Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Susanna

Susanna  by Anne Porter

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it's something that
My mother told me

There's not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

"Susanna" by Anne Porter, from Living Things: Collected Poems. © Zoland Books, 2006.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven - Yeats





The Writers Almanac:
It's the birthday of the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, the lifelong muse of poet W.B. Yeats. Born in Aldershot, England 1865. She and Yeats were the same age, born only a few months apart, and they first met when they were 25 years old. He was introduced to her by a friend, the Irish nationalist John O'Leary, and later referred to the day when he met her as "when the troubling of my life began."

She was tall and exquisitely beautiful. In his Memoirs, Yeats wrote: "I had never thought to see in a living woman so great beauty. It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past. A complexion like the blossom of apples, and yet face and body had the beauty of lineaments which Blake calls the highest beauty because it changes least from youth to age, and a stature so great that she seemed of a divine race."

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Going To Bed

Going to Bed  by George Bilgere

I check the locks on the front door
               and the side door,
make sure the windows are closed
               and the heat dialed down.
I switch off the computer,
               turn off the living room lights.

I let in the cats.

               Reverently, I unplug the Christmas tree,
leaving Christ and the little animals
               in the dark.

The last thing I do
               is step out to the back yard
for a quick look at the Milky Way.

               The stars are halogen-blue.
The constellations, whose names
               I have long since forgotten,
look down anonymously,
               and the whole galaxy
is cartwheeling in silence through the night.

               Everything seems to be ok.

"Going to Bed" by George Bilgere, from Haywire. © Utah State University Press, 2006.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When I First Saw Snow

When I First Saw Snow  by Gregory Djanikian
            
Tarrytown, N.Y.


Bing Crosby was singing "White Christmas"
            on the radio, we were staying at my aunt's house
            waiting for papers, my father was looking for a job.
We had trimmed the tree the night before,
            sap had run on my fingers and for the first time
            I was smelling pine wherever I went.
Anais, my cousin, was upstairs in her room
            listening to Danny and the Juniors.
Haigo was playing Monopoly with Lucy, his sister,
            Buzzy, the boy next door, had eyes for her
            and there was a rattle of dice, a shuffling
            of Boardwalk, Park Place, Marvin Gardens.
There were red bows on the Christmas tree.
It had snowed all night.
My boot buckles were clinking like small bells
            as I thumped to the door and out
            onto the grey planks of the porch dusted with snow.
The world was immaculate, new,
            even the trees had changed color,
            and when I touched the snow on the railing
I didn't know what I had touched, ice or fire.
I heard, ''I'm dreaming ..."
I heard, "At the hop, hop, hop ... oh, baby."
I heard "B & 0" and the train in my imagination
            was whistling through the great plains.
And I was stepping off,
I was falling deeply into America.
"When I First Saw Snow" by Gregory Djanikian, from Falling Deeply into America. © Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Funeral Blues

Funeral Blues — WH Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Newborn - Cecial Day Lewis

On the occasion of Daniel Day Lewis's birth

The Newborn

This mannikin who just now
Broke prison and stepped free
Into his own identity--
Hand, foot, and brow
A finished work, a breathing miniature--
Was still, one night ago,
A hope, a dread, a mere shape we
Had lived with, only sure
Something would grow
Out of its coiled nine-month nonentity.

This morsel of man I've held--
What potency it has,
Though strengthless still and naked as
A nut unshelled!

We time-worn folk renew
Ourselves at your enchanted spring,
As though mankind's begun
Again in you.
This is your birthday and our thanksgiving.

- From Pegasus and Other Poems by C. Day Lewis

Jerusalem

 By Anne Porter

We're still in Babylon but
We do not weep
Why should we weep?
We have forgotten
How to weep

We've sold our harps
And bought ourselves machines
That do our singing for us
And who remembers now
The songs we sang in Zion?

We have got used to exile
We hardly notice
Our captivity
For some of us
There are such comforts here
Such luxuries

Even a guard
To keep the beggars
From annoying us

Jerusalem
We have forgotten you.

By Anne Porter, from Living Things Collected Poems. © Zoland Books, 2006.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christina Rossetti

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Friday, December 4, 2009

God Bless the Experimental Writers

"One beginning and one ending for a book was a
thing I did not agree with." - Flann O'Brien from At Swim-Two-Birds

God bless the experimental writers.
The ones whose work is a little
difficult, built of tinkertoys
and dada, or portmanteau and
Reich. God help them as they
type away, knowing their readers
are few, only those who love to toil
over an intricate boil of language,
who think books are secret codes.
These writers will never see their names
in Publisher's Weekly. They will
never be on the talk shows. Yet,
every day they disappear into their
rooms atop their mother's houses,
or their guest houses behind some
lawyer's estate. Every day they
tack improbable word onto im-
probable word, out of love, children,
out of a desire to emend the world.

"God Bless the Experimental Writers" by Corey Mesler, from Some Identity Problems. © Foothills Publishing, 2008.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vanishing Point

The moment arrives when you say,
"I don't dislike this man,
but how did I marry him?"
Something about his wintry voice,
the way he can't or won't show his face,
and how small and alone you feel
out here on earth's curve,
driving day and night,
never reaching a destination,
until you realize you're running parallel to him,
and you'll never meet.

"Vanishing Point" by Freya Manfred, from Swimming with a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2008.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A November Sunrise

Wild geese are flocking and calling in pure golden air,
Glory like that which painters long ago
Spread as a background for some little hermit
Beside his cave, giving his cloak away,
Or for some martyr stretching out
On her expected rack.
A few black cedars grow nearby
And there's a donkey grazing.

