Palette is back with another Poetry We Admire for May—curated by a new editor! I’m delighted to be drawing your attention today to a few recent poems published online that I haven’t been able to shake. Our theme for May is “Transition,” which feels apt for a month expected to bloom on command. April showers, and all that.
Transition calls to mind the concluding lines of Lucille Clifton’s “blessing the boats:” “and may you in your innocence/sail through this to that.” It signals a shift, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, from the world (or life) (or moment) you were given to another that is as of yet unknown, so yours for the choosing—so abounding with potential. During an ongoing pandemic, mere months into a new administration, it’s clear that many transitions are larger forces we find ourselves struggling to navigate day in and day out. So how do we mark passage amidst it all, how do we grow? What new, unmarred sun might we angle our faces toward?
These five poems show me how to toe the line between this and that. They shift from one image to another in fluid, surprising ways. They ask us to bear witness at the Gate of Mercy in Palestine, to archive every dream that leaks into the waking world. I hope you’ll join me in reading and rereading these poems, in trailing insistently forward on what Teo Mungaray calls “this wicked pavement of life.”
I Divine. I pry, God.
Then I try, God. I put a no in my throat,
but out came a yes. I assume. I consume.
I play at make believe, etch relief. I say,
Make me empty, an empty jar, God.
by Teo Mungaray in Redivider
I love how Mungaray beseeches through constant self-revision in this powerful poem. “Clean” becomes “seen,” “broken” splinters forward into “broke.” This active address to God, complete with pointed, surprising questions (Pray tell, do I lie, God?) weaves confession and prayer in such a skillful way. What a stunner.
When I was young and still would dig holes in the sand
to bury my two feet in, I was sure my dreams played
unsurveilled by the angels awake on my shoulders.
So when I rose, I told them what I saw:
by Sara Elkamel in Tinderbox Poetry Journal
The spaces between phrases evoke the veil between the waking world and dream world beautifully on the page. It was hard to select an excerpt here! I’m so enamored by those last, gorgeous lines: “the angel wrote down: the dreamer is unable to accept the confines of her body.”
It is not enough to feel this fear. You have to get inside it like water
gets inside you, or love. A woman walked down a mountain or perhaps the mountain
walked down her, estrogen sopping its forests, igniting them with its power.
by Anindita Sengupta in Up the Staircase
From the first line to the last, this poem demands your undivided attention. The speaker is resolute in the face of fear, aware of what flames wait in a field of flowers. This poem to me is a testament to one’s capacity to recover, to heal, to move forward, ever forward, even if it does not always seem so: “a woman walked down a mountain or perhaps the mountain walked down her…the end of a mountain is where land begins.”
where we are tender to ourselves, where war has been fought,
left the ruins where they need be. I have been there & o, lord,
I don’t want to go back.
by travis tate in Shade Literary Arts
This poem is so wonderfully tactile. The speaker is “sullen, silk soft” with rough feet, and later we encounter a surprising list: “axe, metal, patience, steel wool, computer screen.” Tate moves from war to remaking the self to a room and then back to war. The transition from “I” to “we” was perfectly executed here, and tate is definitely a poet I will be paying close attention to.
Gates crenelated, sky widening,
sultans stir in their sleep,
offer archways to lift nightmares
from their brows. Museumed graves
intone a call to prayer
for the living.
by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha in The Rumpus
Tuffaha’s poem teaches me how a poem can shed the page that holds it and rise to resist, to bear witness. The title alone does so much work here—crescendo fills my ears with the commotion of “tear gas stun grenades.” There is so much to learn from this poem (and this poet!) about how to make your reader see. “At the Gate of Mercy,” the poem begins, holding its ground at the entrance, and we are summoned there, too, to consider this “architecture of return.”