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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Poppies in October (Sylvia Plath)

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly--

A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky

Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

The Diameter of the Bomb (Yehuda Amichai)

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won't even mention the howl of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making
a circle with no end and no God.

My Papa's Waltz (Theodore Roethke)

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
with a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Site (Catherine Barnett)

The dirty sand everyone said was beautiful
wasn't--it was dirty, or oily,
something turning it into hardness.
It was ugly when we were told
beautiful, shattering when it was
supposed to make us whole, cold
when it should have been warm
and all of us dressed in wrong clothes
because everything was wrong.

We walked the beach early,
lay down in the sand, and tried to sleep
there in the dune hardly a dune it was so low,
but away from the wind--

The locals told us not much ever
washes up on the beach.

How cold it got down by the water.
The water was cold.
The windsurfer wore a wet suit and sailed
back and forth like the birds.

Chestnuts of Kiso-- (Matsuo Bashō)

Chestnuts of Kiso--
My souvenirs to those
In the floating world.

Kiso no tichi
Ukiyo no hito no
Miyage kana

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yellow Stars and Ice (Susan Stewart)

I am as far as the deepest sky between clouds
and you are as far as the deepest root and wound,
and I am as far as a train at evening,
as far as a whistle you can't hear or remember.
You are as far as an unimagined animal
who, frightened by everything, never appears.
I am as far as cicadas and locusts
and you are as far as the cleanest arrow
that has sewn the wind to the light on
the birch trees. I am as far as the sleep of rivers
that stains the deepest sky between clouds,
you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.

You are as far as a red-marbled stream
where children cut their feet on the stones
and cry out. And I am as far as their happy
mothers, bleaching new linen on the grass
and singing, "You are as far as another life,
as far as another life are you."
And I am as far as an infinite alphabet
made from yellow stars and ice,
and you are as far as the nails of the dead man,
as far as a sailor can see at midnight
when he's drunk and the moon is an empty cup,
and I am as far as invention and you are as far as memory.

I am as far as the corners of a room where no one
has ever spoken, as far as the four lost corners
of the earth. And you are as far as the voices
of the dumb, as the broken limbs of saints
and soldiers, as the scarlet wing of the suicidal
blackbird, I am farther and farther away from you.
And you are as far as a horse without a rider
can run in six years, two months and five days.
I am as far as that rider, who rubs his eyes with
his blistered hands, who watches a ghost don his
jacket and boots and now stands naked in the road.
As far as the space between word and word,
as the heavy sleep of the perfectly loved
and the sirens of wars no one living can remember,
as far as this room, where no words have been spoken,
you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.

The River Has No Hair to Hold Onto (Ralph Angel)

It's only common sense (not that they know the score,
they don't avoid it). And so one's life story
is begun on a paper napkin and folded into a coat pocket
to be retrieved later when it's darker
and cooler, and closer. And onward

to rockier ground, where conversation is impassable
and human beings matter more than
the light that glimmers beneath the horizon
before sinking into our own inaudible sigh (a long way
from these fur-covered hands). And somehow

the deal is struck. Money gets made.
And the small shocks one undergoes for no reason,
the bus driver handing you a transfer, a steamy
saxophone ascending the jungle. The city
lays down its blanket of rippling

lamplight as though exhaustion too
was achieved by consensus, and what one does
and how one feels have nothing to do with one's self.
No, this can't be the place, but it must be
the road that leads there, always beginning

when morning is slow and hazy, suffering to get somewhere
with all the memorable mistakes along the way,
piecing them together, arriving,
believing that one arrives at a point different from
the starting point, admitting things still aren't clear.

A rag doll on a dark lawn injures the heart
as deeply as the sea air filling one's lungs
with a sadness once felt in a classroom,
a sadness older than any of us.
And the dogs barking, challenging cars. And the willows

lining the sidewalk, lifting their veils
to the inscrutable surface of wood. (Someone
is trying to get a message through. Someone thinks
you'll understand it).

Bird (Pablo Neruda)

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air -
and there, night came in.

When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography -
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.

The Memory of Elena (Carolyn Forché)

We spend our morning
in the flower stalls counting
the dark tongues of bells
that hang from ropes waiting
for the silence of an hour.
We find a table, ask for paella,
cold soup and wine, where a calm
light trembles years behind us.

In Buenos Aires only three
years ago, it was the last time his hand
slipped into her dress, with pearls
cooling her throat and bells like
these, chipping at the night—

As she talks, the hollow
clopping of a horse, the sound
of bones touched together.
The paella comes, a bed of rice
and camarones, fingers and shells,
the lips of those whose lips
have been removed, mussels
the soft blue of a leg socket.

This is not paella, this is what
has become of those who remained
in Buenos Aires. This is the ring
of a rifle report on the stones,
her hand over her mouth,
her husband falling against her.

These are the flowers we bought
this morning, the dahlias tossed
on his grave and bells
waiting with their tongues cut out
for this particular silence.

Sway (Denis Johnson)

Since I find you will no longer love,
from bar to bar in terror I shall move
past Forty-third and Halsted, Twenty-fourth
and Roosevelt where fire-gutted cars,
their bones the bones of coyote and hyena,
suffer the light from the wrestling arena
to fall all over them. And what they say
blends in the tarantellasmic sway
of all of us between the two of these:
harmony and divergence,
their sad story of harmony and divergence,
the story that begins
I did not know who she was
and ends I did not know who she was.

Epithalamium (Bob Hicok)

A bee in the field. The house on the mountain
reveals itself to have been there through summer.
It's not a bee but a horse eating frosted grass
in the yawn light. Secrets, the anguish of smoke
above the chimney as it shreds what it's learned
of fire. The horse has moved, it's not a horse
but a woman doing the stations of the cross
with a dead baby in her arms. The anguish of the house
as it reveals smoke to the mountain. A woman
eating cold grass in Your name, shredding herself
like fire. The woman has stopped, it's not a woman
but smoke on its knees keeping secrets in what it reveals.
The everything has moved, it's not everything
but a shredding of the anguish of names. The marriage
of light: particle to wave. Do you take? I do.

