Monday, April 30, 2007


Katha Pollitt (b. 1949)

The smoothness of onions infuriates him
so like the skin of women or their expensive clothes
and the striptease of onions, which is also a disappearing act.
He says he is searching for the ultimate nakedness
but when he finds that thin green seed
that negligible sprout of a heart
we could have told him he'd be disappointed.
Meanwhile the onion has been hacked to bits
and he's weeping in the kitchen most unromantic tears.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

So-And-So Reclining on Her Couch

Wallace Stevens (1947)

On her side, reclining on her elbow.
This mechanism, this apparition,
Suppose we call it Projection A.

She floats in air at the level of
The eye, completely anonymous,
Born, as she was, at twenty-one,

Without lineage or language, only
The curving of her hip, as motionless gesture,
Eyes dripping blue, so much to learn.

If just abover her head there hung,
Suspended in air, the slightest crown
Of Gothic prong and practick bright,

The suspension, as in solid space,
The suspending hand withdrawn, would be
An invisible gesture. Let this be called

Projection B. To get at the thing
Without gestures is to get at it as
Idea. She floats in the contention, the flux

Between the thing as idea and
The idea as thing. She is half who made her.
This is the final Projection C.

The arrangement contains the desire of
The artist. But one confides in what has no
Concealed creator. One walks easily

The unpainted shore, accepts the world
As anything but sculpture. Good-bye
Mrs. Pappadopoulos, and thanks.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through the scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least but honored of them all—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
    This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
    There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Mill Back Home

Vern Rutsala (b. 1934)

Logs drowse in the pond
Dreaming of their heroes
Alligator and crocodile

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Spring

Gary Synder (b. 1930)

Beating asphalt into highway potholes
     pickup truck we'd loaded
road repair stock shed & yard
a day so hot the asphalt went in soft.
     pipe and steel plate tamper
took turns at by hand
then drive the truck rear wheel
a few times back and forth across the fill--
finish it off with bitchmo around the edge.

the foreman said let's get a drink
& drove through the woods and flower fields
     shovels clattering in back
into a black grove by a cliff
     a rocked in pool
     feeding a fern ravine
          tin can to drink
numbing the hand and cramping in the gut
surging through the fingers from below
     & dark here—
let's get back to the truck
get back on the job.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Outfielder; The Room

Stephen Dunn (b. 1939)

So this is excellence: movement
toward the barely possible—
the puma's dream
of running down a hummingbird
on a grassy plain.

The Room
Stephen Dunn (2007)

The room has no choice
Everything that's spoken in it
it absorbs. And it must put up with

the bad flirt, the overly perfumed,
the many murderers of mood—
with whoever chooses to walk in.

If there's a crowd, one person
is certain to be concealing a sadness,
another will have abandoned a dream,

at least one will be a special agent
for his own cause. And always
there's a functionary,

somberly listing what he does.
The room plays no favorites.
Like its windows, it does nothing

but accomodate shades
of light and dark. After everyone leaves
(its entrance, of course, is an exit),

the room will need to be imagined
by someone, perhaps some me
walking away now, who comes alive

when most removed. He'll know
from experience how deceptive
silence can be. This is when the walls

start to breathe as if reclaiming the air,
when the withheld spills forth,
when even the chairs start to talk.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Celestial Music

Louise Glück (1991)

I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks
      to god,
she thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth, she's unusually competent.
Brave, too, able to face unpleasantness.

We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt, greedy ants crawling
      over it.
I'm always moved by weakness, by disaster, always eager to
      oppose vitality.
But timid, also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
according to nature. For my sake, she intervened,
brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down
      across the road.

My friend says I shut my eyes to god, that nothing else
my aversion to reality. She says I'm like a child who buries
      her head in the pillow
so as to not see, the child who tells herself
that light causes sadness—
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
to wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person—

In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We're walking
on the same road, except it's winter now;

she's telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial
look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
like brides leaping to a great height—
Then I'm afraid for her; I see her
caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth—

In reality we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
from time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It's this moment we're both trying to explain, the fact
that we're both at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt; inside, the caterpillar
      doesn't move.
She's always trying to make something whole, something
      beautiful, an image
capable of life apart from her.
We're very quiet. It's peaceful sitting here, not speaking, the
fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering—
it's the stillness that we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Like Most Revelations

Richard Howard (1992)

     after Morris Louis

It is the movement that incites the form,
discovered as a downward rapture—yes,
it is the movement that delights the form,
sustained by its own velocity. And yet

it is the movement that delays the form
while darkness slows and encumbers; in fact
it is the movement that betrays the form,
baffled in such toils of ease, until

it is the movement that deceives the form,
beguiling our attention—we supposed
it is the movement that achieves the form.
Were we mistaken? What does it matter if

it is the movement that negates the form?
Even though we give (give up) ourselves
to this mortal process of continuing,
it is the movement that creates the form.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Name

Mark Strand (2006)

Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.

