Michael Brown

Monday night the the grad jury announced their decision not to charge Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed 18 year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO on August 9, 2014. I watched the coverage with my my husband, whispering to the the television, “please be safe” over and over again as the split screen showed the gathering protestors. It’s the closest I could come to prayer. At one point, I went into our small half bath and wept.

I have a lot of feelings about the events leading up to and after the announcement on Monday night. I also have the urge to write, so for now, that’s what I am going to do.

I offer up these two pieces by the brilliant poet, Danez Smith. The first is his poem, “not an elegy for Mike Brown,” which I posted on my Facebook wall several months ago, but felt the need to re-post in light of the decision that came down Monday night. The second is an open letter Danez Smith posted on Tuesday.

Inaugural Poem 2013

Four years ago I watched live streaming coverage of the Inauguration from my office at school. I was interested in President Obama’s speech, but I was as equally interested in hearing the inaugural poem by Elizabeth Alexander. Today, I sit in my living room listening to NPR’s coverage and watching live streaming (on mute). Once again, I anticipate the President’s speech but I also anticipate the inaugural poem, this year written by poet Richard Blanco. 

Richard Blanco. Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Richard Blanco will be the first Hispanic inaugural poet and the first openly gay one. He is also the fourth inaugural poet; the first being Robert Frost at JFK’s inauguration in 1961. Writing an inaugural poem seems an almost impossible task. Frost himself penned the poem linked above for the occasion, but could not read it and ended up reciting The Gift Outright.  Elizabeth Alexander was criticized heavily for her interpretation of the task, but how many poets could possibly please everyone when it comes to this assignment? Past Presidents seem to agree, as this article from The Christian Science Monitor observes:

But when second-generation Cuban Richard Blanco steps to the podium during President Obama’s Jan. 21 second-term inaugural ceremonies, he’ll be only the fourth poet to participate in such proceedings. Robert Frost, who read at John Kennedy’s 1961 swearing-in, was the first, as near as we can tell. Bill Clinton had two: Maya Angelou, in 1993, and Miller Williams, in 1997. In 2009 Elizabeth Alexander read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at Mr. Obama’s first inaugural. Now Mr. Blanco will follow her. That’s it.

JFK and Robert Frost. Photo courtesy of The New Yorker.

The article goes on to speculate that the reason for this may be that the President doesn’t want to be overshadowed by the poet. The article refers to a story about JFK and Robert Frost, but I think it also has to do with the previously mentioned difficulty of the task. I mean, you sit down and write a poem about America in a month that will be read to millions of people. Not to mention it will live on in annals of history and you see if that doesn’t give you reason to pause.

Blanco is said to have been inspired by Walt Whitman and commented in an NPR interview:

This whole idea of place and identity and what’s home and what’s not home, and which is in some ways such an American question that we’ve been asking since, you know, since [Walt] Whitman, trying to put that finger on America. 

I think Whitman would agree with Blanco and he would also agree that we are a long way from “putting our finger on America” but maybe that is just what makes America great?  

I Hear America Singing
 
by Walt Whitman
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown, The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

One Today
by Richard Blanco

“One Today”
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper — bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives — to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind — our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me — in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always — home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country — all of us —
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it — together

 

Saturday, Saturday!

An addition to my little post about SP earlier this week:

Here is a list of the books she tried to have banned from the Wasilla Public Library, according to the official minutes of the Library Board. When she was unsuccessful at having these books banned, she tried to have the Librarian fired. Please pass this list along.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Blubber by Judy Blume
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Christine by Stephen King
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cujo by Stephen King
Curses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Decameron by Boccaccio
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fallen Angels by Walter Myers
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Forever by Judy Blume
Grendel by John Champlin Gardner
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Have to Go by Robert Munsch
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Impressions edited by Jack Booth
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
It’s Okay if You Don’t Love Me by Norma Klein
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
My House by Nikki Giovanni
My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara
Night Chills by Dean Koontz
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Collective
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Separate Peace by John Knowles
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Bastard by John Jakes
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Devil’s Alternative by Frederick Forsyth
The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder
The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
The Living Bible by William C. Bower
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders
The Shining by Stephen King
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume
To Kill 20 A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff
Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols by Edna Barth

I’d like to know why conservatives continue to pick on To Kill a Mockingbird. It seems like it’s a right if passage or something. Also, does anyone notice a theme among these books? A lot of them are fantasy….I stress the word fantasy.
Thanks T for passing this list along.

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Today is our orientation for Camp Rover Romp. Get excited!