Small craftsmen, steeped in anonymity like bees,
Gilded their wooden panels, leaving fame to chance,
Like the maker of this wing-flooded golden sky,
Who forgives all our ignorance
Both of his nature and of his very name,
Freely accepting our one heedless glance.

"A November Sunrise" by Anne Porter, from An Altogether Different Language. © Zoland Books, 1994.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

All You Who Sleep Tonight

by Vikram Seth (20 June 1952 - )

All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right,
And emptiness above -

Know that you aren't alone.
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.


And another:

Don't Be Literary, Darling
by Sasha Moorsom (25 January 1931 - 22 June 1993)


Don't be literary, darling, don't be literary
If you're James in the morning you're Hemingway in bed
Don't talk of yourself in the style of your own obituary-
For who cares what they say of you after you're dead.

Don't be always a thought ahead and a move behind
Like a general reconnoitring dangerous ground,
This is a game it's much better to enter blind
And the one who wins is the one who is caught and bound.

If you can't be straight then just say nothing instead.
I'll know what you mean much better than if it was said.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

XI - Wendell Berry

XI. - by Wendell Berry

Though he was ill and in pain,
in disobedience to the instruction he
would have received if he had asked,
the old man got up from his bed,
dressed, and went to the barn.
The bare branches of winter had emerged
through the last leaf-colors of fall,
the loveliest of all, browns and yellows
delicate and nameless in the gray light
and the sifting rain. He put feed
in the troughs for eighteen ewe lambs,
sent the dog for them, and she
brought them. They came eager
to their feed, and he who felt
their hunger was by their feeding
eased. From no place in the time
of present places, within no boundary
nameable in human thought,
they had gathered once again,
the shepherd, his sheep, and his dog
with all the known and the unknown
round about to the heavens' limit.
Was this his stubbornness or bravado?
No. Only an ordinary act
of profoundest intimacy in a day
that might have been better. Still
the world persisted in its beauty,
he in his gratitude, and for this
he had most earnestly prayed.


"XI." by Wendell Berry, from Leavings. © Centerpoint, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cranberry- Orange Relish

Cranberry-Orange Relish by John Engels

A pound of ripe cranberries, for two days
macerate in a dark rum, then do not
treat them gently, but bruise,
mash, pulp, squash
with a wooden pestle
to an abundance of juices, in fact
until the juices seem on the verge

of overswelling the bowl, then drop in
two fistsful, maybe three, of fine-
chopped orange with rind, two golden
blobs of it, and crush
it in, and then add sugar, no thin
sprinkling, but a cupful dumped
and awakened with a wooden spoon

to a thick suffusion, drench of sourness, bite of color,
then for two days let conjoin
the lonely taste of cranberry,
the joyous orange, the rum, in some
warm corner of the kitchen, until
the bowl faintly becomes
audible, a scarce wash of sound, a tiny
bubbling, and then
in a glass bowl set it out
and let it be eaten last, to offset
gravied breast and thigh
of the heavy fowl, liverish
stuffing, the effete
potato, lethargy of pumpkins

gone leaden in their crusts, let it be eaten
so that our hearts may be together overrun
with comparable sweetnesses,
tart gratitudes, until finally,
dawdling and groaning, we bear them
to the various hungerings
of our beds, lightened
of their desolations.

"Cranberry-Orange Relish" by John Engels, from Sinking Creek. © The Lyons Press, 1998. - Thanks to The Writer's Almanac

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Singing - C.K. Williams

I was walking home down a hill near our house
on a balmy afternoon
under the blossoms
Of the pear trees that go flamboyantly mad here
every spring with
their burgeoning forth

When a young man turned in from a corner singing
no it was more of
a cadenced shouting
Most of which I couldn't catch I thought because
the young man was
black speaking black

It didn't matter I could tell he was making his
song up which pleased
me he was nice-looking
Husky dressed in some style of big pants obviously
full of himself
hence his lyrical flowing over

We went along in the same direction then he noticed
me there almost
beside him and "Big"
He shouted-sang "Big" and I thought how droll
to have my height
incorporated in his song

So I smiled but the face of the young man showed nothing
he looked
in fact pointedly away
And his song changed "I'm not a nice person"
he chanted "I'm not
I'm not a nice person"

No menace was meant I gathered no particular threat
but he did want
to be certain I knew
That if my smile implied I conceived of anything like concord
between us I should forget it

That's all nothing else happened his song became
indecipherable to
me again he arrived
Where he was going a house where a girl in braids
waited for him on
the porch that was all

No one saw no one heard all the unasked and
unanswered questions
were left where they were
It occurred to me to sing back "I'm not a nice
person either" but I
couldn't come up with a tune

Besides I wouldn't have meant it nor he have believed
it both of us
knew just where we were
In the duet we composed the equation we made
the conventions to
which we were condemned

Sometimes it feels even when no one is there that
someone something
is watching and listening
Someone to rectify redo remake this time again though
no one saw nor
heard no one was there

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

By Ogden Nash

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.


Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.


Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.


Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.


Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
And Blink said Week!, which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.


Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.


Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.


Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.


But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.


The pirate gaped at Belinda's dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets but they didn't hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.


Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pyrate.


Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.


Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Army: Halloween Poetry Competition

Book Army: Halloween Poetry Competition - Have a poem you wrote about Halloween? Then enter - three days left......

