The following three poems are by Elizabeth Tibbetts, from her new book, Say What You Can,to be published by Deerbrook Editions, Spring 2019. Elizabeth grew up in Camden and has worked as a nurse for many years. Her poetry is rich, in observation, stunning sensual detail, and the connections she makes between detail and insight, as when she describes the swifts going down a chimney as if they had been inhaled by the past. Tibbetts’ poems are also rich in feeling, in both celebration and grief, and in her respect for the people she has worked with as a visiting nurse.
These poems are more finished than what we normally think of as a sketch, but when I read of those swifts as “dark and feather-light as soot in the blue evening sky,” or as circling in a whirlpool, then funneling down that chimney, I imagine her outside with a notebook, writing down what exactly she sees with her accurate and wonder-filled eyes.
Each morning, in all weather, they gather
in the high white pines along the back line
and watch the window. And when she flickers
in the reflected trees they call loudly
until the porch door scrapes open and she
appears bearing a pan of crusts, cores, scraps
of fat, all but potato peels, which they
won’t eat. She tosses the orts to the lawn,
inspects the day, then caws the waiting flock
down: six crows, black and lit as the jet beads
in the box on her bureau. Each morning
she counts what is left of her backyard birds
(one pair of cardinals, chickadees, a mix
of finches, robins, summer’s ruby-throat,
and winter’s rare sweep of hungry waxwings
filling bare trees) now that weather’s fickle,
old fields and forests gone, and time has thinned
thick flocks to a trickle of song. She’s not
heard the rustle and cheep of nesting swifts
inside the cold stovepipe since she was young.
Once, she saw, heard, a swirl (was it bats?)—no,
it was swifts, dark and feather-light as soot
in the blue evening sky—arrive, circle,
whirlpool, then funnel by the hundreds
into a tall thin brick chimney. She thought
she’d watched broad day be inhaled by the past.
Now, if someone else would feed these crows, there
are things, yes, and birds, she would go back for.
Ghazal for the Winter Solstice
We approach the solstice, and daylight narrows
into an alleyway between the fortress walls of dawn and dusk.
A skin of ice granulates across the broad lake
where we swam rock to rock in a lavish season.
Those days I was as full of myself as a pomegranate
extravagantly packed with sacs of seeds and juice.
Now I wait for the blank page of snow-covered field
and the story written by turkey and fox, rabbit and deer.
Even at midday, the sun hangs just above the tree-line
and washes the lawn with thin light. Shadows come into season.
When it seemed there was little left but ice and bones,
I dreamed a river, blue-black moving water, from some unbidden source.
Wind rises in a cold breath between the lines—listen
it hisses. And it whistles through the crack beneath the door.
Kifah has translated his poem H.O.M.E. into English from the Arabic. In English it shows the influence of the ghazal, a Persian poetic form, which involves couplets that repeat the same word at the end of each couplet. You can hear the influence of that pattern here as the word “home” recurs, moving from the most intimate and micro experiences to the largest possible embrace, as exile teaches the poet to see home everywhere and to develop a generous spirit. And then, of course, there’s the beauty of the script in Arabic and the beauty of his drawings.
H. O. M. E.
My mother’s womb
Her breasts, her lap
Her heart was my home
My father’s arms
His perfumed skin
Was my home
My childhood hometown
Where orchards were full
Of vines, pomegranate
Apricot, quince, fig
Date-Palm and lemon tree
Was my home
Soon I grew
An old divination predicted
My long departure
A rotten bunker in fierce war
Was my home
In a big desert
Where I was astray
I found myself without a shelter
My body was my home
A perilous journey left me
In a prison of war
Its walls were dank
I learned not to lose freedom
I defeated nightmares
My mind was a free bird
Dreams rose from ashes
I dreamt of a home
Its surroundings a garden
A size of the sky
My imagination grows
My soul is mystified
Wherever I go I find home
The wind is my home
It takes me onward
The cloud is my home
I ramble in a blue dome
My home is petals of marigold
Words of a poem are my home
Sixty-two years of travel,
Escape, prison, exile,
Migration and refuge
I found a home in the
Last station of a tortuous route
It contains: my dreams, hope
Play, and love
A home full of peace
The blue sky and the blue ocean
Meet beyond its Windows
My home is Portland
قلبها كان لي وطن.
جلده المعطر بالأريج
كان لي وطن.
والتين وَالنَّخْل وشجر الليمون
كانت لي وطن
حين كبرت، عرّافة
تنبأت سفري الطويل
ملجأ عفن في حرب ضروس
كان لي وطن.
في صحراء على مدِّ البصر
وجدت نفسي بدون ملجأ
جسدي كان لي وطن.
