Monday, November 30, 2009

Before - Sean O'Brien

Make over the alleys and gardens to birdsong,
The hour of not-for-an-hour. Lie still.
Leave the socks you forgot on the clothesline.
Leave slugs to make free with the pansies.
The jets will give Gatwick a miss
And from here you could feel the springs
Wake by the doorstep and under the precinct
Where now there is nobody frozenly waiting.
This is free time, in the sense that a handbill
Goes cartwheeling over the crossroads
Past stoplights rehearsing in private
And has neither witness nor outcome.
This is before the first bus has been late
Or the knickers sought under the bed
Or the first cigarette undertaken,
Before the first flush and cross word.
Viaducts, tunnels and motorways: still.
The mines and the Japanese sunrise: still.
The high bridges lean out in the wind
On the curve of their pinkening lights,
And the coast is inert as a model.
The wavebands are empty, the mail unimagined
And bacon still wrapped in the freezer
Like evidence aimed to intrigue our successors.
The island is dreamless, its slack-jawed insomniacs
Stunned by the final long shot of the movie,
Its murderers innocent, elsewhere.
The policemen have slipped from their helmets
And money forgets how to count.
In the bowels of Wapping the telephones
Shamelessly rest in their cradles.
The bomb in the conference centre's
A harmless confection of elements
Strapped to a duct like an art installation.
The Premiere sleeps in her fashion,
Her Majesty, all the princesses, tucked up
With the Bishops, the glueys, the DHSS,
In the People's Republic of Zeds.
And you sleep at my shoulder, the cat at your feet,
And deserve to be spared the irruption
Of if, but and ought, which is why
I declare this an hour of general safety
When even the personal monster -
Example, the Kraken - is dead to the world
Like the deaf submarines with their crewmen
Spark out at their fathomless consoles.
No one has died. There need be no regret,
For we do not exist, and I promise
I shall not wake anyone yet.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Love on the Farm - D.H. Lawrence

What large, dark hands are those at the window
Grasping in the golden light
Which weaves its way through the evening wind
At my heart's delight?

Ah, only the leaves! But in the west
I see a redness suddenly come
Into the evening's anxious breast —
'Tis the wound of love goes home!

The woodbine creeps abroad
Calling low to her lover:
The sunlit flirt who all the day
Has poised above her lips in play
And stolen kisses, shallow and gay
Of pollen, now has gone away —
She woos the moth with her sweet, low word;
And when above her his moth-wings hover
Then her bright breast she will uncover
And yield her honey-drop to her lover.

Into the yellow, evening glow
Saunters a man from the farm below;
Leans, and looks in at the low-built shed
Where the swallow has hung her marriage bed.
The bird lies warm against the wall.
She glances quick her startled eyes
Towards him, then she turns away
Her small head, making warm display
Of red upon the throat. Her terrors sway
Her out of the nest's warm, busy ball,
Whose plaintive cry is heard as she flies
In one blue stoop from out the sties
Into the twilight's empty hall.

Oh, water-hen, beside the rushes
Ride your quaintly scarlet blushes,
Still your quick tall, lie still as dead,
Till the distance folds over his ominous tread!

The rabbit presses back her ears,
Turns back her liquid, anguished eyes
And crouches low; then with wild spring
Spurts from the terror of his oncoming;
To be choked back, the wire ring
Her frantic effort throttling:
Piteous brown ball of quivering fears!
Ah, soon in his large, hard hands she dies,
And swings all loose from the swing of his walk!
Yet calm and kindly are his eyes
And ready to open in brown surprise
Should I not answer to his talk
Or should he my tears surmise.

I hear his hand on the latch, and rise from my chair
Watching the door open; he flashes bare
His strong teeth in a smile, and flashes his eyes
In a smile like triumph upon me; then careless-wise
He flings the rabbit soft on the table board
And comes towards me: ah! the uplifted sword
Of his hand against my bosom! and oh, the broad
Blade of his glance that asks me to applaud
His coming! With his hand he turns my face to him
And caresses me with his fingers that still smell grim
Of the rabbit's fur! God, I am caught in a snare!
I know not what fine wire is round my throat;
I only know I let him finger there
My pulse of life, and let him nose like a stoat
Who sniffs with joy before he drinks the blood.

And down his mouth comes to my mouth! and down
His bright dark eyes come over me, like a hood
Upon my mind! his lips meet mine, and a flood
Of sweet fire sweeps across me, so I drown
Against him, die, and find death good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rock and Hawk - Robinson Jeffers

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final

Life with calm death; the falcon's
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Possible City - Joel Toledo

For Doc Ed, who stayed

Of all the things we had found
in that twilight we never did catch
until the last day, homebound,
we'd all remember
this one: the glint of a beer can
washed up on the shore.

All of us welcomed its arrival;
it swaggered its way towards us
from beyond the horizon
whose day-glow and contours
we had all memorized.
It was just there--eyeing us
in the disappearing sun's playful ember,
like the god of mischief himself.
Brewed by the sea
and now cradled by the foam
but empty,
past the islets of rocks
and the careless tip-toeing.

