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SLO County residents speak out about identity, diversity through poems

Syrian refugee children watch television at their parents tent at an informal refugee camp at Al-Marj town in Bekaa valley in east Lebanon on April 8, 2017. Judith Amber’s poem “No Welcome Mat” was inspired by the refugee crisis.
Syrian refugee children watch television at their parents tent at an informal refugee camp at Al-Marj town in Bekaa valley in east Lebanon on April 8, 2017. Judith Amber’s poem “No Welcome Mat” was inspired by the refugee crisis. Associated Press

Editor’s note: Jeanie Greensfelder is the San Luis Obispo County poet laureate.

In April, National Poetry Month, we recognize the importance of poetry in our lives. Poems offer experiences for us to explore. They help us imagine the lives of others.

This year, I’m joining The Tribune and Arts Obispo, the San Luis Obispo County Arts Council, in exploring the theme of self-identity through the written word.

At a time of uncertainty and unrest, we believe poems can open doors, open hearts and honor our diversity. We welcome all the voices in our county — with their many hopes, beliefs and dreams — and are eager for you to hear what they say.

To paraphrase poet Naomi Shihab Nye, each life is a poem.

Share these poems with one another and watch conversations deepen.

We’ve invited readers from across the Central Coast to share their best original poems dealing with self-identity and diversity. A selection will run Sunday, April 23, in The Tribune’s Central Coast Living section. Poems will be posted online throughout the month. Find more poems here:

»» More poems: Who am I? SLO County poets write about identity and diversity. Part 2

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Poems

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“Remembering”

By Tom Mears, San Luis Obispo

Fond memories, of hot humid Summer days and

mom in the backyard hanging laundry to dry

Her army of clothes pins as she snaps them to

the clothesline

These memories sizzle hot, like it was yesterday

Fond memories, of the season change, bright colors

of Fall beginning to appear

Mom in the kitchen and the smell of fresh baked cookies

fill my nose

These memories explode with vibrant color, like it was yesterday

Fond memories, of brutally cold days and nights with

temperatures dipping toward zero

The touch of mom’s hands on mine as she rubbed

Cornhuskers lotion into my dry, chapped Winter hands, and

the way she would bundle me up in warm Winter clothes

for a day of sledding and snow fort building

Like a blade on ice, these memories skate, like it was yesterday

Fond memories, of bright warm Spring days with flowers blooming

and birds singing

A robin perched on a telephone wire and mom, camera in hand,

taking my picture in my Easter attire

Yes, Spring has sprung, and love is all around in these memories,

like it was yesterday

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“Yes”

By Lili Sinclaire, Arroyo Grande

I awake in the morning, I awake and I’m free

Time, it really did heal the pain in me

I give thanks for all I know that is true

The good in me, the good in you

Life is so huge, so much bigger than me

I rest in the quiet of the afternoon breeze

So much has come, so much has gone

I hear the bird sing, its beautiful song

It’s not hard to see beyond all that is sad

I just need to look and then I am glad

I don’t have to run, I don’t have to hide

I breathe in the splendor of the evening tide

I say Yes to the morning, I say Yes to the light

I say Yes to the quiet in the dark of the night

I say Yes to you, I say Yes to me

I spread my wings, I fly and I'm free

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“No Welcome Mat”

By Judith Amber, Arroyo Grande

Half a million and more, crammed

Into leaky boats, airless trucks,

Stumbling with heavy packs on their backs

Or with the burden of pregnancy.

Women with head scarves sneaking

Under barbed wire fences,

Men with children in their arms

Rushing the guards at borders

Or pushing Hungarian police who guard

The Freedom Train to Germany

Then close the station down.

We know the fear that drives the refugees:

War, starvation, homelessness, sickness.

We don’t know the fear that drives

The keepers of the realm.

It could be xenophobia as of old:

Fear they will take our jobs, cost us money

Or just plain resentment: This land

Is our land, this land’s not your land.

My ancestors once heard that song,

Driven from Russia by pogroms,

But when their sturdy boat sailed into

The New York Harbor, Lady Liberty

Lifted her lamp and said, “Welcome.”

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“A Life, So Far”

By Paul Alan Fahey, Nipomo

Lived seven decades,

so far.

Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.

Came home.

Led a double life in

Chicago.

Had to back then.

Love came and

it was forever.

Then AIDS.

Lost friends.

Moved to Vermont and

away from the pain.

Later,

returned to California.

Taught students with

disabilities.

Retired.

Got married to my forever

partner.

Then cancer.

Survived,

so far.

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“My Phantoms in Three-Quarter Time”

By Sharyl A. Heber, Los Osos

Daguerreotypes, many types, stare from ghost’s gallery, my fete is funeral pyre.

Choirs of bones sing in sepia tones, beckon, step into the fire!

Filial mystery, hostage of history, glance back and at once I am gone.

Parley with past, that fuses to nigh, a map now emerges full drawn.

I see you. I feel you. I search for the real you. I promise, you’ll not disappear.

Though pages are rotten, you’ll not be forgotten. Take my hand through the pull of the years.

I listen, you linger as smoke through my fingers, I rifle through tomes in the burning.

Soul embers, old fires e-course through new wires, flames part to find secrets a churning.

I’m preached from a pulpit, strung on a loom, carved by a surgeon’s hands.

Sculpted of suffrage, forged in a fire, seeped in a tea from the orient lands.

Buried bairn after bairn before they could breathe, my ancients perpetually mourned.

Quick from their bellies to populate heaven, their hearts will forever be torn.

My soldiers of war bore warriors of peace, and round and round and round.

My blue blood flowed black in heinous attack, while benevolent virtues were crowned.

Royals or rubbish, kindly or snubbish, saints to fine dogma and slime.

Some raping and pillaging all through the villaging, deeds filling wrinkles of time.

Now I’ve eked my way through the din and the slew, a gauntlet of century’s dangers.

This search full of wonder, pray, don’t toss a sunder, ferrets kin from a vast crowd of strangers.

Am I cast into stone, or cast to the winds? A pawn on a chessboard of glory?

Move sharp, make my mark, or topple to nothing. I carve out my place in this story.

My past becomes present propelled to the future and new will look old soon enough.

Pass it down; pass it on, the shames, the attainments. I’m made of miraculous stuff.

When I’m ash in an urn, I’ll beckon the wee ones to dance through this rich mulch of time.

Spec and supposing, who’s here decomposing? An infinite waltz most sublime.

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»» More poems: Who am I? SLO County poets write about identity and diversity. Part 2

»» More poems: In troubled times, SLO County poets seek to comfort and inspire

San Luis Obispo County poet laureate Jeanie Greensfelder reads her poem "At Sweet Springs Preserve," at the location of the same name, in March 2017.

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