In recent years, the Men’s and Women’s Book Clubs have been invited annually to the Lake Travis home of Rambie and Fran Briggs for lunch and poetry readings. They provide scenery, the main course and beverages, and the members bring additional dishes. The members bring poetry to read aloud, often their own works. It has become a high point of our literary year. Below are some of the poems that were presented in 2019.

 

 

What You Don’t See

A list poem by Emily Buck
read by her grandfather, Mel Oakes

1. You can see the off-white: something undefinable in the eyes and the stubby nose, the dark hair and the small mouth. You
can see my dad is Korean and my mom is white. What you don’t see? I’ve spent hours gazing into the mirror trying to categorize myself. Which parts of my face are Asian and which are white. You don’t see the difficulty of believing that it’s okay to be an in-between

2. You can see the perfectionist. Down to the stickers on my laptop, everything is straight and in order. What you don’t see
is the floor of my room. I don’t see it either. Things seem to pile up at every turn, and sometimes I swear it does it by itself. I wade through an ocean of sweatshirts and jeans just to get to my bed, and a river of books and old paintbrushes just to get
to the bathroom.

3. You can see my favorite color, but you’ll never see it on me. It is the distinct canary yellow that makes my skin look sickly
and gaunt. The only color that I can’t wear, I look at it from afar and appreciate the mustard and the marigold, but I never let it get too close to me.

4. You can see the dark half-moons under my eyes, my head bobbing as I drift off in math. What you don’t see is the hours preceding:
I keep my lamp on all night, listen to the silence, and stare at my bookshelf when there’s nothing that needs to be done. I just sit in my bed, the only light on in the neighborhood. Time races by and my lamp heats up til it burns at the touch, but if you
were to walk around the block at three in the morning, I like that the only lights would be the streetlamps and mine.

5. You can see me lugging two large instruments into school sometimes. One hangs nicely on my back, the other bounces irritably
on my thigh. You don’t see the weight distribution. The one on my back is objectively heavier but lifts me off the ground and into the sky, while the one I carry in my hand is weighed down with internal warfare.

6. You can see the rows of journals that line the top of my bookshelf. Each one has a personality, each one defines an era.
You don’t see the money lost during every outing, spent on one more aesthetic stack of paper that is never filled anyways. I won’t let you see the contents, mainly because there’s hardly anything there.

7. You can see the Korean feast on the table. Bulgolgi, kimchi, kalbi, kim, namuls… The smell is pervasive and clings onto
the threads of my dad’s apron. You don’t see the moment of hesitation that exists right before saying the names of the dishes. You don’t see the missing Hangul that prevents the words from rolling off any of our tongues and the uncomfortableness of never learning
giant chunks of our own culture.

8. You can see the flora in every room of the house. A pot here, a vase there… There’s something green growing in every room,
my dad’s doing. You don’t see my pots, or my succulents, or my flowers. They’ve all been unceremoniously dumped into the yard waste because the leaves crumble to dust at my touch, and the petals flake like dry skin in the winter.

9. You can see the white hair on my black pants, evidence that my beagle jumped on me this morning in an attempt to eat my
breakfast. What you don’t see? The mental checklist of the years that started when I was four. I asked my parents for a dog that year, and they said wait six more. Every year on my birthday, it was the same mantra: One less year, until 2011 Saint Patrick’s
Day, when our scrawny little dog with a bad left leg skipped into our house for the first time.

10. You can see me. But there are some things that exist beyond the realm of sight, and that makes me who I am.

 

 

Poems read by Gordon Huth

"Binsey Poplars"
"Spring and Fall"
both by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Poems read by Paul Sullivan

"Morning Swim" by Maxine Kumin

 

 

Poems read by Dave Ross

“Tamer and Hawk” by Thom Gunn
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57436/tamer-and-hawk

“Otherwise” by Jane Kenyon
https://poets.org/poem/otherwise

Poem read by Lynne Lemley

"Mexican-American Disambiguation” by José Olivarez
https://hyperallergic.com/400145/one-poem-by-jose-olivarez/

Poems read by Joy Hall

"Video Blues," by Mary Jo Salter

"Keeping Things Whole by Mark Strand

Poems read by Michael Hall

"The Mower" and "Annus Mirabilis." by Philip Larkin

 

 

Let America be America Again

by Langston Hughes
read by Pat Oakes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again! 

 

WHAT'S UP?

by Carol Buckman
read by Pat Oakes

When I was a child,
any day could hold wonders.
Strangers could move
into the rectory down the street
and have kids my age
with new stories and games to share.
We might go to Omaha
where we’d ride an elevator
and hide under clothes racks
and stop for ice cream
in a drug store with high stools.
Grandma might visit with
brownies and hugs and stories.
Or the weather could change
and thunder might send us
to the dark, spidery cellar.
Ditches might flood, full of minnows
we’d scoop into glass jars.
Dusk meant fireflies sparking
the lawn and bushes,
waiting for us to cup into our hands.
Every day was glorious with possibility.
Now a computer controls my calendar,
and I schedule events days ahead,
carefully planning no surprises.