We had hoped it was still unopened,
that some good-spirited genie was inside,
keeping the key to this twilight place,
this unmapped island of Bacchus,
this possible city drunk from too much sea.
Our wishes would have been as unanimous
as the wicked grin brimming on our faces.

We lined up on the seawall much, much later,
the last drops of once-bottled sentiments
now spilt on each other's tongues.
There was nothing else but the whispering waves
and the imagined tink of a beer can
occasionally hitting the rocks:
now filled, now half-filled,
now empty.

Monday, November 16, 2009

If I Believe - E.E. Cummings

if i believe
in death be sure
of this
it is

because you have loved me,
moon and sunset
stars and flowers
gold crescendo and silver muting

of seatides
i trusted not,
one night
when in my fingers

drooped your shining body
when my heart
sang between your perfect

darkness and beauty of stars
was on my mouth petals danced
against my eyes
and down

the singing reaches of
my soul
the green--

greeting pale
departing irrevocable
i knew thee death.

and when
i have offered up each fragrant
night,when all my days
shall have before a certain

face become

from the ashes
thou wilt rise and thou
wilt come to her and brush

the mischief from her eyes and fold
mouth the new
flower with

thy unimaginable
wings,where dwells the breath
of all persisting stars

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Curiosity - Alastair Reid

may have killed the cat; more likely
the cat was just unlucky, or else curious
to see what death was like, having no cause
to go on licking paws, or fathering
litter on litter of kittens, predictably.

Nevertheless, to be curious
is dangerous enough. To distrust
what is always said, what seems
to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,
leave home, smell rats, have hunches
do not endear cats to those doggy circles
where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches
are the order of things, and where prevails
much wagging of incurious heads and tails.

Face it. Curiosity
will not cause us to die--
only lack of it will.
Never to want to see
the other side of the hill
or that improbable country
where living is an idyll
(although a probable hell)
would kill us all.

Only the curious have, if they live, a tale
worth telling at all.

Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible,
are changeable, marry too many wives,
desert their children, chill all dinner tables
with tales of their nine lives.
Well, they are lucky. Let them be
nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay
the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again,
each time with no less pain.
A cat minority of one
is all that can be counted on
to tell the truth. And what cats have to tell
on each return from hell
is this: that dying is what the living do,
that dying is what the loving do,
and that dead dogs are those who do not know
that dying is what, to live, each has to do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Untitled - Allan Peterson

I remember being made
to stand in the corner for punishment
because it would be dull and empty
and I would be sorry.
But instead it was a museum of small wonders,
a place of three walls
with a weather my breath influenced,
an archaeology of layers, of painted molding,
a meadow as we called them then
of repeatable pale roses,
an eight-eyed spider in a tear of wallpaper
turning my corner.
The texture. The soft echo if I talked,
if I said I am not bad if this is the world.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Winter - John Burnside

Imagine I loved you still and nights like these
were visitations,
an endless Pentecost of lips and hands
and bodies resurrected in their beds,
not mine, or yours, but given, like a snowfall.

Out in the dark, the woods are from a map
that someone has left unfinished: hand-coloured signs
for birch, or deer, and nothing to explain
the new red of a kill, or how the silence
wells around a fallen sycamore;

But here, where we lie down in differing weather,
the night fades on our skins while we are dreaming,
and winter is the self, day after day,
ghosting a life from the nothing it knows by heart.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Limits - Jorge Luis Borges

Of all the streets that blur in to the sunset,
There must be one (which, I am not sure)
That I by now have walked for the last time
Without guessing it, the pawn of that Someone

Who fixes in advance omnipotent laws,
Sets up a secret and unwavering scale
for all the shadows, dreams, and forms
Woven into the texture of this life.

If there is a limit to all things and a measure
And a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
Who will tell us to whom in this house
We without knowing it have said farewell?

Through the dawning window night withdraws
And among the stacked books which throw
Irregular shadows on the dim table,
There must be one which I will never read.

There is in the South more than one worn gate,
With its cement urns and planted cactus,
Which is already forbidden to my entry,
Inaccessible, as in a lithograph.

There is a door you have closed forever
And some mirror is expecting you in vain;
To you the crossroads seem wide open,
Yet watching you, four-faced, is a Janus.

There is among all your memories one
Which has now been lost beyond recall.
You will not be seen going down to that fountain
Neither by white sun nor by yellow moon.

You will never recapture what the Persian
Said in his language woven with birds and roses,
When, in the sunset, before the light disperses,
You wish to give words to unforgettable things.

And the steadily flowing Rhone and the lake,
All that vast yesterday over which today I bend?
They will be as lost as Carthage,
Scourged by the Romans with fire and salt.

