Saturday, December 4, 2010

Manna - Joseph Stroud

Everywhere, everywhere, snow sifting down,
a world becoming white, no more sounds,
no longer possible to find the heart of the day,
the sun is gone, the sky is nowhere, and of all
I wanted in life – so be it – whatever it is
that brought me here, chance, fortune, whatever
blessing each flake of snow is the hint of, I am
grateful, I bear witness, I hold out my arms,
palms up, I know it is impossible to hold
for long what we love of the world, but look
at me, is it foolish, shameful, arrogant to say this,
see how the snow drifts down, look how happy
I am.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

You Are There - Erica Jong

You are there.
You have always been
there.
Even when you thought
you were climbing
you had already arrived.
Even when you were
breathing hard,
you were at rest.
Even then it was clear
you were there.

Not in our nature
to know what
is journey and what
arrival.
Even if we knew
we would not admit.
Even if we lived
we would think
we were just
germinating.

To live is to be
uncertain.
Certainty comes
at the end.

Shooting the Horse - David Shumate

I unlatch the stall door, step inside, and stroke the silky neck
of the old mare like a lover about to leave. I take an ear in
hand, fold it over, and run my fingers across her muzzle. I
coax her head up so I can blow into those nostrils. All part of
the routine we taught each other long ago. I turn a half turn,
pull a pistol from my coat, raise it to that long brow with the
white blaze and place it between her sleepy eyes. I clear my
throat. A sound much louder than it should be. I squeeze the
trigger and the horse's feet fly out from under her as gravity
gives way to a force even more austere, which we have named
mercy.

Gradualism - Kenneth Rexroth

We slept naked
On top of the covers and woke
In the chilly dawn and crept
Between the warm sheets and made love
In the morning you said
"It snowed last night on the mountain"
High up on the blue-black diorite
Faint orange streaks of snow
In the ruddy dawn
I said
"It has been snowing for months
All over Canada and Alaska
And Minnesota and Michigan
Right now wet snow is falling
In the morning streets of Chicago
Bit by bit they are making over the world
Even in Mexico even for us"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Little Prayer in November - Lee Randolph

That I am alive, I thank
no one in particular;
and yet am thankful, mostly,
although I frame no prayer

but this one: Creator
Spirit, as you have come,
come again, even in November,
on these short days, fogbound.

Minnesota Thanksgiving - John Berryman

For that free Grace bringing us past great risks
& thro' great griefs surviving to this feast
sober & still, with the children unborn and born,
among brave friends, Lord, we stand again in debt
and find ourselves in the glad position: Gratitude.

We praise our ancestors who delivered us here
within warm walls all safe, aware of music,
likely toward ample & attractive meat
with whatever accompaniment
Kate in her kind ingenuity has seen fit to devise,

and we hope - across the most strange year to come -
continually to do them and You not sufficient honour
but such as we become able to devise
out of decent or joyful conscience & thanksgiving.
Yippee!
Bless then, as Thou wilt, this wilderness board.

Winter and the Nuthatch - Mary Oliver

Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,
the timid nuthatch will come to me
if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.
The first time he did it
he landed smack on his belly, as though
the legs wouldn't cooperate. The next time
he was bolder. Then he became absolutely
wild about those walnuts.

But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,
the nuthatch was flying into a stranger's hand.
To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.
I wanted to say: Mister,
that nuthatch and I have a relationship.
It took hours of standing in the snow
before he would drop from the tree and trust my fingers.
But I didn't say anything.
v Nobody owns the sky or the trees.
Nobody owns the hearts of birds.
Still, being human and partial therefore to my own
successes—
though not resentful of others fashioning theirs—

I'll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Home - Richard Newman

I like my hometown more
the longer I'm away.
Memories, like trick candles,
flicker as I pull in.

The longer I've been away
the less I recognize. Stars
flicker as I pull in.
Where are the woods and fields?

I barely recognize the stars.
Home is where
my boyhood woods and fields
now offer beautiful new homes.

Home is where they said
Leave now so we might miss you someday.
The beautiful new homes say
We're better off since you left.

We might miss you someday
yes, that would be my wish.
Home is where they're better off since you left.
Blow into town and blow right out.

Yes, that would be my wish-
that I liked my hometown more.
Blow through town. Blow out
memories like trick candles.

The Thing Is - Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Abraham Lincoln - Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
his hand and pen
he will be good but
god knows When

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Compulsively Allergic to the Truth - Jeffrey McDaniel

I'm sorry I was late.
I was pulled over by a cop
for driving blindfolded
with a raspberry-scented candle
flickering in my mouth.
I'm sorry I was late.
I was on my way
when I felt a plot
thickening in my arm.
I have a fear of heights.
Luckily the Earth
is on the second floor
of the universe.
I am not the egg man.
I am the owl
who just witnessed
another tree fall over
in the forest of your life.
I am your father
shaking his head
at the thought of you.
I am his words dissolving
in your mind like footprints
in a rainstorm.
I am a long-legged martini.
I am feeding olives
to the bull inside you.
I am decorating
your labyrinth,
tacking up snapshots
of all the people
who've gotten lost
in your corridors.

