Saturday, December 31, 2005


for Kolyo Sevov

When God was learning to draw the human face
I think he may have made a few like these
that now look up at us through museum glass
a few miles north of where they slept
for six thousand years, a necropolis near Varna.
With golden staves and ornaments around them
they lay among human bodies but had none.
Gods themselves, or soldiers lost abroad---
we don’t know who they are.

The gold buttons which are their curious eyes,
the old clay which is their wrinkled skin,
seem to have been worked by the same free hand
that drew Adam for the Jews about that time.
It is moving, that the eyes are still questioning
and no sadder than they are, time being what it is---
as though they saw nothing tragic in the faces
looking down through glass into theirs.
Only clay and gold, they seem to say,
passing through one condition on its way to the next.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

49. IN PRAISE OF MY SISTER - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczcak and Clare Cavanagh

My sister doesn't write poems.
and it's unlikely that she'll suddenly start writing poems.
She takes after her mother, who didn't write poems,
and also her father, who likewise didn't write poems.
I feel safe beneath my sister's roof:
my sister's husband would rather die than write poems.
And, even though this is starting to sound as repetitive as
Peter Piper,
the truth is, none of my relatives write poems.

My sister's desk drawers don't hold old poems,
and her handbag doesn't hold new ones,
When my sister asks me over for lunch,
I know she doesn't want to read me her poems.
Her soups are delicious without ulterior motives.
Her coffee doesn't spill on manuscripts.

There are many families in which nobody writes poems,
but once it starts up it's hard to quarantine.
Sometimes poetry cascades down through the generations,
creating fatal whirlpools where family love may founder.

My sister has tackled oral prose with some success.
but her entire written opus consists of postcards from
whose text is only the same promise every year:
when she gets back, she'll have
so much
much to tell.

Friday, December 23, 2005

48. To A Stranger Born In Some Distant Country Hundreds Of Years From Now - Billy Collins

I write poems far a stranger who will be born in some distant country hundreds of years from now. – Mary Oliver

Nobody here likes a wet dog.
No one wants anything to do with a dog
that is wet from being out in the rain
or retrieving a stick from a lake.
Look how she wanders around the crowded pub tonight
going from one person to another
hoping for a pat on the head, a rub behind the ears,
something that could be given with one hand
without even wrinkling the conversation.

But everyone pushes her away,
some with a knee, others with the sole of a boot.
Even the children, who don’t realize she is wet
until they go to pet her,
push her away
then wipe their hands on their clothes.
And whenever she heads toward me,
I show her my palm, and she turns aside.

O stranger of the future!
O inconceivable being!
whatever the shape of your house,
no matter how strange and colorless the clothes you
may wear,
I bet nobody there likes a wet dog either.
I bet everybody in your pub
even the children, pushes her away.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

47. Ithaka - C. P. Cavafy, 4th Translation

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

46. Ithaca - C. P Cavafy, 3rd Translation

Translated from the Greek by ?

When you set out for Ithaka
Ask that your way be long,
Full of adventure, full of instruction.

The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon -- do not fear them;
Such as these you will never find
As long as your thought is lofty,
As long as a rare emotion
Touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon -- you will not meet them
Unless you carry them in your soul,
Unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long,
At many a summer dawn to enter --
With what gratitude, what joy!
Ports seen for the first time;
To stop at Phoenician trading centers,
And to buy good merchandise.
Mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
And sensuous perfumes of every kind.
Buy as many sensuous perfumes as you can,
Visit many Egyptian cities
To learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaka fixed in your mind;
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But do not in the least hurry the journey.
Better that it last for years
So that when you reach the island you are old,
Rich with all that you have gained on the way,
Not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.

Ithaka has given you the splendid voyage.
Without her you would never have set out,
But she has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor,
Ithaka has not deceived you.
So wise have you become, of such experience,
That already you will have understood
What these Ithakas mean.

45. Ithaca - C. P. Cavafy, 2nd Translation

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keely

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at he island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have undestood what these Ithacas mean.

44. Ithaca - C. P. Cavafy, 1st Translation

Translated from the Greek by Rae Dalven

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time
with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.
With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,
you must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

Friday, December 16, 2005

43. How To Regain Your Soul - William Stafford

Come down Canyon Creek trail on a summer afternoon
that one place where the valley floor opens out. You will see
the white butterflies. Because of the way shadows
come off those vertical rocks in the west, there are
shafts of sunlight hitting the river and a deep
long purple gorge straight ahead. Put down your pack.

