Monday, March 31, 2008


Gerald Costanzo (b. 1945)

Grandpa said potatoes
reminded him of school.

Potatoes and school.
He said he'd wake nearly

freezing, kindle a fire
and throw two potatoes

on. Going to school
he carried them to
warm his hands. To
warm his feet he ran.

He said by noontime
those potatoes almost

froze, said he ate a lot
of cold potatoes for lunch.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Richard Wilbur

Tree-leaves which, till the growing season's done,
Change into wood the powers of the sun,

Take from that radiance only reds and blues.
Green is the color that they cannot use,

And so their rustling myriads are seen
To wear all summer an extraneous green,

A green with no apparent role, unless
To be the symbol of a great largesse

Which has no end, though autumns may revoke
That shade from yellowed ash and rusted oak.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Invitation to a Ghost

Donald Justice (1993)

for Henri Coulette (1927-1988)

I ask you to come back now as you were in youth,
Confident, eager, and the silver brushed from your temples.
Let it be as though a man could go backwards through death,
Erasing the years that did not much count,
Or that added up perhaps to no more than a single brilliant forenoon.

Sit with us. Let it be as it was in those days
When alchohol brought our tongues the first sweet foretaste of oblivion
And what should we speak of but verse? For who would speak of
such things now but among friends?
(A bad line, an atrocious line, could make you wince; we have all seen it.)

I see you again turn toward the cold and battering sea.
Gull shadows darken the skylight; a wind keens among the chimney pots,
Your hand trembles a little.
What year was that?

Correct me if I remember it badly,
But was there not a dream, sweet but also terrible,
In which Eurydice, strangely, preceded you?
And you followed, knowing exactly what to expect, and of course she
did turn.
Come back now and help me with these verses.
Whisper to me some beautiful secret that you remember from life.

Friday, March 28, 2008

My Childhood's Home I See Again

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)


My childhood's home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There's pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world
'Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that's earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away;

As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar—
So memory will hallow all
We've known, but know no more.

Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.

Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.

I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Louise Glück (2008)

The light stays longer in the sky, but it’s a cold light,
it brings no relief from winter.

My neighbor stares out the window,
talking to her dog. He’s sniffing the garden,
trying to reach a decision about the dead flowers.

It’s a little early for all this.
Everything’s still very bare—
nevertheless, something’s different today from yesterday.

We can see the mountain: the peak’s glittering where the ice catches the light.
But on the sides the snow’s melted, exposing bare rock.

My neighbor’s calling the dog, making her unconvincing doglike sounds.
The dog’s polite; he raises his head when she calls,
but he doesn’t move. So she goes on calling,
her failed bark slowly deteriorating into a human voice.

All her life she dreamed of living by the sea
but fate didn’t put her there.
It laughed at her dreams;
it locked her up in the hills, where no one escapes.

The sun beats down on the earth, the earth flourishes.
And every winter, it’s as though the rock underneath the earth rises
higher and higher and the earth becomes rock, cold and rejecting.

She says hope killed her parents, it killed her grandparents.
It rose up each spring with the wheat
and died between the heat of summer and the raw cold.
In the end, they told her to live near the sea,
as though that would make a difference.

By late spring she’ll be garrulous, but now she’s down to two words,
never and only, to express this sense that life’s cheated her.

Never the cries of the gulls, only, in summer, the crickets, cicadas.
Only the smell of the field, when all she wanted
was the smell of the sea, of disappearance.

The sky above the fields has turned a sort of grayish pink
as the sun sinks. The clouds are silk yarn, magenta and crimson.

And everywhere the earth is rustling, not lying still.
And the dog senses this stirring; his ears twitch.

He walks back and forth, vaguely remembering
from other years this elation. The season of discoveries
is beginning. Always the same discoveries, but to the dog
intoxicating and new, not duplicitous.

I tell my neighbor we’ll be like this
when we lose our memories. I ask her if she’s ever seen the sea
and she says, once, in a movie.
It was a sad story, nothing worked out at all.

The lovers part. The sea hammers the shore, the mark each wave leaves
wiped out by the wave that follows.
Never accumulation, never one wave trying to build on another,
never the promise of shelter—

The sea doesn’t change as the earth changes;
it doesn’t lie.
You ask the sea, what can you promise me
and it speaks the truth; it says erasure.

Finally the dog goes in.
We watch the crescent moon,
very faint at first, then clearer and clearer
as the night grows dark.
Soon it will be the sky of early spring, stretching above the stubborn ferns and

Nothing can be forced to live.
The earth is like a drug now, like a voice from far away,
a lover or master. In the end, you do what the voice tells you.
It says forget, you forget.
It says begin again, you begin again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Comments for the Czarina

Catherine Wing (2005)

That night even the moon was living
in a puddle, milky, watered-down
version of nightscape, flapping
its wings on the margins of murk.