Bloody Men - Wendy Cope

Bloody men are like bloody buses
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You're trying to read the destinations,
You haven't much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved: After Nazim Hikmet - Linda Pastan

I always knew I loved the sky,
the way it seems solid and insubstantial at the same time;
the way it disappears above us
even as we pursue it in a climbing plane,
like wishes or answers to certain questions—always out of reach;
the way it embodies blue,
even when it is gray.

But I didn't know I loved the clouds,
those shaggy eyebrows glowering
over the face of the sun.
Perhaps I only love the strange shapes clouds can take,
as if they are sketches by an artist
who keeps changing her mind.
Perhaps I love their deceptive softness,
like a bosom I'd like to rest my head against
but never can.

And I know I love the grass, even as I am cutting it as short
as the hair on my grandson's newly barbered head.
I love the way the smell of grass can fill my nostrils
with intimations of youth and lust;
the way it stains my handkerchief with meanings
that never wash out.

Sometimes I love the rain, staccato on the roof,
and always the snow when I am inside looking out
at the blurring around the edges of parked cars
and trees. And I love trees,
in winter when their austere shapes
are like the cutout silhouettes artists sell at fairs
and in May when their branches
are fuzzy with growth, the leaves poking out
like new green horns on a young deer.

But how about the sound of trains,
those drawn-out whistles of longing in the night,
like coyotes made of steam and steel, no color at all,
reminding me of prisoners on chain gangs I've only seen
in movies, defeated men hammering spikes into rails,
the burly guards watching over them?

Those whistles give loneliness and departure a voice.
It is the kind of loneliness I can take in my arms, tasting
of tears that comfort even as they burn, dampening the pillows
and all the feathers of all the geese who were plucked to fill
them.

Perhaps I embrace the music of departure—song without lyrics,
so I can learn to love it, though I don't love it now.
For at the end of the story, when sky and clouds and grass,
and even you my love of so many years,
have almost disappeared,
it will be all there is left to love.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Letter of Recommendation - Yehuda Amichai

On summer nights I sleep naked
in Jerusalem. My bed
stands on the brink of a deep valley
without rolling down into it.

In the daytime I walk around with the Ten
Commandments on my lips
like an old tune someone hums to himself.

Oh touch me, touch me, good woman!
That’s not a scar you feel under my shirt, that’s
a letter of recommendation, folded up tight,
from my father:
“All the same, he’s a good boy, and full of love.”

I remember my father waking me for early prayers.
He would do it by gently stroking my forehead, not
by tearing away the blanket.

Since then I love him even more.
And as his reward, may he be wakened
gently and with love
on the Day of the Resurrection.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May - Jonathan Galassi

The backyard apple tree gets sad so soon,
takes on a used-up, feather-duster look
within a week.

The ivy’s spring reconnaissance campaign
sends red feelers out and up and down
to find the sun.

Ivy from last summer clogs the pool,
brewing a loamy, wormy, tea-leaf mulch
soft to the touch

and rank with interface of rut and rot.
The month after the month they say is cruel
is and is not.

The Enkindled Spring - D.H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up, and the flickering, watery rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, these sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that's gone astray, and is lost.

Tree - Jane Hirshfield

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Calvin's Theory of Predestination - Betsy Johnson-Miller

Some people will be chosen
for the job, the Wednesday night poker game

for the limited number of spaces
available in heaven. Only so many

spoons fit in one drawer your mother
would say

and the same is true for clothes
and closets

shelves and cans and let's be honest
hearts and loves.

I cannot love you because I love another
is a problem

that sometimes gets admitted
over wine

in a restaurant
filled with people choosing

this dish over that meat
choosing something that will fill

the middle of their beings
or leave them slavering like a cheetah

who missed and pass that
would you? and let's be friends. Yes

let's drink to being friends
and then we can all go on our way

remembering the best part
about being chosen is that

you do not have to stop
for anyone along the way.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Puttanesca - Michael Heffernan

Before I gave up wondering why everything
was a lot of nothing worth losing or getting back,
I took out a jar of olives, a bottle of capers,
a container of leftover tomato sauce with onions,
put a generous portion of each in olive oil
just hot enough but not too hot,
along with some minced garlic and a whole can of anchovies,
until the mixture smelled like a streetwalker's sweat,
then emptied it onto a half pound of penne, beautifully al dente,
under a heap of grated pecorino romano
in a wide bowl sprinkled with fresh chopped parsley.
If you had been there, I would have given you half,
and asked you whether its heavenly bitterness
made you remember anything you had once loved.