Birch (Cynthia Zarin)

Bone-spur, stirrup of veins—white colt
a tree, sapling bone again, worn to a splinter,
a steeple, the birch aground

in its ravine of leaves. Abide with me, arrive
at its skinned branches, its arms pulled
from the sapling, your wrist taut,

each ganglion a gash in the tree's rent
trunk, a child's hackwork, love plus love,
my palms in your fist, that

trio a trident splitting the birch, its bark
papyrus, its scars calligraphy,
a ghost story written on

winding sheets, the trunk bowing, dead is
my father, the birch reading the news
of the day aloud as if we hadn't

heard it, the root moss lit gas,
like the veins on your ink-stained hand—
the birch all elbows, taking us in.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

As One Listens to the Rain (Octavio Paz)

Listen to me as one listens to the rain,
not attentive, not distracted,
light footsteps, thin drizzle,
water that is air, air that is time,
the day is still leaving,
the night has yet to arrive,
figurations of mist
at the turn of the corner,
figurations of time
at the bend in this pause,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
without listening, hear what I say
with eyes open inward, asleep
with all five senses awake,
it's raining, light footsteps, a murmur of syllables,
air and water, words with no weight:
what we are and are,
the days and years, this moment,
weightless time and heavy sorrow,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
wet asphalt is shining,
steam rises and walks away,
night unfolds and looks at me,
you are you and your body of steam,
you and your face of night,
you and your hair, unhurried lightning,
you cross the street and enter my forehead,
footsteps of water across my eyes,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the asphalt's shining, you cross the street,
it is the mist, wandering in the night,
it is the night, asleep in your bed,
it is the surge of waves in your breath,
your fingers of water dampen my forehead,
your fingers of flame burn my eyes,
your fingers of air open eyelids of time,
a spring of visions and resurrections,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the years go by, the moments return,
do you hear the footsteps in the next room?
not here, not there: you hear them
in another time that is now,
listen to the footsteps of time,
inventor of places with no weight, nowhere,
listen to the rain running over the terrace,
the night is now more night in the grove,
lightning has nestled among the leaves,
a restless garden adrift-go in,
your shadow covers this page.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nomadic Tutelage (Meena Alexander)

You strike your head against a door
And pluck it back again, ancient gesture, ineluctable.

Bone bruising wood, and the lyric rears itself,
A silken hood.

Gamba Adisa, you have come to say,
Afraid is a country with no exit visas.

You taught me to fetch old meal for fire,
Sift through an ash heap, pick syllables, molten green,

Butting sentences askew.
I try to recall the color of your face.

Was it lighter than mine?
Was it the color of the East River

When the sun drops into soil
And I, a child by the well side, pack my mouth with stones?

So darkness crowns the waters
And the raw resurrection of flesh unsettles sight.

We would journey
before light into a foreign tongue.

I hear you and I am older
than moonlight swallows swim through.

Cries of hawks mark out four points of the compass,
Nomadic tutelage of cactus and rose.

Blunt rods strike blood,
Toss nets of dreams across salt shores.

In Memory of Audre Lorde, 1934-1992

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Quick Note on the Three Poems Immediately Below

"Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form", "I Saw a Peacock With a Fiery Tail" and "April Fools" are all what I call "wrap-around" poems, in that portions of each line or most lines work twice: both with the phrase immediately preceding and the phrase immediately following. They may seem nonsensical until they are read with this in mind...

Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Matthea Harvey)

Pity the bathtub that belongs to the queen its feet
Are bronze casts of the former queen's feet its sheen
A sign of fretting is that an inferior stone shows through
Where the marble is worn away with industrious
Polishing the tub does not take long it is tiny some say
Because the queen does not want room for splashing
The maid thinks otherwise she knows the king
Does not grip the queen nightly in his arms there are
Others the queen does not have lovers she obeys
Her mother once told her your ancestry is your only
Support then is what she gets in the bathtub she floats
Never holds her nose and goes under not because
She might sink but because she knows to keep her ears
Above water she smiles at the circle of courtiers below
Her feet are kicking against walls which cannot give
Satisfaction at best is to manage to stay clean

Pity the bathtub its forced embrace of the whims of
One man loves but is not loved in return by the object
Of his affection there is little to tell of his profession
There is more for it is because he works with glass
That he thinks things are clear (he loves) and adjustable
(she does not love) he knows how to take something
Small and hard and hot and make room for
His breath quickens at night as he dreams of her he wants
To create a present unlike any other and because he cannot
Hold her he designs something that can a bathtub of
Glass shimmers red when it is hot he pours it into the mold
In a rush of passion only as it begins to cool does it reflect
His foolishness enrages him he throws off his clothes meaning
To jump in and lie there but it is still too hot and his feet propel
Him forward he runs from one end to the other then falls
To the floor blisters begin to swell on his soft feet he watches
His pain harden into a pretty pattern on the bottom of the bath

Pity the bathtub its forced embrace of the human
Form may define external appearance but there is room
For improvement within try a soapdish that allows for
Slippage is inevitable as is difference in the size of
The subject may hoard his or her bubbles at different
End of the bathtub may grasp the sponge tightly or
Loosely it may be assumed that eventually everyone gets in
The bath has a place in our lives and our place is
Within it we have control of how much hot how much cold
What to pour in how long we want to stay when to
Return is inevitable because we need something
To define ourselves against even if we know that
Whenever we want we can pull the plug and get out
Which is not the case with our own tighter confinement
Inside the body oh pity the bathtub but pity us too

I Saw a Peacock With a Fiery Tail (Anonymous)

I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud with ivy circled round
I saw a sturdy oak creep on the ground
I saw a pismire swallow up the whale
I saw a raging sea brim full of ale
I saw a Venice glass sixteen foot deep
I saw a well full of men’s tears that weep
I saw their eyes all in a flame of fire
I saw a house as big as the moon and higher
I saw the sun even in the midst of night
I saw the man that saw this wondrous sight.

April Fools (Tessa Rumsey)

Inside the pale niagara for her cruel betrayal: a paper boat, not.

Afloat; but not sinking into azure ether either--sailing,

The way a lost faith sails, limp and broken, but somewhere.

Still believing, it may be, you said to me, that we are not.

Yet built sufficiently enlightened to to the thing we must.

Forgive her. Late winter: frozen cherries / atop a new parable.

Of my wicked stepmother. We are cherry blossoms caught.

Inside the static loop of loss. It's spring again--She leaves us.

You say the word again, forgiveness, holding your split heart.

In your hands, a frozen boat. Paper blossom. Olive branch.

Oysters (Seamus Heaney)

Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.

Alive and violated
They lay on their beds of ice:
Bivalves: the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean.
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.

We had driven to that coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool of thatch and crockery.

Over the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters south to Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege

And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang,
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.

Scratch Harvest (Catherine Barnett)

This spring hail hit the apples
and the tiny marks became divots.

Into the stew pot more apples,
still in their skin and pocked.

Smooth black seeds
keep rising to the surface.

Outside, the trees are oblivious
to the disorder of their bodies,

the divots in their offspring
bear them no shame.

It's all the same to them,
same sweet flesh,

same irregular songs sung
by the mockingbird as by the wind,

and all beautiful, the same song
sung by footsteps

as by shears radiant against
the black branches.

