Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Short History of My Life

Charles Wright (2005)

Unlike Lao-Tzu, conceived of a shooting star, it is said,
And carried inside his mother's womb
For 62 years, and born, it's said once again, with white hair,
I was born on a Sunday morning,
untouched by the heavens,
Some hair, no teeth, the shadows of twilight in my heart,
And a long way from the way.
Shiloh, the Civil War battleground, was just next door,
The Tennessee River soft shift at my head and feet.
The dun-colored buffalo, the sands of the desert,
Gatekeeper and characters
were dragon years from then.
Like Dionysus, I was born for a second time.
From the flesh of Italy's left thigh, I emerged one January
Into a different world.
It made a lot of sense,
Hidden away, as I had been, for almost a life.
And I entered it open-eyed, the wind in my ears,
The slake of honey and slow wine awake on my tongue.
Three years I stood in S. Zeno's doors,
and took, more Rome than Rome,
Whatever was offered me.
The snows of the Dolomites advanced to my footfalls.
The lemons of Lago di Garda fell to my hands.

Fast-forward some forty-five years,
and a third postpartum blue.
But where, as the poet asked, will you find it in history?
Alluding to something else.
Nowhere but here, my one and my only, nowhere but here.
My ears and my sick senses seem pure with the sound of water.
I'm back, and it's lilac time,
The creeks running eastward unseen through the dank morning,
Beginning of June. No light on leaf,
No wind in the evergreens, no bow in the still-blond grasses.
The world in its dark grace.
I have tried to record it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Questions Poems Ask

Lawrence Raab (2000)

Watching a couple of crows
playing around in the woods, swooping
in low after each other, I wonder
if they ever slam into the trees.
There's an answer here, unlike
most questions in poems,
which are left up in the air.
Was it a vision or a waking dream?

You decide, says the poet.
You do some of this work,
but think carefully.
Some people want to believe

poetry is anything
they happen to feel. That way
they're never wrong. Others yearn
for the difficult:

insoluble problems, secret codes
not meant to be broken.
Nobody, they've discovered,
ever means what he says.

But rarely does a crow
hit a tree, though other, clumsier birds
bang into them all the time, and we say
these birds have not adapted well

to the forest environment.
Frequently stunned, they become
easy prey for the wily fox,
who's learned how to listen

for that snapping of branches
and collapsing of wings,
who knows where to go
and what to do when he gets there.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Hill of Beans

Rita Dove (1986)

One spring the circus gave
free passes and there was music,
the screens unlatched
to let in starlight. At the well,
a monkey tipped her his fine red hat
and drank from a china cup.
By mid-morning her cobblers
were cooling on the sill.
Then the tents folded and the grass

grew back with a path
torn waist-high to the railroad
where the hoboes jumped the slow curve
just outside Union Station.
She fed them while they talked,
easy in their rags. Any two points
make a line
, they'd say,
and we're gonna ride them all.

Cat hairs
came up with the dipper;
Thomas tossed on his pillow
as if at sea. When money failed
for peaches, she pulled
rhubarb at the edge of the field.
Then another man showed up
in her kitchen and she smelled
fear in his grimy overalls,
the pale eyes bright as salt.

There wasn't even pork
for the navy beans. But he ate
straight down to the blue
bottom of the pot and rested
there a moment, hardly breathing.

That night she made Thomas
board up the well.
Beyond the tracks, the city blazed
as if looks were everything.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Beats

Charles Bukowski (2005)

some keep trying to connect me with
the beats
but I was vastly unpublished in the
I very much
disliked their vanity and
all that

and when I met most of them
later in my life
I still felt that most of my
feelings toward
were the

some accepted
that; others thought that I
should change my

my viewpoint remained the
same: writing is done
one person
at a time

one place
at a time

and all the gatherings
and tenderings of
proclamations toward the
had very little
to do
with anything.

any one of those
could have made it as a
shoe salesman or a
used car

and they still
instead of bitching about
the changes of the fates and
the ways


from the sad university
these hucksters of the
despoiled word
working the
still talking that
dumb shit.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Talking In Bed

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.

Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds about the sky,

And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Karl Kirchwey (1995)

Something of desk work and pornography,
through succulences of conducting gel.
Vector: creation (in a partial view),

held in the half-dark of the examination room,
just as a wishbone of base mineral
holds pomegranate seed or emerald

or alveolus in a narthex rose.
God's image lies couched safe in blood and matter,
where an ionic snow falls lightly, hushed

into the deep calm of the body's gulf.
The channel-changer skates . . . tiny hot springs
of the beating heart, or sinuses of thought

like Siracusa's limestone quarries, where
an army of seven thousand starved to death.
The world of line and measure somewhat darkly

honors you in this glass, child: all your hands
will make, all your body will savor,
your mind consider, or your heart regret,

seeking your whole life for such immanence.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Adam and Eve's Dog

Richard Garcia (2005)

Not many people know it but Adam and Eve had a dog.
Its name was Kelev Reeshon, which means, first dog.
Some scholars say it had green fur and ate only plants
and grasses, and that is why some dogs still like to eat grass.
Others say it was hairless like the Chihuahua. Some
say it was male, some female, or that it was androgynous
like the angels or the present-day hyena. Rabbi Peretz,
a medieval cabalist in Barcelona, thought it was a black
dog and that it could see the angels which were everywhere
in the garden, although Adam and Eve could not see them.
He writes in his book of mystical dream meditations,
The Sefer Halom, that Kelev tried to help Adam and Eve
see the angels by pointing at them with its nose, aligning
its tail in a straight line with its back and raising one paw.
But Adam and Eve thought Kelev was pointing at the birds.
All scholars agree that it had a white tip on its tail,
and that it was a small dog. Sometimes you see
paintings of Eve standing next to a tree holding an apple.
The misinterpretation of this iconography gave birth
to the legend of the forbidden fruit and the fall from grace.
Actually, it was not an apple, but Kelev's ball and Eve
was about to throw it. One day, although there were no
days or nights as we know them, she threw the ball
right out of the garden. Kelev ran after it and did not return.
Adam and Eve missed their dog, but were afraid to leave
the garden. It was misty and dark outside the garden.
They could hear Kelev barking, always farther
and farther away, its bark echoing as if there were two dogs barking.
Finally, they could stand it no longer, and they gathered
Kelev's bed of large leaves and exited the garden.
They were holding the leaves in front of their bodies.
Although they could not see it, and angel followed,
trying to light up the way with a flaming sword,
And the earth was without form outside the garden.
Everything was gray and without shape or outline
because nothing outside the garden had a name. Slowly,
they advanced toward the sound of barking,
holding each other, holding their dog's bed against their bodies.
Eventually they made out something small and white,
swinging from side to side; it seemed to be leading them
through the mist into a world that was becoming more visible.
Now there were trees, and beneath their feet, there was a path.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Five Roses In The Morning

Stephen Dunn (2005)

       March 16, 2003

On TV the showbiz of war,
so I turn it off
wishing I could turn it off,
and glance at the five white roses
in front of the mirror on the mantel,
looking like ten.
That they were purchased out of love
and are not bloody red
won't change a goddamned thing—
goddamned things, it seems, multiplying
every day. Last night
the roses numbered six, but she chose
to wear one in her hair,
and she was more beautiful
because she believed she was.
It changed the night a little.
For us, I mean.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1823)

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Galway Kinnell (2005)

When I was twenty the one true
free spirit I had heard of was Shelley,
Shelley, who wrote tracts advocating
atheism, free love, the emancipation
of women, the abolition of wealth and class,
and poems on the bliss of romantic love,
Shelley, who, I learned later, perhaps
almost too late, remarried Harriet,
then pregnant with their second child,
and a few months later ran off with Mary,
already pregnant herself, bringing
with them Mary's stepsister Claire,
who very likely also became his lover,

and in this malaise á trois, which Shelley
had imagined would be "a paradise of exiles,"
they lived, along with the spectre or Harriet,
who drowned herself in the Serpentine,
and of Mary's half sister Fanny,
who killed herself, maybe for unrequited
love of Shelley, and with the spirits
of adored but often neglected
children conceived incidentally
in the pursuit of Eros—Harriet's
Ianthe and Charles, denied to Shelley
and consigned to foster parents; Mary's
Clara, dead at one; her Willmouse,
Shelley's favorite, dead at three; Elena,
the baby in Naples, almost surely
Shelley's own, whom he "adopted"
and then left behind, dead at one and a half;
Allegra, Claire's daughter by Byron,
whom Byron sent off to the convent
at Bagnacavallo at four, dead at five—

and in those days, before I knew
any of this, I thought I followed Shelley,
who thought he was following radiant desire.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Twenty Questions

