Monday, December 31, 2007

The End of the World

Archibald MacLeish (b. 1892)

Quite unexpectedly as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb—
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off.

And there, there overhead, there, there, hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness, the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing—nothing at all.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

December Night

W.S. Merwin

The cold slope is standing in darkness
But the south of the trees is dry to the touch

The heavy limbs climb into the moonlight bearing feathers
I came to watch these
White plants older at night
The oldest
Come first to the ruins

And I hear magpies kept awake by the moon
The water flows through its
Own fingers without end

Tonight once more
I find a single prayer and it is not for men

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Allen Ginsberg

Homage Kenneth Koch

If I were doing my Laundry I'd wash my dirty Iran
I'd throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap,
scrub up Africa, put all the birds and elephants back in
the jungle,
I'd wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,
Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,
Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly
Cesium out of Love Canal
Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain the Sludge
out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,
Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little
Clouds so snow return white as snow,
Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie
Then I'd throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood &
Agent Orange,
Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out
the tattletail Gray of U.S. Central American police state,
& put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an
Aeon till it came out clean

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Heart of Herakles

Kenneth Rexroth

Lying under the stars,
In the summer night,
Late, while the autumn
Constellations climb the sky,
As the Cluster of Hercules
Falls down the west
I put the telescope by
And watch Deneb
My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes. I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.
The faint breeze in the dark pines,
And the invisible grass,
The tipping earth, the swarming stars
Have an eye that sees itself.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Herman Hesse
Translated by Robert Bly

Sometimes, when a bird cries out,
Or the wind sweeps through a tree,
Or a dog howls in a far off farm,
I hold still and listen a long time.

My soul turns and goes back to the place
Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,
The bird and the blowing wind
Were like me, and were my brothers.

My soul turns into a tree,
And an animal, and a cloud bank.
Then changed and odd it comes home
And asks me questions. What should I reply?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Elizabeth Spires

I walked in the waist-high grass
where a million blades
sang in green cacophony.
Too many voices sang.
And in the din, I thought,
We are as grass,
as simple as grass,
our voices will be lost,
and all things pass...

I desired then
to be silent and alone,
like a stone spilled
by time into a field
the mower slowly
scythes, a stone
completely unto itself,
warmed by the sun,
shining in the sun.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Love After Love

Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You

Pablo Neruda

I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.

I love you only because it's you the one I love;
I hate you deeply, and hating you
Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.

Maybe January light will consume
My heart with its cruel
Ray, stealing my key to true calm.

In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Candlelighter

Simon Armitage (2007)

From Dove Cottage, I sloped out through the side gate
and climbed the corpse road past the coffin stone,
then curved through a mixed copse to a scree path
scored by rainwater into the hill's back.
I was hauled upward by a borrowed dog
on a makeshift leash, a yellow Labrador,
busy for every birdcall and blown leaf.
Over a hand-stacked wall, in the next fold,
under the driftwood bones of an old elm,
a red deer had dropped down from the high fell
with morning beaconed in its flaming horns.
With dawn-light cradled in its branching crown.
I stood in some blind spot of its dark eye,
and deer and dog were still and unaware
and stayed that way, divided by the wall,
wild stag and hunting hound in separate worlds,
before the deer pushed on through tinder thickets,
igniting the next wold. And the dog yawned.
Then I hacked up the gyhill to higher ground,
toward the hill's bare head, counting the dead
and the hikers striding along the ridge,
thinking of taking a drink from the tarn,
thinking of adding a new stone to the cairn.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Magic Words

Robert Bly (after Nalungiaq)

In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen—
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That's the way it was.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Illiterate

William Meredith (1958)

Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think that this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.
His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
that keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Golden Lines

Gérard de Nerval (1854)
translated by Robert Bly

"Astonishing! Everything in intelligent!"

Free thinker! Do you think you are the only thinker
on this earth in which life blazes inside all things?
Your liberty does what it wishes with the powers it controls,
but when you gather to plan, the universe is not there.

Look carefully in an animal at a spirit alive;
every flower is a soul opening out into nature;
a mystery touching love is asleep inside metal.
"Everything is intelligent!" And everything moves you.

In that blind wall, look out for the eyes that pierce you:
the substance of creation cannot be separated from a word . . .
Do not force it to labor in some low phrase!

Often a Holy Thing is living hidden in a dark creature;
and like an eye which is born covered by its lids,
a pure spirit is growing strong under the bark of stones!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Vanishing Horseman

Conrad Hilberry

Magnificent in his blue uniform,
Harry Houdini rides a fine white horse
onto the stage, surrounded by attendants

dressed in white. Two of them lift up
a huge fan, hiding Houdini
for a moment. When they lower it,

he has vanished. The horse stamps and rears—
but no blue rider. Where has he gone?
There is no trap door. He is not clinging

to the far side of the horse. Instead,
while the fan protected him, he tore off
the blue uniform, made of paper, tucked it

inside his white clothes, dismounted,
and became one of the attendants, one
of the uncounted retinue turning

the empty horse and running to the wings.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Argument of His Book

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,
Of April, May, of June, and July flowers.
I sing of Maypoles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes,
Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal-cakes.
I write of youth, of love, and have access
By these to sing of cleanly wantonness.
I sing of dews, of rains, and, piece by piece,
Of balm, of oil, of spice, and ambergris.
I sing of times trans-shifting, and I write
How roses first came red and lilies white.
I write of groves, of twilights, and I sing
The court of Mab and of the fairy king.
I write of hell; I sing (and ever shall)
Of heaven, and hope to have it after all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

True Solar Holiday

Douglas Crase (1989)

Out of the whim of data,
Out of the binary contests driven and stored,
By the law of large numbers and subject to that law
Which in time will correct us like an event,
And from bounce and toss of things that aren't even things,
I've determined the trend I call "you" and know you are real,
Your unwillingness to appear
In all but the least likely of worlds, as in this world
Here. In spite of excursions, despite my expenditures
Ever more anxiously matrixed, ever baroque,
I can prove we have met and I've proved we can do it again
By each error I make where otherwise one couldn't be
Because only an actual randomness
Never admits a mistake. It's for your sake,
Then (though the stars get lost from the bottle,
Though the bottle unwind, if I linger around in the wrong
Ringing up details, pixel by high bit by bit,
In hopes of you not as integer but at least as the sum
Of all my near misses, divisible,
Once there is time, to an average that poses you perfectly
Like a surprise, unaccidentally credible
Perfectly like a surprise. Am I really too patient
When this is the only program from which you derive?
Not only if you knew how beautiful you will be,
How important it is your discovery dawn on me,
How as long as I keep my attention trained
Then finally the days
Will bow every morning in your direction
As they do to the sun that hosannas upon that horizon
Of which I am witness and not the one farther on:
Set to let me elect you as if there were no other choice,
Choice made like temperature, trend I can actually feel.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Adam Zagajewski (2007)
(Translated, from Polish, by Clare Cavanagh)

