Sunday, January 31, 2010

Long Afternoons - Adam Zagajewski

Those were the long afternoons when poetry left me.
The river flowed patiently, nudging lazy boats to sea.
Long afternoons, the coast of ivory.
Shadows lounged in the streets, haughty manikins in shopfronts
stared at me with bold and hostile eyes.

Professors left their schools with vacant faces,
as if the Iliad had finally done them in.
Evening papers brought disturbing news,
but nothing happened, no one hurried.
There was no one in the windows, you weren't there;
even nuns seemed ashamed of their lives.

Those were the long afternoons when poetry vanished
and I was left with the city's opaque demon,
like a poor traveler stranded outside the Gare du Nord
with his bulging suitcase wrapped in twine
and September's black rain falling.

Oh, tell me how to cure myself of irony, the gaze
that sees but doesn't penetrate; tell me how to cure myself
of silence.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Talking a Bath - Mason Williams

I liked that,
Sitting on the bathroom floor,
Watching you take a bath,
Talking to you.

I stuck my hand
In the water and slowly
Moved my fingers along
The softness of your thigh.

I took handfuls of water,
Spilled them over your
Milk and silken shoulders,
Enjoying the gentle
Sensuousness of your skin
Slick with water.

You had your hair pinned up
In lovely disorder
To keep from getting it wet.
And you played as you talked,
Little splashes
With your fingertips.

Talking a bath,
I liked that,
And I don't even remember
Anything we said.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

For Eli - Andrea Gibson

Eli came back from Iraq
and tattooed a teddy bear onto the inside of his wrist
above that a medic with an IV bag
above that an angel
but Eli says the teddy bear won't live
and I know I don't know but I say, "I know"
cause Eli's only twenty-four and I've never seen eyes
further away from childhood than his
eyes old with a wisdom
he knows I'd rather not have
Eli's mother traces a teddy bear onto the inside of my arm
and says, "not all casualties come home in body bags"
and I swear
I'd spend the rest of my life writing nothing
but the word light at the end of this tunnel
if I could find the fucking tunnel
I'd write nothing but white flags
somebody pray for the soldiers
somebody pray for what's lost
somebody pray for the mailbox
that holds the official letters
to the mothers,
and little brothers
of Micheal 19... Steven 21... John 33
how ironic that their deaths sound like bible verses
the hearse is parked in the halls of the high school
recruiting black, brown and poor
while anti-war activists
outside walter reed army hospital scream
100, 000 slain
as an amputee on the third floor
breathes forget-me-nots onto the window pain
but how can we forget what we never knew
our sky is so perfectly blue it's repulsive
somebody tell me where god lives
cause if god is truth god doesn't live here
our lies have seared the sun too hot to live by
there are ghosts of kids who are still alive
touting M16s with trembling hands
while we dream ourselves stars on Survivor
another missile sets fire to the face in the locket
of a mother whose son needed money for college
and she swears she can feel his photograph burn
how many wars will it take us to learn
that only the dead return
the rest remain forever caught between worlds of
shrapnel shatters body of three year old girl
welcome to McDonalds can I take your order?
the mortar of sanity crumbling
stumbling back home to a home that will never be home again
Eli doesn't know if he can ever write a poem again
one third of the homeless men in this country are veterans
and we have the nerve to Support Our Troops
with pretty yellow ribbons
while giving nothing but dirty looks to their outstretched hands
tell me what land of the free
sets free its eighteen-year-old kids into greedy war zones
hones them like missiles
then returns their bones in the middle of the night
so no one can see
each death swept beneath the carpet and hidden like dirt
each life a promise we never kept
Jeff Lucey came back from Iraq
and hung himself in his parents basement with a garden hose
the night before he died he spent forty five minutes on his fathers lap
rocking like a baby
rocking like daddy, save me
and don't think for a minute he too isn't collateral damage
in the mansions of washington they are watching them burn
and hoarding the water
no senators' sons are being sent out to slaughter
no presidents' daughters are licking ashes from their lips
or dreaming up ropes to wrap around their necks
in case they ever make it home alive
our eyes are closed
there are souls in
the boots of the soldiers
fuck your yellow ribbon
you wanna support our troops
bring them home
and hold them tight when they get here

Friday, January 22, 2010

Searching for it in a Guadalajara Dance Hall - Jack Gilbert

You go in from the cobbled back street.
Into an empty, concrete one-room building
where prim youngish women sit in a line
of straight chairs. The women are wearing
tea dresses thrown away by rich Texan
women two generations ago. The men are
peasants, awkward in a line of chairs opposite.
Nothing is sexual. There are proprieties.
No rubbing against anyone. No touching
at all. When the music starts, the men
go stiffly over to the women. It isn't
clear whether they say anything. The dance is
a slow, solemn fox trot. When it stops,
they stand still while the men
find a coin. The women stow it and all
of them go back to the chairs to wait for
the music and another partner. This is
not for love. The men can get love
for two coins at a shack in the next field.
They know about that. And that they will
never be married, because it is impossible
to own even a little land. They are
groping for something else, but don't know what.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ars Poetica: The Foxes - Brendan Galvin