Maura Stanton (2005)

Who wrote Heart of Darkness? And what's the name
Of Dale Evans's horse? Why did theives steal
Charlie Chaplin's corpse? Can you explain
Hieroglyphs in shells? How do you feel?
How many grains of (popcorn, rice, sand) fill
This container? Why did they auction off
Maria Callas's underwear? Would you like a pill?
Do you feel tired, perhaps? Is that bed soft?
Can you remember your parents' wedding date?
Your own? Like a glass of milk? Some champagne?
How many rhymes in a sonnet? Something you ate?
Who invented Bacos? Think it will rain?
Lie back now. Shall I bring you some chips?
What's the answer? It's rising to your lips.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Enter Dark Stranger

William Trowbridge (b. 1941)

In "Shane" when Jack Palance first appears,
a stray cur takes one look and slinks away
on tiptoes, able, we understand, to recognize
something truly dark. So it seems when we
appear, crunching through the woods. A robin
cocks her head, then hops off,
ready to fly like hell and leave us the worm.
A chipmunk, peering out from his hole beneath
a maple root, crash dives when he hears
our step. The alarm sounds everywhere. Squirrels,
finches, butterflies flee for their lives. Imagine
a snail picking up the hems of his shell
and hauling ass for cover. He's studied carnivores,
seen the menu, noticed the escargots.

But forget Palance, who would have murdered Alabama
just for fun. Think of Karloff's monster,
full of lonely love but too hideous
to bear; or Kong, bereft of Fay Wray
shrieking in his hand: the flies buzz our heads
like angry biplanes, and the ants hoist pitchforks
to march on our ankles as we watch the burgher's daughter
bob downstream in a ring of daisies.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Vicki Hudspith (2005)

Ants are not fond of margarine. Like us they prefer
Butter. They do not have cholesterol problems
Because as yet they do not own TVs. For centuries
They have toiled in order that they might be able to
Take a night off and watch the Northern Lights which
Are their version of canned laughter. They hate picnics
But feel compelled by folklore to attend them
Or at a minimum do a drive by chicken leg grab. Their
Queen is a pain in the ass. They don't love her but
Without her they would be common, so they serve her.
She is an insatiable nymphomaniac but they don't
Hold that against her trying instead to stay busy with work.
Forgotten ancient languages have been genetically
Imprinted in them at birth and they say things they
Don't understand. Like us they often make bad marriages.
But because of their outstanding physical prowess
And humility there is seldom cause for divorce. They
Haven't read the great philosophers but they know them
Innately. They love the flowers of Spring and lacking
Perspective eagerly run all over them. They
Are much like us. They are nudists but because Puritanism
Has not invaded their genetic code, it does not
Affect their work ethic and each ant loves its own body.
Therefore they don't care about go-go boots and
Sandals. Like us, Ants are driven by their hearts and pretend
That it is all in the name of duty. Ants are never impulsive.
When they laugh, the gardens of old maids tremble. Ants
Love to dance but lack a sense of rhythm so
They gave it up when Homer scorned them. Rain is their
Sensuality. It makes them feel delirious and late. Quivering
And running between rain drops to their fate.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

How I Became Impossible

Mary Ruefle (2005)

I was born shy, congenitally unable to do anything
profitable, to see anything in color, to love plums,
with a marked aversion to traveling around the room,
which is perfectly normal in infants.
Who wrote this? were my first words.
I did not like to be torched.
More snow fell than was able to melt,
I became green-eyed and in due time traveled
to other countries where I formed opinions
on hard, cold shiny objects and soft, warm,
nappy things. Late in life I began to develop
a passion for persimmons and was absolutely delighted
when a postcard arrived for the recently departed.
I became recalcitrant, spending more and more time
with my rowboat. All my life I thought polar bears
and penguins grew up together playing side by side
on the ice, sharing the same vista, bits of blubber
and innocent lore. One day I read a scientific journal:
there are no penguins at one pole, no bears
on the other. These two, who were so long intimates
in my mind, began to drift apart, each on his own floe,
far out into the glacial seas. I realized I was becoming
impossible, more and more impossible,
and that one day it really would be true.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Burlap Sack

Jane Hirshfield (2005)

A person is full of sorrow
the way a burlap sack is full of stones or sand.
We say, "Hand me the sack,"
but we get the weight.
Heavier if left out in the rain.
To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error.
To think that grief is the self is an error.
Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags,
being careful between the trees to leave extra room.
The mule is not the load of ropes and nails and axes.
The self is not the miner nore builder nore driver.
What would it be to take the bride
and leave behind the heavy dowry?
To let the thin-ribbed mule browse in tall grasses,
its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Advice for a Stegosaurus

Jessica Goodheart (2005)

Never mind the asteroid,
the hot throat of the volcano,
a sun that daily drops into the void.