في رحلة محفوفة بالمخاطر
في سجن حرب
خلف جدرانه الرطبة العفنة الصدئة
تعلَّمت أن لا أفقد لحن الحرية
دحرت وكسّرت مخالب كوابيس شرسة
خيالي كان طائرا حرا
وأحلامي أزهرت من رماد
حدوده حديقة بعرض السماء.
حيثما أذهب، أجد وطنا
تتنزه في قبة زرقاء
تكون لي وطن
تكون لي وطن
تكون لي وطن.
اثنان وستون عاما من
الترحال والهروب والسجن
والنفي والهجرة واللجوء
بعد رحلة عذاب،
محطة أخيرة، أمارس فيها
طقوس فرحي وأحلامي
وطن مليء بالسلام
السماء والبحر يلتقيان
Kifah Abdulla is a poet, artist, writer and teacher born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. He published his first book of poetry ( Dead Still Dream ) in 2016. He is the Arabic calligraphy instructor at MECA, Arabic instructor at SMCC and Language Exchange. Kifah is involved in many cultural and artistic projects in Portland and other places in Maine: a member of Portland Public Art Committee, a member of WMPG which broadcasts his monthly show ( Words and Music ), and the founder of the International Arabic Language Festival in Portland. Kifah lives and works in Portland.
Here are two poems by Estha Weiner, who grew up in Portland and Falmouth and now lives in New York City. Her sense of irony and of how to create characters and a sense of dialogue through the briefest suggestion come in part from her training in the theater. Estha loves Maine and returns whenever possible. Betsy Sholl
“Lying about Sex” was first published in J Journal. Both of these poems will be in her forthcoming book from Salmon Press, titled “at the last minute. ”
In these poems, Margaret Yocom offers a new vision of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s controversial “Allerleirauh” (“All Kinds Of Fur”), a lesser-known version of “Cinderella” that opens with incest. Erasing the Grimms’ words to reveal a young woman’s story of her journey to a new, full life, Yocom asks, What would All Kinds Of Fur say if she could tell her own tale? In ALL KINDS OF FUR, the heroine’s words rise. This book is published by Deerbrook Editions.
ALL KINDS OF FUR
Erasure Poems & New Translation of a tale from the Brothers Grimm
About the Author
Margaret Yocom grew up in the Pennsylvania German farmland listen- ing to her grandparents’ stories. Her poetry has appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, the anthology The Folklore Muse: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Reflections by Folklorists, and elsewhere. She founded the Folklore Studies Program of George Mason University where she taught for 36 years; among her many courses, she offered “Living Words: Folklore and Creative Writing.” She has published on the Brothers Grimm, on the folk arts of political protest, on Inuit storytelling in northwest Alaska,on family folklore, and on the folk arts of Maine logging communities. Co-founder of the American Folklore Society’s Creative Writing and Storytelling Section, she holds a Ph.D. in English and folklore from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. A founding member of Western Maine Storytelling, she tells legendary tales of the seen—and the unseen. Co-organizer of the Hugh Ogden Memorial Evening of Poetry, she makes her home with her geologist husband, John Slack, in the western mountains of Maine. http://margaretyocom.com
Christian Barter is an award-winning poet whose most recent book is Bye-Bye Land, winner of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award. Besides being a poet and teacher, he works on a trail crew planning and overseeing construction and rehabilitation of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island. Christian combines a rich, vibrant intellectual capacity with deep knowledge and respect for physical labor and those who do it. His work comes out of deep thought rooted in land and the people who work with it. These two poems grow out of his work as Poet Laureate of Acadia National Park. “Ile des Monts Deserts” was first published on poets.org for The National Parks Project. “The Venture” was published in The Friends of Acadia Journal. There is a sense in these poems that knowing history is part of how we can continually renew our vision and our commitment to honoring the world, natural and social. Betsy Sholl
Île des Monts Déserts
It is very high, and notched in places, so that there is the appearance to one at sea, as of seven or eight mountains extending along near each other. The summit of most of them is destitute of trees… I named it Île des Monts Déserts.
—Samuel de Champlain, 1604
When Champlain sailed into Frenchman’s Bay
and saw this island’s evergreen mountains
blown clean back to ledge along their ridges,
this utterly foreign land,
an island foreign even to its coast—
it’s founded on a piece of Africa,
brought with us in the drift—
I know there were people living here but I’m thinking
of Champlain because he was coming from
a world not all that different from ours,
of crowded, elbowing streets and long-hour shifts,
a landscape cleared and plowed, and paved and built,
the power to change tight-fisted held by a few,
and grinding, messy wars that go on and on,
from which he had returned to make this voyage—
When Champlain sailed in here in one of those
square-rigged ships that can only follow the wind,
the whole crew thirsty, in clothes that must have been
putrid, having stared for months at nothing
but water, sliced at the world’s edge cleanly
and saw this place we still see from the ocean—
huge rock pushed through by a liquid fire
then sledged by mile-deep ice into a thing
of character, and then grown over
by the green that rules this world—
did he believe again, or for the first time,
in the holiness of the earth, the unassailable
authority of Earth, its calm command
beyond whatever temper tantrum Man
throws on its floor, or did he think
he’d simply entered heaven?
