Rising

Monday Morning Musings:

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

From Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”

Full poem here.

I.

I rise before the sun,

a woman’s work is never done,

or so the saying goes–

but often yet denied a place

debased, erased

from education, business, science, and the arts

kept apart, or not allowed to start

never mind, we’ve given birth to the human race

created beauty and gone to space,

although harassed and worse,

some want progress gained to be reversed

(believing in mythical pasts and Eve’s curse)

but we move onward, oppose coercion

and being brutalized and minimized–

we advertise and mobilize–

trying not to polarize–

OK, perhaps a bit we moralize

but feeling like we’re pressurized

we rise

again, we rise

 

I march (again)

with a friend

she was my daughters’ teacher

(way back when)

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and we talk and cheer

reaching for something dear—

hope, instead of fear—

this is not a fight only for straight, white women,

rights are for all regardless of skin tone or orientation in

who they love

(is love is love is love is love)

yet why do some believe that to have what they desire

means others’ dreams should then expire?

They’d build a bonfire of the vanities

produce dark cavities,

gaping holes in knowledge—truth and beauty gone—insanities—

while the Doomsday Clock shows we more than ever jeopardize

life as we know it

(afraid to admit this)

we reach for the prize

rising still

again, we rise. . .

 

and from the crowd celebrating Womanhood

I wander north–as I said I would

to celebrate two women and art on a smaller scale

because loves trumps hate, and it prevails

 

II.

 

I learned my mom wanted a career in fashion design,

or so she says now, perhaps then she was resigned,

as she went to secretarial school, learning typing and shorthand.

but then war came, with its demands

she willingly bucked the rivets and worked in shifts

then married, raised children—but art uplifts

and it was there for her, when she had time

perhaps no longer in her prime

days, to months, to years, the lows and highs

her parents, my father, her brother died

though weakened,

yet still she’d rise

 

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Her cousin, like a sister, began a Yiddish club

a language almost gone, but rising up

through songs they sing and memories

of parents or grandparents’ spoken tongue

(curses uttered, lullabies sung)

I ask about the story I heard

that my grandmother had a lovely voice

and that she was often the choice

at family gatherings

asked to sing with Abraham Hankins, the artist cousin, famous

(shameless, we name him thus)

she says he studied music first, but his voice was almost done

(because of mustard gas during WWI)

she says–

he learned to paint in the hospital—“art therapy isn’t new”

but an online biography reports the opposite is true

born in Gomel, then sent to Philadelphia to live with his cousins

(I know he lived with my mom’s family, but there were dozens)

talented, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,

then enlisted and wounded

the experts concluded

singing would expand his lungs, damaged from the war’s ravages

it turned out that he excelled in this field, too,

studied in Paris, this is true,

but though music called in tenor voice,

ultimately, he made a choice–

following when his heart said, “art.”

My cousin tells me about his studio

with many windows, but little else

and of the patron who, well-pleased

sent him frozen vegetables–beans, corn, and peas—

along with a freezer to store them in

vegetables at least to eat

not a starving artist, painting in the street

I am impressed by the work, cousins and mother’s

as well as those of many others

I love color, but I can’t draw—

no talent there at all–

maybe it skipped on to my daughter,

as her poster art I’ve carried twice to help me energize

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Rising through the shadows

as we gather to rise

when again, we rise

 

While the art show reception is going on,

my husband puts together with care

for my mother, a new armchair,

kindly doing his share

for the woman who gave his wife life

so she can more easily rise–

it’s more difficult for her now

but she finds a way somehow

to paint and laugh and still to rise

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as women have done throughout the ages

with baby steps, on platforms, and in stages

to rise

again

to rise

 

 

 

 

 

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Freedom: Haibun

This is for Frank Tassone’s Haikai Challenge. Tomorrow is a federal holiday that celebrates the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. Frank has asked us to reflect and write about freedom. Here is MLK’s “I Have a Dream speech.

My grown daughter is visiting. She dances into the kitchen in the morning, and I join in with a song. I’m happy that this is a safe place for her, and that here she feels the freedom to be silly. We both do.

Too many people think freedom means waving a flag and repeating slogans. But greatness does not come from denying others the right to love, to learn, to live without fear of a knock at the door. Freedom generously shares a dream, but requires effort and vigilance. Freedom looks forward in hope, not backwards to repression.

 

dreams hibernating

wait for spring’s awakening

hearts dance in sunshine

 

 

 

 

Heroes Who Fly: NaPoWriMo

 “Because of Bessie Coleman, we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”

–Lieutenant William J. Powell

“The air is the only place free from prejudices.”