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Sun Rising

From The Guardian Book Blog: Poem of the week: John Donne's The Sun Rising
Not for Donne a sad parting at dawn: here he places himself and his lover at the centre of the universe, with the sun as their servant. It's one of the most joyous love poems ever written
The Sun Rising

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late schoolboys and sour 'prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the King will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shoulds't thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th'Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left'st them, or lie here with me?
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, 'All here in one bed lay.'

She's all states, and all princes, I;
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here, to us, and thou art everywhere;

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Harvest by Lousie Gluck

Harvest by Louise Gluck

It's autumn in the market—
not wise anymore to buy tomatoes.
They're beautiful still on the outside,
some perfectly round and red, the rare varieties
misshapen, individual, like human brains covered in red oilcloth—

Inside, they're gone. Black, moldy—
you can't take a bite without anxiety.
Here and there, among the tainted ones, a fruit
still perfect, picked before decay set in.

Instead of tomatoes, crops nobody really wants.
Pumpkins, a lot of pumpkins.
Gourds, ropes of dried chilies, braids of garlic.
The artisans weave dead flowers into wreaths;
they tie bits of colored yarn around dried lavender.
And people go on for a while buying these things
as though they thought the farmers would see to it
that things went back to normal:
the vines would go back to bearing new peas;
the first small lettuces, so fragile, so delicate, would begin
to poke out of the dirt.

Instead, it gets dark early.
And the rains get heavier; they carry
the weight of dead leaves.

At dusk, now, an atmosphere of threat, of foreboding.
And people feel this themselves; they give a name to the season,
harvest, to put a better face on these things.

The gourds are rotting on the ground, the sweet blue grapes are finished.
A few roots, maybe, but the ground's so hard the farmers think
it isn't worth the effort to dig them out. For what?
To stand in the marketplace under a thin umbrella, in the rain, in the cold,
no customers anymore?

And then the frost comes; there's no more question of harvest.
The snow begins; the pretense of life ends.
The earth is white now; the fields shine when the moon rises.

I sit at the bedroom window, watching the snow fall.
The earth is like a mirror:
calm meeting calm, detachment meeting detachment.

What lives, lives underground.
What dies, dies without struggle.

"Harvest" by Louise Glück from A Village Life. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Wild Swans At Coole

by William Butler Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodlands paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

"The Wild Swans at Coole" by W.B. Yeats, from Collected Poems. Public domain

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sound of the Night Train by Pat Schneider

Only once in every twenty-four hours the train comes through
my town—in the dark, still center of the night. Sometimes I am
awake to hear it, its wail a long sound-tunnel back to another
time, another place.
1934. Early March in southern Missouri, northern Arkansas.
The air cold, the night wind hard in the open doorway of a
boxcar headed south toward Louisiana.
My mother told me this in the winter of her dying. Always
she said my father was just no good—her Ozark accent persisting
to the end: a woman warshed and rinched the clothes. A man
who didn't treat a woman right was just no good.
It was the heart of the Depression, she said. I never did tell this
to anyone—I was so ashamed. We wanted to go to see Papa and
Mama in the Socialist Colony down in Louisiana, but we didn't
have any money. So we rode the rails. One night a man in the
boxcar with us said, "If y'all know what's good for you, you'll jump
right now." We were scared; we jumped.
And me six months pregnant with you. Isn't that awful?
She lay very still then on her high hospital bed, the wedding
ring quilt she had pieced when her eyes were good pulled up
around her shoulders. What made me sad, listening to this story,
was the strangeness of my mother's not saying, He was just no
good. For the first time in her eighty-six years she said, He was
good to me then. I was cold, and we were sleeping on the ground. He
covered me with leaves. He covered her—covered me—with
leaves.

"Sound of the Night Train", by Pat Schneider from Another River.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Getting to Sleep in New Jersey

Getting to Sleep in New Jersey by John Stone

Not twenty miles from where I work,
William Williams wrote after dark,
after the last baby was caught,
knowing that what he really ought

to do was sleep. Rutherford slept,
while all night William Williams kept

scratching at his prescription pad,
dissecting the good lines from the bad.

He tested the general question whether
feet or butt or head-first ever

determines as well the length of labor
of a poem. His work is over:

bones and guts and red wheelbarrows;
the loneliness and all the errors

a heart can make the other end
of a stethoscope. Outside, the wind

corners the house with a long crow.
Silently, his contagious snow

covers the banks of the Passaic River,
where he walked once, full of fever,

tracking his solitary way
back to his office and the white day,

a peculiar kind of bright-eyed bird,
hungry for morning and the perfect word.

"Getting to Sleep in New Jersey" by John A. Stone, from Music From Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press, 2004.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mary Oliver

I wish I was twenty and in love with life
   and still full of beans.

Onward, old legs!
There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side
the roses are blooming and finding their labor
no adversity to the spirit.

Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
shining like a song, like a body
I want to touch

though I'm not twenty
and won't be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.

"Self-Portrait" by Mary Oliver, from Red Bird. © Beacon Press, 2008.

Friday, August 28, 2009

On My 77th Birthday

Forgetfulness

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.

