Odd Blocks

Every Swiss-village
calendar instructs
as to how stone
gathers the landscape
around it, how
glacier-scattered
thousand-ton
monuments to
randomness become
fixed points in
finding home.
Order is always
starting over.
And why not
also in the self,
the odd blocks,
all lost and left,
become first facts
toward which later
a little town
looks back?

~ Kay Ryan

My Real Name & Allow Me to Introduce Myself

My Real Name

Today my name is colorful.
Yesterday my name was dead souls.
Tomorrow my name will be lively spirits.
My friends think my name is fire.
The police think my name is burden.
My parents think my name is symphony.
Secretly I know my name is anything
I want it to be.

~ Elena Noel

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

They call me
the show stopper
the dime dropper
the spin-move-to-the-left
reverse jam poppa.
the high flier
on the high wire.
The intense rim-rattlin’
noise
amplifier.

The net-shaker
back board breaker
creator
of the funky dunk
hip-shaker.
The Man
Sir Slam
The Legend
I be.

That’s just
a few of the names
they call me.

~ Charles R. Smith, Jr.

Spring Storm

He comes gusting out of the house,
the screen door a thunderclap behind him.

He moves like a black cloud
over the lawn and – stops.

A hand in his mind grabs
a purple crayon of anger
and messes the clean sky.

He sits on the steps, his eye drawing
a mustache on the face in the tree.

As his weather clears,
his rage dripping away,

wisecracks and wonderment
spring up like dandelions.

~ Jim Wayne Miller

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

~ Billy Collins

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse

John_William_Waterhouse_The_Lady_of_Shalott

Cinderella

by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

A rich man’s wife became sick, and when she felt that her end was drawing near, she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, “Dear child, remain pious and good, and then our dear God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from heaven and be near you.” With this she closed her eyes and died.

The girl went out to her mother’s grave every day and wept, and she remained pious and good. When winter came the snow spread a white cloth over the grave, and when the spring sun had removed it again, the man took himself another wife.

This wife brought two daughters into the house with her. They were beautiful, with fair faces, but evil and dark hearts. Times soon grew very bad for the poor stepchild.

“Why should that stupid goose sit in the parlor with us?” they said. “If she wants to eat bread, then she will have to earn it. Out with this kitchen maid!”

They took her beautiful clothes away from her, dressed her in an old gray smock, and gave her wooden shoes. “Just look at the proud princess! How decked out she is!” they shouted and laughed as they led her into the kitchen.

There she had to do hard work from morning until evening, get up before daybreak, carry water, make the fires, cook, and wash. Besides this, the sisters did everything imaginable to hurt her. They made fun of her, scattered peas and lentils into the ashes for her, so that she had to sit and pick them out again. In the evening when she had worked herself weary, there was no bed for her. Instead she had to sleep by the hearth in the ashes. And because she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Cinderella.

One day it happened that the father was going to the fair, and he asked his two stepdaughters what he should bring back for them.

“Beautiful dresses,” said the one.

“Pearls and jewels,” said the other.

“And you, Cinderella,” he said, “what do you want?”

“Father, break off for me the first twig that brushes against your hat on your way home.”

So he bought beautiful dresses, pearls, and jewels for his two stepdaughters. On his way home, as he was riding through a green thicket, a hazel twig brushed against him and knocked off his hat. Then he broke off the twig and took it with him. Arriving home, he gave his stepdaughters the things that they had asked for, and he gave Cinderella the twig from the hazel bush.

Cinderella thanked him, went to her mother’s grave, and planted the branch on it, and she wept so much that her tears fell upon it and watered it. It grew and became a beautiful tree.

Cinderella went to this tree three times every day, and beneath it she wept and prayed. A white bird came to the tree every time, and whenever she expressed a wish, the bird would throw down to her what she had wished for.

