Breathing and Poems For The Rattle’s Ekphrastic Poetry Contest

Kimberly Burnham
11 min readOct 22, 2020

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News Poetry, Poems in Response to the News and Ekphrastic Poetry, Poems in Response to Art.

Life Without Breathing (Rattle Poet’s Respond to News submitted October 22, 2020)

Take a breath and think about who controls your right to breathe at all and breathe clean air. I am hoping it doesn’t ever come to Amy Coney Barret to decide if I have the constitutional right to breathe. I enjoy breathing with my family in Spokane, Washington.

Everyone: without breath there is no life! / life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness / happily, we continue to breathe despite climate change / changes that threaten the water we drink / drink in for a moment the significance of who decides / decisions about the air all of us breathe / breath not protected by the constitution / constitutional rights equally serving a few / few read the constitution literally to say / say what? breathing is not protected? / protect interpretations wisely exercising common sense / sense on life support with the 14th amendment ducking for cover / covers breathing indirectly fueled by a belief in science / science but not the law acknowledging breathing equals life / life, every life includes more rights / rights the founding fathers wrote into one / one document without everything.

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Here are poems submitted but disappointed. Not to win to today. The Rattle’s letter said there were 499 entries this month. Still until today I was hoping to win. The Rattle hosts weekly and monthly contests for Ekphrastic poetry or poems written in response to art and Poets Respond for poets writing in response to the news. Here are a selection on ones I have submitted over the years.

Water Pooling Over Fires (Ekphrastic Poem in Response to Art September 15, 2020)

Image at https://www.rattle.com

All I can think is water

as I pack my go bag

a sanctuary pooling in my brain

smoke in my lungs

fires raging

nature’s consuming soldiers

unleashed by mindless party goers

firing on gunpowder

lighting up baby boy blue smoke

sucking up dry kindling

Fear of fire flooding like water

amidst colorful kelp in gentle currents

delicate orange seaworms wave

memories flow to Red Sea scuba diving

where dry dusty desert met blue

indigo stars and moisture merging

blossoming like a prayer upward

toward clouds crammed with rain

mind racing as I throw things in a bag

What will I save

from the swirling flames

leaving only ash in their wake

because I can only take

so much as I flee

Selecting stuff

all I can think is water

cool turquoise icicles

sensation crackling as I dive in

water sliding over parched lips

robust jawline soaked cerulean

plentiful liquid streaming across

the pond just out of reach

at the edge of my mind

Abandon in Kurdish (Poets Respond to News October 10, 2019)

An unfeeling computer translates “abandon”

and I wonder does it feel less painful

in Kurdish

in these three words that mean abandon

“berdan” sounds like burden

as if it is okay to abandon a person

when they are a burden

two other Kurmancî Kurdish words

“dest jê ber dan” and “dev jê berdan”

speak the pain of being abandoned

If I look up “berdan” it means abandon but also

allow, divorce, forsake

leave, quit, relinquish, desert …

and the rhyme pops in my head

a delicious dark chocolate cake dessert

has two “s” because you want more

the hot dry desert has one “s”

because you wouldn’t want to spend too much time there

so it makes sense that another word for forsake

only has one “s”

There are 11 Kurmancî Kurdish words to translate desert

“aran”, “berdan”, “berrî”, “beyaban” “destjêberdan”

“deşit”, “sehra”, “çol”, “çolistan”

“şepal” and “şorezar”

just foreign words until we realize the impact

the human toll words take

or the joy “şahî” in Kurdish Kurmancî

and “aştî” peace they give

“Aran” is interesting because while it means desert

I am not sure which one

in Turkish there are two words

“elem” translated afflict, excruciate, pain, passion and suffering

as if we cause pain and inflame passions when we desert people

and “sancılanmak” translated act, gripe, work

it is a confusing rabbit hole

trying to understand how we abandon people

perhaps we must work harder, gripe stronger and act more honorably

In addition to desert “beyaban” can be translated

quiet place or wasteland

as if we don’t know what we will leave in our wake

as we leave, desert or abandon

our friends, our family, our values

“Destjêberdan” is translated desert

abdication and resignation

as if one should abdicate or resign

before deserting one’s allies

“Şepal” can also be translated

lioness and oddly, attractive and lovely

as if like a lioness fiercely we protect rather than abandon

we see more clearly what is attractive and lovely

about the world around us

and we hear the power of our words

In 1978, as a 20-year-old, I took a language aptitude test. Some of the stories and questions were in Kurdish, probably because the test examiners assumed no one would come into the test knowing Kurdish. I never learned any Kurdish but did very well on the test and was assigned a mission to Japan where I learned Japanese. My father learned Navaho in his 20’s, not too many years after the Navaho code talkers helped win World War II. Recently, on a quest to find the word for peace in six or seven thousand languages, I have been thinking about languages and how words matter and land uniquely for native speakers.

