Sunday, January 19, 2020

Looking the Other Way

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

—Denis Levertov (1923-1997)
Genial poets, pink-faced  
earnest wits—
you have given the world  
some choice morsels,
gobbets of language presented
as one presents T-bone steak
and Cherries Jubilee.  
Goodbye, goodbye,
                            I don’t care
if I never taste your fine food again,  
neutral fellows, seers of every side.  
Tolerance, what crimes
are committed in your name.

And you, good women, bakers of nicest bread,  
blood donors. Your crumbs
choke me, I would not want
a drop of your blood in me, it is pumped  
by weak hearts, perfect pulses that never  
falter: irresponsive
to nightmare reality.

It is my brothers, my sisters,
whose blood spurts out and stops
because you choose to believe it is not your business.

Goodbye, goodbye,
your poems
shut their little mouths,  
your loaves grow moldy,  
a gulf has split
                     the ground between us,
and you won’t wave, you’re looking
another way.
We shan’t meet again—
unless you leap it, leaving  
behind you the cherished  
worms of your dispassion,  
your pallid ironies,
your jovial, murderous,  
wry-humored balanced judgment,
leap over, un-
balanced? ... then
how our fanatic tears
would flow and mingle  
for joy ...


For more about Denise Levertov, go to The last paragraph of this biography reads, “Discussing Levertov’s social and political consciousness in his review of Light up the Cave, [American Book Review critic Daniel] Berrigan stated: “Our options [in a tremulous world], as they say, are no longer large. … [We] may choose to do nothing; which is to say, to go discreetly or wildly mad, letting fear possess us and frivolity rule our days. Or we may, along with admirable spirits like Denise Levertov, be driven sane; by community, by conscience, by treading the human crucible.” A contributor in Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography commended Levertov for “the emphasis in her work on uniting cultures and races through an awareness of their common spiritual heritage and their common responsibility to a shared planet.”

A reminder that Poetry of the Sierra Foothills will have a special open mic today from 1-3pm, with poems inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., or poems that would’ve inspired him if he were alive today. That’s at Caffe Santoro on Pleasant Valley Rd. in Diamond Springs. Also today: Sac. Poetry Center (25th & R Sts., Sacramento) hosts Prose in the Afternoon, 4-5:30m, with Nancy Schoellkopf and Katya Mills, plus Flash Fiction with Kathleen Lynch. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.



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