14/30 Poems in November: Refuge

woods
The woods haven’t always
welcomed me but today
they did.

Strangers haven’t always
greeted me kindly but today
they smiled hello.

Once, I would have been afraid
of this hiding place.
Today, I sought it out.

Once, I’d have been terrified
of dogs running
in my direction.

Today, I opened my hands
to their tongues,
stroked their heads.

In another lifetime,
I fled to the woods
for survival.

I failed
to save my child,
my sister. Never again.

Today, once again,
the woods were refuge,
now of a different sort.

A place to touch
into peace. A refusal.
A pause. A quiet roar.

14/30

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Donate to my efforts to support the Center For New Americans in Northampton, MA: I’m halfway to my $500 fundraising goal and every bit helps.

13/30 Poems in November: Bone Tired

photo-1445127891637-6884935d9a02My bones stopped speaking to me
when I was busy feeding my kids.
They just stopped. They carried on
carrying me, but the conversations
grew quiet between us. I was busy
paying the bills. I was busy taking
care of business. I was busy being
busy so my bones bought a ticket
to the matinee and left me sitting
at the table wishing someone else
would make dinner. I was busy
ranting and raving. My bones
started a secret group to extol
the benefits of bone broth.
My bones creaked and ached
and told me to straighten up
my act. I can’t straighten up,
I told my bones. I’m gay.
They didn’t laugh. My sense
of humor isn’t what it never
was and my pulse is still
racing from all the pills
I’m glad I didn’t take.
The state of our great nation
has never been less great
and my bones were last seen
walking without me somewhere
in the mid-Atlantic states.
When I’m less busy, I’ll find
them at a roadside diner, I bet
they’ll be talking up the server
and finding out what time
she gets off, where she gets
off voting against them
when she herself’s no better
under the new regime.
My bones will see me
coming and assemble
themselves in some new
configuration, they’ll slip
the server a tip and slap
me on the wrist and say
where the hell were you
all that time? Busy, I’ll say.
I was busy and didn’t
notice that you were gone.

13/30

**

Donate to my efforts to support the Center For New Americans in Northampton, Mass! I’m halfway to my $500 fundraising goal and every bit helps.

10/30 Poems in November: For Leonard Cohen

cohen

“There’s no one left to blame. I’m leaving the table. I’m out of the game.”

— Leonard Cohen, September 21, 1934 — November 10, 2016, RIP

This is nightmarish.
My wife is crying next to me in bed,
listening to Leonard Cohen’s
Elegy for Janis Joplin–
racing the midnight train, all naked.

All day, reports from every corner
of this country — swastikas,
language we used to relegate
to neo-Nazi extremists
now showing up in dorm rooms,
in school bathrooms,
on mountaintops and on city buses,
middle-schoolers chanting,
“Build that wall” and “go back to Africa”
and “your time here is up.”

Lever-pullers who “didn’t mean for this
to happen,” see what you’ve unleashed?
The ones who voted for this didn’t care
about newspaper endorsements
or epic warnings. No, instead
they cheered at his rallies
or said we’re not bigots, we just want
a better America.
I was so naive, thinking we’d dance
each other to the end of love.
I really did!

As I draw the next breath forcing myself
to fill up all of the space
this body allows,
I stare blankly, unable to say anything
pretty or redemptive. We will play
cover after cover
of Hallejujah and Chelsea Hotel,
we will say we didn’t ask for it
to be darker, no no we didn’t want it
darker but he knew, he was
ready, my lord. He was ready
and I can only think
that today, day two
pushed him over the edge he’d been
walking towards.

I hope a million of his songs
are floating upwards to the sky
tonight. Some kind of send-off.
A grateful goodbye.

10/30

**

#30poemsinnovember is a literary fundraiser for Center for New Americans. Center for New Americans welcomes and serves immigrants in Western Massachusetts with free English classes and a range of support services. For more information, please visit cnam.org This year, we aim to raise $30,000.

Writers do their part by writing one poem each day in November. Friends and family do their part by donating to support this effort. Powerful new poems and financial contributions translate to community support for immigrants.

Visit my personal donation page here.

8/30 Poems in November: Of All the Days

photo-1473090826765-d54ac2fdc1eb-1

Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
a new American.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
disabled.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
a descendant
of slaves.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
mentally ill.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
Native American.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
multiracial.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
a veteran.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
Muslim and misunderstood.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
blue
in a red place
or gay
in a hateful place
or trans
in an ignorant place.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
scared to speak
your truth.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being wrapped up
in a flag
that’s meant
to protect you.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
privileged enough
to vote
your conscience.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of paying
taxes,
caring for the elderly,
providing for the sick,
healing our own shit,
and raising
kids who care.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
a refugee
when it’s hard enough
to have fled
your homeland.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of belonging
to not only a group
of people
but a community
of humans
who by birth
or accident
or choice
call themselves
Americans.
Of all the days
to consider
equal pay.
Of all the days
to consider
our bodies, ourselves.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
responsible.
Of all the days
to consider
the experience
of being
powerless.
Of all the days
to consider
exercising
the ultimate right —
to cast your ballot
in the box
for the one
who tells the world:
We are better
than that.
We have to do better.
Just watch
and we will.

8/30

**

30 Poems in November! is a literary fundraiser for Center for New Americans. Center for New Americans welcomes and serves immigrants in Western Massachusetts with free English classes and a range of support services. For more information, please visit cnam.org This year, we aim to raise $30,000.

Writers do their part by writing one poem each day in November. Friends and family do their part by donating to support this effort. Powerful new poems and financial contributions translate to community support for immigrants.

Visit my personal donation page here, and read the #30poemsinnovember I’ve written so far here.

6/30 Poems in November: Kid Special

Today’s entries come from my kids.

Processed with VSCO with e3 preset

1.

my heart was in pieces
and you tied it up
with the laces of your converse

— high-waisted love

— Aviva Strong, age 14

2.

If I met a genie, know what I would wish?
I’d wish to become a flying fish.
I’d swim like a rocket, take to the air at my best,
then be the first trout to build a nest.

flying-fish

— Pearl Strong, age 10

6/30

**

30 Poems in November! is a literary fundraiser for Center for New Americans. Center for New Americans welcomes and serves immigrants in Western Massachusetts with free English classes and a range of support services. For more information, please visit cnam.org This year, we aim to raise $30,000.

Writers do their part by writing one poem each day in November. Friends and family do their part by donating to support this effort. Powerful new poems and financial contributions translate to community support for immigrants.

Some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever done was in my early 20s at the Riverside Church in NYC, leading English-language conversations with new Americans from countries all over the world. It was then that I was privileged to witness the courage, resilience, patience, and grit that immigrants and refugees must have in order to navigate life in a new language and culture.

Since poetry is one of the way I practice showing up in the world, for the month of November, I vow to write one poem a day as a small gesture of respect for and in solidarity with those who land in the Pioneer Valley as new Americans. Your donation will spur me on and, more importantly, support the newest members of our community.

Make your donation here, and read the #30poemsinnovember I’ve written so far here.