Above, air sighs the pines. It was this way
when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built,
when campfires lighted caves. The white butterflies dance
by the thousands in the still sunshine. Suddenly, anything
could happen to you. Your soul pulls toward the canyon
and then shines back through the white wings to be you again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

42. GARGOES - John Masfield

Quinquireme of Noneveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory
And apes and peacocks.
sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-grove shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke-stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March Days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
fire-wood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Monday, December 12, 2005

41. THROW YOURSELF LIKE SEED - Miguel de Unamuno

translated by Robert Bly

Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit;
sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate
that brushes your heel as it turns going by,
the man who wants to live is the man in whom life is

Now you are only giving food to that final pain
which is slowly winding you in the nets of death,
but to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts
is the work; start then, turn to the work.

Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own
don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death,
and do not let the past weigh down your motion.

Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself,
for life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
from your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

40. THE ILLITERATE - William Meredith

Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
and now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.

His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

39. A Ritual To Read To Each Other - William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not to recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give ¬¬- yes or no, or maybe¬¬—
should be clear; the darkness around us is deep.

Monday, December 05, 2005

38. A True Story

The old lady leaves the old farm house.
November gray
Dry clouds
Cold browns
Walks to the white mail box.
Typical white farmers mail box standing
along the empty road in brown November.
Thinking of her favorite brother
who left Kingsville for South Africa.
Sixty years a gone.
Sixty years without.
The minding love.
She had received a letter saying her brother had died
his children were sending him back to back to Kingsville
to be buried with those he left.
The grave prepared, the minister ready.
Opening the mailbox there was a shoe box.
Opening the mailbox there was a shoe box.

The minister, the caretaker, the old lady
stand over the open grave.
Their words surrounding the small box.
Home again!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

37. SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 - W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-Second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offense
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow,
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on by work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages;
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

36. BE NOT AFEARD - Caliban

Be not afeard,
the Isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs
that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears,
and sometime
That if I then had wak’d after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open
and show such riches
Ready to drop upon me,
that when I wak’d
I cried
to dream again.

Friday, December 02, 2005

35. RELATIVES - Carl Dennis

“Remember your father, the wolf,”
The lecturer says.
“Chewed by its appetite, it chews its prey.
It howls with fear in the woods,
Beyond blame or praise.
Drop food in your children’s cages
When they follow commands,
And they’ll all be good.”

During the lecture, it was later learned,
Crows were observed tumbling in loops
Over North Dakota.
Two dogs, at leisure on a beach in France,
Ran a race to a rock.
In the Indian Ocean,
Thirty leagues down,
Men in a diving bell heard the anthem
Of a school of whales—an hour’s concert
Sung to some eager listeners miles away.

Remember your old cousins,
Those fish who crawled from the sea
When the seafood was plentiful
And the land bare.
Think of the voices they strained to hear
As they chose to hobble on tender fins
Painfully in the sun’s glare.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

34. Drinking Cold Water - Peter Everwine

Almost twenty years
Since you put on your one good dress
And lay down in the shale hills of Pennsylvania.
What you expected from life was nothing much,
And it came
And so it was.
In California I mourned and then forgot,
Though sometimes, in a mirror,
I saw someone walk from the weeds,
Stepping from a shine of water,
And it was you, shining.

Tonight I brought my bundle of years
To an empty house.
When I opened it, a boy walked out,
Drinking cold water, watching the
Moon rise slim and shining over your house.
Whatever it was I wanted
Must have come and gone.

Twenty years, grandmother.
Here I stand
In the poverty of my feet,
And I know what you’d do:
You’d enter your black shawl,
Step back into the shadows of your hair.
And that’s no help tonight
All I can think of is your house—
The pump at the sink
Spilling a trough of clear
Cold water from the well—
And you, old love,
Sleeping in your dark dress
Like a hard, white root.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

33. The Makers Of Rain - David Wagoner

We sit at the top of the Pyramid of the Magician
Our last day in Uxmal, afraid
Of the sheer steps and the ranks of the rain gods,
The rows of Chacmuls in stone with their high-flung, fanfaring noses.
Having guided ourselves this far, we look
At the ruined ball court and, beyond, the iguanas basking
In the cracked fretwork of the Palace of the Governor,
The stone jaguars mating in the plaza
By the broken phallus, and, with its jammed perspective, the quadrangle
Where four classes of priests took charge of the rain.

Not even the Governors were allowed this high to lord it
Over the land from the mouth of the temple
Whose intricate facade is a Chacmul’s face
Behind our backs. Not daring to ask for a change in the deep sky,
We wait for our lives to topple
Like the rest, though our hands hold us together, balancing
Our love against the weight of evidence
That has caved in one whole side of this pyramid.

We are masters of nothing we survey,
But what the Magician did from here—chant with his arms outstretched
Over a dying city or reach halfway to the clouds sailing aloof
Over the maize fields—is ours to try, since we believe in magic,
Believe we can climb to it slowly, being frightened,
That it can break suddenly out of stone or out of the dry air.
As priest and priestess of ourselves, before praying for rain,
We weep to show it how.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

32. COME NOT NEAR MY SONGS - Mary Austin

Soshone Song, From 'The American Rhythm'

Come not near my songs
You who are not my lover
Lest from out that ambush
Leaps my heart apon you!

