Saturday, January 28, 2006


Said Gandhi:
What you do
is of no importance,
but it is very important
you do it well.

The report will only be read
by your illiterate supervisor;
but oh what clarity!

Said Pieper:
is the basis
of culture.

After work,
the poem!

Said Augustine:
Love, and do
as you will.

Listen to me!
I am not ready!

Said Grenell:
I have only
one life to lead
I'm going
to enjoy it
in spite of
all you bastards.

Let me help you,
as soon as I finish this beer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

58. The Way It Is - William Stafford

There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of the thread.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

57. AN APOLOGY - F. J. Bergmann

Forgive me
for backing over
and smashing
your red wheelbarrow.

It was raining
and the rear wiper
does not work on
my new plum-colored SUV.

I am also sorry
about the white

Friday, January 20, 2006

56. A LETTER - Yehuda Amichai

To sit on a hotel balcony in Jerusalem
and to write: “Sweetly pass the days
from desert to sea.” And to write: “Tears
dry quickly here. This blot is a tear that
made the ink run.” That’s how they used to write
in the last century. “I have drawn
a little circle around it.”

Time passes, as when someone’s on the phone
laughing or crying far away from me:
whatever I hear, I can’t see;
what I see, I don’t hear.

We weren’t careful when we said “Next year”
or “A month ago.” Those words
are like broken glass: you can hurt yourself with them,
even slash an artery, if
that’s what you’re like.

But you were beautiful as the commentary
on an ancient text.
The surplus of women in you distant country
brought you to me, but
another law of probability
has taken you away again.

To live is to build a ship and a harbor
at the same time. And to finish the harbor
long after the ship has gone down.

And to conclude: I remember only
that it was foggy. And if that’s the way you remember¬——
what do you remember?

Monday, January 16, 2006

55. A HUNDRED YEARS - Shirley Daniels

A HUNDRED YEARS - Shirley Daniels

A hundred years have passed
Yet I hear the distant beat of my father's drums.
I hear his drums throughout the land.
His Beat I feel within my heart.

The drum shall beat
so my heart shall beat,
And I shall live a hundred thousand years.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Embruted every faculty divine:
Heart-buried in the rubbish of the world


Ideally, you should be in your own
when you read this. Think of it as an oddity–––
the one indoor space where living
is deliberately pursued, as in others
we transact dining, sleeping, bathing,
perhaps TV or children. Wherever there are two
one should be kitchen. For the rich,
rooms can be spun out indefinitely:
drawing-, dressing-, morning-, and special
chambers called library, pantry, nursery
Many still house their cars.


Most people inhabit shelters too small
to partition off with words, and always
some people have none. Is it better
to feel at fault for this, or not
to feel at fault? The meagerest American house
is a gross Hilton compared to where most people
take shelter on the inclement world.
To start with, feel fortunate.


You have made the effort to dress yourself
in character, probably well beyond the requirement
of mere covering---you have already risked
that much misunderstanding. Then comes
this second habiliment, no matter how
reluctant or minimal a statement,
a room which gives you away: with the things
you've acquired at cost, the things you've been given
and kept, the things you choose to exhibit.
The accumulation seems to have been only partly voluntary.
Yet no one you'd want to know could stay
for a month, in a rented room in Asia, without
this tell-tale silt beginning to settle.
When people die, their children have to come dig
for them like Winckelmanns, among many false Troys.


Prisons recognize the need to arrest
this form of identity. Cells
are deliberately ill-fitted uniforms
which you are issued to wear over
the deliberately ill-fitted cloth ones. You
are put there to forego living.

Military quarters may appear more permissive,
yet the space for personal effects is limited
and subject to unscheduled inspection. Nobody
is encouraged to bring along a two-volume dictionary,
a Hopi mask, a valuable paperweight, to a war
or to the interminable rehearsals of camp and shipboard.


The room we're in now is like something you've said,
whether off-hand or considered. It's in a dialect
that marks you for a twentieth-century person,
(enthusiastic about this? dragging your feet?)
rich or poor or––more commonly––a little of both;
belonging to a nation and an eclectic culture.
The room risks absurdity, as you risked that again
when you put your clothes on this morning,
but because it is capable of being judged
apart from you, in your absence, the risk is greater.
Why has he got and kept this, and only this?
anyone can ask. Why so much? To others
this room is what your scent is to a dog.
You can’t know it or help it.


With us in America, a person who has a printed poem
is likely to have a living-room (though not always–––
there will always be some to whom poetry is not an amenity).
For reasons of its own, poetry has come to this,
with us. It has somehow gone along
with the privileges of the nation
it intends to change, to dispossess of material demons.
Admittedly, this is part of its present difficulty.

For the moment, though, you are holding this poem
Its aim is that of any artifact: to ingratiate.
It would like nothing better
than to be added to the dear clutter here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

53. THE ESCAPE - William Stafford

Now as we cross this white page together
people begin to notice us, and we
cut back and pretend indifference,
but all the time we pick up and lay
down our tracks cunningly, farther
and farther down the page. If we zig-
zagged or jumped a few times we could
make it, but even better would be
to take hands and perform a dance, our eyes
locked onto understanding, while our shadows
tell us which way to go. Those others
glare on our trail; they know what
is happening, and they certainly do not
approve. Remember, we are each other's: do not
look away. Every life is like this,
carried on while some inane plot
tries to intrude. How lucky we were
to find each other and make our escape
down the page and on out like this over the edge.

Friday, January 06, 2006

52. Thermoplyae - C. P. Cavafy (1,2,3,4)

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard (1)

Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they're rich, and when they're poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will break through after all.

Translated from the Greek by Rae Dalven (2)

Honor to those who in their lives
are committed and guard their Thermopylae.
Never stirring from duty;
just and upright in all their deeds,
but with pity and compassion too;
generous whenever they are rich, and when
they are poor, again a little generous,
again helping as much as they are able;
always speaking the truth,
but without rancor for those who lie.

And they merit greater honor
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will finally appear,
and in the end the Medes will go through.

Translated from the Greek by Theoharis C. Theoharis (3)

Honor to those who in their life
name and defend Thermopylae.
Never leaving what obliges them to stay;
just and direct in all of their actions,
but showing pity as well, and compassion;
generous whenever they are rich, and when
they are poor, generous again in small things,
once again contributing whatever they can manage;
at all times speaking the truth,
but without hatred for those who have made themselves liars.

And greater honor is dude to them
when they foresee (and many foresee),
and that the Medes at last will come crashing in.

Translated from the Greed by Daniel Mendelsohn (4)

Honor to all of those who in their lives
have settled on, and guard, a Thermopylae.
Never stirring from their obligations;
just and equitable in all of their affairs,
but full of pity, nonetheless, and of compassion;
generous whenever they're rich, and again
when they're poor, generous in small things,
and helping out, again, as much as they are able;
always speaking nothing but the truth,
yet without any hatred for those who lie.

And more honor still is due to them
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will make his appearance in the end,
and that the Medes will eventually break through.

Monday, January 02, 2006


Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self--
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.