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"Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chains not so that man may bear chains without any imagination or comfort, but so that he may throw away the chains and pluck living flowers."
--Karl Marx, "Towards a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction"


"November Philosophers"
Nothing is nothing, although
he would call me that, she was nothing.
Those were his words, but his hand was lifting
cigarettes in chains and bridges
of ash-light. He said he didn't want his body to last.
It wasn't a year I could argue
against that kind of talk, so I cut the fowl
killed on the farm a mile out--brown and silvery, wild--
and put it over butter lettuce, lettuce then lime.
I heated brandy in the saucepan, poured a strip of molasses
slowly through the cold, slow as I'd seen
a shaman pour pine tincture over the floor
of my beaten house.
She seemed to see my whole life
by ordinance of some god
who wanted me alive again.
Burnt sage, blue smoke. Then sea salt shaken
into the corners of violent sadness.
She wrote my address
across her chest
to let everything listening know
where my life was made.
We waited, either forgetting what we were
or becoming more brightly human in that pine,
in her trance, in the lavender I set on the chipped sills,
not a trance at all but my deliberate hand cutting
from the yard part of what she required.
Now wait longer, she said, and I did as I would
when the molasses warmed over the pot enough
to come into the brandy,
to come into the night
begun by small confessions--
that this was just a rental, and mine just a floor,
that the woman he loved was with another man,
his mother mad, his apartment haunted in the crawl space.
Then I told of the assault at daybreak between
the houses. Heat, asphalt, all of it and my face toward
the brick school where the apostolate studied first-century script
and song. There must have been chanting,
as it was on the hour.
What we said was liturgy meant only for us
and for that night. Not for anyone else
to repeat, live by, believe. Never that.
Our only theories were inside of our hands,
flesh and land, body and prairie.
I reached to smoke down his next-to-last,
which he lit and made ready.
The poultry like a war ration
we ate all the way through.
What we wished, we said.
What we said, we found that night
by these, and no other,
means.
--Katie Ford


"Empty Chairs"
Empty empty empty
so many empty chairs
everywhere. They look
charming in van Gogh's paintings.

I quietly sit on them
and try to rock
but they don't move--
they are frozen
by what's breathing inside them.

Van Gogh waves his paintbrush--
leave leave leave
there's no funeral tonight.

He looks straight through me,
and I sit down
in the flames of his sunflower
like a piece of clay to be fired.
--Liu Xia, translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern


"The Song of the Happy Shepherd"
The woods of Arcady are dead,
And over is their antique joy;
Of old the world on dreaming fed;
Grey Truth is now her painted toy;
Yet still she turns her restless head:
But O, sick children of the world,
Of all the many changing things
In dreary dancing past us whirled,
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,
Words alone are certain good.
Where are now the warring kings,
Word be-mockers?--By the Rood
Where are now the warring kings?
An idle word is now their glory,
By the stammering schoolboy said,
Reading some entangled story:
The kings of the old time are dead;
The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie.

Then nowise worship dusty deeds,
Nor seek, for this is also sooth,
To hunger fiercely after truth,
Lest all thy toiling only breeds
New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth
Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then,
No learning from the starry men,
Who follow with the optic glass
The whirling ways of stars that pass--
Seek, then, for this is also sooth,
No word of theirs--the cold star-bane
Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain,
And dead is all their human truth.
Go gather by the humming sea
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,
And to its lips thy story tell,
And they thy comforters will be,
Rewarding in melodious guile
Thy fretful words a little while,
Till they shall singing fade in ruth
And die a pearly brotherhood;
For words alone are certain good:
Sing, then, for this is also sooth.

I must be gone: there is a grave
Where daffodil and lily wave,
And I would please the hapless faun,
Buried under the sleepy ground,
With mirthful songs before the dawn.
His shouting days with mirth were crowned;
And still I dream he treads the lawn,
Walking ghostly in the dew,
Pierced by my glad singing through,
My songs of old earth's dreamy youth:
But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou!
For fair are poppies on the brow:
Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.
--W. B. Yeats


"I Was Reading a Scientific Article"
They have photographed the brain
and here is the picture, it is full of
branches as I always suspected,

each time you arrive the electricity
of seeing you is a huge
tree lumbering through my skull, the roots waving.

It is an earth, its fibres wrap
things buried, your forgotten words
are graved in my head, an intricate

red blue and pink prehensile chemistry
veined like a leaf
network, or is it a seascape
with corals and shining tentacles.

I touch you, I am created in you
somewhere as a complex
filament of light

You rest on me and my shoulder holds

your heavy unbelievable
skull, crowded with radiant
suns, a new planet, the people
submerged in you, a lost civilization
I can never excavate:

my hands trace the contours of a total
universe, its different
colors, flowers, its undiscovered
animals, violent or serene

its other air
its claws

its paradise rivers
--Margaret Atwood
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"An Agony. As Now."
I am inside someone
who hates me. I look
out from his eyes. Smell
what fouled tunes come in
to his breath. Love his
wretched women.

Slits in the metal, for sun. Where
my eyes sit turning, at the cool air
the glance of light, or hard flesh
rubbed against me, a woman, a man,
without shadow, or voice, or meaning.

This is the enclosure (flesh,
where innocence is a weapon. An
abstraction. Touch. (Not mine.
Or yours, if you are the soul I had
and abandoned when I was blind and had
my enemies carry me as a dead man
(if he is beautiful, or pitied.

It can be pain. (As now, as all his
flesh hurts me.) It can be that. Or
pain. As when she ran from me into
that forest.
                Or pain, the mind
silver spiraled whirled against the
sun, higher than even old men thought
God would be. Or pain. And the other. The
yes. (Inside his books, his fingers. They
are withered yellow flowers and were never
beautiful.) The yes. You will, lost soul, say
'beauty.' Beauty, practiced, as the tree. The
slow river. A white sun in its wet sentences.

Or, the cold men in their gale. Ecstasy. Flesh
or soul. The yes. (Their robes blown. Their bowls
empty. They chant at my heels, not at yours.) Flesh
or soul, as corrupt. Where the answer moves too quickly.
Where the God is a self, after all.)

Cold air blown through narrow blind eyes. Flesh,
white hot metal. Glows as the day with its sun.
It is a human love, I live inside. A bony skeleton
you recognize as words or simple feeling.

But it has no feeling. As the metal, is hot, it is not,
given to love.

It burns the thing
inside it. And that thing
screams.

--Amiri Baraka


"Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven"
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.
--W. B. Yeats


"my mind is... (XXV)"
my mind is

a big hunk of irrevocable nothing which touch and taste and smelland hearing and sight keep hitting and chipping with sharp fataltools

in an agony of sensual chisels i perform squirms of chrome and ex

-ecute strides of cobalt

nevertheless i

feel that i cleverly am being altered that i slightly am becomingsomething a little different, in fact

myself

Hereupon helpless i utter lilac shrieks and scarlet bellowings.
--E. E. Cummings


"Ah, that shows you the power of music, that magician of magicians, who lifts his wand and says his mysterious word and all things real pass away and the phantoms of your mind walk before you clothed in flesh."
--Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc


"Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen."
--Benjamin Disraeli
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Great poetry does not teach us anything--it changes us. Man is like a musical instrument of many strings, of which only a few are sounded by the narrow interests of his daily life; and the others, for want of use, are continually becoming tuneless and forgotten. Heroic poetry is a phantom finger swept over all the strings, arousing from man's whole nature a song of answering harmony. It is the poetry of action, for such alone can arouse the whole nature of man. It touches all the strings--those of wonder and pity, of fear and joy. It ignores morals, for its business is not in any way to make us rules for life, but to make character. It is not, as a great English writer has said, 'criticism of life', but rather a fire in the spirit, burning away what is mean and deepening what is shallow."
--W. B. Yeats, "Irish Poets and Irish Poetry"


"Boy Breaking Glass"
To Marc Crawford
from whom the commission


Whose broken window is a cry of art
(success, that winks aware
as elegance, as a treasonable faith)
is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed première.
Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament.
Our barbarous and metal little man.

"I shall create! If not a note, a hole.
If not an overture, a desecration."

Full of pepper and light
and Salt and night and cargoes.

"Don't go down the plank
if you see there's no extension.
Each to his grief, each to
his loneliness and fidgety revenge.
Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there."

The only sanity is a cup of tea.
The music is in minors.

Each one other
is having different weather.

"It was you, it was you who threw away my name!
And this is everything I have for me."

Who has not Congress, lobster, love, luau,
the Regency Room, the Statue of Liberty,
runs. A sloppy amalgamation.
A mistake.
A cliff.
A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.
--Gwendolyn Brooks


"Adam's Curse"
We sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'
And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, 'To be born woman is to know--
Although they do not talk of it at school--
That we must labour to be beautiful.'
I said, 'It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.'

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
--W. B. Yeats


"Kitchenette Building"
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in and gray. "Dream" makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent," "feeding a wife," "satisfying a man."

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warn it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.
--Gwendolyn Brooks


"A Display of Mackerel"
They lie in parallel rows,
on ice, head to tail,
each a foot of luminosity

barred with black bands,
which divide the scales'
radiant sections

like seams of lead
in a Tiffany window.
Iridescent, watery

prismatics: think abalone,
the wildly rainbowed
mirror of a soapbubble sphere,

think sun on gasoline.
Splendor, and splendor,
and not a one in any way

distinguished from the other
--nothing about them
of individuality. Instead

they're all exact expressions
of one soul,
each a perfect fulfillment

of heaven's template,
mackerel essence. As if,
after a lifetime arriving

at this enameling, the jeweler's
made uncountable examples,
each as intricate

in its oily fabulation
as the one before.
Suppose we could iridesce,

like these, and lose ourselves
entirely in the universe
of shimmer--would you want

to be yourself only,
unduplicatable, doomed
to be lost? They'd prefer,

plainly, to be flashing participants,
multitudinous. Even now
they seem to be bolting

forward, heedless of stasis.
They don't care they're dead
and nearly frozen,

just as, presumably,
they didn't care that they were living:
all, all for all,

the rainbowed school
and its acres of brilliant classrooms,
in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How happy they seem,
even on ice, to be together, selfless,
which is the price of gleaming.
--Mark Doty


"I am even willing to argue passion is what separates us from other life-forms--that is, beyond the power to reason is our ability to escape from the desert of pure reason by its own primary instrument, language. And if it be poetry that makes the words flesh, then it is no less or more escapable than our bodies. But it is at least that free."
--C. D. Wright, Cooling Time: an American Poetry Vigil


"Poetry is tribal not material. As such it lights the fire and keeps watch over the flame. Believe me, this is where you get warm again. And naked. This is where you can remember the good times along with the worst; where you are not allowed to forget the worst, else you cannot be healed. This is where your memory must be exacting--where you and your progeny are held accountable but also laudable. Even and especially in our amnesiac land, poets are the griots, the ones who see that the word does not break faith with the line of the body."
--C. D. Wright
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"The foolish reject what they see and not what they think; the wise reject what they think and not what they see."
--Huangbo Xiyun


"We have art so that we may not perish by the truth."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"A writer keeps an interior map of bookstores, like a hungry person and soup kitchens. I remember where bookstores are. I like to go in them, just to be among books and the people who like them. I know who else will be there: needy people like me, who walk slowly along the shelves and touch the spines. People who pull out a volume and open it, read a little, just to remind themselves of how they love this volume, this writer. People who may buy a book they hadn't thought they needed. People who believe that this soup is important, who know how it fills us up and warms our bones."
--Roxana Robinson, "Phantom Bookstores" (here)


"Ice Palace"
Another ice palace. Another demi-
paradise where all desires
are named and thus created,
and then almost satisfied. Hotel
might be an accurate label.

