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"And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"The Bright Field"
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
--R. S. Thomas

"It Is Marvellous to Wake up Together"
It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air suddenly clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.
An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;
And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as the kisses are changing without our thinking.
--Elizabeth Bishop

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
--Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-out Song," in
Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-
old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-
two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy
in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

Three times a day the helicopter flies
by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on
not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-
kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head
toward the cameraman and the pilot who
remembers well the art of his mirror-eyed
posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,
Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow
Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue
as the Observation Pass.

The roof is surrounded by broken-levee
water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-
ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,
but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old
anniversary of observation begins, again--

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
Catch a--

The woman with pom-pom legs waves
her uneven homemade sign:

Pleas Help Pleas

and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e

do you know simply
by looking at her
that it has been left off
because she can't spell
(and therefore is not worth saving)
or was it because the water was rising so fast
there wasn't time?

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
Catch a--a--

The low-flying helicopter does not know
the answer. It catches all of this on patriotic tape,
but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,
or ladder.

Regulations require an e be at the end
of any Pleas e before any national response
can be taken.

Therefore, it takes four days before
the national council of observers will consider
dropping one bottle of water, or one case
of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof
where the e has rolled off into the flood,

(but obviously not splashed
loud enough)

where four days later not the mother,
not the baby girl,
but the determined hanky waver,
whom they were both named for,
(and after) has now been covered up
with a green plastic window awning,
pushed over to the side
right where the missing e was last seen.

My mother said to pick
The very best one!

What else would you call it,
Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind.

Anyone you know
ever left off or put on
an e by mistake?

Potato Po tato e

In the future observation helicopters
will leave the well-observed South and fly
n Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.
They will arrive over burning San Diego.

The fires there will be put out so well.
The people there will wait in a civilized manner.
And they will receive foie gras and free massage
for all their trouble, while their houses don't
flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground.

The grandmothers were right
about everything.

People who outlived bullwhips & Bull
Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely
fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-
heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by
forty feet of churning water, in the summer
of 2005, while the richest country in the world
played the old observation game, studied
the situation: wondered by committee what to do;
counted, in private, by long historical division;
speculated whether or not some people are surely
born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.

My mother said to pick
The very best one
And you are not it!

After all, it was only po' New Orleans,
old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers
with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would
be left alive to care?
--Nikky Finney

"Concerto no. 11: Condoleezza and the Chickering"
[In Italian, con dolcezza means "with sweetness"]

Angelena Rice, mother, second-generation piano master.
Music is deliberate, lush, summer-alive in the hot
Birmingham air. She is drawn to riff and scat, in the
tradition of the feet of fleeing slaves. Improvisation
darts like Ghanian goldfish in her blood.

Angelena Rice has chops.

She works all day.
She can't teach the girl every little thing.

Mattie Ray, grandmother, first-generation piano master,
the after-school-neighborhood-piano-teacher
of Black girls, on Dynamite Hill, of Condoleezza.

Mattie Ray knows her way to and from the woodshed,
but for Condoleezza, the stride piano is put away:

Practice. Practice. Practice.
Steer your bright mind to Vulcan's torch--
high atop Red Mountain.
He alone will show you how to hammer
out your notes into Roman thunder.

When she is a girl she learns to play to the Italian
in her blood. She is third-generation Black girl with
sensual, graceful, doing fingers. No other Black girl
in Bombingham, with the sound of music emerald
set so deep in her heart, has ever been told over
Sunday dinner, while the gravy is still passing through
the air, King is crazy.

In the future, when she plays Secretary of State on the
world stage, the black keys will always be a stretch.

She will refuse to ever leave the Brahms-etched pages
that she has always counted on being open and before
her. Peter the Great, begging to commence.

When she is at her Watergate window, practicing
at her Chickering, she will, in the tradition of other
deposed heads, refuse to imagination grace notes &
half counts. She won't, not even when no one is
looking, sideslip or walk the white keys with only
the fingers of her left hand.

She will never ever close her eyes to a full spontaneous
pause nor understand the opium sweet of interlude
or diminished scale. The pleasure of imagining a
world outside of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina
will elude her for the rest of her life. No one inside
her inner circle will suggest how else the dawning
new day might sound, if she would only--just this
once--take her eyes off the score.
--Nikky Finney

"Thunderbolt of Jove"
The width of the lightning bolt is only about as wide as a pencil.
--The Weather Channel

The first saffron sheet breaks, two cumulous tin cans spill
a wide powder keg of gunpowder gray. Coiled thunder sparks
the inky nigrescent sky, rinds of one hundred oranges peel,
infuse, are slung. The mother goes flying. The daughter
takes to the glass.

Pots are topped. A stove shut down. The tiny kitchen stage
abandoned. The mother slips from flamingo to fleeing barn
owl. She spills: one widemouthed mason jar of liquid fear.
Her wild turning head is beak & breast pointed south,
toward the farther-further, darker, backside of the house.
She will only give herself to any windowless den, any
camouflage of cover: lavender snow quilt, moth-eaten
polka-dot coverlet, camphor woolens lost in the dark rib
of the closet, anything brother to lead, sister to opacity.