Now it happened that the king proclaimed a festival that was to last three days. All the beautiful young girls in the land were invited, so that his son could select a bride for himself. When the two stepsisters heard that they too had been invited, they were in high spirits.

They called Cinderella, saying, “Comb our hair for us. Brush our shoes and fasten our buckles. We are going to the festival at the king’s castle.”

Cinderella obeyed, but wept, because she too would have liked to go to the dance with them. She begged her stepmother to allow her to go.

“You, Cinderella?” she said. “You, all covered with dust and dirt, and you want to go to the festival? You have neither clothes nor shoes, and yet you want to dance!”

However, because Cinderella kept asking, the stepmother finally said, “I have scattered a bowl of lentils into the ashes for you. If you can pick them out again in two hours, then you may go with us.”

The girl went through the back door into the garden, and called out, “You tame pigeons, you turtledoves, and all you birds beneath the sky, come and help me to gather:

The good ones go into the pot,
The bad ones go into your crop.”

Two white pigeons came in through the kitchen window, and then the turtledoves, and finally all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and swarming in, and lit around the ashes. The pigeons nodded their heads and began to pick, pick, pick, pick. And the others also began to pick, pick, pick, pick. They gathered all the good grains into the bowl. Hardly one hour had passed before they were finished, and they all flew out again.

The girl took the bowl to her stepmother, and was happy, thinking that now she would be allowed to go to the festival with them.

But the stepmother said, “No, Cinderella, you have no clothes, and you don’t know how to dance. Everyone would only laugh at you.”

Cinderella began to cry, and then the stepmother said, “You may go if you are able to pick two bowls of lentils out of the ashes for me in one hour,” thinking to herself, “She will never be able to do that.”

The girl went through the back door into the garden, and called out, “You tame pigeons, you turtledoves, and all you birds beneath the sky, come and help me to gather:

The good ones go into the pot,
The bad ones go into your crop.”

Two white pigeons came in through the kitchen window, and then the turtledoves, and finally all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and swarming in, and lit around the ashes. The pigeons nodded their heads and began to pick, pick, pick, pick. And the others also began to pick, pick, pick, pick. They gathered all the good grains into the bowls. Before a half hour had passed they were finished, and they all flew out again.

The girl took the bowls to her stepmother, and was happy, thinking that now she would be allowed to go to the festival with them.

But the stepmother said, “It’s no use. You are not coming with us, for you have no clothes, and you don’t know how to dance. We would be ashamed of you.” With this she turned her back on Cinderella, and hurried away with her two proud daughters.

Now that no one else was at home, Cinderella went to her mother’s grave beneath the hazel tree, and cried out:

Shake and quiver, little tree,
Throw gold and silver down to me.

Then the bird threw a gold and silver dress down to her, and slippers embroidered with silk and silver. She quickly put on the dress and went to the festival.

Her stepsisters and her stepmother did not recognize her. They thought she must be a foreign princess, for she looked so beautiful in the golden dress. They never once thought it was Cinderella, for they thought that she was sitting at home in the dirt, looking for lentils in the ashes.

The prince approached her, took her by the hand, and danced with her. Furthermore, he would dance with no one else. He never let go of her hand, and whenever anyone else came and asked her to dance, he would say, “She is my dance partner.”

She danced until evening, and then she wanted to go home. But the prince said, “I will go along and escort you,” for he wanted to see to whom the beautiful girl belonged. However, she eluded him and jumped into the pigeon coop. The prince waited until her father came, and then he told him that the unknown girl had jumped into the pigeon coop.

The old man thought, “Could it be Cinderella?”

He had them bring him an ax and a pick so that he could break the pigeon coop apart, but no one was inside. When they got home Cinderella was lying in the ashes, dressed in her dirty clothes. A dim little oil-lamp was burning in the fireplace. Cinderella had quickly jumped down from the back of the pigeon coop and had run to the hazel tree. There she had taken off her beautiful clothes and laid them on the grave, and the bird had taken them away again. Then, dressed in her gray smock, she had returned to the ashes in the kitchen.

