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.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

For You

Lawrence Raab (1987)
for Judy

I don't want to say anything about
how dark it is right now, how quiet.
Those yellow lanterns among the trees,
cars on the road beyond the forest,
I have nothing to say about them.
And there's half a moon as well
that I don't want to talk about,
like those slow clouds edged
with silver, or the few unassembled stars.
There's more to all of that than this,
of course, and you would know it
better than most, better I mean
than any other, which is only
to say I had always intended
finding you here where I could
tell you exactly what I wanted to say
as if I had nothing to say
to anyone but you.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Louise Glück (2001)

There was too much, always, then too little.
Childhood: sickness.
By the side of the bed I had a little bell—
at the other end of the bell, my mother.

Sickenss, gray rain. The dogs slept through it. They slept on the bed,
at the end of it, and it seemed to me they understood
about childhood: best to remain unconscious.

The rain made gray slats on the windows.
I sat with my book, the little bell beside me.
Without hearing a voice, I apprenticed myself to a voice.
Without seeing any sign of the spirit, I determined
to live in the spirit.

The rain faded in and out.
Month after month, in the space of a day.
Things became dreams; dreams became things.

Then I was well; the bell went back to the cupboard.
The rain ended. The dogs stood at the door,
panting to go outside.

I was well, then I was an adult.
And time went on—it was like the rain,
so much, so much, as though it was a weight that couldn't be moved.

I was a child, half sleeping.
I was sick; I was protected.

And I lived in the world of the spirit,
the world of the gray rain,
the lost, the remembered.

Then suddenly the sun was shining.
And time went on, even when there was almost none left.
And the perceived became the remembered,
the remembered, the perceived.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Philip Schultz (2007)

is this man sitting here weeping
in this swanky restaurant
on his sixty-first birthday, because
his fear grows stronger each year,
because he's still the boy running
all out to first base, believing
getting there means everything,
because of the spiders climbing
the sycamore outside his house
this morning, the elegance of
a civilization free of delusion,
because of the boyish faces
of the five dead soldiers on TV,
the stoic curiosity in their eyes,
their belief in the righteousness
of sacrifice, because innocence
is the darkest place in the universe,
because of the Iraqis on their hands
and knees looking for a bloody button,
a bitten fingernail, evidence of
their stolen significance, because
of the primitive architecture
of his dreams, the brutal egoism
of his ignorance, because he believes
in deliverance, the purity of sorrow,
the sanctity of truth, because of
the original human faces of his wife
and two boys smiling at him across
this glittering table, because of
their passion for commemoration,
their certainty that goodness continues,
because of the spiders climbing to
the elegance of each moment, because
getting there still means everything?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Breakfast Song

Elizabeth Bishop (1973)

My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue.
I kiss your funny face,
your coffee-flavored mouth.
Last night I slept with you.
Today I love you so
how can I bear to go
(as soon I must, I know)
to bed with ugly death
in that cold, filthy place,
to sleep there without you,
without the easy breath
and nightlong, limblong warmth
I've grown accustomed to?
—Nobody wants to die;
tell me it is a lie!
But no, I know it's true.
It's just the common case;
There's nothing one can do,
My love, my saving grace.
Your eyes are awfully blue
early and instant blue.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Robert Lowell (1977)

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter's vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.

But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All's misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

Monday, August 20, 2007

from Baked Alaska

John Ashbery (1993)

It will do. It's not
perfect, but it will do
until something better comes along.

It's not perfect.
It stinks. How are we
going to get out of having it
until something comes along, some ride
or other? That will return us
to the nominative case, shipshape and easy.

O but how long are you going to wait
for what you are waiting for, for
whatever is to come? Not
for long, you may be sure.
It may be here already.
Have you checked the mailbox today?

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Lawrence Raab (2000)

First you worry that you'll never get
what you want, later that you'll lose
what you have. In between
for a time you just trusted
the course of your life, assumed
things would fall into place.
Most of them did. But now,
not quite all of a sudden, every new pain
is a sign, then a promise.
Even if you didn't take death seriously
when you were young, you understood
that was the story. Your kids
leave home, your dog sleeps most of the day.
Letters arrive wanting to know
if you've planned for the future.
You walk out on the porch:
there's a field, then a mountain,
so familiar you have to look hard.
The letters say, It's never too late.
All things vanish. You know that.
All the things you love
vanish. Can you love this idea?
Is that the task? you think. To try?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Miracle Ice Cream

Adrienne Rich

Miracle's truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart.