Billy Collins

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vegetable Love

Vegetable Love by Barbara Crooker (Thanks to The Writer's Almanac)

Feel a tomato, heft its weight in your palm,
think of buttocks, breasts, this plump pulp.
And carrots, mud clinging to the root,
gold mined from the earth's tight purse.
And asparagus, that push their heads up,
rise to meet the returning sun,
and zucchini, green torpedoes
lurking in the Sargasso depths
of their raspy stalks and scratchy leaves.
And peppers, thick walls of cool jade, a green hush.
Secret caves. Sanctuary.
And beets, the dark blood of the earth.
And all the lettuces: bibb, flame, oak leaf, butter-
crunch, black-seeded Simpson, chicory, cos.
Elizabethan ruffs, crisp verbiage.
And spinach, the dark green
of northern forests, savoyed, ruffled,
hidden folds and clefts.
And basil, sweet basil, nuzzled
by fumbling bees drunk on the sun.
And cucumbers, crisp, cool white ice
in the heart of August, month of fire.
And peas in their delicate slippers,
little green boats, a string of beads,
repeating, repeating.
And sunflowers, nodding at night,
then rising to shout hallelujah! at noon.

All over the garden, the whisper of leaves
passing secrets and gossip, making assignations.
All of the vegetables bask in the sun,
languorous as lizards.
Quick, before the frost puts out
its green light, praise these vegetables,
earth's voluptuaries,
praise what comes from the dirt.

"Vegetable Love" by Barbara Crooker, from Radiance. © Word Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Whirlpool

Whirlpool by George Bilgere

In the morning, after much delay,
I finally go down to the basement
to replace the broken dryer belt.

First I unbolt the panels
and sweep up the dust mice and crumbling spiders.
I listen to the sounds of the furnace
thinking things over
at the beginning of winter.

Then I stretch out on the concrete floor
with a flashlight in my mouth
to contemplate the mystery
of the pulley-tensioner assembly.

And finally, with a small, keen pleasure,
I slip the new belt over the spindle, rise,
and screw everything back together.

Later, we have a birthday dinner
for my wife's grandmother, who is dying
of bone cancer. Maybe,
if they dial up the chemo, fine tune the meds,
we'll do this again next year.

But she's old, and the cancer
seems to know what it's doing.
Everyone loves her broccoli casserole.
as for the cake, it sits on the table,
a small brown mountain we can't see beyond.

That night I empty the washer,
throw the damp clothes in the dryer.
For half an hour my wife's blouses
wrestle with my shirts
in a hot and whirling ecstasy,

because I replaced an ancient belt
and adjusted the pulley-tensioner assembly.

"Whirlpool" by George Bilgere. © George Bilgere. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Photograph of My Mother as a Young Girl

Photograph of My Mother as a Young Girl  by Dana Gioia

She wasn't looking
when they took this picture:
sitting on the grass
in her bare feet
wearing a cotton dress,
she stares off to the side
watching something on the lawn
the camera didn't catch.
What was it?
A ladybug? A flower?
Judging from her expression,
possibly nothing at all,
or else
the lawn was like a mirror,
and she sat watching herself,
wondering who she was
and how she came to be there
sitting in this backyard,
wearing a cheap, white dress,
imagining that tomorrow
would be like all her yesterdays,
while her parents chatted
and watched, as I do
years later,
too distantly to interfere.

"Photograph of My Mother as a Young Girl" by Dana Gioia, from Daily Horoscope. (c) Graywolf Press, 1986.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Trust

This morning I stood in the summer shadows of the big elm
watching a doe lay her fawn down in our pasture field.
She hid him with care in a patch of tall grasses,
still wet and shining with dew.

As I stepped into the sunlight of our lane,
the doe stopped, alert to my movement.
Our eyes met and
we regarded each other for several seconds.
Then the doe, deciding, flicked her ears
and walked away - first with halting steps - then trotting on,
as she knew she must.

I understood

Soon I will take my son to college,
lie him in the grasses of what he has learned of life,
and I, too, will walk away,
trusting that all will be well.

We are optimistic, the doe and I.
We must be.



PPW

Monday, July 27, 2009

Gram's Lament

Gram's Lament - A song

Look at me
O look at me
What do you see
With your bright young eyes?
What do you see
When you look at me?

We are the old
We are invisible
We are not seen

Look again
Look at me
Open your heart
Now what do you see?

My eyes once glowed
My lips once loved
My limbs were graceful
My laughter light

We are the old
We are invisible
We are not seen

All you young ones
Look at me
Really look at me

I have things to say
I have love to give
Wisdom to share

So use your heart
And look again...At me.
Then tell me what you see

We are the old
We are invisible
We are not seen.

Mary Murphy

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Writer's Almanac Today

Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac today begins with Shakespeare's Sonnet 91 and goes on to tell us all about "the sonnet." Great reading and listening.

You can download it HERE - to listen

Billy Collin's Sonnet on "the Sonnet" is mentioned:

Sonnet - Billy Collins

All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here wile we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown

The NY Times: The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown
Perfect stillness. Could this have been where Mary Oliver had seen the deer? She had written about them in more than one poem, but most famously in “Five A.M. in the Pinewoods”:

I’d seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes ...