Comb the drying riverbed for drink.
Strut your bird-hipped body.
Practice a lizard grin. Don't think.

Stretch out your tail. Walk, as you must,
in a slow deliberate gait.
Don't look back, Dinosaur. Dust is dust.

You'll leave your bones, your fossil feet
and armored eye-lids.
Put your chin to the wind. Eat what you eat.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Poet at Seven

Donald Justice (1960)

And on the porch, across the upturned chair,
The boy would spread a dingy counterpane
Against the length and majesty of the rain
And on all fours crawl in it like a bear,
To lick his wounds in secret, in his lair;
And afterward, in the windy yard again,
One hand cocked back, release his paper plane,
Frail as a mayfly to the faithless air.
And summer evenings he would spin around
Faster and faster till the drunken ground
Rose up to meet him; sometimes he would squat
Among the foul weeds of the vacant lot,
Waiting for dusk and someone dear to come
And whip him down the street, but gently, home.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Catholic Encyclopedia

Maureen Bloomfield (2005)

A saint doesn't have to do too much; the penitence
Is that he refrain: from drink, in Matt Talbot's case;
From sitting, in Peregrine's. Of meat, too, it is good
To be forsworn. Food, as a genre, is best let go of,
Like Catherine of Siena eschewing everything but pus.
Pleasure, ease, comfort, satiety—all profusions unbecoming
One devoted to privation, and attribute of spiritual progress,
Where the only indulgence is eternal and plenary,
Nothing to show for the here and now, except wounds:
Ulcers on legs wrapped tight, stigmata—every blight
Useful if it oozes and announces its value as a sign.
They must have got used to it, suffering.
It must have been lovely, like falling into feathers,
So why change states in heaven, where there is only surfeit,
The vulgarity of light, songs that make the parched
Soul swoon. As Gawain and the lady, chaste
Except in intention, sported in words, bolt upright,
Folded inside the closed canopy of an ornate bed.
A prohibition is as good as a vow; denial
In the rhetoric of excess is a claim.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Robert Francis

Puckered like an old apple she lies abed,
Saying nothing and hearing nothing said,
Not seeing the birthday flowers by her head
To comfort her. She is not comforted.

The room is warm, too warm, but there is chill
Over her eyes and over her tired will.
Her hair is frost in the valley, snow on the hill.
Night is falling and the wind is still.

Monday, June 11, 2007

19 Lake Street

Chase Twichell (1981)

At last the maples
throw off their soft red buds,
and the neighbors emerge
to scrape the lawns.
New mothers wheel their offspring
up and down over the curbs,
absorbed by the awkwardness.
And which of all the elements
is the strangest?
The little spirits struggling
in their yellow blankets,
the huge trees falling to pieces?
The dismantled, oily parts
of a machine laid out on rags
like a metal picnic?
A curtain shivers. Someone is watching
the tulips enlarge in the gardens.
They force their closed,
still colorless flowers
up out of the bare dirt.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

In Shakespeare

James Richardson (2007)

In Shakespeare a lover turns into an ass
as you would expect. People confuse
their consciences with ghosts and witches.
Old men throw everything away
because they panic and can't feel their lives.
They pinch themselves, pierce themselves with twigs,
cliffs, lightning, and die—yes, finally—in glad pain.

You marry a woman you've never talked to,
a woman you thought was a boy.
Sixteen years go by as a curtain billows
once, twice. Your children are lost,
they come back, you don't remember how.
A love turns to a statue in a dress, the statue
comes back to life. Oh God, it's all so realistic
I can't stand it. Whereat I weep and sing.

Such a relief, to burst from the theatre
into our cool, imaginary streets
where we know who's who and what's what,
and command with Metrocards our destinations.
Where no one with a story struggling in him
and no one in an antiseptic corridor,
or in deserts or in downtown darkling plains,
staggers through an Act that just will not end,
eyes burning with the burning of the dead.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Posthumous Fragments

Yehuda Amichai (translated, from Hebrew, by Leon Wieseltier)

A View of the Kidron Valley from Abu Tor

Where my feet once walked
my eyes now go,
and later my memories,
and later the memories of me.
The spirit of God hovers over
what should have been water
and really is water.
The crocuses have flowered early.
They have blossomed in my corruption,
they have ripened in my desire.

