Rose Black lives by the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in Oakland, California, where she and her husband operate Renaissance Stone, a studio and supply source for stone sculptors. Some of the places Rose's poetry has appeared are Runes, The South Carolina Review, Wisconsin Review, Hampton-Sydney Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Spillway and Slant. Her book, Clearing, was published in 2005 and reviewed in the Great American Pin-Up in May 2005. Her second book, Winter Light, was published in April, 2008. Both CLEARING and WINTER LIGHT were accepted by Yale's Beinecke Library for the Yale Collection of American Literature. Rose's third book of poetry, Green Field, was published in 2013 by Bark for Me Publications.
About Green Field: Rose Black's superb new collection of poems, Green Field, is a sobering volume of recollections, reflections and meditations upon a life's ravaged hopes, the echoes of a personal past, and the raw realities of our present. Like fables and dreams gone dark in the lens, these poems instruct us in the complex measures we need to employ in determining what values still remain--and endure--in our lives. --David St. John
Sunday, July 13, 2014. 3PM, Expressions Gallery, 2035 Ashby Avenue at Adeline in Berkeley. With Judy Bebelaar, Rafaella Del Bourgo, and Lynne Knight
Sunday, July 27, 2014, 3PM, Diesel Bookstore, 5433 College Avenue, Oakland. With Adrienne Amundsen, Connie Post, Lynne Knight, and Nellie Hill
SOME OF ROSE BLACK'S RECENT POEMS
We walk both dogs near home. One block over to Pippin Street, where
garbage overflows onto sidewalks, streets. The dogs like this best.
Treasures of rib bones, chicken bones, yellow food wrappers crusted
We pass the sandblaster’s place, say hello to the pit bull pup with the
chewed ear. As we pass the big apartment building, the children leave
their play and swarm us.
Those are big dogs! That one, do he bite?
He wouldn’t bite you.
Can I pet him?
Sure. He likes you to pet him like this.
Do he bite?
The children ask these questions every day.
We stop at the red carnations, stuffed bears, the eight white candles
laid out in a cross beside a wire fence. On a large piece of cardboard:
RIP Berto 1986 - April 12, 2009 Te quiero mucho Please God no
Every day. Why the dog-fights. Why the garbage. Why the murders.
Why my sadness finds this sadness.
We let our dogs in the back gate, by the dead end of Blenheim Street.
Two men stand beside a shiny car. We say hello and they don’t look
at us or answer.
When we moved to this neighborhood, Mrs. Reed around the corner
called us over, said, Welcome, gave us lemonade and cake
What is more important than protecting whatever can live? We walk
into our yard. Trees and flowers now, where once there was hard
ground. Where once, before the blight, orchards of apples and apricots
stretched from the far end of Pippin Street all the way to Blenheim.
An Arctic sea. Far away mountains, jagged and peaked.
A low sun just beginning. Maybe it is ending. Thin, pale.
In the distance, there might be an island.
Close up, on the shore, huge chunks of ice.
Around them the hardest of rocks ― granite, feldspar,
quartz. Shades of white and gray.
The sun is just rising, or it is just setting. It could be the end
of night. Or the beginning. Deep between mountains —
crevasses, ravines. In the distance, there could be an island.
I don't want to tell you my reasons for this choice. Why I didn't
choose the field of daffodils, bright yellow, their smooth
leaves and stems. All facing toward light.
In the distance, a finger of black. It's either land or where
the ice is melting. I don't want to think about ice melting,
or notice how the spur of black has a certain shine and thickness.
I don't want to smell the sweet oily stench of what lies under ground,
and I don't want to think about those who will come here.
I move through this landscape by dogsled, by boat.
In places like this, ice breaks up, ice melts. The seasons will
change. A fresh blanket of ice will grow over the land, over the sea
again, and again. Though, maybe not.
A big dog and little dog are playing in a
field. The big dog
its mouth around the little dog's head, presses paws
on the little dog's ribs. The little dog gets skinnier and skinnier.
I must save the little dog. But the big dog
has changed into
wolves, and they are running toward me, lean and
signal to the wolves to sit. They've changed into
pig is huge and sits on its haunches. A wild pig
it demands. I pour a big helping of food
into a bowl. Go ahead, I say. Eat.
I reach down into the sack, but there is no food left.
What can I do? The small pig just sits
there, waiting. The big pig
more. Saliva drips from its mouth. It eyes the small
eyes me. Leave it, big pig.
