Featured Poem: The Spell of the Union

 

Joy A. Burki-Watson
Member-at-large

 

I wanted release so I sought it, I worked in the South as a slave,
Freedom took plenty of forethought and more than a fair share of brave.
I’d not be deprived of a free life, all because of my color at birth
And surely, I’d find that my past strife would urge me to work for my worth.

 

My mother, a servant in Beaufort — my father, the slave owner’s son,
All hushed by their need for concealment, where the white of my black was homespun;
I was named Robert Smalls for that reason and slaved in their fields as a youth
Then shipped off to Charleston, unseasoned, to slave on their docks — Gospel truth!

 

Sail maker would soon become rigger and then onward I’d pilot their ships,
Always the slave and the ‘nigger’ [sic] and always kept under their grips.
’twas Charleston, South Carolina that faced the first shots of that war
And I at wheel of a steamer, saw freedom like never before!

 

In the early hours of May13th, the white crew aboard took shore leave
And left me in charge of my own life as well as that ship I’d now thieve.
The C.S.S. Planter was loaded with all of my kinfolk and peers
It served us as liberty’s motive and way to escape our past years.

 

I then donned the captain’s attire and steered out through mine-laden bay,
I’d signal the guards at Fort Sumter and head out the ocean’s seaway
Once out of Confederate gun range, I made a fast dash to be free
Knowing full well that we’d look strange to the blockade and Union navy.

 

With white flag a’waving surrender, I offered up guns and the ship
And all of us joined with those forces to challenge the South’s leadership —
How civil is war of derision when folks are not treated with fair?
It certainly made “split-decision” a term for this nation’s warfare.

 

Ev’ry good war has its heroes and I wanted to fill those big shoes
After the war I returned to the place where now I could alter old views.
I served five terms as a Congressman and constituent’s rep for what’s right
Offering reasons to take a stand when life presented foresight!

 

I also would purchase the mansion where Mother and I were enslaved;
It stands for new eras of fashion and all of the things we once craved.
I wanted release so I sought it, I worked in the South as a slave
Freedom took plenty of forethought and more than a fair share of brave.

 

Special Notes:
Robert Smalls (1839-1916) was a black American statesman who was born a slave and made a daring escape at the beginning of the Civil War. After the war he went on to have a successful political career; first serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives and the South Carolina Senate before being elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1874. Later in his life he was appointed U.S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort South Carolina serving from 1889 through 1911.

An interesting fact is that he bought and lived in the house in which he had been a slave. He actually allowed his former slave-master’s wife to move back into the house shortly before her death.

Robert Smalls died on February 23rd of 1915, the cause of death was unspecified.

Featured Poem: If You Have Ever Loved to Dance

 

Janet Fagal
Central New York Branch

 

You never forget the feeling.
The joy of suppleness and strength,
of spins and twirls, and the appearance of floating.
Perhaps you have danced ballet.
Been the Sugar Plum Fairy at a tender age
in a children’s play,
danced in a Rockettes-style majorette troupe,
performed at a World’s Fair, in parades or on stage.

 

Maybe you have tapped your way to joy. Felt the power
of your toes and heels, calves and thighs,
clicking up and down the stairs,
arms marking the cadence, adding zest to the scene.
Folk-danced for fun with friends from all over the world,
tried modern jazz, ballroom, hip hop.
Delighted in the oneness of music and movement,
whole body in use, on display, speaking from every cell of your being.
Mind counting the beat, remembering the steps.
The exhilaration of the dance, the beauty of classical or modern,
seen in strong, toned bodies, able to stretch and bend as required.
Clothed in vibrant or gossamer costumes,
sending a message about art. Creativity. Life.

 

Dance needs big spaces, time to practice,
dedication to exactness and extension.
The dancer so fit, combining grace, determination, flow, rhythm.
If you have ever loved to dance, it never leaves you,
even though you may leave it.
If you have ever loved to dance and you are old,
replaying it in your mind
is bittersweet tucked in between the joy.

 

This poem was Inspired by Suzanne Beason’s painting “Replaying the Dance, 2017,” which juried into the Schweinfurth Art Center, Auburn, NY: 2018 Made in New York show. The NLAPW Central New York Branch participated in an ekphrastic event where our new creations were inspired by the art on display.

Featured Poem: My Monet

Barb Whitmarsh
Bayou City II, Texas

 

(To Dad)

 

He will always be my Monet
My tired-eyed yet dutiful father
All of his paintings
Are emblazoned on my mind
Hanging on the walls of my heart
-I claim them all-
By virtue of my memories
Of every brushstroke
And resistant signature
That defined his uniqueness
Perhaps he thought I
Didn’t take his painting seriously enough
-But I did –
I admired every application of his sable brushes
That transformed paint into life
And if and when we meet again one day
I’ll reassure him with the words
“Dad, you always were and will be
My Monet.”

 

Featured Poem: Ancestors

 

Donna Puglisi
Cape Canaveral Branch

 

They came from the shores of foreign lands to a new world, a new life.
Their dreams are our dreams.
These are our ancestors.

 

I stare at the old faded pictures of my ancestors in jagged frames,
wondering who they were in younger years.
Who did you love on a summer day?
Where did you go as a child at play?
Now, your faces are a ghostly hue,
Frozen in time, I don’t know you.

 

Each tiny stitch,
Life’s thoughts, words and deeds,
Through the years you’ve threaded your lives,
with satins, silks and tweeds.

