Sitting in a room of women whose pens are on fire. As ink dribbles out of mine like a clogged faucet. I warm my hands by their light, will the words to start flowing. No, not will . . . request. Listen for the gurgling, the beginning of precipitation. Wind and ice. How they speak in the presence of others. Trees. Grasses. Sunshine. It’s all about relationship, isn’t it?
the wingèd ones. Their songs,
the uplifting disturbance of the quiet dawn,
the insomniac’s cohort in the long night.
That exhilaration of larks reminding us
that speaking to life is everyone’s job.
the choir of angels.
Also two-legged, but taller
and robed in fabric
not feathers. Still, they sing,
Unhappily, the rest of us only fly
in steel rooms, two-wheeled, two-winged,
but cold, mercantile rather than ecstatic.
Separation from everything, exaggerated
by the pressure in the cabin. The fumes
of the long-extinct permeating the senses.
Oh, but sleeping—
ever so rarely,
that draft of silence
swooping over the land
will lift you up.
Your feet take leave
of gravity’s pull
and you hover there with them,
falling up and out
instead of down and in,
and the urge to sing bursts
from your once-grounded throat.
there are those times
when singing itself …
when the angel and the lark …
when pure song …
—The title comes from a line in “Utterance” by W.S. Merwin (from The Rain in the Trees, 1988).
© 2015 KL Robyn
Even from here I can see the rain.
Relentless sheets of acid grey
forming the boundary
between this dry moment
and the deluge to come.
No one will be spared.
I watch the black birds
circling as if to warn us.
But they have long since
stopped caring about people,
their signs having gone unread
too long. Their numbers dwindling
from bad seed and greasy water.
Life was better for them
when we died young.
There are worse things than death:
living with ill intent,
the damage caused,
the mirthless cackling of winners
as they gather in their rubber suits.
One of the birds lights near,
its feathers wet and shiny,
a hashtag of twigs in its beak.
Our eyes meet for a long second,
and the image of a flotilla of rafts
enters my mind.
© 2015 KL Robyn
What if my words
sowed corn, planted beans, grew squash?
What if they built houses, barns or bridges?
Wouldn’t it be better to nourish the body
with sacred food now that most minds want to fill
their souls with falsehoods and stimulants?
And better to give away keys and passages with
the hope of crossing the thresholds of strangers
than to meet myself in the middle
and not know who I am.
If my words
repaired shoes, zippers, faucets, or even printers,
I could trade in the effort to make something
of myself without facing accusations,
without having to justify noticing what doesn’t work.
If my words were shovels instead,
rakes, hammers, saucepans,
they’d be tools that dig down deep,
clear out, nail down, and simmer,
when so much talk has become
too superficial and disposable to bear.
What if my words were horses?
Would I ride off into the sunset
or put them away wet?
Would I know how to take care
of my freedom?
© 2015 KL Robyn
Oh when the saints come marching in, oh when the saints come marching in, I want to be in that number when the saints come marching in.… They don’t just heal the sick, teach the children, or save the animals; sometimes, saints are revolutionaries who save a whole country, arguably, a whole world. Mandela was Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and George Washington all rolled into one. And that’s not even a bit of him.
Los Angeles, June 1990, waving our arms like grasses in the wind at USC’s Trojan Stadium with tens of thousands of elated people for an hour or more before he came out. And then—who was it? Arsenio Hall? Will “Fresh Prince” Smith? It was Hollywood after all—someone made tiny and naked by his presence introduced him. Ladysmith Black Mambazo—am I making that up? wasn’t there music? of course there was music—sang something uplifting. We sang “Biko” in the stands while we waited, remembering anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, killed in prison. A capella, not knowing each other, but together we knew all the words.