This Is What I See (Karla Kelsey)

This is what I see through false eyes and a hole in the siding. A gape and then flooding. A gape in the ribs and then flooding called breath. Then the red curtain and phrase of one and one. As if painted, the sky approaching sunset, duration of fire. Smoke fills our lungs as we mount, two by two along the wooden railing. Placed, we receive bouquets of patience. The strum of. And guitar,

garden dry wall crumbled and branches a-fade, fading. The call outlined with an arc of birds in the sky. Circling. Felt in my hair, a moment, then hands put to. Well of the eyes. We stoop and they sweep the tin siding, the roofing patented green. For the lost. This is the way that it has to be. As in her eyes on the edges of her lower lids. For the sight lines and valley over brilliant blue battering. A falling. Flag foment and the pages crease. And, creasing, share over the marble and granite sun. Over forms accidentally there.

The moment clouds enter the building, in the outline of our shadows. Don't ask how this occurs, akin to roses, browning along the edges. Trees, the necessary distance from flames. We write them off shore, securing the mind's eye. As in his aviary birds of knowledge fly captive, saved from asphyxiation. A way of leaving the field of snow and fire while flying forward without a chance for adjustment, nothing caught in the clearing

Cormorants (Mary Oliver)

All afternoon the sea was a muddle of birds,
black and spiky,
long-necked, slippery.

Down they went
into the waters for the poor
blunt-headed silver
they live on, for a little while.

God, how did it ever come to you to
invent Time?

I dream at night
of the birds, of the beautiful, dark seas
they push through.

Rivers, Leaves (Susanna Lang)

The leaves rust on their branches.
The road is a bridge, is a road again.
I did not see the sign--the Des Plaines,
the Illinois, or the Chicago, North Branch--
intent on staying in the lines, on moving
forward. The news last night was bad.
The lump is not benign, it does not
wish her well. It does not wish. But we,
in our rushing, our rivering, our intent,

we wish: for these leaves to be washed
of their rust, for all to be well, again.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Goldfinches (Leigh Anne Couch)

The day was a goldfinch
beating wings
against a dirty cotton sky.
The sky swung low on the line.

My mother came to me,
an offering of her body. She
wasn't one to make such gestures.
My mother came to me, holding out

her left arm turned over,
soft underside, talcum-white.
She could have been a child. Look
she said, Look. But I was boxing

remembrances, worrying over what
I'd need, and nothing was here
in the scented damp around her.
The days were emptying,

self after self from her hands,
daughter, mother, wife, her fingerprints
slipped in someone else's milk after
years handling chemicals in the dairy lab.

Germs are everywhere, she'd say--
incubating in the ice cream, lurking
in lids and glasses. How could she sleep
through the furious racket

in my father's lungs, the merciless labor.
She came to me late that unquiet
summer when windowpanes screeched
and weeds withered at her glances.

I was the fruit that would not fall,
the sapling meant to stay faithful
to its roots, branch for branch.

For the settling of her fragile bones,
for the window-light stroking the bend
of her arm, for the warm blue pulse,

I would leave to find her in her father's
cornfield, the beautiful creases,
my mother's body filled with dirt.

Two girls, light, impossible,
roll through the furrows lengthwise,
close their eyes laughing,

pillow-feathers on a sheet
shaken out wave after solid wave
to the robust sky, like that forever.

Risk (Anais Nin)

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

From the Cave (Audre Lorde)

Last night an old man warned me
to mend my clothes
we would journey before light
into a foreign tongue.
I rode down autumn
mounted on a syllabus
through stairwells hung in dog
and typewriter covers
the ocean is rising
I came on time
and the waters touched me.

A woman I love
draws me
a bath of old roses.

Figure in Permanent Field (Sarah Maclay)

Here's the other thing you didn't see that day, as I lay there in the stubble, in my long dress: in my other hand, I held a key. You left then, as the sky began to darken, it is true--but it was not yet evening. Finally, the thunder. The sky crackled white. The wind came up so strongly every leaf turned up its skirt--a tree of petticoats, a tree of white. And so I raised my hand. And in the distance, where the sky was smeared with gray, I saw an arc--something like a rainbow. Only white.

Night Ray (Paul Celan)

Most brightly of all burned the hair of my evening loved one:
to her I send the coffin of lightest wood.
Waves billow round it as round the bed of our dream in Rome;
it wears a white wig as I do and speaks hoarsely:
it talks as I do when I grant admittance to hearts.
It knows a French song about love, I sang it in autumn
when I stopped as a tourist in Lateland and wrote my letters to morning.

A fine boat is that coffin carved in the coppice of feelings.
I too drift in it downbloodstream, younger still than your eye.
Now you are young as a bird dropped dead in March snow,
now it comes to you, sings you its love song from France.
You are light: you will sleep through my spring till it's over.
I am lighter:
in front of strangers I sing.

Eroica (Rita Dove)

Beethoven at Castle Jezeri, Bohemia

A room is safe harbor. No treachery creaks the stair.
I've locked the door; I will not hear them knocking.
Anyone come calling can call themselves blue.

There was a time I liked nothing more than walking
the woods above Vienna, trampling forest paths
to find a patch of green laid square and plush.

I'd sit, tucked in a tapestry of birdsong, and wait
for my breath to settle; let the sun burnish my skin until
the winged horn of the post coach summoned me home.

And then everything began to sound like
the distant post horn's gleaming trail....

I was careless then, I squandered the world's utterance.
And when my muddy conspirator swayed and quaked
like the tallest poplar tossed by the lightest wind

so that I could hear his playing, see my score
transcribed on the air, on the breeze--I breathed
his soul through my own fingers and gave up

trying to listen; I watched him and felt
the music--it was better than listening,
it was the last pure sound...

(My emperor, emptied of honor,
has crowned himself with gold.)

Why did that savage say it? Why did I hear
what he said, why did I mind what I heard?
Good days, bad days, screech and whistle:

Sometimes I lay my head on the piano
to feel the wood breathing, the ivory sigh.
I know Lichnowski listens some evenings;

he climbs the four flights and hunkers on
the stoop. Odd: I can hear his wheezing
and not this page as it rips--the splitting

so faint a crackle, it could be the last
embers shifting in the grate....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Quick Note from Tess

Two of my most recent posts, "The Loss of Lemons" by Chrys Tobey and "Sidhe Tigers" by Sarah Monette, are clearly not poems. I include them because they strike me as having some of the finer qualities of poetry, and because they are so brief as to fall a little between genres, even within their fiction labels. Also, I include them because I love them.

Sidhe Tigers (Sarah Monette)

At night the tigers pace. In the hall outside the little boy’s bedroom, they pace like patient, vengeful angels. They are pale green, like luna moths; their eyes are lambent milky jade. They are cold and silent; when he has to go to the bathroom at night, the tigers stare at him with their pale pale eyes, and sometimes they open their mouths, as if they were roaring, but they make no sound. Their breath is like the aftertaste of brandy and the cold sting of snow. They never come near enough to touch. He wants the tigers to like him, but he is afraid they don’t. They brush against the walls with a distant shushing noise, and even in his room he can feel the soft, relentless percussion of their padding feet. The moonlight shining through the hall windows streams right through them.