When my songs are glowing
As an almond thicket
With the bloom apon it,
Lies my heart in ambush
All amid my singing;
Come not near my songs,
You who are not my lover!

Do not hear my songs
You who are not my lover!
Over-sweet the heart is,
Where my love has bruised it,
Breath you not that fragrance,
You who are not my lover.
Do not stoop above my song,
With its languor on you,
Lest from out my singing
Leaps my heart apon you!

Monday, November 28, 2005

31. THE WITCH'S STORY - Lawrence Raab

Everything you have heard about me
is true, or true enough.
You shouldn’t think
I’d change my story now.
A stubborn, willful little girl
comes sneaking
around my house, peering
in all the windows. She’s disobeyed
her parents, who knew
where the witch lived. “If you go,
you’re not our daughter anymore.”
That’s what they told her. I have
my ways of knowing. All pale
and trembly then, she knocks at my door.
“Why are you so pale?’
I ask, although of course
I know that too.
She'd seen what she’d seen—
a green man on the stairs, and the other one,
the red one, and then the devil himself
with his head on fire, which was me,
the witch in her true ornament, as I like
to put it. Oh, she’d seen what she needed
to send her running home,
but she walked right in, which is the part
I never understand completely. Maybe
she believed, just then,
that she was no one’s daughter anymore,
and had to take her chances, poor thing,
inside with me. “So you’ve come
to brighten up my house,”
I said, and changed her into a log.
It was an easy trick, and gave me little
Pleasure. But I’d been waiting
all day. I was cold, and even that
small fire was bright, and warm enough.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

30. GOOD TASTE - Christopher Logue

Traveling, a man met a tiger, so..
He ran. And the tiger ran after him
Thinking: How fast I run.. But

The road thought: How long I am.. Then,
They came to a cliff, yes, the man
Grabbed at an ash root and swung down

Over its edge. Above his knuckles, the tiger..
At the foot of the cliff, its mate. Two mice,
One black, one white, began to gnaw the root.

And by the traveler’s head grew one
Juicy strawberry, so.. hugging the root
The man reached out and plucked the fruit.

Hot sweet it tasted!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

29. One Train May Hide Another - Kenneth Koch

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line---
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another---one Colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One
bath may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, one blue, or one purple---this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I,
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted
by the mother’s
And has to carry that one too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another
love or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In
the Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too; one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristam Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song: for example “Stardust”
Hide “What Have They Done to the Rain?” or vice versa. A
pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one.
It can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

Friday, November 25, 2005

28. Snow - Philip Levine

Today the snow is drifting
on Belle Isle, and the ducks
are searching for some opening
to the filthy waters of the their river.
On Grand River Avenue, which is not
in Venice but in Detroit, Michigan,
the traffic has slowed to a standstill
and yet a sober man has hit a parked car
and swears to the police he was
not guilty. The bright squads of children
on their way to school howl
at the foolishness of the world
they will try not to inherit.
Seen from inside a window,
even a filthy one like those
at Automotive Supply Company, the snow,
which has been falling for hours,
is more beautiful than even the spring
grass which once unfurled here
before the invention of steel and fire,
for spring grass is what the earth sang
in answer to the new sun, to
melting snow, and the dark rain
of spring nights.

But snow is nothing.
It has no melody of form, it
is as though the tears of all
the lost souls rose to heaven
and were finally heard and blessed
with substance and the power of flight
and, given their choice, chose then
to return to earth, to lay their
great pale cheek against the burning
cheek of earth and say, “There, there, child.”

Thursday, November 24, 2005

27. FAITH - Czeslaw Milosz

translated by Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Renata Gorcznski

The word Faith means when someone sees
A dew-drop or a floating leaf, and knows
That they are, because they have to be.
And even if you dreamed, or closed your eyes
And wished, the world would still be what it was,
And the leaf would still be carried down the river.

It means that when someone’s foot is hurt
By a sharp rock, he also knows that rocks
Are here so they can hurt our feet.
Look, see the long shadow cast by the trees;
And flowers and people throw shadows on the earth:
What has no shadow has no strength to live.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

26. THE HISTORY TEACHER - Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age, was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid”?

The War of the roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

25. JUNE 1968 - Jorge Luis Borges

On a golden evening,
or in a quietness whose symbol
might be a golden evening,
a man sets up his books
on the waiting shelves,
feeling the parchment and leather and cloth
and the satisfaction given by
the anticipation of a habit
and the establishment of order.
Stevenson and that other Scotsman, Andrew Lang,
will here pick up again, in a magic way,
the leisurely conversation broken off
by oceans and by death,
and Alfonso Reys surely will be pleased
to share space close to Virgil.
(To arrange a Library is to practice,
in a quiet and modest way,
the art of criticism.)
The man, who is blind,
knows that he can no longer read
the handsome volumes he handles
and that they will not help him write
the book which in the end might justify him,
but on this evening that perhaps is golden
he smiles at his strange fate
and feels that special happiness
which comes from things we know and love.

