Monday, April 20, 2009

The Learned

- Eden Phillpotts

The grey beards wag, the bald heads nod,
And gather thick as bees,
To talk electrons, gases, God,
Old nebulae, new fleas.
Each specialist, each dry-as-dust
And professorial oaf,
Holds up his little crumb of crust
And cries, "Behold the loaf!"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

As I Grew Older

-Langston Hughes
It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun--
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky--
The wall.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

Dream Deferred

-Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Dream Variations

-Langston Hughes

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me--
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.


-Langston Hughes

It's such a
Being always

May Day

-Phillis Levin

I've decided to waste my life again,
Like I used to: get drunk on
The light in the leaves, find a wall
Against which something can happen,

Whatever may have happened
Long ago—let a bullet hole echoing
The will of an executioner, a crevice
In which a love note was hidden,

Be a cell where a struggling tendril
Utters a few spare syllables at dawn.
I've decided to waste my life
In a new way, to forget whoever

Touched a hair on my head, because
It doesn't matter what came to pass,
Only that it passed, because we repeat
Ourselves, we repeat ourselves.

I've decided to walk a long way
Out of the way, to allow something
Dreaded to waken for no good reason,
Let it go without saying,

Let it go as it will to the place
It will go without saying: a wall
Against which a body was pressed
For no good reason, other than this.

- from May Day. © Penguin Books, 2008.
[First posted March 10, 2009]

In the Coffee Shop

-Carl Dennis

The big smile the waitress gives you
May be a true expression of her opinion
Or may be her way to atone for glowering
A moment ago at a customer who slurped his coffee
Just the way her cynical second husband slurped his.

Think of the meager tip you left the taxi driver
After the trip from the airport, how it didn't express
Your judgment about his service but about the snow
That left you feeling the earth a tundra
Only the frugal few could hope to cross.

Maybe it's best to look for fairness
Not in any particular unbiased judgment
But in a history of mistakes that balance out,
To find an equivalent for the pooling of tips
Practiced by the staff of the coffee shop,
Adding them up and dividing, the same to each.

As for the chilly fish eye the busboy gave you
When told to clear the window table you wanted,
It may have been less a comment on you
Than on his parents, their dismissing the many favors
He does for them as skimpy installments
On a debt too massive to be paid off.

And what about favors you haven't earned?
The blonde who's passing the window now
Without so much as a glance in your direction
Might be trying to focus her mind on her performance
So you, or someone like you, will be pleased to watch
As she crosses the square in her leather snow boots
And tunic of red velvet, fur-trimmed.

What have you done for her that she should turn
The stones of the public buildings
Into a backdrop, a crosswalk into a stage floor,
A table in a no-frills coffee shop
Into a private box near the orchestra?

Yesterday she may have murmured against the fate
That keeps her stuck in the provinces.
But today she atones with her wish to please
As she dispenses with footlights and spotlights,
With a curtain call at the end, with encores.
No way to thank her but with attention
Now as she nears the steps of the courthouse
And begins her unhurried exit into the crowd.

-from New and Selected Poems 1974-2004. © Penguin Books, 2004.
[First posted March 5, 2009]


- Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

[First posted February 11, 2009]

in Just-

by: e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

IN Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



baloonMan whistles

-originally published in The Dial Volume LXVIII, Number 5 (May 1920).
New York: The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.
[First posted February 1, 2009]

Ode to the Tomato

-Pablo Neruda

The street
drowns in tomatoes:
in two
and the streets
with juice.
In December
the tomato
cuts loose,
takes over lunches,
at rest
on sideboards,
with the glasses,
butter dishes,
blue salt-cellars.
It has
its own radiance,
a goodly majesty.
Too bad we must
a knife
into its living pulp,
a fresh,
floods the salads
of Chile,
beds carefully
with the blonde onion,
and to celebrate
the filial essence
of the olive tree
lets itself fall
over its gaping hemispheres,
the pimento
its fragrance,
salt its magnetism -
we have the day's
its little flags,
thump to a boil,
the roasts
down the door
with their aromas:
it's time!
let's go!
and upon
the table,
belted by summer,
stars of the earth,
stars multiplied
and fertile
show off
their convolutions,
and plenitudes
and the abundance
without husk,
or scale or thorn,
grant us
the festival
of ardent colour
and all-embracing freshness.

-from Odas elementales. © 1954.
[First posted December 23, 2008]


-Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were no voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

-from Memorial de Isla Negra. © 1964.
[First posted December 23, 2008]


-David Allen Sullivan

A can of self-defense pepper spray says it may
irritate the eyes, while a bathroom heater says it's
not to be used in bathrooms. I collect warnings
the way I used to collect philosophy quotes.