No one else can see the tigers.

The house is always cold. His desire for warmth causes his father to brand him a sissy-boy, a weakling. At night he hugs himself, because no one else will, and dreams of escaping this loveless house, these cold tigers.

Years later, his father dies. He goes back because he must, leaving behind lover, friends, work, passion—his adult life like a treasure, locked in a chest for safekeeping. The house is unchanged, his mother petrified in her harsh condemnation of the world and its inchoate yearning for love. She puts him in his old room at the top of the house, as if he had never left at all.

That night, he hears the tigers, the patient rhythm of their feet marking off the seconds until Doomsday. “You aren’t real,” he whispers to them, lying stiff and cold, afraid to close his eyes because then he might be able to hear them more clearly. But the tigers, unheeding, continue pacing until dawn.

The Loss of Lemons (Chrys Tobey)

A woman had lemons in her head. It’s not that she wanted to make lemonade. She simply had lemons in her head. She could feel them in her head the way she could feel a star dying. The woman insisted on getting an MRI. She wanted to see X-rays of the lemons. She imagined it would be like looking at the moon suspended in the night sky. The technician gave her Bocelli to listen to. The woman smiled as the conveyor belt slid her into the machine like luggage in an airport.

The woman had no idea what Bocelli was singing. Estoy muriendo amor porque te extrano. She imagined the words were something about lemons. Te extrano, te extrano. Perhaps he had lost lemons. The conveyor belt shook back and forth, jiggled her body, as though she were on a motorboat. Te extrano, te extrano. Then the woman saw it: the ferry motoring towards Capri. She looked closer and saw her husband. The woman looked closer still and saw her husband smiling, his one missing tooth, on a tiny bus winding its way up the roads of Capri. And then she smelled the lemons. She saw the lemon orchards, lemon trees stretching for miles, wrapping around Capri like the gold ring that once wrapped around her left finger.

Kitchenette Building (Gwendolyn Brooks)

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" mate, a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent", "feeding a wife", "satisfying a man".

But could a dream sent up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms,

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

Those Winter Sundays (Robert Hayden)

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Road Rising Into Deep Grass (Gretchen Steele Pratt)

All I know about barns I know
From the highway. They apple
The horizon with their fragrant
Rotting. Yesterday, I was in love
So the barns disheveled themselves

With frost and fat animals sleeping
In the sun. And somewhere, in back
Of the decades, my mother strings up
Tobacco leaves to dry in a barn north
Of Hartford. It was always August

And she worked under silky white nets.
All I know about barns I know from
The highway and I mean barns, not
Greenhouses, heaven’s music boxes
Covered in snow and glowing—just

The memory of red barns, of this wooden
World, soft-soaking in the long wet grass.
Somewhere behind the last century thunder
Washes over Glastonbury and my mother
Swings down silent from Aunt Pauline’s

Hayloft, lands in a pile of hay and stays there,
Listening to it tick beneath her. At night,
The barns were swinging, slamming
Giants full of wind and pitchforks beside
Her tight new farmhouse. All I know

From the highway is that barns collapse
Plank by plank into the sky. I don’t
Even know why they were always red.
Often I imagine them slowly moving
Toward each other, like islands.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A note on the excerpt below from The Little Prince...

Antoine de Saint Exupery's Little Prince is most truly beautiful to me, and the segment about the fox is one of my very favorites. I read the whole book to a student over a few weeks and she had to watch me cry through the entire ending. (Try reading a book that way; it's very difficult.) Anyway, it's like poetry to me. So that's why it's on my blog.

From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

It was then that the fox appeared.

"Good morning," said the fox.

"Good morning," the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.

"I am right here," the voice said, "under the apple tree."

"Who are you?" asked the little prince, and added, "You are very pretty to look at."

"I am a fox," said the fox.

"Come and play with me," proposed the little prince. "I am so unhappy."

"I cannot play with you," the fox said. "I am not tamed."

"Ah! Please excuse me," said the little prince.

But, after some thought, he added:

"What does that mean — 'tame'?"

"You do not live here," said the fox. "What is it that you are looking for?"

"I am looking for men," said the little prince. "What does that mean — 'tame'?"

"Men," said the fox. "They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?"

"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean — 'tame'?"

"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."

"'To establish ties'?"

"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."

"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower... I think that she has tamed me..."

"It is possible," said the fox. "On the Earth one sees all sorts of things."

"Oh, but this is not on the Earth!" said the little prince.

The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious.

"On another planet?"


"Are there hunters on this planet?"


"Ah, that is interesting! Are there chickens?"


"Nothing is perfect," sighed the fox.

But he came back to his idea.

"My life is very monotonous," the fox said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat..."

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.

"Please — tame me!" he said.

"I want to, very much," the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."

"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me..."

"What must I do, to tame you?" asked the little prince.

"You must be very patient," replied the fox. "First you will sit down at a little distance from me — like that — in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day..."

The next day the little prince came back.

"It would have been better to come back at the same hour," said the fox. "If, for example, you come at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you... One must observe the proper rites..."

"What is a rite?" asked the little prince.

"Those also are actions too often neglected," said the fox. "They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all."

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near —

"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."

"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."

"Yes, that is so," said the fox.

"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.

"Yes, that is so," said the fox.

"Then it has done you no good at all!"

"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields." And then he added: "Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret."

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

"You are not at all like my rose," he said. "As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world."

And the roses were very much embarrassed.

"You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you — the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose."

And he went back to meet the fox.

"Goodbye," he said.

"Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

"It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important."

"It is the time I have wasted for my rose — " said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose..."

"I am responsible for my rose," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Queen Mab Soliloquy (Shakespeare)


O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Over men's noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon spokes made of long spinners' legs,
The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;
Her traces, of the smallest spider web;
Her collars, of the moonshine's wat'ry beams;
Her whip, of cricket's bone; the lash, of film;
Her wagoner, a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut,
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o' mind the fairies' coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love;
O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on curtsies straight;
O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees;
O'er ladies' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.
Sometimes she gallops o'er a courtier's nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometimes comes she with a tithe-pig's tail
Tickling a parson's nose as 'a lies asleep,
Then dreams he of another benefice.
Sometimes she driveth o'er a soldier's neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled much misfortune bodes.
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In the Park (Maxine Kumin)

You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
--you won't know till you get there which to do.

He laid on me for a few seconds
said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell
about his skirmish with a grizzly bear
in Glacier Park. He laid on me not doing anything. I could feel his heart
beating against my heart.
Never mind lie and lay, the whole world
confuses them. For Roscoe Black you might say
all forty-nine days flew by.

