Poetry by Margaret Randall

We Won’t Take Yes for an Answer

We tell them no means no 

and ask

what part of that word

they don’t understand.

Every secret place on the far side

of casual conversation

disappears

after the fire sale.

I would tell you read my lips

but fear being taken

for a president 

boasting Mission Accomplished.

There is no mission here,

just vulnerability

donning its invisibility cloak

of shame.

We tell them no means no.

They smile disarmingly.

We won’t take yes for an answer 

and turn them into pillars of salt.

Molecules Sometimes Wonder

No ideas but in things… —William Carlos Williams

Beneath the seconds I hear a clock ticking 

in a language I once knew.

Beneath the minutes, pathways fade

on frayed maps, their faces turned

to a sputtering midnight sun.

The hours are weighted with surplus food,

the sort that comes in UN packaging,

pale blue with white letters: 

desperate invitation to survive.

I carry those days and weeks and months

on a back bent by the poundage of hope 

in a world still moving only in one direction:

forward, although its molecules

sometimes wonder whether they are 

coming or going.

We press time for new possibilities,

intuit a future long gone

or just around the corner.

I may claim our past 

will rise again

or all time is simultaneous

rather than sequential.

I can imagine realities as impossible

as the airplane in 1850

or computers back when I longed

for my first Royal portable.

I can play da Vinci to your doubting Thomas.

But that won’t provide the extra year

a woman with cancer hopes she has

or the food needed by a child of war

so she may reach adulthood.

Imagined time still meets 

the mundane cousin standing in its way

with broad shoulders,

arms akimbo and all the ballast

of a 390-pound running back.

When it comes to assessing matter,

the movement of atoms, quarks,

string theory, loops, the singularity 

at the center of a black hole

or where we are going or have been,

there is only our body’s story

etched in a mind that is also flesh,

the perfect location

when approached from all directions.

Today Was a Good Day

Today was a good day. To begin with

I woke up this morning

and was able to get out of bed

unbending the length of my body.

I could aim a remote at the heater

and the room began

to lose its chill. The milk 

in my refrigerator hadn’t gone bad.

If I opened my door I wouldn’t 

find myself in Mogadishu 

or Bagdad.

New Mexico’s sun holds me close.

My children nurture their children

in cities where life is possible.

The ravages of hunger haven’t yet

claimed their limbs and eyes. 

It is easy to calculate solutions

to the world’s problems

nestled on a comfortable couch 

or seated before a computer.

I know I must consult the mother

forced back to Honduras

without her child, the young girl

taken by Boko Haram.

I understand the distance 

I’d have to travel

and the language I’d have to learn

to be free from “them” and “me.”

Today was a good day but even if

just some of the walls come down

it will be better tomorrow, 

better still the next.  

Out of Violence into Poetry

Water, real or illusory, shimmers along

the desert horizon. 

Oasis: early 17th century word

via late Latin from the Greek,

perhaps of Egyptian origin.

Egypt, a country of vast sand 

on which wet and fertile 

exceptions nourish life.

Also: peaceful area or period

in the midst of troubled times.

Thus, place becomes time in the blink 

of geography’s eye. 

Double helix embracing itself

as it rises in our throats:

see-saw of intuition singing loud.

Let me satiate your thirst, feed 

your hunger. Satisfy mine, 

if only because we are 

conscious beings standing together

in this dangerous century.

We are reduced to small gestures: 

reflected in a gaze

or touch of a hand,

oases of light where we may move

out of violence into poetry.

About the contributor

Margaret Randall
Margaret Randall is an American writer, photographer and activist. Born in New York City in 1936, she lived for 23 years in Latin America (Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua). Upon her return to the US in 1984, she was ordered deported because her writing was considered "against the good order and happiness of the United States." She won her case in 1989. During the 1960s, Randall co-founded and edited EL CORNO EMPLUMADO, a bilingual poetry journal that in 8 years published 700 writers from more than 30 countries. Among many honors, she has been awarded Ecuador's Poet of Two Hemispheres prize, Cuba's Haydée Santamaría medal, and AWP's George Garrett Prize. Recent books include Out of Violence into Poetry (poems, Wings Press, 2019), I Never Left Home: Poet, Feminist, Revolutionary (memoir, Duke University Press, 2020), and My Life in 100 Objects (New Village Press, 2020).

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