Friday, May 26, 2017

U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2017 at the Rose Bowl on May 20, 2017 - Thoughts and Pre-Concert Poetry

by Gregg Chadwick

I first heard U2's 1987 album The Joshua Tree in Western Australia. The album's Cinemascope sound provided the soundtrack for my next few months traveling the breadth of that expansive country from Perth, to Uluru (Ayers Rock), to Darwin, to Melbourne, to Sydney. Having spent a number of summers as a kid traveling across the grand deserts of the United States, I could hear the arid landscape in U2's songs. And while riding through the red deserts of Australia's outback I felt right at home. I gazed at Anton Corbijn's evocative black and white photography each time I pulled The Joshua Tree out of the cassette case and popped it into my Walkman. My brother Kent is a poet, and I thought of him often as I listened to the poetic, atmospheric wash opening the album. In those Australian months, I often peered out of a bus window as we careened through the desert dust with Bono's plaintive wail in my ear. From Bullet the Blue Sky, to Red Hill Mining Town, to Mothers of the Disappeared the songs on The Joshua Tree echoed and expanded a growing mistrust of the dangerous elements in Reagan era U.S. and Thatcher era U.K. policies. Thirty years later, in our even more dangerous era under Trump, the political and emotional concerns embedded in The Joshua Tree ring loudly. It is fitting that U2 is playing the entire album from start to finish on their most recent tour.

Last Saturday, May 20, 2017, I joined an enthusiastic throng at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena to listen to U2's 30th Anniversary take on their groundbreaking album. Before U2's set began, a series of powerful poems was scrolled across the screen behind the stage.

There were many beautiful musical moments at the Rose Bowl, from Edge's chiming guitar, to Adam Clayton's deep, fat bass, to Larry Mullin's powerful drumming, to an engaged Bono. For much of the evening, U2 performed in front of a giant video screen filled with Corbijn's evocative new imagery, and later filmed tributes to women's rights and the plight of Syrian refugees. As Bono says to Andy Greene in Rolling Stone:

"Let's meet one such immigrant who he wants to turn away from the shore. I commissioned french artist J.R. He didn't have much time to do it. Where are we going to find this girl? He finds her in Zaatari in a camp in Jordan, which I visited with my daughter and [my wife] Ali a year ago. He finds this incredible spirit, Omaima. She talks about America as a dreamland. She closes her eyes and J.R. asks her in another segment of the film we don't broadcast, 'What do you see when you think of America?' She goes, 'Oh, it is a civilized country and they are a good people.' It was just heartbreaking."

 A giant banner bearing a photo of Omaima, the young Syrian refugee featured on the large screen, was carried through the crowd during Miss Sarajevo. An almost punkishly exuberant version of  U2's first hit I Will Follow brought the house to their feet and the night to a close.

Note: The boorish Trump backers behind us, spitting and slurring drunken epithets towards Bono and the band whenever U2 ventured towards thoughts of social justice or civil rights provided proof that the world and the United States in particular needs this album and this band right now. Fortunately, the boors left early, leaving us more room to dream new dreams that night.


Below I have posted many of the poems scrolled by U2 before the Joshua Tree 2017 concert at the Rose Bowl on May 20, 2017. I have also added poems shown on the massive video screens at earlier performances in Vancouver and Seattle.  Please click on the identifying links to find the poem sources. And please follow up to purchase some of these amazing poets' powerful work. Links to the author's works for sale are provided below before each poem.

Many thanks to the Poetry Foundation for their amazing archive of poetry. And much thanks to Aaron J. Sams who was the first to compile a list of screened poems on the site.

1. Margaret Avison – “Thaw”

by Margaret Avison 

Sticky inside their winter suits the Sunday children stare at pools in pavement and black ice where roots of sky in moodier sky dissolve. An empty coach train runs along the thin and sooty river flats and stick and straw and random stones steam faintly when its steam departs. Lime-water and licorice light wander the tumbled streets. A few sparrows gather. A dog barks out under the dogless pale pale blue. Move your tongue along a slat of a raspberry box from last year's crate. Smell a saucepantilt of water on the coal-ash in your grate. Think how the Black Death made men dance, and from the silt of centuries the proof is now scraped bare that once Troy fell and Pompeii scorched and froze. A boy alone out in the court whacks with his hockey stick, and whacks in the wet, and the pigeons flutter, and rise, and settle back.

-- From Winter Sun and The Dumbfounding, Poems 1940-66, by permission of McClelland & Stewart.

2. George Elliott Clarke – “Ain’t You Scared of the Sacred?: A Spiritual”

George Elliott Clarke – 
“Ain’t You Scared of the Sacred?: A Spiritual”