Not made of glass and marzipan
and steel, and jewel-toned water,
and opal gelatin that glows
like phosphorescent deep-sea fish, as
you might think at first. But no,

it's only dreams, it's only
clouds of breath formed into
words: the heavenly bed, the all-
you-can-eat breakfast. Invisible hands
bring food, smooth down

the sheets, turn on the lights,
cause violins to lullaby
the sugared air, clean out the wad of hair
you left in the porcelain shower,
and place a rose on your pillow

when you're not there. Where
is the fearful beast who runs the show
and longs for kisses?
Where are the bodies that were once
attached to all those hands?

Backstage it's always carnage.
Red petals on the floor.
You hope they're petals. Don't unlock
the one forbidden door,
the one inscribed

Staff Only. Do not look
in the last and smallest room, oh
dearest, do not look.
--Margaret Atwood


"What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it."
--Jiddu Krishnamurti


"Those Winter Sundays"
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
--Robert Hayden


"The Extinct"
Imagine I'm the last woman on earth,
the snowiest plover, the loneliest

deep-sea-swimming whale. It's not my fault, but
it might be. Should I keep changing until

I become something that has an other?
I've tried that. What else can I do for love?

Now not even the gray wolves listen to my
long litany of failures. They know I'm just

putting this self-sadness in my mouth--
a polar bear crunching seal bones between

her teeth--to get what little I can from it.
They still won't let me blame myself:

When I tell them my name isn't a song
to sing, they call it back to me again and again.
--Keetje Kuipers


"There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's, smooths and contains the rocker. It's an inside kind--wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one's own feet going seem to come from a far-off place."
--Toni Morrison, Beloved


"First Poem for You"
I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can't see them. I'm sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you

to me, taking you until we're spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They'll last until
you're seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.
--Kim Addonizio


"The rage of the disesteemed is personally fruitless, but it is also absolutely inevitable; this rage, so generally discounted, even among the people whose daily bread it is, is one of the things that makes history. Rage can only with difficulty, and never entirely, be brought under the domination of the intelligence and is therefore not susceptible to any arguments whatever. [...] Also, rage cannot be hidden, it can only be dissembled. This dissembling deludes the thoughtless, and strengthens rage, and adds, to rage, contempt."
--James Baldwin, "A Stranger in the Village"


"Again, even when the worst has been said, to betray a belief is not by any means to put oneself beyond its power; the betrayal of a belief is not the same thing as ceasing to believe. If this were not so there would be no moral standards in the world at all. Yet one must also recognize that morality is based on ideas and ideas are dangerous--dangerous because ideas can only lead to action and where the action leads no man can say. And dangerous in this respect: that confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one's beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses."
--James Baldwin


"The cathedral at Chartres, I have said, says something to the people of this village which it cannot say to me; but it is important to understand that this cathedral says something to me which it cannot say to them. Perhaps they are struck by the power of the spires, the glory of the windows; but they have known God, after all, longer than I have known him, and in a different way, and I am terrified by the slippery bottomless well to be found in the crypt, down which heretics were hurled to death, and by the obscene, inescapable gargoyles jutting out of the stone and seeming to say that God and the devil can never be divorced. I doubt that the villagers think of the devil when they face a cathedral because they have never been identified with the devil. But I must accept the status which myth, if nothing else, gives me in the West before I can hope to change the myth."
--James Baldwin


"I do not think, for example, that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world--which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces of human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white--owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation that could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us--very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will--that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists in remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster."
--James Baldwin


I shall know why--when Time is over--
And I have ceased to wonder why--
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky--

He will tell me what "Peter" promised--
And I--for wonder at his woe--
I shall forget the drop of Anguish
That scalds me now--that scalds me now!
--Emily Dickinson


No, I wasn't meant to love and be loved.
If I'd lived longer, I would have waited longer.

Knowing you are faithless keeps me alive and hungry.
Knowing you faithful would kill me with joy.

Delicate are you, and your vows are delicate, too,
so easily do they break.

You are a laconic marksman. You leave me
not dead but perpetually dying.

I want my friends to heal me, succor me.
Instead, I get analysis.

Conflagrations that would make stones drip blood
are campfires compared to my anguish.

Two-headed, inescapable anguish!--
Love's anguish or the anguish of time.

Another dark, severing, incommunicable night.
Death would be fine, if I only died once.

I would have liked a solitary death,
not this lavish funeral, this grave anyone can visit.

You are mystical, Ghalib, and, also, you speak beautifully.
Are you a saint, or just drunk as usual?
--Mirza Ghalib, translated from the Urdu by Vijay Seshardi


"Sailing to Byzantium"
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
--Those dying generations--at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
--W. B. Yeats


"Mid-Term Break"
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble."
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurse.

Next morning I went up to the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.
--Seamus Heaney


"For the Union Dead"
"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gardens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns...

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessed break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
--Robert Lowell
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"A Night in Brooklyn"
We undid a button,
turned out the light,
and in that narrow bed
we built the great city--
water towers, cisterns,
hot asphalt roofs, parks,
septic tanks, arterial roads,
Canarsie, the intricate channels,
the seacoast, underwater mountains,
bluffs, islands, the next continent,
using only the palms of our hands
and the tips of our tongues, next
we made darkness itself, by then
it was time for dawn
and we closed our eyes
and counted to ourselves
until the sun rose
and we had to take it all to pieces
for there could be only one Brooklyn.
--D. Nurkse


"The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."
--Albert Einstein


"Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience you must find yourself at war with your society."
--James Baldwin


"Small gestures
are like smoke, a slight breeze causes a drifting
and we are bare again...uneternal."
--Michael McClure


"The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us."
--Audre Lorde


"Where words come from, into consciousness, baffles me. Speaking or writing, the words bounce instantaneously into their context, and I am victimized by them, rather than controlling them. They do not wait for my selection; they volunteer."
--William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation


"Report from a Far Place"
Making these word things to
step on across the world, I
could call them snowshoes.

They creak, sag, bend, but
hold, over the great deep cold,
and they turn up at the toes.

In war or city or camp
they could save your life;
you can muse them by the fire.

Be careful, though: they
burn, or don't burn, in their own
strange way, when you say them.
--William Stafford


"The Promise"
Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.

Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,
Always.
--Jane Hirshfield


"I thought at the time that I couldn't be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that's a common conceit, that you've already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe."
--Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin


"The Mermaid"
A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
--W. B. Yeats


" 'A bad investment,' the Jew tells him, 'is like a spoiled puppy that requires even more attention than a baby. You learn to love it all the more.' "
--Charles Bernstein, "The Jew"


"A tear graces Jesus's cheeks as he suffers on the cross. 'The tear is not for his own pain,' says the Jew, 'but his pity for those who condemn any man to death, regardless of what he has done.' "
--Charles Bernstein, "The Jew"


"That Everything's Inevitable"
That everything's inevitable.
That fate is whatever has already happened.
The brain, which is as elemental, as sane, as the rest of the processing universe is.
In this world, I am the surest thing.
Scrunched-up arms, folded legs, lovely destitute eyes.
Please insert your spare coins.
I am filling them up.
Please insert your spare vision, your vigor, your vim.
But yet, I am a vatic one.
As vatic as the Vatican.
In the temper and the tantrum, in the well-kept arboretum
I am waiting, like an animal,
For poetry.
--Katy Lederer


"Snow"
Low clouds hang on the mountain.
The forest is filled with fog.
A short distance away the
Giant trees recede and grow
Dim. Two hundred paces and
They are invisible. All
Day the fog curdles and drifts.
The cries of the birds are loud.
They sound frightened and cold. Hour
By hour it grows colder.
Just before sunset the clouds
Drop down the mountainside. Long
Shreds and tatters of fog flow
Swiftly away between the
Trees. Now the valley below
Is filled with clouds like clotted
Cream and over them the sun
Sets, yellow in a sky full
Of purple feathers. After dark
A wind rises and breaks branches
From the trees and howls in the
Treetops and then suddenly
Is still. Late at night I wake
And look out of the tent. The
Clouds are rushing across the
Sky and through them is tumbling
The thin waning moon. Later
All is quiet except for
A faint whispering. I look
Out. Great flakes of wet snow are
Falling. Snowflakes are falling
Into the dark flames of the
Dying fire. In the morning the
Pine boughs are sagging with snow,
And the dogwood blossoms are
Frozen, and the tender young
Purple and citron oak leaves.
--Kenneth Rexroth


4. Our Sister of Perfect Solitude
In the Cathedral of Oaxaca, the usual women: three or four black shawls worn
To the iridescence of flies, the quaint agony of their prayers resembling
The buzzing of flies, &, on the sills, flies, & the emptiness of the flies,

And the empty name rising upward in those prayers. Earlier,

At a cafe table, I saw a woman I once knew. She was wearing the same white silk
Skirt slit up the side, & was beginning to get drunk while her companion,
A boy of fourteen, the son of a weaver, was kissing her, & then, after a while,

Caressing her until soon a frank & unembarrassed tint of rose flushed her cheeks,
And a waiter glared at them both, then turned away, the white towel perfectly
Adjusted on his arm, before he spat, just once, into the street.

If you look at anything long enough, it turns into style.

