Poetry from Diana Woodcock

Survivor

For Ngawang Sangdrol, Tibetan nun, released after eleven years

I walk beside the lake, late afternoon, waves restless and seagulls drowsy in sun along its shore.  Five cormorants on the decaying pier allowing me to watch them watching for fish, shadows under shadows on the water.  If I hold a sprig of rosemary to my nose and inhale deeply, for a moment flesh will not burn.  The chinaberry tree with its wrinkled  stone tells of its own hard journey:  pride of India transplanted here; its transformation imminent—fragrant purple petals on slender stalks.  The otherwise useless chaulmoogra yields an acrid oil that eases leprosy.  Once, at the foot of a live oak, I broke down and wept.  Acorn cups were scattered throughout the woods, turned up by the gods to catch rain for squirrels and quail to drink.  All things find their place.  I come back to settle before the fire, drawn like the pandora sphinx moth to the candle in the window.  I slice the carambola into five equal pieces, five cormorants on the pier, five women screaming, five beatings each day, and the cattle prods.  The Chinese prison guards went home at the end of their shifts to wives and daughters.  A phantom orchid in moist pinewoods feasts on forest duff—the fungus in its roots a saving grace.

 

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Henry Box Brown

The idea came to me one day as I twisted
tobacco in the factory, grieving for family
sold and sent away to North Carolina,
remembering the slave coffle leaving
Richmond—heavy silence broken now
and then by a low whimpering and a clang;
my wife chained to the gang, holding her head
high; the wagon hauling away our children,
their eyes swollen with tears:
Go get a box and put yourself in it.
I decided I’d rather suffocate
in a crate three feet by two
“and be settled in my grave
than go on living as a slave.”
The trip by rail, if it went well,
would take nineteen hours or more
Richmond to Philadelphia.
If I survived, I would rise
up singing.

A large man, nearly two hundred pounds,
I climbed into that pine crate like one
about to be hung.  I brung along crackers,
water in a beef bladder, my hat
for a fan, a small gimlet for boring air holes,
memorized words of my favorite hymn,
my fear of dark, cramped spaces.
Prayed harder than I’d ever prayed as they
nailed down the lid and wound five hoops
of hickory wood around that box. […]


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The Pol Pot Soldier Tells His Side

In no way did I let on
that I might want to put down
my machete and stop the others.
They would have me killed me
on the spot, cut out my heart
and thrown it to the wild dogs
that trailed us, or made the woman
eat it before cutting the fetus out of
her womb.  They would have left
my body to rot among the canebrakes.

So I offered to do it single-handedly,
to prove myself.  Stood over
the whimpering woman, raised
my machete and brought it down […]


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Diana Woodcock is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, most recently Under the Spell of a Persian Nightingale. Her first, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Women’s Poetry Prize. Her third, Tread Softly, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press. Her seventh chapbook, Near the Arctic Circle, is forthcoming from Tiger’s Eye Press. Since receiving an MFA degree in Creative Writing in 2004, she has been teaching creative writing, environmental literature and composition at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. Previously, she spent nearly eight years working in Tibet, Macau, and on the Thai-Cambodian border. She is a PhD candidate (creative writing/poetry) at Lancaster University. 

“Survivor,” “Henry Box Brown,” and “Pol Pot Soldier Tells His Side,” were runners-up for the 2017 Editor’s Reprint Award and originally appeared in Nimrod International Journal, Wisconsin Review, and Hawai’i Pacific Review, respectively.