At dawn I seem to hear the turbulent
Murmur of crowds milling and fading away;
They are all I have been loved by, forgotten by;
Space, time, and Borges now are leaving me.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Need Me Less And I'll Want You More - Marilyn Hacker

You did say, need me less and I'll want you more.
I'm still shellshocked at needing anyone,
used to being used to it on my own.
It won't be me out on the tiles till four-
thirty, while you're in bed, willing the door
open with your need. You wanted her then,
more. Because you need to, I woke alone
in what's not yet our room, strewn, though, with your
guitar, shoes, notebook, socks, trousers enjambed
with mine. Half the world was sleeping it off
in every other bed under my roof.
I wish I had a roof over my bed
to pull down on my head when I feel damned
by wanting you so much it looks like need.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Invisible Dreams - Toi Derricotte

La poesie vit d’insomnie perpetuelle
—René Char

There’s a sickness in me. During
the night I wake up & it’s brought

a stain into my mouth, as if
an ocean has risen & left back

a stink on the rocks of my teeth.
I stink. My mouth is ugly, human

stink. A color like rust
is in me. I can’t get rid of it.

It rises after I
brush my teeth, a taste

like iron. In the
night, left like a dream,

a caustic light
washing over the insides of me.


What to do with my arms? They
coil out of my body

like snakes.
They branch & spit.

I want to shake myself
until they fall like withered

roots; until
they bend the right way—

until I fit in them,
or they in me.

I have to lay them down as
carefully as an old wedding dress,

I have to fold them
like the arms of someone dead.

The house is quiet; all
night I struggle. All

because of my arms,
which have no peace!


I’m a martyr, a girl who’s been dead
two thousand years. I turn

on my left side, like one comfortable
after a long, hard death.

The angels look down
tenderly. “She’s sleeping,” they say

& pass me by. But
all night, I am passing

in & out of my body
on my naked feet.


I’m awake when I’m sleeping & I’m
sleeping when I’m awake, & no one

knows, not even me, for my eyes
are closed to myself.

I think I am thinking I see
a man beside me, & he thinks

in his sleep that I’m awake
writing. I hear a pen scratch

a paper. There is some idea
I think is clever: I want to

capture myself in a book.


I have to make a
place for my body in

my body. I’m like a
dog pawing a blanket

on the floor. I have to
turn & twist myself

like a rag until I
can smell myself in myself.

I’m sweating; the water is
pouring out of me

like silver. I put my head
in the crook of my arm

like a brilliant moon.


The bones of my left foot
are too heavy on the bones

of my right. They
lie still for a little while,

sleeping, but soon they
bruise each other like

angry twins. Then
the bones of my right foot

command the bones of my left
to climb down.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Homesteading - Jack Gilbert

It would be easy if the spirit
was reasonable, was old.
But there is a stubborn gladness.
Summer air idling in the elms.
Silence hunting in the towering
storms of heaven. Thirty-two
swans in a København dusk.
The swan bleeding to death
slowly in a Greek kitchen.
A man leaves the makeshift
restaurant plotting his improvidence.
Something voiceless flies lovely
over an empty landscape.
He wanders on the way
to whoever he will become.
Passion leaves us single and safe.
The other fervor leaves us
at risk, in love, and alone.
Married sometimes forever.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Exceptions and Melancholies - Ralph Angel

Never before
had we been so thin and so clear
and arranged always
and in the same way gazing and listening
over the rooftops
to tin cans of flowers and strange
music. For an hour or more
I turned the same corner
and felt like a criminal farther and farther out to sea
among the racks of shoes and old clothes
but now looking
back I should never have
unpacked. A street
crowned with chestnut trees
ends at the sewer. You go to a theatre
and find yourself a house
outside the city
and walk the shore
forever. I don't have much
talent for poetry. When I see a wrecking ball
dangling from a crane I mean it
literally. I mean
I don't mean the world's fallen apart
or that a wrecking ball
symbolizes the eye my world-weary sister
couldn't know to turn away
from. The hospital's
exhausted. The little church is boarded up.
We leaned against the limestone
and liked the fact that tea
sweetens gradually
and that the wildflowers
beneath the shade of trees gone shivering
have really livened up the cemetery
and that the tall grass and the garbage
and especially the piled-up
newspapers and the rooftop pool
fit right in among
these windowless buildings
having gathered
as we are in the flesh again
and leading another life

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ode to Psyche - John Keats

Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung
By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,
And pardon that thy secrets should be sung
Even unto thine own soft-conched ear:
Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see
The winged Psyche with awaken'd eyes?
I wander'd in a forest thoughtlessly,
And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise,
Saw two fair creatures, couched side by side
In deepest grass, beneath the whisp'ring roof
Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran
A brooklet, scarce espied:
'Mid hush'd cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed,
Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian,
They lay calm-breathing on the bedded grass;
Their arms embraced, and their pinions too;
Their lips touch'd not, but had not bade adieu,
As if disjoined by soft-handed slumber,
And ready still past kisses to outnumber
At tender eye-dawn of aurorean love:
The winged boy I knew;
But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove?
His Psyche true!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Postcard from Kashmir - Agha Shahid Ali

Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a neat four by six inches.

I always loved neatness. Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.

This is home. And this the closest
I'll ever be to home. When I return,
the colors won't be so brilliant,
the Jhelum's waters so clean,
so ultramarine. My love
so overexposed.

And my memory will be a little
out of focus, it in
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.