I watch William Blake, who spotted angels
every day in treetops
and met God on the staircase
of his little house and found light in grimy alleys—

Blake, who died
singing gleefully
in a London thronged
with streetwalkers, admirals, and miracles,

William Blake, engraver, who labored
and lived in poverty but not despair,
who received burning signs
from the sea and from the starry sky,

who never lost hope, since hope
was always born anew like breath,
I see those who walked like him on graying streets,
headed toward the dawn's rosy orchid.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ripples on the Surface

Gary Snyder (1993)

"Ripples on the surface of water
were silver salmon passing under—different
from the sorts of ripples caused by breezes"

A scudding plume on the wave—
a humpback whale is
breaking out in air up
gulping herring
—Nature not a book, but a performance, a
high old culture.

Ever-fresh events
scraped out, rubbed out, and used, used, again—
the braided channels of the rivers
hidden under fields of grass—

The vast wild
the house, alone.
the little house in the wild,
the wild in the house.

both forgotten.

No nature.

Both together, one big empty house.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-fals, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what is is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Adam's Curse

William Butler Yeats (1902)

We sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, "A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world."

And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, "To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful."

I said, "It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough."

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Crazy Jane on the Day of Judgement

William Butler Yeats (1933)

"Love is all
That cannot take the whole
Body and soul";
And that is what Jane said.

"Take the sour
If you take me
I can scoff and lour
And scold for an hour."
"That's certainly the case," said he.

"Naked I lay,
The grass my bed;
Naked and hidden away,
That black day";
And that is what Jane said.

"What can be shown?
What true love be?
All could be known or shown
If Time were but gone."
"That's certainly the case," said he.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

William Butler Yeats (1890)

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the hony-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always, night and day
I hear the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Look

Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

Strephon kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.

Strephon's kiss was lost in jest,
Robin's lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin's eyes
Haunts me night and day.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Susie Asado

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Susie Asado.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Susie Asado.
Susie Asado which is a told tray sure.
A lean on the shoe this means slips slips hers.
When the ancient light grey is clean it is yellow, it is a silver seller.
This is a please this is a please there are the saids to jelly. These are
the wets these say the sets to leave a crown to Incy.
Incy is short for incubus.
A pot. A pot is a beginning fo a rare bit of trees. Trees tremble, the
old vats are in bobbles, bobbles which shade and shove and render
clean, render clean must.
Drink pups.
Drink pups drink pups lease a sash hold, see it shine and a bobolink
has pins. It shows a nail.
What is a nail. A nail is unison.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Racer's Window

Louise Glück (b. 1943)

The elements have merged into solicitude.
Spasms of violets rise above the mud
And weed and soon the birds and ancients
Will be starting to arrive, bereaving points
South. But never mind. It is not painful to discuss
His death. I have been primed for this,
For separation, for so long. But still his face assaults
Me, I can hear that car careen again, the crowd coagulate on asphalt
In my sleep. And watching him, I feel my legs like snow
That let him finally let him go
As he lies draining there. And see
How even he did not get to keep that lovely body.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Mathematics of Breathing

Carl Phillips (1994)

Think of any of several arched
colonnades to a cathedral,

how the arches
like fountains, say,

or certain limits in calculus,
when put to the graph-paper's cross-trees,

never quite meet any promised heaven,
instead at their vaulted heights

falling down to the abruptly ending
base of the next column,

smaller, the one smaller
past that, at last

dying, what is
called perspective.

This is the way buildings do it.

You have seen them, surely, busy paring
the world down to what it is mostly,

proverb: so many birds in a bush.
Suddenly they take off, and at first

it seems your particular hedge itself
has sighed deeply,

that the birds are what come,
though of course it is just the birds

leaving one space for others.
After they've gone, put your ear to the bush,

listen. There are three sides: the leaves'
releasing of something, your ear where it

finds it, and the air in between, to say
equals. There is maybe a fourth side,

not breathing.

In my version of the Thousand and One Nights,
there are only a thousand,

Scheherazade herself is the last one,
for the moment held back,

for a moment all the odds hang even.
The stories she tells she tells mostly

to win another night of watching the prince
drift into a deep sleeping beside her,

the chance to touch one more time
his limbs, going,

gone soft already with dreaming.
When she tells her own story,

Breath in,
breathe out

is how it starts.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Picnic By The Inland Sea

D. Nurkse (2007)

We understood we were hurtling into space
at eighteen miles per second, clouds of atoms
charged and polarized, each alone
in the abyss, and you wore your summer dress.
The light under the poplar was mottled
but the shade of the pines was feathered.
We were bundles of self-cancelling voices—
flight and response, punishment and reward,
hostile adoration, panic and certainty—
from long before the Bronze Age,
yet we made our own promises
by suppressed coughs or sneezes
and sat a little apart
but sometimes our eyes brushed.
We sipped Montepulciano from a paper cup
until the bottom darkened
but still it was not evening,
still the world was ending,
already we resented the breeze
for choosing and marking us,
still a song too short to sing
moved two famished sparrows
like pawns from branch to branch.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Wallace Stevens

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of inuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of the blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar limbs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Red Wheelbarrow

William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Monday, December 3, 2007


Kay Ryan

Silence is not snow.
It cannot grow
deeper. A thousand years
of it are thinner
than paper. So
we must have it
all wrong
when we feel trapped
like mastodons.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Future

Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by A. Poulin (1986)

The future: time's excuse
to frighten us; too vast
a project, too large a morsel
for the heart's mouth.

Future, who won't wait for you?
Everyone is going there.
It suffices you to deepen
the absence that we are.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I'm nobody! Who are you?

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

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!

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Unknown Citizen

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he served the Greater Community.
Except of the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on the Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year;
When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Silver Gelatin

August Kleinzahler (1996)

He was watching, looking down at the park
from the 14th floor, waiting.
There is an hour, an afternoon light
well along into winter.

