“The Wood Thrush Sings”

A poem for those burdened, and wakeful at night--

At the end of day, at the beginning of night
you lift the bed covers so I can climb in by.
The bed is a cave, the sheets cool as limestone
except where you’ve warmed the warp and weft.
The bed is a nest we fold ourselves into, belly
to back, knee to kneefold, wristbone to bone.
Our ribs make a boat of the bed to carry us
to a land of dreams, to what will happen next.

At 3 am I wake up, maybe the IRS, the taxes,
or room after room unpacking hundreds of boxes.
If I put each thing in its place, there will be
a place for the boat to land where the clock
doesn’t tick, where the body is unlocked
from pain, where the wood thrush sings after rain.

To hear the wood thrush sing, go to:

--Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


“Skating on the Erie Canal”

A poem for the last of the ice—as the skating rink
closes in Syracuse’s Clinton Square—frozen
on top of the channel of the old Erie Canal.

When she answered, Mama said into the phone:
I heard you laugh a minute ago. Also her TV
interview with Tom Brokaw, her sifting flour over
the threshold, pointing to her own footprint as thief,
and the rat that lived in my room. Her right mind—
do I care? That time her voice laughed back at mine.
Was it like the photo? Great-grandbaby Ruth rests
across her knees, they look into each other, eyes
all the way back to me before I had will and words
to wreak havoc with predestination. Now Ruth
circles round and round the ice rink, singing Free
falling as the p.a. says no tagging, no racing back
against the flow, now she’s skating backwards,
now she flaps her arms and shouts, You won’t see
a penguin do this! Now she stands to say goodbye
between my knees, looking long into my eyes,
and I hold still so she can find whatever echo
she can, if time’s wrinkle rhymes with grit, grief,
grin, her eyes winkling out some link, around
and around the rink the song flies, the loud blade,
time, cuts through the ice, device of pain and found.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


“A Muster of U.S. Soldiers at the University”

And another look at spring—

The soldiers assemble on the Quad, with their hut-
hut, their about-about-about face, quite common-
place these days, camouflage not needed, grass
greens up under their boots, trees flush pink,
the soldiers draw near, sit at the next desk, chair,
near and more near, the smiling faces next to us
in the school corridor, and overhead the CNN chat
is how one of them put a bullet to the head, heart,
or throat of someone across an ocean, desert, sea
where cargo ships big as towns carry oil and guns,
plowing up the water emptied of fish by trawlers
big as factories, and on the shore the fishers
in the villages pick up guns and take to motor-
boats to catch what they will, exchange of resource,
cash for tanker captain, risking bullet to the head
and the name pirate, bandit, as U.S. soldiers snipe
from a hidden place, are called heroes at home,
but some of them whimper and cry as they sleep,
I know, I’ve heard them as they dream and weep,
not the future but the past, that small hole gapes
wide and wider, a mouth spewing red, sweeps
them out to sea, drowning in sight of shore, people
who stand and watch the uniform flounder and sink,
camouflaged by sun-mottled and blotched waters,
blues, greens, browns, as from the village, fishers
push out their gull-winged dhow and fly overhead,
they lower their nets past him, the huge wire baskets
gather up what will be good to eat, barracuda, red
snapper, hamour, oranda, taken home in straw baskets.

For more information on the U.S. military, profit and Africa, see:

Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire
“Pentagon Targets Africa: Why Somalis Seize Ships”
Workers World, 13 Apr 2009

Johann Hari, “You Are Being Lied to About Pirates”
London Independent, 4 January 2009

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


“In the Land of Oz”

A poem in homage to the last winter snow
where I live now, in Syracuse, NY, where
L. Frank Baum wrote many of the Oz books
I read as a child in Alabama, anticipating
my love of feminist science fiction and
lesbian adventure.

