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[with 3 poems by Joanne Durham]

As my years advance does the bowl of my life become deeper, wider, more capacious? Joanne Durham’s new book of poetry from Evening Street Press has me reflecting, and not least because of its title. Events, experiences, memories fill the bowl; when I return to the bowl and drink I discover that the more I refresh myself the more the bowl fills itself. And me. Never emptied, always replenished. As Joanne reminds us with this opening quotation by Naomi Shihab Nye: Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us we find poems . . . .

Certainly. If you are a poet the bowl of memory will give you a poem. If you’re an artist, a painting. If a novelist, a houseful of spicy characters, no doubt. Writers intentionally revisit the milestones and landmarks of the past like a traveler trying to find their way back home after a long absence. Or like a possum in the compost heap convinced there are tasty bits concealed there.

But if I am simply jotting down recollections for the purpose of crafting a few lines, I am missing the deeper power of this image: to drink from a wider bowl. Not a cup, narrow and designed for only one person; a bowl, a communal vessel, something we all may dip into. Something that perhaps actually requires more than one for it to be lifted and poured. Not necessarily to say that advancing years invariably bring wider perspective and wisdom. If only that were true.

The converse, though, certainly is true – one does not need six or seven decades to open oneself to the wider world of human feeling. The wider bowl is the horizon that embraces not only my own recalled experiences but invites me to drink understanding and compassion for the experiences of others as well. When I drink from a wider bowl, I value and treasure the lives of those I don’t even know. Poetry knows how to do that. Poetry invites, includes, embraces – three gestures the world will always need.

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Learning

What happens to the sun at night?
I ask the four-year-olds,
cross-legged on the carpet,
Marcos confidently explains,
It goes to New Jersey.
April, whose Mom has read her books
about everything
helpfully chirps,
The earth tilts and you
can’t see it anymore.
Darnell with raised arm churning the air
counters, The sun breaks up
Into little pieces and fills the sky
with stars. It the morning
they come back together
and make another sun.

Science and poetry
poised on the edge of cosmic battle,
until my smiling voice
intervenes, celebrates
how children’s minds tilt
on their own axes.
You are creators of stories,
to explain the world.
You carry on
an ancient tradition.

On my way home, I ponder
if we could learn
to live this way:
Each in the darkness
illuminating
one small stretch of sky,
and then together making
a brilliant, focused energy,
from all we’ve seen,
from all we’ve learned.

Joanne Durham

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To Drink from a Wider Bowl, Joanne Durham, Evening Street Press © 2022, Sacramento CA; winner of the 2021 Sinclair Poetry Prize.

Joanne has divided her book into seven sections to create a chronology, from recollections and tales of her grandparents, to the heritage of her parents, to today’s experiences with her own grandchildren. The themes that recur are love for family and also wider love for community and for the earth.

Perhaps Joanne’s seven sections are deliberate: if I hold a memory of my great-grandmother and my great-grandchildren have memories of me, we create a span that connects seven generations. And if our families, communities, and nations consider in all our deliberations the impact we will have down to the seventh generation, perhaps we could truly discover solutions to the world’s poverty, ignorance, disease, and injustice. Perhaps we would learn this through drinking from the widest bowl.

[Seventh Generation Ethics is recognized as an essential part of the ethos of the Iroquois Nations and that of other indigenous peoples.]

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Repair

The dishwasher repairman
politely speaks
with a deep Nigerian accent

reading us fine print
on the receipt: accept treatment
or pay anyway for the visit

his body rigid to absorb
the anticipated blow
of our irritation

before we leave him, disgusted,
to do the job
he’ll get a fraction

of the charge for.
Then my husband
offers him a beet

lush purple half-moons
of some alien
landscape

freshly boiled, peeled, sliced.
Ever had one?
I never cooked them before.

the gesture doesn’t
sweep the counter clean,
but it leaves

an even surface
for three people
to laugh, talk, and eat.

Joanne Durham

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Maps

Every home
needs a map of the world.
Hang it by the entrance.
Bless it as you might
a cross or a mezuzah
when you come and go.
Trace your finger across continents
not your own.
Say names of countries whose sounds
tickle your throat and move your lips
differently from your own language.
Be curious about who lives there,
sharing seas and stars.
Hope to meet them,
fellow earth-dwellers,
all calling this planet
home.

Joanne Durham
[ a recitation of this poem ]

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IMG_1822, mountain

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IMG_0768, tree

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