This is a poem which is mainly factual, within the limits most of us can assign to our own self-awareness and self-knowledge. It’s about a time in my life when I was fairly naïve and unknowing, and I’ve written it for two friends of mine who were, I think, concerned when they read another poem I’d written and wondered if it were true. This one is.
The Traitor (A True Story, for Della and Tom) I can remember what was once the new grade school From when I, too, was new; I remember the high, tall trees behind it, No good for climbing, because the branches Were so far up from the ground, Like a prince's cleared forest, And no underbrush. There was picking up acorns to put in piles, One acorn I recall, And wondering if I should take a bite As I had seen the squirrels do. And then the teachers shushing us to the hallway again, In a line, And we filing back into the long, low, brick building. Now there are times When I think of being one of many, Mostly the same to others looking in from outside, Our biggest difference who was rowdy, who was quiet. I was quiet, except that I talked in class To others, whispering, getting caught, But having no close friends Until a few years had elapsed. A test divided us into two different groups, One "more gifted," one "less gifted," To make two sections of each grade From one to six, And I furrowed my brow over the test And was deemed more gifted, While some happier-go-lucky souls, Probably just as quick, Were destined for the "slow" group. The second year, We were supposed to be grateful Because the big trees had been cleared away To make the boys a basketball court And the girls a volleyball court, Although I still preferred the round games And ring games we girls played Down in the dell below where the trees had been; There was at least still grass down there. For that, "I was going to Kentucky, I was going to the fair, I met a señorita with sparkles in her hair--" And "Round, round, round she goes--" Third year, fourth year, fifth year, We grew and grew, And for one year, at least I had a little double chin, Which promptly disappeared the next, Due to parental diligence. Sometimes, there was occasion To get punished: Being paddled in front of the class. In those times, it was allowed Just for laughing at a teacher's quavery voice when she sang with us, For unkindness used to merit Strict measures. And then, getting taken To the principal's office For not doing a homework assignment, "Because if you don't do it, And you're a good student, What will the other students think?" Helping keep up the side for the teachers, Clearly, was an important matter. Or, maybe, being stood out in the hall Outside the classroom For using the word "lackadaisical" In a poem, a word the teacher didn't know, And which he suspected therefore Must be copied from somewhere, Stuck out in the hall for when the principal, Who often strolled by on his rounds, Would come by and demand an explanation. No fodder that time for punishment, however, Since despite suspicion, I was able to give A dictionary definition. I knew they thought I was a smart ass, and normally I cared. All of these small adventures, And having my mother hear me recite Required memorizations at night, And doing previously forgotten projects With her help at the last minute, Getting frustrated because She made me come up with the answers myself, All lead up to the year Dad got sick, the fifth grade continuing to the sixth; And there was the slight accident With me in the car and his blind spot In the forefront of the matter, For then he was allowed to drive No more. It was, as I recall, in the middle Of a Saturday afternoon, maybe, Or early before dinner on a weeknight, Or maybe even some midmorning when she had taken a break That my mother called me into the basement And said, "I think Daddy's going to die. But don't tell your brother; he's too little To understand." I didn't understand either, Though "cancer" was a word I'd heard often enough, And "brain tumor" sounded lethal too, Since I had been taught so early To respect my brain and all its works and days. There were no tears, And "separation anxiety" wasn't a thing I would've known about either, Because it was a term from later on, A thing people discuss now. I think I felt a blank, no anxiety, And the blank continued to function. Not denial, really, But just a space Where other things might have been. I even think I stopped loving him then, sometimes, And was callous sometimes, in the way of children, Angry at him, perhaps, Dissatisfied that now I had to be one of those Who were different. There was a day before the end When someone, perhaps him without permission, Took me out to the lake where we had a lot, And he and I walked in the woods, Which I know now to him meant peace. And looking for signs and symptoms, I noticed not his sudden slenderness as we walked, His wan face and occasional stumble, But his arm, where the veins stood so prominently. Whether it was vicious of me to say, I know not, But I touched his arm and asked, "What's wrong with your arm, Dad?" He just looked at it, then at me, and said, "Nothing, I don't guess." Maybe that was a child's way Of asking after his health, Or maybe it was a way of acknowledging things better not spoken of out loud, Or maybe he felt glad to be able to deny Any culpability or wrongdoing On the part of that limb. I fought with myself at the funeral, But after, I had no tears, To my mother's fear and upset, So one night in the kitchen, Only female relatives sitting around In a circle, I was gently ambushed, Forced to cry by overdone sympathetic gestures and words, And then I think they were satisfied, And left me to myself. For the years afterwards, There was the hardening of my heart In adolescence, A necessary thing, by some accounts Of experts we read now, But it was the end of childhood True and proper At my mother's frustrated words, "Honey, you can cry, He's your father!" Refusing To sanction the traitor who had left us, My heart at almost twelve retorted, "No, he's not! Not anymore!" And as with that of others, Life went on. ©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/18/17
This poem is self-explanatory, not particularly complex, perhaps, but others may be able to compare their own younger selves with it.