Monday, November 21, 2005

24. A Musical Instrument - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

First printed in the Cornhill Magazine, July, 1860

What was he doing, the great god Pan,
Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat
With the dragon-fly on the river.

He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
From the deep cool bed of the river;
The limpid water turbidly ran,
And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
And the dragon-fly had fled away,
Ere he brought it out of the river.

High on the shore sat the great god Pan
While turbidly flow'd the river;
And hack'd and hew'd as a great god can,
With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
Till there was not a sign of the leaf indeed
To prove it fresh from the river.

He cut it short, did the great god Pan
(How tall it stood in the river!),
Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
Steadily from the outside ring,
And notch'd the poor dry empty thing
In holes, as he sat by the river.

'This is the way,’ laugh'd the great god Pan
(Laughed while he sat by the river)
‘The only way, since gods began
To make sweet music, they could succeed.’
Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
He blew in power by the river.

Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
Came back to dream on the river.

Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
To laugh as he sits by the river,
Making a poet out of a man:
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain
For the reed which grows nevermore again
As a reed with the reeds in the river.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

23. FOR SHERIDAN - Robert Lowell

We only live between
before we are and what we were.

In the lost negative
you exist,
a smile, a cypher
on old-fashioned face
in an old-fashioned hat.

Three ages in a flash:
the same child in the same picture,
he, I, you,
chockablock, one stamp
like mother’s wedding silver—

gnome, fish, brute cherubic force.

We could see clearly
and all the same things
before the glass was hurt.

Past fifty, we learn with surprise and a sense
of suicidal absolution
that what we intended and failed
could never have happened—
and must be done better.

Friday, November 18, 2005


In March I dreamed of mud,
sheets of mud over the ballroom chairs and table,
rainbow slicks of mud under the throne.
In April I saw mud of clouds and mud of sun.
Now in May I find excuses to linger in the kitchen
for wafts of silt and ale,
cinnamon and river bottom,
tender scallion and sour underlog.

At night I cannot sleep.
I am listening for the dribble of mud
climbing the stairs to our bedroom
as if a child in a wet bathing suit ran
up them in the dark.

Last night I said, “Face it, you’re bored
How many times can you live over
with the same excitement
that moment when the princess leans
into the well, her face a petal
falling to the surface of the water
as you rise like a bubble to her lips,
the golden ball bursting from your mouth?”
Remember how she hurled you against the wall,
your body cracking open,
skin shriveling to the bone,
the green pod of your heart splitting in two,
and her face imprinted with every moment
of your transformation?

I no longer tremble.

Night after night I lie beside her.
“Why is your forehead so cool and damp?” she asks.
Her breasts are soft and dry as flour.
The hand that brushes my head is feverish.
At her touch I long for wet leaves,
the slap of water against rocks.

“What are you thinking of?” she asks.
How can I tell her
I am thinking of the green skin
shoved like wet pants behind the Directoire desk?
Or tell her I am mortgaged to the hilt
of my sword, to the leek-green tip of my soul?
Someday I will drag her by her hair
to the river—and what? Drown her?
Show her the green flame of my self rising at her feet?
But there’s no more violence in her
than in a fence or a gate.

“What are you thinking of? she whispers.
I am staring into the garden.
I am watching the moon
wind its trail of golden slime around the oak,
over the stone basin of the fountain.
How can I tell her
I am thinking that transformations are not forever?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

21. MOVING - Ted Walker

Do not attempt to sleep —your strangeness
Arouses the new house. Amazed floors,
Unaccustomed yet to what is yours,
Shift to the burden of what you bring;
Overhead, the loft that encloses

A fresh store of sentimental junk
Creaks from your broken bits of childhood.
Sometimes maybe it’s all to the good
To touch, to rearrange all you own
Elsewhere. But in someone else’s sink,

Though it’s yours now and paid for, even
A cup can remind you of who you are,
And what you were, and why you are here .
From choice, or by accident, or both,
Once more you’ve humped your stuff. The oven

Was worst, its squat, impervious bulk
Grudging each inch. Yet plain heaviness,
Lifted and lifted, doesn’t oppress
Like those gross abstracts we can’t dispose
Of. They arrive with the morning milk.