The next day when the festival began anew, and her parents and her stepsisters had gone again, Cinderella went to the hazel tree and said:

Shake and quiver, little tree,
Throw gold and silver down to me.

Then the bird threw down an even more magnificent dress than on the preceding day. When Cinderella appeared at the festival in this dress, everyone was astonished at her beauty. The prince had waited until she came, then immediately took her by the hand, and danced only with her. When others came and asked her to dance with them, he said, “She is my dance partner.”

When evening came she wanted to leave, and the prince followed her, wanting to see into which house she went. But she ran away from him and into the garden behind the house. A beautiful tall tree stood there, on which hung the most magnificent pears. She climbed as nimbly as a squirrel into the branches, and the prince did not know where she had gone. He waited until her father came, then said to him, “The unknown girl has eluded me, and I believe she has climbed up the pear tree.

The father thought, “Could it be Cinderella?” He had an ax brought to him and cut down the tree, but no one was in it. When they came to the kitchen, Cinderella was lying there in the ashes as usual, for she had jumped down from the other side of the tree, had taken the beautiful dress back to the bird in the hazel tree, and had put on her gray smock.

On the third day, when her parents and sisters had gone away, Cinderella went again to her mother’s grave and said to the tree:

Shake and quiver, little tree,
Throw gold and silver down to me.

This time the bird threw down to her a dress that was more splendid and magnificent than any she had yet had, and the slippers were of pure gold. When she arrived at the festival in this dress, everyone was so astonished that they did not know what to say. The prince danced only with her, and whenever anyone else asked her to dance, he would say, “She is my dance partner.”

When evening came Cinderella wanted to leave, and the prince tried to escort her, but she ran away from him so quickly that he could not follow her. The prince, however, had set a trap. He had had the entire stairway smeared with pitch. When she ran down the stairs, her left slipper stuck in the pitch. The prince picked it up. It was small and dainty, and of pure gold.

The next morning, he went with it to the man, and said to him, “No one shall be my wife except for the one whose foot fits this golden shoe.”

The two sisters were happy to hear this, for they had pretty feet. With her mother standing by, the older one took the shoe into her bedroom to try it on. She could not get her big toe into it, for the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, “Cut off your toe. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot.”

The girl cut off her toe, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. However, they had to ride past the grave, and there, on the hazel tree, sat the two pigeons, crying out:

Rook di goo, rook di goo!
There’s blood in the shoe.
The shoe is too tight,
This bride is not right!

Then he looked at her foot and saw how the blood was running from it. He turned his horse around and took the false bride home again, saying that she was not the right one, and that the other sister should try on the shoe. She went into her bedroom, and got her toes into the shoe all right, but her heel was too large.

Then her mother gave her a knife, and said, “Cut a piece off your heel. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot.”

The girl cut a piece off her heel, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. When they passed the hazel tree, the two pigeons were sitting in it, and they cried out:

Rook di goo, rook di goo!
There’s blood in the shoe.
The shoe is too tight,
This bride is not right!

He looked down at her foot and saw how the blood was running out of her shoe, and how it had stained her white stocking all red. Then he turned his horse around and took the false bride home again.

“This is not the right one, either,” he said. “Don’t you have another daughter?”

“No,” said the man. “There is only a deformed little Cinderella from my first wife, but she cannot possibly be the bride.”

The prince told him to send her to him, but the mother answered, “Oh, no, she is much too dirty. She cannot be seen.”

But the prince insisted on it, and they had to call Cinderella. She first washed her hands and face clean, and then went and bowed down before the prince, who gave her the golden shoe. She sat down on a stool, pulled her foot out of the heavy wooden shoe, and put it into the slipper, and it fitted her perfectly.

When she stood up the prince looked into her face, and he recognized the beautiful girl who had danced with him. He cried out, “She is my true bride.”

