Poets’ Basement

Keep Your Name

Haiti, keep your name
Taina people called you
high mountain
Haiti high mountain

Your gentle people
swimming out to greet
the jackal Columbus,
nothing but greed
under his nails.

How could they know
he would sever the
hands of those who
did not offer gold?
Haiti, keep your name.

Haiti keep your Creole.
Rhythm sparking the
cooking fire,  rhumba
snaking through the streets
river of lullabies rocking
small dreams.

Keep your Creole
slipping under bank vaults
rolling  past stiff salutes
and shoot-to-kill.
Haiti, keep your Creole.

Haiti, keep your story.
Toussant and Boukman
shaking the world with
the ropes of their forearms
slaves snatching freedom
like bloody fruit
Napoleon scuttling away
Even Jefferson uneasy
peering deep into the eyes
of his slaves.
Haiti, keep your story.

Haiti, keep your children
the tight coils of their bodies
ready to spring into street
soccer, rocks and bones
eruptions of tag
their fingers the rays
of the sun’s future.

Haiti, keep your name.
Haiti, your name.
Your name.


Bird Book

Plumatella carolinenisis
They delight in spending an hour
or more at a time, perched in a bush
or a tree top, singing, and apparently
making their song up as they go along,
for it is an indescribable medley interspersed
with various mews and cat calls.

From Land Birds Bird Guide Chester A. Reed  1940

The first guide,
maroon leather hand-smoothed
by openings and closings all those years ago,
sits on his kitchen table.
He found the artery of his interest early,
a small boy intrigued by tracings
of flight sketched in pale air, bundles
of bright feathers bursting into view.
On the faded pages are his long-ago
notes, the headwaters of a whole life
watching, cedar waxwings thronging
the bushes for blood-red berries, loons riding
low in their own wake, Canada geese finding
their place in the great wheeling V.
He held his own rapture in his hand,
and never once loosened his grip.
When his father mocked his joy in naming
birds, he tucked the book in his pocket
and headed for the woods.
Now, guiding us down the braided currents
of the Big Horn, he translates every song,
every stroke of wings, like his own first language.
At night, he will read about plummage and passerines
before he turns the light  for his own flight into sleep.

Two Deaths

Here, death is suspended
in solution, diluted.
In the green canopied cemetery
a young woman jogs
up the winding road
past hillocks of flowers
softly wilting.
On the third floor of a hospital
an old man’s breath softens
into one pulsing silence under
a clean white blanket.

There, war flings bodies
into the air, rips and flays
flesh. At the marketplace, blood
has splattered the tough skins
of yellow onions, and a severed foot
waits under a newspaper.

I am here, floating serenely
in the milk of life.
But in the dark cellar of night
I wonder: why am I living
with this well mannered death
this whistling-in-the rain death
and they are living with death
the destroyer, death that snaps
the  spines of old women, death
that feasts on the light that blazes up
in the eyes of children? 

Joan Kresich is a long time educator, mediator and restorative justice practitioner.  In her poetry she tries to pare the words down to the moment they heat up.  She lives in Livingston, Montana and Berkeley, CA, in one place listening to the cries of wild geese, in the other the sounds of the great cultural mix.  

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