The angle she made with the pram
as she moved past the fountain
could not possibly be improved upon.
Her black hat,

the fur collar and padded shoulders—
a solitary young domestic,
caught through a net of griseous branches,
is getting the baby home before dinner,

home long before dark.
It is terribly cold.
She leans forward, pushing in haste.
At her own now extreme angle

and with the black coat and hat,
the pram underneath her,
the snow underfoot,
she looks, for all the world, from here,

a broken-off piece of Chinese ideogram
moving across the page.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

Old Euclid drew a circle
On a sand-beach long ago.
He bounded and enclosed it
With angles thus and so.
His set of solemn greybeards
Nodded and argued much
Of arc and of circumference,
Diameter and such.
A silent child stood by them
From morning until noon
Because they drew such charming
Round pictures of the moon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Still Here

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

I've been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me, sun has baked me.
Looks like between 'em
They done tried to make me
Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'—
But I don't care!
I'm still here!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself

Wallace Stevens (1954)

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
In early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow...
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier-maché...
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry—it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Unknown

Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950)

Ye aspiring ones, listen to the story of the unknown
Who lies here with no stone to mark the place.
As a boy reckless and wanton,
Wandering with gun in hand through the forest
Near the mansion of Aaron Hatfield,
I shot a hawk perched on the top
Of a dead tree.
He fell with guttural cry
At my feet, his wing broken.
Then I put him in a cage
Where he lived many days cawing angrily at me
When I offered him food.
Daily I search the realms of Hades
For the soul of the hawk,
That I may offer him the friendship
Of one whom life wounded and caged.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Say Uncle

Kay Ryan (2000)

Every day
you say,
Just one
more try.
Then another
day slips by.
You will
say ankle,
you will
say knuckle;
why won't
you why
won't you
say uncle?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ordinary Life

Adam Zagajewski (2007)
translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh

Our life is ordinary,
I read in a crumpled paper
abandoned on a bench.
Our life is ordinary,
the philosophers told me.

Ordinary life, ordinary days and cares,
a concert, a conversation,
strolls on the town's outskirts,
good news, bad—

but objects and thoughts
were unfinished somehow,
rough drafts.

Houses and trees
desired something more
and in summer green meadows
covered the volcanic planet
like an overcoat tossed upon the ocean.

Black cinemas crave light.
Forests breathe feverishly,
clouds sing softly,
a golden oriole prays for rain.
Ordinary life desires.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Louise Glück (1975)

Do not think I am not grateful for your small
kindness to me.
I like 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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In My Craft or Sullen Art

Dylan Thomas (1946)

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still of night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Elise Paschen (1996)

The journey's tough:
troughs or else shoals
challenge each crossing.
We navigate
the Avenue:
do we change course
or simply sail
the puddle's ocean?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Great Dog Poem No. 2

Mark Strand (1996)

Now that the great dog I worshipped for years
Has become none other than myself, I can look within

And bark, and I can look at the mountains down the street
And bark at them as well. I am an eye that sees itself

Look bak, a nose that tracks the scent of shadows
As they fall, an ear that picks up sounds

Before they are born. I am the last of the platinum
Retrievers, the end of a gorgeous line.

But there's not comfort being who I am. I roam around
And ponder fate's abolishments until my eyes

Are filled with tears and I say to myself, "Oh, Rex,
Forget. Forget. The stars are out. The marble moon slides by."

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Frank O'Hara (1950)

The eager note on my door said "Call me,
call when you get in!" so I quickly threw
a few tangerines into my overnight bag,
straightened my eyelids and shoulders, and

headed straight for the door. It was autumn
by the time I got around the corner, oh all
unwilling to be either pertinent or bemused, but
the leaves were brighter than grass on the sidewalk!

Funny, I thought, that the lights are on this late
and the hall door open; still up at this hour, a
champion jai-alai player like himself? Oh fie!
for shame! What a host, so zealous! And he was

there in the hall, flat on a sheet of blood that
ran down the stairs. I did appreciate it. There are few
hosts who so thoroughly prepare to greet a guest
only casually invited, and that several months ago.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It Was Like This: You Were Happy

Jane Hirshfield (2003)

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, you life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with a simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is now a thing only for others.

It doesn't matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hay for the Horses

Gary Snyder (1958)

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.

With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.

At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
—The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Rita Dove (b. 1952)

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Future In Lilacs

Robert Hass (2007)

"Tender little Buddha," she said
Of my least Buddha-like member.
She was probably quoting Allen Ginsberg,
Who was probably paraphrasing Walt Whitman.
After the Civil War, after the death of Lincoln,
That was a good time to own railroad stocks,
But Whitman was in the Library of Congress,
Researching alternative Americas,
Reading up on the curiosities of Hindoo philosophy,
Studying the etchings of stone carvings
Of strange couplings in a book.

She was taking off a blouse,
Almost transparent, the color of a silky tangerine.
From Capitol Hill Walt Whitman must have been able to see
Willows gathering the river haze
In the cooling and still-humid twilight.
He was in love with a trolley conductor
In the summer of—what was it?—1867? 1868?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Great Figure

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

inspired Charles Demuth's painting (click for info):

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cool Clay

Gary Snyder (2005)

In a swarm of yellow jackets
a squirrel drinks water
feet in the cool clay, head way down.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Her Sadness

Denise Levertov (1981)

When days are short,
mountains already
white-headed, the west
red in its branchy
leafless nest, I know

more than a simple
sow should know.

I know
the days of a pig—

and the days of dogbrothers, catpigs,
cud-chewing cowfriends—
are numbered,

even the days of
Sylvia the Pet,

even the days
of humans are numbered.

laps are denied me,
I cannot be cuddled,
they scratch my ears
as if I were anypig, fattening for bacon.

I shall grow heavier still,
even though I walk
for miles with my Humans,
through field and forest.

weighs on my shoulders,
I know
too much about Time for a pig.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

When We Look Up

Denise Levertov

He had not looked,
pitiful man whom none

pity, whom all
must pity if they look

into their own face (given
only by glass, steel, water
barely known) all
who look up

to see-how many
faces? How many

seen in a lifetime? (Not those that flash by, but those

into which the gaze wanders
and is lost

and returns to tell
Here is a mystery,

a person, an
other, an I?