This isn’t exactly the question I have in mind.
Perhaps it isn’t a question.
But I like thinking about Champlain catching sight
of this humped jungle, these long heads lifted
thoughtfully, then sailing closer
until it became a world—
thinking about his era’s view of the earth,
in which, wherever you sail, it just keeps
sending up mountains and lakes and beaches and forests,
how easy and right it must have seemed
to believe in a power far beyond ourselves,
in a kind of benevolent infinity…
I guess I am looking for my own direction
in the world such as it is—
like his, but lacking that one key hope:
that when this land is ash, there will always be another—
looking for my own way to think of Acadia,
this ever-more-precious island we’ve somehow kept
wooded, and rocky, and punctured through with clear lakes—
enough like it was that if you hold
your finger across the houses at its feet
you can still, sailing into Somes Sound,
see more or less the place that Champlain saw
and, also, know the place for the first time—
which is always the feeling of powerful beauty, isn’t it?—
that something has been here the whole time
and we are just now seeing it,
and must now reconsider all our theories
that there could be such a place—
or poem, or string quartet, or person?
They come in droves now, a long string tugging them
ever across the land bridge to gaze down
from the steep western cliff of Cadillac
into the open eye of Eagle Lake,
the tree-massed mountains of Penobscot and Sargent
building up beyond it as if the land were still gaining power,
their sheer cliff walls like cities left by dreams,
and the ocean laid out flat, its moss-tuft islands’
miniatures of cliffs and beaches calm
as if you had imagined them—
Is it the kind of life you could live
that you see here? At Champlain’s request,
French Jesuits came next, to bring around
the souls of those already here; they set up camp
at Fernald Point, and I wonder, too,
if they saw where they were—the cliff
of Saint Sauveur behind their shelters
standing up, god-like, its sheer rock plunging
straight down into water, down through murk
for leagues to find its ancient footing—
or just the prospect of some better place?
on the occasion of the centennial of Acadia National Park
May I, composed…
of eros and of dust…
Show an affirming flame.
May we not trample this place.
May we be mindful—
truly mindful, like when you’re climbing something steep.
May we come here in love, the way pilgrims come
to certain tombs.
May we come here in hope, the kind of hope
that makes you courageous,
like Martin Luther King’s hope, or the first day
in a second career.
May we not bring our baggage with us.
I know we are always traveling,
but may we not bring our resentment,
or the sharp-edged pieces of our broken loves.
There is a theory that nature is perfect as it is;
may we at least look up from time to time,
as Whitman said, “in perfect wonder.”
May we wonder if what we’ve done so far is enough.
May we respect the land, which is to say, ourselves.
May we respect ourselves enough to be honest with ourselves—
to be honest about what this is, and isn’t.
It isn’t ours, for one thing.
Disneyland is ours.
Monticello is ours.
The Constitution is ours.
May we trust what we feel when we are here.
It is almost seditious, it runs so deep,
but may we trust it.
May we trust ourselves
against the common rhetoric that land is to be “used.”
That we, in the end, are primarily users.
You can’t crest Sargent from the East Cliffs’ clamor
to see that bay and islands, and Mansell Mountain
risen from its chair to face you
and think that’s what we are.
May we leave, eventually, as we all must—
after a long weekend
or a brief fifty years—
with this place inside us—
or rather, with this place firmly inside itself.
I know we are always traveling.
May we remember, today,
and also the today of tomorrow,
what it took to keep this place for us:
an athlete’s single-minded concentration
sustained for decades;
a number of fortunes;
that what had been done so far—
and in 1916 it must have seemed like a lot
had been done: the war to restore the Union,
the railroads, Yellowstone, Yosemite—
was not enough,
that “enough” is a misnomer,
the kind of white lie you tell children—
and let us not forget luck—
that maybe one of a thousand of this kind of venture
in the way that the venture
of Acadia National Park
in going on being what it was;
in changing—I’m guessing nearly always for the better—
the lives of millions of people;
in showing us something that matters too deeply for words.
Which is a reminder that I have probably said enough,
except to add that the venture isn’t over—
that part really does belong to us
in the way of a family home,
or a promise made to a life-long friend,
or The Constitution.
Dawn Potter’s new book, Chestnut Ridge, traces the history of her birthplace in western Pennsylvania through three centuries and various voices. The poems change in style as the age changes, beginning with formal and moving toward free verse. These poems are a history lesson for us all, letting us overhear many voices from early missionaries when the area was the western front of the country, through the civil war and into the 21st century when men and women begin to shift roles. Like Maine, areas of rural Pennsylvania have a distinct character that is slowly being eroded by mass culture. These poems remind us to look and honor the roots of where we come from. It is a feat of skill to move through so many shifts in form and voice. Betsy Sholl
Dawn Potter is a poet, writer, blogger and teacher who recently moved from rural Maine to Portland.
