Dear Friends: Thank you for your incredible generosity in support of a model refugee/asylee organization, the Center for New Americans whose lovely website you can easily google.  (Again, I have opted not to have access to the list of contributors to my page, so please know that there is no personal pressure to contribute.)   

 

My motivation to write has been especially stimulated by responses from you, sometimes identifying a particular poem that moved you.  

And you can send around this link below to any friends who might be motivated to do something small about the horrific state of affairs for refugees and asylees at this time. (It's my contribution page at the Center for New Americans):  

 

https://cnam.org/civicrm/pcp/info?reset=1&id=340&component=contribute

 

I had a wonderful experience with this challenge, and although I have not produced any masterpieces, my confidence about playing with poetry craft has grown daily, and that persistent anxiety connected to the meaning of life in retirement has waned.    With love, Barbara

 

Barbara Regenspan’s 30 original poems, one for each day of November, 2019, for the Center for New Americans fundraiser:

 

November 1

 

The Day of the Dead

 

It’s the Day of the Dead

and Oberlin traded a hundred

fewer musicians for

a business degree,

according to the Washington Post

 

while I write a poem

to fund the care of hopeful

newcomers, the few

escaping cages and ICE

roundups. 

 

We’re all skeletons now, standing

on wooden pedestals,

holding an instrument, or

prospectus, or a paper meaning

hope.        

 

November 2

 

I’m From

 

(Not Really a Poem for Day Two)    maybe skip this one!

 

Beige wall-to-wall, swim and ride bikes but not to get anywhere.  “Do they feel pain?”  We shoot potato bugs like marbles out back by the garbage disposal, playing ducky jumping squatted with pillows between our legs across the twin beds weekend mornings.  Risa gives me an unvaccinated kitten from the cemetery.  The bones moving under fur are the same day as the picture book about the Holocaust.  Who are they to me?  And Andy has a heart condition, must squat tired.  I throw it back at her but I don’t do things like that.  Mrs. Zomick, the kindergarten teacher shames Marion when she pees her pants.  I won’t talk to her.  Am I alone in the bathroom? The parents are talking about Mrs. Zomick.  Something is wrong.  It’s quiet before sleep when he bursts in, beats Rich for something.  “Rabbi Greenberg is so charming,” she says often.  I will never figure out the rules of the bottle cap game.  The only thing I really want is a nickel for the charm machine at Food Fair and nobody watching me waste it.  Eating alone before Daddy gets home, the two of us smiling over the piano.  Chicken on Monday, spaghetti on Tuesday, “I wouldn’t say anything, though.  What would you expect? She’s alone; that poor boy is without a father.”  Classical music I can’t really hear from WXYY, Pictures at an Exhibition good without area rugs, too exotic with color (we defer to some other place and time).  The Philadelphia Orchestra plays in Fairmount Park.  I get a ticket from the Gorodetzer’s with area rugs and the bass in the corner.  Sam is the father who plays and is frightening but has a real vegetable garden.  (There is some connection with the Holocaust.)  Daddy is jealous.  The turtle escapes on the black linoleum with primary color parallelogram spots pointing a path under the refrigerator where the leak keeps him alive and Rich writes, “So There You Are” in the school paper.  (Much later the spots appear at the Art Museum).  I have a stomach ache from eating all the chocolate bars to sell for Brownies; she pays the debt without making me feel guilty but the damage has been done.   Dr. Suess, made-up words, spirals and Mommy thinks he is funny and smart.  Is he Rabbi Greenberg for us?  I buy rye bread at R&W for thirty cents on Stenton Avenue.  I feel something else.  Aunt Jean shows me dying Grandpop naked in shallow bathtub water, him gesturing, ashamed.  Ida gives me orchid clip-ons.  But I am not doing it, I think.  The feelings are there across the lake out of our purview where he swims at Montgomery Park and returns relaxed, not available.  We lie to get in; you have to live in Cheltenham.  Mr. Portner makes a changing room with one big beach towel but it’s only for the Portner’s.   “Will he ever make something of himself?” I want to change in that room very badly.  Kenny set the kitchen fire at 1603 and I have to be nice to Marion.  “Why is that boy frying his own eggs?   No wonder.  That Mutti drives her crazy.”  Helmut tells Rich he will cut off his ears with the choppers.  Swimming across that lake and I can’t see the other side.  My swimming will never have a destination.  Later, I defer to the other side of the lake past my purview.   There are plastic covers on the furniture.  How could you hold somebody in your arms?

