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POEMS 2021-22


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March 13, 2022

While outside walking today
A human with a dog
On a leash
Crossed my path
I smiled and said hello
The dog recoiled and barked
I could see its fear
In the past I would have
Tensed up
Due to apprehension
Of being attacked
Today I kindly said
"I must have scared your dog
I'm sorry"
The reply:
"It's okay he's sensitive"
Smiling to myself
I thought of Putin
Attacking out of fear
And vulnerability
I continued walking
Turning left around a bend
A human riding a bike
Up a slight incline
Crossed my path
Listening to Linda Rondstadt's
"You're No Good"
"I learned my lesson it left a scar
Now I see how you really are"
Smiling to myself
I thought of Putin's aggressions
2000 in Chechnya
2008 in Georgia
2014 in Crimea
2015 in Syria
2022 in Ukraine
I thought of Putin feeling betrayed
Lashing out like an abusive lover
Needing power and control
Violating boundaries and laws
I thought of Ukraine fighting back
In self-defense
And non-violent protest
A continuation of the
Revolution of Dignity
And then Television's "See No Evil"
Crossed my mind
"I understand all
Destructive urges"
Destruction and creation
Light emanating from dark
I continued walking
Turning right
I heard a plane
Looking up above
I thought of Ukraine
And military aircraft
Bombing civilians there
I continued walking
Moving forward
More briskly
A human with its child
Crossed my path
Walking closer
I could see clearly
The parent's t-shirt said
"I'll be fine"
They said hello
Smiling to them
I thought of Zelenskyy
And Ukraine
"One who is on the side of light
Will never fall into darkness"
They will be fine
They are resilient
We are with them
In spirit and solidarity
Yet hope can be an obstacle
On our path
I continued walking
I thought of Putin's army
As a swarm of killer bees
How many species invade
The boundaries of other
Living beings over miles
And miles and miles
Over land and by air
To inflict harm?
And yet the U.S. military
Has done it too
I continued walking
A human with two dogs
Peaceful and serene
Crossed my path
An exchange of smiles
And understanding
I continued walking
More slowly and calmly
Turning right
Two humans speaking
About the war
Seemed distressed
One said about Ukraine
"We feel helpless
Because we can't go there"
As I turned to greet them
They stopped talking
We exchanged smiles
Lost in worry and despair
I continued walking
A recent dream
Crossed my mind
About the end of Jim Crow
No longer "separate but equal"
I continued walking
Straight ahead
As white roses in bloom
Crossed my path
With petals opened wide
Their fragrant smells
An invitation to pause
Gazing into
The clear blue sky
Feeling my feet
On the ground
I smiled and
Kept walking

For Ukraine
March 6, 2022

To Mariupol
To Kolomyya
To Lutsk
To Kyiv
I see you
I remember you
In nightmares
Or in dreams
Of comfort
I stand by you
With relatives
From the land
Of sunflowers
You are free
We are free
With visions
Of no war
With safety

To put the Ukraine poems into context, below is a map showing cities where my relatives lived in Eastern Europe: Lutsk and Kolomyya now in western Ukraine, and Mariupol now in eastern Ukraine. Other relatives in Central/Eastern Europe lived in Kielce and Rzeszow, now in southern Poland, not too far from the western Ukraine border. My Jewish great-grandparents immigrated to America in the late 1800s/early 1900s, when these homelands were part of the larger regions of Galicia (in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and then Austro-Hungarian Empire) or the Pale of Settlement (in the Russian Empire).

Eastern Europe Map

In 1942 one of my grandmother's cousins escaped into the forest near Lutsk. See below excerpt of a letter she wrote in 1959. Another cousin that spoke Russian well joined young anti-Nazi/anti-fascist activists from the Soviet Union that had been involved with worker cooperatives as well as the Red Cross. He escaped to Stalingrad before getting drafted into the Soviet Red Army, and then he ended up on a collective farm in Uzbekistan. Putin's claims about invading Ukraine to "denazify" it are based on lies and propaganda (see statement from Yale University Library's Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies).

2nd Floor Balcony
January 17, 2022 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

2nd floor balcony
Your last stand
With arms outstretched
Witnesses pointed outward
Towards where shots were fired
At the Lorraine Motel
A Black beauty in the
Jim Crow South
Named after the jazz song
"Sweet Lorraine"
(Written by Cliff Burwell
And Mitchell Parish)
Sung by many including
Nat King Cole
Who was a guest
At the Lorraine Motel
Maybe even on the
2nd floor
Where railings meant
To protect guests
From falling over
Weren't barriers enough
For an assassin
In Memphis, Tennessee
On April 4, 1968
Oh Martin
We celebrate your birth
A sweet, sweet birth
In Atlanta, Georgia
On January 15, 1929
Ethel Waters, also a guest
At the Lorraine Motel
Sang "Georgia on my Mind"
(Written by Hoagy Carmichael
And Stuart Gorrell)
"Georgia, Georgia
The whole day through
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind"

Corps of Discovery
March 4, 2021

In 1804 Lewis and Clark
Traveled West
On a quest
Of discovery
They took York enslaved
The only man in the Corps
Stripped of freedom
Yet on this trip
Given certain leeway
Such as using firearms

The expedition started
In St. Louis, Missouri
Nearby Ferguson
Where 210 years later
Michael Brown
Was gunned down by police and
Officer Wilson was acquitted
Of doing any crime
In 1804 York served as
Clark's protector

The Nez Perce called York
"Raven's Son"
Due to his black skin
A 6 foot tall 200 lb man
With the beauty
Of a raven

Ravens are mysterious
And symbols of death
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
Blackbird fly
Into the light of a dark black night"

  © S. Cheslow 2022