Take what's still given: in a room's rich shadow
a woman's breasts swinging lightly as she bends.
Early now the pearl of dusk dissolves.
Late, you sit weighing the evening news,
fast-food miracles, ghostly revolutions,
the rest of your heart.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sonnet Around Stephanie

Lee Ann Brown (2001)

What rituals are in Benares?
Our little cat's grave smells of incense, earth—
three candles, three days now, burning.
Through the window from my desk I can see

them in the dark. Beneath yellow leaves
is the earth we all pressed down, turning
it over to smell it dark with ferns.
His spirit plays in shadow, we still see

it in the halls. In my mind, your self-portrait
slowly unwraps suicidal arms to show your face.
Blessed are the small, for they shall be buried.

Blown into darkness, I could only wait
for the Gift to come around again—drawn to empty space.
Blessed are the angry, for they shall be carried.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nor Am I Who I Was Then

Susan Elizabeth Howe (1997)

Far north in the county
On a clay shelf
Overlooking the valley, the house
Where I was raised holds up
The house you see and
In this way survives
Vagaries of ownership,
History, and reinterpretation.

Once modest, lower middle class,
Still it was one of a kind,
Its freshness
Green-speckled bricks
Set in maroon mortar and
Maroon-stained posts and beams
Supporting roof and flat-topped carport.

The effect was like silver-
Green pines in red dirt,
Or exotic red-leafed lettuce
They serve in fancy restaurants.
But the roof of tar
Spattered with gravel, roof
Where I myself have walked,
Is dangerous now, pitched steeper,
TV antenna gone, and covered
By standard thirty-year shingles,
Regular and buff as brick
That has grown below
Into sprawling rooms and garages
Enclosing whole lawns
Of my imagination.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I Envy Not In Any Moods

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
His license is the field of time,
Unfetter'd by a sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth,
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Cloud of Unknowing

Christopher Edgar (2001)

Is not a cloud at all
But a wall colored so efficiently
It seems to be an alley of trees
Some believe this cul de sac
Can be approached from every angle
While others consider it merely a frontage road
To remnants of summer, a disused
Anchorage inside the spiral jetty. But we
Have seen this cloud, you and I have,
Just before we set out to martinize the infidel
It was there, somewhere in the Sahara,
Hovering above an Italian restaurant
Perched on the edge of a depression. White-tunicked
Waiters with jet-black hair served us cannelloni
And Chianti yet at the same time did not
Serve us cannelloni and Chianti—but then
We were at sea as we always were in those days
On a ferry yes the Dover ferry
Everyone was heaving
Patches of sawdust everywhere on deck
Always followed by the cloud
The sun came out but it was still raining
North of Leningrad the tramline ends
We trudge through acres of mud between
Grim apartment blocks in a colorless landscape
Day for night whistling in the sleet
The mud becomes woods, beyond the woods
We finally reach the little wooden village on the far side of a hill—
Bent-bark roofs as in the poem—
With a little Orthodox church, a bit like St-Cloud
From a distance this is Old Russia I think
We meet the priest whom I like
Immediately we parted as old friends—
Never saw him again. Funny, like the
Facial expressions of the father-and-son
Pickpocket team in the Mexico City subway
June rush hour you all of a sudden turn to
Shake their hands "iQue pasa?!" They looked
As if they had seen a ghost
Probably like my own face when I lost my passport
In a dream. I was in Heathrow and hung my coat
On the convenient too convenient rack outside the duty-free shops
The Pakistani woman at the gate was very helpful
But could not help me. For some reason
I was interested only in which languages she spoke
The truth was all I wanted was for her
To say Urdu, which she did.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What the Lovers in the Old Songs Thought

John Hollander (2001)

Thinking "In the beginning was the—(What??)"
Faust tried, for openers, Wort . . . Sinn . . . Kraft . . . Tat
("Word"? "Meaning? Power?—all these reeked of creed:
He finally settled simply on "the Deed".)
But none of these would do for true Beginning:
Our ghosts were there before all those, and not
Playing love's game in which there is no winning,
But doing love's work, continuous creation
Of all the celebrated lovers' tales,
Of all the letters, all the conversation,
All the strange fictions that plain fact entails
And all the silences that bridge the void
Of words exhausted. Let us take possession
Of Origin, then like some crafty Freud
Saying "In the beginning was Repression"
Or like some cabbalist "First was the Name."
What could we literary lovers claim?

In the beginning was unlikeness? (Good!)
In the beginning was the opened door
Through which crept in the soul of all our sins?
In the beginning there was a need for more?
In the beginning there was likelihood?—
The oldest gospel of our lives begins
"In the beginning there was metaphor."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Praise In Summer

Richard Wilbur

Obscurely yet most surely called to praise,
As sometimes summer calls us all, I said
The hills are heavens full of branching ways
Where star-nosed moles fly overhead the dead;
I said the trees are mines in air, I said
See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!
And then I wondered why this mad instead
Perverts our praise to uncreation, why
Such savor's in this wrenching things awry.
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it? To praiseful eye
Should it not be enough of fresh and strange
That trees grow green, and moles can course in clay,
And sparrows sweep the ceiling of our day?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

After the Rain

Elizabeth Bishop (Key West, 1942)

After the rain the puddles are blue.
As St. Theresa said of Grace:
"There are little pools for children,
there are pools for all,
some large, some small."