*

One of my pastimes then was savoring the casual emptiness of names, any name,
Even the name of that stranger I said over & over in bed until her name
Slipped itself from all moorings, & her body became like wind stirring itself,

Until, free finally of its name, it would do anything.
And the next time I called her by another name, deliberately, just to see...
And repeated the name over & over until her body belonged to no one, to neither
One of us. It came to the same thing: without a name, the body could be anyone's.

Open to any suggestion.

This was the petty blasphemy I flirted with, the wind gusting over the empty tables.
I was learning how Guilt, feeding on the Body of Its Host, grows finally wise.
Which is another way of saying it grows terrified of anything as unscrupulous

As Itself, & then is simply mute, the shore of a lake clouding over.

Then it is best to go home.

*

But home is the form of the dream, & not the dream.

When you knock, the sill of tiny flowers trembles; no one's there; the woods
Around the cottage seem immense, as if they had grown in your absence, or were
A larger form of it, taking your place, their shade fallen forever, & colder. So,

To travel alone, to pick up & leave a town, to cling, for a moment, like dust; to
Collect as dust collects; is to move in the frank style of what passes.
But what remains, indwelling like a name not yours nor another's, persists

In the recurring dream of an animal, which loves you, which you cannot name.
Is it something that had a name before it could be given one?
Was the task of saying it a task assigned in childhood, its window sunlit & empty?

But the dream ends; the animal vanishes.

And the father, free finally of all fatherhood, stares out at an empty field
And wonders: is it dust, or ice? And is the spider its emissary, striding over
The freckled skin of an apple, & pausing there, harmless & brown & still,

A moment too long? And the apple itself? Is it dust or ice inside?

And the dream, with the work it cannot say?

And the sunlight's pressure on the empty window?

*

To go home is to take back a name. And to take a name back you must descend,
Even though you believe in no one; & even though the descent is into a woman, into
The empty hull of her myth, her body's vacancy after death, her perfect solitude--

Which is, & is not, this Church, the blood on the statue of Christ applied with
A bright red nail polish; & hands together, as, with luck, they will be in the end;
Or without luck they might be also, involuntarily, as in a prayer said backward,

To no one, to the crowd in the fitful shell game of all names, to the empty hush
Of the sun--cuffed & passing beneath it--painful when you move,

Painful when you do not move.

*

But what I did then was kneel & pray, &, after a while, lost track of the words
Or who it was for because somewhere in its sonorous repetitions I began hearing
The sound of trapped flies buzzing on the sill beneath stained glass...

And remembered a harness gall, some gnats hovering over it, on the withers

Of a horse, all its ribs showing as it hauled firewood on a towpath of lingering snowmelt.
In the summer its owner shot it through a graying left temple with a .22, for glue &
Tallow. And how it fell! Straight, fast, into a dry ditch

And onto the white, spreading sail of a canvas in which they wrapped & hoisted it,
Sail-like, the opaque, unreflecting yellow marble of its hooves hooked & tied--&
A last, faint odor, like a dignity, still clinging to its coat, a light wind riffling it just once.

And as the winch took hold & lifted it, the head loosened abruptly from its one dream; a glassy,
Piebald eye stared out at me, as if that stare could catch a world & put an end
To it, or set it afire. Dust & ice & a confetti of ashes. As if a horse could care! But then

The flies, swarming familiarly over its muzzle, nostrils, & eyes, might as well
Have closed that eyelid, closed that eye as large as truth--which isn't all that
Large, or even truthful, & like that eye is often blue-gray, parti-colored or partly

Cloudy, & not necessarily human.

5. "Coney Island Baby"
But there is a place that will not change, a place that is rooted in dream;
It rots & rejoices; it flowers from nothing; it turns a deaf ear to millionaires:
You are seven, & the smell of raisins drying on a wicker tray is indescribable, & though the word home

Has a bomb ticking inside it, in its dream all objects slide back beneath their names again: shoe,
Hammer, rain, tea, delicate collarbones, paper, freckles, swan eyes, good-bye;
And later the last whirr & hush of a child's skate beneath the stars, & also

The moment after, cooling, which sounds like starlight. A street as simple as
A moon, & clothed in moonlight. Nude as moonlight. American styles. Dark leaf;
Light leaf; a girl in the loveliness of her name, the screen door banging once
Behind her as she runs out, & a stranger's impeccable wrists floating over a keyboard:

*

What does it mean, American?

It means, mostly, to go unnoticed, to watch the streets filling with crowds, & then
To step into the crowd, to be it suddenly, to type behind a desk all day where no one
Sees you. To conceal all that you are. To perform your whole life in a silence

As deep as any girlhood is; to brim over like a black pond in summer, & say nothing about it.
Sometimes it is too much & so you drift into unfamiliar streets, drift as hair drifts along
A cheekbone, accentuating loss, a look of defeat in the eyes as you finger a dress

On a rack, but you have no money. Your lips purse. It is 1931; it is 1931 again.

And suddenly this isn't about style anymore; this is something final like beauty.

Friends, I'm going to stop right here because it is 1931 in her apartment & no one's
Home. No one is coming home, either. After a while, I stop making inquiries.

After all, beauty has only three possible endings, & only one of them is bearable.

The unthawed snow along the street is 1931; the screen door, banging, is 1931.

*

What does it mean but you? A wisp of hair below your ear, a little of 1931
In 1970, lost & unemployed. It means you just heard, from the open window
Of an apartment overhead, twelve bars, "Autumn Leaves," as played by someone noble,

Untiring, explosive, & extinct. And suddenly the raw light above the arms of snow
Outstretched upon the street is bearable, you think, & will be bearable. For
Another two hours it might be bearable to walk beside it, as if beside a companion

Who's always there, who's always disappearing into light, which is to say,
Into Himself. Who leaves you the afternoon & the tavern's darkness where you hope
To find work. The funny sayings along the wall are not so funny, once you

Think about them, & up at one end, a tiny stage, & always the two or three
Regular drinkers with their silence as if their silence were a rare & precious thing,
Inviolate & white despite its bruises, as if, at night a thing inside themselves

Had beaten them past all recognition, as if, above the cold pews of a church,
Above that body which sails yet holds quite still, each one had seen, set deep
Into the hacked, carved, crucified wooden face, too large & too obscene to match

The half-closed other, a piebald horse's eye. And each had turned away.

*

And this? This is the most unscrupulous thing of all. These scratchings all night,
These inquiries because you are not there, have become, simply, you, white paper
Desiring the darkening effects of ink until, late at night, it is black trees,

White snow. A winter landscape, & the hush when I come back to it as bitter & serene
As coffee, solitude, the first snow grazing the streets. It is pure, the way cruelty is pure.

I swear I'd give the whole thing up for you.
--Larry Levis, from "The Perfection of Solitude: A Sequence"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"I don't believe that poetry can save the world. I do believe that the forces in us wish to share something of our experience by turning it into something and giving it to somebody: that is poetry. That is some kind of saving thing, and as far as my life is concerned, poetry has saved me again and again."
--Muriel Rukeyser


"I would have been able to free a thousand more slaves if I could only have convinced them that they were slaves."
--Harriet Tubman


"New Year"
Last night something
tunneled through the elms.

But at sunrise,
I found just white light

biting my eyelids, salt
rubbed on a wound.

Batons of ice
fell from power lines,

soundless but still emphatic.
Then the rain

churned the snow to soap
scum, waxing cars with

winter's lichen, patchy
in the strange

uneven fur of newborns.
And still, I was childless.

One cardinal
lodged on a branch:

a blood-drop
striking water

before the slow dispersion.
--Dilruba Ahmed


"On Advising a Young Man from Galway to Do a Second MA in Biodiversity"

And evening full of the linnet's wings
W. B. Yeats


Not sparrows, not dusty summer robins--
linnets. Her tidy brown self; His Nibs
top-nobbing the fence posts
in faded pink vest, white epaulettes.

Linnets. Not the slender, moth-grey echoes
of Inishfree and Jenny Lind
I've smuggled to Mayo
in the rickety cage of my mind,

but barefoot ballad mongers, ha'penny paper sellers,
three-walnut-shells-and-a-pea players;
fancy lads and freckled lasses
on a Kilmainham council estate,

shadowing a stranger then,
like laughter snatched by the wind,
whisking away in a riffle of reshuffled cards,
the purring flight-path of an arrow.

Strutting little linnet, you take a flattering interest in us
but we've hardly returned the favour:
not made you a greeting card icon,
jut a fleeting emblem of the orchestral Irish air.

So, young man at the harbour
harvesting photos of a smeary yellow moon,
you who asked the advice of a woman in a hat
and appeared to value it, I'll say again

to your quick tongue and tangled thoughts:
no life is easy; few choices simple--
but should, one day, the linnet's song
vanish from Clare Island,

you'd be stabbed to the core
by the absence of sound:
as if you'd turned your back on a raging tide
and a child had dashed in and drowned.
--Naomi Foyle


"Still Lifes and _____scapes"
1.
Windows across the parkway.

How a body mars the perfect

rectangle of a door.
Or the sound of a passing car

cutting a line through the neighbors'
stereo. Then the notes,

the maple seeds--. Tonight,

2.
even the sound of the wind chimes
is geometric--each tone

the same shape
in a different register--ringing

shadows against the wall. Now
the gray fuzz of rain

falling beneath the streetlight
forms an image

of the sound of rain
hitting the street. And the water

beading on the chimes,
which are cold to the touch

and slicked with glow. I love
how this means

they've changed since yesterday;
I love how this does nothing

to alter their sound. Now

3.
clouds tarp their way across
the city's billow of light. The bridges

draw their shadows onto the river,
then the hills etched

with smokestacks and road lines.
How the wind whips

along the seams of traffic,
windows hanging

from the ribs of buildings.
See our reflections

there before the mannequins--
how we slide along

in our melisma.
Where's the here of history?--

4.
here, where the crane hoists its light
above the museum,

and the wind knocks
the bottles off the porch

while we sleep? Here,
where the sun ices

the photographs on the shelf,
or the sound of rain

on the guttered leaves? Here,
where the snowscape

I imagine lives in the window
I open when I close

the sensory room? Here,
where a moment reveals

just a skin of patina--
no bronze beneath, no cold

and no core, though it holds
its shape--so delicate,

5.
so delicate? When
the snowscape comes, the park

will spill like a river
of whitewash. The cars will slip

alongside in their channels--
just beginning at the edges

to slush. Footprints will bloom
on the sidewalks

and stoops, crystals
blistering the white surface.

In the afternoon, when the trees
are at their starkest,

we'll ruin the field
by wading out into it,

6.
while elsewhere in the city,
a painter will be painting a still life.

