Had I not met the souls who gather at Miriam’s Kitchen
each morning for a meal, I could not have shared poems
that sway like sensate trees, that are not just standing there
stripped of leaves, nor could I have heard Carl, who sleeps
near the M Street Bridge, say he likes how the shadows
of birds’ wings pass over his heart. I would not have seen
the robin lying dead on the sidewalk. Did it fall from the sky,
unlike the geese that glide overhead trailing their legs in flight,
or the starlings appearing to wait in the wings only to vanish
from sight? But since then I have lifted my eyes to the rafters
and seen Bede’s sparrow fly through the church basement
where we linger before disappearing into the darkening light.
Poetry Salon in the Homeless Day Shelter
Today we read “Gin River,” a poem by Tyree Daye.
In it, Bill Broonzy is singing “When I Been Drinking,”
and people dance in the river, down in rural Carolina.
We end with James Wright’s persona poem, “Saint Judas.”
Now it’s time to write, and Ibrahim, in the voice of Moses,
dares the Pharaoh to make the sun go from west to east.
Chuck wears the chef’s jacket he found in a bag of donations.
On the pocket, stitched in blue cursive: “Ramon.”
It’s his nom de plume. Oh, Ramon – where are you now?
Gilgamesh at the Retirement Center
We conclude the annual poetry reading ritual for the residents,
and I delight in the bacon-wrapped scallops impaled on toothpicks.
Ecstatic to find two kinds of wine, I am feeling satisfied.
At some point during dinner, we talk about what we’re reading.
When I say I’m enjoying the epic of Gilgamesh, Celia asks me
what that ancient tale is all about. I launch into the highlights,
including the grand Sumerian city of Uruk, its meaningful bricks,
the faithful friend Enkido, his tragic death, the subsequent quest
for immortality, how Gilgamesh fails his test by falling asleep
instead of staying awake for a week and loses out on eternal life
(sleeping again) when a snake eats the fabled plant and sheds its skin.
Despite all this, Celia thinks I mean the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh.
For a moment I forget who I am, and where. Then I think of Odysseus,
asleep in the boat to Ithaka; Athena disguised the island with mist.
So I change the subject to Odysseus, that time he rises out of the sea
from his long swim, still clutching the rock Calypso gave him,
and he sees in the rock a mist parting to show the years ahead. His bed.
But the wine is wearing off. I’ll go, now, to sleep like Gilgamesh.
Bonnie Naradzay leads weekly poetry “salons” at day shelters for homeless people and at a retirement center, all in Washington DC. Twice nominated for a Pushcart prize, her poems have appeared in AGNI, New Letters, RHINO, Kenyon Review, Tampa Review, EPOCH, Split This Rock, Dappled Things, and other sites. In 2010 she won the University of New Orleans Poetry Prize – a month’s stay in the South Tyrol castle of Ezra Pound’s daughter, Mary. While there, Bonnie enjoyed having tea with Mary, hiking in the Dolomites, and reading early versions of the Pisan Cantos. Her manuscript , “Invited to the Feast,” will be published by Slant Books.