Paula Gunn Allen, the revolutionary writer, teacher and cultural historian passed away of lung cancer on May 29.


by Paula Gunn Allen

They tell me that in Beirut
men lounger around the tables
over thick syrupy coffee
and recite poetry.

Not the ones they’ve made themselves,
but everyone’s poems.
These are people who know
poems are word in flesh, incarnate.

In safer, more sterile worlds we site
lounging over thin brown water
that steams, reciting formulas
about poems nobody read before.

Here, we are people who are not carnal.
Here, we do not hear the song flesh sings
on its way to death. Neither shadow
nor light are kenned.

In Beirut the bombs. Uzi and oud.
Rocket flares, explodes. Flesh splattered on walls.
Blood flows in cobbled alleys with all the filth,
among which in still courtyards oranges bloom.

Idiom is language of the heart.
I and thou and nowhere at all.
Ya babbebi, anine, ya babeebi.
Here over tiny cups a poem perches

on the edge of lips, stutters once;
talking breath feathers lift
winged flesh into sky
trembles into flight.

Conversations with the dead
convert energy to strengthen
on the rez we talk such tales,
the ones who can talk, who know how.

A community of spirits,
kopisty’a, some in flesh,
some embodied words. A presence
don’t you know. All in mind.

Feathered nests of minds. Such university, these cells,
these breathings, where wings of hair
flutter and fall to the ground. In Beirut
recitation, chanting. Uzi and oud,

carnal rotting, blood washing streets clean.
Life exploding into song,
chanting. Coffeehouses full of poetry,
courtyards full of blooms

flown and scattered, held,
passing back and forth, flower into flesh.
You know, carnal. Like that. Tu es mi carnal,
mi carnales
. Flesh that is known.

In Beirut they chant together
stylized runes, incanted dreams.
Generations, thousands of them
around a table, chanting.

On the rez thunderheads, shiwanna,
mass around the mesas
chanting. We’ve watched them becomes
bolts of flame. Smokes of blast. The noise.

Seem them become rain. bring at last the corn.
Here in fleshless luxury we imagine
they’re in cause and effect relation.
On the rez and in Beirut we know it’s not the same.

What there is, is text and earth.
What there is, is flesh.
And chanting flesh into death and life.
And somewhere within, exploding, some bone.