Thursday, October 15, 2020

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – M.F. Simone Roberts

We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.  ― Gwendolyn Brooks  

Split This Rock Virtual Open Mic announcement includes a black background with red Split This Rock logo, text that reads "Virtual Open Mic," and an illustration of a hanging lamp sending out rays of light over a laptop.
As we journey through political, economic, and global health crises, we turn to poetry to share truths that unearth underlying causes, illuminate impacts, and insist on transformative change. For many of us, today’s challenges are not new. The struggle of isolation, economic insecurity, inadequate medical care, deadly institutionalized negligence, governmental decisions that put Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, disabled, sick, and other structurally precarious people at greater risk are not new. Today, many more people are experiencing the vulnerability of these unrelenting issues. We recognize this opportunity for a heightened awareness of how our very survival depends on one another.

Poetry can help keep the flame of resilience, solidarity, and resistance alive in us. It can help us process and move through grief, anger, loneliness. Poetry can be a comfort when the most necessary actions are to rest and recover. It can remind us of what’s at stake, that our lives and legacy are worth the fight. As cultural workers, we know that culture shapes our political and social imagination at a foundational level. As poets, we can use poetry to map what is, what has been, and possibly, the way forward, including the reasons not to return to what does not honor and protect our lives, our communities, and our planet.

We asked poets to give us the words they chant to get out of bed, to raise their fists, to encourage their kin, to remind us, as this crisis does, that “we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” To read all of these poems, visit Split This Rock’s website.


Dair & Cré-umha / Oak & Bronze*
By M.F. Simone Roberts

The plain truth is my shoulders

are almost numb with tension,

oakey, not in a whiskey way, 

but more the barrel holding, holding.

What I can’t do is hold my father

back from his ingrained pride,

gathering unmasked with friends

unprotected. While they love

my father, this malady is a mebd.

Did they hug hello?

Did the couple from the condo

building -- all those public

surfaces -- wash the hands

that held one curve of a bowl

as my father the other? 

This pandemic is a context

masked in granular confusion:

we’ve all been tested, it’s 

safe to share féasta, gather in 

close for comfort, right?

Which headline? What day?

My father’s hugs are healing, even

over video chat, solid as an oak, as heavy, 

completely surrounding. My six oaks, 

though they whisper their waking each

Imbloc, can’t hold me. One, a red oak, fell

from wind just at Beltane. Our ancestors stilled

uicsce beatha from wheat, rye, barley, into oak 

barrels and made them bronze. Whiskey was a ward, 

sláinte, water of life, then illness, eventually a weapon,
a bright and murderous alloy.

Comorbidities include: heart conditions. 

His heart beat a relaxed 70 in the ventricles,

but a panicked 140 in the atria. Like most

hearts now, his can’t calibrate emotion.

He texted a pic of his latest last-whiskey 

after the latest defibulation. 

Comorbidities include: cancer. Radiation 

starts Monday. What day will his 

immune system confuse erythrocyte

for corona and then clot? He’s so slow

to humble, to just hold back a little.

People of oak and bronze are dare and careless. 

We see a fetch before a loved one falls.

The luck, the bounce back, the devil may care.

The speeds my parents drove, the races home from the bar,

the way my mother shone a Brigit victorious, 

bronze with sun-gleam even past my young bedtime. 

My shoulders kenning this tension,

anticipating mourning, as if steaming over a fire

of ambient grief and soon cured, bound 

round with metal, holding, holding, reticent, drained

and refilled, cooping up my breath.

Maybe that’s what barrels are,

just bounce and roll,

smash and spirit.

*From Irish Gaelic -- Dair : oak, Cré-umha : bronze, mebd : confusion/war goddess, féasta : feast, uicsce beatha : whiskey/water of life, sláinte : health.

Listen as M.F. Simone Roberts reads "Dair & Cré-umha / Oak & Bronze."

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