The side-snow is virgin surface, unmarked
except twigs fallen from a stripped oak,
no human footprint, or animal, to mar
the beginning, like the moon’s dirt before
the spaceship came. But I was never one
to take the first step. Instead I climbed
into the story, the rainbow-striped balloon,
up following her feet, then side-by-side,
drifted toward any emerald-spired town
where everyone could live a little odd. Yet,
so, here I am alone, walking one more time
around Rose Hill Cemetery, looking down
at the ice-petal prints going uphill, the worn
slushed path, because and glad my craving
body said Be brave and go ahead, the hot
mouth opened and stuck out its tongue,
to melt every jot and tiddle of snow that fell,
to eat and mate the strange pollen drifting
leisurely down from the otherworldly sky.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


"Mourning Cloak"

Did you know some butterflies
hibernate?! A poem from Goethe Park--

No snow, no bloom, the world is brown,
tattered, nothing to read in the dead leaves,
and still the longing for hope, not rhetoric,
the suddenly semaphoring wings that flap
fast, right under my nose, a quick prism,
crimson, scalloped yellow, blue-eyed snap
the book later tells me is mourning cloak,
folded all winter into bark, named as if
it grieves. But something wrapped in that
flimsy cloth survived a minus-twenty freeze
and is now lit on an oak trunk, ready to lick,
ready to wade head-first through the sap
sweating sweetly through the wrinkled cracks.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


"The Transmigration of the Body"

A poem to celebrate spring—and our move north
a year ago, from Jersey City to Syracuse.

Every move recalls every other move,
said the youngest son, as he heaved
my boxes into his car. My body to leave
for an electric pathway yet unknown.
Will I be suddenly packing the kitchen
up, another load in the migration north?
Will I be throwing away the dried roses
by my desk, frosted with dust, dessicated,
and pause to crumble the closed buds
and suddenly smell tobacco, cinnamon?


"Going Over the Falls"

In this poem, a dream about Niagara Falls,
a hope to be able to return there together,
as Leslie continues to struggle for health—

Why write poetry? The problem with prose
is the beginning, middle, end, sentences.
I never want life with you to end. I say:
We never took those dance lessons. The spin,
the dip. There’ll always be something not
yet done. One more trip to see the Falls fall.
I dreamed you said: Let’s go over together,
and I said: But I would die. Not you, not you,
in the dream, not you. We’ve had the talk
about ashes, named the north and south
rivers to be sprinkled with us like pollen,
specks to meet later in some thundercloud
bloom, zigzag, boom! If we see the Falls
again, you’ll flash your smile beside me
and not be pouring through my hands, dust
to sparkle up out of the mist, disembodied
eternal beautiful matter. But not you.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


“Niagara Falls”

This poem took a quick spring break to Buffalo and-

Rain came and folded up the snow, put it away
for the year except some pillows in the corners,
rain fell again with a crinkling sound, someone
wrapping flowers in cellophane, maybe pussy
willows, the blurred fur blooms like the slush,
blush of soap on the car windows, Delta car-
wash neon strobe-light joy ride I drove through
in the dead of winter just to hear water released,
like the cracked parched lips of frozen ground
parted to the thawing rain, yes, today what-was
is gone and what-will-be is pressing against us,
long fingers of rain in the dirt, the silver lines
in the furrowed fields, and we are pushing back
in the mud ruck, my fingers picking out letters
to track across the melting snow of the screen,
while somewhere further the water ladders
down the river shoals, maybe even leaps over
some world-famous falls to come around, to try
again to become a different element, electric
art, charged flow past resistance, lightning fire.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


“Reading Dante: Alabama, 1950s”

A thank you poem for all of you who've shared,
commented on, or read these poems!