And then they came out. Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Winnie Mandela spoke first. This was before we knew about the burning tires around the collaborators, the stoolies’ necks in Soweto. Before she was seen by any of us, in America anyway, as anything but the brave single-mother keeper of the flame, the leader’s face on the outside, his emissary in the freedom movement, the ANC’s point in Johannesburg. Has anybody heard … of Johannesburg? The revolution that was televised after all. Winnie looked in shock. Twenty-seven years on your own is a long time, and now this. But he, Nelson Mandela did not. He looked transported. After being all locked up, hard labor and solitary confinement, for a score and seven, he was comfortable addressing this stadium of all races in the second—the first?—biggest city in the United States. He waited calmly for us to stop screaming and crying, stomping our feet and hugging each other.
I can’t even remember what he said. Only that the periwinkle blue light that emanated from his being reached at least ten feet beyond him on all sides. It looked pink on the giant screens above him, but it glowed, pulsed, vibrated the most beautiful blue around the speck of the man way down on the stage.
He was calm. Not subdued. He was articulate and we could hear every word. I can’t remember a one except “thank you,” which made us all feel ashamed—of course we hadn’t done enough. We wept, sunk to the bleachers, grabbed each other’s hands, our hearts, gasped every time he said, “Thank you for supporting us.”
No, Nelson, Mr. Mandela, President Mandela—but he wasn’t president yet; none of it had happened yet; he was just an old man out of prison, but we all knew it was a done deal: Apartheid was over; Mandela would be president; South Africa would be redeemed; we all would be—No, Nelson Mandela, Mandiba, thank you.
Thank you for showing us power without domination, passion without violence, conviction without ideology, righteousness without judgment, love without submission, surrender without defeat. For showing us peace and happiness without victory, victory without losers, the transformed self with All That Is contained therein.
No saint is perfect; they are fallible women and men who step up for the good of all sentient beings. Whatever you want to call this great man, he is dead. But his spirit will live forever in all of ushuman beings.
Remembering the Underground
Not just below the radar,
they went beneath the surface.
Dug into the main streams,
hiding out in caves
spelunking for truth
The underground press—
The underground movements—
pushing, steady, disturbing
slowly, press … poke …
Oh but water seeps in all directions:
filters into tributaries making
new caves, finding new openings—
as well as to the surface
to join with the runoff.
Let us be our own underground!
Creep in plain sight,
pressing firmly but gently
until the envelopes we push
start to stick
Let us move blind
like grubs and moles
in the night,
feeding from the root,
drinking at the river
not letting anyone know
that we mean to survive
despite our lack of time
in the sun.
KL Robyn ©2013
I lose my purpose like keys mislaid
Where was I when I saw it last?
I remember a rehearsal …
a night I was writing …
I remember making music
with somebody …
No, wait, I’ve seen it since then.
While lying with you,
walking with you,
marrying you …
Yes, I had it with me then.
Today, I look for it
in the refrigerator,
under the covers,
amongst the bills …
It must be around here
I can’t think where to look
stuck in the shallows like I’ve been,
skimming the surface of money
to live on, the moneyed in power,
and the money I owe them …
and me just counting backwards
How can I still be wondering
who I am at this age, so near
to a full senior discount?
The costume still unsewn,
once-sharp pins in permanent dispute
with the undecided design.
That sweet rose of poise in bud so long
it’s not clear it will ever bloom.
What’s worse, I seem myself
to appear and disappear
like a blinking light on shuffle
no rhythm to the on or off, no
agreement among the witnesses:
Oh yes, her light is bright …
I thought her rather dim …
A force to be reckoned with …
No, I’m sure we’ve never met.
Pull the wet world on like a raincoat
and let it drip on the floor.
Check the mirror in the hall
to see who’s coming or going.
Will the one who gets there
be the one who is leaving?
The one to come back?
I want to be the one with full lungs
and a steady beat, an easy sparkle and
a quick step. But my belly’s soft
and my hands tend to tremble;
I need time to decide what to do.
Thank the gods of doubt and worry,
a Presence shimmers near and never
wavering. Keys glittering on their hook.
KL Robyn © 2012