Happiness Makes Up in Height for What It Lacks in Length - Robert Frost

Oh, stormy stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun's brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view—
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.
If my mistrust is right
It may be altogether
From one day's perfect weather,
When starting clear at dawn,
The day swept clearly on
To finish clear at eve.
I verily believe
My fair impression may
Be all from that one day
No shadow crossed but ours
As through its blazing flowers
We went from house to wood
For change of solitude.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Story We Know - Martha Collins

The way to begin is always the same. Hello,
Hello. Your hand, your name. So glad, Just fine,
and Good-bye at the end. That's every story we know,

and why pretend? But lunch tomorrow? No?
Yes? An omelette, salad, chilled white wine?
The way to begin is simple, sane, Hello,

and then it's Sunday, coffee, the Times, a slow
day by the fire, dinner at eight or nine
and Good-bye. In the end, this is a story we know

so well we don't turn the page, or look below
the picture, or follow the words to the next line:
The way to begin is always the same Hello.

But one night, through the latticed window, snow
begins to whiten the air, and the tall white pine.
Good-bye is the end of every story we know

that night, and when we close the curtains, oh,
we hold each other against that cold white sign
of the way we all begin and end. Hello,
Good-bye is the only story. We know, we know.

The Resemblance Between Your Life and A Dog - Robert Bly

I never intended to have this life, believe me—
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can't explain.

It's good if you can accept your life—you'll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can't believe how much you've changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you've ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,

But you can't quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He's been hungry for miles,
Doesn't particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Psalm - Stuart Kestenbaum

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn't forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today's
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning's clouds in first light.

I {Heart} My Wife - Darlyn Finch

"I {Heart} My Wife"
the bumper sticker read
in the window of the pickup truck
ahead of me at the red light,
and I burst into tears
for no particular reason
I could explain
to the crossing guard on the corner
or even to the man driving the truck,
who looked quite ordinary,
and did not realize
those four happy words
could rip a woman's heart out
under certain circumstances,
when she's one man's abscessed tooth,
and another's dirty little secret.

Then I stopped to wonder,
as I blew my nose
and wiped my eyes,
whether the man had bought the bumper sticker
at all, or if his wife had perhaps
stuck it there,
in the window behind his head,
as a message to women like me,
whom she surely knows are sitting
at every red light
in every town,
wishing they could one day be
someone's
very best thing.

A Drinking Song - William Butler Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Man Alone - Stephen Orlen

I hated breaking up and I hated
Being left, finding myself in an apartment
With an extra set of silverware and a ghost,
Impatient to be gone. Then to summon up
Who I was before the bed was full with woman.
To shift the street-mind from getting to
To slowing down and window shop. In the bar down the street,
To let my eyes simplify again, and make no judgments,
And breathe in the smoke that drifts
Through one body then another,
And find myself close enough
To whisper into a woman's just-washed hair
And inhale that ten thousand year old scent.
To memorize a phone number.
To learn to say goodnight at her door.
To keep my hands in my pockets, like a boy.
To open the heart, only a little at a time.

J.D. Salinger

"A few years before, it had taken her three days to dispose of the Easter chick she had found dead on the sawdust in the bottom of her wastebasket."

"Just Before the War with the Eskimos"

Ernest Hemingway

"You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch. It's sort of what we have instead of God."

The Sun Also Rises

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Riveted - Robyn Sarah

It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of,
but to a different show, clearly inferior.

Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.

It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious dénouement
to the unsurprising end - riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.

Antilamentation - Dorianne Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don't regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You've walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don't bother remembering
any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

Friday, January 29, 2010

You - C.K. Stead

Our friends' wedding:
I'd lied, called it a funeral
to get army leave
so I could be with you.
It was surprise, a present
and your blush of pleasure
cheered me like a crowd.

So here we are on the step
above 'the happy couple'
who will one day divorce-
looking into the future
which is now.

Ten friends together
in that photograph.
Fifty years on
and four are dead.
Who will be next?
Who will be last
and put out the light?

It's time to tell you again
how much I loved the girl
who blushed her welcome.
Forgive my trespasses.
Stay close. Hold my hand.

Giving Up Smoking - Wendy Cope

There's not a Shakespeare sonnet
Or a Beethoven quartet
That's easier to like than you
Or harder to forget.

You think that sounds extravagant?
I haven't finished yet—
I like you more than I would like
To have a cigarette.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why - Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

The More Loving One - W.H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Being In Love - Chungmi Kim

Awakened from a dream, I curl up
and turn. The roses on the dresser
smile and your words bloom.
The red roses for Valentine's Day.

Like in a film
thoughts of you unfold
moment by moment.

I vaguely hear
the sound of your spoon scooping cereal
the water stream in the shower
the buzzing noise of your electric razor
like a singing of cicada.

Your footsteps in and out of the bedroom.
Your lips touching my cheek lightly.
And the sound of the door shutting.

In your light
I fall asleep again under the warm quilt
happily like a child.

Upon waking
on the kitchen counter I find a half
grapefruit carefully cut and sectioned.
Such a loving touch is a milestone
For my newly found happiness.

Monet Refuses The Operation - Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.