What will make it red as that one
years ago by the woodpile, a fox that loitered
as though in revelation’s flames for
a telltale whiff of rodent beneath the snow?
Not these windfall apples hard as cue balls
in the cold, not even that pumpkin I recycled
to its plot as too big and stringy for a pie,
folded now into a white turban. Snow
is on the ground this January dusk,
and this fox, flat black and gray,
no burning bush, walks without hurry
among the fruit trees, then behind the shed,
and is gone. Barely a fox at all, barely more
than a tremor of wind in the bushes
behind the orchard, it needs a tidbit
of cottontail or field mouse, the under-shed
holdouts against January, small
and blooded, to stagger its foxprints
too fastidiously placed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

(From) The Beginning - Veronica Volkow

Hunger is the original eye of the body
primeval eye in the dark of the body
the eye with which flesh first beholds flesh

and a sanguinary darkness draws us inward

the eye
with which my feet see you my teeth
my fingers

the eye
with which I discover you centuries long
in one night of touching
that night
so like the night of the fish
the tiger
the snake
so like the first night of life

we close our eyes and are beast again
and our bodies are clamped like throats
choking on the shapely flavors

The lovers
have hands solely for loving
they have only their hands
hands that are feet and wings over their bodies
hands that constantly seek
the breathing animal behind buried eyes
fingers that set their bodies on fire
that are branches on which caresses flower
flowers that are birds that are flames that are hands
hands that are lost in their lightning writing

hands that travel the flesh of bodies
like stars touching at daybreak
like suns rising like shooting stars
like secret gods who draw the night

Between your body my body
is the print of your body
is the eye the sound of your body
I hear your forearms
your teeth
your tongue
your thighs
I hear the shape of your body with all my skin

between my body your body
is another form of your body
like water turned to incandescent ice
or the open faucet of flames
your body
cries out in my body
and you, a loosed scream
a shouted star
a mute cry of flesh in my body

tell me isn't the flame
the seed of distant worlds
the peculiar and sudden nearness of the stars?

You are nude
and your smoothness is infinite
you tremble to my fingers
your breath flies inside your body

you are
like a bird in my hands
as only desire could make you vulnerable
that exquisite pain with which we touch one another
that surrender in which we know
the abandon of victims

pleasure like a tongue
licks us devours us
and our eyes burn out
are lost

Friday, January 15, 2010

Reply to the Question: "How can You Become a Poet? - Eve Merriam

take the leaf of a tree
trace its exact shape

the outside edges
and inner lines
memorize the way it is fastened to the twig

(and how the twig arches from the branch)

how it springs forth in April
how it is panoplied in July

by late August
crumple it in your hand
so that you smell its end-of-summer sadness

chew its woody stem
listen to its autumn rattle

watch it as it atomizes in the November air

then in winter
when there is no leaf left

invent one

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Moving House - J. Neil Garcia

The hardest part about moving house
is not being able to move
It stakes its all
ramrod straight into living room floor,
nooses itself around banister,
and yields nothing to the breathless budge
away from bedroom post,
kitchen window,
brickbrown wall, or marble nick
on sink and badly chipped tile
in bathroom.
Afflicted with motion-sickness,
it will not travel well.
And so one moves with all one can:
personal computer, impersonal bed,
stereo and television set,
perishable items
of books, poems, days,
and clothes one wears
upon one’s back.
And one can only look back
to memory’s dimly lit house
where childhood first grew eyes and ears
and never really learned
to use them properly.
Where the boy who lived
in a closet all his life,
knew all about how one should never
lose faith in things
one most loves,
and yet
wide-eyed and breathless
still packed his bags
and left.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

(From) After Lucretius - John Burnside
Nam quodcumque suis mutatum finibus exit,
Continuo hoc mors est illius quod fuit ante,
- Lucretius


It happens from time to time,
on days like this

– in winter, when the air is cold
and still,

the boats at the harbour
perched on their wooden stocks,

the gaps between the houses
filled with light –

it happens that I think of all
the vanishings I learned about in childhood:

that ship they found at sea,
unanchored, blind,

the table set for lunch, the galley
filling with steam;

the blank of the lamp-room
at Flannan, where they found

no sign of the men
who were waiting to be relieved;

the boy from a northern village, going out
at daybreak, to get kindling for a fire,

a line of footprints
stopping in the woods

and gradually erased
by morning snow.

