Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
Hey, poets! It’s been a while and I hope you are faring well, especially in the middle of this global pandemic. It has certainly changed the way we look at our existing systems and faultlines in our society. Like Roy said in her recent essay, it can be a portal to the kind of world that we want for ourselves. Hopefully, it is going to be a better one.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word “portal” simply as “door, entrance, especially: a grand or imposing one”. Today, I would like you all to mull over this word for your expression. Do not limit yourself to the experience of this pandemic; we can think about the portals that we have crossed in our lifetime. They can be resulting from other collective experiences like that of war, social unrest, revolutions, and of course climate change/emergency.
To inspire all of you, I am sharing some poems about portals, openings, beginnings, dystopia, et al.
by Dana Levin
I want you to know
how it felt to hold it,
deep in the well of my eye.
You, future person: star of one of my
complicated dooms —
This one’s called Back to the Dark.
Scene 1: Death stampedes through the server-cities.
Somehow we all end up living in caves, foraging in civic ruin.
Banana Palace — the last
of the last of my kind who can read
breathes it hot
into your doom-rimed ear.
She’s a dowser of spine-broken books and loose paper
the rest of your famishing band thinks mad.
Mine was the era
of spending your time
in town squares made out of air.
You invented a face
and moved it around, visited briefly
with other faces.
Thus we streamed
down lit screens
sharing pictures of animals looking ridiculous —
trading portals to shoes, love, songs, news, somebody’s latest
rabid cause: bosses, gluten, bacon, God —
Information about information was the pollen we
while in the real fields bees starved.
Into this noise sailed
…Read the complete poem in its original formatting here…
Here is one with such heartrending use of the language about what I feel is being stuck (as many of us feel also right now):
God put his finger on my sacrum
and he lifted me, he set me
in the center of the universe,
the curious desire
of my chronically lonely life.
It was cold and dark and lonely
and I was scared.
There were no accessories.
I burst into tears over nothing.
What would Jimmy Schuyler do?
And as quietly as the sound of Kleenex
being pulled from a box,
And morning, that goddess,
as if she were slightly deaf,
barely lifted her head off the horizon
before laying back down.
And a rose opened her portals
and the scent ran up an elephant’s trunk,
or tried to.
Such a long way for everything to travel!
From here I look like a front moving in
An icy purple light
a poet would say belonged to a perfume stopper
belonging to his mother.
When it was her nipple.
You know, neither in the past
or in the future.
Here is a powerful one by the abolitionist and suffragist poet, Frances Harper, reminding us that all portals do not lead to something better and the struggle continues. I see it as an apt accompaniment to Roy’s essay.
by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
At the Portals of the Future,
Full of madness, guilt and gloom,
Stood the hateful form of Slavery,
Crying, Give, Oh! give me room–
Room to smite the earth with cursing,
Room to scatter, rend and slay,
From the trembling mother’s bosom
Room to tear her child away;
Room to trample on the manhood
Of the country far and wide;
Room to spread o’er every Eden
Slavery’s scorching lava-tide.
Pale and trembling stood the Future,
Quailing ‘neath his frown of hate,
As he grasped with bloody clutches
The great keys of Doom and Fate.
In his hand he held a banner
All festooned with blood and tears:
‘Twas a fearful ensign, woven
With the grief and wrong of years.
On his brow he wore a helmet
Decked with strange and cruel art;
Every jewel was a life-drop
Wrung from some poor broken heart.
Though her cheek was pale and anxious,
Yet, with look and brow sublime,
By the pale and trembling Future
Stood the Crisis of our time.
And from many a throbbing bosom
Came the words in fear and gloom,
Tell us, Oh! thou coming Crisis,
What shall be our country’s doom?
Shall the wings of dark destruction
Brood and hover o’er our land,
Till we trace the steps of ruin
By their blight, from strand to strand?
Portals and entrances are fraught with risks and they can expose our vulnerabilities. I found this poem by Justin Phillip Reed ominous and potent in its understanding:
for Jericho, with thanks to Carl Phillips
I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.
This is Anmol (alias HA) and I welcome you to dVerse Poetics. As I suggested earlier, I would like you to think about portals today and write a verse based on your understanding or taking inspiration from the ones that I have shared here. Once you have penned your poem, add it in the linking widget below. Also, go ahead and read the entries made by other poets and share your words and comments with them. For a better reach, use such tags in your post as #dVerse and #dVersePoetics.
I look forward to reading your posts and I wish you all a peaceful and calm week ahead.