20. THE SLEEPWALKER - Greg Kuzma

He is at the very tip of the edge of the top step
and now he takes the first step

down through the tall ferns of the burgundy
carpets, hanging on tight as he can to the burgundy

bannister, one hand held out, you know, like the monster
you see on the late late show, but the other, unlike the monster,

gripping the bannister tight because, of course, he is a man
and not something driven by strange forces, which a man

cannot understand and which cause fear. It is simply
a case of a sleepwalker. After a few hours the body simply

rises, looking for nothing in particular; it thinks
it is in the library, the birds blowing in the window, it thinks

it wants to be in the study, writing with the orange pencils,
and so it goes there, or perhaps it is leaving now with the pencils

and is going into the kitchen. Sometimes the fantasy
is less ordered, the walker tumbles, believes he is in a fantasy

even —such knowledge is possible—and this brings on
the helplessness; but usually childhood returns; on

a warm beach late at night, the walker stands stained
with the tears of a young girl; trembling, rain-stained,

he stumbles back up the road to a campfire, in front of which
two old people sit, toward which

he does not want to go. His heart is all summer,
and he wants it to keep on staying summer

so that his mouth shapes again another adjective.
When we wake him sometimes he clings to this adjective

and will not see the orange juice, or the sweatered family
kneeling near him. Perhaps he in one who has no family.

The danger is that he will fall downstairs, or lapse
in his mind into something which becomes, through the lapse

of consciousness, his reality. This is the real danger
of a sleepwalker, although there is one other danger —

that in going wherever he goes he improves the arrangement
so that he will prefer always to be walking in the arrangement

free of the stairs he walks daily, which lead nowhere,
or the smooth surfaces of other peoples’ lives, which lead nowhere,

but his must be risked. You must let him go his way
for the first few weeks, in case he discovers along the way

something better than we have. This is why perhaps in the past
these types were always held in awe; in the past

people looked for messiahs in unusual conduct, the children
of sleepwalkers watched carefully for years, until these children

themselves some night go out onto the terrace and walk
themselves dead against a tree. Who is to say if such a walk

is not valid as sleeping all night tormented by guilt,
or living the day through aware of this guilt?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

19. IDENTITY - Paul Petrie

They are always saying, the others, “Be what you are!”

There are wolves in a dark wood running
on the track of deer.
The crusted snow
crunches under their paws
and flashing hooves.
The wind
ruffles their fur—rubs dark their tawny haunches.
Their tongues hang down
red-flagging the moon.
And in the sky
an owl makes quiet rings.

When the hunt is done
shall I lie
lashing the hard, white snow crust with my hooves,
lick up the pools
that sink in the frosty snow in red circles,
or float in the sky
composing the whole dark picture
under my wings?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

18. WAVES - A Laragia Traditional Song

Waves coming up: high waves coming up
against the rocks,
Breaking, shi ! shi !
When the moon is high with its light upon the
Spring tide; tide flowing to the grass,
Breaking, shi ! shi !
In its rough waters, the young girls bathe.
Hear the sound they make with their hands
as they play!

Monday, November 14, 2005

17. THE BIRTH OF LOVE - Robert Penn Warren

Season late, day late, sun just down, and the sky
Cold gunmetal but with a wash of live rose, and she,
From water the color of sky except where
Her motion has fractured it to shivering splinters of silver,
Rises. Stands on the raw grass. Against
The new-curdling night of spruces, nakedness
Glimmers and, at bosom and flank, drips
With fluent silver. The man,

Some dozen strokes out, but now hanging
Motionless in the gunmetal water, feet
Cold with the coldness of depth, all
History dissolving from him, is
Nothing but an eye. Is an eye only. Sees

The body that is marked by his use, and Time’s,
Rise, and in the abrupt and unsustaining element of air,
Sway, lean, grapple the pond-bank. Sees
How, with that posture of female awkwardness that is,
And is the stab of, suddenly perceived grace, breasts bulge
down in
The pure curve of their weight and buttocks
Moon up and, in that swelling unity,
Are silver, and glimmer. Then

The body is erect, she is herself, whatever
Self she may be, and with an end of the towel grasped
in each hand,
Slowly draws it back and forth across back and buttocks, but
With face lifted toward the high sky, where
The over-wash of rose color now fails. Fails, though no star
Yet throbs there. The towel, forgotten,
Does not move now. The gaze
Remains fixed on the sky. The body,

Profiled against the darkness of spruces, seems
To draw to itself, and condense in its whiteness what light
In the sky yet lingers or, from
The metallic and abstract severity of water, lifts. The body,
With the towel now trailing loose from one hand, is
A white stalk from which the face flowers gravely toward
the high sky.
This moment is non-sequential and absolute, and admits
Of no definition, for it
Subsumes all other, and sequential, moments, by which
Definition might be possible. The woman,

Face yet raised, wraps,
With a motion as though standing in sleep,

The towel about her body, under the breasts, and
Holding it there, hieratic as lost Egypt and erect,
Moves up the path that, stair-steep, winds
Into the clamber and tangle of growth. Beyond
The lattice of dusk-dripping leaves, whiteness
Dimly glimmers, goes. Glimmers and is gone, and the man,

Suspended in his darkling medium, stares
Upward where, though not visible, he knows
She moves, and in his heart he cries out that if only
He had such strength, he would put his hand forth
And maintain it over her to guard, in all
Her out-goings and in-comings, from whatever
Inclemency of sky or slur of the world’s weather
Might ever be. In his heart
He cries out. Above

Height of the spruce-night and heave of the far mountain,
he sees
The first star pulse forth. It gleams there.