She'll have gathered some fruit,
glass cups, scallop shells,

a blue china dish--.
As her construction begins

to reflect in the canvas,
she'll have to choose one

instant's shadowfall; from there,
the day will begin to sift

away from the painting.
Then, later, when she's satisfied

her work is a window
onto her things, without a thought,

she'll destroy the room's echo
of the canvas by taking

a bite of the apple. Of course,
I mean this

7.
as an echo of myth. Let's say a man
stands before Rembrandt's Danaë,

which he's loved all his life
from looking at textbooks. Now

that it's right here before him,
he doesn't see much

more than he did on the page.
He's viewing its present--

and he can't understand
why this, the original,

is more important to see--
though he fears losing it

the moment he turns away.
From the window,

8.
the lit windows across the park
don't form a pattern--

I know,
I've been looking. Dear lover,

your face in its present expression
means what I think

the expression means--
but maybe I'm wrong. The city

watches us into this existence,
and I can picture you

laughing, though I can't
now remember at what. Sometimes

words are more fleeting
than the images behind them,

and the passing bass of a car
can almost hold the night

inside it. All those lights.
When one goes out,

it leaves a black window,

9.
which opens onto a room--
where everything lies

as the sleeper(s) left it.
Where the table is a plinth

holding objects up to the carlights
that slide across them

in glances, without warning,
where empty chairs

crowd the table (perhaps one lies
overturned), where

curtains billow above the vent,
or the radiators crack

arhythmically, where a dishwasher
slips through its cycles.

The alarm clock is set--
--Wayne Miller


"The Angels"
The angels spend most of their time
on earth with their coworkers the scarecrows.

They have a lot to talk about, and of course
plenty of complaints:

most commonly, they're too light--so often
they're swept up by a passing wind.

(At least the scarecrows are posted down.)

And what are they made of?--all that
dust and straw and powdered lapis. All that

essence dries their throats. One finds
he's up all night longing for a glass of water.

A shot of Gabriel shaking his head
in the moonlight: It's not what I expected,

he says, still watching the house
across the field, where a window has filled

with the underwater light of a television.
The scarecrow shrugs on his cross--

Ain't what I expected either, he mutters
through his sewn mouth.
--Wayne Miller


"Andy, the Drawbridge Operator"
His WPA bridge lifts vertically

from the two puzzle pieces of shore. Iron counterweights

descent as it rises, his cockpit hung in girders

above the roadway. What he likes is the visceral--

the barges shouldering the narrow river, the rust

like magnetized ash, the steel rivets

of another age bulleted through the frame.

And there's something to be said for the isolation--

car engines dull and distant, strangers

sliding past on their threads. But for Andy,

the work has lost its thrill--pulling a lever

now seems too easy a way to withdraw

the bridge's illusion of permanence.
--Wayne Miller


"Andy's Monologue"
Talking to another man at a bar
is like talking to the driver on an all-night
road trip--eye contact's impossible,
you're both so focused on the dim light
filling the bottles before the mirror.

What's said isn't all that important,
so long as you're both here, and staying
awake. And we're doing that now,
you and me, thinking about what things
we've lost--and of course talking

about whatever else happens to mind.
Notice that line in the beer swirling--
Guinness over Bass, Irish over English
--as if that matters to us here
in this thin Midwest darkness,

night clinging like ergot to the chaff.
Look at those sportscasters there:
job's giving name to "virtue--I mean
the Renaissance kind--each player
holding action like a sort of potion

in the flask of his body. What we've done
becomes us--I know this--: exercise
becomes muscles, and, bless it,
touching a woman sometimes becomes
feelings.
[He points to an instant

replay above him on the screen.]
See how he holds onto it?--that's
perfection And I say thank God for it--
for those men who stay in motion above us
each Sunday, while we get good

and drunk.

--Wayne Miller


"The Dream Maker"
We'll see her hand paused

indecisively over an endless table

on which lies a mélange of silver

surgeon's tools, bits of nest matter,

cuttings of film negatives, cubes

of rusted iron, disembodied

buttons, a collapsed preschool-

quality mobile, empty test tubes,

underlit slides, feathers floating

in pools of mercury--and whatever

else we can gather to give

the impression of tactile surreality,

all set out like the parts of some

great and disassembled machine.
--Wayne Miller


"Aerial View of the City"
The ground, a yellow and tan
woven into being by its arrival

into the oval window; then the city
like an open hand

(Justine points out), the plane's shadow
just a finger tracing the surface.

It's like a painting of a city,
Andy will say, as if we're at the end

of a hallway making out a picture.
And indeed, the city

will be still--like her childhood
memories of that city--as the camera

passes over and they descend--
no real movement down there at all--

even as the plane slips by, sliding
the city past--

until they land and give it their motion--
--Wayne Miller


"Machado Glosa"
To keep the wind working
he sewed the dead leaves back again--

this threading voice to mouth

long after the words were spoken.
Which too keeps the wind in motion,
as do the papers

blown skyward from my hands.
See how the snow's pulled down
by the leaves' falling,

how the curtains are opened
and closed by applause? A song
coheres because silence

seals the notes, just as snow
explains our footsteps, then
directs them walking home.

Watch a string become a wick
and still within the wax
remain a string. One summer,

the park taught me to ride a bicycle;
another, love fell through me
for the first time. I must

remember that I made the blur
in the time-lapse photograph of me,
just as dandelions draw

my breath toward their dispersal.
Now a small tree full of monarchs
is pulled into thought

by its mere existence, and yet
each surgery stitches us
closed with pain. Try to separate

the seeing from what's seen,
as if a pool shot could exist
without the balls. What we call

breath is only air, and Collioure
is just a town with a lighthouse church,
though Machado's footsteps

ended there. Watch a boat's
wake turn slowly back into sky,
then the sky back into water--:

see how what's seen must separate
from the seeing, these footsteps
sewn back into leaves,

these leaves back into wind?
--Wayne Miller
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down."
--Woody Allen


"It is often said experiments must be made without a preconceived idea. That is impossible. Not only would it make all experiment barren, but that would be attempted which could not be done. Every one carries in his mind his own conception of the world, of which he can not so easily rid himself. We must, for instance, use language; and our language is made up only of preconceived ideas and can not be otherwise. Only these are unconscious preconceived ideas, a thousand times more dangerous than the others."
--Jules Henri Poincaré


"Dust of Snow"
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
--Robert Frost


"Poetry can unleash a terrible fear. I suppose it is the fear of possibilities, too many possibilities, each with its own endless set of variations. It's like looking too closely and too long into a mirror; soon your features distort, then erupt. You look too closely into your poems, or listen too closely to them as they arrive in whispers, and the features inside you--call it heart, call it mind, call it soul--accelerate out of control. They distort and they erupt, and it is one strange pain. You realize, then, that you can't attempt breaking down too many barriers in too short a time, because there are as many horrors waiting to get in at you as there are parts of yourself pushing to break out, and with the same, or more, fevered determination."
--Jim Carroll


"Reading is that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude."
--Marcel Proust


"Poetry should be written the way adultery is committed: on the run, on the sly, during the time not accounted for. And then you come home, as if nothing ever happened."
--Vera Pavlova


"Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, 'If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.' And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking."
--Audre Lorde


"We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet."
--W. B. Yeats


"I've had so many knives stuck into me, when they hand me a flower I can't quite make out what it is. It takes time."
--Charles Bukowski


"When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out."
--John Green, Paper Towns


"I think of the reader as a cat, endlessly fastidious, capable by turns of mordant indifference and riveted attention, luxurious, recumbent, ever poised. Whereas the writer is absolutely a dog, panting and moping, too eager for an affecionate scratch behind the ears, lunging frantically after any old stick thrown in the distance."
--Patricia Hampl


"Saying Your Names"
Chemical names, bird names, names of fire
and flight and snow, baby names, paint names,
delicate names like bones in the body,
Rumplestiltskin names that are always changing,
names that no one's ever able to figure out.
Names of spells and names of hexes, names
cursed quietly under the breath, or called out
loudly to fill the yard, calling you inside again,
calling you home. Nicknames and pet names
and baroque French monikers, written in
shorthand, written in longhand, scrawled
illegibly in brown ink on the backs of yellowing
photographs, or embossed on envelopes lined
with gold. Names called out across the water,
names I called you behind your back,
sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable,
the names of flowers that open only once,
shouted from balconies, shouted from rooftops,
or muffled by pillows, or whispered in sleep,
or caught in the throat like a lump of meat.
I try, I do. I try and try. A happy ending?
Sure enough--Hello darling, welcome home.
I'll call you darling, hold you tight. We are
not traitors but the lights go out. It's dark.
Sweetheart, is that you? There are no tears,
no pictures of him squarely. A seaside framed
in glass, and boats, those little boats with
sails aflutter, shining lights upon the water,
lights that splinter when they hit the pier.
His voice on tape, his name on the envelope,
the soft sound of a body falling off a bridge
behind you, the body hardly even makes
a sound. The waters of the dead, a clear road,
every lover in the form of stars, the road
blocked. All night I stretched my arms across
him, rivers of blood, the dark woods, singing
with all my skin and bone Please keep him safe.
Let him lay his head on my chest and we will be
like sailors, swimming in the sound of it, dashed
to pieces.
Makes a cathedral, him pressing against
me, his lips at my neck, and yes, I do believe
his mouth his heaven, his kisses falling over me
like stars. Names of heat and names of light,
names of collision in the dark, on the side of the
bus, in the bark of the tree, in ballpoint pen
on jeans and hands and the backs of matchbooks
that then get lost. Names like pain cries, names
like tombstones, names forgotten and reinvented,
names forbidden or overused. Your name like
a song I sing to myself, your name like a box
where I keep my love, your name like a nest
in the tree of love, your name like a boat in the
sea of love--O now we're in the sea of love!
Your name like detergent in the washing machine.
Your name like two X's like punched-in eyes,
like a drunk cartoon passed out in the gutter,
your name with two X's to mark the spots,
to hold the place, to keep the treasure from
becoming ever lost. I'm saying your name
in the grocery store, I'm saying your name on
the bridge at dawn. Your name like an animal
covered with frost, your name like a music that's
been transposed, a suit of fur, a coat of mud,
a kick in the pants, a lungful of glass, the sails
in wind and the slap of waves on the hull
of a boat that's sinking to the sound of mermaids
singing songs of love, and the tug of a simple
profound sadness when it sounds so far away.
Here is a map with your name for a capital,
here is an arrow to prove a point: we laugh
and it pits the world against us, we laugh,
and we've got nothing left to lose, and our hearts
turn red, and the river rises like a barn on fire.
I came to tell you, we'll swim in the water, we'll
swim like something sparkling underneath
the waves. Our bodies shivering, and the sound
of our breathing, and the shore so far away.
I'll use my body like a ladder, climbing
to the thing behind it, saying farewell to flesh,
farewell to everything caught underfoot
and flattened. Names of poisons, names of
handguns, names of places we've been
together, names of people we'd be together.
Names of endurance, names of devotion,
street names and place names and all the names
of our dark heaven crackling in their pan.
It's a bed of straw, darling. It sure as shit is.
If there was one thing I could save from the fire,
he said, the broken arms of the sycamore,
the eucalyptus still trying to climb out of the yard--
your breath on my neck like a music that holds
my hands down, kisses as they burn their way
along my spine--or rain, our bodies wet,
clothes clinging arm to elbow, clothes clinging
nipple to groin--I'll be right here. I'm waiting.

