Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Worker Reads History - Bertolt Brecht

Who built the seven gates of Thebes? The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time?
In which of Lima’s houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go?
Imperial Rome 
is full of arcs of triumph.
Who reared them up?
Over whom did the Caesars triumph?
Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces?
And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.
Young Alexander conquered India.
  He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
  Was there not even a cook in his army?

Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
 was sunk and destroyed.
Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.



Thursday, April 28, 2011

Anyway - Richard Siken

He was pointing at the moon but I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I'm surprised
I saw his hand at all. The moon, of course, is always
there—day moon, but it's still there; behind the clouds but
it's still there. I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice
in a highball glass. The moon? It's free, it doesn't
cost you anything so go ahead and look. Sustained attention
to anything—a focus, a scrutiny—always yields results.
I'd live on the moon probably except I think I'd miss
the moonlight, landscaping craters with clay roses in earthshine
and a reasonable excuse to avoid visiting hours
at the mental hospital. In space, no one can hear you
lying to your mom: "Can't make it, Mom. It's
a really long schlep." The coffee's weak and the coffee cake's
imaginary. You're not missing anything. Inside: a day room
and a day pass. Outside: a gazebo under a jackfruit tree.
The other inside: a deeper understanding of the burden
and its domestic infrastructure. Make yourself white.
Make yourself snow but the black bears trample
your landscape like little black dots that show up on x-rays.
It is not enough to be a landscape. One must also become
the path through the landscape, which is creepy. Truly.
The sun melts the snow, the bears wander off, the leaves
tremble like all my sad friends. I can still see his hand.
Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead. Buried
underground, its light was too much to bear. How did it
get there? Greed. The brothers who owned it had it
buried with them. Later, St. Peter hung it in a tree.
The dead went back to bed, allegedly. One wonders why
a story like this exists. Who wrote it and to what end?
An ingenious solution: trees. Cashew, avocado, fig,
olive. Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb
higher. We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our
overcoats, the snow falling down. Little black dots.
Some dream of tall things—trees, ladders, a rope trick.
My dreams are filled with bricks, or things in the shape
of bricks. Rectangles in the hot sun. A cow, a car,
a carton of cigarettes. Even my imagination sleeps
when I sleep and why not rest? Why crash the party
on the astral plane? You'll just be too tired to go
to the real party later. Have you ever eaten
Swedish meatballs at a dream party? They taste like
your blanket, because they are your blanket.
My imagination wants breakfast burritos. It refuses
to punch the clock until then. I could eat six but then
I'd need a nap. A breakfast that puts you back to sleep
is useless. Dear bears, we must not hibernate!
The bathroom tile is always wet and slippery and the door
from sleeping to waking always sticks and squeeks
but I have arrived, triumphant, with corporate coffee!
Tawnya has written our names on the paper cups
in her immaculate cursive. Her eyes are dead
and lusterless but her heart is in the right place, I guess.
Somewhere deep in her chest, I guess.
We take our hats off and get down
to business. "You got plans tonight, Dick?"
"Eight dollar spaghetti dinner and all you can sing
karaoke at the Best Western. Gonna school
Pace and Killian in the finer points of falsetto."
Not even one hour later: smoke break
in the breezeway by the handicapped bathroom.
Why is it we believe we only have one soul?
Because it's easier to set the table for one. And you can
sing your dinner tune to yourself while you eat over the sink.
The throat of the sink: silent. The throat of the argument:
more silverware, a tablecloth, gratitude, more souls.
A kid under a tablecloth insists he's a ghost. A table
underneath a tablecloth is, I guess, like the rest of us,
only pretending to be invisible. Or worse:
dressed for work and not in the mood for, you know,
how it all plays out, always the same ways, boring times infinity.
"When I grow up I'm going to be a truck,"
says the kid underneath the tablecloth, and that's one way
to deflect the weight of the inevitable, to insist on possibility
in the face of grownups and the pumace of their compromises.
The trees die standing. My Spanish teacher told me this.
I had conjugated the verbs beforehand and taped them
to the bottom of my sneaker. Cheater, yes. Also uninvested
in the outcome. She could tell. Nothing to be done about it.
Verbs of being and verbs of action. We, neither
of us, were doing much anyway at the time and the room was
too hot. I think she meant unroot, which is a good thing to mean
but a difficult thing to hear when you're living under someone
else's roof. I climbed trees then, too. Then climbed back down.
How do I tell you how I got here without getting trapped
in the past? I suppose that's a bigger question than I expected.
"Hey Dick, tell ‘em about that one time when we made out.
That was a good time." Yes, it was. And yet
should we really spend our velocities on backwards motion?
Yes. Any motion, every motion. It's spring, green, take off
your coat, pull down your cap, roll up your sleeves, we're
hunting, we're arrows, we're stag in a meadow, in a frenzy.
"Like I said, Dick. That was a good time."
Soul 1: Was it a good time?
Soul 2: I had fun. You seemed to like it.
Soul 3: He's no Neil Armstrong.
Soul 2: Few are.
Neil Armstrong: Hush.
"He was such a colicky baby. Always fussing and crying.
As if he didn't want to be here at all. Right, Dicky?"
No, mom. I don't remember. And you're not supposed to be
in this part of the poem. You come back later, near the end,
with the ghost and the hand and the moon, after dark, after
the gimlets. "Sweetie, you asked for prompts and it's getting dark
on the East Coast. Tick tock. And don't type drunk."
Dear East Coast, I'm sorry it's getting dark. It must be problematic,
living in the future, always a few steps ahead, knowing
things you shouldn't say, since they haven't happened
to the rest of us yet. And Poland? I don't dare wonder
what you know about tomorrow. "Your grandma was from Poland."
I know, mom. And grandpa was handsome and you
were the smart one and the pretty one. "Still am. Poor Barbara.
You know, Dicky, I've been out of the hospital for a while now.
Remember how you promised you wouldn't write about me
while I was alive, Dicky? Remember? So if you're
writing about me that must mean something, yes?"
You're not sticking around for the end, then. "No, you're
doing fine, Squish. And yes, I miss you, too."
We cannot tarry here. We must march, we must bear the brunt.
Smoke break: in the alley by the oleanders, the pink ones.
Dear East Coast, it is getting dark here too now. Suddenly.
"It's getting late, Little Moon. Sing them the song."
It's not that late, Mr. Kitten.
"You are my moon, Little Moon. And it's late enough.
So climb down out of the tree."
Is it safe? "Safe enough." Are you dead as well?
Soul 1: Sing.
Soul 2: Sing.
Soul 3: Sing.
Stag In The Meadow: Sing.
The Black Bears: Sing.
Kid Under The Tablecloth: Sing.
I've been singing all day.
"Yes, you've been singing all day. And no, I'm not dead, not
everyone is dead, Little Moon. But the big moon needs the tree."
There is a ghost at the end of the song.
"Yes, there is. And you see his hand, and then you see the moon."
Am I the ghost at the end of the song?
"No, you are the way we bounce the light to see the ghost."
He was looking at the moon by I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I'm surprised I saw
his hand at all. Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead.
One wonders why a story like this exists. Who wrote it
and to what end? Sure, everyone wants the same things—
to belong, and to not be left behind—but still, does it help?
Perhaps. Once, in a fable: a man in a tree. Once,
in a fable: the trace of his thinking, the sound of his singing.
I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice in a highball glass.
The light of the mind illuminating the mind itself.
Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb higher.
We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our overcoats,
the snow falling down.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

