What most readers (my few; my treasured), who know me as an essayist, a writer of non-fiction, may not know is that I also write poetry, that I began writing as a poet . . . and that I then wrote (and published) jazz lyrics to tunes written by such composers as Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley.
I have been "writing since before I could write," and my first "book" (of poems) "came out" (paid for by my parents) in Greece, in 1961.
From the very beginning -- my father, a lay analyst, went to Greece in 1961, to set up a graduate school of Social Work at Pierce College, and to write a book about college-age women in post-war Greece -- my poetry was not that of a child. The suffering I witnessed, firsthand, and heard about, in rural Greece, and throughout The Levant, in the early 60s, marked me.
It was there and then that I learned the truth of the Greek proverb: "When the egg falls on the stone, alas for the egg; when the stone falls on the egg, alas for the egg."
In the winter of 2012, many of my educated, formerly middle-class, childhood friends -- members of my own generation, and those immediately preceding it and post-dating it -- are unemployed, being hounded into jail and financial ruin by corrupt government officials and agencies, and, in some cases, starving, literally.
As in early childhood, I find pain, rage, impotence, drives me to poetry; to sad song. I think of Abel Meeropol's lyric, "Strange Fruit"; of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life"; of Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos' entire body of work).
My own poem, below, is not Meeropol, is not Strayhorn, is not Ritsos. It is me, just me, reacting to the stone that has hit one tiny Greek-egg-of-the-diaspora this fall and winter. Sometimes, prose is insufficient to a subject. Many times, words are insufficient.
"Between a Rock & a Hard Place"
by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
"I think we have all experienced passion that is not in any sense reasonable."--Stephen Fry
"Six months ago, when I opened my balcony door and looked down on the street, I would see refugees picking through the garbage bins to find something to eat. In the past few weeks there are more and more Greeks as well. They don't want their hardship to show, so they make their rounds of the dumpsters in the early morning hours, when only a handful of people are on the streets."--Greek novelist, Petros Markaris, in Die Zeit, 12/1/2011
For My Childhood Friend, E, and for Greece, Starving, Winter 2012
We have been here,
right here: those of us who love or,
rather, those of us who were loved,
and, so, caught the fever of loving,
were taught the language of loving,
escaped not the lash of loving.
We have been here, wedged, willingly,
between the loved one's body . . .
and the speeding van,
the falling limb,
the tumbling armoire.
Not a thought in our heads one moment;
the next, here we are,
here I am: pinned
between your belovéd, wounded, bleeding
flesh--your so-well-known geography--and that
that barreling inevitability,
that insensible monstrosity:
that, with its sheer dumb weight,
its stark, mute velocity,
which has doomed us both.
I dart in, at the last moment.
Seeing it coming, I dart:
between it (whatever it is) and you
and the wall behind you.
(Of course, there's a wall behind you.)
"Wait," I don't say. (There's no time.)
"Stop," I don't say. (There's no breath.)
It comes at, for, you
and, without a glance back,
(Not. One. Glance.)
I place my friable, mortal body here,
between it -- it is always an "it"--
It does what it does, then:
brute engine of the corrupt State,
monstrous, ravenous corporation,
clumsy, butter-fingered physician,
malicious, bought-and-paid-for Magistrate
or, simply, formerly unnamed asteroid
(which neither of us could envision
one second ago,
let alone 25 years ago,
when I first said, and I said it first:
"I love you").
What we don't know
rolling in those fields of April chamomile,
between those dry-stone-walls of youth,
holding one another's bodies like purblind puppies
in a cardboard box;
licking one another's faces--
those happy things we humans, too,
do in, for, love,
(having been loved)
is that one day,
one bright blue day under an Aegean sun,
it will come, for you or for me,
and what will be required,
automatically, I say,
I will not prevent your being crushed.
I cannot prevent your being annihilated.
But, between it and you
(and the wall; always the wall),
I will place all the love I have stored up
in mind and heart and flesh
like the scent of chamomile,
like the life's blood of saints,
like the kisses of childhood,
all these years I have loved you.
That I can do . . .
before it makes of us two
one: one unrecognizable, unmoving,
unfeeling, hopeless and never-again-
That much I can do,
PS And I leave you, as well, in your warm study, by your glowing screen (just as I am, this evening), with a verse by Yiannis Ritsos:
I know that each one of us travels to love alone,
alone to faith and to death.
I know it. I've tried it. It doesn't help.
Let me come with you.
--from Moonlight Sonata. Translation by my old friend, Peter Green, and Beverly Bardsley.