The stepmother and the two sisters were horrified and turned pale with anger. The prince, however, took Cinderella onto his horse and rode away with her. As they passed by the hazel tree, the two white pigeons cried out:

Rook di goo, rook di goo!
No blood’s in the shoe.
The shoe’s not too tight,
This bride is right!

After they had cried this out, they both flew down and lit on Cinderella’s shoulders, one on the right, the other on the left, and remained sitting there.

When the wedding with the prince was to be held, the two false sisters came, wanting to gain favor with Cinderella and to share her good fortune. When the bridal couple walked into the church, the older sister walked on their right side and the younger on their left side, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards, as they came out of the church, the older one was on the left side, and the younger one on the right side, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each of them. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.

 

Excerpt from the Foreword to Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm

We take comfort in the fact that when a storm or some other mishap hurled by the heavens thrashes an entire crop to the ground, among the low-growing hedgerow, or the bushes lining the way, a small patch is invariably spared and a few ears of grain withstand the onslaught.

When the sun once again shines down on them, they keep on growing, solitary and unnoticed – no sickle fells them for the silo. But in late summer when they rear up ripe and full, hungry hands come to seek them out, laying them, ear upon precious ear, meticulously binding them in bundles, and far more prized than any other sheathes, they are carried home; they provide nourishment all winter long and even give seeds for future planting.

This is how it seemed to us, when we saw that of all that blossomed in former times nothing survived – even the memory thereof was almost erased– nothing, that is, but a few folk songs, a handful of books, some legends, and these innocent household tales. Hobbling kitchen stools by oven and hearth, stone stoops, holidays still celebrated, meadows and woods in their very solitude, and above all the untroubled imagination are the hedgerows that provided refuge in the storm, preserving them and facilitating their transmission from one age to another.

It was perhaps high time to collect these fairy tales, for those who ought to safeguard them are fewer and fewer in number. Indeed, those few who still retain the knowledge of them tend to know a good many tales, for though other people pass away around them, they don’t pass away for the people –but the custom of storytelling itself is on the wane, just like the knowledge of all those secret nooks in homes and gardens passed on from grandparent to grandchild, yielding to the constant shifting of an empty sense of splendor, a custom as elusive as the smile that plays on our lips when we speak of these household tales, a custom that may seem lavish though it costs but little.

In those few places where they can still be found, fairy tales are such that we wouldn’t think of asking if they’re good or bad, poetic or insipid – we know them and love them precisely because this is how we first heard them, and we take pleasure in them without hesitation.

Edited excerpt taken from the Foreword to the second edition of Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1819) by the Brothers Grimm.
Translated from the German by Peter Wortsman

How to Change a Frog into a Prince

Start with the underwear. Sit him down.
Hopping on one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait,
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up.
This body, so recently reformed, reclaimed,
still carries the marks of its time as a frog. Be gentle.
Avoid the words awkward and gawky.
Do not use tadpole as a term of endearment.
His body, like his clothing, may seem one size too big.
Relax. There’s time enough for crowns. He’ll grow into it.