 

November 3

 

Distraction

 

The accusation that can’t be answered

in the light of the fall day as in the photo

where the graying center of the

potted violet mum beside her chair

affirms October downpours.

Impelled diagonally toward the blink

of sun behind a cloud, the child’s eyes

confirm the draw of all the big and shiny

notes of sky.

 

And the mother says to the girl now grown,

“You had that distracted look all the time.”

 

November 4

 

Poem for Huang Fan

 

The balance of soar and argue

is a naïve balance, or maybe

a worldly balance, according to

Huang Fan the poet.

 

On the tightrope in between,

my soul can soar when

arguments about appearance

and consequence chase

 

naïve or worldly wins,

of no interest to the nation of pigeons

who only soar and never argue,

yet challenge Huang fan’s silence.

 

November 5

 

Transformation of the orb weaver

 

After the bad thing happened,

the orb weaver was my best ally

with its steady progress and frequent

patching, its daily retreats behind

old metal elements to hide from

onlookers like me.

 

When it disappeared at the end

of the season, its web ravaged

by a hard October rain, I dreamt

of it for the first time.  It was weaving

a piece of music, whispering notation

for me, the recovering poet.

 

November 6

 

Wikipedia: The Kármán line is an attempt to define a boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space. This is important for legal and regulatory measures; aircraft and spacecraft fall under different jurisdictions and are subject to different treaties.

 

The Klarman line

 

We learn boundaries in the oddest places

Did you know that the Klarman Line

divides two things that can’t be divided:

outer space from the earth’s atmosphere?

 

It’s episode four in the new season

of my doctor show.

I love the juxtaposition

of tv, sky and rules.

 

It takes many contexts to make

meaning now without my life’s work.

I was explaining this to Judy

yesterday at Island Fitness

 

when she keeled over on my shoulder

(Too long in the hot tub and

blood pressure plummets.)

The ambulance came.

 

 I followed with her purse and

glasses, better to navigate the

world of sight and business.

Today Judy is well and I am sad

 

remembering  I’m detached

from it all by the outline of self. 

 

November 7

 

Advertising the Theater of War

 

A veteran said he recovered his heart

at a performance of Philoctetes by Sophocles.

The “Theater of War” has stable funding.

In ancient Greece, catharsis was a part of military life. 

Our military now recognizes "moral injury."

Every day twenty veterans kill themselves.

One wife said, "He dragged invisible bodies home."

Another: "Our home is a slaughterhouse."

The psychiatrist talks about restoring souls.

I say skip a step.  Banish war in the theater of life.

 

November 8

 

A Poet’s Revolution?

 

First, I stole a “furious system” from a beloved poetess

to capture the cyclonic force

of dominations—

to be a

social

justice

warrior

of the

pen.

 

Then another poet taught me to open

my body to grief—

 

furious systems

stopped

a pen

then

attuned

to

small

shifts in

nature and private movements of the heart.

 

Now the world needs movements to abandon furious systems that will silence all pens, if grief disables action.   How to align our grieving poet bodies behind the words of furious pens?

 

November 9

 

My First Lover Asks a Question I Can Answer

 

My first lover, Larry, now a semi-retired eighteenth century Britain historian at Cambridge, gave a talk at the Maitland Historical Society last year.

 

Here’s how it began:

“My paper revolves around the figure of William Stukeley, who lived from 1687 to 1765.

One thing that Stukeley had in common with Frederick William Maitland was a certain respect for women in a pre-feminist age.  Maitland supported degrees for women at Cambridge when the idea was unthinkable to most of the Cambridge community.  (Degrees were finally granted them a full half-century later.)

Stukeley, as will appear, seems to have had a deep respect for at least some women’s intellectual capacities.”

 

The most erotic event of my life was meeting Larry at Penn Station on a summer day in 1970.  The VietNam war was raging; my blood was burbling with righteousness and a first wild love.  I sought the use of personal cookery to join with others in the most basic ways: to blend ingredients of me and you, of faulty government and perfect us.

