Ruth Stone

Sharon Olds

Courtesy of Poem-A-Day

(Ruth Stone, June 8, 1915 – November 19, 2011)

And suddenly, it’s today, it’s this morning
they are putting Ruth into the earth,
her breasts going down, under the hill,
like the moon and sun going down together.
O I know, it’s not Ruth–what was Ruth
went out, slowly, but this was her form,
beautiful and powerful
as the old, gorgeous goddesses who were
terrible, too, not telling a lie

for anyone–and she’d been left here so long, among
mortals, by her mate–who could not,
one hour, bear to go on being human.
And I’ve gone a little crazy myself
with her going, which seems to go against logic,
the way she has always been there, with her wonder, and her
generousness, her breasts like two
voluptuous external hearts.
I am so glad she kept them, all
her life, and she got to be buried in them–
she 96, and they
maybe 82, each, which is
164 years
of pleasure and longing. And think of all
the poets who have suckled at her riskiness, her
risque, her body politic, her
outlaw grace! What she came into this world with,
with a mew and cry, she gave us. In her red
sweater and her red hair and her raw
melodious Virginia crackle,
she emptied herself fully out
into her songs and our song-making,
we would not have made our songs without her.

O dear one, what is this? You are not a child,
though you dwindled, you have not retraced your path,
but continued to move straight forward to where
we will follow you, radiant mother. Red Rover, cross over.

Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Olds. Used with permission of the author.

About This Poem

“When Ruth Stone, one of our great American poets, died, I was not able to get to Vermont for her burial. That morning, I sat by the window, over Riverside Drive, in New York City, and let my mind go, took off its collar and leash, and let it run–straight to her. All I asked of my mind was that it report back to me what it saw, what it thought and felt. After the poem was finished (by hand, by ballpoint in grocery-store notebook), and typed, and revised a little, it was ready to go out and seek other lovers of Ruth Stone’s poems, with whom to observe and mourn her passing, and to praise her. Later I had the sorrowing joy of reading Toi Derricotte’s story of her deep friendship with Ruth and her family, and of the day of the burial in her essay ‘Ruth Stone’s Funeral’ which was published in Water-Stone Review, Volume 15, 2012. Thus do we all keep each other company.”

–Sharon Olds

Poem-A-Day

Launched during National Poetry Month in 2006, Poem-A-Day features new and previously unpublished poems by contemporary poets on weekdays and classic poems on weekends. Browse the Poem-A-Day Archive.

Sharon Olds is the author of numerous books of poems, including Stag’s Leap (Knopf, 2012), which received the Pulitzer Prize. She is a Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets and teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University.

Alice Walker

Save this on DeliciousAlice WalkerCourtesy of Wikipedia

EXPECT NOTHING

Expect nothing. Live frugally

On surprise.

become a stranger

To need of pity

Or, if compassion be freely

Given out

Take only enough

Stop short of urge to plead

Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger

Than your own small heart

Or greater than a star;

Tame wild disappointment

With caress unmoved and cold

Make of it a parka

For your soul.

Discover the reason why

So tiny human midget

Exists at all

So scared unwise

But expect nothing. Live frugally

On surprise.

Alice Walker

Early life

Walker was born in Putnam County, Georgia,[3] the youngest of eight children, to Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant. Her father, who was, in her words, “wonderful at math but a terrible farmer,” earned only $300 ($4,000 in 2013 dollars) a year from sharecropping and dairy farming. Her mother supplemented the family income by working as a maid.[4] She worked 11 hours a day for USD $17 per week to help pay for Alice to attend college.[5]

Living under Jim Crow laws, Walker’s parents resisted landlords who expected the children of black sharecroppers to work the fields at a young age. A white plantation owner said to her that black people had “no need for education”. Minnie Lou Walker said, “You might have some black children somewhere, but they don’t live in this house. Don’t you ever come around here again talking about how my children don’t need to learn how to read and write.” Her mother enrolled Alice in first grade at the age of four.[6]

Growing up with an oral tradition, listening to stories from her grandfather (the model for the character of Mr. in The Color Purple), Walker began writing, very privately, when she was eight years old. “With my family, I had to hide things,” she said. “And I had to keep a lot in my mind.”[7]

In 1952, Walker was accidentally wounded in the right eye by a shot from a BB gun fired by one of her brothers.[8] In 2013, on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs, she said the act was actually deliberate but she agreed to protect her brother against their parents’ anger if they knew the truth. Because the family had no car, the Walkers could not take their daughter to a hospital for immediate treatment. By the time they reached a doctor a week later, she had become permanently blind in that eye. When a layer of scar tissue formed over her wounded eye, Alice became self-conscious and painfully shy. Stared at and sometimes taunted, she felt like an outcast and turned for solace to reading and to writing poetry. When she was 14, the scar tissue was removed. She later became valedictorian and was voted most-popular girl, as well as queen of her senior class, but she realized that her traumatic injury had some value: it allowed her to begin “really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out”.[4]

After high school, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlanta on a full scholarship in 1961 and later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College near New York City, graduating in 1965. Walker became interested in the U.S. civil rights movement in part due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. Continuing the activism that she participated in during her college years, Walker returned to the South where she became involved with voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights, and children’s programs in Mississippi.[9]

On March 17, 1967, she married Melvyn Roseman Leventhal. She worked as writer in residence at Jackson State College (1968–1969) and Tougaloo College (1970–1971) and was a black history consultant to the Friends of the Children of Mississippi Head Start program.

Selected works

Novels and short story collections

  • The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)
  • In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973)
  • Meridian (1976)
  • The Color Purple (1982)
  • You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories (1982)
  • To Hell With Dying (1988)
  • The Temple of My Familiar (1989)
  • Finding the Green Stone (1991)
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)
  • The Complete Stories (1994)
  • By The Light of My Father’s Smile (1998)
  • The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart (2000)
  • Now Is The Time to Open Your Heart [a novel] (2004) Random House ISBN13 9781588363961
  • Everyday Use (1973). Short stories, essays, interviews

Poetry collections

  • Once (1968)
  • Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973)
  • Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning (1979)
  • Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1985)
  • Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems (1991)
  • Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth (2003)
  • A Poem Traveled Down My Arm: Poems And Drawings (2003)
  • Collected Poems (2005)
  • Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: New Poems

Non-fiction books

  • In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)
  • Living by the Word (1988)
  • Warrior Marks (1993)
  • The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult (1996)
  • Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism (1997)
  • Go Girl!: The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure (1997)
  • Pema Chodron and Alice Walker in Conversation (1999)
  • Sent By Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit After the Bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon (2001)
  • We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (2006)
  • Overcoming Speechlessness (2010)
  • Chicken Chronicles, A Memoir (2011)