Someone somewhere was
speaking of Cary Grant
in a restaurant dressed in voodoo lilies:
Vietnamese to L'Orangerie.

"Well," said our river-pirate, currently
writing a survival guide to small engines,
"It won't always be like buckshot
dropping in a bucket."

Meanwhile, a ways back
in the same line, a man was facing
a long commute in colloquial Bulgarian,
this rocket scientist with a

Wall Street focus to whom
someone was whispering, "Excuse me,
do you know the way
to the rickshaw dealership?"

Then five minutes of weather
and the melody of maritime
tragedy on the radio as
the clever-jack-chronicler,

who believes there is no such thing
to which everything corresponds,
cries out in his sleep,
"forbici, forbici, forbici."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tell Them

Catherine Wing (2005)
in response to John Stammers

Tell them all what you have done:
tell the sea and tell the sun;
the riptide as it carries off a child;
the weather, whether calm or wild;
gas attendants; postal clerks;
the priest; the president; the soda jerk.
Confess it quietly to recycling bins;
tell the sardines in their sardine tins.
Announce it to the media; swear it at the bar;
browse it in the library and translate near and far.
Declare it at the altar or on the witness stand.
Gather up your words and put them in your hands.
Watch them curse and chatter, break and betray.
They are no good at talking, no matter what they say.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Stephen Dunn (2008)

It’s like this, the king marries
a commoner, and the populace cheers.
She doesn’t even know how to curtsy,
but he loves her manners in bed.
Why doesn’t the king do what his father did,
the king’s mother wonders—
those peasant girls brought in
through that secret entrance, that’s how
a kingdom works best. But marriage!
The king’s mother won’t come out
of her room, and a strange democracy
radiates throughout the land,
which causes widespread dreaming,
a general hopefulness. This is,
of course, how people get hurt,
how history gets its ziggy shape.
The king locks his wife in the tower
because she’s begun to ride
her horse far into the woods.
How unqueenly to come back
to the castle like that,
so sweaty and flushed. The only answer,
his mother decides, is stricter rules—
no whispering in the corridors,
no gaiety in the fields.
The king announces his wife is very tired
and has decided to lie down,
and issues an edict that all things yours
are once again his.
This is the kind of law
history loves, which contains
its own demise. The villagers conspire
for years, waiting for the right time,
which never arrives. There’s only
that one person, not exactly brave,
but too unhappy to be reasonable,
who crosses the moat, scales the walls.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Short History

Richard Wilbur (2000)

Corn planted us; tamed cattle made us tame.
Thence hut and citadel and kingdom came.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wind and Water and Stone

Octavio Paz

The water hollowed the stone,
the wind dispersed the water,
the stone stopped the wind.
Water and wind and stone.

The wind sculpted the stone,
the stone is a cup of water,
the water runs off and is wind.
Stone and wind and water.

The wind sings in its turnings,
the water murmurs as it goes,
the motionless stone is quiet.
Wind and water and stone.

One is the other, and is neither:
among their empty names
they pass and disappear,
water and stone and wind.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Eyes

David Halpern

We believe their color makes some kind of difference,
the cast of it played off the color of hair and face.

But it makes no difference, blue or brown,
hazel, green, or gray, pale sky or sand.

When sleep-burdened they'll turn up into her,
close back down upon her sizable will.

But when she's ready for the yet-to-come—
oh, they widen, grow a deep cool sheen

to catch the available light and shine
with the intensity of the newly arrived.

If they find you they'll hold on relentlessly
without guile, the gaze no less than interrogatory,

fixed, immediate, bringing to bear what there's been
to date. Call her name and perhaps they'll turn to you,

or they might be engaged, looking deeply into the nature
of other things—the affect of wall, the texture of rug,

into something very small that's fallen to the floor
and needs to be isolated and controlled. Maybe

an afternoon reflection, an insect moving slowly,
maybe just looking with loyalty into the eyes of another.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Beauty

James Longenbach (2008)

A sword held high above a goat’s head,
Then the goat with no head—
Calcutta, where my father was stationed in the war.
Tiny black-and-white snapshots in a row.

By the time his ship sighted Australia
One soldier had been burned in a vat of oatmeal,
Another swept from the deck and drowned.

What happened next was like a movie.
Soldiers clambering through knee-high water to a beach
Where villagers have set up card tables,
Platters of food—what food
The camera doesn’t care about because
Soldiers are throwing themselves on the grass,
Rubbing the red dirt on their faces, their mouths—

I overheard him tell this story to my daughter
While they were coloring Easter eggs,
Painting them with wax to resist the dye,
Tracing patterns with the head of a pin.