Say hallelujah, say goodnight, say it over
the canned music and your feet won't stumble,
his face getting larger, the rest blurring
on every side. And angels, about twelve angels,
angels knocking on your head right now, hello,
hello, a flash in the sky, would you like to
meet him there, in Heaven? Imagine a room,
a sudden glow. Here is my hand, my heart,
my throat, my wrist. Here are the illuminated
cities at the center of me, and here is the center
of me, which is a lake, which is a well that we
can drink from, but I can't go through with it.
I just don't want to die anymore.
--Richard Siken


"Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale"
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life's ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.
--Dan Albergotti


"A Short History of the Apple"
The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through
living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days.

--Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929

Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve's knees ground in the dirt
of paradise. Newton watching
gravity happen. The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber's bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain's honeybees:
white man's flies. O eat. O eat.
--Dorianne Laux


"The Ice-Cream Man"
Rum and raisin, vanilla, butter-scotch, walnut, peach:
You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before
They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road
And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.
I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren
I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,
Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,
Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,
Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,
Yarrow, lady's bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.
--Michael Longley


"Trench Names"
The column, like a snake, winds through the fields,
Scoring the grass with wheels, with heavy wheels
And hooves, and boots. The grass smiles in the sun,
Quite helpless. Orchard and copse are Paradise
Where flowers and fruits grow leisurely, and birds
Rise in the blue, and sing, and sink again
And rest. The woods are ancient. They have names--
Thiepval, deep vale, La Boisselle, Aubépines,
Named long ago by dead men. And their sons
Know trees and creatures, earth and sky, the same.

We gouge out tunnels in the sleeping fields.
We turn the clay and slice the turf, and make
A scheme of cross-roads, orderly and mad,
Under and through, like moles, like monstrous worms.
Dig out our dens, like cicatrices scored
Into the face of earth. And we give names
To our vast network in the roots, imposed,
Imperious, desperate to hide, to hurt.

The sunken roads were numbered at the start.
A chequer board. But men are poets, and names
Are Adam's heritage, and English men
Imposed a ghostly English map on French
Crushed ruined harvests and polluted streams.

So here run Piccadilly, Regent Street,
Oxford Street, Bond Street, Tothill Fields, Tower Bridge,
And Kentish places, Dover, Tunbridge Wells,
Entering wider hauntings, resonant,
The Boggart Hole, Bleak House, Deep Doom and Gloom.

Remembering boyhood, soldier poets recall
The desperate deeds of Lost Boys, Peter Pan,
Hook Copse, and Wendy Cottage. Horrors lurk
In Jekyll Copse and Hyde Copse. Nonsense smiles
As shells and flares disorder tidy lines
In Walrus, Gimble, Mimsy, Borogrove--
Which lead to Dum and Dee and to that Wood
Where fury lurked, and blackness, and that Crow.

There's Dead Man's Dump, Bone Trench and Carrion Trench,
Cemetery Alley, Skull Farm, Suicide Road,
Abuse Trench and Abyss Trench, Cesspool, Sticky Trench,
Slither Trench, Slimy Trench, Slum Trench, Bloody Farm.
Worm Trench, Louse Post, Bug Alley, Old Boot Street.
Gas Alley, Gangrene Alley, Gory Trench.
Dreary, Dredge, Dregs, Drench, Drizzle, Drivel, Bog.

Some frame the names of runs for frames of mind.
Tremble Copse, Wrath Copse, Anxious Crossroads, Howl,
Doleful and Crazy Trenches, Folly Lane,
Ominous Alley, Worry Trench, Mad Point,
Lunatic Sap, and then Unbearable
Trench, next to Fun Trench, Worry Trench, Hope Trench,
And Happy Alley.

How they swarm, the rats.
Fat beasts and frisking, yellow teeth and tails
Twitching and slippery. Here they are at home
As gaunt and haunted men are not. For rats
Grow plump in ratholes and are not afraid,
Resourceful little beggars, said Tom Thinn,
The day they ate his dinner, as he died.

Their names are legion. Rathole, Rat Farm, Rat Pit,
Rat Post, Fat Rat, Rats' Alley, Dead Rats' Drain,
Rat Heap, Flat Rat, the Better 'Ole, King Rat.
They will outlast us. This is their domain.

And when I die, my spirit will pass by
Through Sulphur Avenue and Devil's Wood
To Jacob's Ladder along Pilgrim's Way
To Eden Trench, through Orchard, through the gate
To Nameless Trench and Nameless Wood, and rest.
--A. S. Byatt


"What's in My Journal"
Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.
--William Stafford


"A Song on the End of the World"
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.
--Czesław Miłosz, translated from the Polish by Anthony Miłosz


"A Remedy for Insomnia"
Not sheep coming down the hills,
not cracks on the ceiling--
count the ones you loved,
the former tenants of dreams
who would keep you awake,
once meant the world to you,
rocked you in their arms,
those who loved you...
You will fall asleep, by dawn, in tears.
--Vera Pavlova


"Notes on the Night Highway (II)"
The sky can't hold the electricity forever--

it keeps spilling out. In Oklahoma,
the radio tower lost beneath its flashing

light was a dark web I knew to be there
(though the lit house on the black hill

never quite landed in its thought--).
Trucks sleeping by the highway wonderfully

express the drivers sealed inside them--
when we drifted by, I put this into words

as passing headlights filled your hair.
I try to believe we live in love's body--

so when it forgets us, we're still organs
pulsing for its life. My father claims

the past is in us, while my mother
claims it holds us. In the right hands,

a row of shrubs can turn into animals
and then the wind will stroke their fur.

A sculptor's chisel pierces stone exactly
to its sculpture. I must remember

that by holding you, I prepare to let you go--
even when lightning lifts the fields

sharply into view, I must remember
how we slide through them--
--Wayne Miller
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Time works like a damp brush on watercolor. The sharp edges blur, the ache goes out of it, the colors melt together, and from the many separated lines a solid gray emerges."
--John Steinbeck


"Maid Quiet"
Where has Maid Quiet gone to,
Nodding her russet hood?
The winds that awakened the stars
Are blowing through my blood.
O how could I be so calm
When she rose up to depart?
Now words that called up the lightning
Are hurtling through my heart.
--W. B. Yeats


"The Inner History of a Day"
No one knew the name of this day;
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that traveled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.

The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.
--John O'Donohue


"Heike with Her Dictionaries"
Alone in a small commercial hotel you summon other thoughts,
tell yourself the shower curtain is the colour of a silk scarf
you bought in Dublin last November, drink lukewarm herbal tea
from a mug you have carried with you since Kiev,
remember rice on a patterned plate in Cambridge,
how the weight of technical dictionaries strained
your back on the train home from Frankfurt airport.
The tiny buff tag on the tea bag catches you out.

Numbering evidence from Bosnia.
Sixteen days of written statements
made to a commission in The Hague.
Four days of photographs.
Forensic. Focused. No faces.
A metre stick laid beside a trench gave a sense of scale.


Buff cardboard tags on body parts.
Tissue samples. Skulls. Bones.
Catalogued. Identity unknown.
Shown neat rowed to the lens.
Rewind.

J five stroke seven four nine.
M eight oblique three two one.

Translate the numbers. Never stumble over one.
Pour from one jug of language to another.
Never lose a single drop of blood.
Never stop to open flood gates to unprofessional emotion.
Justice requires precision.

Life is in the detail. Death is in the detail.

Fast forward. Fast fast forward.
Summered forest floor green flushed with nettles.
Echolalia of meaning in your head, different taste in your mouth.

They brought six soldiers here. They dragged six boys here.
They executed them here. They shot them here.
Gesture left to speak.
They buried them here. They hid them here.
Gesture left to speak.
Pause. Rewind. Play Kosovo.
--Andrea Porter


"Democracy"
When you're cold--November, the streets icy and everyone you pass
homeless, Goodwill coats and Hefty bags torn up to make ponchos--
someone is always at the pay phone, hunched over the receiver

spewing winter's germs, swollen lipped, face chapped, making the last
tired connection of the day. You keep walking to keep the cold
at bay, too cold to wait for the bus, too depressing the thought

of entering that blue light, the chilled eyes watching you decide
which seat to take: the man with one leg, his crutches bumping
the smudged window glass, the woman with her purse clutched

to her breasts like a dead child, the boy, pimpled, morose, his head
shorn, a swastika carved into the stubble, staring you down.
So you walk into the cold you know: the wind, indifferent blade,

familiar, the gold leaves heaped along the gutters. You have
a home, a house with gas heat, a toilet that flushes. You have
a credit card, cash. You could take a taxi if one would show up.

You can feel it now: why people become Republicans: Get that dog
off the street. Remove that spit and graffiti. Arrest those people huddled
on the steps of the church.
If it weren't for them you could believe in god,

in freedom, the bus would appear and open its doors, the driver dressed
in his tan uniform, pants legs creased, dapper hat: Hello Miss, watch
your step now.
But you're not a Republican. You're only tired, hungry,

you want out of the cold. So you give up, walk back, step into line behind
the grubby vet who hides a bag of wine under his pea coat, holds out
his grimy 85 cents, takes each step slow as he pleases, releases his coins

into the box and waits as they chink down the chute, stakes out a seat
in the back and eases his body into the stained vinyl to dream
as the chips of shrapnel in his knee warm up and his good leg

flops into the aisle. And you'll doze off, too, in a while, next to the girl
who can't sit still, who listens to her Walkman and taps her boots
to a rhythm you can't hear, but you can see it--when she bops

her head and her hands do a jive in the air--you can feel it
as the bus rolls on, stopping at each red light in a long wheeze,
jerking and idling, rumbling up and lurching off again.
--Dorianne Laux


"For Zbigniew Herbert, Summer, 1971, Los Angeles"
No matter how hard I listen, the wind speaks
One syllable, which has no comfort in it--
Only a rasping of air through the dead elm.