Count them.
Who are five million?)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tiger, Tiger

William Blake (1757-1827)

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of they heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger burning bright
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame they fearful symmetry?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Japanese Garden

Jean Valentine (2007)

The Japanese garden
is tilting quietly uphill—

eleven wet green stones,
bamboo, and ferns—

It might be under water,
the birds be fish, colored in. And you,

masked reader: the glance
of your underwater lamp,

your blackwater embrace—
not bought or sold.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Search

W.S. Merwin (1973)

When I look for you everything falls silent
a crowd seeing a ghost
it is true

yet I keep on trying to come toward you
looking for you
roads have been paved but many paths have gone
footprint by footprint
that led home
to you
when roads already led nowhere

still I go on hoping
as I look for you
one heart walking in long dry grass
on a hill

around me birds vanish into the air
shadows flow into the ground

before me stones begin to go out like candles
guiding me

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Shock

W.H. Auden (1972)

Housman was perfectly right:
our world rapidly worsens.
Nothing now is so horrid
or silly it can't occur;
still, I'm stumped by what happened
to upper-middle-class me,
born in '07, that is,
the same time as "Elektra,"
gun-shy, myopic grandchild
of Anglican clergymen,
suspicious of all passion,
including passionate love,
daydreaming of leafy dells
that shelter carefree shepherds,
averse to violent weather,
pained by the predator beasts,
shocked by boxing and blood sports,
when I, I, I, if you please,
at Schwechat Flughafen was
frisked by a cop for weapons.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Bath Tub

Ezra Pound (1185-1972)

As a bathtub lined with white porcelain,
When the hot water gives out or goes tepid,
So is the slow cooling of our chivalrous passion,
O my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Second Time Around

Carolyn Kizer (1998)

You're entangled with someone more famous than you
Who happens to vanish.
You marry again in haste, perhaps to a nurse
Or your late wife's good friend,
Someone whose name will never appear in print
Except, perhaps, in your entry for Who's Who;
Someone obliging and neutral, not too good looking
To whom you say, "Darling, the supper was excellent."
Free, now, of that brilliant aura, that physical dazzle
That you always acknowledged, insisting
You relished her fame, believing you meant it,
And love her you did, but you're so relieved she's gone.

How sweet to embrace the mundane, endorse the ordinary,
In its starchy smock or its ruffled apron,
Saying, "Bronwyn—or Carole, or Elsie—
Suits me down to the ground." The ground.
There's to be no more celestial navigation;
It's the end of smart missives, of aerial bombardment.
One can relax, and slump into being human.

Sometimes you sift through her papers
When you're bereft of ideas,
Though of course ideas are not what stimulates art:
It's snapshots of people in old-fashioned bathing suits,
The man she saw by the road with the three-legged dog,
That week in Venice when it never stopped raining, the odor
Of freshly washed hair when she dried it in sunlight . . .
Something she lightly sketched in that needs fleshing out.

Could you? Should you? You put it to one side.
With a minor effort of will you stop thinking about her,
And decide instead to update your vita,
Or work some more on that old piece
On Descartes that has always given you trouble.
And Bronwyn, or Elsie, or Carole
Comes tiptoeing into your study with a nice cup of coffee.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Daemon

Louise Bogan (1929)

Must I tell again
In the words I know
For the ears of men
The flesh, the blow?

Must I show outright
The bruise in the side,
The halt in the night,
And how death cried?

Must I speak to the lot
Who little bore?
It said Why not?
It said Once more.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Mark Strand (2004)

A white room and a party going on
and I was standing with some friends
under a large gilt-framed mirror
that tilted slightly forward
over the fireplace.
We were drinking whiskey
and some of us, feeling no pain,
were trying to decide
what precise shade of yellow
the setting sun turned our drinks.
I closed my eyes briefly,
then looked up into the mirror:
a woman in a green dress leaned
against the far wall.
She seemed distracted,
the fingers of one hand
fidgeted with her necklace,
and she was staring into the mirror,
not at me but past me, into a space
that might be filled by someone
yet to arrive, who at that moment
could be starting the journey
which would lead eventually to her.
Then, suddenly, my friends
said it was time to move on
to the next party.
This was years ago,
and though I have forgotten
where we went and who we all were,
I still recall that moment of looking up
and seeing the woman stare past me
into a place I could only imagine,
and each time it is with a pang,
as if just then I were stepping
from the depths of the mirror
into that white room, breathless and eager,
only to discover too late
that she is not there.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Sleepwalker

Richard Wilbur (2004)

Like an axe-head sunk in a stump,
His face is wedged into the pillow's dark,
The nose and mouth scarcely breathing,
The mind without a picture.

But now a window shade
Floats inward, to admit the ashen moonlight,
Hovers, and then in haste falls back
To crash against the screen.

In a room like this, a harrowing
Dream takes shape, although he can't yet tell
Whether abductors keep him here
Or foes without besiege him.

Afoot now in that dream,
He moves through half-familiar shapes, through shapes
Made vague as if by attic dust
Or oxides undersea,

Until a doorknob's glint
Alerts him, and the opening door reveals
Obsidian gloom from which emerge
Eight shoe-tips in a row.

Shutting the door against
That bodliess surveillance, he begins
To waken, and his eyes to clear,
Conforming room to room

And shaking off the dream
For good, except that later on, in daylight,
Walking down the street or corridor
Upon a clear-cut errand,

His mood will briefly yield
To an odd notion like an undertow,
A sense that he is mortally
Beset, and in need of ransom.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In Those Days

John Ashbery (2004)

Music, food, sex, and their accompanying
tropes like a wall of light at a door
once spattered by laughter

come round to how you like it—
was it really you that approved?
And if so what does the loneliness
in all this mean? How blind are we?

We see a few feet into our future
of shrouded lots and ditches.
Surely that way was the long one
to have come. Yet nobody

sees anything wrong with what we're doing,
how we came to discuss it, here, with the wind
and the sun sometimes slanting.
You have arrived at this step, and the way down

is paralyzing, though this is the lost
youth I remember as being O.K., once.
Got to shuffle, even if it's only the sarcasm
of speech that gets lost, while the blessed
sense of it bleeds through,

open to all kinds of interpretations.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Stephen Dunn (2000)

Once in a small rented room, awaiting
a night call from a distant time zone,
I understood you could feel so futureless
you'd want to get a mermaid

tattoed on your biceps. Company
forever. Flex and she'd dance.
The phone never rang, except for those
phantom rings, which I almost answered.

I was in D.C., on leave from the Army.
It was a woman, of course, who didn't call.
Or, as we said back then, a girl.
It's anybody's story.

But I think for me it was the beginning
of empathy, not a large empathy
like the deeply selfless might have,
more like a leaning, like being able

to imagine a life for a spider, a maker's
life, or just some aliveness
in its wide abdomen and delicate spinnerets
so you take it outside in two paper cups

intead of stepping on it.
The next day she called, and it was final.
I remember going to the zoo
and staring a long time

at the hippopotamus, its enormous weight
and mass, its strange appearance
of tranquility.
And then the sleek, indignant cats.

Then I went back to Fort Jackson.
I had a calendar taped inside my locker,
and I'd circled days for when I
had no plans, not even hopes—

big circles, so someone might ask.
It was between wars. Only the sergeants
and a few rawboned farm boys
took learning how to kill seriously.