Our capacity to be overwhelmed by the beautiful
Survives, unlike beauty,
Amid the harshest distractions.
For white and yellow against green

Dip the egg in yellow dye, dry it, mark it
With wax again, clear paraffin,
Then submerge it in blue.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

All She Wrote

Harryette Mullen (1997)

Forgive me, I’m no good at this. I can’t write back. I never read your letter.

I can’t say I got your note. I haven’t had the strength to open the envelope.

The mail stacks up by the door. Your hand’s illegible. Your postcards were

defaced. Wash your wet hair? Any document you meant to send has yet to

reach me. The untied parcel service never delivered. I regret to say I’m

unable to reply to your unexpressed desires. I didn’t get the book you sent.

By the way, my computer was stolen. Now I’m unable to process words. I

suffer from aphasia. I’ve just returned from Kenya and Korea. Didn’t you

get a card from me yet? What can I tell you? I forgot what I was going to

say. I still can’t find a pen that works and then I broke my pencil. You know

how scarce paper is these days. I admit I haven’t been recycling. I never

have time to read the Times. I’m out of shopping bags to put the old news

in. I didn’t get to the market. I meant to clip the coupons. I haven’t read

the mail yet. I can’t get out the door to work, so I called in sick. I went to

bed with writer’s cramp. If I couldn’t get back to writing, I thought I’d catch

up on my reading. Then Oprah came on with a fabulous author plugging

her best selling book.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Invention of Heaven

Dean Young

The mind becomes a field of snow
but then the snow melts and dandelions
blink on and you can walk through them,
your trousers plastered with dew.
They're all waiting for you but first
here's a booth where you can win

a peacock feather for bursting a balloon,
a man in huge stripes shouting about
a boy who is half swan, the biggest
pig in the world. Then you will pass
tractors pulling other tractors,
trees snagged with bright wrappers

and then you will come to a river
and then you will wash your face.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Printer's Error

Aaron Fogel (1995)

Fellow compositors
and pressworkers!

I, Chief Printer
Frank Steinman,
having worked fifty-
seven years at my trade,
and served five years
as president
of the Holliston
Printer's Council,
being of sound mind
though near death,
leave this testimonial
concerning the nature
of printers' errors.

First: I hold that all books
and all printed
matter have
errors, obvious or no,
and that these are their
most significant moments,
not to be tampered with
by the vanity and folly
of ignorant, academic
textual editors.
Second: I hold that there are
three types of errors, in ascending
order of importance:
One: chance errors
of the printer's trembling hand
not to be corrected incautiously
by foolish professors
and other such rabble
because trembling is part
of divine creation itself.

Two: silent, cool sabotage
by the printer,
the manual laborer
whose protests
have at times taken this
historical form,
covert interferences
not to be corrected
censoriously by the hand
of the second and far
more ignorant saboteur,
the textual editor.
Three: errors
from the touch of God,
divine and often
obscure corrections
of whole books by
nearly unnoticed changes
of single letters
sometimes meaningful but
about which the less said
by preemptive commentary
the better.
Third: I hold that all three
sorts of error,
errors by chance,
errors by workers' protest,
and errors by
God's touch,
are in practice the
same and indistinguishable.

Therefore I,
Frank Steinman,
for thirty-seven years,
and cooperative Master
of the Holliston Guild
eight years,
being of sound mind and body
though near death
urge the abolition
of all editorial work
and manumission
from all textual editing
to leave what was
as it was, and
as it became,
except insofar as editing
is itself an error, and

therefore also divine.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

In Trackless Woods

Richard Wilbur (2004)

In trackless woods, it puzzled me to find
Four great rock maples seemingly aligned,
As if they had been set out in a row
Before some house a century ago,
To edge the property and lend some shade.
I looked to see if ancient wheels had made
Old ruts to which the trees ran parallel,
But there were none, so far as I could tell—
There'd been no roadway. Nor could I find the square
Depression of a cellar anywhere,
And so I tramped on further, to survey
Amazing patterns in a hornbeam spray
Or spirals in a pine cone, under trees
Not subject to our stiff geometries.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Encyclopedia of Horrors

Charles Simic (2008)

Nobody reads it but the insomniacs.
How strange to find a child,
Slapped by its mother only this morning,
And the mad homeless woman
Who squatted to urinate in the street.

Perhaps they've missed something?
That smoke-shrouded city after a bombing raid,
The corpses like cigarette butts
In a dinner plate overflowing with ashes.
But no, everyone is here.