Ain’t You Scared of the Sacred?: A Spiritual
Ain’t you scared of the Sacred?
Ain’t you scared of the Sacred?
Divinity spies you naked.
Tremble or your heart breaketh.
Yes, I’s scared of the Sacred.
Yes, I’s scared of the Sacred.
So, I don’t fear anyone.
Love shakes me to the bone.
Adam and Eve weren’t angels—
Just apes with an alphabet.
Tremble before the Sacred!
Shake when you aim the bullet!
Best be scared of the Sacred!
Best be scared of the Sacred!
Divinity knows you naked.
Tremble or your house breaketh.
Believers can’t live forever;
And evil-doers gonna die.
Folks with religious Fever,
Burn hot with Hypocrisy.
Ain’t you scared of the Sacred?
Ain’t you scared of the Sacred?
I tremble like an angel
Fallen down, lone and naked.
Sinner, shout against the mosque?
Sinner, shout gainst the synagogue?
Sinner, your church is a kiosk,
And you’re struttin in a bog.
Best be scared of the Sacred!
Best tremble like an angel.
Better know you’re all naked:
Divinity sees every angle.
Best humble down and tremble.
Best humble down and tremble.
Shout proverbs at a mirror.
Condemn yourself for Error.
Best pray Mercy for your sins.
Your Pride is sham Innocence.
Best humble down, tremble well:
Only Love busts your jail cell.
Ain’t you scared of the Sacred?
Ain’t you scared of the Sacred?
Put down that gun and that bomb:
Make your heart a saintly home.
Mercy, Mercy, everyone:
Defuse that bomb! Drop that gun!
Ain’t you scared of the Sacred?
Ain’t you scared of the Sacred?
Divinity spies you naked.
Tremble or your heart breaketh.
Best be scared of the Sacred!
Best be scared of the Sacred!

George Elliott Clarke
7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17)

3. George Elliott Clarke – 
“Untitled (Gender is not a Jail)”

 Male is partly female, because female
 Carries male. To whit, Gender’s not a jail

4. George Elliott Clarke – “Kaddish for Leonard Cohen (a la maniere d’Allan Ginsburg)”

Elegy for Leonard Cohen
(à la manière d'Allen Ginsberg)

George Elliott Clarke

This terrible, irritable dawn--
This morning of Mourning--
His obituary crowbars apart
Prophecy and Nostalgia....
Always native to Heaven,
Minting gleaming melodies,
Freeing a nailed-down Christ,
Obeying the mating-calls
Of mandolins and guitars, he
Never abstained from Liberty,
Never lost the Intelligence
Of Dylan-dark sunglasses
And light making masterpieces
Of shambles, or lighting up
Cages where lovers loll,
Lousy with tears and sighs....
Poet of Everything,
He transcended conclaves
Of critics, the murders
Of poets, all those copycats--
Sordid franchisees of blues--
Every presidency serving up
Immaculate Corruption, the stale,
white bread circulated with grease....
His insatiable suitcase,
Portaging Gog and Magog
(In eastern Quebec), Hydra,
Rue Main, Manhattan, Havana,
Pursued the ghosts of Glory--
Parliaments of movie screens--
Fiestas of butterflies, and secret
Eros, Eros, everywhere....
After auditing the News,
I suffered the insomnia
Of steel nails, heads battered
Until drowsy, woozy in wood.
Eternity expires as eyes close--
Or we succumb to sobbing....
But the honest poet voids
The dirty mind of Grief,
Knows the poet's grave
Is his deathless poems--
Dark, remorseless Beauty--
Light that scalpels eyes open.

© George Elliott Clarke
Parliamentary Poet Laureate
11 November 2016

5. Joan Crate – “I Am a Prophet”

I am a Prophet
By Joan Crate

These words I speak have been given
me by angels.  Moon-faced, they fall
into sight at night and spread wings
of pine needles through my skin.
Stories appear down my arms, across
my legs, they wind my waist in red haloes.

I have been chosen by Tyee
to tell of the beginning.  My flesh
is a series of writhing tablets.
Let me show it to you.
I will dance without veils.
My body is a voice.
My feet tell the story of the lost tribes
who wandered in their own darkness.
When they reached the Promised Land
they did not know it, but fell
down its wet, green gullet,
emerged as ravens, whales, eagles.
You may see their names written across my toes
for just one dollar.

But wait!
There is more.  Here, along
my thighs are the virgin births.
Sand coloured maidens bathed
in mountain streams, were filled with salmon roe.
Smolts swam in their bellies.
Move closer, hear
the swell of secret waters.
The women married totem pole carvers
and  bore fishers who pulled in full nets.
Each night the mothers reconstructed
the bones, threw them back to the sea,
and the salmon lived again.
I will let you touch their fins.

Here, on my breast, see this rusty wound?
A cross marks the time the stories
dulled and Tyee took a new name
and began to live somewhere else—
across the sea in a garden where the plants
grow at the feet of men and women
and not through the trunks of their bodies.
Yes, you may kiss it.
Our garden was cleared,
and spirits shrank, hid in glass cages,
their moon faces darting through golden
liquid to burn hotly behind stupid tongues.

They will speak to you from my mouth
if you will just buy me a drink.
No, don’t go yet!
You haven’t seen it all.
For ten bucks I will show you
every  scar on my body.
Another ten, you can make your own.
I will dance for you in a veil
of red waterfalls.
Stay, I am a prophet.
Angels visit me at night with pen knives.

6. Elizabeth Alexander – “Praise Song for the Day”

Praise Song for the Day

Related Poem Content Details

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
Each day we go about our business, 
walking past each other, catching each other’s 
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. 

All about us is noise. All about us is 
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each 
one of our ancestors on our tongues. 

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning 
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, 
repairing the things in need of repair. 

Someone is trying to make music somewhere, 
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum, 
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice. 

A woman and her son wait for the bus. 
A farmer considers the changing sky. 
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin. 

We encounter each other in words, words 
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, 
words to consider, reconsider. 

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark 
the will of some one and then others, who said 
I need to see what’s on the other side. 

