Since 1996 Volume XXII

                MARILYN NELSON

Marilyn Nelson is the author or translator of some twenty books. Her Carver: A Life in Poems (2001), described as “ground-breaking” in several Children’s Literature textbooks, won Newbery Honors, Coretta Scott King Honors, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, and the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Award, and it appears almost in its entirety in The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature (2005). A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005), How I Discovered Poetry (2014), and My Seneca Village (2015) received similar acclaim. In 2017 she was awarded the NSK Neustadt Award and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry. Nelson held the office of Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001-2006. At present she is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and Poet-in-Residence of the Poets Corner of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

after a painting by Kerry James Marshall

In this space of laboratory quiet,
artists as focused as the kitchen staff 
of a 4-star Michelin Guide restaurant     
give themselves up to organized chaos.
They were born with a compulsion
deeper than skin-deep, deeper than black:
Every cell of their bodies says Make Art.           
Their hearts repeat: Make Art, Make Art, Make Art.

Here in the studio’s silence 
artists demonstrate that freedom means
exploring unlimited potential,
playing a part in creation.
How beautiful the human body is.
How complex light is on black skin.
How a story can emerge from colors.
How a yellow curve can become a dog.

Whether you’re a woman, whether you’re black,
no matter who you are, you can make art. 
Art rebuilds our hope for a shared future,
it restores our courage, revives our faith.
Here in the studio, as on cave walls,
our species reaches toward undying truths.
Every work of art was once unfinished:
part in this world, part imagined.

Studio” first appeared in World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Abrams).



I was hiding in the bush when Papa got killed.
His machete was no match for the aliens.
Their weapons thundered as the villagers screamed
to the gods to hear them, to be merciful.
But the gods of the aliens were more powerful.
Wherever they came from, their gods must have come with them.

At sunset, silence fell on the village.
Thirst and hunger forced me to creep out
into a nightmare of devastation.
All I saw moving were chickens and skinny dogs
nosing around for scraps. I put a cloth
on Papa’s face. I closed my eyes to pray. 

That’s when the aliens grabbed me. They marched us
up hill and down, yelling in their language,
pushing and lashing us, taking women
into the woods, leaving behind the old.
We reached a body of water as vast as the sky.
They locked us for days in a huge house made of stones.

When they brought us out, sunlight blinded me.
I followed the others up a slanting ramp
into the craft that had brought the aliens
from wherever they came from to our peaceful world.
That was my last glimpse of the world. In here
darkness, sickness, clanking chains, whispering.

Where are they taking us? Will we be food?
Did they come across the water? Did they come from a star?
In the place they come from, is evil good? 
Will I ever see my mother again?
My little sister? My brothers? My best friend?
I lie curled around terror, facing the blue unknown.

Kidnapped by Aliens” first appeared in 
Traveling The Blue Road: Poems Of The Sea, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Jovan Hansman & Bob Hansman (Seagrass/Quarto).

The moment when he says no
in his no are a thousand yeses. - Rumi

Like you, I’m still waiting impatiently for the
promised breathings of mercy, the moment
when the shit of a lifetime gets explained, when
I will stand looking humbly at my toes as He
(She? God? The Goddess? Plural?) says,
Look: nothing personal. Answers to prayers are always No
Disturbance Of The Balanced Universe. For, although in
its creation each soul, each atom, matters, it is His
(Her? Our? My?) loving and just will that no
joy outweigh its equivalent pain anywhere. See, there are
reasons, order. Truth told, the whole schmier’s a
painstaking, musical, thousand-thousand
faceted, self-activated mechanism of yeses. 

Mechanism” first appeared in Great River Review, Spr. 2013.

The Circus

A woman I’d met first, who was my friend,
invited us to meet her and her kids
three hours’ drive away, so we could spend
an evening at the circus. There, amid
the gasps and shouting laughter, I forgot
how lonely I’d felt a few hours before:
like a child-queen homesick in Camelot.
I was enchanted by the lions’ roar,
the trained pigs, and my new friend’s youngest son,
whose giggle played a melody of bells
which synapsed joy through every ganglion
of my unhappiness, which made me swell
almost to bloom. Then he said they’d prefer
if I drove her kids home: He’d ride with her.

The Circus” first appeared in She-Devil Circus, a limited edition chapbook published by Aralia Press, 2001.

A Woman of Ideas

His new friend was a woman of ideas;
a dissertation in philosophy,
red lipsticked talk of social panaceas,
contemptuous laughter at the bourgeoisie.
She dropped in often, just to have a chat.
He told me he respected her sharp mind.
One day she pushed her breasts out as she sat
and said her husband must be going blind.
Another day, she took me out to eat;
we drove above a river, and below
the road, I saw, perfect, complete,
with one foot on each bank: a huge rainbow.
I made her stop the car. Her voice was flat
as she yawned, “I once painted one like that.”

“A Woman of Ideas first appeared in Partial Truth, a limited edition chapbook published by The Kutenai Press, 1992.

All poems are Copyright © Marilyn Nelson.

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Mary Barnet


Grace Cavalieri

Joan Gelfand

Janet Brennan