I was raised on the Old Testament.
In it God talks to Moses, Noah,
Samuel, and they answer.
People confer with angels. Certain
animals converse with humans.
It's a simple world, full of crossovers.
Heaven's an airy Somewhere, and God
has a nasty temper when provoked,
but if there's a Hell, little is made of it.
No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire,

and no choosing what to come back as.
When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down
on atheist and zealot. In the pitch-dark
each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.

Tears in Sleep (Louise Bogan)

All night the cocks crew, under a moon like day,
And I, in the cage of sleep, on a stranger's breast,
Shed tears, like a task not to be put away---
In the false light, false grief in my happy bed,
A labor of tears, set against joy's undoing.
I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.
I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,
And pain's derisive hand had given me rest
From the night giving off flames, and the dark renewing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

How doth the little crocodile... (Lewis Carroll)

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Prayer of the First Dancers (Navajo Chant)

In Tse'gihi,
In the house made of the dawn,
In the house made of the evening twilight,
In the house made of the dark cloud,
In the house made of the he-rain,
In the house made of the dark mist,
In the house made of the she-rain,
In the house made of pollen,
In the house made of grasshoppers,
Where the dark mist curtains the doorway,
The path to which is on the rainbow,
Where the zigzag lightning stands high on top,
where the he-rain stands high on top,
Oh, male divinity!
With your moccassins of dark cloud, come to us.
With your leggings of dark cloud, come to us.
With your shirt of dark cloud, come to us.
With your head-dress of dark cloud, come to us.
With your mind enveloped in dark cloud, come to us.
With the dark thunder above you, come to us soaring.
With the shapen cloud at your feet, come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the dark cloud over your head,
come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the he-rain over your head,
come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the dark mist over your head,
come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the she-rain over your head,
come to us soaring.
With the zigzag lightning flung out on high over your head,
come to us soaring.
With the rainbow hanging high over your head,
come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the dark cloud on the ends of your wings,
come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the he-rain on the ends of your wings,
come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the dark mist on the ends of your wings,
come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the she-rain on the ends of your wings,
come to us soaring.
With the zigzag lightning flung out on high on the ends of your wings,
come to us soaring.
With the rainbow hanging high on the ends of your wings,
come to us soaring.
With the near darkness made of the dark cloud, of the he-rain, of the dark mist and of the she-rain,
come to us.
With the darkness on the earth, come to us.
With these I wish the foam floating on the flowing water over the roots of the great corn.
I have made your sacrifice.
I have prepared a smoke for you.
My foot restore for me.
My limbs restore for me.
My body restore for me.
My mind restore for me.
My voice restore for me.
Happily the old men will regard you.
Happily the old women will regard you.
Happily the young men will regard you.
Happily the young women will regard you.
Happily the boys will regard you.
Happily the girls will regard you.
Happily the children will regard you.
Happily the chiefs will regard you.
Happily, as they scatter in different directions, they will regard you.
Happily, as they approach their homes, they will regard you.
Happily may their roads home be on the trail of pollen.
Happily may they all get back.
In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk.
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty above me, I walk.
With beauty all around me, I walk.
It is finished again in beauty,
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Black Anemones (Agueda Pizarro)

Mother, you watch me sleep
and your life
is a large tapestry
of all the colors
of all the most ancient
knot after twin knot,
root after root of story.
You don't know how fearful
your beauty is as I sleep.
Your hair is the moon
of a sea sung in silence.
You walk with silver lions
and wait to estrange me
deep in the rug
covered with sorrow
embroidered by you
in a fierce symmetry
binding with thread
of Persian silk
the pinetrees and the griffins.
You call me blind,
you touch my eyes
with Black Anemones.
I am a spider that keeps spinning
from the spool in my womb,
weaving through eyes
the dew of flames
on the web.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Siren Song (Margaret Atwood)

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island

looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Strange Fruit (Abel Meeropol/Lewis Allan)

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Ghazal of What Hurt (Peter Cole)

Pain froze you, for years—and fear—leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems, here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world's good will—
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you're sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are—

with all that isn't actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It's memory now—so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn't always. Were you then? And where's the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you're driven
away, or on—by forms and forces greater than you are.

Monday, December 21, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls (John Donne)

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes (Billy Collins)

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer’s dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women’s undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On Plum Blossoms (Li Ch'ing-chao)

This morning I woke
in a bamboo bed with paper curtains.
I have no words for my weary sorrow,
no fine poetic thoughts.
The sandalwood incense smoke is stale,
the jade burner is cold.
I feel as if I were filled with quivering water.
To accompany my feelings
someone plays three times on a flute
"Plum Blossoms Are Falling
in a Village by the River."
How bitter this Spring is.
Small wind, fine rain, hisao, hsiao,
falls like a thousand lines of tears.
The flute player is gone.
The jade tower is empty.
Broken hearted- we had relied on each other.
I pick a plum branch,
but my man has gone beyond the sky,
and there is no one to give it to.

Two Springs (Li Ch'ing-chao)

Spring has come to the women's quarter.
Once more the new grass is Kingfisher green.
The cracked red buds of plum blossoms
Are still unopened little balls.
Blue-green clouds carve jade dragons.
The jade powder becomes fine dust.
I try to hold on to my morning dream.
I have already drained and broken
The cup of Spring.
Flower shadows lie heavy
On the garden gate.
In the orange twilight
Pale moonlight spreads
On the translucent curtain.
Three times in two years
My lord has gone away to the East.
Today he returns,
And my joy is already
Greater than the Spring.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

my father moved through dooms of love (e.e. cummings)

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if (so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father's fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead he called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer's keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly (over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father's dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn't creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and (by octobering flame
beckoned) as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he'd laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine, passion willed,
freedom a drug that's bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear,to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit, all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why man breathe—
because my father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

Thursday, December 10, 2009

i carry your heart with me (e.e. cummings)

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Traveling through the Dark (William Stafford)

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

How Do I Love Thee? (Elizabeth Barret Browning)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Glass (Ely Shipley)

A disco ball gleams, an eye
of God, and I’m reflected
thousands of times, tiny
in squares until I can’t breathe,

drowning in the sounds of bass
I mistake for my heart. The other dancers –
my shadows, come closer to, then farther
from me, sprayed out in the strobe
lights, pressing me in and out of two

times, two worlds. My face I remember
from this morning behind a fog of
breath in the bathroom
mirror, and the bar-

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Beauty XXV (Kahlil Gibran)

Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?

And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?

The aggrieved and the injured say, "Beauty is kind and gentle.

Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us."

And the passionate say, "Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.

Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us."

The tired and the weary say, "Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.

Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow."

But the restless say, "We have heard her shouting among the mountains,

And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions."

