broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the category “poetry”

Anna Akhmatova Was Here

Anna Akhmatova was Here

H. Bradford


(Anna Akhmatova was a celebrated Russian poet who was censored during Soviet times.  She was an aristocrat who did not flee the country after the Russian revolution.  While I am from a political tradition on the other side of history, I like her poetry and reflected upon her a little while visiting Tashkent, where she lived during WWII.  Some of the poem’s images come from Bishkek though…)

Anna Akhmatova was here.

She wrote of tractors while beating down tears the for friends and lovers

ploughed under the earth.

Sentimentality is subversive,

so it is best to forget the things that colored the gray cities.

By the time the snow falls, memories will become monuments

to hide in the overgrown wilds of city parks

or to tuck behind the shuttered museum.

These statues must be stored safely out of sight and out of mind,

lest they become unorthodox idols to a high class poetess or the feminine divine.

Anna Akhmotova was here.

Tashkent was a stop in a long migration of mourning

and a hermitage for the heart that would not leave.

As for me, I am just a traveler and only ghosts stay behind.

So, city is empty of tourists and souls in transit.

I am also a little emptier.

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Gray July Days

Gray July Days

H. Bradford


These gray July days,

They feel more like October or November,

when even the birds have somewhere better to be.

These days are thick with quiet, sorrowed anticipation of the cold

and creeping anxiety for stomach flu and Christmas.

Why today must the clouds hang so heavy and gray?

If it as if they are made of tungsten or tin,

and leaden with snow and rain.

Here, winter is always coming.

Midsummer wind and wet is winter’s promise and portent.



An Attachment to Dark Spaces

An Attachment to Dark Spaces

H. Bradford


(A poem that is generically about how feelings, attachment, and rejection can feel a lot like the universe itself.  The poem can be applied to many situations where I have wanted to assert my existence through emotion.)


I won’t make you my surrogate for the universe,

a stand in for its vast, indifferent cold.

You aren’t a stunt double for its absence of God

or the black tide of time that gives and takes,

but mostly takes.

You feel like a universe that stretches outward into yawning space,

becoming so distant it tears itself apart.

But, you won’t be my force of falling apart.

I can do that just fine on my own.

Surely, I adored you…

if only as a metaphor for everything I hate about myself and living

as a gray speck locked in the cruelty of cognizance in time and space.

I wanted you,

if only as a passing addiction to my place in the abyss.

And I wished so much that my existence mattered to you or to the cosmos you came to represent.

The Lesson of the Landscape

The Lesson of the Landscape

H. Bradford


(This is a poem that I wrote on my last trip.  My poems aren’t that great, but sometimes I feel inspired to write them).

Enchantment evaporates with knowledge,

the cure-all for all sorts of infatuations.

It lifts like a fog, sending droplets of fantasy into the heat of the day.

When only a scorched landscape remains, it becomes clear what was a mirage

and that an oasis only presents itself to certain people at certain times…

with certain emotions and certain minds.

But, when the illusion is gone, one can appreciate the ways a desert shifts-

from dunes, scrub, cacti, and Karroo.

What is real, austere and severe.

That is the lesson of the landscape.

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor and nature

(A photo I took last year in Namibia)

Two Birds

Two Birds

H. Bradford


I remember that merciful boot that crushed the broken bird who struck the hospital window.

I remember those hunched shoulders overlooking the dead chicken, beheaded with a shovel.

A human life exists to bear witness to the death and life in the universe.

Our life is paid with the lives of countless lesser things.

We are stalactites, carefully formed from the suffering of each cow turned hamburger.

Each insect crushed underfoot.

Each mouse ground up with the grain.

Our monuments are graves.

Cities are cemeteries.

Windows are walls.

We eat with our eyes and brains as much as our stomachs and teeth.

Vegans clamber over carnivores like rats in a flood for the moral high ground.

All the same, both are doomed to drown.

When I see a boot and a shovel,

I see our place and our fate,

in the universe.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Sour Milk

Sour Milk

H. Bradford


There are many ways to be white.

Most get thick and fatty.

Some turn to sour milk,

curdled by too much sacrifice

and all the things that didn’t come easily enough.

For them, there is no land of milk and honey.

Even when the gods of privilege produce enough manna to fatten a family,

they’re still sour and full of flies.

The pail is always half-empty.

It always pales in comparison to the handouts given to those less pale.

They ingested the world’s venom until it turned them bitter.

They’re the ones always making a stink!

They can’t even smell their own crippling scent!

They are fit enough to survive,

but unfit to dissent.

(Image from wikipedia,

A Poem about Toads


The toad always frowns,

With its head to the ground

And glossy brown eyes

That look a little dead.

It can barely hop.

And can barely hope.

So, it shoves it long face with worms and dirt.

It is a creature of the earth.

Its eyes never look up to the stars

Or ahead to the distant horizon

Beyond to the dazzle of the city

It sees only mud

Or walls of reeds

And only speaks in sighs of resignation.

The toad’s world is danger, tragedy, and torment.

Love is a long rejection.

Life, a tall hurdle between sleep and death.

Frogs long to be princes.

Toads just long for kisses.

Thoughts about Death


Life is a thousand deaths.

Deaths of pets and loved ones.

The death of friends.

Then, there are frivolous deaths.

The death of a perky butt.

The death of brown hair.

The death of size three (this died a long time ago.)

