Poems by Judith Arcana
Talking Earth Anthology: Judith Arcana
Judith Arcana is a writer, teacher and activist who has taught literature, writing and interdisciplinary topics in women’s studies in high schools, colleges, libraries, living rooms, a state prison and a county jail. She holds a PhD in Literature, an MA in Women's Studies, an Urban Preceptorship in Preventive Medicine and a BA in English. A native of the Great Lakes region, she lives now in the Pacific Northwest.
Judith is the author of Grace Paley’s Life Stories, A Literary Biography, a study of the well-loved and much-admired writer/activist who died in 2007, as well as two prose books about motherhood, Our Mothers’ Daughters and Every Mother’s Son, both of which have been read, taught and discussed for many years in the USA, Canada and the UK.
Her poetry collection What if your mother offers poems and monologues examining a constellation of motherhood themes: abortion, adoption, miscarriage and the biotechnology of childbirth, as well as the daily experience of mothering.
In 2008-2009, Judith collaborated with Ash Creek Press to create the Ash Creek Series, a signed/numbered edition folding broadside (POEMS),a manuscript in a cartoon envelope (Family Business), and 4th Period English, a chapbook of poems in the voices of high school students talking about immigration in the USA.
More information about Judith and her work is available on her website: juditharcana.com.
National and Public
On NPR they’re asking questions: if Iraq, really, is
like VietNam and not like VietNam; if Rumsfeld
really, was like McNamara – and not. I’m getting
angry, thinking: Why don’t you know this? I do.
It’s so obvious: Our young people learning to kill
(again), being blown up and mowed down (again)
blowing up and mowing down other people, while
their parents back home slide into shock and denial
not awe. They’re going far away to be awkward
in pants that don’t fit right, made in colors chosen
to match the ground so many will fall down on.
And they’ll soon see, soon understand (not long
after they move in): the people don’t like them
don’t trust welcome want them there. They will
know, not long after they get there, the people
they’ve come to save liberate educate release, really
truly actually want them to go away, go back home
in the dawn’s early light, by which they’ve pledged
allegiance to broad stripes, bright stars and a republic
(one nation) for which they stand, each perilous night.
It’s obvious. People who stand their ground, there
where the ground is the color of this war’s uniforms
don’t think our young people have brought them
an order of democracy-to-go with Coke and pizza.
People there realize (again) that for George this war
is personal (oh, not like he’s fighting dying killing
not like his children are over there, two of the ones
fighting dying killing, wearing pants the color of sand:
not that kind of personal, no). They know for him it’s
like it was for Lyndon (though George is dumb, empty
of that other Texan’s agony): He wants to win, what
he says goes, he’s sticking to his guns. Actually, he’s
sticking to their guns, but still. People in South Africa
know this, and in Australia too. People know in Egypt
Argentina, Italy, India, Laos. You and I know this.
Why don’t people on NPR know this? They keep on
asking the same questions – even though it’s obvious.
first published in Bridges, 2007
You believe I’m not so good, not good
as you, gringo boy, but you don’t know
anything, even in your own language
su lenguaje, su idioma – qué hard
sharp tongue of sound no one can love
in, no one can cry in. You don’t know
how to talk a baby to sleep, how to
make your mami smile, your papi
proud. No sabes, chico. You sure don’t
know why Aurelia won’t look at you
on the street, after school – but I do.
from 4th Period English, published 2009
They say there's no evidence
Even urban, where you think they’d find it,
they say all is well: Small children eat
fistfuls of sand at the lake, as always. Clover
blossoms; crickets are loud in the supermarket
parking lot. Forsythia spreads yellow petals
over the steep banks of concrete freeways;
river water shines past the railroad switchyard.
Feral cats roam the alleys, fertile beyond any need
for proof. Pigeons still nest among iron struts
beneath the el, their eggs only sometimes falling
onto broken glass below. So maybe it’s not true
that babies now are born in novel shapes,
their chemistry surprising all the doctors.
…. first published in Michigan Avenue Review, 2006