At night the watchmen of the city say, "Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east."

And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, "We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset."

In winter say the snow-bound, "She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills."

And in the summer heat the reapers say, "We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair."

All these things have you said of beauty.

Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,

And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.

It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,

But rather a heart inflamed and a soul enchanted.

It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,

But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.

It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,

But rather a garden forever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.

People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.

But you are life and you are the veil.

Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.

But you are eternity and you are the mirror.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tale (Anna Lowe)

The book say go. Go feed
the kingbird a rotten paste
of honey and hair grease. Marinate
on fences all day everyday
the book say. Take off through
fields so fast black wings sprout

from your shoulder blades.
Think you're something
else. The book say fly too high,
say come back down with
bloody knobs and feathers
hanging low, poor wilted
thing. Listen, the book say

sleep upon landing. Sleep
without transgression, sleep
the sleep of babes. Book say
nestle deep as your scent is loosed,
other animals drawing near
with wagging tongues.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Eighth Letter (Rainer Maria Rilke)

But we are not prisoners. There are no traps or snares set for us, and there is nothing that should frighten or torture us. We are placed into life, into the element best suited to it. Besides, through thousands of years of adaptation, we have acquired such a resemblance to this life, that we, if we stood still, would hardly be distinguishable from our surroundings. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our own terrors. If it has precipices, they belong to us. If dangers are present, we must try to love them. And if we fashion our life according to that principle, which advises us to embrace that which is difficult, then that which appears to us to be the very strangest will become the most worthy of our trust, and the truest.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Holding, Still (Laura Koritz)

The goose is not real but is painted on the barn wall; I must have painted it there. The barn wall is not real, but the goose is a white goose, and it is in the kitchen, bathing in a metal tub, although the water is not in the tub--drops are shaken from the goose's feathers. The kitchen walls are red, and the light in the kitchen is yellow. Beside the metal tub is a wooden chair, a dark wood. The barn walls are gray. I see that the goose has stretched its wings, shakes the water from them because it wants to fly. I will not follow.

I do not want to be taken into the sky. I am scared of the dark. Or, I am scared that a bright light may shine into it and that I will leave, overtaken.

There is a story I know about a horse named Goose. He knew his name. Goose, Goose. He knew he could fly and flew. Over the fallen log, over the water. Then a brick wall, and a sharp left. How could he know, had she not shouted from above left, Goose, left, not from her legs, not her hands, not some wish or intention misplaced within the physical. She spoke loudly, from her mouth. He left the ground and turned.

I do not want to be turned into someone else--do not turn me. Do not make the cabinets in my house open and close; do not make the toaster run by itself.

Sometimes the picture changes suddenly, like channels on the television that I own but keep unplugged. Instead of a goose painted or drawn with chalk, there is only sky, a blue like the underside of some shells, or blue paint. And clouds, and the voice of a rabbit saying If you become a sailboat and sail away from me, I will become the wind. Although I do not like the wind, unless I am inside and the lights are on, my hand on the cat's spiked collar, and him curled warmly in my lap.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Death of a Naturalist (Seamus Heaney)

All the year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampots full of the jellied
Specks to range on the window-sills at home,
On shalves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.

Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hadges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like snails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Narcissus (chosen to accompany Rita Dove's poem below)

Detail from a painting by Ide Gakusui.

Persephone, Falling (Rita Dove)

One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled,
stooped to pull harder—
when, sprung out of the earth
on his glittering terrible
carriage, he claimed his due.
It is finished. No one heard her.
No one! She had strayed from the herd.

(Remember: go straight to school.
This is important, stop fooling around!
Don't answer to strangers. Stick
with your playmates. Keep your eyes down.)
This is how easily the pit
opens. This is how one foot sinks into the ground.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jerusalem (Yehuda Amichai)

On a roof in the Old City
Laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight:
The white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
The towel of a man who is my enemy,
To wipe off the sweat of his brow.

In the sky of the Old City
A kite.
At the other end of the string,
A child
I can't see
Because of the wall.

We have put up many flags,
They have put up many flags.
To make us think that they're happy.
To make them think that we're happy.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Love Is Not All (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gratitude (Louise Gluck)

Do not think I am not grateful for your small
kindness to me.
I like the small kindnesses.
In fact I actually prefer them to the more
substantial kindness, that is always eying you
like a large animal on a rug
until your whole life reduces
to nothing but waking up morning after morning
cramped, and the bright sun shining on its tusks.

Friday, February 20, 2009

From Blossoms (Li-Young Lee)

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (Yeats)

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Origami (Meg Yardley)

Of course you can fold a bird. A rabbit
that puffs up at your breath.
Two interlocking rings from a single sheet

of kami. A waterlily. A star box. But now try
folding the jade plant you left in the car

to be scorched by the sun. Try
folding Afghanistan. Fold the wrinkles
of that conversation you wanted to have.

Inside-reverse-fold the empty space
in your Sundays. Try folding this city

of layers, peeling back taxis, scarves,
quarters dropped in paper cups,
Rockerfeller Plaza. Beginning with a bird base,

fold the Spanish jumbled in your ears. Quickly.
Fold the edges of the wind that cuts in

from the river. Make one valley fold
diagonally. Fold failures. Try folding
the empty space in your Sundays.

Start from a bird base again: that small girl
whose long dark hair looks like hers.

Fold the seven days of the week from a single
sheet of kami. Try folding money
into more money. In ten steps or less,

fold this city of layers. Petal-fold the winter
until it lies flat at the bottom of the star box

with Afghanistan and the empty space
in your Sundays. Now open up the bird:
count the creases left in the paper.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Clam Ode (Dean Young)

One attempts to be significant on a grand scale
in the knockdown battle of life
but settles.
It is clammy today, meaning wet and gray,
not having a hard, calciniferous shell.
I love the expression "happy as a clam,"
how it imparts buoyant emotion
to a rather, when you get down to it,
nonexpressive creature. In piles of ice
it awaits its doom pretty much the same
as on the ocean floor it awaits
life's bouquet and banquet and sexual joys.
Some barncles we know are eggs dropped from outer space
but clams, who has a clue how they reproduce?
By trading clouds?
The Chinese thought them capable of prolonging life
while clams doubtlessly considered
the Chinese the opposite.
I remember the jawbreakers my dad would buy me
on the wharf at Stone Harbor, New Jersey;
every thirty seconds you'd take out
the one in your mouth
to check what color it turned.
What does this have to do with clams?
A feeling.
States of feeling, unlike the states of the upper midwest,
are difficult to name.
That is why music was invented
which caused a whole new slew of feelings
and is why since,
people have had more feelings than they know what to do with
so you can see it sorta backfired
like a fire extinguisher that turns out to be a flamethrower.
They look alike, don't they?
So if you're buying one be sure
you don't get the other,
the boys in the stockroom are stoners
who wear their pants falling down
and deserve their own Gulliver's Travels island.
The clam however remains calm.
Green is the color of the kelp it rests on
having a helluva wingding calm.
I am going to kill you in butter and white wine
so forgive me, great clam spirit,
join yourself to me through the emissary
of this al dente fettuccine
so I may be as qualmless and happy as you.

