The Leader and the Led

09-14 Osundare
Niyi Osundare
Nigerian
b. 1947

 

The Lion stakes his claim
To the leadership of the pack

But the Antelopes remember
The ferocious pounce of his paws

The hyena says the crown is made for him
But the Impalas shudder at his lethal appetite

The Giraffe craves a place in the front
But his eyes are too far from the ground

When the Zebra says it’s his right to lead
The pack points to the duplicity of his stripes

The Elephant trudges into the power tussle
But its colleagues dread his trampling feet

The warthog is too ugly
The rhino too riotous

And the pack thrashes around
Like a snake without a head

“Our need calls for a hybrid of habits”,
Proclaims the Forest Sage,

“A little bit of a Lion
A little bit of a Lamb

Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe
Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake

A leader who knows how to follow
Followers mindful of their right to lead”

The Dentist and the Crocodile

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 105th birthday.

09-13 Dahl
Roald Dahl
Welsh
1916 – 1990

 

The crocodile, with cunning smile, sat in the dentist’s chair.
He said, “Right here and everywhere my teeth require repair.”
The dentist’s face was turning white. He quivered, quaked and shook.
He muttered, “I suppose I’m going to have to take a look.”
“I want you”, Crocodile declared, “to do the back ones first.
The molars at the very back are easily the worst.”
He opened wide his massive jaws. It was a fearsome sight—
At least three hundred pointed teeth, all sharp and shining white.
The dentist kept himself well clear. He stood two yards away.
He chose the longest probe he had to search out the decay.
“I said to do the back ones first!” the Crocodile called out.
“You’re much too far away, dear sir, to see what you’re about.
To do the back ones properly you’ve got to put your head
Deep down inside my great big mouth,” the grinning Crocky said.
The poor old dentist wrung his hands and, weeping in despair,
He cried, “No no! I see them all extremely well from here!”
Just then, in burst a lady, in her hands a golden chain.
She cried, “Oh Croc, you naughty boy, you’re playing tricks again!”
“Watch out!” the dentist shrieked and started climbing up the wall.
“He’s after me! He’s after you! He’s going to eat us all!”
“Don’t be a twit,” the lady said, and flashed a gorgeous smile.
“He’s harmless. He’s my little pet, my lovely crocodile.”

The Young Nation

09-12 Machado
Antonio Machado
Spanish
1875 – 1939

 

It was a time of infamy and lies.
The nation itself was dressed up
like a squalid clown to draw
attention away from our wound.

That was then. We were young:
bad weather, worse omens,
we had nightmares in our hair
as the sea swelled with wrecks.

We swore we would abandon ship.
We said that we would sail away on
a silver galleon, eschewing the shore,
rudder and sail charging to the sea.

Even in the loss of that dream—
the debt from a century of failure—
we still sought the light as sacred
ideals drowned in this confusion.

Led by our anxious convictions,
we flexed, we preened, we abandoned
armor as clean as a mirror. We said,
“It’s bad, but tomorrow will be mine.”

Today is that tomorrow. The nation
is dancing in faux gold, faux fur,
twisted as an oak and drunk
on wine like blood from a sore.

Listen. If the will to change comes,
chase it. When the fire comes,
wake up, wake and let it fill you up
the way light burns inside a diamond.

The Dead of September 11

We present this work in honor of 9/11.

09-11 Morrison
Toni Morrison
American
1931 – 2019

 

Some have God’s words; others have songs of comfort
for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would
like to speak directly to the dead—the September dead.
Those children of ancestors born in every continent
on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…;
born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles,
wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes,
feathers and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say
a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about
nations, wars, leaders, the governed and ungovernable;
all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen
my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil—wanton
or studied; explosive or quietly sinister; whether born of
a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple
compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge
my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze
the levels of wickedness; ranking them; calculating their
higher or lower status among others of its kind.
Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for
a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts.
Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be
seduced by blitz.
To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim
false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed
just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear,
knowing all the time that I have nothing to say—no words
stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture
older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you
have become.
And I have nothing to give either—except this gesture,
this thread thrown between your humanity and mine:
I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand, as you have done, the wit
of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through
the darkness of its knell.

Serenata

09-05 Florez
Alejandro A. Flórez Roa
Colombian
1866 – 1901

 

Put your head out the window
so that my soul doesn’t pain,
so that my soul doesn’t pain.

Look out as it comes
the fresh light tomorrow,
the fresh light tomorrow.

Appear, and if I look at you,
I’ll confess to you my ardent love,
in the rumors of a kiss
and in the swing of a sigh,
and in the swing of a sigh.

