Monday, March 29, 2010

The Problem - Richard Siken

The problem (if there was one) was simply a problem with the question. He wants to paint a bird,
needs to, and the problem is why. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows
are easy, series or sequence, one foot after the other, but existentially why bother, what does it solve?
Be the tree, solve for bird. What does that mean? It’s a problem of focus, it’s a problem of diligence,
it’s supposed to be a grackle but it sort of got away from him. But why not let the colors do what
they want, which is blend, which is kind of neighborly, if you think about it. Blackbird, he says. So be
it. Indexed and normative. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its
representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? He does, but he’s not very good at it. And just
because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished
anything. Maybe if it was pretty, it would mean something. Maybe if it was beautiful it would be true.
But it’s not, not beautiful, not true, not even realistic, more like a man in a birdsuit, blue shoulders
instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart,
which is impossible, unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself,
so that looking at the page is like looking out the window at a bird in your chest with a song in its
throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway because the hand is a voice that can sing
what the voice will not and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I
fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart
. Answer: be the heart.
Answer: be the hand. Answer: be the bird. Answer: be the sky.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Eating with the Emperor - Jack Gilbert

Sixteen year old, surrounded by beasts in the pens
at two in the morning. The animals invisible.
Clumsy sounds of their restlessness in the dark.
Touching them. Not for the risk, but for the clues.
Not for the danger. Searching into the difference,
and the smell of wildness all around. The stink
of yaks and hyenas, the wet breathing of buffalo.
There is no handbook, no map for his heart in there,
no atlas for his spirit ever. The only geography
we have is the storybooks of our childhood. We go
step by step, mouthful and handful at a time.
Is this an apple? Yes, it tastes like an apple.
The bible says the good place is somewhere else.
This somewhere else is certainly not that one.
He had no hope of getting to what he seemed to be.
When I think of him among camels, tapirs, and llamas,
it reminds me of the banquets of Japanese emperors.
Each dish of marvelous food was put in front of
the guest and, after a while, taken away untouched.
Course after course. I remember that youth I was
and wonder if it is the same way with the soul.
They never learned whether the emperor's food was
just much better or if it was something beyond that.
We end up asking what our lives really tasted like.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Novice - √Čireann Lorsung

All absence creates is longing. Therefore between bells
I linger. I taste
what keeps with wind through
stones. Here are a hundred sisters who cannot
be enough: routine
is tonic, perfect
shift from sound to silence to sound but the fruit
of the tree is knowing
outside the clouds are moving,
the water is moving, hands
are moving across bodies
never mine. I can smell
those hands.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Whole and Without Blessing - Linda Gregg

What is beautiful alters, has undertow.
Otherwise I have no tactics to begin with.
Femininity is a sickness. I open my eyes
out of this fever and see the meaning
of my life clearly. A thing like a hill.
I proclaim myself whole and without blessing,
or need to be blessed. I belong to no one. I do not move.
Am not required to move. I lie naked on a sheet.
and the indifferent sun warms me.
I was bred for slaughter, like the other
animals. To suffer exactly at the center,
where there are no clues except pleasure.

Concerning the Atoms of the Soul - John Glenday

Someone explained once how the pieces of what we are
fall downwards at the same rate
as the Universe.
The atoms of us, falling towards the centre

of whatever everything is. And we don't see it.
We only sense their slight drag in the lifting hand.
That's what weight is, that communal process of falling.
Furthermore, these atoms carry hooks, like burrs,

hooks catching like hooks, like clinging to like,
that's what keeps us from becoming something else,
and why in early love, we sometimes
feel the tug of the heart snagging on another's heart.

Only the atoms of the soul are perfect spheres
with no means of holding on to the world
or perhaps no need for holding on,
and so they fall through our lives catching

against nothing, like perfect rain,
and in the end, he wrote, mix in that common well of light
at the centre of whatever the suspected
centre is, or might have been.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Lake - Edgar Allan Poe

In spring of youth it was my lot
To haunt of the wide world a spot
The which I could not love the less-
So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that towered around.

But when the Night had thrown her pall

Upon that spot, as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody-
Then-ah then I would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.

Yet that terror was not fright,

But a tremulous delight-
A feeling not the jewelled mine
Could teach or bribe me to define-
Nor Love-although the Love were thine.

Death was in that poisonous wave,

And in its gulf a fitting grave
For him who thence could solace bring
To his lone imagining-
Whose solitary soul could make
An Eden of that dim lake.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Moor - R.S. Thomas

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot.
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart's passions - that was praise
Enough; and the mind's cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ethics - Linda Pastan

In ethics class so many years ago
our teacher asked this question every fall:
if there were a fire in a museum
which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
or an old woman who hadn't many
years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs
caring little for pictures or old age
we'd opt one year for life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly. Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother's face
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the woman decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility.
This fall in a real museum I stand
before a real Rembrandt, old woman,
or nearly so, myself. The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter--the browns of earth,
though earth's most radiant elements burn
through the canvas. I know now that woman
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond saving by children.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Name of a Fish - Faith Shearin

If winter is a house then summer is a window
in the bedroom of that house. Sorrow is a river
behind the house and happiness is the name

of a fish who swims downstream. The unborn child
who plays the fragrant garden is named Mavis:
her red hair is made of future and her sleek feet

are wet with dreams. The cat who naps
in the bedroom has his paws in the sun of summer
and his tail in the moonlight of change. You and I

spend years walking up and down the dusty stairs
of the house. Sometimes we stand in the bedroom
and the cat walks towards us like a message.

Sometimes we pick dandelions from the garden
and watch the white heads blow open
in our hands. We are learning to fish in the river

of sorrow; we are undressing for a swim.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Torture - Raymond Carver

You are falling in love again. This time
it is a South American general's daughter.
You want to be stretched on the rack again.
You want to hear awful things said to you
and to admit these things are true.
You want to have unspeakable acts
committed against your person, things
nice people don't talk about in classrooms.
You want to tell everything you know
on Simon Bolivar, on Jorge Luis Borges,
on yourself most of all.
You want to implicate everyone in this!
Even when it's four o'clock in the morning
and the lights are burning still -
those lights that have been burning night and day
in your eyes and brain for two weeks -
and you are dying for a smoke and a lemonade,
but she won't turn off the lights that woman
with the green eyes and little ways about her,
even when you want to be her gaucho.
Dance with me, you imagine hearing her say
as you reach for the empty beaker of water.
Dance with me, she says again and no mistake.
She picks this minute to ask you, hombre,
to get up and dance with her in the nude.
No, you don't have the strength of a fallen leaf,
not the strength of a little reed basket
battered by waves on Lake Titicaca.
But you bound out of bed
just the same, amigo, you dance
across wide open spaces.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Quiet World - Jeffrey McDaniel

In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.

Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.

When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

To Fortune - Walter Savage Landor

Wert thou but blind, O Fortune, then perhaps
Thou mightest always have avoided me;
For never voice of mine (young, middle-aged,
Or going down on tottering knee the shelf
That crumbles with us to the vale of years)
Call'd thee aside, whether thou rannest on
To others who expected, or didst throw
Into the sleeper's lap the unsought prize.
But blind thou art not; the refreshing cup
For which my hot heart thirsted, thou hast ever
(When it was full and at the lip) struck down.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Did I Miss Anything - Tom Wayman

QUESTIONS FREQUENTLY ASKED BY
STUDENTS AFTER MISSING A CLASS

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours
Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent
Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose
Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth.
Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?
Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
gathered
but it was one place
And you weren’t here

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Rider - Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.