‘The Debt to Black America in this Democracy Continues’

Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde at frontlines in D.C. on Wednesday, 3 June 2020 (Photo credit: Jim Simpson)

“So let’s be clear about one of the events of this past week. The president of the united states threatened to use military force against American citizens. And then proceeded to use federal officers to disperse peaceful protesters outside of the White house. The African American mayor of this city stood her ground. She stood the ground for all of us. The debt to Black America in this democracy continues.”—Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, sermon from the Washington National Cathedral (June 7, 2020)

Christ at the Military Cordon

Rev. Glenna Huber (left, Epiphany Episcopal DC) and Rose Berger (right, Sojourners) at military cordon near St. John’s Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. on 3 June 2020.

Episcopal bishop Mariann Budde and Methodist bishop LaTrelle Easterling called for a prayer vigil on 3 June at St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square. For several days, Episcopalians and Methodists have been providing food, shelter, and medical attention to Black Lives Matter demonstrators. On Monday night, those in the church as well as a packed street were tear gassed without warning by the police and driven from the area. As soon as the area was clear of citizens, President Trump and members of his team used the church for a photo op. Since that time, St. John’s has been captive behind military lines. Today, we hoped that Bishop Budde would be allowed to visit her church. But no such luck. So we prayed and kept vigil at the military cordon instead.–Rose Berger

Laments for Japan

Today is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. The fragile blossoms are at their peak. Backlit by dawn, the flowers burst into flame. Tonight they will drop with the snow flurries. The festival is more subdued this year in keeping with the natural disasters and nuclear devastation through which Japan (and the world) are suffering.

The cover of the March 28, 2011 issue of The New Yorker is adorned by a “Dark Spring” in Japan. But before the artwork went to print, artist Christoph Niemann said  he was suffering a creative dilemma. “I realized that there is no way a drawing that depicts the devastation, can come close to the heart-wrenching and bizarre photos I’ve seen everywhere,” Niemann reflected.

He blended his admiration for Japanese ink drawings, and came up with with the cover concept above. “The quiet beauty of plum blossoms mixed with the radiation symbol would make an eery and appropriate metaphor for the threat of a nuclear catastrophe.”

I decided to read a few of the elder Japanese poets in commemoration of the day. Here are a few tender lines from Matsuo Basho (1644-1694):

A village without bells–
how do they live?
spring dusk.

*

Early fall–
the sea and the rice fields
all one green.

*

The spring we don’t see–
on the back of a hand mirror
a plum tree in flower.

*

Not this human sadness,
cuckoo,
but your solitary cry.

*

More than ever I want to see
in these blossoms at dawn
the god’s face.

(Translations by Robert Hass)

Read “Architectural Detail” in New Beltway Poetry Issue

I’m very happy to announce that my poem “Architectural Detail” is published in the new issue of the online journal Beltway Poetry. Read “Architectural Detail” here.

I started writing this poem while I was on six weeks of grand jury duty in Washington, D.C. It was an awful experience of listening to countless drug cases mixed in with child abuse and child prostitution cases. During lunch breaks, I would slip away to the National Building Museum and rest my soul in its cathedral-like expanse. I liked watching the workers go about their daily routine. It calmed me. Below is a little intro to the newest issue of Beltway Poetry:

Beltway Poetry opens 2009 with a new issue devoted entirely to poems about museums.  Thirty-three poets write about museums, historical sites, and other public places devoted to preservation and exhibition.  The poems address the institutions and “their collections, their workers, and the many ways in which they fulfill their founders’ hopes of enlarging the scope of civic life,” as guest co-editor Maureen Thorson writes in her introduction.  “In these poems, poets engage in conversations with artists, their subjects, and with art itself. They stand in witness to the forces of history.”

Saundra Rose Maley asks King Tut,”…is there a crossing over/ Or is this life just what it is, a sandal strap/At best?”

Kendra Kopelke lets the woman in a Hopper painting speak: ” He put me here/like a candle/to ignite the room.”

Stephen Cushman imagines painter’s models, “posing in a yoga twist,/head going one way, torso another.”

David Gewanter writes of a museum store clerk, ” I love to see my mother behind//the counter, tidying up the fossil fish/and reptile rulers.”  Linda Pastan contemplates death from a safe distance, asking, ” Whose skulls are these,/and isn’t it dread/that informs our pleasure//in this canvas?”

Special thanks to Kim Roberts for her wonderful dedication to Beltway Poetry. Beltway Poetry Quarterly, now in its ninth year of online publication, is available for free online at http://www.beltwaypoetry.com. For a free subscription, go to: http://lists.mutualaid.org/mailman/listinfo/beltwaypoetryquarterly.