I know there’s something better down the road. 
We need to find a place where we are safe. 
We walk into that which we cannot yet see. 

Say it plain: that many have died for this day. 
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, 
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, 

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built 
brick by brick the glittering edifices 
they would then keep clean and work inside of. 

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day. 
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, 
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables. 

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself, 
others by first do no harm or take no more 
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love? 

Love beyond marital, filial, national, 
love that casts a widening pool of light, 
love with no need to pre-empt grievance. 

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, 
any thing can be made, any sentence begun. 
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, 

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Source: Praise Song for the Day (Graywolf Press, 2009)

7. Carl Sandburg – “Prairie”

Carl Sandburg (1878–1967).  Cornhuskers.  1918.
1. Prairie
I WAS born on the prairie and the milk of its wheat, the red of its clover, the eyes of its women, gave me a song and a slogan.
Here the water went down, the icebergs slid with gravel, the gaps and the valleys hissed, and the black loam came, and the yellow sandy loam.
Here between the sheds of the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians, here now a morning star fixes a fire sign over the timber claims and cow pastures, the corn belt, the cotton belt, the cattle ranches.
Here the gray geese go five hundred miles and back with a wind under their wings honking the cry for a new home.
Here I know I will hanker after nothing so much as one more sunrise or a sky moon of fire doubled to a river moon of water.        5
The prairie sings to me in the forenoon and I know in the night I rest easy in the prairie arms, on the prairie heart.
.    .    .
        After the sunburn of the day
        handling a pitchfork at a hayrack,
        after the eggs and biscuit and coffee,
        the pearl-gray haystacks        10
        in the gloaming
        are cool prayers
        to the harvest hands.
In the city among the walls the overland passenger train is choked and the pistons hiss and the wheels curse.
On the prairie the overland flits on phantom wheels and the sky and the soil between them muffle the pistons and cheer the wheels.
.    .    .
I am here when the cities are gone.
I am here before the cities come.
I nourished the lonely men on horses.
I will keep the laughing men who ride iron.
I am dust of men.        20
The running water babbled to the deer, the cottontail, the gopher.
You came in wagons, making streets and schools,
Kin of the ax and rifle, kin of the plow and horse,
Singing Yankee Doodle, Old Dan Tucker, Turkey in the Straw,
You in the coonskin cap at a log house door hearing a lone wolf howl,        25
You at a sod house door reading the blizzards and chinooks let loose from Medicine Hat,
I am dust of your dust, as I am brother and mother
To the copper faces, the worker in flint and clay,
The singing women and their sons a thousand years ago
Marching single file the timber and the plain.        30
I hold the dust of these amid changing stars.
I last while old wars are fought, while peace broods mother-like,
While new wars arise and the fresh killings of young men.
I fed the boys who went to France in great dark days.
Appomattox is a beautiful word to me and so is Valley Forge and the Marne and Verdun,        35
I who have seen the red births and the red deaths
Of sons and daughters, I take peace or war, I say nothing and wait.
Have you seen a red sunset drip over one of my cornfields, the shore of night stars, the wave lines of dawn up a wheat valley?
Have you heard my threshing crews yelling in the chaff of a strawpile and the running wheat of the wagonboards, my cornhuskers, my harvest hands hauling crops, singing dreams of women, worlds, horizons?
.    .    .
        Rivers cut a path on flat lands.        40
        The mountains stand up.
        The salt oceans press in
        And push on the coast lines.
        The sun, the wind, bring rain
        And I know what the rainbow writes across the east or west in a half-circle:        45
        A love-letter pledge to come again.
.    .    .
      Towns on the Soo Line,
      Towns on the Big Muddy,
      Laugh at each other for cubs
      And tease as children.        50
Omaha and Kansas City, Minneapolis and St. Paul, sisters in a house together, throwing slang, growing up.
Towns in the Ozarks, Dakota wheat towns, Wichita, Peoria, Buffalo, sisters throwing slang, growing up.
.    .    .
Out of prairie-brown grass crossed with a streamer of wigwam smoke—out of a smoke pillar, a blue promise—out of wild ducks woven in greens and purples—
Here I saw a city rise and say to the peoples round world: Listen, I am strong, I know what I want.
Out of log houses and stumps—canoes stripped from tree-sides—flatboats coaxed with an ax from the timber claims—in the years when the red and the white men met—the houses and streets rose.        55
A thousand red men cried and went away to new places for corn and women: a million white men came and put up skyscrapers, threw out rails and wires, feelers to the salt sea: now the smokestacks bite the skyline with stub teeth.
In an early year the call of a wild duck woven in greens and purples: now the riveter’s chatter, the police patrol, the song-whistle of the steamboat.
To a man across a thousand years I offer a handshake.
I say to him: Brother, make the story short, for the stretch of a thousand years is short.
