Thursday, January 31, 2008

To fight aloud, is very brave

Emily Dickinson

To fight aloud, is very brave—
But gallanter, I know
Who charge with the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe—

Who wins, and nations do not see—
Who fall—and none observe—
Whose dying eyes, no Country
Regards with patriot love—

We trust, in plumed procession
For such, the Angels go—
Rank after Rank, with even feet—
And Uniforms of Snow.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Places, Loved Ones

Philip Larkin (1954)

No, I have never found
The place where I could say
This is my proper ground,
Here I shall stay;
Nor met that special one
Who has an instant claim
On everything I own
Down to my name;

To find such seems to prove
You want no choice in where
To build, or whom to love;
You ask them to bear
You off irrevocably,
So that it's not your fault
Should the town turn dreary,
The girl a dolt.

Yet, having missed them, you're
Bound, none the less, to act
As if what you settled for
Mashed you, in fact;
And wiser to keep away
From thinking you still might trace
Uncalled-for to this day
Your person, your place.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines

Dylan Thomas

Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

A candle in the thighs
Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;
Where no seed stirs,
The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,
Bright as a fig;
Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs.

Dawn breaks behind the eyes;
From poles of skull and toe the windy blood
Slides like a sea;
Nor fenced, nor staked, the gushers of the sky
Spout to the rod
Divining in a smile the oil of tears.

Night in the sockets rounds,
Like some pitch moon, the limit of the globes;
Day lights the bone;
Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin
The winter's robes;
The film of spring is hanging from the lids.

Light breaks on secret lots,
On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics dies,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1839)

Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sunday, January 27, 2008

In One Place

Robert Wallace

holds up two or three leaves
the first year,

and climbs
and branches, summer
by summer,

till birds
in it don't remember
it wasn't there.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tasting Freedom

from responses by
the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (2008)
in Fort Greeley, Alaska,
to a recent survey on new Meals Ready to Eat.

The vanilla pudding is so good I ripped it open,
licked the inside, and rolled around on top of
it like a dog.
Am I supposed to add water to the peanut but-
ter dessert?
Shitcan the meat chunk and give out more granola.
I don't personally like the cheese, but I can
trade with it.
Should add Copenhagen dip.
Why in God's name would you put a vegetable in
a MRE?
It sounded like a flatulence symphony in my
tent all night.
The way it turned my mouth blue flooded my
mind with childhood memories, and for a
moment I was at peace.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Met a Seducer

Grace Paley (2008)

One day a seducer met a seducer
now said one     what do we do
fly into each other's arms said
the other     ugh said one     they turned
stood back to back     one
looked over one's shoulder     smiled
shyly     other turned seconds
too late     made a lovelier
shy smile     oh my dear said other
my own dear     said one

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Aileen Fisher

Trees just stand around all day
and sun themselves and rest.

They never walk or run away
and surely that is best.

For otherwise how would a
squirrel or robin find its nest?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

They talk of short-lived pleasure—be it so—
Pain dies as quickly: stem, hard-featured pain
Expires, and lets her weary prisoner go.
The fiercest agonies have shortest reign;
And after dreams of horror, comes again
The welcome morning with its rays of peace.
Oblivion, softly wiping out the stain,
Makes the strong secret pangs of shame to cease.
Remorse is virtue's root; its fair increase
Are fruits of innocence and blessedness:
Thus joy, o'erborne and bound, doth still release
His young limbs from the chains that round him press.
Weep not that the world changes—did it keep
A stable changeless state, 'twere cause indeed to weep.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

from Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)


Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young Lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound!
We in thought will join your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

→ The complete poem

Monday, January 21, 2008


Ciaran Carson (2008)

Irrevocable? Never irrevocable, you said,
picking me up wrong through the din of the coffee machine.

We were in the Ulster Milk Bar I think they blew up back
in the seventies. We must have been barely acquainted.

Noise is what surrounds us, I’d said earlier, gesturing
to the wider world of disinformation, the dizzy

spells that come when someone you know might have been in a bomb
as the toll has not yet been reckoned except by hearsay.

I’d have my ear glued to the radio, waiting for what
passed for the truth to come out, men picking through the rubble.

Some of the victims would appear in wedding photographs
blinded by a light forever gone. Graveside by graveside

I shake hands with men I have not shaken hands with for years,
trying to make out their faces through what they have become.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sence You Went Away

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

Seems lak to me de stars don't shine so bright,
Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,
Seems lak to me der's nothin' goin' right,
Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me de sky ain't half so blue,
Seems lak to me dat ev'ything wants you,
Seems lak to me I don't know what to do,
Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me dat ev'ything is wrong,
Seems lak to me de day's jes twice es long,
Seems lak to me de bird's forgot his song,
Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me I jes can't he'p but sigh,
Seems lak to me ma th'oat keeps gittin' dry,
Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,
Sence you went away.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Patent Pending

Hugo Williams (2007)

The slightest movement of the body,
whether of genuine revival
or only a false alarm
caused by pockets of air
trapped in the abdomen,
triggers a sensitive
release mechanism
housed in a spring-loaded ball
positioned over the heart.

If this ball is disturbed
by so much as a twitching nerve-end,
a message is transmitted
to a box on the surface,
which immediately flies open,
admitting air to the coffin.
A flag rises in warning,
a bell rings for half an hour,
a lamp burns after sunset.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Panther

Ranier Maria Rilke
translated by Robert Bly

Jardin des Plantes, Paris

From seeing and seeing the seeing has become so exhausted
it no longer sees anything anymore.
The world is made of bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
that slowly circles down to a single point
is like a dance of energy around a hub,
in which a great will stands stunned and numbed.

