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.