Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In Those Days

John Ashbery (2004)

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

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

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

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

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

open to all kinds of interpretations.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Stephen Dunn (2000)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2007


Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Imaginary Iceberg

Elizabeth Bishop (b. 1911)

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Stolen Television Set

Susan Elizabeth Howe (1997)

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Man and Derailment

Dan Chiasson (2007)

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Green Hills

Kay Ryan (2000)

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Things Shouldn't Be So Hard

Kay Ryan (2001)

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

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Coat

Alan Shapiro (1998)

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

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

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Twenty-Four Years

Dylan Thomas

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

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Counting on Flowers

John Ciardi (1916-1986)

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

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wheeling Motel

Franz Wright (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Self-Portrait at Twenty Years

Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003)

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Leaving the Motel

W. D. Snodgrass (b. 1926)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Carpe Diem

Judson Jerome (b. 1927)

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

Among These Turf-Stacks

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

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

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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Short-order Cook

Jim Daniels (b. 1956)

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The River of Life

Thomas Campbell (1174-1844)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2007

For My Contemporaries

J.V. Cunningham (1911-1985)

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 11, 2007

After the Philharmonic

James Camp (b. 1923)

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dear Mom

Joan Nielson (2007)

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Fabliau of Florida

Wallace Stevens (1923)

Barque of phosphor
On the palmy beach,

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

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

Fill your black hull
With white moonlight.

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

Monday, October 8, 2007

Programming Down on the Farm

Michael Spence (1985)

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

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Cornelius Eady (2007)

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

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Louise Glück (1992)

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

Friday, October 5, 2007


William Carlos Williams

As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right

then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mother to Son

Langston Hughes (1926)

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Garden

Ezra Pound (1913)

En robe de parade.samain

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I Am Vertical

Sylvia Plath (1961)

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

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

Monday, October 1, 2007

Why I Am a Witch

Susan Elizabeth Howe (1997)

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