This is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be. ...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The VCCA Fellows Visit the Holiness Baptist Church, Amherst, Virginia

by Barbara Crooker

We are the only light faces in a sea of mahogany,
tobacco, almond, and this is not the only way
we are different. We've come in late, the choir
already singing, swaying to the music, moving
in the spirit. When I was down, Lord, when
I was down, Jesus lifted me. And, for a few minutes,
we are raised up, out of our own skepticism
and doubts, rising on the swell of their voices.
The singers sit, and we pass the peace, wrapped
in thick arms, ample bosoms, and I start to think
maybe God is a woman of color, and that She loves
us, in spite of our pale selves, so far away
from who we should really be. Parishioners
give testimonials, a deacon speaks of his sister,
who's "gone home," and I realize he doesn't mean
back to Georgia, but that she's passed over. I float
on this sweet certainty, of a return not to the bland
confection of wispy clouds and angels in nightshirts,
but to childhood's kitchen, a dew-drenched June
morning, roses tumbling by the back porch.
The preacher mounts the lectern, tells us he's been
up since four working at his other job, the one
that pays the bills, and he delivers a sermon
that lightens the heart, unencumbered by dogma
and theology. For the benediction, we all join hands,
visitors and strangers enfolded in the whole,
like raisins in sweet batter. We step through the door
into the stunning sunshine, and our hearts
lift out of our chests, tiny birds flying off to light
in the redbuds, to sing and sing and sing.

"The VCCA Fellows Visit the Holiness Baptist Church, Amherst, Virginia" by Barbara Crooker, from Line Dance. © Word Press, 2008.

Into my heart an air that kills

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A E Houseman - The Shropshire Lad

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wild Peavines

Wild Peavines - By Robert Morgan

I have never understood how
the mountains when first seen by hunters
and traders and settlers were covered
with peavines. How could every cove
and clearing, old field, every
opening in the woods and even
understories of deep woods
be laced with vines and blossoms in
June? They say the flowers were so thick
the fumes were smothering. They tell
of shining fogs of bees above
the sprawling mess and every bush
and sapling tangled with tender
curls and tresses. I don't see how
it was possible for wild peas
to take the woods in shade and deep
hollows and spread over cliffs in
hanging gardens and choke out other
flowers. It's hard to believe the creek
banks and high ledges were that bright.
But hardest of all is to see
how such profusion, such overwhelming
lushness and lavish could vanish,
so completely disappear that
you must look through several valleys
to find a sprig or strand of wild
peavine curling on a weedstalk
like some word from a lost language
once flourishing on every tongue.

"Wild Peavines" by Robert Morgan, from Wild Peavines. © Gnomon Press, 1996.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Flannery's Anger

Flannery's Angel by Charles Wright

Lead us to those we are waiting for,
Those who are waiting for us.
May your wings protect us,
                      may we not be strangers in the lush province of joy.

Remember us who are weak,
You who are strong in your country which lies beyond the thunder,
Raphael, angel of happy meeting,
                                                 resplendent, hawk of the light.

"Flannery's Angel" by Charles Wright, from Sestets: Poems. © Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2009.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reverence

Reverence

by Julie Cadwallader-Staub

The air vibrated
with the sound of cicadas
on those hot Missouri nights after sundown
when the grown-ups gathered on the wide back lawn,
sank into their slung-back canvas chairs
tall glasses of iced tea beading in the heat

and we sisters chased fireflies
reaching for them in the dark
admiring their compact black bodies
their orange stripes and seeking antennas
as they crawled to our fingertips
and clicked open into the night air.

In all the days and years that have followed,
I don't know that I've ever experienced
that same utter certainty of the goodness of life
that was as palpable
as the sound of the cicadas on those nights:

my sisters running around with me in the dark,
the murmur of the grown-ups' voices,
the way reverence mixes with amazement
to see such a small body
emit so much light.

"Reverence" by Julie Cadwallader-Staub, from Friends Journal. ©Religious Society of Friends.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Perfect Black Blazer

The Perfect Black Blazer - by Bobbi Lurie

The head nurse called to say
Mom threw a potted plant,
smashed the TV set, banged
her head against the wall.
When I got there I saw the deep
         bruise on her forehead.
She could barely speak so we sat
     mute for some minutes.
I watched her slide to the side
of the couch as she scratched
her arms, pulled at her hair.
I needed to bring her back
        so I told the story of
our Saturday excursions,
searching for the perfect
black blazer.
                  I exaggerated
the futility of finding
something immaculate like that,
something slim-fitting and neat,
able to match any pair of pants
or skirt we wore.
                         We never found it
of course but kept searching
as we watched other women
more glamorous than we were.
           When I asked if she
remembered that, she laughed
                 and said, "oh yes."
I looked around the room
into the distant faces,
haunted hair, blank stares.
"Time for lunch," a nurse yelled.
I walked Mom to her chair,
           watched the aides tie
bibs around the residents’ necks,
       leaned to kiss
Mom gently good-bye on her cheek,
   trying not to notice
she no longer smelled like
           my mother.
She had taken on the scent
of the urine-ammonia halls
and the talc caked heavy
                  on her body.
I walked out, then felt
       something strange
like a voice without words
tell me to return so I ran
                quickly back
to where she sat, her hands
         on her lap.
They were the same hands,
so I squeezed them tight,
kissed her for a second time.
Only this time I hugged
   her close,
            inhaled deep,
   took her all in.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lives of the Nineteenth Century Poetesses

Lives of the Nineteenth-Century Poetesses

As girls they were awkward and peculiar,
wept in church or refused to go at all.
their mothers saw right away no man would marry them.
So they must live at the sufferance of others,
timid and queer, as governesses out of Chekhov,
malnourished on theology, boiled eggs and tea,
but given to outbursts of cries that embarrass everyone.
After the final quarrel, the grand
renunciation, they retire upstairs to the attic,
or to the small room in the cheap off-season hotel,
and write, Today I burned all your letters, or
I dreamed the magnolia blazed like an avenging angel,
and when I woke, I knew I was in Hell.

