Friday, November 30, 2007

The Unknown Citizen

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he served the Greater Community.
Except of the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on the Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year;
When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Silver Gelatin

August Kleinzahler (1996)

He was watching, looking down at the park
from the 14th floor, waiting.
There is an hour, an afternoon light
well along into winter.

The angle she made with the pram
as she moved past the fountain
could not possibly be improved upon.
Her black hat,

the fur collar and padded shoulders—
a solitary young domestic,
caught through a net of griseous branches,
is getting the baby home before dinner,

home long before dark.
It is terribly cold.
She leans forward, pushing in haste.
At her own now extreme angle

and with the black coat and hat,
the pram underneath her,
the snow underfoot,
she looks, for all the world, from here,

a broken-off piece of Chinese ideogram
moving across the page.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

Old Euclid drew a circle
On a sand-beach long ago.
He bounded and enclosed it
With angles thus and so.
His set of solemn greybeards
Nodded and argued much
Of arc and of circumference,
Diameter and such.
A silent child stood by them
From morning until noon
Because they drew such charming
Round pictures of the moon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Still Here

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

I've been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me, sun has baked me.
Looks like between 'em
They done tried to make me
Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'—
But I don't care!
I'm still here!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself

Wallace Stevens (1954)

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
In early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow...
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier-maché...
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry—it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Unknown

Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950)

Ye aspiring ones, listen to the story of the unknown
Who lies here with no stone to mark the place.
As a boy reckless and wanton,
Wandering with gun in hand through the forest
Near the mansion of Aaron Hatfield,
I shot a hawk perched on the top
Of a dead tree.
He fell with guttural cry
At my feet, his wing broken.
Then I put him in a cage
Where he lived many days cawing angrily at me
When I offered him food.
Daily I search the realms of Hades
For the soul of the hawk,
That I may offer him the friendship
Of one whom life wounded and caged.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Say Uncle

Kay Ryan (2000)

Every day
you say,
Just one
more try.
Then another
day slips by.
You will
say ankle,
you will
say knuckle;
why won't
you why
won't you
say uncle?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ordinary Life

Adam Zagajewski (2007)
translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh

Our life is ordinary,
I read in a crumpled paper
abandoned on a bench.
Our life is ordinary,
the philosophers told me.

Ordinary life, ordinary days and cares,
a concert, a conversation,
strolls on the town's outskirts,
good news, bad—

but objects and thoughts
were unfinished somehow,
rough drafts.

Houses and trees
desired something more
and in summer green meadows
covered the volcanic planet
like an overcoat tossed upon the ocean.

Black cinemas crave light.
Forests breathe feverishly,
clouds sing softly,
a golden oriole prays for rain.
Ordinary life desires.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Louise Glück (1975)

Do not think I am not grateful for your small
kindness to me.
I like small kindnesses.
In fact I actually prefer them to the more
substantial kindness, that is always eying you
like a large animal on a rug,
until your whole life reduces
to nothing but waking up morning after morning
cramped, and the bright sun shining on its tusks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In My Craft or Sullen Art

Dylan Thomas (1946)

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still of night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Elise Paschen (1996)

The journey's tough:
troughs or else shoals
challenge each crossing.
We navigate
the Avenue:
do we change course
or simply sail
the puddle's ocean?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Great Dog Poem No. 2

Mark Strand (1996)

Now that the great dog I worshipped for years
Has become none other than myself, I can look within

And bark, and I can look at the mountains down the street
And bark at them as well. I am an eye that sees itself

Look bak, a nose that tracks the scent of shadows
As they fall, an ear that picks up sounds

Before they are born. I am the last of the platinum
Retrievers, the end of a gorgeous line.

But there's not comfort being who I am. I roam around
And ponder fate's abolishments until my eyes

Are filled with tears and I say to myself, "Oh, Rex,
Forget. Forget. The stars are out. The marble moon slides by."

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Frank O'Hara (1950)

The eager note on my door said "Call me,
call when you get in!" so I quickly threw
a few tangerines into my overnight bag,
straightened my eyelids and shoulders, and

headed straight for the door. It was autumn
by the time I got around the corner, oh all
unwilling to be either pertinent or bemused, but
the leaves were brighter than grass on the sidewalk!

