Saturday, November 29, 2008

Looking, Walking, Being

Denise Levertov

"The world is not something to look at, it is something to be in."
—Mark Rudman

I look and look.
Looking's a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
a way of breathing.

breathing to sustain
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


W.S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Friday, November 21, 2008

Window Washer

Charles Simic

And again the screech of the scaffold
High up there where all our thoughts converge:
Lightheaded, hung
By a leather strap,

Twenty stories up
In the chill of late November
Wiping the grime
Off the pane, the many windows

Which have no way of opening,
Tinted windows mirroring the clouds
That are like equestrian statues,
Phantom liberators with sabers raised

Before these dark offices,
And their anonymous multitudes
Bent over this day's
Wondrously useless labor.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This Day

Lawrence Raab

Watching the beautiful
sticks of trees as they click and sway,
the first green unraveling,

it's easy to imagine I might
remember this day forever.
I say it to myself,

never to others, while the poem
made hoping to preserve it
is changed, then changed again

to fit another order
it happens to discover.
At the end I find myself

in a room by a window, or at the edge
of a field, with the same clear
sky above me wherein later

I will imagine clouds, as if
some movement were required. That,
or a different kind of stillness.

So there must also be
a family circled round
the bedside of someone

who is dying. I place
myself among them.
All of us are waiting

for the little we believe we need
to hold on to and repeat.
But this is not my family

although it is you
who are dying, your words
I am again unable to imagine

as everything continues
sliding together in the light,
that day so easily

changed to this one,
the sky that is so blue, and the clouds
that cross my gaze with such terrible speed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Last Words

Linda Pastan

Let us consider
last words: Goethe's
"More Light," for instance,
or Gertrude Stein, sly
to the end, asking
"But what is the question?"

Consider the fisherman
caught on the hook
of his own death
who saves
his last words
for the sea.

Consider the miner,
the emblem of the earth
on his face,
who curses the earth
as he enters it,
mineshaft or grave.

I have heard the dry sound
leaves make
on their way from the tree,
have felt the cold braille
of snow as it melts
in the hand.

It is almost time
to let the curtain
of darkness down
on the perfect exit,
to say one last time
a few loved names,

or else to go out
in silence
like an anonymous star
whose message,
if there is one,
is light years away.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

To Music, To Becalm His Fever

Robert Herrick (1660)

Charm me asleep, and melt me so
With thy delicious numbers,
That, being ravish’d, hence I go
Away in easy slumbers.
Ease my sick head,
And make my bed,
Thou power that canst sever
From me this ill,
And quickly still,
Though thou not kill
My fever.

Thou sweetly canst convert the same
From a consuming fire
Into a gentle licking flame,
And make it thus expire.
Then make me weep
My pains asleep;
And give me such reposes
That I, poor I,
May think thereby
I live and die
‘Mongst roses.

Fall on me like the silent dew,
Or like those maiden showers
Which, by the peep of day, do strew
A baptism o’er the flowers.
Melt, melt my pains
With thy soft strains;
That, having ease me given,
With full delight
I leave this light,
And take my flight
For Heaven.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Voyages

Gregory Orr

It's late when I try to sleep, resting
one hand on your hip, the other on my chest
where the rise and fall of breath
is faint light that brightens and faces.
Today the doctor placed his stethoscope
against your belly and an amplifier
filled the tiny room with a scene
from old war movies—the submarine,
the churning of a destroyer's engines
fathoms above rapt, terrified sailors.
Child's heart, whose thrumming the doctor
pronounced as perfect as such things
can be guessed across such gulfs.

Here, deep in the night, I calm my fears
by choosing a place among Homer's crew,
lolling on Hades' shore. Inland, Odysseus
brims a trench with blood, extorts predictions
from the thirsty dead. But common sailors
already know that launching and wrecks
make the same sounds: scrape of keel on rock,
loud cries. As for the rest,
we need our ignorance to keep us brave.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Shelf Is A Ledge

Gregory Orr

I don't understand by what perversity
Darwin and St. Paul are kissing cousins
on my shelf. And how they both lean against
an encyclopedia of history . . .
It must give them bad dreams.
I watch Saul topple from his horse, but
Paul's all right. Darwin in the underbrush
glimpses a finch. And then there's that damned
history book ticking all night
like a cheap clock while it adds
the day's events to its late blank pages
and erases the early ones so it has
more space . . .
It's true a sane man
would resist the temptation to animate
dead things of the object world, and
such a shunning proves he's sane. Myself,
I hear a blessed humming in my head
and I'm its glad amanuensis.
Paul's taught me this: Love passes
understanding. And Darwin's on my side
as he screams in the dark: Survive! Survive!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Coffin Store

C.K. Williams (2008)

I was lugging my death from Kampala to Kraków.
Death, what a ridiculous load you can be,
like the world atremble on Atlas’s shoulders.

