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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

The Frame; Alchemy on 61st Street; Ode for ordinary heroes

By: Olga Dugan

The Frame

spring cleaning done, redressing walls

my niece, and day pupil since illness,

early retirement, holds up a lifetime

achievement for distinguished teaching

awarded Graduation Day, May 2007

fourteen years ago, when she was

too young to ask: is the frame gold?

shall I tell her that it’s real gold, but

only a thin layer, plated onto a silver

surface electrochemically? or,

that it’s quid pro quo, the appearance

of solid gold for a golden silence?

tell her how it now frames

a certificate that slipped, at first,

pasts an official’s desk

into a raggedy black folder

in a raggedy interdepartmental

envelope addressed to “tar baby”

that cluttered my faculty mailbox

because the same rage

razing area schools, raising juvenile

penitentiaries, deemed a black

woman with a PhD still just black

regardless the committee of peers

who selected this lone member

of color to their august ranks, tipping

their hats to all I achieved by forty-three

I watch my niece, beautiful

and brown, fifteen and full of hope,

an astronomer who’ll work

as a geriatric nurse, rehang the award

using such care and attention to balance

unaware of Chee-na, who—done

alarming folks with her bad as a bone

bark—prances to my chair now

and sprawls her foot-length chihuahua

body in its shadow, wise enough

to wait out the heat and resume her

battles on a cooler day…

I tell my niece

it’s gold.

Alchemy on 61st Street

winter, spring, summer, fall—no matter

how many times I passed that lion, toothless

marking the steps of a corner house on 61st

Street, he just looked resigned as all get out

what could he do about the biotic emeralds

sprouting across his face his body, blooming

in his mane? he was merely abiotic, made

of stone after all. then again, I’m wondering

just today, if he could speak, would the lion,

almost covered in algae and fungi, tell me

he was given life? having eaten the sun, having

faced overwhelming passions, emotions,

desires, he was in transition? nature consuming

him, eyes wide open, the lion was becoming

a golden soul? silly thinking, but, no, I recall

the days before Lipedema when I could walk

all over my city marveling at the ways nature

broke through cement, rock, stone to produce

rows of Arabis in cracks of pavement, and

everywhere, even near the squat houses under

the bridge at Front and Delaware, there grew

roses, representing or so it seemed, all 150

species and its thousands of hybrids, coloring

neighborhoods and neighborly connections

never ceasing to amaze at how much stronger

and lasting nature is over anything our hands

can make, how the smallest sample—lichen

on stone, roses creeping along brick—can be

so mighty/tremendous, how even this anomaly

of nature, abnormal swelling disfiguring thighs,

crippling my gait, afflicting my life, has blessed

with time and mind to walk and talk with lions

Ode for ordinary heroes

(for Mom and Kerise)

Two girls.

Both 4-years old; both the same height.

Both ice cream lovers; both wearing

similar clothes. Both claiming themselves

closer than sisters at one’s birthday party

when some older child deems, “you

can’t be twins, you have different skin

colors.” The white girl cries, “you don’t

know what you’re talking about”; then,

the black girl, “we share the same soul!”

Two boys.

After assuring the one with autism,

“you’ll have a great first day,” his

mother heads back to the car. Her heart,

rattled with prayers for his safety against

hurt and mockery, stops when she hears

his cry. But turning to go save him,

she sees the one with compassion

grab her son’s hand. He consoles as he

walks her son to the door and inside

the school, changing in a precious

moment, the whole world as she knew it.

Two teens.

Ten years ago, their parents closed

the gap between a shooter and then baby

brother Paul, trenched in a shopping cart

full of school supplies for his sister,

Ali, turning six and safe at the rancher

their parents had just finished for them.

Today, a decade / a century after laying

Mom and Dad to rest, the teens serve

lemonade and cake then labor side

by side with neighbors, tending

the beds of golden poppies mounded

by red birds of paradise and the dusky

pink of Egyptian stars we had planted

all around the house their parents built.


Olga Dugan is a Cave Canem poet. Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, her award-winning poems are forthcoming or appear in Channel (Ireland), Relief: A Journal of Art and Faith, Sky Island Journal, The Windhover, The Sunlight Press, Grand Little Things, Ariel Chart, The Write Launch, E-Verse Radio, The Southern Quarterly, Kweli, Poems from Pandemia – An Anthology, and several other literary publications. Olga holds a PhD in Literary History and Culture from the University of Rochester, and her articles on poetry, drama, and cultural memory appear in The Journal of African American History, The North Star, and in Emory University's “Meet the Fellows.”

"While writing these poems, I was thinking about using line breaks and associative logic to hopefully create a sense of flow that would lead the readers’ ears and eyes down the page. Breaking lines with less punctuation, for example, would ultimately allow more of the lines to take only a breath to utter, like measure in a song. Breaking some mid phrase would aid in starting more lines with verbs and nouns versus prepositions and conjunctions in an effort to strengthen each poem’s spine, which also helps to regulate its cadence, its pacing.

As always, the stories my poems tell hinge all I try to do with line, rhythm, imagery, and so on. And to shape the stories in these particular poems, I focused on using associative logic, or what I understand as a collaboration between the conscious world of facts and the subconscious world of symbols. I wanted to consider how things of personal interests—a frame, a stone lion, simple acts of selflessness and compassion—can symbolize or carry memories, thoughts, beliefs, that reveal ways in which people share experiences across time and space more often than not. The very cool take away for me was finding in the Webster definition of cathexis affirmation of what I was trying to do through associative logic: 'investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea.' And now my work has been given a home here..."


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