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):
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:
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
We’re all skeletons now, standing
on wooden pedestals,
holding an instrument, or
prospectus, or a paper meaning
(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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Poet’s Revolution?
First, I stole a “furious system” from a beloved poetess
to capture the cyclonic force
to be a
Then another poet taught me to open
my body to grief—
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
No, it’s the battle strategy of General Chuikov
according to David, reporting to me about
the episode “Stalingrad” of “World War II
The Germans preferred artillery to man-to-
man combat, so Chuikov had his men move
in close. But many of these men were women,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
the enemy of
Reality of the Moment Haiku
…behind on poems—
It’s tough to maintain daily
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
when Lissy shared a memory
I had forgotten
I had the thought
that we never know
at the time
will prove important
because they convey
that life can be fun,
that we are funny,
we can do hurtful things,
our lives are more
about the compensations.
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.
I saw how we got to be ourselves
protecting who we were
in a pile
who would never have one owner
to command the right way
to behave and to love
in order to satisfy.