.    .    .
What brothers these in the dark?        60
What eaves of skyscrapers against a smoke moon?
These chimneys shaking on the lumber shanties
When the coal boats plow by on the river—
The hunched shoulders of the grain elevators—
The flame sprockets of the sheet steel mills        65
And the men in the rolling mills with their shirts off
Playing their flesh arms against the twisting wrists of steel:
        what brothers these
        in the dark
        of a thousand years?
.    .    .
A headlight searches a snowstorm.
A funnel of white light shoots from over the pilot of the Pioneer Limited crossing Wisconsin.
In the morning hours, in the dawn,
The sun puts out the stars of the sky
And the headlight of the Limited train.        75
The fireman waves his hand to a country school teacher on a bobsled.
A boy, yellow hair, red scarf and mittens, on the bobsled, in his lunch box a pork chop sandwich and a V of gooseberry pie.
The horses fathom a snow to their knees.
Snow hats are on the rolling prairie hills.
The Mississippi bluffs wear snow hats.
.    .    .
Keep your hogs on changing corn and mashes of grain,
    O farmerman.
    Cram their insides till they waddle on short legs
    Under the drums of bellies, hams of fat.
    Kill your hogs with a knife slit under the ear.        85
    Hack them with cleavers.
    Hang them with hooks in the hind legs.
.    .    .
A wagonload of radishes on a summer morning.
Sprinkles of dew on the crimson-purple balls.
The farmer on the seat dangles the reins on the rumps of dapple-gray horses.        90
The farmer’s daughter with a basket of eggs dreams of a new hat to wear to the county fair.
.    .    .
On the left-and right-hand side of the road,
        Marching corn—
I saw it knee high weeks ago—now it is head high—tassels of red silk creep at the ends of the ears.
.    .    .
I am the prairie, mother of men, waiting.        95
They are mine, the threshing crews eating beefsteak, the farmboys driving steers to the railroad cattle pens.
They are mine, the crowds of people at a Fourth of July basket picnic, listening to a lawyer read the Declaration of Independence, watching the pinwheels and Roman candles at night, the young men and women two by two hunting the bypaths and kissing bridges.
They are mine, the horses looking over a fence in the frost of late October saying good-morning to the horses hauling wagons of rutabaga to market.
They are mine, the old zigzag rail fences, the new barb wire.
.    .    .
The cornhuskers wear leather on their hands.        100
There is no let-up to the wind.
Blue bandannas are knotted at the ruddy chins.
Falltime and winter apples take on the smolder of the five-o’clock November sunset: falltime, leaves, bonfires, stubble, the old things go, and the earth is grizzled.
The land and the people hold memories, even among the anthills and the angleworms, among the toads and woodroaches—among gravestone writings rubbed out by the rain—they keep old things that never grow old.
The frost loosens corn husks.        105
The Sun, the rain, the wind
        loosen corn husks.
The men and women are helpers.
They are all cornhuskers together.
I see them late in the western evening        110
        in a smoke-red dust.
.    .    .
The phantom of a yellow rooster flaunting a scarlet comb, on top of a dung pile crying hallelujah to the streaks of daylight,
The phantom of an old hunting dog nosing in the underbrush for muskrats, barking at a coon in a treetop at midnight, chewing a bone, chasing his tail round a corncrib,
The phantom of an old workhorse taking the steel point of a plow across a forty-acre field in spring, hitched to a harrow in summer, hitched to a wagon among cornshocks in fall,
These phantoms come into the talk and wonder of people on the front porch of a farmhouse late summer nights.        115
“The shapes that are gone are here,” said an old man with a cob pipe in his teeth one night in Kansas with a hot wind on the alfalfa.
.    .    .
Look at six eggs
In a mockingbird’s nest.
Listen to six mockingbirds
Flinging follies of O-be-joyful        120
Over the marshes and uplands.
Look at songs
Hidden in eggs.
.    .    .
When the morning sun is on the trumpet-vine blossoms, sing at the kitchen pans: Shout All Over God’s Heaven.
When the rain slants on the potato hills and the sun plays a silver shaft on the last shower, sing to the bush at the backyard fence: Mighty Lak a Rose.        125
When the icy sleet pounds on the storm windows and the house lifts to a great breath, sing for the outside hills: The Ole Sheep Done Know the Road, the Young Lambs Must Find the Way.
.    .    .
Spring slips back with a girl face calling always: “Any new songs for me? Any new songs?”
O prairie girl, be lonely, singing, dreaming, waiting—your lover comes—your child comes—the years creep with toes of April rain on new-turned sod.
O prairie girl, whoever leaves you only crimson poppies to talk with, whoever puts a good-by kiss on your lips and never comes back—
There is a song deep as the falltime redhaws, long as the layer of black loam we go to, the shine of the morning star over the corn belt, the wave line of dawn up a wheat valley.
.    .    .
O prairie mother, I am one of your boys.
I have loved the prairie as a man with a heart shot full of pain over love.
Here I know I will hanker after nothing so much as one more sunrise or a sky moon of fire doubled to a river moon of water.
.    .    .
I speak of new cities and new people.
I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.        135
I tell you yesterday is a wind gone down,
  a sun dropped in the west.
I tell you there is nothing in the world
  only an ocean of to-morrows,
  a sky of to-morrows.        140
I am a brother of the cornhuskers who say
  at sundown:
        To-morrow is a day.