Wittgenstein's There's no such thing
as clear milk rubs shoulders with a box
of rat poison which has been found
to cause cancer in laboratory mice.

Levinas' Language is a battering ram—
a sign that says the very fact of saying,
is as inscrutable as the laser pointer's advice:
Do not look into laser with remaining eye.

Last week I boxed up the solemn row
of philosophy tomes and carted them down
to the used bookstore. The dolly read:
Not to be used to transport humans.

Did lawyers insist that the 13-inch wheel
on the wheelbarrow proclaim it's
not intended for highway use? Or that the
Curling iron is for external use only?

Abram says that realists render material
to give the reader the illusion of the ordinary.
What would he make of Shin pads cannot protect
any part of the body they do not cover?

I load boxes of books onto the counter. Flip
to a yellow-highlighted passage in Aristotle:
Whiteness which lasts for a long time is no whiter
than whiteness which lasts only a day.

A.A.'ers talk about the blinding glare
of the obvious: Objects in the mirror
are actually behind you, Electric cattle prod
only to be used on animals, Warning: Knives are sharp.

What would I have done without: Remove infant
before folding for storage, Do not use hair dryer
while sleeping, Eating pet rocks may lead to broken
teeth, Do not use deodorant intimately?

Goodbye to all those sentences that sought
to puncture the illusory world-like the warning
on the polyester Halloween outfit for my son:
Batman costume will not enable you to fly.

-from Strong-Armed Angels. © Hummingbird Press, 2008.
[First posted November 5, 2008]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Road Not Taken

-Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Patience of Ordinary Things

-Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

-from Another River: New and Selected Poems. © Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2005.
[First posted October 27, 2008]

The Poet Goes to Indiana

-Mary Oliver

I'll tell you a half-dozen things
that happened to me
in Indiana
when I went that far west to teach.
You tell me if it was worth it.

I lived in the country
with my dog—
part of the bargain of coming.
And there was a pond
with fish from, I think, China.
I felt them sometimes against my feet.
Also, they crept out of the pond, along its edges,
to eat the grass.
I'm not lying.
And I saw coyotes,
two of them, at dawn, running over the seemingly
unenclosed fields.
And once a deer, but a buck, thick-necked, leaped
into the road just-oh, I mean just, in front of my car—
and we both made it home safe.
And once the blacksmith came to care for the four horses,
or the three horses that belonged to the owner of the house,
and I bargained with him, if I could catch the fourth,
he, too, would have hooves trimmed
for the Indiana winter,
and apples did it,
and a rope over the neck did it,
so I won something wonderful;
and there was, one morning,
an owl
flying, oh pale angel, into
the hay loft of a barn,
I see it still;
and there was once, oh wonderful,
a new horse in the pasture,
a tall, slim being-a neighbor was keeping her there—
and she put her face against my face,
put her muzzle, her nostrils, soft as violets,
against my mouth and my nose, and breathed me,
to see who I was,
a long quiet minute-minutes—
then she stamped feet and whisked tail
and danced deliciously into the grass away, and came back.
She was saying, so plainly, that I was good, or good enough.
Such a fine time I had teaching in Indiana.

-from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays. © Beacon Press, 2008.
[First posted October 14, 2008]


-Arthur Guiterman

The jackals prowl, the serpents hiss
In what was once Persepolis.
Proud Babylon is but a trace
Upon the desert's dusty face.
The topless towers of Ilium
Are ashes. Judah's harp is dumb.
The fleets of Ninevah and Tyre
Are down with Davy Jones, Esquire,
And all the oligarchies, kings,
And potentates that ruled these things
Are gone! But cheer up; don't be sad;
Think what a lovely time they had!

-from The Lyric Baedeker: the Mirthful Lyre. © Harper and Brothers.
[First posted October 14, 2008]

The Pinnacle

-W. S. Merwin

Both of us understood
what a privilege it was
to be out for a walk
with each other
we could tell from our different
heights that this
kind of thing happened
so rarely that it might
not come round again
for me to be allowed
even before I
had started school
to go out for a walk
with Miss Giles
who had just retired
from being a teacher all her life

she was beautiful
in her camel hair coat
that seemed like the autumn leaves
our walk was her idea
we liked listening to each other
her voice was soft and sure
and we went our favorite way
the first time just in case
it was the only time
even though it might be too far
we went all the way
up the Palisades to the place
we called the pinnacle
with its park at the cliff's edge
overlooking the river
it was already a secret
the pinnacle
as we were walking back
when the time was later
than we had realized
and in fact no one
seemed to know where we had been
even when she told them
no one had heard of the pinnacle

and then where did she go

-from The Shadow of Sirius. © Copper Canyon Press, 2008.
[First posted October 4, 2008]


-Coleman Barks

The internet says science is not sure
how cats purr, probably
a vibration of the whole larynx,
unlike what we do when we talk.

