The Sunday Poem: Mary Oishi... one woman's hallelujah

The Rapture on your mind?  Maybe not the When of it, but the Why?  To a young poet, "There was no hope unless there was a savior out in space somewhere coming for me."  Tough times.  Mary OIshi revisits where all that came from and what it meant.


From the back cover of her new book Spirit Birds They Told Me"Mary Oishi was the child of an American soldier and a Japaneses bride from World War II.  She grew up with her father's relatives in a white supremacist enclave in rural Pennsylvania."



one woman's hallelujah

i was young
what could i do but write songs
a pantheon of anthems
to take the place of
forced sincere singing of
it is well with my soul
when it was not

yes. not long before
i had looked skyward
to its endless blue
wished for jesus to appear
between the clouds
the sudden rapture
up out to somewhere else
anywhere that wasn't here
there was no hope unless there was
a savior out in space somewhere
coming for me

i was young
what could i do but write songs
after they insisted on my innocence
but robbed it
when times were good fed me
roast beef mashed potatoes and tales
of gold streets forever
when there was no money fed me
broken promises a single hotdog
talk of hellfire and my part in the death of god

that's when i was payment
to the man they couldn't pay

i was young
trying to stop the nightmare that wouldn't stop
what could i do but write songs
they came one and two and three a day back then:

little ducks pass in a penny arcade
forming a perfectly flawless parade
doing today as they always have done
methodically dodging the shot of a gun
to survive

after three mile island:

then the look in his eyes it caught me by surprise
he said i'm resigned
anything else is just wishful thinking you know
then i thought of a line from an earlier time
from a nursery rhyme  that goes:
if wishes were horses then beggars would ride
we're beggars on earth and that can't be denied
it's a beggar's ride

i smoked a lot of pot dreamed a lot of dreams
wrote a lot of songs to wake up
from the long nightmare of childhood

when i was awake for more years
than in nightmare
the songs came in blues poems that
squeezed it all into twelve bars
where it seemed small, manageable
where one syllable cried out
seventeen years of pain
in seventeen bent notes holding on
sliding into each other:

you pay her fifty nine cents
when you owe her a dollar
you think i'm gonna shut my mouth?
hell no, i'm gonna holler!
you keep her in the kitchen
a slave to all the kids
get drunk you beat her black and blue
you break a couple ribs
when you do it to my sister
you do it to me!

when you do it to my sister
you do it to me
as long as one of us is chained
then none of us are free
we're coming out in numbers
hey! we're coming out strong
if you think you're gonna send us back
you're wrong wrong wrong
when you do it to my sister
you do it to me!

now that i am approaching old
it's okay, i've sung my songs
now it's just verse thinly metered
no wail, no whimper
my life mercifully settled into
the kindness of a short soft poem
my own hallelujah
thank you. no savior needed

it is well with my soul.

--mary oishi

Views: 43

Comment by Margaret Randall on May 29, 2011 at 8:37am
Mary, you give us soooo much with this poem! A whole arc of experience, moving from what was done to you all the way through making sense of it and then turning it into what you demand from life, with your particular beautiful righteousness! I love lines like: "after they insisted on my innocence but robbed it" and "dreamed a lot of dreams / wrote a lot of songs to wake up /
from the long nightmare of childhood". Thank you!
Comment by cathyray on May 29, 2011 at 1:29pm
wow, wow, wow, the story of my life that I couldn't have said
Comment by JeSais on May 29, 2011 at 2:48pm
thank you
Comment by Ben Moffett on May 29, 2011 at 5:19pm
A stunning review of a life, a nice summary at the end. Thanks and thanks to Ditchrider for the explanatory intro. Ben
Comment by Dee Cohen on June 1, 2011 at 9:23am

Wow. Thanks for sharing the arc of a deeply felt life.I love how the nightmare of childhood opens up to a beautiful and strong adult. Talented too. Best, Dee


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