Many small pigs run toward us.
Leave it. Lie down!
I BURN DOWN ST. ANN’S EPISCOPAL SCHOOL
teaching at St. Ann's, showing my fourth
The paper flares up and I drop it fast.
at night, before I go to sleep, I see the
After Champ got into a fight with Kua, the
We humans put on dog collars and leashes,
We made a healing circle. The therapist’s
At the last class, we hugged our dogs and
DOGS OF OYSTER BAY
Morning moon still in the sky,
Champ and I round the corner of Neptune Drive
and make our way toward Oyster Bay,
its oysters long gone. We weave past chunks of cement,
rusty metal and methane collection tubes poking
from cordgrass and brackish salt marshes.
We climb landfill that covers recycled trash,
and who knows what lies beneath our feet, in this place
of constant change and surprise. Perhaps
once right here a thatched hut, open to night, was built
and abandoned by an Ohlone hunter. Bright stars
shone through walls of dried grass, lattice of saplings.
For years, on unmarked trails, we have been walking
this wilderness, where people do not learn
each other’s names. We come because
our dogs need to be here, to roam.
We notice what our dogs notice—hawks, egrets,
rabbits, mice, roots of wild radish.
Soon all of this too may be covered over. Who knows what
will prevail? We learn the names and nature
of each other’s dogs, the dogs of Oyster Bay. We watch
as they run the line of earth and sky, through improbable flowers.
STONES, A PRELUDE
I must raise the stones
from the dead.
I place the stones
upright. They attach
earth to sky. They attach
all that is human
to all that is not,
half human, half not.
I arrange the stones.
Many stones, one.
No stone like another,
yet all belong.
Torn from the earth,
they are scarred,
They receive the farthest
reaches of sky and beyond.
The stones stand
guard. Their purpose
fixed. They carry
ancestors. They summon
all that is lost. The lost,
I stand in the center.
From the breath of stones
I make a
The wind moves through these stones.
It enters at night. In moonlight they cast
shadows. A person could climb these fences,
if a person wanted. A person could stay
or leave. Shhhh... When I was three
we had so many little rabbits. I’d stroke
their ears. Sweetie, Snowy, Midnight.
No one remembers if we ate them. I recall
there was a war. I recall my father ate
rabbits in the woods of Terre Haute.
The circle on the Hill of the Highest House
is an arrangement of forty-two stones.
Within a seven pointed star seven stones
lie between each point. We can no longer find
the heavenly bodies. I once had a lover who called
me Dearest Angel. He told me if I wanted to know
who he was, it was all in his play. I never
read it. Tossed it out. The baby never
born. We live among stones and wind.
Each day we sweep the shadows by our gate.
Gnomon— from Greek: interpreter, indicator, that which reveals.
The part of the sundial that casts the
leaves tossed jagged bitter limp in bacon grease and apple cider vinegar with red potatoes, purple onion, crumbled bits of hard-boiled egg.
Early spring he took me with him for the gathering, out between the railroad tracks, through vacant lots. We carried trowels and paper bags. His clothes had holes and he wore an old beret.
Listen, he said, things are often not the way they seem. A weed is in the eye of the beholder.
People hate this plant he said, eyes bright; but they don’t know anything about it. Piss herb, we call it piss herb, the best diuretic you can get—leaves and stalks for kidneys, roots for the liver. Or eat it just because it tastes so good.
Try this, he said to the neighbors, you must try this.
Look, he said, the ground is wet. The plants are young, and it’s early in the morning. Put the trowel underneath and lift them steadily. Carefully. Make sure the water is cold when you clean them, and always tear the leaves.
We thus filled our bags with
the out-of-favor wild things, with the jagged
teeth of the lion.
The day I asked, in jail for what?,
the day they answered, don=t ever mention his name in front of your cousins. Don=t ever think of him again,
the day Uncle Marty moved into my head and wouldn=t leave. He grew big there. I dressed him in a pirate=s hat, his teeth rotten, pointed, his greasy black hair touching his shoulders. I decided he stole only from the rich.
Yesterday I found Uncle Marty in the middle of a tangled forest. He was living in a hut surrounded by a thousand twisted oaks. He had a beard and now was dressed in green. He said to me:
I remember the day you made your father jump from a rocky cliff into the sea. You said, jump, jump, I dare you, dare you, do it, do it, and we all held our breath as he plunged into the water. You all lived in the mountains then. You were barefoot as you climbed and you were proud.