The only daughter stands at the sizzling window. As brown
moth, brazen & mesmerized, heedless, her nose wood-
peckered into the whirling world of the storm, thirsty
to call at the lightning, ambitious to burn, while the mother
throws her last warning out into the pitchfork of sky:

Lightning can come through any open
door, Girl. Can walk straight through
glass at any angle. Can take down
a little thing like you--just like that!

Out of view the mother freely dives. Prayer is the last light
spray of tongue-talk easing her safely down. Underneath
waves of mercerized cotton she will wait out the pageantry
of flashing orange light.

The girl is willing to be turned into the roar of rock, the float
of ash, just to feel its flashy fingers strike, to watch the fiery
sky pull at the tingling tips of her hands grazing the skin of
the glass. Her lips so close to self-suffocation, soon she is
choked back alive, the sky a fusillade of booms; air: florid,
tangerine jagged lines of corn-colored bombs.

At the weatherproof double panes her childhood lifts away
to the dusty locust field. Her fists, ripe with electricity, open
& close, her eyes are sweetly singed. The flutter-beat of her
lashes returns her to the softening sky, to the sight of her
self, on the other side of the kitchen glass, wet, staring back.

She begins shaking herself, back down from sky to earth.
Her stubborn lashes are two honey-drunk bumblebees still
tumbled on their backs. She has been fire-fed, rude. A girl
in levitation with the mad & thundering Jove. Going forward,
she is willing to go blind, lose her obeying-girl tongue, her
momentary sight, for any hot lemony tremble of the long
pencil's flash ever again.

The glass shows respect, staying warm for the mother's
return: She Stagolee-fumbles back into her kitchen. Sleepy
cotton stuck to her cheeks and hair. Her messy bonnet
needs to be retucked. But her eyes know a miracle
when they see one:

The girl is still there, still breathing, still camped out
at the unbroken glass, with a toothpick-size shadow
of resistance balanced in the flush of her lips. Done.
Nothing more to warn the girl against now. Now the long
solemncholy wait, for the twisting out all the way. The final
life & turn, the wax and rock of childbirth evenly sculpted,
the early pollinated melancholy, this sandy, burnished,
smoldering lead of lanky Old Maid-to-be.
--Nikky Finney

"The Four Temperaments"
The probing eye turns the sun's rays into police batons.
And in the evening: the hubbub from a party in the room below
sprouts up through the floor like unreal flowers.

Driving on the plain. Darkness. The coach seemed stuck on the spot.
An anti-bird screeched in starry emptiness.
The albino sun stood over tossing dark seas.


A man like an uprooted tree with croaking foliage
and lightning at attention saw the beast-smelling
sun rise up among pattering wings on the world's

rocky island surging ahead behind banners of foam through night
and day with white sea birds howling
on the deck and all with a ticket to Chaos.


You need only close your eyes to hear plainly
the gulls' faint Sunday over the sea's endless parish.
A guitar begins twanging in the thicket and the cloud dawdles

slowly as the green sledge of late spring
--with the whinnying light in the shafts--
comes gliding on the ice.


Woke with my girl's heels clopping in the dream
and outside two snowdrifts like winter's abandoned gloves
while leaflets from the sun cascaded over the city.

The road never comes to an end. The horizon rushes ahead.
The birds shake in the tree. The dust whirls around the wheels.
All the rolling wheels that contradict death!
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

In Syros harbor leftover cargo steamers lay waiting.
Prow by prow by prow. Moored many years since:
CAPE RION, Monrovia.
KRITOS, Andros.
SCOTIA, Panama.

Dark pictures on the water, they have been hung away.

Like toys from our childhood that have grown to giants
and accuse us
of what we never became.

The sea has read them through.

But the first time we came to Syros, it was at night,
we saw prow by prow by prow in the moonlight and thought:
What a mighty fleet, magnificent connections.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

"In the Nile Delta"
The young wife wept over her food
in the hotel after a day in the city
where she saw the sick creep and huddle
and children bound to die of want.

She and her husband went to their room.
Sprinkled water to settle the dirt.
Lay on their separate beds with few words.
She fell in a deep sleep. He lay awake.

Out in the darkness a great noise ran past.
Murmurs, tramping, cries, carts, songs.
All in want. Never came to a stop.
And he sank in sleep curled in a No.

A dream came. He was on a voyage.
In the grey water a movement swirled
and a voice said: "There is one who is good.
There is one who can see all without hating."
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

He laid aside his pen.
It rests still on the table.
It rests still in the empty room.
He laid aside his pen.

Too much that can neither be written nor kept silent!
He is paralyzed by something happening far away
although the wonderful traveling bag throbs like a heart.

Outside it is early summer.
Whistlings from the greenery--men or birds?
And cherry trees in bloom embrace the trucks that have come home.

Weeks go by.
Night comes slowly.
The moths settle on the windowpane:
small pale telegrams from the world.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

"A Winter Night"
The storm puts its mouth to the house
and blows to produce a note.
I sleep uneasily, turn, with shut eyes
read the storm's text.

But the child's eyes are large in the dark
and for the child the storm howls.
Both are fond of lamps that swing.
Both are halfway toward speech.

The storm has childish hands and wings.
The Caravan bolts toward Lapland.
And the house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.

The night is calm over our floor
(where all expired footsteps
rest like sunk leaves in a pond)
but outside the night is wild.

Over the world goes a graver storm.
It sets its mouth to our soul
and blows to produce a note. We dread
the storm will blow us empty.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


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November 2015


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