~ Anna Denise

She

for Katie Latimore’s Birthday, 101

Staring into Katie Latimore’s eyes
I go straight into heaven,
rest in a blueness not here on earth.
With her I feel a certain mercy
I have never known.
She who grew hollyhocks, hibiscus, hydrangeas
and drew every stray cat in the county.
She who when not pickin’ cotton,
grew vegetables in her yard,
fished in her spare time.
Rachel’s daughter,
her mother born a slave,
bore sixteen children.
She in those desperate
dangerous times
held aspirations beyond the third grade
but never made it to that one-room schoolhouse.
Her knowledge was of another understanding,
a candle lit by the Almighty.
When I am wise I sit there and study her blue flame.
She smoked her Winston 100’s,
inhaled a little,
letting the ash grow
until it fell like withered dreams beneath her feet.
She drank her Coca-Cola like medicine,
loved her potatoes sweet.
She made me thru my mother
thru and thru ‘til
I am what I am
which is why even now,
I have a penchant for all things old;
never been particular about the new.
It is why I gave birth to two incredibly old women.
I called them the Delaney sisters.
They came that way.
It is their spirit not their age.
She, my mother’s mother, I am not calling a saint
but is there anybody living who would want to walk in her shoes?
She has earned the glory of these words,
any respite they might bring.
She with her jet black ambition
tied to her hands,
her running feet
running thru cane fields,
cotton fields
always somebody else’s
sharecropped land.
She deserves to run,
fight, do battle no more.
Lay it all down by the riverside.
But she is in the nursing home
with a fire, a rage burning bright.
I know because sometimes,
she won’t let no white hand touch her.
When I leave there, She whispers,
“Loves everybody, Chile,
no matter how black,
how blue,
how brown,
or how white,
loves everybody.”
For in those times
she was running water
clear, clean in that ingrown South
where revolution never happened,
not even now.
She was
IS the point of my inspiration,
showing me the revolution
is in staying alive.
I don’t know what happened to her
101 years of living in the south.
I only know
She is closer to God
than anyone I have ever known.
Coming from a shattered past,
imagine heartache after heartache,
outlasting the death of almost everyone,
lasting 101 years of living.
What are we gonna say
to that black woman?
We gonna look around pretend she not there?
What we gonna say to 101 years
of having no monuments erected in her name?
The only thing resurrected daily was the struggle and the fight.
What we gonna say to all those years of living?
If we want to be well,
we sit down and listen
with more than our ears.

~ Glenis Redmond

Mama’s Magic

My mama is Magic!
Always was and always will be.
There is one phrase that constantly bubbled
from the lips of her five children,
“My momma can do it.”
We thought my mama knew everything.
Believed she did, as if she were born full grown
from the Encyclopedia of Britannica.

I could tell you stories
of how she transformed
a run down paint peeled shack
into a home.
How she heated us with tin tub baths
from a kettle on the stove.
Poured it over in there like an elixir.

My mama is protection
like those quilts her mother used to make.
She tucked us in with cut out history all around us.
We found we could walk anywhere in this world
and not feel alone.
My mama never whispered the shame of poverty
in our ears.
She taught us to dance to our own shadows.
“Pay no attention to those grand parties
on the other side of the tracks.

Make your own music,” she’d say
as she walked,
she cleaned
the sagging floorboards of that place.
“You’ll get there.”
“You’ll get there.”
Her broom seemed to say with every wisp.
We were my mama’s favorite recipe.
She whipped us up in a big brown bowl
supported by her big brown arms.
We were homemade children.
Stitched together with homemade love.
We didn’t get everything we ever wanted
but we lacked for nothing.

We looked at the stars in my mama’s eyes
They told us we owned the world.
We walked like kings and queens
even on midnight trips to the outhouse.
We were under her spell.

My mama didn’t study at no Harvard or Yale.
The things she knew
you couldn’t learn in no book! Like…

How to make your life sing like
sweet potato pie sweetness
out of an open window.
How to make anybody feel at home.
How at just the right moment be silent
and with her eyes say,
“Everything’s gonna be alright, chile,
everything is gonna be alright.”

How she tended to all our sickness.
How she raised our spirits.
How she kept flowers
living on our sagging porch
in the midst of family chaos.
My mama raised children like
it was her business in life.
Put us on her hip and kept moving,
keeping that house Pine-Sol clean.

Yeah, my mama is magic.
Always was and always will be.
Her magic?
How to stay steady and sure
in this fast paced world.
Now when people look at me
with my head held high
my back erect
and look at me with that…
”Who does she think she is?”

I just keep on walking
with the assurance inside.
I am Black Magic!
I am Jeanette Redmond’s child.

~ Glenis Redmond

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