I do not know what promise it makes to him.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

16. FAITH - Czeslaw Milosz

translated by Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Renata Gorcznski

The word Faith means when someone sees
A dew-drop or a floating leaf, and knows
That they are, because they have to be.
And even if you dreamed, or closed your eyes
And wished, the world would still be what it was,
And the leaf would still be carried down the river.

It means that when someone’s foot is hurt
By a sharp rock, he also knows that rocks
Are here so they can hurt our feet.
Look, see the long shadow cast by the trees;
And flowers and people throw shadows on the earth:
What has no shadow has no strength to live.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

15. THE WOMAN ON THE MALL - Robert Dana

That morning
is only as you remember it

And a woman
walks the green mall lightly
in her own light summer dress

She is neither the woman
who started toward you
nor she who will finally arrive

At your window
the first white insects of winter
sting the glass


Morning blows from the northwest

Around her everywhere elms are dying
Teeth shriek in their carcasses
All day they will fall for burning

Her heart beats in her ears
Her breath is wet silver
She walks the weeds barefoot speaking their names to the water

Buckhorn Lambsquarters Sheep-Sorrel
Yellow Rocket Black Medic Heal-All

Fish tug the sun into a dozen silent targets on the lake

It is all there
the emptiness gentle in her hands


She is not herself
There is nothing she has not wanted

But the room has kept to its own whiteness

She has seen the sky gather on the river
seen it skid over the falls into a flock of water
Wind slid over her arm like warm nylon

Knowing that yes is a question, she’d loved him
she did not need
to be able to say so

But waking into his room
her breath itches
with something he left no trace of

The room is too clean too cold
Its edges peck at her like an old address
she is too young to forget

Should she consult her marvellous shoes
they would tell her nothing
five floors above the ground

Let her walk down to the morning fire-haired
trailing her darkness behind her into the wet grass
Let her enter the schoolroom of broken children

She will teach them to touch their anger with the tips of their fingers

Friday, November 11, 2005

14. THE MAN WATCHING - Rainer Maria Rilke

translated by Robert Bly

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows; by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

13. COOKING AN OMELETTE - Jonathan Aaron

two eggs
into a large bowl,
preferably a blue one.
Look down and see
them staring back at you,
their innocent embrace affirming
what must happen.
Now add salt (kosher salt is best,
being saltiest),
pepper, parsley (fresh,
snipped with scissors) to
remind you of the woods you’d like
to be in, a few flakes
of oregano, and a backhand pinch of garlic powder,
which tells you you are cooking.
Sometimes onions.
Tilt the bowl to favor gravity,
and, with a fork, whip
it all into a froth, a midget
ecosystem of delight.
You may here wish to remember
the perfect symmetry of childhood
mornings. Set
your dented, seasoned frying pan
with a light clang
over a high flame.
Wait until the pan is shining
with dark heat, then lower the flame.
Pour your brew into the pan, and listen.
The hiss is a reward.
Jog the pan in brief, determined arcs
above the flame to send your bubbly mass
in waves against the hot wall of the pan.
When little’s left to riffle outward from
the center, strike the pan at the handle’s base
with the butt end of a spatula or knife
to loosen what you’ve made from clinging metal.
Fold the settled, slightly moistened roundness gently
over, once from each side toward the middle, to create
a lozenge-of egg.
Flop it freely from the canted pan onto
a white plate.
Now you’ve finished.
If you’ve cooked it for your sweetie—
she having just arrived and there being nothing
in the house—you might want to please her
further by tossing on some parsley sprigs for color.
If it’s for yourself, forgo
such niceties, which only measure solitude.
Pick it up with both hands and begin.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Fragment from the Dulngulg cycle-Midbara tribe,
Wave Hill, Northern Territory

The day breaks— the first rays of the rising Sun,
stretching her arms.
Daylight breaking, as the Sun rises to her feet.
Sun rising, scattering the darkness;
lighting up the land . . .
With disc shining, bringing daylight,
as the birds whistle and call . . .
People are moving about, talking, feeling the warmth.
Burning through the Gorge, she rises,
walking westwards,
Wearing her waist-band of human hair.
She shines on the blossoming coolibah tree,
with its sprawling roots,
Its shady branches spreading . . .

