Thursday, March 10, 2011

War and Peace as Art: the poetry of Kathy Millhoff

One of my favorite poets is Kathleen Millhoff.  She grew up in Gary and Chicago, was my roommate for a while in Bloomington, IN and eventually moved to Guam with her husband and two small children.  Besides writing both poetry and short stories, she teaches in the Public School system in Guam.  Kathy is a true mentor, and one of my oldest and dearest friends.   From her I learned the fine art of growing up.
 Almost a Ghazal

Laughing at the last,
air travel brings us to a place unfamiliar.

The spinning globe splits shadows
of the pretentious, yet all too familiar.

We yearn for foods or words,
As long as we feel we are among the familiar.

We read of how a distant land broached a plan
Which we promptly refuse because it is not familiar.

Our travel now brings us to a place we know,
Where ice cream flavors and trees seem so familiar.

Yet we know ourselves to have a scent of change,
Our friends turn away as we are unfamiliar.

Please tell us if we feel unfamiliar,
We would not be a cause of anything too familiar.

But, no, once more a final call to arms,
And the laughter, the song, that was once so familiar.

Is it now wiped clean of blood and dirt that once more
It might appear the grace notes of one thing that might be named familiar.


night's song of sojourn,
and star-guided
join hands
to knit ourselves
a cloak
of certainty,
or a talisman
of shadow or tears.

Hold fast
the knit-purl
chain of remembrance,
for it will
light our way through
cloaking folds,
and bring
singing once more
to the


(on december 8, 1941, japanese planes bombed the defenseless island of
guam, leaving it ready for the the invasion and capture.)

The grandmother rocks.
Old, her twig hands twine,
her caped shoulders hunch,
her grayed head swivels, jeweled ears twinkling,
her bright eyes suck in
she may not pass on.

she might say,
beside that invading force
the people from across the Western sea,
they held us ransom for a price
they would not name,
they taught cutting cane
was preferrable to dying,
they buried us in our churches,
by our schools, in our fields.

We buried our radios in salt,
bulwark against the wider world.

Our Spanish sounding names
were hissed in our ears
Though we mouthed our Chamorro names.
The slaps we took were notes
for the dirge for this land.

We buried ourselves among the dead
to hide or escape
the living or the dead.

We married in secret,
any one, no one,
to escape the sale of ourselves.

We boiled a rat, a fly,
our own spit,
yet our children withered,
fell like broken leaves.

We learned that newer tongue,
not difficult,
we had learned
scrolled it in the ruins
yet we buried the words of our mothers,
and have brought them out for sunning,
as taught,
and worlds all roll from our tongues,
and what is one more
language to us?

There may yet be those who bury themselves,
practice languages not their own,
who await needs not theirs,
bargains unredeemed.

Twined with us now,
a graced land,
and our names are chorused in our ears
chanted, chimed,

This is what she may say,
if ears could hear,
clear away grit of passing years,
unclog notes of drizzling sameness,
unmask secrets camouflaged by media's dreary prose.

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