First Love

I was blind to you when you loved me long ago.
I switched you for another, like Isaac,
for a smell, and a taste, and an appetite for meat,
for a fragrance of the field, and a house, and a little heat.
I have forgotten the words
of the only letter I wrote to you.
All that I remember is the taste of the glue of the stamp
on my tongue.
The fate that determined us was not really
but it was as strong and sure as the finger of the violinist
that determines the fate of a note,
though it too, is as final and as decisive
as death.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Speech to the Young
 Speech to the Progress-Toward
 (Among Them Nora and Henry III)

Gwendolyn Brooks (1991)

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,
"Even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night."
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.
Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Talking to Grief

Denise Levertov (1978)

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don't know you've been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and youself
my own dog.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Cantico Del Sole from Instigations

Ezra Pound (1915)

The thought of what America woule be like
If the Classics had a wide circulation
          Troubles my sleep,
The thought of what America,
The thought of what America,
The thought of what America would be like
If the Classics had a wide circulation
          Troubles my sleep,
Nunc dimittis, now lettest thou thy servant,
Now lettest thou thy servant
          Depart in peace.
The thought of what America,
The thought of what America,
The thought of what America would be like
If the Classics had a wide circulation...
          Oh well!
          It troubles my sleep.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What If a Much of a Which of a Wind

e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

what if a much of a which of a wind
gives the truth to summer's lie;
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
and yanks immortal stars awry?
Blow king to beggar and queen to seem
(blow friend to fiend: blow space to time)
—when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man

what if a keen of a lean wind flays
screaming hills with sleet and snow:
strangles valleys by ropes of thing
and stifles forests in white ago?
Blow hope to terror; blow seeing to blind
(blow pity to envy and soul to mind)
—whose hearts are mountains, roots are trees,
it's they shall cry hello to the spring

what if a dawn of a doom of a dream
bites this universe in two,
peels forever out of his grave
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you?
Blow soon to never and never to twice
(blow life to isn't: blow death to was)
—all nothing's only our hugest home;
the most who die, the more we live

Monday, June 4, 2007

This Is Just To Say

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Sunday, June 3, 2007


Elizabeth Macklin (2007)

I am in awe
of what I feel about you
if I let myself feel.

I have no argument with it.
I want to go on with this

marvel of not having
to disguise a thing:
I've gotten wise,

they used to say
in my parents' generation
in another style,

as wise moved along over time
getting smaller and smaller,
farther outside, and outsized.

Like the music I used to run from the room from
as soon as it started to wail from the hi-fi

before I was ever in love,
eager for the outside opinion.
Desires change over time,

and myself, I am in awe,
and disguise one thing.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Angel

William Blake (1757-1827)

I asked a thief to steal me a peach:
He turn'd up his eyes.
I ask'd a lithe lady to lie her down:
Holy and meek she cries.

As soon as I went in an angel came:
He wink'd at the thief
And smil'd at the dame,
And without one word spoke
Had a peach from the tree,
And 'twixt earnest and joke
Enjoy'd the Lady.

Friday, June 1, 2007

A Geode

Robert B. Shaw (1998)

What started out a glob of molten mud
hawked up by some Braziian volcano
back in the Pleistocene is now a rock
of unremarkable appearance, brown
as ordinary mud and baseball-size.
Picking it up produces a surprise:
besides a pleasant heftiness, a sound
of sloshing can be noticed. Vapors caught
within its cooling crust were liquified,
and linger still: a million-year-old vintage.
Although one might recall the once ubiquitous
snowstorm-in-a-glass-globe paperweights,
this offers us no view inside to gauge
the wild weather a shake or two incites.
Turbulence masked by hard opacity . . .
If we could, which would we rather see?—
age-old distillate, infant tears of the earth,
or gem-like crystal of the inner walls
harboring them like some fair reliquary?
To see the one we'd have to spill the other.
Better to keep it homely and intact,
a witness to the worth of hiddenness,
which, in regard to our own kind, we call
reticence, and in terms of higher things,
mystery. Let the elixir drench unseen
the facets that enshrine it, world without end.