2008: Oread by H.D.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

With Rue My Heart Is Laden

A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

With rue my heart is laden
     For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
     And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks to broad for leaping
     The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose lipt girls are sleeping
     In fields where roses fade.

2008: Oread by H.D.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Keeping Things Whole

Mark Strand (1968)

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


David Berman

Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.
For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels
had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.

Then we were on the roof of the lake.
The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn't know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

When it's snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor.
Our voices hung close in the new acoustics.
A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Harlem [2]

Langston Hughes (1958)

What happens to a dream deferred?

     Does it dry up
     like a raisin in the sun?
     Or fester like a sore—
     and then run?
     Does it stink like rotten meat?
     Or crust and sugar over—
     like a syrupy sweet

     Maybe it just sags
     like a heavy load.

     Or does it explode?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Cretonnes of Penelope

Joseph Harrison

How stupid Penelope's suitors must have been,
Each morning as they elbowed for a place
Near her, and cocked their wits, eyeing each other,
Never to notice yesterday's tapestry
Had disappeared, like every day's before.

They kept maneuvering, and they kept score,
Each trying to get the better of this brother.
So each day's small creation went unseen
Unless some maid in waiting saw that face
Glancing from corners of the tapestry.

She wove a glimpse of him in every scene
She patterned on the vanishing tapestry.
Nor did it have to be obliquely traced
To fool the fools not looking any more,
Who couldn't tell one figure from another.

But if this game was all, she wanted more,
One friend (it wouldn't have to be a lover)
Who saw how the resourceful tapestry's
Long lesson in how never quite to mean
Inscribed the careful lines upon her face.

At night when she ripped up the tapestry
She felt she'd run a marathon in place.
Her sole delight was her most painful chore.
She knew she couldn't make it new again.
But when the sun came up she started over.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Marianne Moore (1967)

I, too, dislike it.
     Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
     it, after all, a place for the genuine.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The World Is Everything That Is the Case

Daryl Hine

     Ludwig Wittgenstein

Embodying the liar's paradox,
    Why did he have to reinvent the wheel?
    Unable, he said, to lie or cheat or steal,
Or understand it when a lion talks,
How to construe a language game that mocks
    Significance, too scrupulous to feel
    That others are indubitably real,
Puzzled the solitary chatterbox.

Ultimate mystery, another's pain
    Even the saint that caused it might refuse
        To recognize, like a strange native place.
What does it profit anyone to gain
    His own imaginary soul, and lose
        Forever everything that is the case?

2008: Failure by Kay Ryan

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Naked Fifty-Eight-Year-Old Women

Steve Miller

He knows the second cousin of the stepson
    of the professor who wrote my physics text.
He knows the precise formula for the chemical
    in my popsicle that makes it taste like cherry
    instead of grape.
He knows the intricate mating habits
    of the little black bugs that make their home
    among the roots of my favorite spider plant.
He knows the favorite ice cream of the granddaughter
    of the aged woman who painted the flourescent numbers
    on my desk-top alarm clock.
He knows the name of the beagle that belongs to the girl
    who stomped on the grapes that went into the wine
    that I drank last night.
He knows many things, but he doesn't know that,
    sometimes, the mind, like most fifty-eight-year-old
    women, should not be exposed.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Success Is Counted Sweetest

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,

As he, defeated, dying
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Apollo's Kiss

Emily Fragos

Devise Cassandra. Become her, in possession,
and the world becomes perfect. For even gods
crave perfection. Desire her like a man
and like a man be refused in all your desire.
Surrender: Beg a first and last kiss and pray
she will acquiesce, her virtue stirred.
Then, breathe into her mouth the powered
prophecy and for all you are losing
—the deprivation she will give and give—
release her half-gifted as you are, half-mortal.