*

Once a poet told me of his friend who was torn apart
By two pigs in a field in Poland. The man
Was a prisoner of the Nazis, and they watched,
He said, with interest and a drunken approval...
If terror is a state of complete understanding,

Then there was probably a point at which the man
Went mad, and felt nothing, though certainly
He understood everything that was there: after all,
He could see blood splash beneath him on the stubble,
He could hear singing float toward him from the barracks.

*

And though I don't know about madness,
I know it lives in the thin body like a harp
Behind a rib cage. It makes it painful to move.
And when you kneel in madness your knees are glass,
And so you must stand up again with great care.

*

Maybe this wind was what he heard in 1941.
Maybe I have raised a dead man into this air,
And now I will have to bury him inside my body,
And breathe him in, and do nothing but listen--
Until I hear the black blood rushing over
The stone of my skull, and believe it is music.

But some things are not possible on the earth.
And that is why people make poems about the dead.
And the dead watch over them, until they are finished:
Until their hands feel like glass on the page,
And snow collects in the blind eyes of statues.
--Larry Levis


"The Poet at Seventeen"
My youth? I hear it mostly in the long, volleying
Echoes of billiards in the pool halls where
I spent it all, extravagantly, believing
My delicate touch on a cue would last for years.

Outside the vineyards vanished under rain,
And the trees held still or seemed to hold their breath
When the men I worked with, pruning orchards, sang
Their lost songs: Amapola; La Paloma;

Jalisco, No Te Rajes
--the corny tunes
Their sons would just as soon forget, at recess,
Where they lounged apart in small groups of their own.
Still, even when they laughed, they laughed in Spanish.

I hated high school then, & on weekends drove
A tractor through the windowed fields. It was so boring
I memorized poems above the engine's monotone.
Sometimes whole days slipped past without my noticing,

And birds of all kinds flew in front of me then.
I learned to tell them apart by their empty squabblings,
The slightest change in plumage, or the inflection
Of a call. And why not admit it? I was happy

Then. I believed in no one. I had the kind
Of solitude the world usually allows
Only to kings & criminals who are extinct,
Who disdain this world, & who rot, corrupt & shallow

As fields I disced: I turned up the same gray
Earth for years. Still, the land made a glum raisin
Each autumn, & made that little hell of days--
The vines must have seemed like cages to the Mexicans

Who were paid seven cents a tray for the grapes
They picked. Inside the vines it was hot, & spiders
Strummed their emptiness. Black Widow, Daddy Longlegs.
The vine canes whipped our faces. None of us cared.

And the girls I tried to talk to after class
Sailed by, then each night lay enthroned in my bed,
With nothing on but the jewels of their embarrassment.
Eyes, lips, dreams. No one. The sky & the road.

A life like that? It seemed to go on forever--
Reading poems in school, then driving a stuttering tractor
Warm afternoons, then billiards on blue October
Nights. The thick stars. But mostly now I remember

The trees, wearing their mysterious yellow sullenness
Like party dresses. And parties I didn't attend.
And then the first ice hung like spider lattices
Or the embroideries of Great Aunt No One,

And then the first dark entering the trees--
And inside, the adults with their cocktails before dinner,
The way they always seemed afraid of something.
And sat so rigidly, although the land was theirs.
--Larry Levis


"Winter Stars"
My father once broke a man's hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Rubén Vásquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, & with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.

Sometimes, I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
And persisting.

It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them.
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him.
Now, if we try to talk, I watch my father
Search for a lost syllable as if it might
Solve everything, & though he can't remember, now,
The word for it, he is ashamed...
If you can think of the mind as a place continually
Visited, a whole city placed behind
The eyes, & shining, I can imagine, now, its end--
As when the lights go off, one by one,
In a hotel at night, until at last
All of the travelers will be asleep, or until
Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind
Of sleep; & while the woman behind the desk
Is applying more lacquer to her nails,
You can almost believe that the elevator,
As it ascends, must open upon starlight.

I stand out on the street, & do not go in.
That was our agreement, at my birth.

And for years I believed
That what went unsaid between us became empty,
And pure, like starlight, & that it persisted.

I got it all wrong.
I wound up believing in words the way a scientist
Believes in carbon, after death.

Tonight, I'm talking to you, father, although
It is quiet here in the Midwest, where a small wind,
The size of a wrist, wakes the cold again--
Which may be all that's left of you & me.

When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.

The pale haze of stars goes on & on,
Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape
On a black sky. It means everything
It cannot say. Look, it's empty out there, & cold.
Cold enough to reconcile
Even a father, even a son.
--Larry Levis
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Learning is constant open-mindedness, to assess and reassess, to make connections with what you already know and find ways that they are related--or not. It is to be fully receptive to everything you come into contact with, to have a kind of playfulness with the various senses. It is to allow for expansion. Learning can also mean deep self-analysis, to be an observer of your thoughts, to understand why you feel certain emotions, to underpin the reasons why you react or respond to different external stimuli and situations. It means to be open to change and to allow your future to open up new possibilities. Learning means you are a student, not only in class, but also in the real world where things, events, and people can present lessons, or shades of experience which you can consider applying into your own life. Learning means to not be attached to a single ideal. It means creating something new, something fresh, something that you can say is your own. And the ultimate learning, is to learn how to be yourself, comfortably, without judging yourself. To learn how to be you--fully."
--unknown


"Openness"
Here we are, naked lovers,
beautiful to each other--and that's enough.
The leaves of our eyelids our only covers,
we're lying amidst deep night.

But they know about us, they know,
the four corners, and the chairs nearby us.
Discerning shadows also know,
and even the table keeps quiet.

Our teacups know full well
why the tea is getting cold.
And old Swift can surely tell
that his book's been put on hold.

Even the birds are in the know:
I saw them writing in the sky
brazenly and openly
the very name I call you by.

The trees? Could you explain to me
their unrelenting whispering?
The wind may know, you say to me,
but how is just a mystery.

A moth surprised us through the blinds,
its wings in fuzzy flutter.
Its silent path--see how it winds
in a stubborn holding pattern.

Maybe it sees where our eyes fail
with an insect's inborn sharpness.
I never sensed, nor could you tell
that our hearts were aglow in the darkness.
--Wislawa Szymborska


"Coming to This"
We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.
--Mark Strand


"Midsummer"
On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones
leaping off  the high rocks --bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off
but always there were a few left at the end -- sometimes they'd keep watch,
sometimes they'd pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.
But they'd show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,
fate would be a different fate.

At the beginning and at the end, though, we were all together.
After the evening chores, after the smaller children were in bed,
then we were free. Nobody said anything, but we knew the nights we'd meet
and the nights we wouldn't. Once or twice, at the end of summer,
we could see a baby was going to come out of all that kissing.

And for those two, it was terrible, as terrible as being alone.
The game was over. We'd sit on the rocks smoking cigarettes,
worrying about the ones who weren’t there.

And then finally walk home through the fields,
because there was always work the next day.
And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the morning,
eating a peach.  Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth.
And then going to work, which meant helping out in the fields.
One boy worked for an old lady, building shelves.
The house was very old, maybe built when the mountain was built.

And then the day faded. We were dreaming, waiting for night.
Standing at the front door at twilight, watching the shadows lengthen.
And a voice in the kitchen was always complaining about the heat,
wanting the heat to break.

Then the heat broke, the night was clear.
And you thought of  the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.
And you thought of  walking into the woods and lying down,
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.
And though sometimes you couldn't see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.

The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:
You will leave the village where you were born
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though
you can't say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.
--Louise Glück


"Blue"
It sings they say, and so it does: something like the note
that fractures glass or gets so far below
the range of human hearing that it shakes your heart;

and the glass it breaks is blue, and that's a blue note for sure
from the guy on the alto sax in the basement dive,
which is where they're bound to meet up in the classic noir,

the private eye, the girl with a shadowy past, the old-style cop,
and it's nigh--on certain she'll have to take a bullet
or we'll see her in prison blue as they lead her to the drop.

The fragments of glass were part of it too, that's plain,
though no one noticed, just as they failed to spot
how the crucifix in her bedroom made sense of the subtle stain

on her cocktail dress. And in this, the director's cut,
the dive is deeper, the saxophone sadder, the cop
bent as a dog's hind leg, the girl a scheming slut,

and the gumshoe comes in late with the one and only clue
that would finally set things straight, though its true
meaning is hidden from him, and lost on you.
--David Harsent


"The Hurricane"
The tree lay down
on the garage roof
and stretched, You
have your heaven,
it said, go to it.
--William Carlos Williams


"There had been a lot of death in the newspapers lately. [...] and then before Christmas that Pan Am Flight 103 ripping open like a rotten melon five miles above Scotland and dropping all these bodies and flaming wreckage all over the golf course and the streets of this little town like Glockamorra, what was its real name, Lockerbie. Imagine sitting there in your seat being lulled by the hum of the big Rolls-Royce engines and the stewardesses bringing the clinking drinks caddy and the feeling of having caught the plane and nothing to do now but relax and then with a roar and a giant ripping noise and scattered screams this whole cozy world dropping away and nothing under you but black space and your chest squeezed by the terrible unbreathable cold, that cold you can scarcely believe is there but that you sometimes actually feel still packed into the suitcases, stored in the unpressurised hold, when you unpack your clothes, the dirty underwear and beach towels with the merciless chill of death from outer space still in them. [...] Those bodies with hearts pumping tumbling down in the dark. How much did they know as they fell, through air dense like tepid water, tepid gray like this terminal where people blow through like dust in an air duct, to the airline we're all just numbers on the computer, one more or less, who cares? A blip on the screen, then no blip on the screen. Those bodies tumbling down like wet melon seeds."
--John Updike, "Rabbit at Rest"


"An Irish Airman Foresees His Death"
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
--W. B. Yeats
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Like everything else this strange morning, the words became symbols, wrote themselves all over the grey-green walls. If only she could put them together, she felt, write them out in some sentence, then she would have got at the truth of things. The extraordinary unreality was frightening; but it was also exciting. Going to the lighthouse. Perished. Alone. The grey-green light on the wall opposite. The empty places. Such were some of the parts, but how bring them together?"
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway"
Of course I tried to tell him
but he cranked his head
without an excuse.
I told him the sky chases
the sun
And he smiled and said:
"What's the use."
I was feeling like a demon
again
So I said: "But the ocean chases
the fish."
This time he laughed
and said: "Suppose the
strawberry were
pushed into a mountain."
After that I knew the
war was on--
So we fought:
He said: "The apple-cart like a
broomstick-angel
snaps & splinters
old dutch shoes."
I said: "Lightning will strike the old oak
and free the fumes!"
He said: "Mad street with no name."
I said: "Bald killer! Bald killer! Bald killer!"
He said, getting real mad, "Young Poets
"Firestoves! Gas! Couch!"
I said, only smiling,
"I know God would turn back his head
If I sat quietly and thought."
We ended by melting away,
hating the air!
--Gregory Corso


"The Nutritionist"
The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables.
Said if I could get down thirteen turnips a day
I would be grounded, rooted.
Said my head would not keep flying away
to where the darkness lives.

