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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Three Poetic Monologues from Redwing, New York

Copyright ©2013. All rights reserved by author.

TUBMAN GREENE: Redwing, 1888

My father traveled fast and traveled far,
away from warmer rivers, warmer land--
all time, he said, a single guiding star
and charity from one brave woman’s hand.
My mother followed, praying that my name
could be my own when I was born, held free
of master’s choices, master’s whip, the same
as any baptized white child’s days would be.
What hunger? What sharp terror must have torn
their breath as they ran hiding in the dark,
each cellar, church, and barn, each field of corn
or fog-swept swamp dark hell but for her spark?
They’ve raised me thanking God that their first son
has lived to honor her for what she’s done.


HARRIET GREENE: Redwing, 1888

He loves me well, my brother. I'll defend
his words of loyalty and history 

against the fools who sneer so mightily 
at what he swears—the truth!—will finally end 
the way life's river has been forced to bend 
for those of us with color, who may be 
the sanest creatures highest God can see, 
but must endure the way the waters wend. 
What can he ask of me? I'll gladly give 
my breath the way the woman whose dear name 
I hold in reverence helped our parents live 
within a world of whitest deadly blame. 
But who am I? A girl in love with life— 
the one I'm making, free to be a wife.


IRIS BIRDWELL: Redwing, 1888

I see him all the time, the boy I loved.
His smile under the quickening oak tree 
green leaves hiding gold, his hair 
smooth upon his forehead, brown 
as the deer we glimpsed one twilight 
from a curving wooden bridge.

I hear him play piano again 
midsummer where small bats flew close, 
the moon as round as the watch on his vest 
while his hands moved the polished keys 
under the columned roof where a wedding 
would join two souls next day.

I touch him, ten years, twenty gone:
my fingers light upon his brow, his palms 
where I traced the lines I thought 
we would share together. Chautauqua, 
and the lake at sunrise, calls of ducks 
on water black to blue.

Katharyn Howd Machan studied creative writing and literature at the College of Saint Rose and at the University of Iowa, taught college for five years, returned to graduate school for a Ph.D. in Interpretation at Northwestern University and, now as a full professor, has been teaching on the faculty of the Department of Writing at Ithaca College ever since. In 2002 she was named the first poet laureate of Tompkins County, New York. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines (Nimrod, Yankee, The MacGuffin, Snake Nation Review, Hanging Loose, Dogwood, Runes, Slipstream, Beloit Poetry Journal, South Coast Poetry Journal, Hollins Critic, The Salmon, West Branch, Seneca Review, Louisiana Literature, etc.) and anthologies/textbooks (The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Poetry: An Introduction, Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, Sound and Sense, Writing Poems, Literature: Reading and Writing the Human Experience, etc.), and in 30 collections, most recently Belly Words: Poems of Dance (Split Oak Press, 2009), When She’s Asked to Think of Colors (Palettes & Quills Press, 2009), The Professor Poems (The Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2008). In 2000 she was awarded the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from the University of Southern California by judge Dana Gioia for her poem “Tess Clarion: Redwing, 1888” and in 2006 the Luna Negra Prize from Kent State University for her poem “Gingerbread.” In 2012 she edited Adrienne Rich: A Tribute Anthology for Split Oak Press.

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