Monday, March 13, 2006


These fasting feet

Recently arrived in the mail is Cosmic Rainbow, a wonderful selection of poems by Mary McAnally, drawn from the full body of her work over the past several decades. Mary is a long-time friend -- we first got to know each other in the mid-1970's when she lived in Minneapolis with her children and then-husband poet Etheridge Knight. I've awaited this book with great anticipation, and I feel excitement and joy that it's now in the world.

The poems make a kind of journal record of McAnally's long involvement in activism for peace and justice, and also offer a moving account of her many travels to places in the world where revolutionary passion and intelligence have been most evident in the past half century. Poems growing out of McAnally's connections with the insurgent movements in South Africa, Ireland, Central America, as well as the stubborn endurance and resistance in the cities and towns of the United States, against the predatory dealings of the empires of capital, driven by the unquenchable striving for a more human world.

The following poem is reprinted in full from Cosmic Rainbow, by permission of the author.
The Last Supper of the I.R.A.

--for Bernadette Devlin and Seamus Heaney

Hunger has settled in their hearts
forever. There is no end to it.
No Blaskets here, surviving on communal fish
(The laughing plates desire only to be clean,
to clink against each other in the sink.

Whatever food is brought is eaten right away;
no waiting for the host to eat, the guest
to take a seat, the blessing said.
No silent toasting of the dead.)

Their sex goes first.
The body cannot reproduce
which does not eat.
It loosens its hold on the hair;
empty eye sockets fill with air

and sight turns inward toward the sea
of silence in the blood.
The navel is a sinkhole sucking in the belly.
These fasting feet will never again
march on a Belfast street.

The ribcage misses the lung's caress,
the hands begin to flutter
like severed wings of butterflies.

Where does water go when it dies?
The Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti said that the people of the United States live in the heart of the beast. For some years now Mary McAnally has been a practicing minister in the heart of Oklahoma, speaking and writing and living a radical liberation theology in the midst of a dry and dusty conservative tide. I will admit that I don't always feel great affinity with what seem to me some of McAnally's more explicitly religious poems, some of which are in this collection. Not, however, religious in any narrow or repressive sense; everything in the poems in this book is insurgent and embracing and life-affirming.

A couple of years ago on Labor Day weekend, I attended an event in Tulsa, Oklahoma (of which McAnally was one of the organizers) celebrating labor, poetry and music; in particular, the event was organized to recognize and honor the union members who had recently completed successful contract negotiations with American Airlines, around the time when the recent wave of airlines bankruptcies and anti-union actions was getting underway. Such events are often smaller than we would want them to be; even recognizing that, the several dozen people who turned out for an evening of poetry and music and labor talk in the rooms of the Unitarian Church were a victory, however temporary, however provisional.

The couple of days I spent at Mary's house that weekend, and the time with our other friends who got there for the events, will remain one of the many times of joy I've known in my life. Even in the heart of what corporate media (and corporate elections) would have us believe is Bush country -- Oklahoma is, after all, also the home of Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie -- we can plant the seeds of remaking our world, and our flowers can bloom.

Cosmic Rainbow is published by Partisan Press; you can find ordering information on this page.

The book includes beautiful illustrations by Terry Hauptman, herself also a wonderful poet. Her most recent book of poems, On Hearing Thunder, was published in 2004 by North Star Press. (The North Star Press website hasn't been updated in a little while; if you don't find Terry Hauptman's book listed there, check with the press. In the "Contact Us" page they have a toll-free number, an email address, and a postal address.)

That's a very good poem. I will have to get this book on my next shopping binge. Thanks, as always, for doing what you do here--your reviews are always a pleasure to read.
That poem is indeed excellent. Lyle, great review! You're going to make me go broke, yet:-)
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