The school-house in its gritty playground,
built of cement-blocks, stained with rain,
is turreted, and crenallated,
a two-dimensional
cardboard castle

where little captives, like fair ladies
mirror-charmed, gaze into blackboards.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Pole

Lawrence Raab (2000)

We were back in college, young again.
She was someone I yearned for
throughout the spring
of my senior year. In the dream
it was evening and she was having dinner
with her friends when I appeared
at the door and waved to her
until she came out onto the porch where I
was standing with a long wooden pole,
maybe five or six feet high. I said
I had brought it to her because
I'd heard she was going rock climbing.
Yes, she said, but you don't need
poles to go rock climbing. Which I knew.
From the beginning of the dream I'd been aware
that was the case. Which meant
nothing would happen between us,
although the strangeness of my gesture
didn't seem to trouble her. She smiled at me.
And in the dream I remembered where
the pole had come from. I could see it
leaning against the wall beside the blackboard
of my third or fourth grade classroom,
a long pole with a metal hook on top
used to lower the shades that covered
that room's many tall and empty windows.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Village Life

Louise Glück (2007)

The death and uncertainty that await me
as they await all men, the shadows evaluating me
because it can take time to destroy a human being,
the element of suspense
needs to be preserved—

On Sundays I walk my neighbor's dog
so she can go to church to pray for her sick mother.

The dog waits for me in the doorway. Summer and winter
we walk the same road, early morning, at the base of the escarpment.
Sometimes the dog gets away from me—for a moment or two,
I can't see him behind some trees. He's very proud of this,
this trick he brings out occasionally, and gives up again
as a favor to me—

Afterward, I go back to my house to gather firewood.

I keep in my mind images from each walk:
monarda growing by the roadside;
in early spring, the dog chasing the little gray mice

so for a while it seems possible
not to think of the hold of the body weakening, the ratio
of the body to the void shifting,

and the prayers becoming prayers for the dead.

Midday, the church bells finished. Light in excess:
still, fog blankets the meadow, so you can't see
the mountain in the distance, covered with snow and ice.

When it appears again, my neighbor thinks
her prayers are answered. So much light she can't control her happiness—
it has to burst out in language. Hello, she yells, as though
that is her best translation.

She believes in the Virgin the way I believe in the mountain,
though in one case the fog never lifts.
But each person stores his hope in a different place.

I make my soup, I pour my glass of wine.
I'm tense, like a child approaching adolescence.
Soon it will be decided for certain what you are,
one thing, a boy or a girl. Not both any longer.
And the child thinks: I want to have a say in what happens.
But the child has no say whatsoever.

When I was a child, I did not foresee this.

Later, the sun sets, the shadows gather,
rustling the low bushes like animals just awake for the night.
Inside, there's only firelight. It fades slowly;
now only the heaviest wood's still
flickering across the shelves of instruments.
I hear music coming from them sometimes,
even locked in their cases.

When I was a bird, I believed I would be a man.
That's the flute. And the horn answers,
When I was a man, I cried out to be a bird.
Then the music vanishes. And the secret it confides in me
vanishes also.

In the window, the moon is hanging over the earth,
meaningless but full of messages.

It's dead, it's always been dead,
but it pretends to be something else,
burning like a star, and convincingly, so that you feel sometimes
it could actually make something grow on earth.

If there's an image of the soul, I think that's what it is.

I move through the dark as though it were natural to me,
as though I were already a factor in it.
Tranquil and still, the day dawns.
On market day, I go to the market with my lettuces.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Strugnell's Bargain

Wendy Cope (b. 1945)

My true love hath my heart and I have hers:
We swapped last Tuesday and we felt elated
But now, whenever one of us refers
To "my heart," things get rather complicated.
Just now, when she complained "My heart is racing,"
"You mean my heart is racing," I replied.
"That's what I said." "You mean the heart replacing
Your heart my love." "Oh piss off, Jake!" she cried.
I ask you, do you think Sir Philip Sydney
Got spoken to like that? And I suspect
If I threw in my liver and a kidney
She'd still address me with as scant respect.
Therefore do I revoke my opening line:
My love can keep her heart and I'll have mine.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Make Big Money at Home!
Write Poems in Spare Time!

Howard Nemerov (1962)

Oliver wanted to write about reality.
He sat before a wooden table,
He poised his wooden pencil
Above his pad of wooden paper,
And attempted to think about agony
And history, and the meaning of history,
And all stuff like that there.