No one is surprised when they die young,
having left their savings to a wastrel nephew,
to be remembered for a handful
of "minor but perfect" lyrics,
a passion for jam or charades,
and a letter still preserved in the family archives:
"I send you here with the papers of your aunt,
who died last Tuesday in the odor of sanctity,
although a little troubled in her mind
by her habit, much disapproved of by the ignorant,
of writing down the secrets of her heart."

Katha Pollitt

Friday, May 15, 2009

Emily Dickinson's death

It was on this day in 1886 that Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55. She wrote:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
She had been ill and grief-stricken for years. In 1874, her father, whom she adored, had a stroke and died. The funeral was held in family home, but Emily stayed in her room during the service with the door ajar. A year later, her mother had a stroke, which rendered her paralyzed and with memory loss. Dickinson wrote, "Home is so far from Home.

When she was in her 40s, the reclusive Emily Dickinson had a romance with an aging widower, Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge Otis Phillips Lord. They wrote to each other every Sunday, and their correspondence was the highlight of her week.

Dickinson's mother died in 1882, then her favorite nephew died of typhoid fever, and in 1884, Judge Lord died of a stroke. Dickinson wrote, "The Dyings have been too deep for me, and before I could raise my heart from one, another has come."

Emily Dickinson died of Bright's disease on this day in 1886. Her coffin was white and surrounded by violets.

Dickinson had made her sister promise to burn all of her letters (though some survived), but didn't give any instructions about her notebooks. There were 40 notebooks, along with various loose sheets of paper, and these contained about 1800 poems.

The first edition of Dickinson's poems was published in 1890 and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a woman who had an affair with Emily's brother. This edition and many after it made sweeping edits to her poems. It wasn't until 1955 that Dickinson's poems were finally published just as she herself had written them---with punctuation, capitalization, and obscure diction intact. The volume, compiled by Thomas H. Johnson, in now the authoritative edition of Emily Dickinson's poetry.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Waltz We Were Born For

The Waltz We Were Born For (Happy Mother's Day)

Wind chimes ping and tangle on the patio.
In gusty winds this wild, sparrow hawks hover
and bob, always the crash of indigo
hosannas dangling on strings. My wife ties copper
to turquoise from deserts, and bits of steel
from engines I tear down. She strings them all
like laces of babies' shoes when the squeal
of their play made joyful noise in the hall.

Her voice is more modest than moonlight,
like pearl drops she wears in her lobes.
My hands find the face of my bride.
I stretch her skin smooth and see bone.
Our children bring children to bless her, her face
more weathered than mine. What matters
is timeless, dazzling devotion—not rain,
not Eden gardenias, but cactus in drought,
not just moons of deep sleep, not sunlight or stars,
not the blue, but the darkness beyond.


"The Waltz We Were Born For" by Walt McDonald, from Blessings the Body Gave. © Ohio State University Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

To My Mother

To My Mother - by Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

"To My Mother" by Wendell Berry, from Entries. © Pantheon Books, 1994. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, May 4, 2009

‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’

‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ by Rupert Brooke - Last verse

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Music

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

Bur there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

"Music" by Anne Porter from Living Things: Collected Poems. © Steerforth Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Waking

I've been really busy and haven't had time to read much, but it's spring and spring always makes me think of this poem, and joy, and the lovely version of this that Kurt Elling has put to music:

The Waking
by Theodore Roethke http://gawow.com/roethke/poems/104.html

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGbGUhYe0Ts&feature=related

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That Time Of Year

That Time of Year - Philip Appleman

So April's here, with all these soggy showers,
Making us almost long for March again,
As every twiglet makes a play for flowers
And every hack for miles picks up a pen,
Girls all playing hankypank, not soccer,
The smell of oozing sap all over town,
Teenage boys completely off their rocker,
And rutting rabbits diddling farmer Brown.

We're in for it now, nothing to be done:
Loving's what we wanted, what we got.
At least we're going to have a little fun—
With any luck, we're going to have a lot.
Thirty days hath April: seize the day!
Don't trust to luck for darling buds in May.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Good List

A Good List - by Brad Leithauser

(Homage to Lorenz Hart)
Some nights, can't sleep, I draw up a list,
Of everything I've never done wrong.
To look at me now, you might insist
My list could hardly be long,
But I've stolen no gnomes from my neighbor’s yard,
Nor struck his dog, backing out my car.
Never ate my way up and down the Loire
On a stranger's credit card.

I've never given a cop the slip,
Stuffed stiffs in a gravel quarry,
Or silenced Cub Scouts on a first camping trip
With an unspeakable ghost story.
Never lifted a vase from a museum foyer,
Or rifled a Turkish tourist's backpack.
Never cheated at golf. Or slipped out a blackjack
And flattened a patent lawyer.

I never forged a lottery ticket,
Took three on a two-for-one pass,
Or, as a child, toasted a cricket
With a magnifying glass.
I never said "air" to mean "err," or obstructed
Justice, or defrauded a securities firm.
Never mulcted—so far as I understand the term.
Or unjustly usufructed.

I never swindled a widow of all her stuff
By means of a false deed and title
Or stood up and shouted, My God, that's enough!
At a nephew’s piano recital.
Never practiced arson, even as a prank,
Brightened church-suppers with off-color jokes,
Concocted an archeological hoax—
Or dumped bleach in a goldfish tank.

