Testimony by Rae Cobbs

Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast No. 1.

When did I first see it? In a pool of black, bobbing children
collected in the only swimming pool, desert town, summer,
where the heat hit like an explosion when you opened the door.

What did you do? We left.

When did I first feel it? At 2:30, crammed with other students
at the entrance to the buses. Someone threw a cherry bomb
directly at a crowd. One girl before me howled in pain, her leg
a raw exposure of her vulnerability.

What did you do? I ran to her and held her tight.

What evidence did you have of wide injustice? Every black student that I met
was starched and scrubbed so that their mother’s hands were worn on their faces. Each one
excelled as though only ultimate success was good enough.

I taught. I read. I listened. And I loved.

What mistakes have you made that contributed to the problem? I accepted
the attention that came cheaply, satisfied to be a white girl causing it.

What changed your mind, and your ways? It may have been the teacher that I loved
who took me close into his mind but never violated my trust.

What was the essence of that experience? I learned that one need we all share
is to love and respect ourselves. I learned that you can read this in a person’s eyes.

How did this change you, individually? After error, there can be redemption. I saw
power in the act of recognition.

How did this affect you? An unwanted pregnancy became my reason for being.

What were your main obstacles? My parents feared that we would not be accepted.

What did you decide in response? My son was beautiful; it was the world’s problem to accept.

How have your concerns played out in your personal life? I have watched people grow, sometimes after much distress. All of my children live in a varied and indivisible world.

What can you do, now? Testify and love.

 

 

Rae Cobbs is a Californian made into a Kentucky keeper. She has been writing and teaching since she came to Louisville, Kentucky, over half her life ago. Through poetry, she keeps in touch with the physical world, the desert, which she misses, and her own life. Her poems carry the weight of the personal, social, and political changes that are being wrought. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her partner and a house full of four-leggeds. She has twice been a recipient of a grant from The Foundation for Women.

Palest Peach, the Sky Meets Day by Rae Cobbs

Georgia O’Keeffe, Sunset, Long Island.

You don’t know how it survived the journey,
but you slice it into cornflakes, knowing
you’ll taste summer bounding into fall.
The yellow polar bear against the arctic white
is like the light that accents your dark hair,
now streaked with gray. I remember
being dazzled by the colors dancing all
around your head. I have looked into
lacunas of your eyes, seeking power
that you know is emptiness I fill,
standing under stars, my memory.
Nothing will reflect until I sit down
at the table, see light from the door
tag both your eyes, wet with glory.

In the privacy of thought, what colors
come, sweeping slowly? Does the edge
of darkness seep with rainbows rimmed
for birth? Joan Baez sings, recorded
thirty years ago. I listen, rapt, while she
climbs heaven with her voice,
a rasping turbulence that arches home.
She practiced, so her guitar keeps time
like a river, always catching up,
surpassing expectations. I lay me down
in the curve of cardinal feather, slivered gray.
I succumb to sorrow, though it feels like joy.

 

 

Rae Cobbs is a Californian made into a Kentucky keeper. She has been writing and teaching since she came to Louisville, Kentucky, over half her life ago. Through poetry, she keeps in touch with the physical world, the desert, which she misses, and her own life. Her poems carry the weight of the personal, social, and political changes that are being wrought. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her partner and a house full of four-leggeds. She has twice been a recipient of a grant from The Foundation for Women.

Sketch by Rae Cobbs

Georgia O’Keeffe, Hands and Horse Skull.

 

Sometimes I sit with one sock on,
not ready for whatever’s next. Last night
I stayed up until day turned over into dawn,
taking the hourly pulse of a troubled world.

Kids are starting school today. We are not
prepared. The history lesson’s incomplete,
new civics books disguise the colors blended
into white. For art, the students need their lives.

Miss Meadows gave us time, stubs of last
year’s pencils, the thin, unbleached Manila,
the hour’s quiet freedom. I drew my left hand,
discovering the bones and shadows I still know,

and married art. These hands have winnowed
lines through raw potatoes, imitating light,
discovering the leap of salt, the laugh
of pepper, kiss of garlic after water.

My mother’s hands, her ring, are with me.
When she died, I felt the cool indifference,
looked into her gold-flecked eyes, stained green
with all the shadows that revealed their fires.

She doesn’t feel me brush her hair aside, hear
silk whisper to itself. She lifts her voice,
the wave of loosened horsehair from the bow.
The piano vibrates with her laughter.

Her hands became the cool of peace. How
can she be silent? She keeps the key
of what it means to venture and to die. Everything
before me, all I am, is still blessing her goodbye.

 

 

Rae Cobbs is a Californian made into a Kentucky keeper. She has been writing and teaching since she came to Louisville, Kentucky, over half her life ago. Through poetry, she keeps in touch with the physical world, the desert, which she misses, and her own life. Her poems carry the weight of the personal, social, and political changes that are being wrought. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her partner and a house full of four-leggeds. She has twice been a recipient of a grant from The Foundation for Women.