Poet’s Corner: Baldwins, Getting Religion, Therapy In Ice, First In Line

Here is the latest installment of Poet’s Corner, presented by the Edmonds-based EPIC Poetry Group.

Baldwins

I was not grateful, I admit,

for the lumpy sack of apples

the neighbor lady dropped

on the stoop

in late October,

until,

peeled and cubed,

charged with cinnamon,

their ancestral balm

enlightened

a starless night.

Susan Pittman

~ ~ ~ ~

Getting Religion

This child of frog and deer and stone

feeds with daring embrace.

 

This landed mermaid cannot know

whose warm hands stroke her face.

 

And I, her newborn mother, must wait

a lifetime for her voice.

 

It begins tonight, together and alone,

our tutorial on faith.

Susan Pittman

~ ~ ~ ~

Therapy In Ice

When my car got stuck in my therapist’s
long, isolated driveway, wheels spinning
in slick ice, the whole vehicle sinking
heavily into ruts, no one around to rescue me
but me – unless, of course, I went for help –
my first dilemma was which metaphor to develop.

I focused on the back wheels.
Minus shovel, rock salt, or cat litter,
I wedged an old blanket under the slush,
desperate for traction. It didn’t work,
which didn’t stop me from trying again and again.
That allegory had rich possibilities.

I calmed my breathing, turned on the radio,
envisioned success, then went back for more.
No. Even worse, however, was asking for help.
How to plead for assistance when wet
and dirty, and still look competent?
Fertile images all around.

After an hour, the next client was done.
She rumbled up the icy drive and the inevitable
parked. After we freed the car,
it was obvious the front wheels had been
sunk into frozen molds, surprisingly deep.
So hard to pick just one symbol.

At least I knew where to start the next session.

Susan Pittman

~ ~ ~ ~

First In Line

First

I wasn’t allowed to do much at recess in those pre-inhaler times,

running games were out, but tetherball and rings were fine.

I chose the rings – smooth rounded steel under my calluses,

sizzling in that California oven, the squeal of the heavy chains,

arching my ten-year-old back to get up speed, then the glide,

smooth and purposeful, to that first beachhead, the center pole.

 

Other kids, stalled impatiently behind me, could only hope for a drop.

But I might not get another chance for weeks. I used both feet to push

hard against the pole and swing to the next thick ring, a hundred

miles away, back to the center, then the next, like a jungle girl,

skimming the air in my personal breeze, palms burning, arms aching,

over the thick black mat a thousand feet below, nothing sickly showing.

 

Before

We were among the first, my grandmother tutored me, invoking

antique names on the family tree, gray and white faces in albums.

So special that people like us still keep track of it. Hundreds of years

after they crossed that ocean, we still know who was first in line,

which is why we belong to the monogrammed club and our name is on

street signs and college dormitories and tourist souvenir shops.

 

“Oh, you’re a descendant?” the tour guide asks. “We’re closed now,

but I’ll take you on a private tour.” In the dark stone house,

small paned windows, modest jambless hearth in the center

of the kitchen, she lifts a hinged cellar door and tells me,

“This is where the slaves would sleep.” Ten years later

I moved near the old slave market. No one showed it to me.

 

Whose

Who pulled ahead in those last meters over the hills of France?

Which horse kept its head down and ankles strong enough to prance

in a garland of roses? Who scored over a million points

on Donkey Kong before another joy sticker contested his place?

Their names are known to those who care. But will their children

carry their chins as if they, themselves, had been cheered by fans?

 

What names, what ancestry belong to us? Wilma Rudolph’s story

had the weight of a Bible passage. I bragged about her in my fourth grade

declamation, as if we shared a family tree. How she conquered asthma

and more and raced to Olympic golds. Her legacy could be mine, too,

her wisdom and strength passed to an unrelated child, because she said so.

Aren’t all stories there for all of us to choose from?

 

Now

And what of shame? Does it descend similar to pride?

Every Huguenot in New Paltz owned other human beings.

They worshipped for hours every Sunday to be better Christians,

reflected on their perilous escape from persecution

and the saving grace of God, then went home to supper

prepared by Molly or Gin, fields plowed by Ben or Abraham.

 

The university hall once named for my eighth great-grandfather

has a new name now, honoring good water in the native language.

“It’s unfair to project the moral standards of today onto those

earlier generations,” a distant cousin and fellow descendant told the Times.

But he was wrong. Subjugation was never moral. And Lake Minnewaska,

where my daughter and I walked one Thanksgiving, transcends morality.

 

Past

I made five orbits around the rings at Crestwood Elementary,

an accomplishment worthy of nothing but a smoggy memory

in a simple poem. Yet as I write these words I can feel

the warmth in my chest, the rare afternoon when I had done

something not terribly stupid. It’s not a story that will live

beyond this. This is not the thing I will be remembered for.

Susan Pittman

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Susan Pittman is a writer, a teacher, and an explorer. She writes, “I am feeling particularly grateful this month. I am pleased to share a few poems that convey some of the lessons I am reflecting on this season.” You can visit her website at www.susanpittmanwriter.com

 

  1. Susan Pittman, I appreciate your poems. They are delightful and specific. I liked all four of them, but the one about First in Line reminded of first grade and always being the first in line. You are truly a gem for words and characters and your poem are well told. Thank you for yet another collection of excellent poems. You are truly an amazing poet.
    Tyler Marcil

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Tyler. It is a real pleasure getting to know you through your words, as well.

  2. Thanks for the poems. I enjoy the phrase “newborn mother” in “Getting Religion” — nicely put.

    “First In Line” built up, within me, a sense of melancholy and reflection, helped by the various ways you progress the theme and the rich sensory detail.

    Good work.

  3. And I like the words “personal breeze”!
    “Now” reminds me of a visit to Cape Coast Castle in Ghana where the church where the slave merchants prayed for profit. It was located above the hideous underground slave pens. No remorse.

  4. HI Judith, Thank you for reading and sharing your comments. I would love/appreciate the opportunity to travel to Ghana. Maybe I’ll be able to get there some day. Thank you for your inspiration.

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