Friday, August 19, 2005

Eyes Fastened With Pins -- Charles Simic

How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death's laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death's supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address somehow wrong,
Even death can't figure it out
Among all the locked doors...
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death's side of the bed.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Biscuit -- Jane Kenyon

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can't bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gravelly Run -- A.R. Ammons

I don't know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
     of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:

for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
     by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:

the swamp's slow water comes
down Gravelly Run fanning the long
     stone-held algal
hair and narrowing roils between
the shoulders of the highway bridge:

holly grows on the banks in the woods there,
and the cedars' gothic-clustered
     spires could make
green religion in winter bones:

so I look and reflect, but the air's glass
jail seals each thing in its entity:

no use to make any philosophies here:
     I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
     unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

For The Anniversary of My Death -- W.S. Merwin

Every year without knowing if I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

Monday, August 15, 2005

In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia, Has Been Condemned -- James Wright

I will grive alone,
As I strolled alone, years ago down laong
The Ohio shore.
I hid in the hobo jungle weeds
Upstream from the sewer main
Pondering, gazing.

I saw down river,
At Twenty-third and Water Streets
B the vinegar works,
The doors open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.

I do no tknow how it was
They could drown every evneing.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore,
Drying their wings?
For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,
Has only two shores:
The one in hell, the other
In Bridgeport, Ohio.

And nobody would commit suicide, only
To find beyond death
Bridgeport, Ohio.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Intrusion -- Denise Levertov

After I had cut off my hands
and grown new ones

something my former hands had longed for
came and asked to be rocked.

After my plucked out eyes
had withered, and new ones grown

something my former eyes had wept for
came asking to be pitied.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff -- Adrienne Rich

Paula Becker 1876-1907
Clara Westhoff 1878-1954

Became friends at Worpswede, an artists' colony near Bremen, Germany, summer 1899. In January 1900, spent a half-year together in Paris, where Paula painted and Clara studied sculpture with Rodin. In August they returned to Worpswede, and spent the next winter together in Berlin. In 1901, Clara married the poet Rainer Maria Rilke; soon after, Paula married the painter Otto Moderoshn. She died in a hemorrhage after a childbirth, murmuring, What a shame!

The autumn feels slowed down,
summer still holds on here, even the light
seems to last longer than it should
ro maybe I'm using it to thin edge.
Teh moon rolls in the air. I didn't want this child.
You're the only one I've told.
I want a child maybe, someday, but not now.
Otto has a calm, complacent way
of following me with his eyes, as if to say
Soon you'll have your hands full!
And yes, I will; this child will be mine
not his, the failures, if I fail
will be all mine. We're not good, Clara,
at learning to prevent htese things,
and once we have a child, it is ours.
But lately I feel beyond Otto or anyone.
I know now the kind of work I have to do.
It takes such energy! I have the feeling I'm
moving somewhere, patiently, impatiently,
in my loneliness. I'm looking everywhere in nature
for new forms, old forms in new places,
the planes of an antique mouth, let's say, among the leaves.
I know and do not know
what I am searching for.
Rmember those months in the studio together,
you up to your strong forearms in wet clay,
I trying to make something of the strange impressions
assailing me--the Japanese
flowers and birds on silk, the drunks
sheltering in the Louvre, that river-light,
those faces... Did we know exactly
why we were there? Paris unnerved you,
you found it too much, yet you went on
with your work... and later we met there again,
both married then, and I thought you and Rilke
both seemed unnerved. I felt a kind of joylessness
between you. Of course he and I
have had our difficulties. Maybe I was jealous
of him, to begin with, taking you from me,
maybe I married Otto to fill up
my loneliness for you.
Rainer, of course, knows more than Otto knows,
he believes in women. But he feeds on us,
like all of them. His whole life, his art
is protected by women. Which of us could say that?
Which of us, Clara, hasn't had to take that leap
out beyond our being women
to save our work? or is it to save ourselves?
Marriage is lonelier than solitude.
Do you know: I was dreaming I had died
giving birth to the child.
I couldn't paint or speak or even move.
My child--I think--survived me. But what was funny
in the dream was Rainer had written my requiem--
a long, beautiful poem, and calling me his friend.
I was your friend
but in the dream you didn't say a word.
In the dream his poem was like a letter
to someone who has no right
to be there but must be treated gently, like a guest
who comes on the wrong day. Clara, why don't I dream of you?
The photo of the two of us--I have it still,
you and I looking hard into each other
and my painting behind us. How we used to work
side by side! And how I've worked since then
trying to create according to our plan
that e'd bring, against all odds, our full power
to every subject. Hold back nothing
because were women. Clara, our strength still lies
in the things we used to talk about:
how life and death take one another's hands,
the struggle for truth, our old pledge against guilt.
And now I feel dawn and the coming day.
I love walking waking in my studio, seeing my pictures
come alive in the light. Sometimes I feel
it is myself that kicks inside me,
myself I must suck to, love...
I wish we could have done this for each other
all our lives, but we can't...
They say a pregnant woman
dreams of her own death. But life and death
take one another's hands. Clara, I feel so full
of work, the life I see ahead, and love
for you, who of all people
however badly I say this
will hear all I say and cannot say.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Crimson Tent -- John Dos Passos