The death of a young face,

The death of goals.

The death in the belief that anything is possible.

Deaths of ideas.

Deaths that hit you like a semi truck and change you forever.

We must go through 10,000 deaths before our real death.

Death of being single

Death of being in relationships

Death of running…biking…sex…driving…hearing…seeing….thinking.

Don’t forget the deaths of things that never were.

The death of dreams.

The team you never made.

The love that was unrequited.

The people you never met.

The party you were never invited to.

The choices we never made.

All the opportunities we had, or didn’t have,

Or didn’t even know we wanted.

All of this makes me profoundly sad.

We must be battle hardened against the grief of constant loss.

There are new things…

children  (for some people)

Careers (for some people)

Trips (for me)

New haircuts

New tattoos

New cars or homes

…interludes and distractions on the way to the grave.

More dying things to populate our lives for a while.

Then, the grave.

Beyond the grave there is death.

There is the death of your memory and your name

As you are forgotten by time and buried deeper by more deaths.

It sounds depressing.  But, these are the thoughts that haunt me each day.

The cure seems to be to pursue life with zeal.

But, chasing life is as childish as a kid who runs after the moon, thinking one day

They will catch it.

The moon is always just one step ahead in the sky.

In the end, it is exhausting…and you end up as empty handed as when the chase began.

Maybe religion is balm for the pain of living in death.

I used to tell religious people that I don’t want to live forever.

I could bravely face the world without the comfort of eternal life.

I can…and I do…but not bravely.

I am not too smart, cool, or stubborn for religion.

But, it will simply never ring true to me.

It will always seem like stories.

It will always be a pretty idea to blot out the horror of our

Existential crisis.

There are other things.  Some people have children-to pass on their name,

Values, and memories.

I can believe in children more than Bibles.

But, children devour life.

They devour identity.

Parents must sacrifice themselves on the altar of a new generation.

They become soccer moms.

Or, they become impoverished.

Marriages, time, hobbies, interests, a good night of sleep…

All of these are taken greedily by children

Who eat up the sacrifices with endless hunger and energy.

They are little destroyers…little Quetzalcoatls and Shivas

New generations eat the blood, sweat, and tears of the old.

Some children return the favor

They honor the memory, beliefs, and traditions of their parents.

But, others run away and exert their existence in wild and unpredictable ways.

I should know.  I am one of the feral and thankless ones.

I have seen friends grow up and move on.

I see the world move around me.

Each revolution around the sun brings more age, more loss, more changes…

And more sadness to be buried under the hobbies, work, activism, travel, fitness, friends, and other things that make the relentless march of things that fill up the void.

I wish I could extol the virtues of aging-but really, I think we are dancing.

We are dancing in a frenzy-like in the Rite of Spring.

We are dancing to forget.

We are dancing by shopping, drinking, watching TV, eating, running, vacationing, breeding, working…

Sometimes we dance together.

Sometimes alone.

Whatever it takes to make us forget that we are dancing to our deaths.

White Lies: Another Poem


I wrote this poem when I was trying to catch some sleep in Charles de Gaulle Airport.  I had just experienced an 11 hour flight from Johannesburg and everything around me was becoming whiter and whiter as I returned to Minnesota.  I closed my eyes and could hear the conversations around me.  It was the banal banter you’d expect in an airport.  The interactions between white middle class parents and their children played as a chorus around me.  A few lines popped into my head as I dozed off.  I jotted it down into a poem.

White Lies

White shirts

White sheets

White shoes that don’t leave scuff marks on the gym floor.

When did everything get so white?

When you became a mother?  When you became a wife?

White schools,

ones without crime, with good teachers and extra curriculars

White parents

with organic snacks and time to volunteer on field trips

and field days.

White Christmas,

with snow and gifts,

once a year in church,

and resolutions for more moderation.

White power,

with friendly police,

responsible choices,

long, healthy lives,

fortified isolation,

feigned ignorance,

polite conversations,

sterile politics,

two child fertility,

and all the other

white lies.


Someday a Woman Will be President: A Poem


I haven’t written poetry since about the 5th grade.  I am not trained in poetry.  I don’t know poetic techniques or structures.  I really don’t even appreciate poetry.  But lately, poems have just been coming to mind.  They are mostly political poems.  The pop into my mind in a few lines at a time.  This is one of them.  And while I am embarrassed of this endeavor to write poetry, I suppose that there is no reason to feel ashamed.  It is an expression of  a feeling or thought.

When I was a senior in high school, I had a homemade poster in my locker that said “Someday a woman will be president.”  At the time, so many eons ago, I thought it was a radical sentiment.  This was in my pre-feminist days…in my pre-socialist days…when I was just starting to think about the world and politics.  Of course, my consciousness as a feminist has changed since then.  Hence…the poem.

Someday a woman will be president

Someday a woman will be president,

and we will see that girls can play with dolls and drones

and we can menstruate

while shedding foreign blood

or there can be menopause

without giving pause

for Iraqis, Haitians, and Hondurans.


Someday a woman will be president,

and we will trade our hope chests for war chests

of trillion dollar atomic trinkets.

We’ll sing Suffragette songs

as troops march on

in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.


Someday a woman will be president,

but rest assured trade will fly on free trade wings,

and we will marvel

at all of the things

we can buy at Walmart prices.

Someday a woman will be president.




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