8. Naomi Shahib Nye – “Kindness”

Naomi Shihab Nye

 Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.
Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

9. Naomi Shahib Nye – “United”

Naomi Shihab Nye

When sleepless, it’s helpful to meditate on mottoes of the states.
South Carolina, “While I breathe I hope.”  Perhaps this could be
the new flag on the empty flagpole.
Or “I Direct” from Maine—why?
Because Maine gets the first sunrise?  How bossy, Maine!
Kansas, “To the Stars through Difficulties”—
clackety wagon wheels, long, long land
and the droning press of heat—cool stars, relief.
In Arkansas, “The People Rule”—lucky you.
Idaho, “Let It Be Perpetual”—now this is strange.
Idaho, what is your “it”?
Who chose these lines?
How many contenders?
What would my motto be tonight, in tangled sheets?
Texas—“Friendship”—now boasts the Open Carry law.
Wisconsin, where my mother’s parents are buried,
chose “Forward.”
New Mexico, “It Grows As It Goes”—now this is scary.
Two dangling its. This does not represent that glorious place.
West Virginia, “Mountaineers Are Always Free”—really?
Washington, you’re wise.
What could be better than “By and By”?
Oklahoma must be tired—“Labor Conquers all Things.”
Oklahoma, get together with Nevada, who chose only
“Industry” as motto. I think of Nevada as a playground
or mostly empty. How wrong we are about one another.
For Alaska to pick “North to the Future”
seems odd. Where else are they going?

Copyright © 2016 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission by the author. writes that "Naomi Shihab Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit."

10. Lucille Clifton – “Let There Be New Flowering”


let there be new flowering
in the fields let the fields
turn mellow for the men
let the men keep tender
through the time let the time
be wrested from the war
let the war be won
let love be
at the end

* * *

"Let there be new flowering" from good woman: poems and a memoir 1969-1980 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1987. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

11. Walt Whitman – “I Hear America Singing”

I Hear America Singing

Related Poem Content Details

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.

12. Jamila Woods (Collaboration with Chance the Rapper) – “Ghazal for White Hen Pantry”

Ghazal for White Hen Pantry

Related Poem Content Details

beverly be the only south side you don’t fit in
everybody in your neighborhood color of white hen

brown bag tupperware lunch don’t fill you
after school cross the street, count quarters with white friends

you love 25¢ zebra cakes mom would never let you eat
you learn to white lie through white teeth at white hen

oreos in your palm, perm in your hair
everyone’s irish in beverly, you just missin’ the white skin

pray they don’t notice your burnt toast, unwondered bread
you be the brownest egg ever born from the white hen

pantry in your chest where you stuff all the Black in
distract from the syllables in your name with a white grin

keep your consonants crisp, coffee milked, hands visible
never touch the holiday-painted windows of white hen

you made that mistake, scratched your initials in the paint
an unmarked crown victoria pulled up, full of white men

they grabbed your wrist & wouldn’t show you a badge
the manager clucked behind the counter, thick as a white hen

they told your friends to run home, but called the principal on you
& you learned Black sins cost much more than white ones

13. Rita Dove – “Wingfoot Lake”

Wingfoot Lake
(Independence Day, 1964)
On her 36th birthday, Thomas had shown her
her first swimming pool. It had been
his favorite color, exactly—just
so much of it, the swimmers’ white arms jutting
into the chevrons of high society.
She had rolled up her window
and told him to drive on, fast.
Now this act of mercy: four daughters
dragging her to their husbands’ company picnic,
white families on one side and them
on the other, unpacking the same
squeeze bottles of Heinz, the same
waxy beef patties and Salem potato chip bags.
So he was dead for the first time
on Fourth of July—ten years ago
had been harder, waiting for something to happen,
and ten years before that, the girls
like young horses eyeing the track.
Last August she stood alone for hours
in front of the T.V. set
as a crow’s wing moved slowly through
the white streets of government.
That brave swimming
scared her, like Joanna saying
Mother, we’re Afro-Americans now!
What did she know about Africa?
Were there lakes like this one
with a rowboat pushed under the pier?
Or Thomas’ Great Mississippi
with its sullen silks? (There was
the Nile but the Nile belonged
to God.) Where she came from
was the past, 12 miles into town
where nobody had locked their back door,
and Goodyear hadn’t begun to dream of a park
under the company symbol, a white foot
sprouting two small wings.

14. Yusef Komunyakaa – “Facing It”

Facing It

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My black face fades,   
hiding inside the black granite.   
I said I wouldn't  
dammit: No tears.   
I'm stone. I'm flesh.   
My clouded reflection eyes me   
like a bird of prey, the profile of night   
slanted against morning. I turn   
this way—the stone lets me go.   
I turn that way—I'm inside   
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light   
to make a difference.   
I go down the 58,022 names,   
half-expecting to find   
my own in letters like smoke.   
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   
I see the booby trap's white flash.   
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse   
but when she walks away   
the names stay on the wall.   
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's   
wings cutting across my stare.   
The sky. A plane in the sky.   
A white vet's image floats   
closer to me, then his pale eyes   
look through mine. I'm a window.   
He's lost his right arm   
inside the stone. In the black mirror   
a woman’s trying to erase names:   
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

Source: Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)

15. Alberto Rios – “The Border: A Double Sonnet”

The Border: A Double Sonnet
Alberto Ríos

The border is a line that birds cannot see.
The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.
The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.
The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.
The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.
The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.
The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.
The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.
The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.
The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.
The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam.
The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations.
The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme.
The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.

The border smells like cars at noon and wood smoke in the evening.
The border is the place between the two pages in a book where the spine is bent too far.
The border is two men in love with the same woman.
The border is an equation in search of an equals sign.
The border is the location of the factory where lightning and thunder are made.
The border is “NoNo” The Clown, who can’t make anyone laugh.
The border is a locked door that has been promoted.
The border is a moat but without a castle on either side.
The border has become Checkpoint Chale.
The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken.
The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.
The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.
The border is the line in new bifocals: below, small things get bigger; above, nothing changes.
The border is a skunk with a white line down its back.

Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author. 

16. Elizabeth Alexander – “Preliminary Sketches: Philadelphia”

Preliminary Sketches: Philadelphia

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“I saw a friend from growing up who’s been
living in L.A. for about twenty years, and I
heard him say, ‘I’m from L.A.,’ and I said,
‘No, man, you from Philly. We don’t give
nobody up.’”
—Khan Jamal
jazz vibraphonist
Fish-man comes with trout and fresh crabs: 
“Live! They live crabs! They live crabs!” 
Bars called “Watutsi.” “Pony-Tail.” 

A dark green suit, a banded hat. 
The gentleman buys pig’s feet and 
papaya juice. He looks like church. 

Another man, down Spruce Street, says, 
“Yeah, California’s beautiful, 
but I ain’t got no people there, 

so I came back. I raised a racehorse. 
Trainer says he’s mean, but I say 
naw, naw. That horse just alive.” 

Which way to walk down these tree streets 
and find home cooking, boundless love? 
Double-dutching on front porches, 

men in sleeveless undershirts. 
I’m listening for the Philly sound— 
Brother            brother            brotherly love.

Source: The Venus Hottentot (Graywolf Press, 2004)

17. William Matthews – “Why We Are Truly a Nation”

Why We Are Truly a Nation

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Because we rage inside 
the old boundaries, 
like a young girl leaving the Church, 
scared of her parents. 

Because we all dream of saving 
the shaggy, dung-caked buffalo, 
shielding the herd with our bodies. 

Because grief unites us, 
like the locked antlers of moose 
who die on their knees in pairs. 

William Matthews, “Why We Are Truly a Nation” from Selected Poems and Translations, 1969-1991. Copyright © 1992 by William Matthews. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved,
Source: Selected Poems and Translations 1969-1991 (1992)

18. Lawrence Ferlinghetti – “The World is a Beautiful Place”

The World Is a Beautiful Place

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don't mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don't sing
all the time

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind some people dying
all the timeor maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn't half bad
if it isn't you

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey towith its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen

and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs
and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
on picnics
in the middle of the summer
and just generally'living it up'
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling

19. Robert Pinsky – “An Explanation of America: A Love of Death”

from An Explanation of America: A Love of Death

Related Poem Content Details

Imagine a child from Virginia or New Hampshire 
Alone on the prairie eighty years ago 
Or more, one afternoon—the shaggy pelt 
Of grasses, for the first time in that child’s life, 
Flowing for miles. Imagine the moving shadow 
Of a cloud far off across that shadeless ocean, 
The obliterating strangeness like a tide 
That pulls or empties the bubble of the child’s 
Imaginary heart. No hills, no trees. 

The child’s heart lightens, tending like a bubble 
Towards the currents of the grass and sky, 
The pure potential of the clear blank spaces. 

Or, imagine the child in a draw that holds a garden 
Cupped from the limitless motion of the prairie, 
Head resting against a pumpkin, in evening sun. 
Ground-cherry bushes grow along the furrows, 
The fruit red under its papery, moth-shaped sheath. 
Grasshoppers tumble among the vines, as large 
As dragons in the crumbs of pale dry earth. 
The ground is warm to the child’s cheek, and the wind 
Is a humming sound in the grass above the draw, 
Rippling the shadows of the red-green blades. 
The bubble of the child’s heart melts a little, 
Because the quiet of that air and earth 
Is like the shadow of a peaceful death— 
Limitless and potential; a kind of space 
Where one dissolves to become a part of something 
Entire ... whether of sun and air, or goodness 
And knowledge, it does not matter to the child. 
Dissolved among the particles of the garden 
Or into the motion of the grass and air, 
Imagine the child happy to be a thing. 

Imagine, then, that on that same wide prairie 
Some people are threshing in the terrible heat 
With horses and machines, cutting bands 
And shoveling amid the clatter of the threshers, 
The chaff in prickly clouds and the naked sun 
Burning as if it could set the chaff on fire. 
Imagine that the people are Swedes or Germans, 
Some of them resting pressed against the strawstacks, 
Trying to get the meager shade. 
                                                A man, 
A tramp, comes laboring across the stubble 
Like a mirage against that blank horizon, 
Laboring in his torn shoes toward the tall 
Mirage-like images of the tilted threshers 
Clattering in the heat. Because the Swedes 
Or Germans have no beer, or else because 
They cannot speak his language properly, 
Or for some reason one cannot imagine, 
The man climbs up on a thresher and cuts bands 
A minute or two, then waves to one of the people, 
A young girl or a child, and jumps head-first 
Into the sucking mouth of the machine, 
Where he is wedged and beat and cut to pieces— 
While the people shout and run in the clouds of chaff, 
Like lost mirages on the pelt of prairie. 

The obliterating strangeness and the spaces 
Are as hard to imagine as the love of death ... 
Which is the love of an entire strangeness, 
The contagious blankness of a quiet plain. 
Imagine that a man, who had seen a prairie, 
Should write a poem about a Dark or Shadow 
That seemed to be both his, and the prairie’s—as if 
The shadow proved that he was not a man, 
But something that lived in quiet, like the grass. 
Imagine that the man who writes that poem, 
Stunned by the loneliness of that wide pelt, 
Should prove to himself that he was like a shadow 
Or like an animal living in the dark. 
In the dark proof he finds in his poem, the man 
Might come to think of himself as the very prairie, 
The sod itself, not lonely, and immune to death. 