Suddenly this wooden thought got in his head:
A Tree. That's all, no more than that,
Just one tree, not even a note
As to whether it was a deciduous
Or evergreen, or even where it stood.
Still, because it came unbidden,
It was inspiration, and had to be dealt with.

Oliver hoped that this particular tree
Would turn out to be fashionable,
The axle of the universe, maybe,
Or some other mythologically
Respectable tree-contraption
With dryads, or having to do
With the knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Fall.

"A Tree," he wrote down with his wooden pencil
Upon his pad of wooden paper
Supported by the wooden table.
And while he sat there waiting
For what would come next to come next,
The whole wooden house began to become
Silent, particularly silent, sinisterly so.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Angela Ball (2001)

I'd like to know everything
A jazz artist knows, starting with the song
"Goodby Pork Pie Hat."

Like to make a some songs myself:
"Goodbye Rickshaw,"
"Goodbye Lemondrop,"
"Goodbye Rendezvous."

Or maybe even blues:

If you fall in love with me I'll make you pancakes
All morning. If you fall in love with me
I'll make you pancakes all night.
If you don't like pancakes
We'll go to the creperie. If you don't like pancakes
We'll go to the creperie.
If you don't like to eat, handsome boy,
Don't you hang around with me.

On second thought, I'd rather find
The fanciest music I can, and hear all of it.

I'd rather love somebody
And say his name to myself every day
Until I fall apart.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

American Light

Lawrence Raab (2000)

In those days a traveler prepared himself
to be astonished. There were wonders
in every direction—the mountains stupendous,
the precipices lofty, the waters
profoundly deep. No one settled for anything
less than the sublime. Don't fool yourself.
You also would have cherished the Idea
of Nature, how inside it a better self
lives to repair whatever might befall you—
any calamity, any disgrace.
That is the world without encumberance,
that famous light trembling across it.
Consider the hush of the storm on the far horizon,
that abandoned boat by the shore. And further west—
woods of the dimmest shade, the solitude
utter and unbroken. Now you've climbed
some great cliff. You're feeling
like a new man, overwhelmed
by everything you can see, certain
this world will never fail you.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Rider

Sarah Manguso (2001)

Some believe the end will come in the form of a mathematical equation.
Others believe it will descend as a shining horse.
I calculate the probabilities to be even at fifty percent:
Either a thing will happen or it won't.
I open a window,
I unmake the bed,
Somehow, I am moving closer to the equation or to the horse with everything I do.
Death comes in the form of a horse covered in shining equations.
There will be no further clues, I see.
I begin to read my horse.
The equations are drawn in the shapes of horses:
Horses are covered in equations.
I am tempted to hook an ankle around the world as I ride away.
For I am about to ride far beyond the low prarie of beginnings and endings.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Element It Has

Glyn Maxwell (2007)

It may not be the same, what we appear
to thrive or slow or fade in, though across
its white expanses steadily we stare;

the only common element it has
is loss, and it may differ in the terms
it gives it. And it thickens with the days,

thins in the night as if it more than seems
a carbon thing, afflicted, prone to what?
To us, as if obscurely hopes or harms

can come to it, as if it walks the street
in love, abashed, abused, as if it, too
expands to wonder at the point of it,

contracts to desperation in the blue
morning, helplessly expands anew.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Alarm

Charles Simic (2004)

The hundreds of windows filling with faces
Because of something that happened on the street,
Something no one is able to explain,
Because there was no fire engine, no scream, no gunshot,
And yet here they all are assembled,
Some with hands over their children's eyes,
Others leaning out and shouting
To people walking the streets far below
With the same composure and serene appearance
Of those going for a Sunday stroll
In some other century, less violent than ours.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Jersey Rain

Robert Pinsky (2001)

Now near the end of the middle stretch of road
What have I learned? Some earthly wiles. An art.
That often I cannot tell good fortune from bad,
That once had seemed so easy to tell apart.

The source of art and woe aslant in wind
Dissolves or nourishes everything it touches.
What roadbank gullies and ruts it doesn't mend
It carves the deeper, boiling tawny in ditches.

It spends itself regardless into the ocean.
It stains and scours and makes things dark or bright:
Sweat of the moon, a shroud of benediction,
The chilly liquefaction of day to night,

The Jersey rain, my rain, soaks all as one:
It smites Metuchen, Rahway, Saddle River,
Fair Haven, Newark, Little Silver, Bayonne.
I feel it churning even in fair weather

To craze distinction, dry the same as wet.
In ripples of heat the August drought still feeds
Vapors in the sky that swell to drench my state—
The Jersey rain, my rain, in streams and beads

Of indissoluble grudge and aspiration:
Original milk, replenisher of grief,
Descending destroyer, arrowed source of passion,
Silver and black, executioner, font of life.