Less likely, a blood vessel
moving across the chest wall.

As a child I tried to make every cat I met
purr. That was one of the early miracles,
the stroking to perfection.

Here is something I have never heard:
a feline purrs in two conditions,
when deeply content and when
mortally wounded, to calm themselves,
readying for the death-opening.

The low frequency evidently helps
to strengthen bones and heal
damaged organs.

Say poetry is a human purr,
vessel mooring in the chest,
a closed-mouthed refuge, the feel
of a glide through dying.

One winter morning on a sunny chair,
inside this only body,
a far-off inboard motorboat
sings the empty room, urrrrrrrhhhh

-from Winter Sky: New and Selected Poems, 1968–2008. © University of Georgia Press, 2008.
[First posted September 29, 2008]

Windows is Shutting Down

-Clive James

Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
On their last leg. So what am we to do?
A letter of complaint go just so far,
Proving the only one in step are you.

Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
The meaning what it must be meant to had.

The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
But evolution do not stop for that.
A mutant languages rise from the dead
And all them rules is suddenly old hat.

Too bad for we, us what has had so long
The best seat from the only game in town.
But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.

-from Opal Sunset: Selected poems, 1958–2008. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.
[First posted September 22, 2008]

There Will Come Soft Rains

-Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

-from Collected Poems, Revised Edition. © Simon & Schuster, 1967
[First posted August 1, 2008]

The Layers

-Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

-from The Collected Poems. © W.W. Norton, 2000.
[First posted July 21, 2008]

The Rider

-Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

-from Fuel. © BOA Editions, 1998.
[First posted July 9, 2008]

High Flight (An Airman's Ecstasy)

-John Gillespie Magee Jr.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

-Public Domain.

A little about John Magee Jr.:

This man, who wrote the most famous inspirational poem about aviation — a sonnet about aviation, was born in Shanghai, China, in 1922, the son of missionaries. He was an American, but like thousands of other young Americans he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force before the United States officially entered WWII. He had a scholarship to Yale, but after high school he enlisted in the air force, and he was sent to combat duty in England. A month or maybe two months later, he wrote a sonnet, "High Flight," and sent it to his parents on the back of a letter, saying "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed." Three months later, the U.S. entered the war, and just three days after that Magee died in a plane crash. The sonnet was widely copied and distributed, and it is still referenced in novels, television shows, and political speeches. All first-year cadets at the United States Air Force Academy are required to memorize and recite it.

[First posted June 9, 2008]

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale

-Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life's ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

-from The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.
[First posted June 5, 2008]

A Quiet Life

-Baron Wormser

What a person desires in life
is a properly boiled egg.
This isn't as easy as it seems.
There must be gas and a stove,
the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills,
banks that dispense the lozenge of capital.
There must be a pot, the product of mines
and furnaces and factories,
of dim early mornings and night-owl shifts,
of women in kerchiefs and men with
sweat-soaked hair.
Then water, the stuff of clouds and skies
and God knows what causes it to happen.
There seems always too much or too little
of it and more pipelines, meters, pumping
stations, towers, tanks.
And salt-a miracle of the first order,
the ace in any argument for God.
Only God could have imagined from
nothingness the pang of salt.
Political peace too. It should be quiet
when one eats an egg. No political hoodlums
knocking down doors, no lieutenants who are
ticked off at their scheming girlfriends and
take it out on you, no dictators
posing as tribunes.
It should be quiet, so quiet you can hear
the chicken, a creature usually mocked as a type
of fool, a cluck chained to the chore of her body.
Listen, she is there, pecking at a bit of grain
that came from nowhere.

-from Scattered Chapters. © Sarabande Books, 2008.
[First posted June 2, 2008]

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Happy Birthday

- Ted Kooser

This evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness.
I could easily have switched on a lamp,
but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

An Excuse for Not Returning the Visit of a Friend

- Mei-Yao Ch'en

Do not be offended because
I am slow to go out. You know
Me too well for that. On my lap
I hold my little girl. At my
Knees stands my handsome little son.
One has just begun to talk.
The other chatters without
Stopping. They hang on my clothes
And follow my every step.
I can't get any farther
Than the door. I am afraid
I will never make it to your house.

[NOTE: I can really relate to this as the parent of young kids!]

Monday, April 6, 2009


- Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

[NOTE: This post is from Bobbie Benson.]

