Saturday, April 05, 2008

Poem : Aurora Levins Morales

Many years ago when I was working on a journal issue devoted to Puerto Rican women writers and their writings, I became acquainted with the work of Aurora Levins Morales (1954-), the daughter of a famous Nuyorican/Boricua poet and activist, Rosario Morales (1930-), whose work I also came to appreciate at that time. Levins Morales has been publishing her work for several decades, and one of its distinguishing traits in addition to its diverse stylistics and forms is its negotation between an overtly political public address and its exploration of Levins Morales's personal history, which entails all facets of her life and identifications as a Jewish Puertorriqueña Latina feminist progressive activist curandera.

Levins Morales has published several important volumes of poetry and work in other genres, including Getting Home Alive, with her mother Rosario Morales, (Firebrand Press, 1986), Medicine Stories (South End Press, 1998), Telling To Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (Duke, 2001), and the multigenre Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas (Beacon Press, 1998, South End Press, 2001), which encompasses poetry, story, history, myth, metaphysics, and spirituality. Hers is a poetics of deep engagement, with the ills and possibilities of contemporary society, in PR, in the US, across the globe, and with the possibilities that a progressive, holistic perspective might offer in viewing our life-worlds clearly and making them anew and better for all of us.

I copied the following poem, "Baghdad Birthday," from a 2004 issue of Poetry Magazine (not Poetry, in which Levins Morales was the featured poet.

Baghdad Birthday

Someday a thousand children of Baghdad will ask
why they all have the same deadly birthday, why
they all came into the world on the last day of peace,
and their mothers will tell how they raced against the calendar of war,
how they crowded into hospitals demanding labor
demanding to start the clocks of their bodies
as the planes took off from bases half a world away.

The will say that they rode wave after wave of contractions
as the targeting systems honed in on everyday life,
how they bore down and pushed while nurses and doctors
rushed around trying to prepare, without supplies, without medicine,
for shrapnel wounds and broken bones,
for everything torn and shattered and burned
for the shocked and wailing people who would have the next turn
to lie these beds crowded into hallways,
how you crowned as the moon rose over the river.

You were born, they will tell them, into the last quiet hour
such a small chest, such little legs, arriving weeks before your time,
and I hid your tiny face in my swollen breast
so the terrible fire wouldn't scorch your tender eyes.
Your first lullabye, they will say, was when I sang you my grandmother's
and the second was the screaming of missiles ripping low across the city,
and then came the shockwaves and everything was falling.
My darling, my dove, you were born in the nick of time.

We left the hospital to the wounded who kept coming, the mothers will say,
to the little girl in her father's arms, blood leaking from her ears
to the woman clutching her boy, both of them full of metal splinters,
and we walked until we found our street with the houses still standing.
The walls shook around us, the windows shattered, the dreadful wind
knocked dishes from the shelves, and we covered your ears against the
roaring sky.
The first night of your lives we lay down in our beds and held you
a thousand moist sweet unfurling rosebuds forced into early bloom
a thousand passengers on a single train running on the timetable of death
set by criminals lusting for conquest in their air conditioned rooms.

A thousand roses opening just before dawn, a thousand babies born alive
in the teeth of invasion, a thousand thorny branches amidst the smoke
yes, we snatched you from the dark and the body counts
and pulled you into a world on fire and the smell of burning.
We were afraid and we were strong and we were trembling,
all around us Baghdad was dying
but remember this, when you crowned between our legs
we were singing.

Copyright © Aurora Levins Morales, 2004, 2008, from Poetry Magazine.

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