Funny, I thought, that the lights are on this late
and the hall door open; still up at this hour, a
champion jai-alai player like himself? Oh fie!
for shame! What a host, so zealous! And he was

there in the hall, flat on a sheet of blood that
ran down the stairs. I did appreciate it. There are few
hosts who so thoroughly prepare to greet a guest
only casually invited, and that several months ago.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It Was Like This: You Were Happy

Jane Hirshfield (2003)

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, you life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with a simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is now a thing only for others.

It doesn't matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hay for the Horses

Gary Snyder (1958)

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.

With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.

At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
—The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Rita Dove (b. 1952)

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Future In Lilacs

Robert Hass (2007)

"Tender little Buddha," she said
Of my least Buddha-like member.
She was probably quoting Allen Ginsberg,
Who was probably paraphrasing Walt Whitman.
After the Civil War, after the death of Lincoln,
That was a good time to own railroad stocks,
But Whitman was in the Library of Congress,
Researching alternative Americas,
Reading up on the curiosities of Hindoo philosophy,
Studying the etchings of stone carvings
Of strange couplings in a book.

She was taking off a blouse,
Almost transparent, the color of a silky tangerine.
From Capitol Hill Walt Whitman must have been able to see
Willows gathering the river haze
In the cooling and still-humid twilight.
He was in love with a trolley conductor
In the summer of—what was it?—1867? 1868?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Great Figure

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

inspired Charles Demuth's painting (click for info):

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cool Clay

Gary Snyder (2005)

In a swarm of yellow jackets
a squirrel drinks water
feet in the cool clay, head way down.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Her Sadness

Denise Levertov (1981)

When days are short,
mountains already
white-headed, the west
red in its branchy
leafless nest, I know

more than a simple
sow should know.

I know
the days of a pig—

and the days of dogbrothers, catpigs,
cud-chewing cowfriends—
are numbered,

even the days of
Sylvia the Pet,

even the days
of humans are numbered.

laps are denied me,
I cannot be cuddled,
they scratch my ears
as if I were anypig, fattening for bacon.

I shall grow heavier still,
even though I walk
for miles with my Humans,
through field and forest.

weighs on my shoulders,
I know
too much about Time for a pig.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

When We Look Up

Denise Levertov

He had not looked,
pitiful man whom none

pity, whom all
must pity if they look

into their own face (given
only by glass, steel, water
barely known) all
who look up

to see-how many
faces? How many

seen in a lifetime? (Not those that flash by, but those

into which the gaze wanders
and is lost

and returns to tell
Here is a mystery,

a person, an
other, an I?

Count them.
Who are five million?)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tiger, Tiger

William Blake (1757-1827)

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of they heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger burning bright
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame they fearful symmetry?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Japanese Garden

Jean Valentine (2007)

The Japanese garden
is tilting quietly uphill—

eleven wet green stones,
bamboo, and ferns—

It might be under water,
the birds be fish, colored in. And you,

masked reader: the glance
of your underwater lamp,

your blackwater embrace—
not bought or sold.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Search

W.S. Merwin (1973)

When I look for you everything falls silent
a crowd seeing a ghost
it is true

yet I keep on trying to come toward you
looking for you
roads have been paved but many paths have gone
footprint by footprint
that led home
to you
when roads already led nowhere

still I go on hoping
as I look for you
one heart walking in long dry grass
on a hill

around me birds vanish into the air
shadows flow into the ground

before me stones begin to go out like candles
guiding me

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Shock

W.H. Auden (1972)

Housman was perfectly right:
our world rapidly worsens.
Nothing now is so horrid
or silly it can't occur;
still, I'm stumped by what happened
to upper-middle-class me,
born in '07, that is,
the same time as "Elektra,"
gun-shy, myopic grandchild
of Anglican clergymen,
suspicious of all passion,
including passionate love,
daydreaming of leafy dells
that shelter carefree shepherds,
averse to violent weather,
pained by the predator beasts,
shocked by boxing and blood sports,
when I, I, I, if you please,
at Schwechat Flughafen was
frisked by a cop for weapons.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Bath Tub