Never smoked opium. Or smuggled gold
Across the Panamanian Isthmus.
Never hauled back and knocked a rival out cold,
Or missed a family Christmas.
Never borrowed a book I intended to keep.
. . . My list, once started, continues to grow,
Which is all for the good, but just goes to show
It's the good who do not sleep.

Friday, April 17, 2009

To See My Mother

To See My Mother - By Sharon Olds

It was like witnessing the earth being formed,
to see my mother die, like seeing
the dry lands be separated
from the oceans, and all the mists bear up
on one side, and all the solids
be borne down, on the other, until
the body was all there, all bronze and
petrified redwood opal, and the soul all
gone. If she hadn't looked so exalted, so
beast-exalted and refreshed and suddenly
hopeful, more than hopeful—beyond
hope, relieved—if she had not been suffering so
much, since I had met her, I do not
know how I would have stood it, without
fighting someone, though no one was there
to fight, death was not there except
as her, my task was to hold her tiny
crown in one cupped hand, and her near
birdbone shoulder. Lakes, clouds,
nests. Winds, stems, tongues.
Embryo, zygote, blastocele, atom,
my mother's dying was like an end
of life on earth, some end of water
and moisture salt and sweet, and vapor,
till only that still, ocher moon
shone, in the room, mouth open, no song.

**********************

And mine:

LAST VISIT

Pared to the bone,
The ivory skin is wrinkled,
Cool and soft to the touch.

Spare flesh on the old bones,
The hands plucking,
Plucking the sheets -
Questioning, moving.

She lies on her side,
The blind eyes open.
Still smelling sweet.
She always has.

I bend to kiss her hands.
To tell her I am here.

"Oh, cover me with kisses,"
She cries in that hoarse,
Rusty voice -
And I do.

Silence then as
She drifts away,
Listening to the voices of memory.

"Mother, it's OK to go," I say.

The next morning she dies,
Alone in the room.

I could have stayed,
What urgency called me away?
I wanted so to see her out,
To ease her through the door.

I ache for the chance
To be with her again.

Mary Murphy 8/15/89

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Voices

Imagined voices, and beloved, too,
of those who died, or of those who are
lost unto us like the dead.

Sometimes in our dreams they speak to us;
sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them.

And with their sound for a moment there return
sounds from the first poetry of our life—
like music, in the night, far off, that fades away.

C.P. Cavafy

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Waiting On Elvis, 1956

Waiting On Elvis, 1956 - Joyce Carol Oates

This place up in Charlotte called Chuck's where I
used to waitress and who came in one night
but Elvis and some of his friends before his concert
at the Arena, I was twenty-six married but still
waiting tables and we got to joking around like you
do, and he was fingering the lace edge of my slip
where it showed below my hemline and I hadn't even
seen it and I slapped at him a little saying, You
sure are the one aren't you feeling my face burn but
he was the kind of boy even meanness turned sweet in
his mouth.

Smiled at me and said, Yeah honey I guess I sure am.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Choice of Diseases

Now that I'm sick & have
all this time to contemplate
the meaning of the universe,
Father said, I understand why
I never did it before. Nothing
looks good from a prone position.
You have to walk around to appreciate
things. Once I get better I don't
intend to get sick for a while. But
if I do I hope I get one of those diseases
you can walk around with.

by Hal Sirowitz

Monday, March 30, 2009

Suicide Aside

suicide aside - by Bruce Dethlefsen

try watching birds
regard them as they fly like salt to bread
spice up this crusty world

a giant spider web
their lines of flight
tie up and bind the world

they fly
birds jump up in the air and stay
you try it
flap your arms for all you're worth
no way      you're stuck
they’re free to leave the world

the colors
lemon zest and lime and berry
sugar coffee cream
and all the rest
sublime delicious flavors how
our eyes drink in the world

and listen to them sing
the wind becomes a thing alive
with music whistles squawks and chirps
a melody of world

so tell me why you thought you'd rather die
check out      pluck all the feathers
close the lights

alright don't tell me
but please me
stick around a while
with me to watch the birds
see how they swirl and turn the world

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Suddenly - Louis Simpson

Suddenly

The truck came at me,
I swerved
but I got a dent.

The car insurance woman
informs me that my policy
has been cancelled.

I say, "You can't do that."
She gives me a little smile
and goes back to her nails.

Lately have you noticed
how aggressively people drive?
A whoosh! and whatever.

Some people are suddenly
very rich, and as many
suddenly very poor.

As for the war, don't get me started.
We were too busy watching
the ball game to see

that the things we care about
are suddenly disappearing,
and that they always were.

Thanks to The Writers Almanac

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

i thank you God

 
i thank you God for most this amazing day;
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything which is natural
which is infinite
which is yes

ee cummings

Image thanks to herondance.org

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We are All Writing God's Poem'

Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We are All Writing God's Poem'  by Barbara Crooker

Today, the sky's the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, "The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it's stranger than we can think." I think
I've driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark's bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren't we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: "There is no end of things
in the heart," but it seems like things
are always ending—vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit—
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.
The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop
for the thousandth time.

"Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We are All Writing God's Poem'" by Barbara Crooker, from Line Dance. © Word Press, 2008.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A request

Miss Schoen - Do not write to me every day. I get too many e mails as it is.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ode to the Potato

Ode to the Potato by Barbara Hamby"

They eat a lot of French fries here," my mother
   announces after a week in Paris, and she's right,
not only about les pommes frites but the celestial tuber
   in all its forms: rotie, purée, not to mention
au gratin or boiled and oiled in la salade niçoise.
   Batata edulis discovered by gold-mad conquistadors
in the West Indies, and only a 100 years later
   in The Merry Wives of Windsor Falstaff cries,
"Let the skie raine Potatoes," for what would we be
   without you—lost in a sea of fried turnips,
mashed beets, roasted parsnips? Mi corazón, mon coeur,
   my core is not the heart but the stomach, tuber
of the body, its hollow stem the throat and esophagus,
   leafing out to the nose and eyes and mouth. Hail
the conquering spud, all its names marvelous: Solanum
   tuberosum, Igname, Caribe, Russian Banana, Yukon Gold.
When you turned black, Ireland mourned. O Mr. Potato Head,
   how many deals can a man make before he stops being
small potatoes? How many men can a woman drop
   like a hot potato? Eat it cooked or raw like an apple
with salt of the earth, apple of the earth, pomme de terre.
   Tuber, tuber burning bright in a kingdom without light,
deep within the earth where the Incan potato gods rule,
   forging their golden orbs for the world's ravening gorge.

"Ode to the Potato" by Barbara Hamby, from Babel. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Optimism

Optimism by Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.
A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs—
all this resinous, unretractable earth.

"Optimism" by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt. © Harper Collins, 2002. Reprinted with permission

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tossing and Turning - John Updike

Tossing and Turning by John Updike

The spirit has infinite facets, but the body
confiningly few sides.
   There is the left,
the right, the back, the belly, and tempting
in-betweens, northeasts and northwests,
that tip the heart and soon pinch circulation
in one or another arm.
   Yet we turn each time
with fresh hope, believing that sleep
will visit us here, descending like an angel
down the angle our flesh's sextant sets,
tilted toward that unreachable star
hung in the night between our eyebrows, whence
dreams and good luck flow.
   Uncross
your ankles. Unclench your philosophy.
This bed was invented by others; know we go
to sleep less to rest than to participate
in the twists of another world.
This churning is our journey.
   It ends,
can only end, around a corner
we do not know
we are turning.

"Tossing and Turning" by John Updike, from Collected Poems 1953-1993. © Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Coming Home - Mary Oliver

Perfect for Valentine's Day: Coming Home - Mary Oliver

When we're driving, in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we're weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place — the top
of one of the pale dunes
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea —
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything — the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness —
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

He Gets Around to Answering the Old Question

He Gets Around to Answering the Old Question - by Miller Williams

He doesn't see as well as he thinks he remembers.
His fingers sometimes find it hard to bend.
He often can't find the name to go with a face.
Sometimes he doesn't hear but decides to pretend.

Weekends, week by week, are closer together.
Sometimes he has to sit down to put on his pants.
No lady seems to mind if he calls her Honey,
never grins nor even throws a glance.

Sometimes he's told himself what all this means.
"Every year some more of me is dead,
but there's a lot of stuff still left to collapse."
He started to laugh but talked to himself instead.

"Think of yourself as a plumbing system, a clock.
As soon as you're done, you start to come undone.
It's almost interesting when you pay attention,
how working parts stop working, one by one.

So now you've asked me the oldest question of all.
You want to know how I'm doing. I told you before,
I'm dying. Been at it for years. Still, I think
I could hang a few more calendars on the door."

"He Gets Around to Answering the Old Question" by Miller Williams, from Time and the Tilting Earth. © Louisiana State University Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission

Thanks, Writer's Almanac

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The birthday of Robert Burns

The Writers Almanac: A Red, Red Rose - by Robert Burns

Oh my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
Oh my luve is like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare the weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile!

Sung at i tunes by Jim Malcolm. I once had a famous folk artist from St John's Newfoundland sing the song to me at a private gathering.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Having Confessed

Having Confessed by Patrick Kavanagh

Having confessed he feels
That he should go down on his knees and pray
For forgiveness for his pride, for having
Dared to view his soul from the outside.
Lie at the heart of the emotion, time
Has its own work to do. We must not anticipate
Or awaken for a moment. God cannot catch us
Unless we stay in the unconscious room
Of our hearts. We must be nothing,
Nothing that God may make us something.
We must not touch the immortal material
We must not daydream to-morrow's judgment—
God must be allowed to surprise us.
We have sinned, sinned like Lucifer
By this anticipation. Let us lie down again
Deep in anonymous humility and God
May find us worthy material for His hand.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

VII by Wendell Berry

VII (via The Writer's Almanac)

I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.

"VII" from the poem "1994" by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Journey of the Magi - T S Eliot

Epiphany Sunday

American Literature Research and Analysis Web Site -- T. S. Eliot "Journey of the Magi" (poem and analysis)

Eliot's faith continued to grow and on June 29, 1927, he was baptized in the Anglican-Catholic church. This great event in Eliot's life was done privately and behind closed doors. On the next day Eliot was confirmed by the Bishop (Ackroyd 162). "Journey of the Magi," the first in a series of poems Eliot later grouped together as the Ariel Poems, was published in August of 1927 shortly after his baptism. Caroline Behr suggests that this poem reflects Eliot's state of mind in transition between his old and new faiths (33). As Lyndall Gordon suggests, "Journey of the Magi" is one part of Eliot's conversion story in that it tells about his being "ill-at-ease in the 'old dispensation' after his conversion"

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.