In the courtyard, animals are captured
by their hind legs, held up on haunches,
throats slashed. She walks on burning
stones. Swift, it is slaughtering season.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Joe Simpson [1919-1996]

Robert Mezey

Joe Simpson was a man I scarcely knew.
I saw him when he came to see his father.
Our talks, if they were talks, were brief and few.
And yet I think I knew the man, or rather,
I knew something about him. From his eyes
A certain light (though uncertain to me)
Seemed to precede him through the world of lies,
Flickering shadows where he could not see
What might await, what writhing shapes of pain,
What narrow passages, where only faith,
That cannot know what it is faithful to,
Can find the right path to the gates of death,
A path he followed, and did not complain,
A path that might lead nowhere, as he knew.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Bruce Bennett (b. 1940)

like the fox
who grabs a stick
and wades
into the water

and deeper
till only his muzzle's
above it
his fleas

up and up
onto his head
out onto the stick

which he lets go

off it floats
as he swims back
and shakes himself dry

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Problem of Anxiety

John Ashbery (1997)

Fifty years have passed
since I started living in those dark towns
I was telling you about.
Well, not much has changed. I still can't figure out
how to get from the post office to the swings in the park.
Apple trees blossom in the cold, not out of conviction,
and my hair is the color of dandelion fuzz.

Suppose this poem were about you—would you
put in the things I've carefully left out:
descriptions of pain, and sex, and how shiftily
people behave toward each other? Naw, that's
all in some book it seems. For you
I've saved the descriptions of finger sandwiches,
and the glass eye that stares at me in amazement
from the bronze mantel, and will never be appeased.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


Charles Simic (b.1938)

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill —
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Oh Yet We Trust

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

from In Memorium

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
   Will be the final goal of ill,
   To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
   That not one life shall be destroyed,
   Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
   That not a moth with vain desire
   Is shriveled in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
   I can but trust that good shall fall
   At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
   An infant crying in the night:
   An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Ask Me

William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt — ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Naming of Parts

Henry Reed (b.1914)

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
     And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower swing swivel. And this
Is the upper swing swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
     Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
     Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
     They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
     For to-day we have naming of parts.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Team of Workhorses

Robert Bly

The two workhorses come in from the field.
They stand at the tank, horse collars still on.
Their coltishness remains tangled in their rumpled manes.

They offer, generously, to do all the work.
They rarely look back over their shoulders. Their long
Eyelashes are girlish, and their foreheads, blunt

To the wind, say, "We might change our minds right now."
Their eyes flare like children's. They are easily startled
And are as changeable as cottonwoods in wind.

They might gallop this minute five miles up the canyon.
Their extravagant ears, stuffed with hair, turn so
Swiftly to absorb a splash, a thundercrack, a rock

Falling, guiding knowledge directly into the brain.
I think we are less safe now than our grandparents
Were when horses turned their faces to look at them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Anthony Hecht (1995)

We have set out from here for the sublime
Pastures of summer shade and mountain stream;
I have no doubt we shall arrive on time.

Is all the green of that enamelled prime
A snapshot recollection or a dream?
We have set out from here for the sublime

Without provisions, without one thin dime,
And yet, for all our clumsiness, I deem
It certain that we shall arrive on time.

No guidebook tells you if you'll have to climb
Or swim. However foolish we may seem,
We have set out from here for the sublime

And must get past the scene of an old crime
Before we falter and run out of steam,
Riddled by doubt that we'll arrive on time.

Yet even in winter a pale paradigm
Of birdsong utters its obsessive theme.
We have set out from here for the sublime;
I have no doubt we shall arrive on time.

Monday, April 2, 2007

As She Has Been Taught

Mekeel McBride (b. 1950)

The building, a tall one, is on fire again.
On the twenty-first floor, she,
dressed in smoky silks,
settles in to watch.
Below, she can see enameled firetrucks
roaring down the streets
no wider than the ruler on her desk.

She wonders how they think they'll stop the fire
with their tiny hoses
and matchstick ladders.
Watching her building shadowed on the next
she sees the roof's on fire,
the silhouette of it
fanned into flames

that almost look
like dancers
twining topsy-turvy in a dark field.
She feels safe, feels warm
in the celluloid flames that are,
after all, only the red silks
her sleeping mind has wrapped around her.

But the rescue squad
of volunteer pharmacists,
and paper-pale priests
kicks down the door, helps her
through the iridescent halls
into blackened streets
where she is blanketed
by the ladies auxiliary.

Even though the alarm
has been silenced, they slip her
into the colorless cradle of amnesia
while her lover, his arms scalded
by a great bouquet of crimson roses,
wanders dully
through the water-ruined rooms.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
     Beside the springs of Dove,
A maid whom there were none to praise
     And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
    Half hidden from the eye!
- Fair as a star, when only one
    Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
    When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
     The difference to me!