Third Song after Cerise

Written for
and on a flute

turned from
music's lathe

its blue soot
parting clouds

to soap
and bathe

Thursday, June 19, 2008

(by Emily Dickinson)

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us--don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

From Twenty Poems of Love (Pablo Neruda)

I can write the saddest lines tonight.

Write for example: ‘The night is fractured
and they shiver, blue, those stars, in the distance’

The night wind turns in the sky and sings.
I can write the saddest lines tonight.
I loved her, sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like these I held her in my arms.
I kissed her greatly under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could I not have loved her huge, still eyes.

I can write the saddest lines tonight.
To think I don’t have her, to feel I have lost her.

Hear the vast night, vaster without her.
Lines fall on the soul like dew on the grass.

What does it matter that I couldn’t keep her.
The night is fractured and she is not with me.

That is all. Someone sings far off. Far off,
my soul is not content to have lost her.

As though to reach her, my sight looks for her.
My heart looks for her: she is not with me

The same night whitens, in the same branches.
We, from that time, we are not the same.

I don’t love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the breeze to reach her.

Another’s kisses on her, like my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body, infinite eyes.

I don’t love her, that’s certain, but perhaps I love her.
Love is brief: forgetting lasts so long.

Since, on these nights, I held her in my arms,
my soul is not content to have lost her.

Though this is the last pain she will make me suffer,
and these are the last lines I will write for her.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

This Is Just to Say (William Carlos Williams)

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

What Love Has Become (Regina McMorris)

She started collecting shards of glass
a year ago: a blue bottle smashed on a sidewalk.
She took five pieces, arranged them in a kind of star
on the white table. Wondered what the bottle used to be--
perfume? vodka? most likely a fancy soda water.

Just the other day, green glass in the parking lot:
beer bottles. She grasped several pieces at once,
careful not to cut herself. In an old silver bucket,

she keeps her shards. She's seen
several bottles she'd like to break, the temptation
grows strong in bars. She imagines

her heart has a clean white scar: once a gaping gash,
as though torn by window glass: jagged
edges of the skin framed the bleeding flesh. Now, of course,
she knows she's healed. She once saw a dog's heart

riddled with heartworms, on a school field trip,
the whole class crammed into the vet's office. A loud thud.
A classmate fainted; his head landed on a scale.

She was so scared then of the potential in everyone,
especially the boy, to fall. She thought nothing
of the heart's disease, nothing of the heart's jar,
nothing of the diseased heart in a jar,
only of the boy falling, his fragile head.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hair (by Mark Doty)

In a scene in the film
shot at Bergen-Belsen days after
the liberation of the camp
a woman brushes her hair.

Though her gesture is effortless
it seems also for the first time
as if she has just remembered
that she has long hair,

that it is a pleasure
to brush, and that pleasure
is possible. And the mirror
beside which the camera must be rolling,

the combing out and tying back
of the hair, all possible.
She wears a new black sweater
The relief workers have brought,

Clothes to replace the body’s
visible hungers. Perhaps
she is a little shy of the camera,
or else she is distracted

by the new wool and plain wonder
of the hairbrush, because
on her face is a sort of dulled,
dreamy look, as if part

of hersef that recognizes
the simple familiar good of brushing
is floating back into her
the way the spiritualists say

the etheric body returns to us
when we wake from sleep’s long travel.
With each stroke she restores
something of herself, and one

at a time the arms and hands
and face remember, the scalp
remembers that her hair
is a part of her, her own.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What the Animals Teach Us (Chard de Niord)

that love is dependent on memory,
that life is eternal and therefore criminal,
that thought is an invisible veil that covers our eyes,
that death is only another animal,
that beauty is formed by desperation,
that sex is solely a human problem,
that pets are wild in heaven,
that sounds and smells escape us,
that there are bones in the earth without any marker,
that language refers to too many things,
that music hints at what we heard before we sang,
that the circle is loaded,
that nothing we know by forgetting is sacred,
that humor charges the smallest things,
that the gods are animals without their masks,
that stones tell secrets to the wildest creatures,
that nature is an idea and not a place,
that our bodies have diminished in size and strength,
that our faces are terrible,
that our eyes are double when gazed upon,
that snakes do talk, as well as asses,
that we compose our only audience,
that we are geniuses when we wish to kill,
that we are naked despite our clothes,
that our minds are bodies in another world.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

World Breaking Apart (Louise Gluck)

I look out over the sterile snow.
Under the white birch tree, a wheelbarrow.
The fence behind it mended. On the picnic table,
mounded snow, like the inverted contents of a bowl
whose dome the wind shapes. The wind,
with its impulse to build. And under my fingers,
the square white keys, each stamped
with its single character. I believed
a mind's shattering released
the objects of its scrutiny: trees, blue plums in a bowl,
a man reaching for his wife's hand
across a slatted table, and quietly covering it,
as though his will enclosed it in that gesture.
I saw them come apart, the glazed clay begin
dividing endlessly, dispersing incoherent particles
that went on shining forever. I dreamed of watching that
the way we watched the stars on summer evenings,
my hand on your chest, the wine
holding the chill of the river. There is no such light.
And pain, the free hand. changes almost nothing.
Like the winter wind, it leaves
settled forms in the snow. Known, identifiable--
except there are no uses for them.

For Elizabeth Bishop (by Sandra McPherson)

The child I left your class to have
Later had a habit of sleeping
With her arms around a globe
She'd unscrewed, dropped, and dented.
I always felt she could possess it,
The pink countries and the mauve
And the ocean which got to keep its blue.
Coming from the Southern Hemisphere to teach,
Which you had never had to do, you took
A bare-walled room, alone, its northern
Windowscapes as gray as walls.
To decorate, you'd only brought a black madonna.
I thought you must have skipped summer that year,
Southern winter, southern spring, then north
For winter over again. Still, it pleased you
To take credit for introducing us,
And later to bring our daughter a small flipbook
Of partners dancing, and a ring
With a secret whistle. --All are
Broken now like her globe, but she remembers
Them as I recall the black madonna
Facing you across the room so that
In a way you had the dark fertile life
You were always giving gifts to.
Your small admirer off to school,
I take the globe and roll it away: where
On it now is someone like you?

