Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poem To Be Read At 3 a.m.

Poem to be read at 3 a.m.
Excepting the diner
On the outskirts.
The town of Ladora
At 3 a.m.
Was dark but
For my headlights
And up in
One second-story room
A single light
Where someone
Was sick or
Perhaps reading
As I drove past
At seventy
Not thinking.
This poem
Is for whoever
Had the light on

 -- Donald Justice

April is Poetry Month

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To An Athlete Dying Young

To An Athlete Dying Young - A. E. Housman 

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

Meryl Streep reads the poem after Denys death in Out Of Africa

The New Jerusalem - William Blake

William Blake - The New Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my charriot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Everything But God

Everything but God - Anne Pierson Wiese

In Europe you can see cathedrals
from far away. As you drive toward them
across the country they are visible—stony
and roosted on the land—even before the towns
that surround them. In New York you come
upon them with no warning, turn a corner
and there one is: on 5th Avenue St. Patrick's,
spiny and white as a shell in a gift shop; dark
St. Agnes lost near a canal and some housing
projects in Brooklyn; or St. John the Divine,
listed in every guidebook yet seeming always
like a momentary vision on Amsterdam
Avenue, with its ragged halo of trees, wide stone
steps ascending directly out of traffic.

Lately I have found myself unable
to pass by. The candles' anonymous
wishes waver and flame near the entrance, bright
numerous, transitory and eternal
as a migration: the birds that fly away
are never exactly the same as those that return.
The gray, flowering arches' ribs rise
until they fade, the bones so large and old
they belong to an undetected time
on earth. Here and there people's small backs
in prayer, the windowed saints' robes' orchid
glow, the shadows—ghosts of a long nocturnal
snow from a sky below when we did not yet
exist, with our questions tender as burns.

"Everything but God" by Anne Pierson Wiese, from Floating City. © Louisiana State University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission

Kevin Young's Serenade


I wake to the cracked plate
of moon being thrown

across the room—
that’ll fix me

for trying sleep.
Lately even night

has left me—
now even the machine

that makes the rain
has stopped sending

the sun away.
It is late,

or early, depending—

who’s to say.
Who’s to name

these ragged stars, this
light that waters

down the milky dark
before I down

it myself.
Sleep, I swear

there’s no one else—
raise me up

in the near-night
& set me like

a tin toy to work,
clanking in the bare

broken bright.

Excerpt from DEAR DARKNESS © 2008 by Kevin Young.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Wounded Deer Leaps Highest - Emily Dickinson

"A wounded deer leaps highest,
I've heard the hunter tell;
'T is but the ecstasy of death,
And then the brake is still.

"The smitten rock that gushes,
The trampled steel that springs;
A cheek is always redder
Just where the hectic stings!"

Thanks to The Literary Overview

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Wear by Philip Booth

I hate how things wear out.

Not elbows, collars, cuffs;
they fit me, lightly frayed.

Not belts or paint or rust,
not routine maintenance.

On my own hook I cope
with surfaces: with all

that rubs away, flakes off, or fades
on schedule. What eats at me

is what wears from the in
-side out: bearings, couplings,

universal joints,
old differentials, rings,

and points: frictions hidden
in such dark they build

to heat before they come
to light. What gets to me

is how valves wear, the slow
leak in old circuitry,

the hairline fracture under
stress. With all my heart

I hate pumps losing prime,
immeasurable over-

loads, ungauged fatigue
in linkages. I hate

myself for wasting time on hate:
the cost of speed

came with the bill of sale,
the rest was never under

warranty. Five years
ago I turned in every

year; this year I rebuild
rebuilt parts. What hurts

is how blind tired I get.

