All posts by Pratibha

International Women’s Day 2021

March 8th is designated as International Women’s Day to:

celebrate women’s achievements
raise awareness about women’s equality
actively advocate for gender parity
raise funds for female-centric charities

The theme for this year is “choose to challenge.” Challenge ourselves and those around us to be alert for gender disparity and discrimination and actively seek to bring equality so that we don’t have to set aside such a day in the future.

On this occasion, I am bringing you an obscure poet from my home state of Maharashtra in India. I have always admired Bahinabai Chaudhari (1880 – 1951) for her natural poetic talent and fierce independence. She wasn’t aware of her talent and never wrote down her ‘songs’ which she composed while going about her daily routine. I am presenting her poem about the plague pandemic during 1940 as it is incredibly relevant today. The original Marathi version is followed by my loose translation. I can’t match her meter and rhyme, but the meaning is extremely relevant. I hope you join me in saluting this favorite poet and at least three more female poets I plan to present this month.

पिलोक पिलोक
आल्या पिलोकाच्या गाठी
उजाडलं गांव
खयामयांमधीं भेटी

पिलोक पिलोक
जीव आला मेटाकुटी
भाईर झोंपड्या
गांवामधीं मसन्‌वटी

पिलोक पिलोक
कशाच्या रे भेठीगांठी !
घरोघरीं दूख
काखाजांगामधीं गांठी

पिलोक पिलोक
आतां नशीबांत ताटी
उचलला रोगी
आन् गांठली करंटी

plague, plague
the lumps of plague are here
the towns are deserted
people meet in the open fields

plague, plague
people feel only despair
the huts are on the outskirts
the town has become a graveyard

plague, plague
what get-togethers?
every household filled with sorrow
lumps in armpits and groins

plague, plague
now only destiny is a bier
pick up the ailing
and remain in quarantine

Shelby Wilson


for Al Brilliant, even though he probably doesn’t remember me

Those mild south Texas Spring mornings
you spent guiding and goading four college
seniors in the arduous art
of handmaking books might have
seemed squandered,
but I remember.

I remember the aroma of Earl Grey
in that makeshift classroom—
the Christian Science Reading Room
lent us through kindness—
even though our only shared religion was
a faith in the words on the pages
we saddle-stitched together.

We huddled around the table.
I know now, we were leaning into
your soft-spoken words,
wisdom you near-whispered
in your Brooklynite accent.

You talked of literature,
*******and travel,
*******and books you’d asked us to read,
*******and the sixties,
*******and social justice,
*******and California,
where you founded your
slow and steady press.

My klutzy hands would oft
poke the tip of my awl
clean through a signature of folded pages,
piercing my hand.
I’d bleed on your pages—
these spotted books, you let me keep,
proof of the sacrifice required
for the sacrament of the
enfolded black-inked words.

You taught me that humility is
not mentioning that you’d published
*******Robert Bly,
and Margaret Atwood,
and Leonard Cohen,
and Marge Piercy.

Once, Langston Hughes surfaced from your memories—
his serene, muted intonation
when he would finally speak after
a long pause, in thought,
prior to his purposeful reply
was all you really told us about him.

The art of making books is
lost to me now,
but the value of a life in books
has been collected, sewn, and
bound into me.

I think that is all you wanted
********all along.

Editor’s Note:
I love this heartfelt tribute to Al Brilliant by an eager student of bookmaking. The poet uses vivid descriptions of the bookmaking process, tying each one into a page of memory that finally results in an exquisite book in the student himself.

Shelby Wilson writes, teaches, and lives in Amarillo, Texas. He holds a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University and an M.A. in English from West Texas A&M University. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Ink & Nebula, Sparks of Calliope, Backchannels, BeZine, and anthologies from Madness Muse Press, Clarendon House Publications, and Elizabeth River Press.

Allison Joseph

Black History Month Day 28.

I would like to end this month with a favorite poem of mine. It reminds me of a 12-year-old me enthralled in the magic of books, marveling at the skill of the novelists and poets to ignite the imagination, and ignoring my chores. Dance entered my life much later, but with the same wonder and awe.

I started this month by presenting a poem from Phyllis Wheatley, a slave whose destiny was defined by her master. I end the month by offering a contemporary poet born and raised in the free world and who once said, “I write to be a recorder, observer, participant, and sometimes, even judge.”

Soul Train
By Allison Joseph (1967-)

Oh how I wanted to be a dancer
those Saturday mornings in the
Read the complete poem here.

Georgia Douglas Johnson

Black History Month Day 25.

Black Woman
By Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966)

Don’t knock at my door, little child,
….I cannot let you in,
You know not what a world this is
….Of cruelty and sin.
Wait in the still eternity
….Until I come to you,
The world is cruel, cruel, child,
….I cannot let you in!

Don’t knock at my heart, little one,
….I cannot bear the pain
Of turning deaf-ear to your call
….Time and time again!
You do not know the monster men
….Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
….I must not give you birth!

This poem is in the public domain.

Claude McKay

Black History Month Day 21.

The Barrier
By Claude McKay (1889–1948)

I must not gaze at them although
Your eyes are dawning day;
I must not watch you as you go
Your sun-illumined way;

I hear but I must never heed
The fascinating note,
Which, fluting like a river reed,
Comes from your trembling throat;

I must not see upon your face
Love’s softly glowing spark;
For there’s the barrier of race,
You’re fair and I am dark.

This poem is in the public domain.