Two Poems by Margaret Randall

Still Life, Winter 2021

The man wearing resignation and a battered sign
at Carlisle and Constitution
carries a broken history
in the pocket of his Salvation Army coat.
He owns the corner like a drug dealer
but only collects enough
to survive day by day.
He is not into profit, only endurance
which for him means a bed
at the shelter and sustenance enough
to battle weather.

The man doesn’t know he’s entered this poem
that cannot pretend to tell his story.
The bridge that connects us
has been repossessed by a power
indifferent to us both.
I roll down the window, put a one or a five
in his outstretched hand,
answer God bless you with Stay safe
and move on, wondering
what questions have been silenced
on our lips.

I Pick Away

I pick away at an old joke lodged
between my teeth. It
wasn’t funny when I first heard it
and isn’t now,
but I need its crude edges,
its over-salted taste
and texture of hate
to complete the line on my map
that will take me from there to here.

I won’t repeat that joke
because I do not want
to favor its poison.
Instead, I will tell you
when still a small child
I learned the earth is round
because science tells us so,
was never shown the steps
climbed to reach that certainty.

I remember the high school kiss
I was supposed to enjoy
but not why I didn’t.
I can replicate the anguish
of a dream in which I forget
everything, even my name,
and emerge from sleep
knowing it was just a dream
but still wandering in its emptiness.

The expression on the face
of a 17-year-old
Sandinista combatant in 1977
does not fade from my eyes.
The first time I understood
those we love and admire
also lie,
the asthma strangling my breath
left for good.

These slivers of energy,
bits and pieces
of images we retain
despite what we are taught
accompany me now,
hold my hand
when everyday living
declares it is
at war with life.

 

 


Margaret Randall (New York, 1936) is a writer, translator, photographer and social activist. She has published more than 150 books of poetry, essay and oral history. Among her most recent poetry collections are: The Morning After: Poetry and Prose for a Post-Truth World, Against Atrocity and Time’s Language: Selected Poems 1959-2018 (all from Wings Press). A forthcoming collection, Out of Violence into Poetry, will be released by Wings in September 2021. A book of brief essays, Thinking about Thinking, will be released by Casa Urraca Press in the same month. Randall lived in Latin America for 23 years (Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua). In 2019 she was given the “Poet of Two Hemispheres” award by Poesía en Paralelo Cero, Quito, Ecuador. That same year Cuba’s Casa de las Américas gave her its prestigious Haydée Santamaría medal.  In March 2020, AWP named her recipient of the year of its George Garrett Award and in June Chapman University awarded her its Paulo Freire Prize. For more on Margaret Randall, see her website.