The wind blows up the tent like a balloon.
The tent plunges tugging at pegged ropes,
About to wrench loose and soar
Abov e wormwood-carpeted canyons
And flinty saw-tooth hills
Up into the driven night
And the howling clouds.
As a worm curls wickedly
Round the stamen of a fuchsia,
A man curls his hands round a candle.
The flame totters in the wind,
Flares to lick his hands,
To crimson the swaying walls.
The hands cast shadows on the crimson walls.

The candle-light srhinks and flaps wide.
The shadows are full of old tenters --
Men curious as to the fashion of cities,
Men eager to taste new-tasting bread,
Men wise to the north star and to the moon's phases,
To whom East and West
Are cloaks pulled easily tight,
Worn jaunty about the shoulders:
Herodotus, Thales, Democritus,
Heraclitus who watched rivers.

Parian-browed tan-cheeked travellers,
Who sat late in wine-shops to listen,
Rose early to sniff the wind of harbors
And see the dawn kindle the desert places,
And went peering and tasting--
Through seas and wastes and cities,
Held up to the level of their grey cool eyes
Firm in untrembling fingers--
The slippery souls of men and of gods.

The candle has guttered out in darkness and wind.
The tent holds firm against the buffeting wind,
Pegged tight, weighted with stones.
My sleep is blown up with dreams
About to wrench loose and soar
Above wormwood-carpeted canyons
And flinty saw-tooth hills,
Up into the driven night
And the howling clouds.

Perhaps hen the light clangs
Brass and scarlet cymbals in the east
With drone and jangle of great bells,
Loping white across the flint-strewn hills,
Will come the seeking tentless caravans
That Bilkis leads untired,
Nodding in her robes
On a roaring dromedary.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Graves At Elkhorn -- Richard Hugo

--for Joe Ward

'Eighty-nine was bad. At least a hundred
children died, the ones with money planted
in this far spot from the town. The corn
etched in these stones was popular that year.
'Our dearest one is gone.' The poorer ones
used wood for markers. Their names
got weaker every winter. Now gray wood
offers a blank sacrifice to rot.

The yard and nearly every grave are fecned.
Something in this space must be definied--
where the lot you paid too much for ends
or where the body must not slide beyond.
The yard should have a limit like the town.
The last one buried here: 1938. The next
to last: 1911 from a long disease.