Let's Be Good Don't ever let the flag touch the ground, They told us. A good Girl Scout Never lets the flag touch the ground. And so all of Alice Wright's tears The day she dropped the neatly folded bundle Entirely in the mud hole were mostly explained, Except that she and Lisa Donner Had had a fight that same day, fisticuffs and all, Over a boy indifferent to both of them As all of us knew, Unfortuitously named Billy Hunney. But on the bus rides to and from the camp, We all made up and were the best of friends, Finished taking sides in one another's quarrels, All with amicable and overdone kindness, As we had seen our mothers do. We sang "Dem Bones Gon' Rise Again" At the top of our lungs, though our abilities Were less than perfect, And some silly song called "Nothing"-- "Nothing, nothing, we sing nothing, We sing nothing all day long"-- Of course getting riotous just to annoy the driver, "Second verse, same as the first, Little bit louder and a whole lot worse!" Arriving home with flushed faces, Gatorade sticky hands, messy tops and shorts From the wilderness hike, And some, more than not, with headaches From the extravagant singing and shouting, All of us climbing into mothers' vehicles At the drop-off point, in the days before fathers Were at home often enough or early enough (Or could even be thought responsible) For picking us up. We at that time Knew all the words to "The Pledge of Allegiance," Nor were we confused about "The Star-Spangled Banner," Sure it meant something important to someone Who had our fate in hand, And therefore we knew the words, While what they meant, That bit may have eluded us a little. Our badges were a source of pride to us, Though we weren't above fudging our accomplishments Some, just in order to keep up with Emily Bartley, The record-holder in our troupe, Whom we tolerated because She couldn't help having buck teeth. Jennifer Allen, on the other hand, We knew to cheat and swear, And her we accepted for the sake of Her rich father and raven hair, Her tall, cute brother And her jokes about the counselors, Made just rarely enough to keep it funny. But it all fell apart, for us, The year we reached fifteen, And Sam Hunney, Billy's wild and wayward older brother, Invaded the camp in secret One afternoon rest time, While most of us were snoozing on rocks And towels by the lake, And tied up and raped Emily, Who had been alone in a cabin with a headache; Who, as Jennifer pointed out later, Wasn't even pretty. There was much talk then, after Sam got his just deserts, And Emily was sent to a private mental hospital To recuperate, which as far as we knew she never actually did, But then we all lost track. But the talk, the vows and threats, Were all about keeping our children safe, our daughters and wives, And somehow, the thought shifted from Sam Hunney, Who was white, to the supposed violence of the black community, And it was the time, the time, of race riots suddenly, And brutal policemen whereas before they'd been our friends, And we no longer thought it was cool to sing "Dem Bones" at the drivers of the bus. Instead, we listened to our mothers and fathers, some of us, And some of us took drugs and went with long-haired boys To our parents' despair, And others of us took to reading "Ms. Magazine" and "Playgirl," In the days before "Playgirl" started playing to gay men, Each in her own way carrying the flag as she was meant to carry it, In terms of her own freedom, rights, and rites, Strange as some of them were, Because a good Girl Scout Never lets the flag touch the ground, Or hardly ever, anyway, No, a good Girl Scout Never lets the flag touch the ground. ©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/14/17
(N.B.: I know that for some people, the race riots were much earlier, but in the area where I lived, they happened in general later.) Shadowoperator
This poem came about because of frustration I felt with getting the creative juices flowing. It’s not much in and of itself, but it did help to get me writing something else.