 

Stukeley was an antiquarian scholar who practiced medicine and studied Stonehenge as evidence of prehistoric monotheism. 

Here’s what Larry said about that:

“One outcome of his interests was a cosmological treatise, written in 1719.  He wished to apply the most up-to-date empirical science to understand the nature of the universe.  But at the same time, he was trying to support an idea he got from ancient Platonic and Pythagorean traditions:  ‘that of a series of celestial spheres surrounding the earth vibrating in divine musical harmony.’”

 

In Larry’s talk, this was introduction only; for the Stukeley paper that fascinated Larry was a treatise on ‘the salute,’ Stukeley’s proposal for a permissible kiss between individuals married to others.  

“Was this kiss erotic?” appeared to be the driving question of Larry's paper, to which I already knew the answer. 

 

My own long marriage relies on regular vibrations of divine musical harmonies: at the moment, jazz-rock fusion.

 

November 10

 

Weeping Woman

 

Today I learned “The Weeping Woman”

completed Picasso’s Guernica.

He realized pain of war in stark

 shapes and color. 

 

The face of Dora Maar makes

Picasso’s geometry emotional.

Respecting his own work,

he named women “Suffering Machines.”

 

It’s gender-based efficiency

I do not find insulting.  To open

our bodies to grief—to process

pain with great intention—

 

We hold the hurts of others

in always-breaking hearts—

We color life’s destructions with

softness artists need.

 

November 11

 

​What Iyengar Said

 

Iyengar said, “Extension makes space, space makes freedom, freedom makes precision, and precision is God.” 

 

You don’t need to love yoga or believe in God the father to hear Iyengar’s truth. 

 

Extension is moving out of the habitual—stretching away from it—reaching towards another possible—

which causes space

between you and the

 

limited reality

 

to which you

have grown accustomed

 

Use that new space—wiggle in it—delight in it—flex in the freedom to move

in a new way

 

and to perceive a new reality. 

 

Freedom is this

broadened imaginative

capacity.  

 

Then focus on the next step towards realization of what you have imagined—

either by yourself

or together with others.

 

That goal—that hope and passion—

is swimming freely in serious attention. 

 

Use the power of that newly freed attention to be precise.  (Be confident in your new clarity.) 

You see what thought or action

could move things ahead. 

 

When you act on this clear perception—this precision—

 you are in synch with the universe—

 

and this in-synch-ness is God.

 

November 12

 

Triolet to Walt

 

Walt Whitman holds this era’s fix

Remove the veil—wake up—resist

Welcome all, exalt the mix

Walt Whitman holds this era’s fix

Democracy’s well worth the risks

Those who lie and hate—DESIST!

Walt Whitman holds this era’s fix

Remove the veil—wake up—resist

 

November 13

 

I Learn about the Battle of Stalingrad

 

‘Hug your enemy’ is not what you think—

you poets inspired by stories of soldiers

who shake hands across enemy lines

at Christmas.

 

No, it’s the battle strategy of General Chuikov

according to David, reporting to me about

the episode “Stalingrad” of “World War II

in Color.”

 

The Germans preferred artillery to man-to-

man combat, so Chuikov had his men move

in close.  But many of these men were women,

David reported. 

 

I consulted Wikepedia for detail for my poem:

"Seventy-five thousand from nurses to snipers. 

After the war, Chuikov praised their efforts”. 

I reported this to David,

 

who asked, “How was there so much rape

of women by Russian soldiers?  You would have

expected more respect.  But I guess it didn’t work

out that way,” said David.

 

November 14

 

The Wild Things

 

It’s past Halloween, and our apartment is

The Wild Things.

For us who live downtown in small cities with

harsh winters the container gardens are inside now

and here’s the big surprise: new flowers on the mandevilla

vine, (earning its nickname rocktrumpet), and tendrils

grazing the ceiling, creeping into the curtains, then

greeting the Christmas cactus, sporting hot pink

blooms that would make Jesus blush.

 

The days are not all gray yet, and these flowers

won’t last, but I covet the image of color

stored within, waiting to burst out again

when conditions are right.

 

November 15

 

An EFT Sonnet  (to explain tapping therapy)

 

Anxiety—the pressure to exit

the present state of pain—a

resonating “should,” we cannot

explain residing in the reptilian

brain, calling to the heart

or intestinal mind of we who would

cling to a master design begging

our hearts to be refined.