O were you to come, invisible tribunal,
There'd be too many pages to thumb through,
Too many stories to listen to,
Like the ones about guards playing cards
After they were done beating their prisoner.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Waking

Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Snow Man

Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Yusef Komunyakaa

We pierce tongue
& eyebrow, foreskin
& nipple, as if threading wishes
on gutstring. Gold bead
& question mark hook
into loopholes & slip
through. We kiss
like tiny branding irons.
Loved ones guard words
of praise, & demigods mortgage
nighttime. Beneath bruised
glamor, we say, "I'll show
how much I love you by
how many scars I wear."
As we steal the last
drops of anger, what can we
inherit from Clarksdale's blue
tenements? Medieval & modern,
one martyr strokes another
till Torquemada rises.
We trade bouquets
of lousewort, not for the red
blooms & loud perfume,
but for the lovely spikes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Richard Wilbur (1950)

I read how Quixote in his random ride
Came to a crossing once, and lest he lose
The purity of chance, would not decide

Whither to fare, but wished his horse to choose.
For glory lay wherever he might turn.
His head was light with pride, his horse's shoes

Were heavy, and he headed for the barn.

Monday, March 10, 2008


John Skoyles (2001)

I see straight through myself
and into the no mirror.

A frame stares back,
announcing the time: late.
And the temperature:
still warm.

I recognize the calm
bystander's snowy face,
the handwriting on the blackboard

where the chalk dust
from the names of the present
falls to the ledge
toward those who have disappeared.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Wendell Berry (2000)

The dust motes float
and swerve in the sunbeam,
as lively as worlds,
and I remember my brother
saying, when we were boys,
"We may be living on an atom
in somebody's wallpaper."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam

Ernest Dowson (1896)

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

The title is from an ode by Horace:

“The brief sum of life denies us the hope of enduring long.”

Friday, March 7, 2008

Music of the Spheres

Robert Morgan (1993)

The first music we don't hear but
know, is inner, the rings around
atoms singing, the bright levels
in matter revealed by colors
through spectrum scales all up and down
the quantum ladder in fireworks
of the inner horizons, each
zone voicing its wavelength with
choirs in the tiny stadiums
of harmony of the deeper
galaxies, ancient octaves
and intervals, lit cities
within every speck of substance.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Kay Ryan (2000)

Imagine a surface
so still and vast
that it could test
exactly what
is set in motion
when a single stone
is cast into its ocean.
Possessed of a calm
so far superior
to people's, it alone
could be assessed
ideally irascible.
In such a case,
if ripples yawed
or circles wobbled
in their orbits
like spun plates,
it would be the law
and not so personal
that what drops warps
and what warps dissipates.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Needle's Eye

Dan Chiasson (2008)

I wish I were as big as a basketball hoop.
It is actually painful to be this fine.
It is like squinting for no reason,
all night, choosing the pain of squinting
over going to sleep. And yet
what does it matter how big
a target you are? Someone somewhere
will invent a game to make you hard to hit.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

from Beginning and End

Louise Bogan (1922)


Now that I know
That passion warms little
Of flesh in the mold,
And treasure is brittle,

I'll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Randy Blasing (1987)

A stand of paper birches years & years
of lovers have tattooed with their black hearts
& initials shades the starved baby tapping
his mother's breast like a downy woodpecker.

In the marsh behind him, red-winged blackbirds
go down in flames to feed
cattail-sheltered nestlings, while bullfrogs
tune their bass instruments as if rehearsing

for the night ahead. Here, where generations
have come to leave their mark
in passing, the plus signs
still add up to something like desire:

all the letters of the alphabet
in love with each other to this day.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Last Waltz

Alden Nowlan

The orchestra playing
the last waltz
at three o'clock
in the morning
in the Knights of Pythias Hall
in Harland, New Brunswick,
Canada, North America,
world, solar system,
centre of the universe—

and all of us drunk,
swaying together
to the music of rum
and a sad clarinet:

comrades all,
each with his beloved.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Black Art

Anne Sexton (1962)

A woman who writes feels too much,
those trances and portents!
As if cycles and children and islands
weren't enough; as if mourners and gossips
and vegetables were never enough.
She thinks she can warn the stars.
A writer is essentially a spy.
Dear love, I am that girl.

A man who writes knows too much,
such spells and fetiches!
As if erections and congresses and products
weren't enough; as if machines and galleons
and wars were never enough.
With used furniture he makes a tree.
A writer is essentially a crook.
Dear love, you are that man.

Never loving ourselves,
hating even our shoes and our hats,
we love each other, precious, precious.
Our hands are light blue and gentle.
Our eyes are full of terrible confessions.
But when we marry,
the children leave in disgust.
There is too much food and no one left over
to eat up all the weird abundance.