 

Embroidered in rich tapestry, a diary of your life,
How did you meet your loved one,
becoming man and wife?
Finest lace frames grandma’s face,
Rough hewn, her burlap years;
Did you cry on your pillow at night,
then wash away your tears?
Hopes and dreams line the seams with promises yet kept,
Young girl’s loves and broken hearts,
Stained velvet where you wept.
Bright colors blending here and there with laughter, love and friends,
Am I like you in any way? The pattern never ends.

 

We are all a part of them,
They are the blood flowing through our veins;
We blend as one, from those faraway lands,
Our ancestors belong to all of us.

 

Rebellious, rugged, raw,
Beautiful in simplicity.
Faces burned like summer’s grass, craggy and rough as the majestic mountains. Rough temperament, resilient as the boundless hills of wheat.

 

Respect them.
They are our ancestors.

 

A suitcase frayed and soiled,
Hopeful, adventurous heart.
The peddler and the farmer,
Seeking a fresh new start.
Calloused hands of a blacksmith,
Old country’s mud and dirt still clinging to the tattered hem
of a woman’s long black skirt.

 

Ragged suits, scuffed shoes adorn the staunch and sturdy,
Weary travelers in stormy seas,
They are our families.

 

We are all brothers and sisters, sharing the same timeless legacies

 

Of our ancestors.

 

Featured Poem: Re-gifting

Rose Baldwin
Palm Springs Branch, California

 

The book was on a list
of poetry to read
of course I bought a copy
of such a famous screed

 

I gave it to my sister
she gave it to a friend
who gave it to her mother
who gave it back again

 

I gave it to the library
to lend and lend and lend
they sold in a bargain bag
I had it back again

 

I gave it to Goodwill
a bargain hunter there
scooped it off the shelf
then put it out to share

 

Susie picked it up from there
and she gave it to Lee
who gave it to his brother
who gave it back to me

 

Finally, I read it
the words were like a balm
stroking all my soft spots
rhythmic like a song

 

So touched was I, I said,
I have a real fine gift here
I wrapped it in nice paper
and gave it to my sister

 

Featured Poem: The Making of a Widow

Mimi Paris
Boca Raton

 

The Emergency Room
numbers on the screen
keep on going down.
I head for the nurse.
She’s talking, laughing.

 

I tell her, “Look!”
Her face shows fear.
My heart beats fast
and I run back.

 

Stuff rolls in,
Lots of staff.
Room is packed.

 

Shouts heard:
“Try again!”

 

“Gone.”

 

Featured Poem: Plant

Lorraine Walker Williams
Southwest Florida Branch

 

To place, slip seeds into moist soil,
shutter from light, incubate and wait.
To plant is the first lesson in patience.

 

Plant, as a particular phylum and
species, ornamental, cleansing air,
bringing outdoors in. For Feng Shui,
a plant is a lesson in placement.

 

Plant, as in yourself on the couch,
a park bench, or a bumpy bus.
An attempt to be rooted in time and
space, a lesson in belonging.

 

Plant, an implant, something foreign,
a replacement or enhancement,
as in tooth or breast. This teaches
impermanence.

 

Plant includes the word plan—
Making and revising,
following or ignoring a plan,
a lesson in flexibility.

 

Plant words flowing and growing
from the hand of a poet,
the lesson of jasmine and plums.

 

Featured Poem: Broken

Janet Fagal
Central New York Branch

 

She sees his face,
a picture etched
in memory.
Her child’s image.
Eyes dark,
piercing.
Nose strong.
Mouth full,
hints of smile.

 

She hears his voice.
The sounds: low wails,
whimpers.
Her son
frightened by bombs,
watches
through rubble
and smoke.

 

Again and again the
roar of war
sends them running.
New shelter.
Cramped hovel,
temporary.
The necessaries: food, water, hope,
too limited.

 

A hand,
rough, calloused
reaches out.
Safety,
come.
A gesture,
the truck readies.
Room for one.

 

She pushes her son,
up.
A mother’s heart
shatters.

 

Poet’s statement: Written for our branch’s 2018 Painted Sounds event, “Broken” was inspired by National Letters Chair Nancy A. Dafoe’s fable, “Naimah and Ajmal on Newton’s Mountain.” In Painted Sounds, which was created by the Atlanta Branch, Pen Women select another Pen Woman’s work in art, writing, or music in order to create a new piece. In Nancy’s piece, I was deeply moved by the idea of a mother’s long search for her missing child.

 

Featured Poem: Lost Forever

Jane Gates Lies
Pensacola Branch, Florida 

 

My thought escaped
Into the dark abyss
Of my mind,
A fugitive,
Hiding somewhere,
Only once in view,
A slice of a moment,
Never again,
Lost forever.

 

Featured Poem: Ruby-Throated

 

Barb Whitmarsh
Bayou City 2 Branch, Texas

 

Someone told me that it was easy
To write a bad poem but
I believe in the magnitude of words
Felt in the heart long
Before they are inscribed on paper
There are no unamazing flowers
Many under-embellished lakes and streams
A cloudless sky is as awe-inspiring
As any cluttered with cumuli
Sunrise and sunset are unfathomable
Beyond our appreciation for color
The sinister spider is by far
The most compelling weaver
The hawk soars effortlessly until the swoop
Snow is not fluffy nor is it white
Stars show in the present the dying of past light
And in green hills dense, their rocks moss-coated
Nest minuscule hummingbirds — ruby-throated