 

The therapist says, “That crocodile

brain does not hear words—cannot

compute a safety that’s heard.  Only

the body can hear interruption of

patterns instilled fearing instant

destruction. 

 

November 16

 

At Shabbat Services: A Hapless Rap

(about a Troubling Torah Portion)

 

Friday evening after dark—with song, guitar

and opened ark—we pursued our intention—

 

the weekly suspension of disposition

for acquisition in favor of achieving a safe

space for grieving and foremost receiving

the love of believing our connection with all

humanity and its hoped-for sanity—

 

we considered the portion of Isaac’s

misfortune at the hand of his father

Abraham—from a feminist stance

perhaps a tale of parental ambiva—

lance—easing our distress through angelic

redress of the patriarch bent on making his

mark with stark trust of God who demanded

the rod but changing his mind sent angels kind.

 

Unfortunately, the apparent experiment

proved a detriment to our Isaac who—

having no analysis suffered much paralysis

for the rest of his life of biblical strife. 

 

We ended the evening confronting reality:

we descend from a dysfunctional family but

Jewish humor saved the night; we laughed

about our strange birthright and how we

shared with all our plight.

 

November 17

 

What Can’t Be Resolved

 

“You could write a book,”

my mother said, when life's 

jolts dislodged the past,

constraining the here and now.

There were parental suicides,

and abuses for whom nobody

could be credited, while the new

country screamed, “Bury it all.” 

 

These were the days when “I feel”

had no heft, but it grew as I grew,

so I would be the one compelled

to write the book of all that held

them back, managed through

a flourishing on their grief.

 

If benevolence thrives in a small

enclosure it also costs some

light, as my early flame drew

air from righteous thoughts

that melt away with age.

 

I satisfy myself with poems now

to tell stories with some lyric

twist that can’t do justice

to her need to resolve it all.

 

 November 18

 

The Uses of Metaphor

 

The bridge rebuilding project over Cascadilla Creek releases metaphors into the atmosphere.

 

“Alignment” and “connection” are my favorites, though some neighbors are driven to rants about “noise,” referring to the noisy

background of our lives, from which emerged “distraction.”

 

As metaphor is good material for poetry, I give you this:

 

“Distraction is

 the enemy of

alignment with

the universe.

Alignment funds

the rebuilding

of bridges.”

 

November 19

 

Reality of the Moment Haiku

 

…behind on poems—

It’s tough to maintain daily

productivity.

 

November 20

 

Love Poem Found in Today’s New York Times

 

There are certain days on Capitol Hill

when things take on an extra crackle.

Photographers jockey—a little more frantic

staff members speak in heightened whispers—

something momentous is about to drop.

A person who knew he was saving himself—

a muddled figure in this story

could bring shared clarity to this matter:

“I remember the first girl I kissed,” he said.

 

November 21

 

For the poet, Alyse Knorr

 

In “Quiescence” the poet delivers

the final paradox: All that we

poets—we mothers—nurture will die.

 

The delight of bobbing babies, of dozing,

the elegance of stillness—are robbed

by their permanence in death.

 

“The end of growth is death,”

she says, yet I have seen

death create new possibles.

 

Children reborn to old dream-

lives by the loss of ancestors,

beloved or not, or...

 

shocked by the death

of others who could have been

us, do we not sometimes

 

come alive to our power

to grow in scope—to claim

the birthright of democracy—

 

to recraft a public good in

action and poems?

 

November 22

 

Love Sonnet for Mildred

 

I’m tying the laces of stiff rental skates at Bryant Park

when my mother, dead for thirty years, comes visiting.

I hear her tone in the exact bend of her back in mine 

as she rescues a benched third grader, tugging at the frayed

twine joining worn leather panels over misshapen tongue.

“You don’t want your ankles falling in or out,”

she warns.  “You need to stand up straight to skate.”

The child is not dismissive—feels gifted—new

resolve alights his face as he clops to the rink.

 

This is a love poem for Mildred, my mom—

a woman who knew how to bring people

back to themselves with unschooled

wisdom on marriage and attitude—a voice

defending a tight hold on the ankles

as key to the upright glide.