Opposites Meeting (Poet’s Respond to News, February 7, 2019)

Black is not the opposite

of white just as

red is not the opposite

of green

Color emerges

from the black and white

when I stare then look away

beyond the duality

Life is not the opposite

of death just as

green Spring is not the opposite

of brown and white winter

Growth emerges

from a change

when I look into

the shades and edges

Inside is not the opposite

of outside just as

blue sky is not the opposite

of green earth

Music emerges

from the meeting

when trees stand up

to the wind and rain

Black and White Opposites by Josh Rose on Unsplash

‘This last weekend I was thinking about duality and opposites. My brother, who is perhaps as far to the right politically as I am to the left, came for a visit. I am sometimes surprised by how well we get along. It never feels like we are polar opposites. We just look at life in very different ways but there is so much love and respect that our differences don’t matter in the day to day. Sunday, April 7, 2015 Chuck Todd on Meet the Press said, ‘There is a truism in American politics that has enormous implications for the 2020 presidential race. When we elect new presidents, they are in many ways the polar opposites of the outgoing president.’ Then he posed the question, ‘Which Democrat, if any, seems best positioned to be that polar opposite of President Trump?’

LDS / Mormon Temple LGBTQ Shunning by Eugene on Unsplash

Named and Baptized Mormon Children (Poets Respond to News April 6, 2019).

Mormon children in the news today

the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

children of same-sex couples allowed baptism

remarkable reversal of church policy

from a bulwark against gay rights

We are not talking about my children

although we could be

if I had married and borne children

when I returned from a Mormon mission in Japan

or graduated from Brigham Young University

but we are not talking about these dearly loved children

step-children to an ex-Mormon lesbian

my wife a Rabbi our children growing up Jewish

We are probably not talking about children

with only gay parents even if they were born LDS

and saddened by the 2015 rule that ripped apart congregations

declaring members in same-sex marriages apostates

saying children who spent any time in homes of same-sex couples

banned from baptisms and naming as babies

Now this signals change

perhaps from God

perhaps they see the children we are talking about

are those whose parents have separated

one is gay and one a straight and faithful member

these children no longer have to chose

which parent to love which one to avoid

children now named and baptized

set free to continue to navigate the hate

Mormon Church to Allow Children of L.G.B.T. Parents to Be Baptized

LDS Double Speak?

In a small semantic policy change

the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

under its president Russell M. Nelson

said today “while we still consider such a marriage

[a gay marriage]

to be a serious transgression

it will not be treated as apostasy”

“instead the immoral conduct in heterosexual

or homosexual relationships

will be treated in the same way”

Does this seriously mean

your heterosexual marriage is an eternal blessing

and my homosexual marriage a serious transgression

can we start there?

then treat each equally because

“we want to reduce the hate

and contention so common today”

Mormon Church to Allow Children of L.G.B.T. Parents to Be Baptized

When I look at the Mormon church today, I no longer see the church of my childhood that was warm, friendly and inspired dedication. I grew up Mormon, served a mission for the church in Japan, and graduated from Brigham Young University. I left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) after I came out as a lesbian and didn’t participate in any organized religious community for a lot of years until I had a Jewish girlfriend. The music and warm fellowship drew me to Temple. I converted to Judaism, married the love of my life, Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein. We are raising her four children (two sets of twins age 10 and 12). I wrote a book of poetry about my coming out process, Live Like Someone Left The Gate Open.