The fence around the yard is barbed, maintained
by men, around the graves, torn down
by pines. Some have pines for stones.
The yard is far from the town because
when children die the mother should repeat
some form of labor, and a casual glance
would tell you there could be no silver here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Another -- Pablo Neruda

(translated by William O'Daly)

From so often traveling in a region
not charted in books
I grew accustomed to stubborn lands
where nobody ever asked me
whether I like lettuces
or if I prefer mint
like the elephants devour.
And from offering no answers,
I have a yellow heart.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

For Johnny Pole -- Anne Sexton

In his tenth July some instinct
taught him to arm the waiting wave,
a giant where its mouth hung open.
He rode on the lip that buoyed him there
and buckled him under. The beach was strung
with children paddling their ages in,
under the glare of noon chipping
its light out. He stood up, anonymous
and straight among them, between
their sand pails and nursery crafts.
The breakers cartwheeled in and over
to puddle their toes and test their perfect
skin. He was my brother, my small
Johnny brother, almost ten. We flopped
down upon a towel to grind teh sand
under us and watched the Atlantic sea
move fire, like night sparklers;
and lost our weight in the festival
season. He dreamed, he said, to be
a man designed like a balanced wave...
how someday he would wait, giant
and straight.
Johnny, your dream moves summers
inside my mind.
He was tall and twenty that July,
but there was no balance to help;
only the shells came straight and even.
This was the first beach of assault;
the oder of death hung in the air
like rotting potatoes, the junkyard
of landing craft waited open and rusting.
The bodies were strung out as if they were
still reaching for each other, where they lay
to blacken, to burst through their perfect
skin. And Johnny Pole was one of them.
He gave in like a small wave, a sudden
hole in his belly and the years all gone
where the Pacific noon chipped its light out.
Like a bean bag, outflung, head loose
and anonymous, he lay. Did the sea move fire
for its battle season? Does he lie there
forever, where his rifle waits, giant
and straight?...I think you die again
and live again,
Johnny, each summer that moves inside
my mind.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Some Trees -- John Ashbery

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were still a performance.Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

1954 -- Sharon Olds

Then dirt scared me, because of the dirt
he had put on her face. And her training bra
scared me--the newspapers, morning and evening,
kept saying it, training bra,
as if the cups of it had been calling
the breasts up--he buried her in it,
perhaps he had never bothered to take it
off. They found her underpants
in a garbage can. And I feared the word
eczema, like my acne and like
the X in the paper which marked her body,
as if he had killed her for not being flawless.
I feared his name, Burton Abbott,
the first name that was a last name,
as if he were not someone specific.
It was nothing one could learn from his face.
His face was dull and ordinary,
it took away what I'd thought I could count on
about evil. He looked thin and lonely,
it was horrifying, he looked almost humble.
I felt awe that dirt was so impersonal,
and pity for the training bra,
pity and terror of eczema.
And I could not sit on my mother's electric
blanket anymore, I began to have a
fear of electricity--
the good people, the parents, were going to
fry him to death. This was what
his parents had been telling us:
Burton Abbott, Burton Abbott,
death to the person, death to the home planet.
The worst thing as to think of her,
of what it had been to be her, alive,
to be walked, alive, into that cabin,
to look into those eyes, and see the human

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Men At Forty -- Donald Justice

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices tying
His father’s tie there in secret

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortaged houses.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Hitchhiker -- Jack Marshall

Each man to his forced march; this is mine.
In the end, everything runs out, runs
Under the wheels--a bandage unwinding
On the center line. Sometimes when my ribs clang
Like a metal signpost at the edge of town,
And so much of the dark I cannot shut out
Crawls with me into my sleeping bag,
I try to think where the night owl goes.
For years now my life has taken
No sharp turns, no climb, no detour,
But moves in neutral down
This smooth tar lane, one way.

The towns en route, the festooned, blazing towns,
Are they dreams in my sleep, vanished
On waking? Even so, watching that white line
Grow thin and luminous,
I feel the moon's hub unhinge from center
And roll berserk.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Actor -- Thomas Snapp

Say you were the kid who could not sleep
In the new house in the north, with the wind
Flapping roof shingles, window banging softly
And tub humming for rain, the outside soft with moon,
And the man in the door looking into that softness—

Would you not follow? Out to the road
To hunch along the dark fringe as he walks
In a trance through the years rising like sand,
Falling back to leave him quickened
With each step, until he finds the old road
Leading to a concrete slab poured and forgot
By someone with a cottage in his head.