A History of White People - Jerome Sala

white people were paid well
not to witness
the fact that they were white

you know the theory
white isn't a color
but color's unlimited absence

white goes with anything
that's why it seemed fair that white people
conquered the world

they were the real invisible men
cause they could perch on top of a country
and say they weren't there

they could move through its neighborhoods
like mysterious aliens
with this difference:

in ufological lore
aliens often infiltrate a world
without its inhabitants knowing about it

but when white people invaded
everyone could see them
but themselves


Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written - Margaret Atwood

This is the place

you would rather not know about
This is the place that will inhabit you
This is the place you cannot imagine
This is the place that will finally defeat you

where the word why shrivels and empties
itself. This is famine.

There is no poem you can write
about it, the sandpits
where so many were buried
& unearthed, the unendurable
pain still traced on their skins.

We make wreaths of adjectives for them,
we count them like beads,
we turn them into statistics and litanies
and into poems like this one.

Nothing works,
They remain what they are.

The woman lies on the wet cement floor
under the unending light,
needle marks on her arms put there
to kill the brain
and wonders why she is dying

She is dying because she said.
She is dying for the sake of the word.
It is her body, silent
and fingerless, writing this poem.

It resembles an operation
but it is not one

nor despite the spread legs, grunts
& blood, is it a birth.

Partly, it's a job
partly it's a display of skill
like a concerto.

It can be done badly
or well, they tell themselves.

Partly, it's an art.

The facts of this world seen clearly
are seen through tears;
why tell me then
there is something wrong with my eyes?

To see clearly and without flinching,
without turning away,
this is agony, the eyes taped open
two inches from the sun.

What is it you see then?
Is it a bad dream, a hallucination?
Is it a vision?
What is it you hear?

The razor across the eyeball
is a detail from an old film.
It is also a truth.
Witness is what you must bear.

In this country you can say what you like
because no one will listen to you anyway,
it's safe enough, in this country you can try to write
the poem that can never be written,
the poem that invents
nothing and excuses nothing,
because you invent and excuse yourself each day.

Elsewhere, this poem is not invention.
Elsewhere, this poem takes courage.
Elsewhere, this poem must be written
because the poets are already dead.

Elsewhere, this poem must be written
as if you are already dead,
as if nothing more can be done
or said to save you.

Elsewhere you must write this poem
because the is nothing more to do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods - George Gordon, Lord Byron

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

from A Life for a Life - Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

Oh, the comfort—
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person—
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Love is a Deep and a Dark and a Lonely - Carl Sandburg

love is a deep and a dark and a lonely
and you take it deep take it dark
and take it with a lonely winding
and when the winding gets too lonely
then may come the windflowers
and the breath of wind over many flowers
winding its way out of many lonely flowers
waiting in rainleaf whispers
waiting in dry stalks of noon
wanting in a music of windbreaths
so you can take love as it comes keening
as it comes with a voice and a face
and you make a talk of it
talking to yourself a talk worth keeping
and you put it away for a keen keeping
and you find it to be a hoarding
and you give it away and yet it stays hoarded

like a book read over and over again
like one book being a long row of books
like leaves of windflowers bending low
and bending to be never broken

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Rook in Rainy Weather - Sylvia Plath

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel any choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur.
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.