer for the victims, then turn to my day’s to-do list? Do I ever pause and ponder: this disaster might have struck those I love, or even me? These are the questions that Shara McCallum turns over in “The News.” Her imagination doesn’t flinch from detailing the horrors. Yet she is also self-protective, and she knows this. I admire how she keeps her eyes both shut and open to the dreadful events that life can deal us. And I admire especially the painful closing two stanzas: the piercing image of that mother somewhere whose “hem of life” will be “snagged, /from here forward”: from the instant she learns of her child forever lost.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Sleeping in Slave Quarters at Sweet Briar College

6857565386_0a417e38d2_zFrom my office window I can see the pale yellow plantation house, its sharply pitched roof peeking from behind a huge conifer, its two Italianate cupolas, one at either end of the house.

Since 1901, Sweet Briar House has been the home of the president of Sweet Briar College, a small women’s college in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, a bucolic place of towering trees and beautiful architecture, but also a place that was once home to nearly one hundred slaves.

Nearly all traces of this history are gone, except for possibly the most telling trace: a small log slave cabin thirty paces from the president’s home.

For years the cabin was hidden in plain sight, because it served more antebellum uses—chapel, bookstore, coffee shop, and, most recently “Farm Tool Museum” labeled on the campus maps and college website when I joined the English faculty five years ago.

Ever since arriving I have wanted to write about it, but my attempts have come off as sentimental and unearned. It has never felt like my story to tell. [Read more…]

Checked Baggage

13009696995_d346e1f88a_zIt’s evening and I’m about to meet my older sister in baggage claim. Trained by years of overseas travel in my twenties—and having lost enough luggage along the way—I have taken very little with me on the trip: my carry-on, my diaper bag, and my nine-month-old baby.

I regret to admit that I take some pride in meeting my family in baggage claim and hearing one of them say “this is all you brought?”

But today, I’ve brought heavier baggage than the visible kind: grief, anxiety, and a troubled sense that this trip will be different than every other trip before it.

My sister hugs me and takes my bag. I thank her for picking me up and until we get to the car, we are both silent on the subject of our parents. Usually my mom is the one who meets me here. But now, she is three hours away at a hospital with my father, who has just been diagnosed with cancer and is in unbearable pain. [Read more…]

God Help Me

Center-frayed I begin to ponder—in the way one probes an aching tooth with the tongue—whether my presence causes more pain to those I love than my absence.

It feels as if my hands and feet and jaw are pierced with hooks and strung with piano wire, and these wires pierce their hearts, so that no matter what I do or utter, I make them bleed. The more I struggle, the more I rend their flesh. There is no making things right. There is no making things whole.

Suicide is a tempting lie, and like other lies I’ve cradled in my palms—one more drink and you’ll forget; seduce her and then you will be truly known—it is a bold lie that dares me to believe it in spite of itself. [Read more…]