–Bessie Coleman

 

She saw the sky,

and she wanted to fly

far from the Texas cotton fields

and one-room school

she was smart, nobody’s fool

she wanted to fly,

high amidst the clouds

 

She dared to dream

and so, she schemed

worked and saved and moved away

took flight,

to the City of Light,

a woman of color,

An American in Paris,

her life would have been safe, but duller

if she had stayed at home, somehow smaller,

unable to achieve her American dream

 

Yet once she was trained

could fly up and around,

she was beloved, renowned

for her daring and skill,

for her will

to achieve

despite her gender

despite her race

(though she had stepped from her place)

Queen Bess they called her

as she performed

confronting danger

and perhaps placed a wager

as they sat and cheered

because they knew

knew what she could do

when she saw the sky

and wanted to fly

 

And we need heroes who soar,

to adore,

heroes who persist

heroes who resist

prejudice and hate

to show us it can be done

that evil hasn’t won,

we need heroes who reach for the sky,

who place hope and desire
on their outstretched wings,

who dream a dream,

and fly

 

This is Day 21, NaPoWriMo. I’m off-prompt. Back in January, Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was featured in a Google Doodle. She was the first woman of African-American descent and the first woman of Native American descent to become a licensed pilot.

 

 

 

 

Blood, Ghosts, and Morning: Magnetic Poetry

The Oracle is very sensitive, though not great at spelling. She picked up that I’ve been reading articles about rape for my books, and that I’m disgusted by how women are treated all over the world, and of course, the current political climate.

 

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Secret rhythm of women

red blush

men must not see

an eternity dying

ghosts linger

 

I remembered hearing this story.

 

 

Then the Oracle decided to give me something more pleasant.

 

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remember the morning

candy heart perfume

picture it warm

we explore time

liquid & soft

it is flowering

look

 

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By Mmacbeth – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30614607

 

Suffering for Suffrage

Votes for Women buttons

Collection of pins, Library of Congress

As I walk to the polling place

I think of times not long gone by

Of those not welcomed in this space

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

A robin sings from a pine tree,

Above him blue is the summer sky

Cloudless space, bright tranquility

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Yet elsewhere votes do not get cast

Here flowers bloom, no one will die

To have this right, and hold it fast

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Bread and roses, not much to ask,

Yet, jail and death, and people cry

Freedom and rights, take up the task

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Standing on shoulders of giants,

I walk, I vote, I watch birds fly

Free and high, no fear of tyrants

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Votes for Women

Votes for Women, Washington, D.C. March, Library of Congress

 

For a brief time under New Jersey’s Constitution of 1776, anyone, male or female, black or white, could vote, as long as they could meet monetary or property requirements (this was standard for the time). This right was taken away in 1807. (You can read more here. )

The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited the denial of voting rights to citizen’s based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” thus giving formerly enslaved black men the right to vote.

On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the Nineteenth-Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex.” The amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Poll taxes and bogus literacy tests (and intimidation) were used to effectively disenfranchise many black voters in the south until the passage of additional laws, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. More recently, some states have passed voter ID laws, which often prevent citizens from voting.

Of course, in many places, men and women are still fighting for the right to vote, or the right to vote without fear of violence.

Here’s Judy Collins singing “Bread and Roses”  . The words originated in a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim, “Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread by give us roses.” The women striking in the textile mill of Lawrence, MA, used the slogan, and it became popular again in the 1960s.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year: Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

   The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

 –“Ring Out, Wild Bells,” From In Memoriam

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Like Janus, the double-faced Roman god of doors and gates and beginnings and endings, I find myself looking back at the past year and forward to the year to come.  This year I’ve become more aware of my own mortality. I’ve spent many hours reflecting upon the good and the bad in my life.  Over the past year, I’ve tried to appreciate all the good things in my life, especially my family and friends.

 As Tennyson directed, I’ve tried to ring out the false and ring in what is true to me.

 I can’t eliminate the noxious jeremiads that dominate politics in the United States right now. I can’t end all wars and bring world peace. I can’t keep all women safe from men who want to beat, rape, and mutilate them, and who want to deny them education and rights.

 But–I can keep my own words civil and listen to the ideas of others. I can hold back anger and passion to use when they are necessary and warranted.

 I can give aid and assistance to women and organizations that help women. I can promote education and the arts. . .because knowledge is power, and music, art, and literature nourish the soul.

I am a writer. I can write.

 Happy New Year! May 2013 bring all of you health, happiness, and peace.