At times the curtains of the eye lift
without a sound—then a shape enters,
slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart and dies.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Chambered Nautilus

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr (1809-1894)

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sail the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn;
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Men At Forty

Donald Justice (1925-2004)

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it moving
Beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices tying
His father's tie there in secret,

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Man and Camel

Mark Strand (2004)

On the eve of my fortieth birthday
I sat on the porch having a smoke
when out of the blue a man and a camel
happened by. Neither uttered a sound
at first, but as they drifted up the street
and out of town the two of them began to sing.
Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me—
the words were indistinct and the tune
too ornamental to recall. Into the desert
they went and as they went their voices
rose as one above the sifting sound
of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing,
its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed
an ideal image for all uncommon couples.
Was this the night that I had waited for
so long? I wanted to believe it was,
but just as they were vanishing, the man
and camel ceased to sing, and galloped
back to town. They stood before my porch,
staring up at me with beady eyes, and said:
“You ruined it. You ruined it forever.”

Monday, January 14, 2008

To My Twenties

Kenneth Koch (2002)

How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman--
O woman! O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
A palm tree, hey! And then another
And another--and water!
I'm still very impressed by you. Whither,
Midst falling decades, have you gone? Oh in what lucky fellow,
For the moment in any case, do you live now?
From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I fund there on
The street instead, a good friend,
X---------- N---------, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes! I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time! In you I marry,
In you I first go to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies. I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living. I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren't a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Visiting the Library in a Strange City

Franz Wright (2007)

The words reappear, slowly
on a vast unknown
but precise number of pages

as I enter: the great building
empty of visitors
except for me, reading
the minds of the dead—

moving with exaggerated
and slow-motion care,
as when assigned to lead
the blind kid to his classroom

forty years ago,
down rows
between dusty volumes, a light
snow beginning.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ars Poetica

Vicente Huidobro
translated from Spanish

May poetry be like a key
That opens a thousand doors.
A leaf falls. Another flies by.
May as much as the eye can see be created
And may the soul (that hears) tremble forever.

Invent new worlds and cultivate the word.
An adjective, when it does not give life, kills it.
We are in the cycle of nerves—
Our muscles hang
Like memories, in museums,
But our strength is not diminished.
True vigor
Resides in the head.

Poets! Why sing of roses?
Make them blossom in your poems!
Only there, for each of us
Lives everything under the sun.

A poet is like a small god.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Peace of Wild Things

Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When Geometric Diagrams and Digits

Novalis (1800)
translated by Robert Bly

When geometric diagrams and digits
Are no longer the keys to living things,
When people who go about singing and kissing
Know deeper things than the great scholars,
When society is returned once more
To unimprisoned life, and to the universe,
And when life and darkness mate
Once more and make something entirely transparent,
And people see in poems and fairy tales
The true history of the world,
Then our entire twisted nature will turn
And run when a single secret word is spoken.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Geckos In Obscure Light

William Logan (2007)

Tentative, greedy, by night they came,
drawn to the insects drawn to the light.

Their shadow organs pulsed
beneath bellies distended as Falstaff's,

backs a tarnished armor studded
with the rosettes of some obscure disease.

What of their victims, the cannon fodder,
Welsh soldiery thrown each night

against the muzzle flare? Ragged, high-strung moths,
green lacewings streamlined like F-16s—

the geckos, like great officers and kings,
took them into their mouths, more or less

at leisure, with a gratifying snap.
Silently, of course, through the pane of glass,

where death comes only on a smaller scale.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Nothing Ventured

Kay Ryan (2000)

Nothing exists as a block
and cannot be parceled up.
So if nothing's ventured
it's not just talk;
it's the big wager.
Don't you wonder
how people think
the banks of space
and time don't matter?
How they'll drain
the big tanks down to
slime and salamanders
and want thanks?

Monday, January 7, 2008


Jeanne Frank

Home from the nightshift,
he watches the snow
as it blows and drifts
at the back doorstep,
and curses it to hell.
His workclothes smell
of sweat and the breath
of engines, as he takes
his shovel, shoulders it,
and goes out, tarnishing
the moonlight; miner
in a field of diamonds.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Sharon Olds (2008)

They tell you it won't make much sense, at first,
you will have to learn the terrain. They tell you this
at thirty, and fifty, and some are late
beginners, at last lying down and walking
the old earth of the breasts— the small,
cobbled, plowed field of one,
with a listening walking, and then the other—
fingertip-stepping, divining, north
to south, east to west, sectioning
the little fallen hills, sweeping
for mines. And the matter feels primordial,
cystic, phthistic, each breast like the innards
of a cell, its contents shifting and changing,
steambed gravel under walking feet, it
seems almost unpicturable, not
immemorial, but nearly un-
memorizable, but one marches,
slowly, through grave or fatal danger,
or no danger, one feels around in the
two tack-room drawers, ribs and
knots like leather bridles and plaited
harnesses and bits and reins,
one runs one's hands through the mortal tackle
in a jumble, in the dark, indoors. Outside—
night, in which these glossy ones were
ridden to a froth of starlight, bareback.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Emperor of Ice Cream

Wallace Stevens

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Friday, January 4, 2008


A.R. Ammons

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I'll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Darkling Thrush

Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Te Deum

Charles Reznikoff (1976)

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day's work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Robert Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth—
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had the flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?—
If design govern in a thing so small.