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

11. The Keeper Of The Books - Jorge Luis Borges

Here they stand: gardens and temples and the
reason for temples;
exact music and exact words;
the sixty-four hexagrams;
ceremonies, which are the only wisdom
that the Firmament accords to men;
the conduct of that emperor
whose perfect rule was reflected in the world,
which mirrored him,
so that rivers held their banks
and fields gave up their fruit;
the wounded unicorn that’s glimpsed again,
marking an era’s close;
the secret and eternal laws;
the harmony of the world.
These things or their memory are here in books
that I watch over in my tower.

On small shaggy horses,
the Mongols swept down from the North
destroying the armies
ordered by the Son of Heaven to punish their
They cut throats and sent up pyramids of fire,
slaughtering the wicked and the just,
slaughtering the slave chained to his master’s
using the women and casting them off.
And on the South they rode,
innocent as animals of prey,
cruel as knives.
In the faltering dawn
my father’s father saved the books.
Here they are in this tower where I lie
calling back days that belonged to others,
distant days, the days of the past.

In my eyes there are no days. The shelves
stand very high, beyond the reach of my years,
and leagues of dust and sleep surround the
Why go on deluding myself?
The truth is that I never learned to read,
but it comforts me to think
that what’s imaginary and what’s past are the
to a man whose life is nearly over,
who looks out from his tower on what once was
and now turns back to wilderness.
Who can keep me from dreaming that there was a
when I deciphered wisdom
and lettered characters with a careful hand?
My name is Hsiang. I am the keeper of the books—
these books which are perhaps the last,
for we know nothing of the Son of Heaven
or of the Empire’s fate.
Here on these high shelves they stand,
at the same time near and far,
secret and visible, like the stars.
Here they stand–––gardens, temples.

Monday, November 07, 2005

10. TROUBLESOME FAME - Robert Graves

To be born famous, as your father’s son,
Is a fate troublesome enough unless,
Like Philip’s Alexander of Macedon,
You can outdo him by superb excess
Of greed and profligacy and wantonness.

To become famous, as a wonder child,
Brings no less trouble, with whatever art
You toyed precociously, for Fame had smiled
Malevolence at your birth.... Only Mozart
Played on, still smiling from his placid heart.

To become famous while a raw young man
And lead Fame by the nose to a bitter end,
As Caesar’s nephew did, Octavian,
Styling himself Augustus, is to pretend
Peace in the torments that such laurels lend.

To become famous in your middle years
For merit not unblessed by accident—
Encountering catcalls, missiles jeers and sneers
From half your uncontrollable parliament—
Is no bad fate, to a good sportsman sent.

But Fame attendant on extreme old age
Falls best. What envious youth cares to compete
With a lean sage hauled painfully upstage—
Bowing, gasping, shuffling his frozen feet—
A ribboned hearse parked plainly down the street?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

9. ENDLESS - Muriel Rukeyser

Under the tall black sky you look out of your body
lit by a white flare of the time between us
your body with its touch its weight smelling of new wood
as on the day the news of battle reached us
falls beside the endless river
flowing to the endless sea
whose waves come to this shore a world away.

Your body of new wood your eyes alive barkbrown of treetrunks
the leaves and flowers of trees stars all caught in crowns of trees
your life gone down, broken into endless earth
no longer a world away but under my feet and everywhere
I look down at the one earth under me,
through to you and all the fallen
the broken and their children born and unborn
of the endless war.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Out of a hundred people

those who always know better

doubting every step
---nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
---as high as forty-nine

always good
because they can’t be otherwise
---four, well maybe five

able to admire without envey

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
---sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
---forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something

capable of happiness
---twenty-something tops

harmless singly,
savage in crowds
---half at least,

when forced by circumstances
---better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
---just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
sooner or later,

---thirty-five, which is a lot

and understanding

worthy of compassion

---a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Friday, November 04, 2005

7. DREAM OBJECTS - John Updike

Strangest is their reality,
their three-dimensional workmanship:
veined pebbles that have an underside,
maps one could have studied minutes longer,
books we seem to read page after page.

If these are symbols cheaply coined
to buy the mind a momentary pardon,
whence this extravagance? Fine
as dandelion polls, they surface and explode
in the wind of the speed of our dreaming,

so that we awake with the sense
of having missed everything—tourists
hustled by bus through a land whose history
is our rich history, whose artifacts
were filed to perfection by beggars we fear.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

6. THE HOLES - Stephen Berg

Suddenly I remember the holes,
Suddenly I think of a man with no entrances,
no exits, the closed man, with feelers or claws
so sensitive that he can tell
what rock is, or flesh, water, or flame.
Where does everything go when it comes in?
What should I do with the pure speech of cells
where we find ourselves?
The river flies, the dusk crawls into the ground,
the streets get up and leave,
the sun recklessly feeds our blood.
We could be crouching on the branch, we could be
gnawing the brown feathers and thighs of a new animal,
we could be plotting under the ice while others dream.
But I want the infinite man who sleeps
in my veins to rise, I want to hear
the thin buzzing that floats out of my chest
like an arm of locusts making terrible decisions.
Sometimes I want to die because of this.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

5. SONG OF RESIGNATION - Yehuda Amichai - Translated by Assia Gutmann


I resign!