In Kampala I’d wondered why the people, so poor,
didn’t just kill me. Why don’t they kill me?
In Kraków I must have fancied I’d find poets to talk to.

I still believed then I’d domesticated my death,
that he’d no longer gnaw off my fingers and ears.
We even had parties together: “Happy,” said death,

and gave me my present, a coffin, my coffin,
made in Kampala, with a sliding door in its lid,
to look through, at the sky, at the birds, at Kampala.

That was his way, I soon understood, of reverting
to talon and snarl, for the door refused to come open:
no sky, no bird, no poets, no Kraków.

Catherine came to me then, came to me then,
“Open your eyes, mon amour,” but death
had undone me, my knuckles were raw as an ape’s,

my mind slid like a sad-ankled skate, and no matter
what Catherine was saying, was sighing, was singing,
“Mon amour, mon amour,” the door stayed shut, oh, shut.

I heard trees being felled, skinned, smoothed,
hammered together as coffins. I heard death
snorting and stamping, impatient to be hauled off, away.

But here again was Catherine, sighing, and singing,
and the tiny carved wooden door slid ajar, just enough—
the sky, one single bird, Catherine—just enough.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Sydney Lea

Carpenter, Mechanic, and I:
it is our yearly hunting trip
to this game-rich, splendid, dirt-poor margin
of Maine. There is always rain and a gale,
and one or two
bluebird days just to break the heart.
We're good at this thing we do,
but for each bird that falls,
three get by us and go
wherever things go that get by us go.

To the realm of baby shoe and milk tooth;
kingdom of traduced early vow,
of the hedge's ghost, humming with rabbit and rodent,
under the mall's madadam. All that seemed
fixed in the eye. I,
according to Mechanic,
is too melancholic. Yes, says Carpenter,
and talks when he ought to be doing.
We all watch the canny Setter, with her nose
like a Geiger counter.

"There's not much gets by her,"
we repeat each year, admiring, after she's flashed on point
and shaaa!—in redundant wind another grouse flies wild.
Air and ridge and water now all take
the color of week-old blood. Or years-old ink.
We are such friends it's sad.
Not long before we stalk before winter the heavy-horned
bucks that slide past,
spirit-quiet, in spare brush.
Then Carpenter and Mechanic in their loud mackinaws will seem

interruptions on the skyline of the sky's
clean slate. And so will I.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ancestor of the Hunting Heart

John Haines (1983)

There is a distance in the heart
and I know it well—
a somberness of winter branches,
dry stubble scarred with frost,
late of the sunburnt field.

Neither field, nor furrow,
nor woodlot patched with fences,
but something wilder: a distance
never cropped or plowed,
only by fire and the blade of the wind.

The distance is closer than
the broomswept hearth—
that time of year when leaves
cling to the bootsole,
are tracked indoors,
lie yellow on the kitchen floor.

Snow is a part of the distance,
cold ponds, and ice
that rings the cattle-trough.

Trees that are black at morning
are in the evening gray.
The distance lies between them,
a seed-strewn whiteness
through which the hunter comes.

Before him in the ashen snow-litter
of the village street
an old man makes his way,
bowed with sack and stick.

A child is pulling a sled.

The rest are camped indoors,
their damped fires smoking
in the early dusk.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Long Boat

Stanley Kunitz

When his boat snapped loose
from its moorings, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the shop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

After the Rebuilding

Philip Booth

After the rebuilding was done, and
the woodstove finally installed, after
the ripping-out of walls, tearing back to
its beams the house he'd lived in, frozen, for over
fifty years, he started mornings up with the world's
most expensive kindling. Not scraps of red oak from
new flooring, ends of clear birch from kitchen trim, and
knots from #2 pine, but oddlot pieces of his old life:
window frames clawed from his daughter's lost room,
his grandfather's coat peg, shelving his mother
had rolled her crust on, and lathing first plastered
the year Thoreau moved to Walden. The woodstove itself
was new: the prime heat for four new rooms descended
from seven, the central logic for all the opening up,
for revisions hammered out daily, weeks of roughing-in,
and after months of unfigured costs, the final bevels
and the long returning. Oh, when he first got up to
rekindle the fire of November mornings, he found
that everything held heat: he sweat as he tossed
the chunks in; he found himself burning, burning.