We had to traverse the horizontal ladder,
rung after rung, to pass
into mess hall. Always the weak-handed,
the weak-armed, couldn't make it.

I looked for those who didn't laugh
at those of us who fell.
In the barracks, after drills,
the quiet fellowship of the fallen.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!"
Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. ...
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there,
uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself;
But I wonder'd how it could utter joyous leaves,
standing alone there, without its friend, its lover near—
for I knew I could not;
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it,
and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away—and I have place it in sight in my room;
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them:)
Yet it remains to me a curious token—it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens
there in Louisiana, solitary, in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life, without a friend, a lover, near,
I know very well I could not.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Imaginary Iceberg

Elizabeth Bishop (b. 1911)

We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship
Although it meant the end of travel.
Although it stood stock still like cloudy rock
And all the sea were moving marble.

We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship;
We'd rather own this breathing plain of snow
Though the ship's sail were laid upon the sea
As the snow lies undissolved upon the water.
O solemn, floating field,
Are you aware an iceberg takes repose
With you, and when it wakes may pasture on your snows?

This is a scene a sailor'd give his eyes for.
The ship's ignored. The iceberg rises
And sinks again; its glassy pinnacles
Correct elliptics in the sky.
This is a scene where he who treads the boards
Is artlessly rhetorical. The curtain
Is light enough to rise on finest ropes
That airy twists of snow provide.
The wits of these white peaks
Spar with the sun. Its weight the iceberg dares
Upon a shifting stage and stands and stares.

This iceberg cuts its facets from within.
Like jewelry from a grave
It saves itself perpetually and adorns
Only itself, perhaps the snows
Which so surprise us lying on the sea.
Goodbye, we say, goodbye, the ship steers off
Where waves give in to one another's waves
And clouds run in a warmer sky.
Icebergs behoove the soul
(Both being self-made from elements least visible)
To see them so: fleshed, fair, erected indivisible.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Stolen Television Set

Susan Elizabeth Howe (1997)

At the Seaview Retirement Home, the elderly
Came to believe life would come
Through the screen. Like light on waves,
It reflected their faces, blue-green in bright
Shifting patterns, reflected their eyes
As now and later passed. So in the night
When someone cut the cord, lifted the Wheel
of Fortune, Jeopardy, and all the stars, stole
The show, they lost their umbilical, outside connection
And light drained off, leaving them exposed like
Fetuses in glass jars.
These elderly are facing the crisis.
They sit in the televisionless lounge, cough,
Stare at the harsh blank walls, shrivel
Slightly, wonder where they are now.
No one can say how they yearn
For the liquid, blue-green light only yesterday
Filling the room, flickering waves
Stretching and wobbling time, the steady
Throb of comfort like a dark, first home.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Man and Derailment

Dan Chiasson (2007)

When the man took his son down the ravine
to view, along the opposite bank,
the pileup of a passenger train,
backhoes and cranes, things the child had seen
only in miniature, now huge, hauling
life-sized train cars out of the deep ravine,
inside his life-sized head the quiet boy
wondered how he would remember the scene
and, once he knew his father better, later,
and later, knew himself better, what it would mean.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Green Hills

Kay Ryan (2000)

Their green flanks
and swells are not
flesh in any sense
matching ours,
we tell ourselves.
Nor their green
breast nor their
green shoulder nor
the langour of their
rolling over.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Things Shouldn't Be So Hard

Kay Ryan (2001)

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn out place;
beneath her hand,
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space
—however small—
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn't
be so hard.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Coat

Alan Shapiro (1998)

Not night now, not the night's
one chilling vocable
of sharp air, not the cross
parental babble of it
burning your infant ear,
not anything you say
in answer, no good, not fair,
the fiercest syllables
that turn, as soon as spoken,
into steam that lifts away,

no, none of these is the
beloved in the story.
There's no beloved, none,
except the coat you wear,
the heavy coat you've clung
so long, so hard to that
the only warmth you sense
now is the warmth that seeks
an arctice bitterness
to hoard itself against.

Here you are easiest
where only phantom shapes
across the honeyed vagueness
of the window pass—
easiest where no lock
is turned, no door is opened,
no one at all to find
in your greeting the coat
that kept you warm outside
has brought the cold in with it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Twenty-Four Years

Dylan Thomas

Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.
(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)
In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor
Sewing a shroud for a journey
By the light of the meat-eating sun.
Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,
With my red veins full of money,
In the final direction of the elementary town
I advance for as long as forever is.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Counting on Flowers

John Ciardi (1916-1986)

Once around a daisy counting
she loves me / she loves me not
and you're left with a golden
button without a petal left to
it. Don't count too much on
what you count on remaining
entirely a flower at the end.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wheeling Motel

Franz Wright (2007)

The vast waters flow past its brick yard.
You can purchase a six-pack in bars!
Tammy Wynette's on the marquee

a block down. It's twenty-five years ago:
you went to death, I, to life, and
which was luckier God only knows.

There's this line in an unpublished poem of yours.
The river is like that,
a blind familiar.

The wind will die down when I say so;
the leaden and lessening light on
the current.

Then the moon will rise
like the word reconciliation,
like Walt Whitman examining the tear on a dead face.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Self-Portrait at Twenty Years

Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003)

I set off, I took up the march and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear,
my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing:
I think it was the icy wind of the dead.
I don't know. I set off, I thought is was a shame
to leave so soon, but at the same time
I heard that mysterious and convincing call.
You either listen or you don't, and I listened
and almost burst out crying: a terrible sound,
born on the air and in the sea.
A sword and shield. And then,
despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek
against death's cheek.
And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing
that strange spectacle, slow and strange,
though fixed in such a swift reality:
thousands of guys like me, baby-faced
or bearded, but Latin American, all os us,
brushing cheeks with death.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Leaving the Motel

W. D. Snodgrass (b. 1926)

Outside, the last kids holler
Near the pool: they'll stay the night.
Pick up the towels; fold your collar
Out of sight.

Check: is the second bed
Unrumpled, as agreed?
Landlords have to think ahead
In case of need,

Too. Keep things straight: don't take
The matches, the wrong keyrings—
We've nowhere we could keep a keepsake—
Ashtrays, combs, things

That sooner or later others
Would accidentally find.
Check: take nothing of one another's
And leave behind

Your license number only,
Which they won't care to trace;
We've paid. Still, should such things get lonely,
Leave in their vase

An aspirin to preserve
Our lilacs, the wayside flowers
We've gathered and must leave to serve
A few more hours;

That's all. We can't tell when
We'll come back, can't press claims;
We would no doubt have other rooms then,
Or other names.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Carpe Diem

Judson Jerome (b. 1927)

Our daughter has been using my razor. I found
it soapy on the bathroom sink.
Please finish your coffee and come back to bed.
It's later than we think.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Among These Turf-Stacks

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

Among these turf-stacks graze no iron horses
Such as stalk such as champ in towns and the soul of crowds,
Here is no mass-production of neat thoughts
No canvas shrouds for the mind nor any black hearses:
The pleasant shambles on his boots like hooves
Without thinking at all or wanting to run in groves.