You crouch in fern and northern orchids.
He climbs onto the gray square,
Bows to the footweeds, and begins
A monologue. As he intones old names,
The man he was lives with his friends
In the shape of bulbs in the night
And posters curling in basements.

You are afraid for him, for yourself,
For all those players who rehearse their lines
In the trees beyond the city. As he
Storms with mad verse the indifferent air,
Something like night moves through the weeds.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Variations On a Theme By William Carlos Williams -- Kenneth Koch


I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.


We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.


I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and so cold.


Last evening when we went dancing and I broke your leg,
Forgive me. I was clumsy, and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Window -- Robert Pinsky

Our building floated heavily through the cold
On shifts of steam the raging coal-fed furnace
Forced from the boiler’s hull. In showers of spark
The trolleys flashed careening under our cornice.
My mother Mary Beamish who came from Cork
Held me to see the snowfall out the window—
Windhold she sometimes said, as if in Irish
It held wind out, or showed us that wind was old.
Wind-hole in Anglo-Saxon: faces like brick,
They worshipped Eastre’s rabbit, and mistletoe
that was Thor’s jissom where thunder struck the oak.
We took their language in our mouth and chewed
(Some of the consonants drove us nearly crazyBecause we were Chinese—or was that just the food
My father brought from our restaurant downstairs?)
In the fells, by the falls, the Old Ghetto or New Jersey,
Little Havana or Little Russia—I forget,
Because the baby wasn’t me, the way
These words are not. Whoever she was teaching to talk,
Snow, she said, Snow, and you opened your small brown fist
And closed it and opened again to hold the reflectionOf torches and faces inside the window glass
And through it, a cold black sheen of shapes and fires
Shaking, kitchen lights, flakes that crissed and crossed
other lights in lush diagonals, the snowcharmed traffic
Surging and pausing—red, green, white, the motion
of motes and torches that at her word you reached
Out for, where you were, it was, you that bright confusion.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sweet Will -- Philip Levine

The man who stood beside me
34 years ago this night fell
on to the concrete, oily floor
of Detroit Transmission, and we
stepped carefully over him until
he wakened and went back to his press.

It was Friday night, and the others
told me that every Friday he drank
more than he could hold and fell
and he wasn't any dumber for it
so just let him get up at his
own sweet will or he'll hit you.

"At his own sweet will," was just
what the old black man said to me,
and he smiled the smile of one
who is still surprised that the dawn
graying the cracked and broken windows
could start us all to singing in the cold.

Stash rose and wiped the back of his head
with a crumpled handkerchief and looked
at his own blood as though it were
dirt and puzzled as to how
it got there and then wiped the ends
of his fingers carefully one at a time

the way the mother wipes the fingers
of a sleeping child, and climbed back
on his wooden soda-pop case to
his punch press and hollered at all
of us over the oceanic roar of work,
addressing us by our names and nations--

"Nigger, Kike, Hunky, River Rat,"
but he gave it a tune, an old tune,
like "America The Beautiful." And he danced
a little two-step and smiled showing
the four stained teeth left in the front
and took another suck of cherry brandy.

In truth it was no longer Friday,
for night had turned to day as it
often does for those who are patient,
so it was Saturday in the year of '48
in the very heart of the city of man
where your Cadillac cars get manufactured.

In turht all those people are dead,
they have gone up to heaven singing
"Time on My Hands" or "Begin the Beguine,"
and the Cadillacs have all gone back
to earth, and nothing that we made
that night is worth more than me.

And in truth I'm not worth a thing
what with my feet and my two bad eyes
and my one long nose and my breath
of old lies and my sad tales of men
who let the earth break them back,
each one, to dirty blood or bloody dirt.

Not woth a thing! Just like it was said
at my magic birth when the stars
collided and fire fell from great space
into great space, and people rose one
by one from cold beds to tend a world
that runs on and on at its own sweet will.