My son has my father’s eyes,
My mother’s hands,
And my own mouth.
There is no further need of me. Many thanks.
The refrigerator is beginning to hum toward
a long journey.
An unknown dog sobs over the loss of a stranger.

I resign!


I paid my dues to so many funds.
I am fully insured.
Let the world care for me now;
I am knotted and tied with it and all of them.
Every change in my life will cost them cash.
Every movement of mine will hurt them.
My death will dispossess them.
My voice passes with clouds.
My hand, stretched out, has turned into paper. Yet
another contract.
I see the world through the yellow roses
Someone has forgotten
On the table near my window.


I declare the whole world to be a womb.
And as of this moment
I appoint myself,
Order myself
At its mercy.
Let it adopt me. Let it care for me.

I declare the President of the United States to be
my father,
The Chairman of the Soviet Union to have my power
of attorney,
The British Cabinet to be my family,
And Mao Tse-tung to be my grandmother.

I resign!
I declare the heavens to be God.
They all together go ahead and do those things
That I never believed they would.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

4. FORGETFULNESS - Billy Collins

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 good-bye
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

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.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

3. MY MOTHER ONCE TOLD ME - Yehuda Amichai - Translated by Assia Gutmann


Not to sleep with flowers in the room..
Since then I have not slept with flowers.
I sleep alone, without them.

There were many flowers.
But I’ve never had enough time.
And persons I love are already pushing themselves
Away from my life, like boats
Away from the shore.

My mother said
Not to sleep with flowers.
You won’t sleep.
You won’t sleep, mother of my childhood.

The bannister I clung to
When they dragged me off to school
Is long since burnt.
But my hands, clinging

Saturday, October 01, 2005

2. THE TRAVELLING OUT - Lucile Adler

I wonder, since we are both travelling out,
If we may go together? Thank you.

You may be sure you will be alone
And private as though I were no one.
God knows, I do not wish to increase your burden.
Naturally, these airports, blinding cities,
And foundry lights confuse you, make you
More solitary than the sight of one lost lamp
Across a bare land promising life there—
Someone over that field alone and perhaps
Waiting for you. That used to be the way.

Feel perfectly free to choose how
You will be alone, since we are going together.
Of course, I never move, I merely hold you
In my mind like a prayer. You are my way
Of praying, and I have chosen you out of hordes
Of travellers to speed to silently, on my own.
I will be with you, with your baffled anger
Among fuming cities, with your grief
At having lost dark fields and lamplight.
It is my way of moving, of praying—

Oh, not to give you someone like me,
That’s all over, impossible, I go nowhere;
And besides, nothing is given absolutely
Nothing and no one, only white sermons among
The white of a billion bulbs. No,
Sitting here behind my shutters at twilight,
I am stretching over the blazing lanes,
The dazed crowds jostled and razed
By light, only to join your mind and guide you
Gently, leading you, not, alas, to my own lamp
Across the fields of the world, or to a cozy last
Prayer of lamplight blessing the fields of the air,
But out into hordes of stars that move away
As we move, and for which your travelling
Prepares you to go out a little more boldly,
All alone as I am alone.

1. THE PARACHUTIST - Jon Anderson

Then the air was perfect. And his descent
to the white earth slowed.
became an ability to rest—as

the released breath
believes in life. Further down it snowed,

a confusion of slow novas
which his shoes touched apon, which seemed,
as he fell by,

to be rising. From every
small college and rural town,
the clearest, iced blossoms of thought,

but gentle.
Then the housetops
of friends, who
he thought had been speaking of his arrival,
withdrew, each from another.

He saw that his friends
lived in a solitude they had not ever said aloud.

Strangely he thought this good.

The world, in fact,
which in these moments he come toward,
seemed casual.

Though not new

Had he been thinking this all along?
A life
where he belonged, having lived with himself

always, as a secret friend.

A few may have seen him then.. In evidence:
the stopped dots
of children and dogs, sudden weave

of a car—
acquaintances circling up
into the adventure they imagined. They saw him drop

through the line breaks
and preciousness of art

down to the lake
which openly awaited him.
Here the thin
green ice allowed him in.

Some ran, and were late.
These would
forever imagine tragedy

(endless descent,
his face floating among the reeds, by the fish
unrecognized), as those

who imagine the silence of a guest
to be mysterious, or wrong.