When they speak about angels in books
I think what they mean is this sudden

arrival at somewhere else
through a rift in the fabric,

this glimpse of the absence that forms
between two lives

– and it comes as no surprise, on days like this,
alone in the house, or walking on the shore

at evening, that I'll stop dead and recall
the disappearances my childhood self

never quite engineered,
or how it is a legend in these parts

that one bright afternoon,
in wintertime,

something will come from nowhere
and touch a man

for no good reason; ice-cold on his skin
or sharp as a needle,

it finds him and moves away
and leaves no mark.

It's not what he expected, neither death
nor absolution, but a slow and painless

fall between the collarbone and wrist
that lasts for days

and when he disappears,
amidst the thaw,

there is nothing to show he is missing,
not even
an absence.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Kiss - Ann Sexton
My mouth blooms like a cut.
I've been wronged all year, tedious
nights, nothing but rough elbows in them
and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby
crybaby , you fool!

Before today my body was useless.
Now it's tearing at its square corners.
It's tearing old Mary's garments off, knot by knot
and see -- Now it's shot full of these electric bolts.
Zing! A resurrection!

Once it was a boat, quite wooden
and with no business, no salt water under it
and in need of some paint. It was no more
than a group of boards. But you hoisted her, rigged her.
She's been elected.

My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments. Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.
Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped
into fire.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Rednecks - Martin Espada

Gaithersburg, Maryland

At Scot Gas, Darnestown Road,
the high school boys
pumping gas
would snicker at the rednecks.
Every Saturday night there was Earl,
puckering his liquor-smashed face
to announce that he was driving
across the bridge, a bridge spanning
only the whisky river
that bubbled in his stomach.
Earl's car, one side crumpled like his nose,
would circle closely around the pumps,
turn signal winking relentlessly.

Another pickup truck morning,
and rednecks. Loitering
in our red uniforms, we watched
as a pickup rumbled through.
We expected: "Fill it with no-lead, boy,
and gimme a cash ticket."
We expected the farmer with sideburns
and a pompadour.
We, with new diplomas framed
at home, never expected the woman.
Her face was a purple rubber mask
melting off her head, scars rippling down
where the fire seared her freak face,
leaving her a carnival where high school boys
paid a quarter to look, and look away.

No one took the pump. The farmer saw us standing
in our red uniforms, a regiment of illiterate conscripts.
Still watching us, he leaned across the seat of the truck
and kissed her. He kissed her
all over her happy ruined face, kissed her
as I pumped the gas and scraped the windshield
and measured the oil, he kept kissing her.

We who are your closest friends - Philip Lopate

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
discontent and
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Palais des Artes - Louise Glück

Love long dormant showing itself:
the large expected gods
caged really, the columns
sitting on the lawn, as though perfection
were not timeless but stationary—that
is the comedy, she thinks,
that they are paralyzed. Or like the matching swans,
insular, circling the pond: restraint so passionate
implies possession. They hardly speak.
On the other bank, a small boy throws bits of bread
into the water. The reflected monument
is stirred, briefly stricken with light—
She can’t touch his arm in innocence again.
They have to give that up and begin
as male and female, thrust and ache.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Sweet Like a Crow - Michael Ondaatje
for Hetti Corea, 8 years old

The Sinhalese are beyond a doubt one of the least musical people in the world.
It would be quite impossible to have less sense of pitch, line or rhythm.

- Paul Bowles

Your voice sounds like a scorpion being pushed
through a glass tube
like someone has just trod on a peacock
like wind howling in a coconut
like a rusty bible, like someone pulling barbed wire
across a stone courtyard, like a pig drowning,
a vattacka being fried
a bone shaking hands
a frog singing at Carnegie Hall.
Like a crow swimming in milk,
like a nose being hit by a mango
like the crowd at the Royal-Thomian match,
a womb full of twins, a pariah dog
with a magpie in its mouth
like the midnight jet from Casablanca
like Air Pakistan curry,
a typewriter on fire, like a hundred
pappadans being crunched, like someone
trying to light matches in a dark room,
the clicking sound of a reef when you put your head into the sea,
a dolphin reciting epic poetry to a sleepy audience,
the sound of a fan when someone throws brinjals at it,
like pineapples being sliced in the Pettah market
like betel juice hitting a butterfly in mid-air
like a whole village running naked onto the street
and tearing their sarongs, like an angry family
pushing a jeep out of the mud, like dirt on the needle,
like 8 sharks being carried on the back of a bicycle
like 3 old ladies locked in the lavatory
like the sound I heard when having an afternoon sleep
and someone walked through my room in ankle bracelets.