Photo by Ciaran O'Brien on Unsplash

The Korean War Is Not Over — Not Officially (Poets Respond February 26, 2019 News)

The Chinese say “he’ping” peace written 和平
while the Koreans write 평화
and say peace “hwapyong” or “hwapyeong”

평 like the Chinese character 平
means flat or whole
peace like a flat calm lake
or an easy road
화 like the Chinese character 和 means harmonize
but what really does peace mean in Korea

Can President Trump and Kim Jong Un end the Korean War
with a peace declaration
does not make a peace treaty
do China and other parties have a say
in 1953 an armistice signed
and fire ceased but no diplomatic treaty followed
ending the conflict officially
attempts were made in Geneva
North Korea, the United States and South Korea could not agree
and so for 65 years a cease-fire stands

Will they declare peace
simply a statement ending hostile relations
between belligerent parties
political nonbinding and symbolic
creating goodwill between only two
North Korea and the United States
leaving open questions
should Americans withdraw from South Korea
without a multilateral peace treaty
a legal and formal end to the Korean War
with options available if someone doesn’t comply

Climate Change Driven Competition on Lake Turkana (Poets Respond Feb 22, 2019 News)

“Amani” means peace

security and safety in Swahili

but at Lake Turkana

there is no “amani”

no “akimaima” to soothe or appease

to pacify in the local language of Turkana

to cause to calm down

but how do we calm down climate change

and droughts that kills the cattle

I must seek out alternatives

even illegal ones to withstand the conflict

between the newcomers and those here first

I have no choice

I must feed my family here in northern Kenya

where rivalries brew between Kenyan tribes and Ethiopian fisherfolk

everywhere is the other side of the my lake

where peace is called “selami” in Amharic

but there is no “selami” here at the border

between two African nations

and land disputes a major driver

in 27 of 30 civil conflicts

since I was born 30 years ago

Written in response to a rise in climate change driven conflicts.

Climate Change Poetry by Guy Bowden on Unsplash

Supreme Court Freedom of Religion (Poets Respond to News)

Freedom of religion for the few

or the many

Religious freedom for the majority

or the powerful

Freedom of religion for the black

or the white

Religious freedom for the rich

or the poor

Is no freedom at all

Only religious freedom for all

Is freedom of religion at all

As all come to belief

in a rainbow of colors

shapes and sizes

Belief in life as in death

created from a multitude of experiences

there is no squeezing all into one

Preferring One Religion Over Another (Poet’s Respond to News)

I prefer one religion over another

in America I can choose where and whether I go

to services and how I practice

my belief and connection to the universe

I prefer to do it my way

I am free to roam the streets

to drive to a synagogue

or a temple or a church

for whatever events I want

I am not always safe

the streets and neighborhoods where I go

are sometimes filled with hate

against me because of how I chose to see

the universe here in America

I am free nonetheless

I do not sit on death row in Alabama

or in a woman’s womb

wrapped in my freedom I wonder

why everyone doesn’t have the right

freedom to practice as we wish

letting other’s do the same

Alabama’s 86 Percent (Poet’s Respond to News)

God forbid that you find yourself

on death row in Alabama

a Muslim, a Jew or a Buddhist

because you are the one percent

your religious aspiration don’t matter

says the Supreme Court

giving instead preferential treatment

to your Christian neighbors

Written in response to the Supreme Court ruling against freedom of religion for all when they ruled that a death row inmate in Alabama only has the right to have a Christian minister present regardless of the inmate’s religious affiliation. This impacts Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Sikhs, Jainist, Animists, Panentheist, Rastafarians, Deists, Daoists, Hindus, adherants of the Baha’i Faith, Native American religions, Wicca, Druidry, as well as atheist, agnostics and humanists and all the other non-Christian religions in America.

In Response to the article: Justices Allow Execution of Muslim Death Row Inmate Who Sought Imam By Adam Liptak Feb. 7, 2019 New York Times.

Buddhism Questioning by Lightscape on Unsplash

Pull of the Moon (Ekphrastic Poetry in Response to Art)

Image at https://www.rattle.com

Moon light reflected

outwardly pulls on tiny waves

inwardly draws me towards home

like a group of women

beaching a boat

hearts open to the share experiences

pushing and pulling

each with her own

insecurities wondering

how the light is seen

reflecting her soul

wanting to be there for her friends

but not always in control

of the light

Submitted to The Rattle Ekphrastic Poetry Contest, November, 2015

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Kimberly Burnham

Writer, Poet, Ekphrastic Writer-in-Residence, Nerve Whisperer, Brain Health Coach, Author of The Traveling Brain: Illuminating Peace Poetry in 5000 Languages.