Thanks to The Writers Almanac

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Don Marquis and Archy’s “a spider and a fly”

a spider and a fly - By don Marquis - and archy

i heard a spider and a fly arguing
wait said the fly
i serve a great purpose
in the world
you will have to
show me said the spider
i scurry around
gutters and sewers
and garbage cans
said the fly and gather
up the germs of
typhoid influenza
and pneumonia on my feet
and wings
then i carry these germs
into the households of men
and give them diseases
all the people who
have lived the right
sort of life recover
from the diseases
and the old soaks who
have weakened their systems
with liquor and iniquity
succumb it is my mission
to help rid the world
of these wicked persons
i am a vessel of righteousness
scattering seeds of justice
and serving the noblest uses
it is true said the spider
that you are more
useful in a plodding
material sort of way
than i am but i do not
serve the utilitarian deities
i serve the gods of beauty
look at the gossamer webs
i weave they float in the sun
like filaments of song
if you get what i mean
i do not work at anything
i play all the time
i am busy with the stuff
of enchantment and the materials
of fairyland my works
transcend utility
i am the artist
a creator and a demi god
it is ridiculous to suppose
that i should be denied
the food i need in order
to continue to create
beauty i tell you
plainly mister fly it is all
damned nonsense for that food
to rear up on its hind legs
and say it should not be eaten
you have convinced me
said the fly say no more
and shutting all his eyes
he prepared himself for dinner
and yet he said i could
have made out a case
for myself too if i had
had a better line of talk
of course you could said the spider
clutching a sirloin from him
but the end would have been
just the same if neither of
us had spoken at all
boss i am afraid that what
the spider said is true
and it gives me to think
furiously upon the futility
of literature

Excerpt from THE BEST OF ARCHY AND MEHITABEL © 2011 by Everyman’s Library. Excerpted by permission of Everyman’s Library a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Mercy

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
eighty-three years ago was named “The Mercy.”
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
“orange,” saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept “The Mercy” afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
“The Mercy,” I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, “Tancred” out of Glasgow, “The Neptune”
registered as Danish, “Umberto IV,”
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds the alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.

Excerpt from THE MERCY © 1999 by Philip Levine. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Old Poets of China

Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Buffalo Bill's

Buffalo Bill's
       who used to
       ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeons justlikethat
he was a handsome man
                     and what I want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

e e cummings
[The last two lines were tatooed on the shoulder of the writer Harry Crews]

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sold to the Lady in the Sunglasses and Green Shoes

Sold to the Lady in the Sunglasses and Green Shoes by Simon Armitage 

My girlfriend won me in a sealed auction but wouldn't
tell me how much she bid. "Leave it, Frank. It's not
important. Now go to sleep," she said. But I was restless.
An hour later I woke her and said, "Give me a ballpark
figure." "I'm tired," she replied. I put the light on. "But
are we talking like thousands here?" She rolled away,
pulled the cotton sheet over her head, mumbling, "You're
being silly, Frank." I said, "Oh, being silly am I? So not
thousands. Just a couple of hundred, was it?" "I'm not
telling you, so drop it," she snarled. By now I was wide
awake. "Fifty, maybe? A tenner?" She didn't say anything,
and when Elaine doesn't say anything I know I'm getting
close to the truth. Like the other day with the weed killer.
I said, "Maybe you weren’t bidding for me at all. Maybe
you were after a flat-screen telly or a home sun-tanning
unit, and you got me instead. Tell me, Elaine. Tell me
what I'm worth, because right now I don't know if I'm
an original Fabergé egg or just something the cat dragged
in." Elaine surfaced from under the covers and took a sip
of water from the glass on the bedside table. "Frank, listen.
What does it matter if it was a million pounds or a second-
class stamp? You're priceless, OK? You're everything to
me. Don't spoil it by talking about money." Then she took
my hand and held it against her breast and said, "Do you
want to make love?" I answered with my body, tipping
every last quicksilver coin into her purse.

But that night I dreamed of the boy-slave winning his
freedom by plucking a leaf from Diana's golden bough,
and long before dawn, with bread in my knapsack and
the wind at my back, I strode forth.

Thanks to Knopf poetry and Random House - April is poetry month