 

November 23

 

My Sarah Channels Aunt Jean

 

When Sarah does her imitation of Aunt Jean,

long dead from cancer, a working-class woman

who sheltered two disabled brothers

in cramped apartments with bad smells,

you feel her last days nursing black coffee,

smoking cigarettes at Duncan Donuts,

waiting for the final trip to the casino

in Atlantic City.

 

In the perfect wobbly voice—

 demanding that we eat—projecting

chronic hunger for anything good—

Sarah percolates comedy

above the misery—a lesson for us

survivors—not to judge—not to feel guilty.

 

November 24

 

The Aberfan Mining Disaster: The Personal is Political

 

Fourteen years old at the time of that ‘66 Welsh mining disaster,

my mother’s silent grief eviscerating boundaries between the world’s pain and mine, memory of the avalanche inside me ignited last Sunday viewing season three of The Crown on Hulu—the eye shock of that illegal coal tip (dislodged by known underground springs and ceaseless rain) crashing through the windows of the public school in Aberfan—a sea of black slurry burying a hundred sixteen children and their teachers. 

 

A stanza from Wikipedia: Some staff died trying to protect the children. Nansi Williams, the school meals clerk, used her body to shield five children, who all survived; Williams did not, and was found by rescuers still holding a pound note she had been collecting as lunch money.  Dai Benyon, the deputy headmaster, tried to use a blackboard to shield himself and five children from the slurry pouring through the school. He and all 34 pupils in his class were killed.  When the avalanche stopped, so did the noise; one resident recalled that "in that silence you couldn't hear a bird or a child".

 

When she broke her silence fifty-four years ago, my mother wailed, “corporate greed killed those children,” giving me the language that

would shape my life and a love for sound from children and birds.

 

November 25

 

Happy Political Narrative

 

I know to not seek hope in political winds

but Lee Drutman’s piece in today’s Times

says historical realities predict

a coming era of expanded democracy:

 

“The depression of 1893-97 shattered faith

that a growing industrial economy

would lift all boats.  New leviathan railroad

and public-utility corporations seemed

imposingly powerful, and partisan politics

seemed thoroughly corrupted by them.

Mass immigration was changing the face

of the nation.”

 

And look what followed, Lee writes:

“Reform-oriented activists and politicians.

New forms of participatory democracy —

the primary, direct elections for the Senate,

the initiative and the referendum —

reshaped a political system

that seemed to privilege

the few over the many.”

 

To Lee I am grateful for two renewing

narratives: one for my mind and one

for these lines.

 

November 26

 

Mother’s Nostalgia

 

Because Punky the Cockatiel turned his head upside-down

to get our attention, Sarah spoke to him with a special voice

and her own head cocked.  He garbled away with convincing

attention. She called their connection “the upside-down world.”

 

In art class, Ben designed a dollar bill that featured Punky’s portrait,

dedicating it “To Bill Clinton, who my parents voted for.” 

 

The external world feels a lot worse since then, (even though Clinton

was never my hero), but some days, craving Ben’s childhood optimism about leaders and voting, and Sarah’s funny joyful voice,

I feel gratitude to have known an upside-down world in my kitchen.

 

 November 27

 

Woman Always Strategizing

 

At Thanksgiving, I gave the men The Undoing Project,

without having read it myself, because Joe at Autumn

Leaves Bookstore said it cut across Right and Left.

 

I understand it’s about stupidity: how we overgeneralize

from too-little data and come up with wrong conclusions

that guide irrational behavior.

 

Joe thinks it engages critical men, and I hope it might

exalt uncertainty, shine love on where they were hurt

by mis-information from those meant to love. 

 

November 28

 

At Thanksgiving,

when Lissy shared a memory

I had forgotten

I had the thought

that we never know

at the time

what events

will prove important

because they convey

without guilt

that life can be fun,

that we are funny,

and though

we can do hurtful things,

our lives are more

about the compensations.

 

November 29

 

Source of New Babies

 

Thanksgiving night, I stroked David’s face against mine

in bed, and felt our future grandchild in him through a

bump-up in that kind of love that avoids distinctions. 

 

Nov 30

 

At Thanksgiving

I saw how we got to be ourselves 

gradually

over years

protecting who we were

like puppies

in a pile

who would never have one owner

to command the right way

to behave and to love

in order to satisfy.

© 2019 Barbara Regenspan