Sunday, April 5, 2009


-Jean Nordhaus

Would it surprise you to learn
that years beyond your longest winter
you still get letters from your bank, your old
philanthropies, cold flakes drifting
through the mail-slot with your name?
Though it's been a long time since your face
interrupted the light in my door-frame,
and the last tremblings of your voice
have drained from my telephone wire,
from the lists of the likely, your name
is not missing. It circles in the shadow-world
of the machines, a wind-blown ghost. For generosity
will be exalted, and good credit
outlasts death. Caribbean cruises, recipes,
low-interest loans. For you who asked
so much of life, who lived acutely
even in duress, the brimming world
awaits your signature. Cancer and heart disease
are still counting on you for a cure.
B'nai Brith numbers you among the blessed.
They miss you. They want you back.

-from Innocence. © Ohio State University Press, 2006.
[First posted May 6, 2008]

When We Sold the Tent

-Rhina P. Espaillat

When we sold the tent
we threw in the Grand Canyon
with its shawl of pines,
lap full of cones and chipmunks
and crooked seams of river.

We let them have the
parched white moonscapes of Utah,
and Colorado's
magnificat of flowers
sunbursting hill after hill.

Long gentle stretches
of Wyoming, rain outside
some sad Idaho
town where the children, giddy
with strange places, clowned all night.

Eyes like small veiled moons
circling our single light, sleek
shadows with pawprints,
all went with the outfit; and
youth, a river of campfires.

-from Playing at Stillness. © Truman State University Press.
[First posted February 6, 2008]

Desert Places

-Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

[First posted December 17, 2007]

If You Knew

-Ellen Bass

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't way Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

- from The Human Line. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007.
[First posted November 26, 2007]

Loss and Gain

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.

I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

[First posted November 17, 2007]

Beside the Point

-Stephen Cushman

The sky has never won a prize.
The clouds have no careers.
The rainbow doesn't say my work,
thank goodness.

The rock in the creek's not so productive.
The mud on the bank's not too pragmatic.
There's nothing useful in the noise
the wind makes in the leaves.

Buck up now, my fellow superfluity,
and let's both be of that worthless ilk,
self-indulgent as shooting stars,
self-absorbed as sunsets.

Who cares if we're inconsequential?
At least we can revel, two good-for-nothings,
in our irrelevance; at least come and make
no difference with me.

- from The Virginia Quarterly Review: Spring 2006.
[First posted November 17, 2007]

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Excerpt from Leaves of Grass

- Walt Whitman

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropt.
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say, Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic;
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folk as among white;
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you, curling grass;
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men;
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people, and from women, and from offspring taken too soon out of their mothers' laps;
And here you are the mothers' laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heards of old mothers'
Darker than the colorless beards of old men;
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death'
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward -- nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

[NOTE: This was first posted on Nov 27, 2007.]

Becoming Human

- Hafiz

Once a man came to me and spoke for hours about
"His great visions of God" he felt he was having.
He asked me for confirmation, saying,
"Are these wondrous dreams true?"
I replied, "How many goats do you have?"
He looked surprised and said,
"I am speaking of sublime visions
And you ask
About goats!"
And I spoke again saying,
"Yes, brother - how many do you have?"
"Well, Hafiz, I have sixty-two."
"And how many wives?"
Again he looked surprised, then said,
"How many rose bushes in your garden,
How many children,
Are your parents still alive,
Do you feed the birds in winter?"
And to all he answered.
Then I said,
"You asked me if I thought your visions were true,
I would say that they were if they make you become
More human,
More kind to every creature and plant
That you know."

[NOTE: This was first posted on Nov 27, 2007.]

High School Senior

- Sharon Olds

For seventeen years, her breath in the house
at night, puff, puff, like summer
cumulus above her bed,
and her scalp smelling of apricots
--this being who had formed within me,
squatted like a bright tree-frog in the dark,
like an eohippus she had come out of history
slowly, through me, into the daylight,
I had the daily sight of her,
like food or air she was there, like a mother.
I say "college," but I feel as if I cannot tell
the difference between her leaving for college
and our parting forever--I try to see
this house without her, without her pure
depth of feeling, without her creek-brown
hair, her daedal hands with their tapered
fingers, her pupils dark as the mourning cloak's
wing, but I can't. Seventeen years
ago, in this room, she moved inside me,
I looked at the river, I could not imagine
my life with her. I gazed across the street,
and saw, in the icy winter sun,
a column of steam rush up away from the earth.
There are creatures whose children float away
at birth, and those who throat-feed their young
for weeks and never see them again. My daughter
is free and she is in me--no, my love
of her is in me, moving in my heart,
changing chambers, like something poured
from hand to hand, to be weighed and then reweighed.

