On Citizen

My students are reading Claudia Rankine’s poetry collection, CITIZEN. We had such an engaging conversation about the micro and macro aggressions pervading American Culture that the clock stopped in our classroom and we didn’t even notice.

What happens when you ask a roomful of smart young people about this complex and very adult book?

1) Some students relied on the metaphor of space to describe issues of voice. Did white privileged people have the right to “take up the space” to express their own rage? I also read “space” as a metaphor for capitalism. There were limited markets, these students said, for people to express opinions.

2) We agreed that framing small moments let us see the big issues.

3) We talked about how poetry fell apart under the weight of huge social traumas.

I went away from that class in awe. Of the book. Of my students

Days #19-23: Five Poems for Spring

Five Poems for Spring

1.

The road sank just beyond the bridge—
Water pushed over the sod and the peat
Sponged out. We carted our things
Taken in by the soak and ferried on.
Trees groaned along our portage;
Sky let go and thunder beyond
Was lumber coming down.

What took us here? Why had the path
Given way? Our trudge to the cottage
Held old thoughts. But we were new
Again, made fresh by the mud, our steps
Clear imprints among stones gone under.

2.

Where metaphor locks at thinking’s edge,
That palm beyond the mind’s brim,
Lip that forms a view of all we cannot fathom:
Rocks pulled around where tent stakes
Clank on the ground; trash and sticks
Fill the fire pits and trees are nicked.

Art meets world and place meets mind,
What rolls over gives back and rolls again.
I want to read and read, plot gnarled
Lattice wound into splendor and re-do
Of the slippery ways forward as the wind blew
And our faces turned inside the thought.

3.

The father hates the son and the mother
Loves the daughter. Along the fence line,
Others came apart and cling to wire
But the cows amble behind. Sacred.
Fear loves the mind’s stumble, the sanity
That squeezes breath and then recovers.
How do I pull the ribs back to the spleen?
Or recover the willow’s blanch, the cottonwood
Seethe of leaves and wind breathing down
By the river? Did I say there were differences?
Pace of long-by, recovery of little-thens and if whats?

4.

Merrily, we go, the nieces and I, through the woods
With the dog and our boots. We slop and wince
And sniff the skunk cabbages and bits of cedar
While the trees lean and groan. We are on our own
I tell the little girls, and later we’ll meet schedules
And school work and work work and then
We remember the forest, ravine in the city’s slant.

Oh little ones, how you will grow and give the world
Back its intent and shovel grief along, how your lives
Climb on and what do we offer? Us old people?
The old sparrows on the ledge and you in the pool,
Your beaks in the water, tipping in the thirst.

5.

Whee! The water roared and the river slanted
Down to the sea. The story is easy and you know it
Too. Friends I’ve loved when the rapids caught
Stones and splashed on, those dear ones
Who moved in when things flashed by in flood.
Our hearts should lift; we should take to the banks
And move along against and uphill. But nights
Are long and dark and take our rationale
They spin us headlong until we fall
Long before we should, before the river gives
Its mouth to the brackish beckoning of fins.