The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight.
Said for twenty dollars she'd tell me what to do.
I handed her the twenty. She said, "Stop worrying, darling.
You will find a good man soon."

The first psycho therapist told me to spend
three hours each day sitting in a dark closet
with my eyes closed and ears plugged.
I tried it once but couldn't stop thinking
about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet.

The yogi told me to stretch everything but the truth.
Said to focus on the out breath. Said everyone finds happiness
when they care more about what they give
than what they get.

The pharmacist said, "Lexapro, Lamicatl, Lithium, Xanax."

The doctor said an anti-psychotic might help me
forget what the trauma said.

The trauma said, "Don't write this poem.
Nobody wants to hear you cry
about the grief inside your bones."

But my bones said, "Tyler Clementi dove
into the Hudson River convinced
he was entirely alone."

My bones said, "Write the poem."

The lamplight. Considering the river bed.
To the chandelier of your fate hanging by a thread.
To everyday you could not get out of bed.
To the bulls eye of your wrist
To anyone who has ever wanted to die.

I have been told, sometimes, the most healing thing to do--
Is remind ourselves over and over and over:
"Other people feel this too."

The tomorrow that is coming, gone
And it has not gotten better
When you are half finished writing that letter
to your mother that says "I swear to God I tried
But when I thought I hit bottom, it started hitting back"
There is no bruise like the bruise of loneliness kicks into the spine

So let me tell you I know there are days
it looks like the whole world is dancing in the streets
when you break down like the doors of the looted buildings

You are not alone
and wondering who will be convicted of the crime
of insisting you keep loading your grief into the chamber of your shame

You are not weak just because your heart feels so heavy
I have never met a heavy heart
that wasn't a phone booth with a red cape inside
Some people will never understand
the kind of superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside
Some days I know my smile looks like the gutter of a falling house

But my hands are always holding tight to the ripchord of believing
A life can be rich like the soil
Can make food of decay
Can turn wound into highway
Pick me up in a truck with that bumper sticker that says
"It is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society."

I have never trusted anyone
with the pulled back bow of my spine
the way I trusted ones who come undone at the throat
Screaming for their pulses to find the fight to pound

Four nights before Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge
I was sitting in a hotel room in my own town
Calculating exactly what I had to swallow
to keep a bottle of sleeping pills down

What I know about living is the pain is never just ours
Every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo
So I keep a listening to the moment the grief becomes a window
When I can see what I couldn't see before,
through the glass of my most battered dream

I watched a dandelion lose its mind in the wind
and when it did, it scattered a thousand seeds.

So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin,
don't try to put me back in,
just say "Here we are together at the window aching for it to all get better
but knowing as bad as it hurts our hearts, made of only just skin,
knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming--
let me say right now for the record, I'm still gonna be here
asking this world to dance, even if it keeps stepping on my holy feet
you--you stay here with me, okay?
You stay here with me.
Raising your bright against the bitter dark
Your bright longing
Your brilliant fists of loss"

Friends, if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other,
my God that's plenty
my God that's enough
my God that is so so much for the light to give

each of us at each other's backs whispering over and over and over

"Live"
"Live"
"Live"

--Andrea Gibson


"All Souls' Night, 1917"
You heap the logs and try to fill
The little room with words and cheer,
But silent feet are on the hill,
Across the window veiled eyes peer.
The hosts of lovers, young in death,
Go seeking down the world to-night,
Remembering faces, warmth and breath--
And they shall seek till it is light.
Then let the white-flaked logs burn low,
Lest those who drift before the storm
See gladness on our hearth and know
There is no flame can make them warm.
--Hortense King Flexner


"House on a Cliff"
Indoors the tang of a tiny oil lamp. Outdoors
The winking signal on the waste of sea.
Indoors the sound of the wind. Outdoors the wind.
Indoors the locked heart and the lost key.

Outdoors the chill, the void, the siren. Indoors
The strong man pained to find his red blood cools,
While the blind clock grows louder, faster. Outdoors
The silent moon, the garrulous tides she rules.

Indoors ancestral curse-cum-blessing. Outdoors
The empty bowl of heaven, the empty deep.
Indoors a purposeful man who talks at cross
Purposes, to himself, in a broken sleep.
--Louis Macneice


"The Changeling"
Toll no bell for me, dear Father dear Mother,
Waste no sighs;
There are my sisters, there is my little brother
Who plays in the place called Paradise,
Your children all, your children for ever;
But I, so wild,
Your disgrace, with the queer brown face, was never,
Never, I know, but half your child!

In the garden at play, all day, last summer,
Far and away I heard
The sweet "tweet-tweet" of a strange new-comer,
The dearest, clearest call of a bird.
It lived down there in the deep green hollow,
My own old home, and the fairies say
The word of a bird is a thing to follow,
So I was away a night and a day.

One evening, too, by the nursery fire,
We snuggled close and sat round so still,
When suddenly as the wind blew higher,
Something scratched on the window-sill,
A pinched brown face peered in--I shivered;
No one listened or seemed to see;
The arms of it waved and the wings of it quivered,
Whoo--I knew it had come for me!
Some are as bad as bad can be!
All night long they danced in the rain,
Round and round in a dripping chain,
Threw their caps at the window-pane,
Tried to make me scream and shout
And fling the bedclothes all about:
I meant to stay in bed that night,
And if only you had left a light
They would never have got me out!

Sometimes I wouldn't speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel's feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat's black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell's sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things.
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That's why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn't do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything.
And when, for that, I was sent upstairs
I did kneel down to say my prayers;
But the King who sits on your high church steeple
Has nothing to do with us fairy people!

'Times I pleased you, dear Father, dear Mother,
Learned all my lessons and liked to play,
And dearly I loved the little pale brother
Whom some other bird must have called away.
Why did they bring me here to make me
Not quite bad and not quite good,
Why, unless They're wicked, do They want, in spite,
to take me
Back to Their wet, wild wood?
Now, every night I shall see the windows shining,
The gold lamp's glow, and the fire's red gleam,
While the best of us are twining twigs and the rest of us
are whining
In the hollow by the stream.
Black and chill are Their nights on the wold;
And They live so long and They feel no pain:
I shall grow up, but never grow old,
I shall always, always be very cold,
I shall never come back again!
--Charlotte Mew


"Cycles Ago"
In memory of your dream one July night

The low crying curlew and peewit, the honey pale orb of the moon,
The dew covered grass in the valley, our mother the sea with her croon
The leaping green leaves in the woodland, the flame of the stars in the skies,
Are tossed in Love's robe for he passes, and mad with Love's feet for he flies.

You came and moved near me a little with pensive remembering grace
The sad rose colours of autumn with weariness mixed in your face,
My world was fallen and over, for your dark soft eyes on it shone;
A thousand years it had waited and now it is gone, it is gone.

'We were as if brother and sister of old in the desert land',
How softly you spake it, how softly 'I give but a friendly hand
They sold us in slavery together before this life had begun
But Love bides nobody’s bidding being older than moon or sun.'

Ah cycles ago did I meet you and mingle my gaze with your gaze,
They mingled a moment and parted and weariness fell on our days,
And we went alone on our journeys and envied the grass covered dead
For Love had gone by us unheeding, a crown of stars on his head.
--W. B. Yeats


"The Cat in the Kitchen"
For Donald Hall

Have you heard about the boy who walked by
The black water? I won't say much more.
Let's wait a few years. It wanted to be entered.
Sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand
Reaches out and pulls him in.
There was no
Intention, exactly. The pond was lonely, or needed
Calcium, bones would do. What happened then?
It was a little like the night wind, which is soft,
And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman
In her kitchen late at night, moving pans
About, lighting a fire, making some food for the cat.
--Robert Bly


"Casabianca"
Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite "The boy stood on
the burning deck." Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.
--Elizabeth Bishop


"Tulips"
The tulips make me want to paint,
Something about the way they drop
Their petals on the tabletop
And do not wilt so much as faint,

Something about their burnt-out hearts,
Something about their pallid stems
Wearing decay like diadems,
Parading finishes like starts,

Something about the way they twist
As if to catch the last applause,
And drink the moment through long straws,
And how, tomorrow, they'll be missed.

The way they're somehow getting clearer,
The tulips make me want to see--
The tulips make the other me
(The backwards one who's in the mirror,

The one who can't tell left from right),
Glance now over the wrong shoulder
To watch them get a little older
And give themselves up to the light.
--A. E. Stallings


"Wife's Disaster Manual"
When the forsaken city starts to burn,
after the men and children have fled,
stand still, silent as prey, and slowly turn

back. Behold the curse. Stay and mourn
the collapsing doorways, the unbroken bread
in the forsaken city starting to burn.

Don't flinch. Don't join in.
Resist the righteous scurry and instead
stand still, silent as prey. Slowly turn

your thoughts away from escape: the iron
gates unlatched, the responsibilities shed.
When the forsaken city starts to burn,

surrender to your calling, show concern
for those who remain. Come to a dead
standstill. Silent as prey, slowly turn

into something essential. Learn
the names of the fallen. Refuse to run ahead
when the forsaken city starts to burn.
Stand still and silent. Pray. Return.
--Deborah Paredez


"Flight 1067 to L.A."
Snowy sierra sawteeth
lift to leftward
as I drink white wine staidly
above the Great Valley in the belly
of a silvery pseudocetacean
sailing the airsea to a palmy city.
I am my ancestors' sci-fi.
--Ursula K. Le Guin


"October"
Although a tide turns in the trees
the moon doesn't turn the leaves
though chimneys smoke and blue concedes
to bluer home-time dark.

Though restless leaves submerge the park
in yellow shallows, ankle-deep,
and through each tree the moon shows, halved
or quartered or complete,

the moon's no fruit and has no seed,
and turns no tide of leaves on paths
that still persist but do not lead
where they did before dark.