The Love of Travellers (by Angela Jackson)

(Doris, Sandra and Sheryl)

At the rest stop on the way to Mississippi
we found the butterfly mired in the oil slick;
its wings thick
and blunted. One of us, tender in the finger tips,
smoothed with a tissue the oil
that came off only a little;
the oil-smeared wings like lips colored with lipstick
blotted before a kiss.
So delicate the cleansing of the wings
I thought the color soft as watercolors would wash off
under the method of her mercy for something so slight
and graceful, injured, beyond the love of travellers.

It was torn then, even after her kindest work,
the almost-moth exquisite charity could not mend
what weighted the wing, melded with it,
then ruptured it in release.
The body of the thing lifted out of its place
between the washed wings.
Imagine the agony of a self separated by gentlest repair.
“Should we kill it?” One of us said. And I said yes.
But none of us had the nerve.
We walked away, the last of the oil welding the butterfly
to the wood of the picnic table.
The wings stuck out and quivered when wind went by.
Whoever found it must have marveled at this.
And loved it for what it was and
had been.
I think, meticulous mercy is the work of travellers,
and leaving things as they are
punishment or reward.

I have died for the smallest things.
Nothing washes off.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

And I Put Away (Frances Driscoll)

_________________ And I put away
all scent, used only white soap.
And I brought into my house white
flowering plants I then let die so I
did not have to look at them. Each day
look at white flowers and be reminded
I did not feel the way those flowers
looked, I could not remember feeling
the way those flowers looked.

Her Hemisphere (Amber Flora Thomas)

Your sleeves tremble as you shake
the last rivulets of rinse water from a pan.
A thread weaves under your arm
and follows my sister's screams out, out

and dangles there. Good cotton,
none of that hand-me-down shift,
shimmying with a history of weak notes.
The vein of a zipper retches along its cut,

trails her tenor down, down and ends
at the skirt's hem. Her screams fit
your elbows, so here a crease and here
an indentation dismissed. The dress finds

so much to praise--a sermon of my father
to cinch the waist. Count the threads:
there is no mismanagement of flesh here!
Stretch cotton draws approval across your shoulders

and gives. None of these seams blunder off
in a zigzag. Purple flowers roam into your apron ties,
like lizard eyes. You reach for a towel
and out they go, blinking.

Please don't ever turn around.

X Ray (Arthur Sze)

In my mind a lilac begins to leaf

before it begins to leaf.
A new leaf

is a new moon.
As the skin of a chameleon

reflects temperature, light, emotion,
an x ray of my hands

reflects chance, intention, hunger?
You can, in x-ray
study the symmetry of crystals,

but here, now,
the caesura marks a shift in the mind,

the vicissitudes
of starlight,

a luna moth opening its wings.

The Heaven of Animals (James L. Dickey)

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

haiku (Ryokan)

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

Death Fugue (Paul Celan, translated by John Felstiner)

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Marguerite
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling
he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he orders us strike up and play for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margeurite
your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
He shouts jab this earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margeurite
your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers
He shouts play death more sweetly Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you'll rise then in smoke to the sky
you'll have a grave then in the clouds there you won't lie too cramped

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink
this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams
der Tod is ein Meister aus Deutschland
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith

The Role of Elegy (Mary Jo Bang)

The role of elegy is
To put a death mask on tragedy,
A drape on the mirror.
To bow to the cultural

Debate over the aesthetization of sorrow,
Of loss, of the unbearable
Afterimage of the once material.
To look for an imagined

Consolidation of grief
So we can all be finished
Once and for all and genuinely shut up
The cabinet of genuine particulars.

Instead there's the endless refrain
One hears replayed repeatedly
Through the just ajar door:
Some terrible mistake has been made.

What is elegy but the attempt
To rebreathe life
Into what the gone one once was
Before he grew to enormity.

Come on stage and be yourself,
The elegist says to the dead. Show them
Now—after the fact —
What you were meant to be:

The performer of a live song.
A shoe. Now bow.
What is left but this:
The compulsion to tell.

The transient distraction of ink on cloth
One scrubbed and scrubbed
But couldn't make less.
Not then, not soon.

Each day, a new caption on the cartoon
Ending that simply cannot be.
One hears repeatedly, the role of elegy is.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Dancing (Gerald Stern)

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a post-war Philco
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel's "Bolero" the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop--in 1945--
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing--in Poland and Germany--
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.

What He Thought (Heather McHugh)

We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of beingPoets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the Mayor, mulled a couple
matters over. The Italian literati seemed
bewildered by the language of America: they asked us
what does "flat drink" mean? and the mysterious
"cheap date" (no explanation lessened
this one's mystery). Among Italian writers we

could recognize our counterparts: the academic,
the apologist, the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib. And there was one
administrator (The Conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone
narrated sights and histories
the hired van hauled us past.
Of all he was most politic--and least poetic-- so
it seemed. Our last
few days in Rome
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he'd recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?) to whom
he had inscribed and dated it a month before. I couldn't
read Italian either, so I put the book
back in the wardrobe's dark. We last Americans

were due to leave
tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant,
and there we sat and chatted, sat and chewed, till,
sensible it was our last big chance to be Poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked

"What's poetry?
Is it the fruits and vegetables
and marketplace at Campo dei Fiori

or the statue there?" Because I was
the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn't have to think-- "The truth
is both, it's both!" I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest
to say. What followed taught me something
about difficulty,

for our underestimated host spoke out
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statue represents
Giordano Bruno, brought
to be burned in the public square
because of his offence against authority, which was to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government
but rather is poured in waves, through
all things: all things
move. "If God is not the soul itself,
he is the soul OF THE SOUL of the world." Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die

they feared he might incite the crowd (the man
was famous for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask
in which he could not speak.

That is how they burned him.
That is how he died,
without a word,
in front of everyone. And poetry--

(we'd all put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on softly)-- poetry

is what he thought, but did not say.

The Portrait (Stanley Kunitz)

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Untitled Blues (Yusef Komunyakaa)

after a photograph by Yevgeni Yevtushenko

I catch myself trying
to look into the eyes
of the photo, at a black boy
behind a laughing white mask
he’s painted on. I
could’ve been that boy
years ago.
Sure, I could say
everything’s copacetic,
listen to a Buddy Bolden cornet
cry from one of those coffin-
shaped houses called
shotgun. We could
meet in Storyville,
famous for quadroons,
with drunks discussing God
around a honky-tonk piano.
We could pretend we can’t
see the kitchen help
under a cloud of steam.
Other lurid snow jobs:
night & day, the city
clothed in her see-through
French lace, as pigeons
coo like a beggar chorus
among makeshift studios
on wheels—Vieux Carré
belles having portraits painted
twenty years younger.
We could hand jive
down on Bourbon & Conti
where tap dancers hold
to their last steps,
mammy dolls frozen
in glass cages. The boy
locked inside your camera,
perhaps he’s lucky—
he knows how to steal
laughs in a place
where your skin
is your passport.