The Caesura I cannot write a poem today, I know; It's cold outside, though sunshine's streaming in And all my saddest thoughts are round about Defeating brightness and restoring murk. There's snow, there's mud, there's water on the street, And ice, and I in short am disinclined To search for topics that would repay work Or reach for words that pictures paint when writ. My thoughts are either foggy or are blank Ideas won't come right, no matter how I stretch, condense, and weave my syllables And it's sheer foolishness to try so hard. Perhaps I need a day, perchance a week Of emptiness and not of diligence In which to rest and twist some new wry words And make my concepts fitter to put down. For note well! These few words are not a verse But show my lack and demonstrate the curse Of being tired of all the subjects terse Or long and tedious; so much the worse! © Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/14/17
My readers must be thinking by all the poems about love’s fixations, problems, joys, and et cetera that one should perhaps after all give it a miss. Naw, I think it’s probably still worth it. But this is possibly one of the more unusual statements of a common problem; that is, when the lover seems divided in his responses. As most often occurs, a somewhat humorous solution is the one that comes most easily to mind for me.
Twins When I see you divided from yourself And have to wonder which it is I love, The neat man, or the man who moves my heart, Manipulator, or the sad-eyed dove, Then I begin to wonder "Who am I?" "Shall I divide myself likewise in twain? Love both, or choose one, and pursue the goal Of gaining all his heart, his mind in train?" Then think I that it must be you have cause To look opposed thus to yourself and praise The objectivity you say you have; Perplexity, though, runs throughout my days. I wonder, could it be you have a twin, Or bear a double soul in one, like mine? For I too have my moments of divide When I with half myself do fret and pine. So let's have forth the man with eyes of dolor Who yet knows how to merry-make sometimes, And I will love him; if th'other appear We'll wind up all his stratagems in rhymes. ©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/13/17
In his work The Art of Love, the author Ovid advises a lover who wishes to seem sincere in his tearfulness with his mistress momentarily to turn his head aside and stick a finger in his own eye hard to make himself tear up. Such stratagems are in the rhetorical tricks book both physical and verbal, and not only of lovers who would be proclaimed lovers but of potential lovers who want to deny love. That’s what this poem is tangentially about.
The Acting of Love Oh, why do you persist in saying me "Nay" When you could say "Oh yes, my love" so well? Persuasions cunning and so bright arise In your ingenious mind, your lie to tell. Yet I dispute it not; I must respect The limits you have set about to guard Your evidently sovereign right to judge And your true self to countenance and ward. But grant me just a right to criticize The quality of your performance, nor Think I debate your knowledge; I am wise And have seen this conundrum posed before. And thus betwixt your show and my critique We may somehow find love a thing less bleak. ©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/12/17
Love as a topic is a difficult thing to discuss sometimes! Shadowoperator
This is a poem for all the lovers in the world who have to work at love and who feel that it’s worth it, even if they weren’t “fated” to be in love.
Half and Half My love, we were not meant for one another In spite of innate sympathies arising And we have struggled, argued, joyed, and fought To such degree our harmony's surprising. For Fate has dealt with us awry, you see, And made me love while you play off your tricks, Your ploys, dishonesties, though you seek truth, And left me thus to sort love from the mix. For I feel sure you are not without love Though you may say it is not meant for me, And yet you show both passion and concern In what seems more than my due lot, truly. So, ask you for what you most want from love, Whether or not you think it in my range, For lovers true even shake the mighty halls Of heaven with their cries, nor count it strange. Perhaps, then, we may pass for lovers true, My weakness, your denial passing muster And for half-this, half-that we garner praise As to the ill-assorted adding luster. ©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/7/17
I was tempted at first to say that this poem delineates a modern lovers’ dilemma, yet further thought convinced me that this has probably always to some extent been a problem for the ages, even if hidden, repressed, or occurring behind the scenes. It’s a poem about finding one’s true place in the scheme of things.
Just Where Do I Fit In? She then she then she Attempted To woo me Whereupon I hastily flee She and she and she, Repulsed. Understanding, but Repulsed, nevertheless. He then he then he, Seemingly Attracted to me, Clutch desperately To he and he and he Insisting they don't love me. What? Then why the pretense? Why the games, why the pain, No gain In any case for me. Perplexedly, I try to puzzle it out. What do I do To get just we two Of he and me? Or grammatically, He and I? Oh, sigh. God and the devil may know, But I don't, so I go Alone. Oh, woe. ©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/2/17
That’s all for now. Just a little something to think about! Shadowoperator