You will know that I keep a treasure
for you inside my chest,
for you inside my chest,

get up from your bed
and you will know how much I adore you,
and you will know how much I adore you.

Streets are deserted
clouds wander lost,
and stars are awake
and stars are awake.

Ambrosia Arbor

We present this work in honor of Ganesh Charturthi.

09-09 Osho
N.K. Osho
Indian
b. 1975

 

Thousandfold flowers unfetters fragrance…
Thousandfold powers dowers Deliverance…
All frith flowers adore thine aubade!
All Ambrosia audacious attunes along cascade!

When my myriad… mystic
Mood… in mute stands rustic
O’erflows joy e’er encompass!
Sacred love, encore! all onus… pious abyss!

Daze, dazzling… blushes those sweet flower,
Carries my Chariot thought to Rose land!
And thy relume thought compose and jocund!
Where withal… Whimsical thro’ Orison pervade

Sacred Symphony sings, enlightens the Planet
Sonorous savant, radiant grace compose sonnet.

The Poet as Hero

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 135th birthday.

09-08 Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon
English
1886 – 1967

 

You’ve heard me, scornful, harsh, and discontented,
Mocking and loathing War: you’ve asked me why
Of my old, silly sweetness I’ve repented—
My ecstasies changed to an ugly cry.

You are aware that once I sought the Grail,
Riding in armour bright, serene and strong;
And it was told that through my infant wail
There rose immortal semblances of song.

But now I’ve said good-bye to Galahad,
And am no more the knight of dreams and show:
For lust and senseless hatred make me glad,
And my killed friends are with me where I go.

Wound for red wound I burn to smite their wrongs;
And there is absolution in my songs.

The New Year

We present this work in honor of Rosh Hashanah.

09-07 Lazarus
Emma Lazarus
American
1849 – 1887

 

Not while the snow-shroud round dead earth is rolled,
And naked branches point to frozen skies.—
When orchards burn their lamps of fiery gold,
The grape glows like a jewel, and the corn
A sea of beauty and abundance lies,
Then the new year is born.
Look where the mother of the months uplifts
In the green clearness of the unsunned West,
Her ivory horn of plenty, dropping gifts,
Cool, harvest-feeding dews, fine-winnowed light;
Tired labor with fruition, joy and rest
Profusely to requite.
Blow, Israel, the sacred cornet! Call
Back to thy courts whatever faint heart throb
With thine ancestral blood, thy need craves all.
The red, dark year is dead, the year just born
Leads on from anguish wrought by priest and mob,
what undreamed-of morn?
For never yet, since on the holy height,
The Temple’s marble walls of white and green
Carved like the sea-waves, fell, and the world’s light
Went out in darkness,—never was the year
Greater with portent and with promise seen,
Than this eve now and here.
Even as the Prophet promised, so your tent
Hath been enlarged unto earth’s farthest rim.
To snow-capped Sierras from vast steppes ye went,
Through fire and blood and tempest-tossing wave,
For freedom to proclaim and worship Him,
Mighty to slay and save.
High above flood and fire ye held the scroll,
Out of the depths ye published still the Word.
No bodily pang had power to swerve your soul:
Ye, in a cynic age of crumbling faiths,
Lived to bear witness to the living Lord,
Or died a thousand deaths.
In two divided streams the exiles part,
One rolling homeward to its ancient source,
One rushing sunward with fresh will, new heart.
By each the truth is spread, the law unfurled,
Each separate soul contains the nation’s force,
And both embrace the world.
Kindle the silver candle’s seven rays,
Offer the first fruits of the clustered bowers,
The garnered spoil of bees. With prayer and praise
Rejoice that once more tried, once more we prove
How strength of supreme suffering still is ours
For Truth and Law and Love.

What Work Is

We present this work in honor of Labor Day.

09-06 Levine
Philip Levine
American
1928 – 2015

 

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

Out of Africa

09-10 Pintado
Carlos Pintado
Cuban
b. 1974

 

You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions
Isak Dinesen

I never had a farm in Africa, nor was I at the hills of Ngong, and perhaps because I was a rebellious youth, I refused to read the book. Isak was a country on my mind, never a body skinny and consumed by the syphilis, an echoless shadow the grass cut through without any perceived musicality.

For years I held the book in my hand and my hands would tremble. I recall the rain falling over the prairies. If I closed my eyes I would see those men lingering at sunset, seen from that false luminosity that only the written page can give.

Death moved the doors. The lover or the money vanished like leaves. I never had a farm in Africa; I never felt the smell of coffee invading the rooms at sunrise. There were only lions occupying my sleep, their roaring was the only memorable thing as I awoke.