Peace Lily (with Peace Walls Leading to a Haiga)
Good fences make good neighbours
So chimes the grey-haired poet.
But what of walls?
Sometimes it takes a wall to keep the peace--
That’s what the Ulster Irish say and exactly
What I saw standing on the Falls Road, Belfast,
Where that straight thoroughfare of spite flanks
The Shankill Road. There it towered, a wall aloft,
A wall for peace, formed from iron, brick, and stone,
Plus shards of broken glass, whatever they could grab
To launch their peace-complacent wall higher,
Higher into the Ulster sky into the British heaven—
Each day before my foreign eyes it rose and rose
To strech its stated end: corral the hate,
Defend against the dragon and keep the peace.
And in the middle of the picture sits a single
Lily, a lily in a painted pot at the center
Of a space made safe, secure by surrounding
Walls—imposing, four-square forms wrought
From brick and rock and mortar—stiff stuff set
Firm and tough enough to keep the peace.
And the memory-keepers sang:
The burning walls and tower
And Agamemnon dead
And Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Since so much depends
Upon a painted lily in a pot
Safe within its walls,
Strange it seems how no
One really sees the flower
Yet the peace it promises
That’s the power people love
(It’s what they lack and long for)
So they cheer the lily’s unseen
Blossoming—a gift of hope,
A hope that drives out fear,
For this they cheer, raising
Signs and songs unto the lily
In the little painted pot
Safe within the walls four-square.
Three times Achilles chased him
Round the walls and towers
Ringing Ilium, three times Hector
Passed his wife and kin atop
The ramparts gasping, groaning
As the son of Peleus gained ground
On the fleeing prince. Then the fourth
Time round the walls sorrow swept
The crowd who watched their lover, son
And brother fall--
Death’s dark curtain dropped . . .
And round the walls, Achilles dragged the prince
Dragged his corpse face down behind his glinting
Chariot through the bloodied mud and dirt.
Sometimes it takes a certain kind
Of wall to strike what’s called a
Separate peace, at least that’s what
I mean to say to end this painful
Chain of word and image verse--
So in that spirit here’s a haiga,
A picture and a poem in tandem
About a man named George,
George Yamasaki born in Osaka,
But raised in Northern California,
A man they tried to cage and break
Behind a fence of coiled concertina wire,
A man whose soul they tried to snuff
Stealing his nursery, trashing his orchards,
Torching his home when war broke out in ’41.
But George refused to break, refused to die,
Refused to fade away like lilies of the valley--
And when the war was done, home he came
To the rolling hills round Auburn,
Then set to work raising walls again,
Rebuilt his life stacking quartz and granite
Not just to feed his boys and wife . . . No,
George showed that though they tried
To bend and bow him like a bonsai, to cage
Him like a magpie, he refused to bow or break:
Back from camp at Tulelake
Yamasaki built these walls
Freestones in mortar
In the Year of the Drought
We pray for a good year the way my grandfather
once prayed for rain for the field below
his house, the water that would make that red Carolina soil run
like blood across the drive. The good year: annus mirabilis
they call it, the year of wonders— Newton at 23, writing the law
of universal gravitation while Cambridge locks its doors
against the plague, an equation cold comfort in a graveyard full
of his friends.
Outside the water pools over gutters, forces
itself against basement windows but when I pull the kitchen
curtains in the morning’s dim haze, the ground is still dry.
Could this be the good year? the wonder we feel has turned
to something else entirely, venom rising at the back
of the throat, marching toward what burns and writhes
in the dark—our insides turned out on TV, while the midwife
undoes clasps and ties to make the birth easier, not a knot
left in the house. What I bring into this world is more
of the same: the apple falling from the tree, the torch
turned into candle, grief upon grief.
Late at night,
I think I hear you fall in the bathroom in a dark house—
but you’ve been in bed for the past three days, unable to walk
or raise a glass of water. Don’t you know we all become
the same things in the end? In this year without rain, all the window
ledges are bare, open to let in the night air and to ease
the inevitable birth pangs of a world made more undone
with each arrival.
A Wave inside a Wave
Maybe they were slippery because they were swimming
Maybe they were surfing and they caught a wave inside a wave
Maybe they were waving hi
but their hello wave
Maybe they were a political movement
and inside a loud and forceful wave
there was a smaller quieter wave
pulled along by the bigger one
shushing out onto the beach
just inside the one wave
arrives another wave
Burning Down the House
Fear turns a light breeze into a tornado. Don't forget: every time you make dinner you create one or two little fires in the kitchen. That's you, you're the little fire, you're not hurting anything, not yet.
"Those two are getting along like a house afire," our friends said. It's true, we were as compatible as sandpaper and a match. We stayed together to the end, which came fast.
Don't worry, ladybug. Your children won't necessarily combust, no matter what you've heard. It's the poem that's blazing up, from the kindling of the bad rhyme. HOME and BURN, ladybug. BURN and HOME.
A version of this sequence was exhibited at Bella Art in Monument, Colorado in September of 2021.
“Burning Down the House” first appeared in Injecting Dreams into Cows (Red Hen, 2012).
Pam Chadick Aloisa has had paintings exhibited regularly in many juried, invitational, and solo exhibits regionally, nationally, and internationally. She recently won first prize at the Wills Creek Exhibition and her art also was published at Brooklyn Art Library and Academic Quarter at Aarhus University in Denmark. Pam is an art professor and Director/curator of the art gallery at the U.S. Air Force Academy. https://aloisaart.com
Thomas McGuire is an ecopoet and the editor of War, Literature & the Arts. He resides in the rain shadow of Pikes Peak in Colorado. His creative work has appeared most recently in the North American Review, Poetry for the More-Than-Human-World, Southeast Review, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, and Open-Eyed, Full-Throated: An Anthology of American/Irish Poets (Arlen House, 2019). His poem "Four Ways of Looking at Magpie--A Most Becoming Bird" appeared in Best New Poets 2020.
Sarah Nance is a writer and an assistant professor of English. Her creative work has been published in Colorado Review, Southern Humanities Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Parentheses, Belletrist, and elsewhere. Her critical work on literature and poetics has appeared in journals and venues such as Arizona Quarterly, Literature and Medicine, ASAP/J, Amodern, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She lives in Colorado Springs, where she teaches writing and directs the student-run arts journal Icarus.
Jessy Randall’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Scientific American, and Women’s Review of Books. Her most recent collection is How to Tell If You Are Human: Diagram Poems (Pleiades, 2018). A new book, Mathematics for Ladies: Poems on Women in Science is forthcoming from Gold SF / University of London in 2022. http://bit.ly/JessyRandall Twitter: @randall_jessy
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