[NOTE: This was first posted on Oct 5, 2006.]

I Go Back to May 1937

- Sharon Olds

I see them standing at the formal gates of their
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it--she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

[NOTE: This was first posted on Oct 5, 2006.]

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Link to Neruda's Invisible Man

[NOTE: This link was posted on Aug 1, 2006, with an explanatory note that the poem was too long to cut-and-paste here.]

Keeping Things Whole

- Mark Strand

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Excerpt from: Flower of Five Blossoms

- Galway Kinnell

Everyone knows
everything sings and dies.
But it could be, too, everything dies and sings,
and a life is the interlude
when, still humming, we can look up, gawk about,
imagine whatever,
say it,
topple back into singing.
Oh first our voice be done, and then, before and
afterwards and all
around it, that singing.

[NOTE: This was first posted on Apr 12, 2006. I can't locate the poem it is excerpted from. If any of you comes across it, I would appreciate your posting it. Thanks!]

Keeping Quiet

- Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go
[NOTE: This was first posted on Apr 12, 2006.]


- Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

[NOTE: An excerpt from this poem was first posted on Apr 12, 2006. I believe that this is the first poem that was officially posted to the group.]


-Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

- from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. © Eighth Mountain Press, 1995.
[First posted October 22, 2007]

Advice to Myself

-Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

- from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.
[First posted October 16, 2007]

My Daughter's Morning

-David Swanger

My daughter's morning streams
over me like a gang of butterflies
as I, sour-mouthed and not ready
for the accidents I expect

of my day, greet her early:
her sparkle is as the edge of new
ice on leafed pools, while I
am soggy, tepid; old toast.

Yet I am the first version
of later princes; for all my blear
and bluish jowl I am welcomed
as though the plastic bottle

I hold were a torch and
my robe not balding terry.
For her I bring the day; warm
milk, new diaper, escapades;

she lowers all bridges and
sings to me most beautifully
in her own language while
I fumble with safety pins.

I am not made young
by my daughter's mornings;
I age relentlessly.
Yet I am made to marvel
at the durability of newness
and the beauty of my new one.

-from Wayne's College of Beauty.
[First posted October 2, 2007]


-Barton Sutter

The morning brought such a lashing rain
I decided I might as well stay inside
And tackle those jobs that had multiplied
Like an old man's minor aches and pains.
I found a screw for the strikerplate,
Tightened the handle on the bathroom door,
Cleared the drain in the basement floor,
And straightened the hinge for the backyard gate.
Each task had been a nagging distraction,
An itch in the mind, a dangling thread;
Knocking a tiny brass brad on the head,
I felt an insane sense of satisfaction.
Then I heard a great crash in the yard.
The maple had fallen and smashed our car.

- from Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey.
[First posted August 28, 2007]


-Louis Jenkins

In Sitka, because they are fond of them,
People have named the seals. Every seal
is named Earl because they are killed one
after another by the orca, the killer
whale; seal bodies tossed left and right
into the air. "At least he didn't get
Earl," someone says. And sure enough,
after a time, that same friendly,
bewhiskered face bobs to the surface.
It's Earl again. Well, how else are you
to live except by denial, by some
palatable fiction, some little song to
sing while the inevitable, the black and
white blindsiding fact, comes hurtling
toward you out of the deep?

- from North of the Cities.
[First posted August 24, 2007]

Acceptance Speech

-Lynn Powell

The radio's replaying last night's winners
and the gratitude of the glamorous,
everyone thanking everybody for making everything
so possible, until I want to shush
the faucet, dry my hands, join in right here
at the cluttered podium of the sink, and thank

my mother for teaching me the true meaning of okra,
my children for putting back the growl in hunger,
my husband, primo uomo of dinner, for not
begrudging me this starring role—

without all of them, I know this soup
would not be here tonight.

And let me just add that I could not
have made it without the marrow bone, that blood—
brother to the broth, and the tomatoes
who opened up their hearts, and the self-effacing limas,
the blonde sorority of corn, the cayenne
and oregano who dashed in
in the nick of time.

Special thanks, as always, to the salt—
you know who you are—and to the knife,
who revealed the ripe beneath the rind,
the clean truth underneath the dirty peel.

—I hope I've not forgotten anyone—
oh, yes, to the celery and the parsnip,
those bit players only there to swell the scene,
let me just say: sometimes I know exactly how you feel.

But not tonight, not when it's all
coming to something and the heat is on and
I'm basking in another round
of blue applause.

-from The Zones of Paradise. © University of Akron Press, Akron, Ohio.
[First posted July 24, 2007]