In this year
two men were lost in the caverns for three days.
they were locked in each other’s arms
waiting for the end—
two travelers, eyes wide in the blackness,
ears pinned to the whisper of wings,
the seep of water.
When found, they were locked in each other’s arms.
Breath by shallow breath,
they had fabricated life.
Blind touch bound them.
They stole heat from the brush of a cheek,
the cup of a calloused hand.
And so they survived the ordeal
of never embracing again.
Standards of the Pennsylvania State Board of Censors
“Nothing is censored in Pennsylvania but the poor mans amusement, Why?” —Anti-censorship banner, Pittsburgh Screen Club
The Board will condemn
any motion picture portraying
prostitutes, houses of ill-fame
a girl’s seduction, her confinement
for immoral purposes, or assaults upon women,
with lewd intent. Refrain from showing
childbed scenes and subtitles that describe them.
Pictures revealing the modus operandi of criminals
are suggestive and incite the weak to evil action.
We disapprove all murder, poisoning,
house-breaking, safe-robbery, pocket-picking,
the lighting and throwing of bombs,
the use of chloroform to render men
and women unconscious, also binding and gagging.
Do not illustrate the traffic in cocaine.
Gruesome and distressing scenes
are likewise forbidden. These include shootings,
stabbings, profuse bleeding, prolonged views
of corpses, lashings and whippings,
lynchings, electrocutions, surgical operations,
and views of persons in delirium.
Avoid scenes in which the human form
is shown in the nude. Do not undertake
the topics of abortion or malpractice,
eugenics, birth control, or race suicide.
The materialization of the figure of Christ
may be disapproved. We forbid
the brutal treatment of animals,
and objectionable language in subtitles.
Depictions of burning and wrecking
may degrade the morals of the young.
Gross and offensive drunkenness,
will never be tolerated
if women are present.
Do not exhibit pictures which deal at length
with gun play, and the use of knives,
and are set in the underworld.
Vulgarities of a gross kind,
such as often appear in slapstick
and may burlesque morgues, funerals,
hospitals, or insane asylums,
are disapproved, as are sensual kissing
and other indelicate situations.
Bathing scenes may pass the limits of propriety.
Avoid immodest dancing
and the needless exhibition
of women in their night dresses.
Do not show women in suggestive positions
while smoking. The argument that your story
is adapted from the finest literature or art
is not a sufficient reason for approval.
The Miner Who Loved Dante
But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,
Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road. –Dante, the inferno, translated by H. W. Longfellow
I haven’t wandered your way lately, Nell,
not since the police clapped me up
and I lost my shift at Number 2.
But I remember the porch of our borrowed house
and the pigeons that fluttered up from the roof
when the old lady banged her pail.
And Sue . . . remember Sue, who sang alto to your mezzo?
In those ragged evenings, how stillness would sift
over the men, old and young, listening from their steps
or squatting outside the canteen, half-full bottles of wine
balanced on the ground between their knees.
Night opened her arms to us like a favorite aunt,
like Lena—plump, smiling, one hand at rest on my damp hair
as a hundred pigeons dipped over the river.
And all the while, Nell, you and Sue sang
of hearts, of summer, of fleeting secrets,
and we listeners believed that the songs were ours.
For no one, no one in the world, was as alive then as we were.
Their work boots were filmed with grease,
and their faces were weary.
They never showed up till the fourth inning.
Knees spread, they let themselves rest
on chairs beside the gravel-pocked ball field;
and when the women hollered, “Good eye, honey!”
at a tearful, trembling batter,
the men smiled like gentle but distracted strangers.
In their houses, a drawer slammed,
a kettle boiled, a hound twitched on the mat.
and the husbands pined for a secret world.
One drove six hours in dense fog
to a motel in Mississauga
instead of sitting down to supper.
Another stayed up till dawn
picking out “Night of the Johnstown Flood”
on his mother-in-law’s old guitar.
They fumbled with their sadness,
but nothing changed.
Women still clustered along the ball field
sharing packs of licorice, cat-calling the ump,
cheering at bloop singles and horrible throws to first.
The women behaved as if they had front-row tickets
to something magnificent and vital,
but the husbands couldn’t see, couldn’t quite see.
They raised their eyes toward the blackening sky
where swallows wheeled among the mosquitoes.
A child hacked at a pitch,
and the men’s thoughts clung to emptiness.
No one cried, “Cross out this life
that batters you down, and down, and down!”
Like chairs left in the rain for twenty years,
Then one day their knees snapped
and they toppled into the flood.