A Sense of Place Four Baltimore-area poets navigate our geographic terrain.

By STYLE Contributors



Not Our Country

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Robert Frost

~dedicated to poet friend Agnieszka Studzinska at Kingston University

After I listen
to her poems about
forests in Poland,
quiet and beautiful,
and she listens to my
rollicking Midwestern ones,
we scour the streets
of London late night
in search of food. Rain
slicks everything and eventually
we reach a storefront
bathed in fluorescent light,
and Chinese symbols.
Inside a beige-faced man
yells Cantonese to the cook,
who coats a pan with sesame oil.
And I’m surprised when he asks
what will you ladies have
in a Cockney accent.
But his Brit twang shouldn’t
catch me off guard.
This country is not mine,

not hers,

not his,
not even the cook’s,

but in this moment
it’s home as we wait

for the cook’s shrimp-fried rice;
the four of us huddled

inside the eatery trying

to shake off the damp, cold night.

 

—Celeste Doaks

 

ALONG U STREET, NORTHWEST

 

Man, was she mad.

I mean really pissed,

yelling and cursing at him

there on the sidewalk,

neverminding all of us walking past

wondering what he had done.

He was trying to calm her down,

talking while walking away,

which only made her madder.

The purse in her left hand was big and full,

and would’ve hurt, might’ve laid him out flat,

right there on the sidewalk between 12th and 13th.

I edged over to the curb in case she started swinging.

The guy on a bike next to me

said he saw them come out of a restaurant,

him first, then her, fast,

yelling how dare he leave her with the bill since he had asked her out.

I wonder what happened with them.

They moved on toward 11th Street,

him trying to stay out of range,

and her doggin’ him the whole way.

I moved on toward 16th Street.

The guy on the bike moved out into traffic,

got honked at by a driver, and flipped him off.

 

I gotta get into the city more often.

 

—Michael Ratcliffe

 

Praise Where I Can

 

Chalk lines stretch across

the eroding black top, pandemonium

is tasting soot in the mouth. Names become ash

when memories are buried.

 

The earth can’t save the hum of voices

the way Pompeii can cradle a body

from extinction. I’ve learned

home is where death is least likely

I cannot live here.

 

God’s house is filthy

empty trash cans loiter around

waste, has purpose to someone

I think all things rejected

find home.

 

With my handy dandy notebook

I watch Blue. Lives matter

don’t see where. In the river watch

planes pollute the sky, and laugh at the irony.

 

Joppa homes are bomb shelters

covered in make-up. Don’t mistake this danger

for pretty. When the sun pulls its black blanket

across its face, souls will emerge

will find places to lay, will reminisce,

will find a reason to call this safe,

if only for tonight.

 

—Derick Ebert

 

 

 

Blizzard At The Artists’ Colony

 

Inspiration at the Baptist Church

will be canceled tonight.

            -local radio announcement during snowstorm

 

Insipiration is canceled tonight:

Artists, lay down your pens, chisels, brushes!

Creator at Work (Do Not Disturb) –

grant your imagination a rest.

Instead, watcht the snow, it rushes

 

to erase the-world-as-we-know-it.

Those of you hunched at computers,

click Cancel (Don’t Save!) instantly;

command all symbols and metaphors swept

into the snow of your screen’s nullity.

 

One source of the word wind

is inspire, suggesting a breath that’s divine.

Tonight, let the wind with its story, whine

and squall at your studio door; but strive

to be listenter, not teller.

 

If you must, you may contemplate

mountains, God/Sex, cows, the Meaning-of-Life;

however, by natural decree, all pages and canvases

shall remain blank, snow-white;

Inspiration is canceled, tonight.

 

—Kathy Mangan

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