I read poetry before I knew what to say to myself,
fumbling with ornate red-velvet translations, Dante
between brown pasteboard covers, heading straight
down the spiral ramp to hell, the poet leading me
to what was underneath, nether world, nether parts
no one talked about, but I didn’t expect that icy heart,
that cold despair was the biggest sin, like marble
slabs crushing the water at river’s bend, no way out.
I read on until everyone I knew was frozen, flayed,
or fricasseed, I never got to the part where the poet
sees hope, the girl my age veiled in white, beckoning,
me, I longed for her unknown sharp-edged speech,
for an axe made of words, to lift, to smash, to smash
through. It was my doomed father I followed through
the winter woods, he showed me the rill of water
running along the base of the hill, through the massed
dead leaves, I waded barefoot there in the winter,
in a place where nothing is ever frozen all the way

That axe was originally Franz Kafka's. In a 1904 letter to a friend,
Kafka said: "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."

I found those words, finally, and Beatrice became the heroine
of my book, "Walking Back Up Depot Street"--


Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


“At the Bessemer Flea Market”

Poetry, global capital, and the Deep South—

The “New World” symphony a long time ago
in the hot quonset hut, my music home work,
the oboe query, the bassoon spooning out hope
to the horizon. Yes, I wanted more than smallness,
I got into that music and rode it, rode it turned
into poetry, it turned into a plow and turned over
everything, it furrowed right through me until I
came out here, not someone whose family owns,
not someone who can say this land is mine,
not Seamus deep in a peat bog of language,
not Nazim, the other prisoners shouting words,
just me and the Saturday afternoon multinational
working class looking for one-dollar bargains
in Bessemer, Alabama, where the big steel mills
closed a long time ago, Mexicanos sorting oiled
from rusted tools, a slender woman (Hmong? Viet
Namese?) selling sheets, an African American man
meeting an old friend’s baby: I didn’t know who
I was looking at until I saw the eyes, someone
with T-shirts spelling Black History, looking back,
the march of time up to the walking sticks, Amani
carves eyes into the handle the better to see the way
forward, he goes into the thickets near his city home
to get his sapling wood, pecan, hickory, red oak,
white oak, more than 40 percent Black men un-
employed, he used to be a carpenter, now he
makes jewelry, sculpture, music, he tells me
bring the stick back if it needs something, he
leaves things unfinished to see what happens
next, pointing to the copper wires, takes pliers
and crimps them into spirals, what could be
an ear. If I have ears to hear, if I put my ear
to the ground, if I listen to the footsteps mark,
the people walking all around me in Bessemer.

For more on the “globalization” of Alabama,
see my article “From Alabama to Colombia:
Coal Company Faces War Crimes Charge”


Minnie Bruce Pratt

Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivs
Creative Commons 2010


“At the Scrub Board”

This poem goes to the laundrymat at home
in Alabama—yes, I know it’s laundromat!
But that’s now how we pronounce it there--

The clouds woke up early this morning, talking
to each other, first a patter, then a long cackling
boom, they washed us and swished us, everything
was out of focus, 11 a.m. Sunday morning,
I might as well go to the laundrymat, everyone
would be in church. But when I arrived, every
machine was spinning, all the other odd-not-even
ones had the same idea: there were blue dragons
guarding the door of a grey SUV; a harried single
white woman slamming the dryer doors like gears
between shifts; three Mexicanos who’d ironed
their denim shirts; a family, three-year-old girl,
young Asian woman, older white man, crimped
and trembling; a very young skinny white guy,
a tattoo shadow hiding in the nape of his thin neck.
He stands outside smoking a cigarette, furiously,
he’s talking to one of the Latinos, their hands
squared and angled, pointing, some information
exchanged, with me too, as I watch and guess,
not much like the Sunday school cut-felt stories
I saw pressed onto the flannel easel, the camel,
the rich man, the eye of the needle, the teacher
a banker who bribed us to come and listen,
that thrilling ride after church in his personal plane
over my house, Mama waving under, small, smaller,
up over the grey-green trees, the hump-backed
little hills, the river threading between, the town,
the county spread out and waiting to be folded up
and put in his pocket, he said he’d keep it safe.
I see the eye of the future looking back my way,
the rain pours down, we keep putting quarters
into the thunder-rolling machines that don’t
belong to us, tomorrow’s Monday, and how we
get there, me and my neighbors who do
our own washing, that’s for us to figure out.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


“At U.S. 82 and Alabama 25 & 219”

This was the National Day to Defend Education—hundreds of strong actions
across the U.S. I drove from my home town to Tuscaloosa,
where Students in Solidarity with the Crimson Ride Shuttle Drivers
& the local SDS chapter rallied to support workers fighting for
a union, a living wage and respect at my alma mater, the U of Alabama.
More on that later--for now, here's a poem in honor of the day.

