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APRIL 2005

Poems From Featured Poet Laureates

Rhode Island: A Toast For the Christening of the USS Rhode Island.

By Michael S. Harper

Majestic, sullied, sultry
in invention, we should never forget
it has teeth, its new log and sleeve
like all its sisters, Katy
bars the door, or opens it,
and we are in a new age at sea,
and by the shore in august bird
of egress in its pioneer charts,
for we must wait for noise
and benediction,
honors given and taken
at departure in the minutiae
of bells.
In daylight,
evaporating in sonar, lozenges
of the inner ear of the crew
is bonded by provision,
by protocol, and an invisible
flag, which cannot come to quantum
attitude until force
is out of the cave
whose weaponry is its religion.                                                                   

At the helm, the quiet rigor,
tested samplings of logistics,
determined wind eating the air
where no eagle will ever land,
we are at command to strategic
flagrant good, and we will play
percentages on the return,
and on the watch.
At night,
the seascape above us,
we shall repeat the code,
and the message of the state:
prepare to be merciful
in cunning power;
this is the zone of freedom.

Screech Owl

By Ted Kooser

All night each reedy whinny
from a bird no bigger than a heart
flies out of a tall black pine
and, in a breath, is taken away
by the stars. Yet, with small hope
from the center of darkness
it calls out again and again.

“Screech Owl” is reprinted from Delights & Shadows, 2004, by permission of the author and Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.


Superstitious Manna

By Kevin Stein

Face down, the good luck penny becomes the bad
no one will touch. On the cakewalk sidewalk,
copper beacon of promise gone wrong,
its glint begs “Pick me up,” a hint of mischief
in the way light puddles against its thin brim,
nearly spilling but not. Folks sidestep around,
as they would any black cat breaking a mirror
on Friday the 13th. For you it winks “I’m yours” . . .

Excerpt from the poem “Superstitious Manna,” American Ghost Roses (University of Illinois Press, 2005.

Worlds Apart

By Margaret Britton Vaughn

I stood in the large Metropolitan Museum
and stared at the sunflowers by Van Gogh.
I thought of the black-eyed susans that grew
in the fence row near the milk barn of my kin.
Two worlds apart, the beauty of art:
one by man, one by nature.
My kin may never view the sunflowers,
and the spectators would not see
the black-eyed susans.
Both worlds missed something.

from Kin


Peace Plan:
Meditation on the 9 Stages of “Peacemaking”
(as tribute to Senator Claiborne Pell:  1997)

By Michael S. Harper

[define problem; you and me against the problem;
shared concerns v. what you don’t share; work on
what is doable; work on listening skills; have a
peace plan; work on forgiveness; purify your heart.]

The Trident, in nightmare,
sits on the ocean floor;
the canopy of education
(as an active verb)
is sometimes schizophrenic;
its lessons lost in reflex
of the congressional record,
behind the iron and rice curtains
you wonder
what language the French spoke
in pronouncing Dien Bien Phu,
what part of our menu
still Hungarian goulash,
on what government menu
*Kiev appears, or Riga
or the Asian side of the Bosphorus;

a Pell poem should have a panel
in the Civic square;
it should hold a pelican
who dines, always alone,
in the cemetery pyres
of the Revolutionary War Black Regiment
which is near his neighborhood;
it might strive, in perfect diction,
for clarity on the issues of sport;
at every hospital dance and shuffling
move to the whistles of the territory<
bands; it is didactic in its rhythms
and it tells the truth;

I have sat in the waters of foggy
bottom, tape-recorder going,
adjudicating individual grants,
and seen a henchman in the changeover
enjoy the joblessness of secretaries
who have worked freely on overtime;
I have appeared to the public
late Saturdays
slightly afraid of the punster
who has marked our regional
comings and goings
in the transfer of op-ed
and logarithm<
and seen this calculus
reduced to novel synod
or tabernacle
or personal jurisdiction;

I have seen your principle
in the gait and habit
or staff, gallery, protocol:
it is a difficult peace plan:
You are strong in the broken places;
we could win a war or an earthquake
if we embraced, in close quarters,
to ethical teachings the only answer
to a violent culture
(in Trident, in nightmare)
might protect even the aquifers,
conifers; our seas are idea rich
as plankton; as honest as pantomime
and we will find the intuitive organ—
the heart, and find the peace organ
and not let the year 2000
be compass alone
but compassion;
and know victims
understand violence best
and cultivate the peace gene:
the conflict resolution by example
of Claiborne Pell.

Bombay Hook

By Fleda Brown

Out of a great breathing emerge
winged things, a leafing, a shaping, a gathering.
Purple grackle crouch thick as leaves
in the trees. Then at some faint twinge

in the fabric of the day, they are wings,
a black rage in the sky. They are all
like that: starlings like schools of fish,
>darting and swarming, thousands of snow-geese

lifting and dropping to the pond in waves;
even the lone marsh-hawk, glinting
like a huge butterfly, buckles to wind
inside a faultless curve. Before dark,

low tide gathers plovers and pipers
dipping into the muck. The sunset sky
turns restless and winged: so many nights
in the world, who could count them?

The one breath keeps on like a sleeping child
under a down quilt, turning by the will
of a dream, or the twitch of a muscle that knows
what it sends away, and what it holds.

from Do Not Peel the Birches, Purdue University Press, 1993

Why Dogs Stopped Flying

By Ken Brewer

Before humans, dogs flew everywhere.
Their wings of silky fur wrapped hollow bones.
Their tails wagged like rudders through wind,
their stomachs bare to the sullen earth.

Out of sorrow for the first humans

stumbling, crawling, helpless and cold
dogs folded their great wings into paws
soft enough to walk beside us forever.

They still weep for us, pity our small noses,
our unfortunate eyes, our dull teeth.
They lick our faces clean,
keep us warm at night.
Sometimes they remember flying
and bite our ugly hands.

Jerimoth Hill

By Tom Chandler

812 feet, the highest point in Rhode Island
You will not recognize any bald knob of granite
or sheer cliff face silhouetted against clouds,
in fact, you won’t realize you’re anywhere at all
except by this bullet-riddled sign by the road
that curves through these scraggled third growth
woods that was once a grove of giant pines
that were cut down for masts that were used
to build ships to sail away to the rest of the world
from the docks of Providence Harbor, their holds
filled with wool from the sheep that grazed
in the field that had once been the giant pines
till the shepherds died off and the applers took over
and grew orchards of Cortlands and Macintosh
Delicious to fill the holds of the ships that sailed
to the rest of the world from the docks of Providence
Harbor with masts made from the giant pines till
the orchards moved west along with everything
else to less glacial land and the fields became
overgrowth of berries and hobblebush crisscrossed
by walls made of stones that had slept beneath
one inch of topsoil for twelve thousand years
till the settlers found when they tried to plant crops
that this was a country that grew only rocks which
they made into walls to pen in the sheep that provided
the wool that filled the holds of the ships that sailed
to the rest of the world from the docks of Providence Harbor.

Jerimoth Hill is included in Across State Lines, the anthology of The American Poetry & Literacy Project, and is also found on the website of The Academy of American Poets.



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