Stay honest, Uncle Marty said.
GOD PREFERS US NAKED
Do you know about the Rapture? How after the battle of Armageddon the righteous will be lifted out of their clothes right up into the sky? Perhaps, on their way to heaven, they’ll be undressed by snowy angels, soft angel fingers unzipping and unbuttoning, gently lifting out bare arms and legs—pants, shirts, dresses, socks, underwear of the righteous all fluttering down upon the trees and rivers, golden sand. Then, Whoosh! The naked whisked straight up to the right hand of God.
All the others, like me, will be burned on the spot.
But maybe if I beat God to it, rip off all my clothes in front of strangers, say, look, say to God, look, I don’t believe in you but look—wrinkled skin, clogged blood, brittle bone, warts and moles, say, look, this is what I’m made of, then maybe God’ll get confused, impressed, stop right in his tracks, say, what the hell is going on here, say to himself, hey, maybe I’ll spare this one, naked as a baby, who’s already halfway there.
CHAPTER & VERSE: POEMS OF JEWISH IDENTITY
Five Bay Area writers, Rose Black, Margaret Kaufman, Melanie Maier, Susan Terris, and Sim Warkov, all published poets, invited five additional published poets, Dan Bellm, Chana Bloch, Rafaella Del Bourgo, Jackie Kudler, and Murray Silverstein, to contribute to this collection of poems of Jewish identity.
Of their work, Rabbi Stephen Pearce, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco, wrote:
“Carl Sandburg provides an elegant description of lyric compositions like the ones found in Chapter and Verse: “A poem is like an echo asking a shadow to dance.” This rich volume, a pastiche of the dance steps that post-modern Jews engage in with sacred texts, modern culture, and ancient traditions, tugs at the hearts and minds of the reader, inviting them to an invigorating and entrancing ball.”
In the introduction to Chapter & Verse, Jane Miller, a well known American poet and teacher, says:
“While these poems of Jewish identity by ten Bay Area poets evoke the beautiful loam and moonlight of an old world and culture, they also are blunt in reporting the terrible."
TWO POEMS FROM CHAPTER & VERSE:
they are sitting in the living room weeping, all of them shaking tears. I run from one to the other, touching hands, their knees. Don’t cry don’t cry I say. They don’t look at me. They keep on crying. The room gets dark and no one turns on the lights.
Mother and Grandpa Abe are there, and all the aunts are there. Faye, Esther, Hilda, Norma and Rhoda. The uncles, Victor and David. Lace doilies on the backs and arms of chairs.
Where is Grandma Sarah?
Something that has no business here has come into the room. Something that belongs far away from us, beyond the dining room, with table made from the box piano taken apart. Something that belongs beyond the yard, picnic table, grape arbor, horseradish tall along the fence.
Beyond the factory across the street where Grandpa presses pants, corner saloon buckets of beer. Beyond the Slotnicks, the Villasanas, the Frankels, the Einenkels and the Morris Street Shul. Beyond the empty lot with old quince trees, butterflies, wild berries.
Something that belongs far away has come inside.
WASHING THE BODY
I walk the rocky cliffs above the Potomac
early November the maples blaze orange
and red, and when I return my brother hugs
me hard and fast and that’s how I am told.
We walk into our mother’s bedroom, check
for breath and pulse. And no one tells us
what we might do next, sit with her, wash
her slowly. We haven’t asked. Our mother’s
Jewish past would have instructed us, had
we wanted to know. Our Great Uncle Joe
could have told us that our mother would
linger awhile, near her body, confused.
From the moment of death the body is not left
alone until burial. That she must be tended
and washed. A pure act, because the dead
cannot give back. But we brother and sister
half-Jews, Jews among non-Jews, non-Jews
among Jews, we have it figured out. We call
a man to take away the body. Take it away
fast as he can, reduce it to ash and fragments
of bone. Typical weight for adult female,
four pounds. Is this what Mother wanted?
We scatter her from a bridge above Great
Falls, and who knows how far she will travel
in the cold fast river below. Where is she?
Mother, I want to wash you gently.
I want to wash you with warm water,
as children are washed when born.
I want to scent the water with myrtle,
and wash you, from head to foot.
I want to pare your nails and comb
your hair, wrap your body in a white
linen shroud, put you in a simple pine
box. Lay you in earth. Each time I visit,
I will bring you a stone, and place it
on your grave. Stone of your name.
Books available - call Rose Black (510) 633-1888
(limited to stock on hand)