But those who lack the peasant's conspirators
The tawny mountain, the unregarded buttress,
Will feel the need of a fortress against ideas and against the
Shuddering insidious shock of the theory-vendors
The little sardine men crammed in a monster toy
Who tilt their aggregate beast against our crumbling Troy.

For we are obsolete who like the lesser things,
Who play in corners with looking-glasses and beads;
It is better we should go quickly, go into Asia
Or any other tunnel where the world recedes,
Or turn blind wantons like the gulls who scream
And rip the edge off any ideal or dream.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Short-order Cook

Jim Daniels (b. 1956)

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain't no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop spit spit . . .
pss . . .

The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point—
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
"Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries!"
They look at me funny.
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success,
thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The River of Life

Thomas Campbell (1174-1844)

The more we live, more brief appear
Our life's succeeding stages:
A day of childhood seems a year,
And years like passing ages.

The gladsome current of our youth,
Ere passion yet disorders,
Steals lingering like a river smooth
Along its grassy borders.

But as the care-worn cheeks grows wan,
And sorrow's shafts fly thicker,
Ye stars, which measure life to man,
Why seem your courses quicker?

When joys have lost their bloom and breath
And life itself is vapid,
Why, as we reach the Falls of Death,
Feel we it's tide more rapid?

It may seem strange—yet who would change
Time's course to slower speeding,
When one by one our friends have gone
And left our bosoms bleeding?

Heaven gives our years of fading strength
Indemnifying fleetness;
And those of youth, a seeming length,
Proportion'd to their sweetness.

Friday, October 12, 2007

For My Contemporaries

J.V. Cunningham (1911-1985)

How time reverses
The proud in heart!
I now make verses
who aimed at art.

But I sleep well.
Ambitious boys
Whose big lines swell
With spiritual noise,

Despise me not!
And be not quesy
To praise somewhat:
Verse is not easy.

But rage who will.
Time that procured me
Good sense and skill
Of madness cured me.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

After the Philharmonic

James Camp (b. 1923)

Two paths diverged in a well-known park,
One well-let, the other—dark.
And since I did not wish to die,
I took the one more travelled by.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dear Mom

Joan Nielson (2007)

We dont understand why your last days on earth
Must be filled with such pain and diminished self worth.
You've worked many years to achieve all that's good.
Now you feel in confinement and misunderstood.
Your mind tends to wander, your eyesight is bad.
You long for the family and friends you once had.
You try to be cheerful, yet can't help but cry.
You hate how you're living and wish you could die.
We hope that our actions convey that we care.
If you need us to help you, please know we'll be there.
We often feel helpless but we'll do our best
To share in your sorrow and comfort your rest.
We love all the stories we've heard as you've told
Of your life and your family and good days of old.
Don't think you're a burden for we can attest
That by caring for you it's been us that's been blessed.
We love you but know that your work here is done
And it's time to return to your husband and son.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Fabliau of Florida

Wallace Stevens (1923)

Barque of phosphor
On the palmy beach,

Move outward into heaven,
Into the alabasters
And night blues.

Foam and cloud are one.
Sultry moon-monsters
Are dissolving.

Fill your black hull
With white moonlight.

There will never be an end
To this droning of the surf.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Programming Down on the Farm

Michael Spence (1985)

As all those with computer know,
Input-output is called I/O.
But farmers using these machines
See special letters on their screens.
So when they list a chicken fence
To "Egg Insurance and Expense,"
Into what file does it go?
Of course to EIE I/O.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Cornelius Eady (2007)

The furnace wheezes like a drenched lung.
You can't fix it.
The toilet babbles like a speed freak.
You can't fix it.
The fuse box is a nest of rattlers.
You can't fix it.
The screens yawn the bees through.
Your fingers are dumb against the hammer.
Your eyes can't tell plumb from plums.
The frost heaves against the doorjambs,
The ice turns the power lines to brittle candy.
No one told you about how things pop and fizzle,
No one schooled you in spare parts.
That's what the guy says but doesn't say
As he tosses his lingo at your apartment-dweller ears,
A bit bemused, a touch impatient,
After the spring melt has wrecked something, stopped something,
After the hard wind has lifted something away,
After the mystery has plugged the pipes,
The rattle coughs up something sinister.
An easy fix, but not for you.
It's different when you own it,
When it's yours, he says as the meter runs,
Then smiles like an adult.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Louise Glück (1992)

In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.

Friday, October 5, 2007


William Carlos Williams

As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right

then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mother to Son

Langston Hughes (1926)

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Garden

Ezra Pound (1913)

En robe de parade.samain

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anæmia.

And round about there is a rabble
Of filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I Am Vertical

Sylvia Plath (1961)

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them—
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the
      flowers have time for me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Why I Am a Witch

Susan Elizabeth Howe (1997)

Because each October the maple in the field
Takes fire and I stand to watch it burn.
Because sun strikes the far slope
Until the aspens rise, smoky gold.
Because stars hide themselves in the sharp blue,
Waiting. Because I can name things and know
They will change. Because the light
Won't always be there and because
Nothing should hurt that much.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Those Winter Sundays

Robert Hayden (1962)

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack 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?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

News Every Day

William Stafford

Birds don't say it just once. If they like it
they say it again. And again, every morning.
I heard a bird congratulating itself
all day for being a jay.
Nobody cared. But it was glad
all over again, and said so, again.