None of this happens precisely as I try 
To imagine that it does, in the empty plains, 
And yet it happens in the imagination 
Of part of the country: not in any place 
More than another, on the map, but rather 
Like a place, where you and I have never been 
And need to try to imagine—place like a prairie 
Where immigrants, in the obliterating strangeness, 
Thirst for the wide contagion of the shadow 
Or prairie—where you and I, with our other ways, 
More like the cities or the hills or trees, 
Less like the clear blank spaces with their potential, 
Are like strangers in a place we must imagine.

Source: The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (Princeton University Press, 1996)


Sherman Alexis – “Powwow at the End of the World”

The Powwow at the End of the World

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I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam   
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive   
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam   
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you   
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find   
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific   
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive   
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon   
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia   
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors   
of Hanford. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River   
as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives   
in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.   
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after   
that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws   
a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire   
which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told   
by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon   
who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us   
how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours;   
the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many   
of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing   
with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.

21. James Dickey – “The Strength of Fields”

The Strength of Fields

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... a separation from the world,
a penetration to some source of power
and a life-enhancing return ...
              Van Gennep: Rites de Passage 

Moth-force a small town always has,   

          Given the night. 

                                                What field-forms can be, 
         Outlying the small civic light-decisions over 
               A man walking near home? 
                                                                         Men are not where he is   
      Exactly now, but they are around him    around him like the strength 

Of fields.    The solar system floats on 
    Above him in town-moths. 
                                                         Tell me, train-sound, 
    With all your long-lost grief, 
                                                         what I can give.   
    Dear Lord of all the fields 
                                                         what am I going to do
                                        Street-lights, blue-force and frail 
As the homes of men, tell me how to do it    how 
    To withdraw    how to penetrate and find the source   
      Of the power you always had 
                                                            light as a moth, and rising 
       With the level and moonlit expansion 
    Of the fields around, and the sleep of hoping men. 

       You?    I?    What difference is there?    We can all be saved 

       By a secret blooming. Now as I walk 
The night    and you walk with me    we know simplicity   
   Is close to the source that sleeping men 
       Search for in their home-deep beds. 
       We know that the sun is away    we know that the sun can be conquered   
   By moths, in blue home-town air. 
          The stars splinter, pointed and wild. The dead lie under 
The pastures.    They look on and help.    Tell me, freight-train, 
                            When there is no one else 
   To hear. Tell me in a voice the sea 
         Would have, if it had not a better one: as it lifts, 
          Hundreds of miles away, its fumbling, deep-structured roar 
               Like the profound, unstoppable craving 
            Of nations for their wish. 
                                                                    Hunger, time and the moon: 

         The moon lying on the brain 
                                                                    as on the excited sea    as on 
          The strength of fields. Lord, let me shake   
         With purpose.    Wild hope can always spring   
         From tended strength.    Everything is in that. 
            That and nothing but kindness.    More kindness, dear Lord 
Of the renewing green.    That is where it all has to start: 
         With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less 
             Than save every sleeping one 
             And night-walking one 

         Of us. 
                         My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.
Source: James Dickey: The Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1998)

22. Shirley Geok-Lin-Lim – “Learning to Love”

Learning to love America

Related Poem Content Details

because it has no pure products

because the Pacific Ocean sweeps along the coastline
because the water of the ocean is cold
and because land is better than ocean

because I say we rather than they

because I live in California
I have eaten fresh artichokes
and jacaranda bloom in April and May

because my senses have caught up with my body
my breath with the air it swallows
my hunger with my mouth

because I walk barefoot in my house

because I have nursed my son at my breast
because he is a strong American boy
because I have seen his eyes redden when he is asked who he is
because he answers I don’t know

because to have a son is to have a country
because my son will bury me here
because countries are in our blood and we bleed them

because it is late and too late to change my mind
because it is time.

Source: What the Fortune Teller Didn’t Say (West End Press, 1998)

23. Pedro Pietri – “Puerto Rican Obituary”

Puerto Rican Obituary

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They worked
They were always on time
They were never late
They never spoke back
when they were insulted
They worked
They never took days off
that were not on the calendar
They never went on strike
without permission
They worked
ten days a week
and were only paid for five
They worked
They worked
They worked
and they died
They died broke
They died owing
They died never knowing
what the front entrance
of the first national city bank looks like

All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
passing their bill collectors
on to the next of kin
All died
waiting for the garden of eden
to open up again
under a new management
All died
dreaming about america
waking them up in the middle of the night
screaming: Mira Mira
your name is on the winning lottery ticket
for one hundred thousand dollars
All died
hating the grocery stores
that sold them make-believe steak
and bullet-proof rice and beans
All died waiting dreaming and hating

Dead Puerto Ricans
Who never knew they were Puerto Ricans
Who never took a coffee break
from the ten commandments
the landlords of their cracked skulls
and communicate with their latino souls

From the nervous breakdown streets
where the mice live like millionaires
and the people do not live at all
are dead and were never alive

died waiting for his number to hit
died waiting for the welfare check
to come and go and come again
died waiting for her ten children
to grow up and work
so she could quit working
died waiting for a five dollar raise
died waiting for his supervisor to drop dead
so he could get a promotion

