Friday, February 27, 2009

After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard

Charles Wright

East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.

Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
up from the damp grass.
Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hades' Pitch

Rita Dove

If I could just touch your ankle, he whispers, there
on the inside, above the bone—leans closer,
breath of lime and pepper—I know I could
make love to you. She considers
this, secretly thrilled, though she wasn’t quite
sure what he meant. He was good
with words, words that went straight to the liver.
Was she falling for him out of sheer boredom—
cooped up in this anything-but-humble dive, stone
gargoyles leering and brocade drapes licked with fire?
Her ankle burns where he described it. She sighs
just as her mother aboveground stumbles, is caught
by the fetlock—bereft in an instant—
while the Great Man drives home his desire.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Waiting and Finding

Jack Gilbert (2009)

While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play
the tomtoms when it came time for that. You had to
run in order to get there first, and he would not.
So he always had a triangle. He does not remember
how they played the tomtoms, but he sees clearly
their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back
and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.
If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.
You mostly waited while the tambourines and tomtoms
went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all
triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.
Then it was tomtoms and waiting some more. But what
he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,
shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.
Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost
and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning
without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,
sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives
silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting
for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence
as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.

Monday, February 16, 2009

King of Repetition

Marc Jaffee (2004)

I am none but king of repetition.
I am none but a soldier with naught but a mission.
I am the hand with its fingers always touching REPEAT—
I am the winding street
I am the windy street.
I am none but king of repetition.

I am none but king of supposition—
I suppose, then, I must take a position.
I suppose I must await battle boldly,
and shun selfish pleading, turn away coldly,
then sway the finger, the hand—this mad persuasion.

I am none but king of repetition.

I am none but king of opposition.
I am none but a soldier, pale malnutrition:
I am the sickly stomach, and your lips and your eyes;
I am you lips and you eyes
and the things that arise.
I am none but king of repetition.

I am a liar with a folk song's heart.
I cannot start, and I cannot restart.
I am the finger and the foot and the following eye
which is present, which is prescient; a lie.
I am a liar, and lying my art.

I am none but king of composition—
composing a song, a lie, a mission.
I want to repeat
and I want to repeat
I am the winding street
and the winding street.
I am none but king of composition.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Make It Heartfelt

W. Bukisa (2009)

Many people
are not quite sure
how to go about
Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 12, 2009

They're Putting a New Door In

Brian Kim Stefans (2004)

Brian's new shoes. She asked me of his whereabouts. They're
putting a new door in.

CCI. They're putting a new door in. Impersonating an officer.

They're putting a new door in. Feliz Navidad. My watch continues
to stop: self-identity.

I break
Margin time,
the steaming metropolis
at 8 am
with dry lips.
I couldn't take my eyes off the ball.

Papers on her head. Like a crown of spring thorns. They're putting
a new door in.

This is only the third poem I've written in 2001. And probably the
last one. The other two went like this:

It hit with the farce of an atom bomb.
If there are no animals on Mars, is there anything that could classify
as "shit."

People are like ciphers. They say this, they say that.
Private life is a social experiment.
The French: an impatience with secular explanations.
Writing. Boiling potatoes.
Everybody's pride is hurt.


Footfalls, bubblebaths.
Hezbollah and hot dogs
Be sure to add these Tones of War
to your arsenal of meters.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In the First Circle of Limbo

Carl Rakosi (2004)

Liberate me,
from this encirclement
of categories
Your themes
are plein-air,
Put some wit
and compassion
into this pen!

Monday, February 9, 2009

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae (1915)

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Stanley's First Death

Cleopatra Mathis (2004)

The body became a vessel, the rasping breath
its proof, and before him nothing
but that ocean swamp
he travelled over. His spirit
lofted forth, his voice
a long quavering
when the wind permitted, as if
out there somewhere some god
held the string.

He was carried somewhere else, who knows?
then fell back, found
the diligent old body at his desk.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sheep Passing

W.S. Merwin (1997)

Mayflies hover through the long evening
of their light and in the winding lane
the stream of sheep runs among the shadows calling
the old throats gargling again uphill
along known places once more and from the bells
borne by their predecessors the notes
dull as wood clonk to the flutter of all
the small hooves over the worn stone
with the voices of the lambs rising through them
over and over telling and asking
their only question into the day they have
none will know midsummer the walls of the lane
are older than anyone can understand
and the lane must have been a path a long time
before the first stones were raised from the river
up through the trees for an age before that
one hoof one paw one foot before another
the way they went is all that is still there.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Brief Song

Elton Glaser

When love carries us
to this altitude
of lean air, our heads
clear, our hearts
open like parachutes.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

All Souls'

Rita Dove (2004)

Starting up behind them,
all the voices of those they had named:
mink, gander, and marmoset,
crow and cockatiel.
Even the duck-billed platypus,
of late so quiet in its bed,
sent out a feeble cry signifying
grief and confusion, et cetera.

Of course the world had changed
for good. As it would from now on
every day, with every twitch and blink.
Now that change was de rigueur,
man would discover desire, then yearn
for what he would learn to call
distraction. This was the true loss.
And yet in that first

unchanging instant,
the two souls
standing outside the gates
(no more than a break in the hedge;
how had they missed it?) were not
thinking. Already the din was fading.
Before them, a silence
larger than all their ignorance

yawned, and this they walked into
until it was all they knew. In time
they hunkered down to business,
filling the world with sighs—
these anonymous, pompous creatures,
heads tilted as if straining
to make out the words to a song
played long ago, in a foreign land.