Many people are fighting each other, in the world.
You could learn that and say, "Many people
are fighting each other, in the world."
It would be true, but saying it wouldn't
make a difference. But you'd say it.
Birds are like that. People are like that.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Release

Joseph Bruchac (b. 1942)

At sunset
the shadows of all the trees
break free and go running
across the edge of the world.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On a Passenger Ferry

Jean Valentine (2007)

(For Grace Paley)

The deck is big, and crowded. In one corner,
an old woman, sick, on chemo, not in pain, is
writing in an elementary-school notebook.
Nobody else saw her, but I saw her.
I had seen her before. Her round, kind face,
smiling and still as a photograph
outside a window—

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Address to Senior Class

William Stafford

Coming down the hill into this town
I tried to hold in mind the worth of your lives,
to be able to help when Main Street isn’t enough any more:
what of the silent storm that is happening now
inside you, the minutes adding to days, and the days
to years, and the time coming when you will lean
for the air that was rich, for the sunbeam, for the sound
going away? I stopped by the roadside to raise
a handful of dust, as the Indians did, to pour it
slowly out and let it fall in a cloud
and the grains tumble together. “This is today,”
I sang. I sang for you till the sun went down.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Our Cave

William Stafford

Because it was good, we were afraid.
It went down dark, dark. After a
bend it was night. We didn’t tell
anybody. All summer it was ours.
I remember best when horses went by
shaking the ground. It was war, we said,
and they wouldn’t find us. Once we heard
someone stumbling and crying: we blew out
the candle and waited a long time till quiet.
It came, and the dark was closer than ever.
Now when we close our eyes, we are there
again, anywhere: we hid it well.
We buried in it the best things we had
and covered it over with branches and leaves.

Monday, September 24, 2007

In a Dark Time

Theodore Roethke (1964)

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren.
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against the sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

(I used to be shy)


I used to be shy.
You made me sing.

I used to refuse things at the table.
Now I shout for more wine.

In somber dignity, I used to sit
on my mat and pray.

Now children run through
and make faces at me.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Selecting a Reader

Ted Kooser (b. 1939)

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Richard Wilbur

Kick at the rock, Sam Johnson, break your bones:
But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones.

We milk the cow of the world, and as we do
We whisper in her ear, "You are not true."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Forgive And Forget

Katherine Kinsey

Straightening things on my desk,
I find a book of matches,
Matches you pressed on me, though I don't smoke,
Leaving a restaurant after dinner—

After dinner, after our first argument,
Our pairing still unmeasured and unmanaged,
After the first relieved forgiving of wrongs
Still imperfectly imagined.

I put the matches in the top drawer,
A drawer I seldom open, and
Saw unmailed invitations to a party never held
In a time now almost forgotten.

The next time I open the drawer,
Will I know where the matches came from?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why the Sun Comes Up

William Stafford (1914-1993)

To be ready again if they find an owl, crows
choose any old tree before dawn and hold a conversation
where they practice their outrage routine. “Let’s elect
someone.” “No, no! Forget it.” They
see how many crows can dance on a limb.
“Hey, listen to this one.” One old crow
flaps away off and looks toward the east. In that
lonely blackness God begins to speak
in a silence beyond all that moves. Delighted
wings move close and almost touch each other.
Everything stops for a minute, and the sun rises.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803 - 1849)

How many times do I love thee, dear?
Tell me how many thoughts there be
In the atmosphere
Of a new-fall'n year,
Whose white and sable hours appear
The latest flake of Eternity:—
So many times do I love thee, dear.

How many times do I love again?
Tell me how many beads there are
In a silver chain
Of evening rain.
Unravelled from the tumbling main,
And threading the eye of a yellow star:—
So many times do I love again.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lovers in the Health Science Library

Stacey Moody

Your warm strong fingers carefully graze my shoulders
The action potential travel down the fibers
From the receptor cells just under the skin
Through the peripheral nerve and the plexus
Ascending the anterior spinal thalamic tract
Summating in the thalamus
Creating awareness of the warmth
Between you and me.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


e.e. cummings (1894-1962)





Saturday, September 15, 2007

from Barbados

Frederick Seidel (2007)

A cane toad came up to them.
They'd never seen anything so remarkable.
Now they could see the field was full of them.
Suddenly the field is filled with ancestors.
The hippopotamuses became friendly with the villagers.
Along came white hunters who shot the friendly hippos dead.
If they had known that friendship would end like that,
They never would have entered into it.
Suddenly the field is filled with souls.
The field of sugarcane is filled with hippopotamus cane toads.
They always complained
Our xylophones were too loud.
The Crocodile King is dead.
The world has no end.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Father and Son

William Stafford (1973)

No sound—a spell—on, on out
where the wind went, our kite sent back
its thrill along the string that
sagged but sang and said, “I’m here!
I’m here!”—till broke somewhere,
gone years ago, but sailed forever clear
of earth. I hold—whatever tugs
the other end—I hold that string.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


William Stafford (1973)

Freedom is not following a river.
Freedom is following a river,
though, if you want to.
It is deciding now by what happens now.
It is knowing that luck makes a difference.

No leader is free; no follower is free–
the rest of us can often be free.
Most of the world are living by
creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming
to be worth arguing about by reason.

If you are oppressed, wake up about
four in the morning: most places,
you can usually be free some of the time
if you wake up before other people.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Night Picnic

Charles Simic (2001)

There was the sky, starless and vast—
Home of every one of our dark thoughts—
Its door open to more darkness.
And you, like a late door-to-door salesman,
With only your own beating heart
In the palm of your outstretched hand.

All things are imbued with God’s being—
She said in hushed tones
As if his ghost might overhear us—
The dark woods around us,
Our faces which we cannot see,
Even this bread we are eating.

You were mulling over the particulars
Of your cosmic insignificance
Between slow sips of red wine.
In the ensuing quiet, you could hear
Her small sharp teeth chewing the crust—
And then finally, she moistened her lips.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Like This

Rumi (13th century)

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the night sky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,

Like this.

If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is,
or what "God’s fragrance" means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means
to "die for love," point

If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.

This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, the returns.
When someone doesn’t believe that,
walk back into my house.

Like this.

When lovers moan,
they’re telling our story.

Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.

Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.

Like this.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Privilege of Being

Robert Hass (b. 1941)

Many are making love. Up above, the angels
in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing
are braiding one another's hair, which is strawberry blond
and the texture of cold rivers. They glance
down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy—
it must look to them like featherless birds
splashing in the spring puddle of a bed—
and then one woman, she is about to come,
peels back the man's shut eyelids and says,
look at me, and he does. Or is it the man
tugging the curtain rope in that dark theater?
Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet
lubricious glue, stare at each other,
and the angels are desolate. They hate it. They shutter pathetically
like lithographs of Victorian beggars
with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags
in the lewd alleys of the novel.
All of creation is offended by this distress.
It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,
rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,
it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
they close their eyes again and hold each other, each
feeling the mortal singularity of the body
they have enchanted out of death for an hour so,
and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,
I woke up feeling so sad this morning because I realized
that you could not, as much as I love you,
dear heart, cure my loneliness,
wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.
And the man is not hurt exactly,
he understands that life has limits, that people
die young, fail at love,
fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks
of the sadness they have gasped and crooned their way out of
coming, clutching each other with old invented
forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
companionable like the couples on the summer beach
reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes
to themselves, and to each other,
and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border

William Stafford (1977)

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed–or were killed–on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

End of Summer

James Richardson (2007)

Just an uncommon lull in the traffic
so you hear some guy in an apron, sleeves rolled up,
with his brusque sweep brusque sweep of the sidewalk,
and the slap shut of a too thin rental van,
and I told him no a gust has snatched from a conversation
and brought to you, loud.