This is a place people usually pass through, twix
n’ tween, intersection, no conjunction, just a way
to somewhere else. Not the crows this morning,
stunt diving tricks between the power lines. Not me,
I was raised here, I come back all the, all the time.
But the Walmart rigs roll through, the log trucks
with pine trunks pale as skinned knees, how mine
hurt on the gravel at recess, the mercurochrome
stung, like memories coming, going, then gone,
then suddenly standing by me as I pick up shed tree
limbs in the yard and whirl them into the woods,
by me, in me, her arm arches and hand extends,
the impatient vigor, the vim, the stubbornness.
Once I brought a friend to visit, and disappointed,
she said: It’s so small, I thought it was bigger,
much bigger, the way you talked about it. She’d
grown up in a city, she had this notion big things
only come from big places. Anyone who thinks that
could stop, and just look at a word, or at a hand.

For my article on the Crimson Ride drivers’ struggle, see:

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010



And here's a poem from my trip home
to Alabama a year ago--

The river is spring-flooding the island, the water
makes a scalloped glubbing sound as it swims
past the drowning trees and thickets. A fishing
lure caught in the branches winks in the setting sun.
I’m glad I can still wink back. It’s so quiet except
for the jay, the wren, the gnat catcher, the unknown
warbler bird racket, I can hear my skull creak,
my knees crack getting down the mud bank
to the ford where the ferry once crossed over
carrying the settlers, the buyers and sellers of land,
the soldiers, the people in chains stolen to work.
There was the ferry here until there was a bridge,
and upstream a railroad trestle, the train screaming
as it moved mountains of coal dug up by miners
from Italy, Wales, Poland, Jews, Africans, convicts,
Bound to the crossroads of vertical and horizontal
necessity, did they say as I do every time the plane
lands me home in Alabama, whose country am I in?
In the airport CNN announced a massacre back
where I’d just come from. A white man said: A
foreigner. A white woman said, contradicting: He
just got laid off from IBM. Six hundred thousand
jobs lost in one month. The reporter said: What if all
thirty-seven million of them got together? I think
he meant the working class, as he euphemistically
warned of unrest. Yes, my restless bones climb
back up the gullied bank, through the old road, past
layers of stone, sediment, moss, I see in the loam
there is a little city of may-apple plants, spreading
green umbrellas to shelter their twinned flowers.
Overhead in the blue sky the clouds have multiplied
and gone to seed, drifting north on filament wisps.
I walk past the sign marking history, “Pratt’s Ferry,”
and back across the crumbling concrete bridge,
the setting sun shows me my shadow stretched far
back across the trembling water. In France the workers
have taken their bosses hostage, held some owners
in the factory office, stopped the chaffeured cars and
pressed their faces up against the glass, the silhouettes
look in, voilá, the shadows reverse the image of what-is.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Creative Commons 2010


A poem for going home to Alabama this week,
memories of love and resistance and the struggle
against the lumber, steel and coal companies
that own most of small Bibb County,
at the tail end of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

Between east and west, between morning
and evening, between the beginning and
the end, if I go far enough south, I come
to red clay, drought, the green rivers lying low
in their limestone beds. I come to the woman
who said, I always felt you belonged to me,
the one who is still dead. I come to the man
who handed the ladle and the water bucket
to the others, and made the man with the gun,
the white man, wait in the heat. Memory pushes
against me, pushes me over, under, the sun
on my left, the sun on my right, until shadows
I can follow finally come back across the road
as the trees grow up from the company’s clearcut.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivs
Creative Commons 2010