from Issue 43 (2015)
Bills to Pay
For my mother
The night after my father died, I climbed the stairs
to tell my mother goodnight. I saw the left side of the bed
stacked with magazine clippings, newspapers, letters,
folders, unpaid bills, a Bible. I slept with him for sixty-two years,
she said. I had to fill up his side of the bed. I said the words
to her I should have said many times before. There were
words we still had time to say, and unpaid bills to pay.
Martín Espada has published more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His forthcoming collection of poems is called The Leaves of El Moriviví (2016). Other books of poems include The Trouble Ball (2011), The Republic of Poetry (2006), and Alabanza (2003). His honors include the Shelley Memorial Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
My Father’s Job
As offspring of a history demolished,
I lived upstairs, above my father’s job.
He worked behind the bar
at my grandparents’ tavern
Their names were hand-painted
in cursive across the window pane—
Bennie Sr. and Charmaine. My father
was Bennie Jr. My brothers and I
were pointed out for years as
You Bennie Jr.’s, Bennie Jr. kids, lil Bennie…
Marcel, Chris, and I wanted
people to remember our names.
I was honor roll girl.
Marcel had the blonde afro
the blue-eyed soul brother.
Chris was brownie
the tannest of the three of us.
Because of my father’s job, I have
a longstanding romance with jukeboxes,
and hearing the satisfying thunk of a quarter
shuttling down the slot. I cannot see my life
without Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,”
Gwen Guthrie , The Gap Band, or J.J. Blackfoot.
This was the music in hollers of That’s my song!
I never thought tired smiles were strange.
I would never be afraid of Black men, not even
my father who sometimes stepped on my feet
in sneakers and ask does it hurt? A strange
game where I said no because I was tough
like a boy, and he still hugged me.
Because my father’s job meant he’d never have to find
other work, he never read better than I did after I finished
third grade. He said my daughter is the smart one until
I went to college, and became a woman with his nose
and chin, but not his life. Because of his jobs behind
the bar and exchanging dime bags, I went to Catholic
school, learned pretty penmanship that makes people
admire my notebooks. Because of his jobs, my mother’s
job offered underpaid child support, and keeping us
from the belt. Because of my father, I mourn
a building torn down where hookers
and drug dealers met on Saturday nights.
Tara Betts is the author of Arc and Hue and the chapbook/libretto The Greatest: An Homage to Muhammad Ali. Tara is a Cave Canem alum and a Poetry Editor for Blackberry: a magazine and a Contributing Editor for Radius. In 2010, she was selected as one of Essence Magazine's 40 favorite poets. She has shared her writing across the country, as well as in Cuba, London, and Ghana.
Inside the Cardinal
I’m in the belly of a bird and I’m singing red—
my sharp crest spiking when I down-slur.
I’m your mother’s voice as she spots me
from the old porch, the shrill piano from
the old stand-up Yamaha, the vibrating e-string
on the yellow strat—
Will you love my loud, metallic song?
I like to sit low in the shrubs,
and hang out in the woodlots.
Don’t try to explain my sound—
it’s too red, too
Look at me hunched over, my tail
pointed straight down.
It’s just a small fire in me but soon
it will flame,
with the next intruder, the next shot
of wind, the next mourning:
filling the air with a dark carbon—
it will take your head off
a thousand times over.
Jan Beatty’s book, The Switching/Yard, was named by Library Journal as one of 30 New Books That Will Help You Rediscover Poetry. The Huffington Post called her one of ten “advanced women poets for required reading.” Books include Red Sugar, Boneshaker, and Mad River, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. She directs the creative writing program at Carlow University, where she runs the Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops and teaches in the MFA program.
The Spaces Between Us
I had to use a cane for a few months
after knee replacements and I found
people with canes often talk to each
other, that implement erasing the fear
of opening a chat with a stranger.
People with dogs do the same in parks
or when they’re walking them. Men say
it’s easy to pick up women that way.
And if strangers who have or love cats
know I do, we compare notes and habits.
We live in the world where we make new
acquaintances on Facebook or Twitter. I
have 5000 “friends” I have mostly never
met and likely won’t. So if a cane or dog
or Patriots hoodie means we need not
fear each other, let’s do whatever.
On busses and in stores women used
to suddenly talk to my mother as if
pulling problems from their pockets
or purses. Some women are like that
somehow giving off the scent of good
listeners, someone who’ll take your
problems like yarn in their laps, try
to disentangle them. Mostly we skirt
others like birds of different species.
We are social animals, evolved to live
in groups, so why don’t we? So many
are stored like unwanted furniture,
untouched except by doctors, no one
speaking to them except TV turned loud.
Marge Piercy's 18th poetry book is THE HUNGER MOON: New & Selected Poems 1980-2010 (Knopf) and her latest collection MADE IN DETROIT came out in March 2015. Piercy has published 17 novels, most recently SEX WARS. PM Press recently published her first collection of short stories THE COST OF LUNCH, ETC. Her work has been translated into 19 languages and she’s given readings, workshops or lectures at over 450 venues here and abroad.