It would be so different
if any of these were missing is the feeling
you always have on the first day of autumn,
no, the first day you think of autumn, when somehow

the sun singling out the high windows,
a waiter settling a billow of white cloth
with glasses and silver, and the sparrows
shattering to nowhere are the Summer
waving that here is where it turns
and will no longer be walking with you,

traveller, who now leave all of this behind,
carrying only what it has made of you.
Already the crowds seem darker and more hurried
and the slang grows stranger and stranger,
and you do not understand what you love,
yet here, rounding a corner in mild sunset,
is the world again, wide-eyed as a child
holding up a toy evey you can fix.

How light your step
down the narrowing avenue to the cross streets,
October, small November, barely legible December.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Message from the Wanderer

William Stafford (1977)

Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occurred to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations–
those feeding creatures outlined by the stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as–often, in light, on the open hills–
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then–even before you see–
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now–these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way–
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Putting the Sonnet to Work

William Stafford (1993)

Pack your heavy suitcase
when it is time to travel.
No use making the trip
just to spin the wheels.

Load that box you always
intended to deliver;
crowd in all the knickknacks
nobody ever uses.

This train carries freight.
It's on time if it gets there.
Crossroads don't count, or bells.
There's a map and a dot and an engine.

It's cargo we want—cargo:
just words won't get you there.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


William Stafford (1992)

A piccolo played, then a drum.
Feet began to come—a part
of the music. Here came a horse,
clippety clop, away.

My mother said, "Don't run—
the army is after someone
other than us. If you stay
you'll learn our enemy."

Then he came, the speaker. He stood
in the square. He told us who
to hate. I watched my mother's face,
its quiet. "That's him," she said.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Protracted Episode

A. F. Moritz (1991)

Then I saw one who, biting at himself,
dodged at us through the traffic. His plastic neck
stretched so his jaws could reach his shining buttocks:
cunningly made. And as he chewed he said,

"It's no unworthy task to create a speech
that ignores everything this time thinks true:
helpless patterns and correspondences,
the machine of age and endlessness of death.

This speech would be the song of an old man
praising his own eroded voice as though
it were the glory of mountains and the withered
centuries, his bleached bones were their bright snow.

But to project this man, his voice, his song,
is to confess the other speech. He is only will
yearning both to forget what should not be
and cut a swath through it with his sharp brow.

He is a voice that wonders while the flies
circle the bearded grass-tips and the stars
burst on the mountains—wonders all the time,
chanting perplexity and willing praise."

So many tears then filled me as we stood
in a bank's shadow, and so much desire
to guard these words, I quit my guide and journey,
came back, and tried to remember all my days.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Golf Links

Sarah N. Cleghorn (1876-1959)

The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Soup

Gary Soto (b. 1952)

The lights off, the clock glowing 2:10,
And Molina is at the table drawing what he thinks is soup
And its carrots rising from a gray broth.

He adds meat and peppers it with pencil markings.
The onion has gathered the peas in its smile.
The surface is blurred with the cold oils squeezed from a lime.

He adds hominy and potato that bob
In a current of pork fat, from one rim to the other,
Crashing into the celery that has canoed such a long way.

Spoon handle that is a plank an ant climbs.
Saucer that is the slipped disc of a longhorn.
Napkin that is shredded into a cupful of snow.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Freedom of Expression

William Stafford (1996)

My feet wait there listening, and when
they dislike what happens they begin
to press on the floor. They know when
it is time to walk out on a program. Pretty soon
they are moving, and as the program fades
you can hear the sound of my feet on gravel.

If you have feet with standards, you too
may be reminded—you need not
accept what's given. You gamblers,
pimps, braggarts, oppressive people:—
"Not here," my feet are saying, "no thanks;
let me out of this." And I'm gone.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sometime the Cow Kick Your Head

Andrew J. Grossman (1988)

Sometime the cow kick your head
Sometime she just moo

Even the cow don't know
What she going to do

Until she look at you
Knocked out upon the ground

And she say, "Woo
My leg do that to him"

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Soul Selects Her Own Society

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

The sould selects her own society
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I've known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Miles Davis on Art

Lawrence Raab (2003)

"The only way to make art," Miles Davis
said, "is to forget what is unimportant."
That sounds right, although the opposite
also feels like the truth. Forget
what looks important, hope it shows up

later to surprise you. I understand
he meant you've got to clear
your mind, get rid of everything
that doesn't matter. But how can you tell?
Maybe the barking of a dog at night

is exactly what you need
to think about. "Just play within
the range of the idea,"
Charlie Parker said. The poem
that knows too quickly what's important

will disappoint us. And sometimes
when you talk about art
you mean it, sometimes you're just
fooling around. But once he had the melody
in place, he could leave it behind

and go where he wanted, trusting
the beautiful would come to him, as it may
to a man who's worked hard enough
to be ready for it. And he was,
more often than not. That was what he knew.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Meeting Point

Louis MacNeice (1941)

Time was away and somewhere else,
There were two glasses and two chairs
And two people with the one pulse
(Somebody stopped the moving stairs):
Time was away and somewhere else.

And they were neither up nor down,
The stream's music did not stop
Flowing through the heather, limpid brown,
Although they sat in a coffee shop
And they were neither up nor down.

The bell was silent in the air
Holding its inverted poise—
Between the clang and clang a flower,
A brazen calyx of no noise:
The bell was silent in the air.

The camels crossed the miles of sand
That stretched around the cups and plates;
The desert was their own, they planned
To portion out the stars and dates:
The camels crossed the miles of sand.

Time was away and somewhere else.
The waiter did not come, the clock
Forgot them and the radio waltz
Came our like water from a rock:
Time was away and somewhere else.

Her fingers flicked away the ash
That bloomed again in the tropic trees:
Not caring if the markets crash
When they had forests such as these,
Her fingers flicked away the ash.

God or whatever means the Good
Be praised that time can't stop like this,
That what the heart has understood
Can verify in the body's peace
God or whatever means the Good.

Time was away and she was here
And life no longer what it was,
The bell was silent in the air
And all the room aglow because
Time was away and she was here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

'Twas brilig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh, Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brilig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.