Although the moonstruck pond stares hard
the moon looks elsewhere. Manholes breathe.
Each mind's a different, distant world
this same moon will no leave.
--Jacob Polley


"History"
for Charles R. Saunders

Against endless, black, forever, dark nothing,
Blanches the blear North Star

Hot-eyed, I look up, aspiring to warm those stars.
But, cold and uncaring, they just grow colder.

To destroy everything,
A nihilist must be optimistic.

If I had any luck at all,
I'd have some rum.

Depression is boring.
Let tears spring as sprightly as piano notes.

Let us breathe pain with every breath--
Until we fall, breathless.

The plot of life, Kemosabe,
Trails off to a grave.
--George Elliot Clarke


Much Madness is divinest Sense--
To a discerning Eye--
Much Sense--the starkest Madness--
'Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail--
Assent--and you are sane--
Demur--you're straightaway dangerous--
And handled with a Chain--
--Emily Dickinson


I started Early--Took my Dog--
And visited the Sea--
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me--

And Frigates--in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands--
Presuming Me to be a Mouse--
Aground--upon the Sands--

But no Man moved Me--till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe--
And past my Apron--and my Belt
And past my Bodice--too--

And made as He would eat me up--
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve--
And then--I started--too--

And He--He followed--close behind--
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle--Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl--

Until We met the Solid Town--
No One He seemed to know--
And bowing--with a Mighty look--
At me--The Sea withdrew--
--Emily Dickinson


Remorse--is Memory--awake--
Her Parties all astir--
A Presence of Departed Acts--
At window--and at Door--

It's Past--set down before the Soul
And lighted with a match--
Perusal--to facilitate--
And help Belief to stretch--

Remorse is cureless--the Disease
Not even God--can heal--
For 'tis His institution--and
The Adequate of Hell--
--Emily Dickinson


My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun--
In Corners--till a Day
The Owner passed--identified--
And carried Me away--

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods--
And now We hunt the Doe--
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply--

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow--
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had lets its pleasure through--

And when at Night--Our good day done--
I guard My Master's Head--
'Tis better than the Eider Duck's
Deep Pillow--to have shared--

To foe of His--I'm deadly foe--
None stir the second time--
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye--
Or an emphatic Thumb--

Though I than He--may longer live
He longer must--than I--
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--
--Emily Dickinson


Publication--is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man--
Poverty--be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly--but We--would rather
From Our Garret go
White--unto the White Creator--
Than invest--Our Snow--

Thought belong to Him who gave it--
Then--to Him Who bear
Its Corporeal illustration--sell
The Royal Air--

In the Parcel--Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Gate--
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price--
--Emily Dickinson


The Bible is an antique Volume--
Written by faded Men
At the suggestion of Holy Spectres--
Subjects--Bethlehem--
Eden--the ancient Homestead--
Satan--the Brigadier--
Judas--the Great Defaulter--
David--the Troubadour--
Sin--a distinguished Precipice
Others must resist--
Boys that "believe" are very lonesome--
Other Boys are "lost"--
Had but the Tale a warbling Teller--
All the Boys would come--
Orpheu's Sermon captivated--
It did not condemn--
--Emily Dickinson


Of Death I try to think like this,
The Well in which they lay us
Is but the Likeness of the Brook
That menaced not to slay us,
But to invite by that Dismay
Which is the Zest of sweetness
To the same Flower Hesperian,
Decoying but to greet us--

I do remember when a Child
With bolder Playmates straying
To where a Brook that seemed a Sea
Withheld us by its roaring
From just a Purple Flower beyond
Until constrained to clutch it
If Doom itself were the result,
The boldest leaped, and clutched it--
--Emily Dickinson


He ate and drank the precious Words--
His Spirit grew robust--
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust--
He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book--What Liberty
A loosened Spirit brings--
--Emily Dickinson


God is indeed a jealous God--
He cannot bear to see
That we had rather not with Him
But with each other play.
--Emily Dickinson
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"A Drinking Song"
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.
--W.B. Yeats


"Less than fifty years after [Alfred Nobel's] death, the door of nature was unlocked and we were offered the dreadful burden of choice. We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God. Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life and death of the whole world of all living things. The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand.

"Having taken God-like power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have. Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope. So that today, saint John the Apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the word, and the word is man, and the word is with man."
--John Steinbeck, 1962 Nobel Acceptance Speech
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Building Nicole's Mama"

for the 6th grade class of Lillie C. Evans School, Liberty City, Miami

I am astonished at their mouthful names—
Lakinishia, Fumilayo, Chevellanie, Delayo—
their ragged rebellions and lip-glossed pouts,
and all those pants drooped as drapery.
I rejoice when they kiss my face, whisper wet
and urgent in my ear, make me their obsession
because I have brought them poetry.

They shout me raw, bruise my wrists with pulling,
and brashly claim me as mama as they
cradle my head in their little laps,
waiting for new words to grow in my mouth.

You.
You.
You.
Angry, jubilant, weeping poets—we are all
saviors, reluctant hosannas in the limelight,
but you knew they, didn’t you? Then let us
bless this sixth grade class—40 nappy heads,
40 cracking voices, and all of them
raise their hands when I ask. They have all seen
the Reaper, grim in his heavy robe,
pushing the button for the dead project elevator,
begging for a break at the corner pawn shop,
cackling wildly in the back pew of the Baptist church.

I ask the death question and forty fists
punch the air, me!, me! And O’Neal,
matchstick crack child, watched his mother’s
body become a claw, and 9-year-old Tiko Jefferson,
barely big enough to lift the gun, fired a bullet
into his own throat after Mama bended his back
with a lead pipe. Tamika cried into a sofa pillow
when Daddy blasted Mama into the north wall
of their cluttered one-room apartment,
Donya’s cousin gone in a drive-by. Dark window,
click, click, gone, says Donya, her tiny finger
a barrel, the thumb a hammer. I am shocked
by their losses—and yet when I read a poem
about my own hard-eyed teenager, Jeffrey asks

He is dead yet?

It cannot be comprehended,
my 18-year-old still pushing and pulling
his own breath. And those 40 faces pity me,
knowing that I will soon be as they are,
numb to our bloodied histories,
favoring the Reaper with a thumbs-up and a wink,
hearing the question and shouting me, me,
Miss Smith, I know somebody dead!


Can poetry hurt us? they ask me before
snuggling inside my words to sleep.
I love you, Nicole says, Nicole wearing my face,
pimples peppering her nose, and she is as black
as angels are. Nicole’s braids clipped, their ends
kissed with match flame to seal them,
and can you teach me to write a poem about my mother?
I mean, you write about your daddy and he dead,
can you teach me to remember my mama?


A teacher tells me this is the first time Nicole
has admitted that her mother is gone,
murdered by slim silver needles and a stranger
rifling through her blood, the virus pushing
her skeleton through for Nicole to see.
And now this child with rusty knees
and mismatched shoes sees poetry as her scream
and asks me for the words to build her mother again.
Replacing the voice.
Stitching on the lost flesh.

So poets,
as we pick up our pens,
as we flirt and sin and rejoice behind microphones—
remember Nicole.
She knows that we are here now,
and she is an empty vessel waiting to be filled.

And she is waiting.
And she
is
waiting.
And she waits.
--Patricia Smith


"Myth"
Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the
roads. He smelled a familiar smell. It was
the Sphinx. Oedipus said, "I want to ask one question.
Why didn't I recognize my mother?" "You gave the
wrong answer," said the Sphinx. "But that was what
made everything possible," said Oedipus. "No," she said.
"When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning,
two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered,
Man. You didn't say anything about woman."
"When you say Man," said Oedipus, "you include women
too. Everyone knows that." She said, "That's what
you think."
--Muriel Rukeyser


"The Second Coming"
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
--W.B. Yeats


"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


"Praise Them"
The birds don't alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
astonishment collects
in chill air. Be glad.
They equal their due
moment never begging,
and enter ours
without parting day. See
how three birds in a winter tree
make the tree barer.
Two fly away, and new rooms
open in December.
Give up what you guessed
about a whirring heart, the little
beaks and claws, their constant hunger.
We're the nervous ones.
If even one of our violent number
could be gentle
long enough that one of them
found it safe inside
our finally untroubled and untroubling gaze,
who wouldn't hear
what singing completes us?
--Li-Young Lee
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson


"When You Are Old"
WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.
--W.B. Yeats
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"[The statue of David] was huge. From head to toe, he was simply enormous, and I don't just mean statuesque (rim shot!) but enormous like a sunset, or like an idea you can at best only half comprehend. It simply took my breath away. I walked around and around it, not because I felt I had to, but because I felt like it deserved that much attention from me. I found myself looking at each individual part closely, rather than the entire thing, because if I looked at the entire thing it would be like staring at the sun. It was such an unblinking portrayal of a person that it rose above any hackneyed hype about it. It flicked away all my cynicism about Seeing Art without flinching and just made me look. I walked out of there thinking, Now I am older."
--Flannery's letter to Adam, The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler


"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"Suicide"

Corpse A
THEY brought her in, a shattered small
Cocoon,
With a little bruised body like
A startled moon;
And all the subtle symphonies of her
A twilight rune.

Corpse B
THEY gave her hurried shoves this way
And that.
Her body shock-abbreviated
As a city cat.
She lay out listlessly like some small mug
Of beer gone flat.
--Djuna Barnes


"A Coat"

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Were it in the world's eyes
As though they'd wrought it
Song, let them take it
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.
--W.B. Yeats


"Upon Discovering My Entire Solution to the Attainment of Immortality Erased from the Blackboard Except for the Word 'Save' "

If you have seen the snow
somewhere slowly fall
on a bicycle,
then you understand
all beauty will be lost
and that even loss
can be beautiful.
And if you have looked
at a winter garden
and seen not a winter garden
but a meditation on shape,
then you understand why
this season is not
known for its words,
the cold too much
about the slowing of matter,
not enough about the making of it.
So you are blessed
to forget this way:
jump rope in the ice melt,
a mitten that has lost its hand,
a sun that shines
as if it doesn't mean it.
And if in another season
you see a beautiful women
use her bare hands
to smooth wrinkles
from her expensive dress
for the sake of dignity,
but in so doing reveal
the outlines of her thighs,
then you will remember
surprise assumes a space
that has first been forgotten,
especially here, where we
rarely speak of it,
where we walk out onto the roofs
of frozen lakes
simply because we're stunned
we really can.
--Dobby Gibson


"Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."
--unknown

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