Is a long ride
from Spanish Harlem
to long island cemetery
where they were buried
First the train
and then the bus
and the cold cuts for lunch
and the flowers
that will be stolen
when visiting hours are over
Is very expensive
Is very expensive
But they understand
Their parents understood
Is a long non-profit ride
from Spanish Harlem
to long island cemetery

All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Dreaming about queens
Clean-cut lily-white neighborhood
Puerto Ricanless scene
Thirty-thousand-dollar home
The first spics on the block
Proud to belong to a community
of gringos who want them lynched
Proud to be a long distance away
from the sacred phrase: Que Pasa

These dreams
These empty dreams
from the make-believe bedrooms
their parents left them
are the after-effects
of television programs
about the ideal
white american family
with black maids
and latino janitors
who are well train—
to make everyone
and their bill collectors
laugh at them
and the people they represent

died dreaming about a new car
died dreaming about new anti-poverty programs
died dreaming about a trip to Puerto Rico
died dreaming about real jewelry
died dreaming about the irish sweepstakes

They all died
like a hero sandwich dies
in the garment district
at twelve o’clock in the afternoon
social security number to ashes
union dues to dust

They knew
they were born to weep
and keep the morticians employed
as long as they pledge allegiance
to the flag that wants them destroyed
They saw their names listed
in the telephone directory of destruction
They were train to turn
the other cheek by newspapers
that mispelled mispronounced
and misunderstood their names
and celebrated when death came
and stole their final laundry ticket

They were born dead
and they died dead
Is time
to visit sister lopez again
the number one healer
and fortune card dealer
in Spanish Harlem
She can communicate
with your late relatives
for a reasonable fee
Good news is guaranteed
Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable—
Those who love you want to know
the correct number to play
Let them know this right away
Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable
Now that your problems are over
and the world is off your shoulders
help those who you left behind
find financial peace of mind
Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable
If the right number we hit
all our problems will split
and we will visit your grave
on every legal holiday
Those who love you want to know
the correct number to play
let them know this right away
We know your spirit is able
Death is not dumb and disable

All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Hating fighting and stealing
broken windows from each other
Practicing a religion without a roof
The old testament
The new testament

according to me gospel
of the internal revenue
the judge and jury and executioner
protector and eternal bill collector
Secondhand shit for sale
learn how to say Como Esta Usted

and you will make a fortune
They are dead
They are dead
and will not return from the dead
until they stop neglecting
the art of their dialogue—
for broken english lessons
to impress the mister goldsteins—
who keep them employed
as lavaplatos
porters messenger boys
factory workers maids stock clerks
shipping clerks assistant mailroom
assistant, assistant assistant
to the assistant’s assistant
assistant lavaplatos and automatic
artificial smiling doormen
for the lowest wages of the ages
and rages when you demand a raise
because is against the company policy
died hating Miguel because Miguel’s
used car was in better running condition
than his used car
died hating Milagros because Milagros
had a color television set
and he could not afford one yet
died hating Olga because Olga
made five dollars more on the same job
died hating Manuel because Manuel
had hit the numbers more times
than she had hit the numbers
died hating all of them
and Olga
because they all spoke broken english
more fluently than he did

And now they are together
in the main lobby of the void
Addicted to silence
Off limits to the wind
Confine to worm supremacy
in long island cemetery
This is the groovy hereafter
the protestant collection box
was talking so loud and proud about

Here lies Juan
Here lies Miguel
Here lies Milagros
Here lies Olga
Here lies Manuel
who died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Always broke
Always owing
Never knowing
that they are beautiful people
Never knowing
the geography of their complexion

If only they
had turned off the television
and tune into their own imaginations
If only they
had used the white supremacy bibles
for toilet paper purpose
and make their latino souls
the only religion of their race
If only they
had return to the definition of the sun
after the first mental snowstorm
on the summer of their senses
If only they
had kept their eyes open
at the funeral of their fellow employees
who came to this country to make a fortune
and were buried without underwears

will right now be doing their own thing
where beautiful people sing
and dance and work together
where the wind is a stranger
to miserable weather conditions
where you do not need a dictionary
to communicate with your people
Se Habla Espanol 
all the time
Aqui you salute your flag first
Aqui there are no dial soap commercials
Aqui everybody smells good
Aqui tv dinners do not have a future
Aqui the men and women admire desire
and never get tired of each other
Aqui Que Pasa Power is what’s happening
Aqui to be called negrito
means to be called LOVE

Source: Selected Poetry (City Lights Books, 2015)

24. Robinson Jeffers – “Juan Higera Creek”

Juan Higera Creek
Robinson Jeffers, 1887 - 1962

Neither your face, Higera, nor your deeds
Are known to me; and death these many years
Retains you, under grass or forest-mould.
Only a rivulet bears your name: it runs
Deep-hidden in undeciduous redwood shade
And trunks by age made holy, streaming down
A valley of the Santa Lucian hills.
There have I stopped, and though the unclouded sun
Flew high in loftiest heaven, no dapple of light
Flecked the large trunks below the leaves intense,
Nor flickered on your creek: murmuring it sought
The River of the South, which oceanward
Would sweep it down. I drank sweet water there,
And blessed your immortality. Not bronze,
Higera, nor yet marble cool the thirst;
Let bronze and marble of the rich and proud
Secure the names; your monument will last
Longer, of living water forest-pure.

“Juan Higera Creek” was first published in Californians (Macmillan, 1916).

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