Ezra Pound (1185-1972)

As a bathtub lined with white porcelain,
When the hot water gives out or goes tepid,
So is the slow cooling of our chivalrous passion,
O my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Second Time Around

Carolyn Kizer (1998)

You're entangled with someone more famous than you
Who happens to vanish.
You marry again in haste, perhaps to a nurse
Or your late wife's good friend,
Someone whose name will never appear in print
Except, perhaps, in your entry for Who's Who;
Someone obliging and neutral, not too good looking
To whom you say, "Darling, the supper was excellent."
Free, now, of that brilliant aura, that physical dazzle
That you always acknowledged, insisting
You relished her fame, believing you meant it,
And love her you did, but you're so relieved she's gone.

How sweet to embrace the mundane, endorse the ordinary,
In its starchy smock or its ruffled apron,
Saying, "Bronwyn—or Carole, or Elsie—
Suits me down to the ground." The ground.
There's to be no more celestial navigation;
It's the end of smart missives, of aerial bombardment.
One can relax, and slump into being human.

Sometimes you sift through her papers
When you're bereft of ideas,
Though of course ideas are not what stimulates art:
It's snapshots of people in old-fashioned bathing suits,
The man she saw by the road with the three-legged dog,
That week in Venice when it never stopped raining, the odor
Of freshly washed hair when she dried it in sunlight . . .
Something she lightly sketched in that needs fleshing out.

Could you? Should you? You put it to one side.
With a minor effort of will you stop thinking about her,
And decide instead to update your vita,
Or work some more on that old piece
On Descartes that has always given you trouble.
And Bronwyn, or Elsie, or Carole
Comes tiptoeing into your study with a nice cup of coffee.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Daemon

Louise Bogan (1929)

Must I tell again
In the words I know
For the ears of men
The flesh, the blow?

Must I show outright
The bruise in the side,
The halt in the night,
And how death cried?

Must I speak to the lot
Who little bore?
It said Why not?
It said Once more.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Mark Strand (2004)

A white room and a party going on
and I was standing with some friends
under a large gilt-framed mirror
that tilted slightly forward
over the fireplace.
We were drinking whiskey
and some of us, feeling no pain,
were trying to decide
what precise shade of yellow
the setting sun turned our drinks.
I closed my eyes briefly,
then looked up into the mirror:
a woman in a green dress leaned
against the far wall.
She seemed distracted,
the fingers of one hand
fidgeted with her necklace,
and she was staring into the mirror,
not at me but past me, into a space
that might be filled by someone
yet to arrive, who at that moment
could be starting the journey
which would lead eventually to her.
Then, suddenly, my friends
said it was time to move on
to the next party.
This was years ago,
and though I have forgotten
where we went and who we all were,
I still recall that moment of looking up
and seeing the woman stare past me
into a place I could only imagine,
and each time it is with a pang,
as if just then I were stepping
from the depths of the mirror
into that white room, breathless and eager,
only to discover too late
that she is not there.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Sleepwalker

Richard Wilbur (2004)

Like an axe-head sunk in a stump,
His face is wedged into the pillow's dark,
The nose and mouth scarcely breathing,
The mind without a picture.

But now a window shade
Floats inward, to admit the ashen moonlight,
Hovers, and then in haste falls back
To crash against the screen.

In a room like this, a harrowing
Dream takes shape, although he can't yet tell
Whether abductors keep him here
Or foes without besiege him.

Afoot now in that dream,
He moves through half-familiar shapes, through shapes
Made vague as if by attic dust
Or oxides undersea,

Until a doorknob's glint
Alerts him, and the opening door reveals
Obsidian gloom from which emerge
Eight shoe-tips in a row.

Shutting the door against
That bodliess surveillance, he begins
To waken, and his eyes to clear,
Conforming room to room

And shaking off the dream
For good, except that later on, in daylight,
Walking down the street or corridor
Upon a clear-cut errand,

His mood will briefly yield
To an odd notion like an undertow,
A sense that he is mortally
Beset, and in need of ransom.