Monday, July 31, 2006

177. 3 old men at separate tables - Charles Bukowski

I am
one of them.
how did we get here?
where are our ladies?
what happened to
our lives and years?

this appears to be a calm Sunday
the waiters move among us.
we are poured water, coffee, wine.
bread arrives, armless, eyeless bread.
peaceful bread.
we order.
we await our orders.

where have the wars gone?
where have, even, the tiny agonies
this place has found us.
the white table cloths are placid ponds,
the utensils glimmer for our

such calm is ungodly but
for in a moment we still remember the
hard years and those to come.
nothing is forgotten, it is merely put
like a glove, a gun, a

3 old men at separate tables.

eternity could be like this.

I lift my cup of coffee,
the centuries enduring
nothing else matters so

Saturday, July 29, 2006

176. to lean back into it - Charles Bukowski

like in a chair the color of the sun
as you listen to lazy piano music
and the aircraft overhead are not
at war.
where the last drink is as good as
the first
and you realized that the promises
you made yourself were
that's plenty.
that last: about the promises:
that's not so good is that the few
friends you had are
dead and they seem
as for women, you didn't know enough
early enough
and you knew enough
too late.
and if more self-analysis is allowed: it's
nice that you turned out well-
that you arrived late
and remained generally
outside of that, not much to say
except you can leave without
until then, a bit more amusement,
a bit more endurance,
leaning back
into it.
like the dog who got across
the busy street:
not all of it was good

Friday, July 28, 2006

175. ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE - Stephen Dunn

He climbed toward the blinding light
and when his eyes adjusted
he looked down and could see

his fellow prisoners captivated
by shadows; everything he had believed
was false. And he was suddenly

in the 20th century, in the sunlight
and violence of history, encumbered
by knowledge. Only a hero

would dare return with the truth.
So from the cave's upper reaches,
removed from harm, he called out

the disturbing news.
What lovely echoes, the prisoners said,
what a fine musical place to live.

He spelled it out, then, in clear prose
on paper scraps, which he floated down.
But in the semi-dark they read his words

with the indulgence of those who seldom read:
It's about my father's death, one of them said.
No, said the others, it's a joke.

By this time he no longer was sure
of what he'd seen. Wasn't sunlight a shadow too?
Wasn't there always a source

behind a source? He just stood there,
confused, a man who had moved
to larger errors, without a prayer.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

174. When The Watchman Saw The Light - C. P. Cavafy

Winter and summer the watchman sat on the roof
of the palace of the sons of Atreus and looked out. Now he tells
the joyful news. He saw a fire flare in the distance.
And he is glad, and his labor is over as well.
It is hard work night and day,
in heat or cold, to look far off
to Arachnaion for a fire. Now the desired
omen has appeared. When happiness
arrives it brings a lesser joy
than expected. Clearly,
we've gained this much: we are saved from hopes
and expectations. Many things will happen
to the Atreus dynasty. One doesn't have to be wise
to surmise this now that the watchman
has seen the light. So, no exaggeration.
The light is good, and those that will come are good.
Their words and deeds are also good.
And we hope all will go well. But
Argos can manage without the Atreus family.
Great houses are not eternal.
Of course, many will have much to say.
We'll listen. But we won't be fooled
by the Indispensable, the Only, the Great.
Some other indispensable, only, and great
is always instantly found.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

173. THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA - Helen Bevington

The Princess slept uneasily
Upon a small offending pea

And twenty mattresses that were
Between the vegetable and her.

Her royal person, rather plump,
was agitated by a lump

That we, more hardy, would have said
Was never bothersome in bed.

Some people mind, and she was one.
The simple moral is, my son,

Avoid a Princess, shun a palace,
And pick a wife more lean and callous.

Monday, July 24, 2006

172. IF YOU COME - Anonymous, Irish

If you come at all
Come only at night,
Tread ever so warily
And please don't scare me.
Under the door
You'll find the key
And I'll be alone ––
Don't frighten me!

No pot in your way
Not a stool or a can
Or a rope of hay
Not a pin, man!
The dog is so tame
He won't bat an eye ––
And where's the shame,
I trained him, didn't I?

Mother's asleep
Dad's hands on her hips,
Kissing her mouth,
Her slow-opening lips.
Ah now, it's fine for her!
But my heart is lead ––
Lying on my own
In a feathery bed.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

171. After Making Love - Stephen Dunn

No one should ask the other,
"What were you thinking?"

No one, that is,
who doesn't want to hear about the past

and its inhabitants,
or the strange loneliness of the present

filled, even as it may be, with pleasure
or those snapshots

of the future, different heads,
on different bodies.

Some people actually desire honesty.
They must never have broken

into their own solitary houses
after having misplaced the key,

never seen with an intruder's eyes
what is theirs.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

170. NIGHT VISION - Sonnet L'Abbé

His wife dreams of silent flight.

On a drive on narrow roads
outside the city
she points to the red horizon,
where the sun, a hydrogen zeppelin,
skin aflame, lingers
inflated and floating along the highway,
as black silhouettes of balloons
rise with the moon
into the flushed sky.

Look, she says, twilight wears
a necklace of weightless onyx tears,
the moon a pendant, opal planet.

He replies that to him
they are round-bellied bottles,
necks down, poured out,
and hollow.
Baskets cling to their pouted lips
like drops of liquor,
drips of euphoria tinged
with fear, last sips
of liquid altitude, from where
one looks upon this vastness
and sees the flat horizon's curve.

Must you see pots in everything?
Her sigh, the hush of fire.

But he has lied.
What he really sees tonight
are question marks
in their distant outlines, doubled
and considering their own reflections,
a darkness inside them empty
as the negative goblet
of space between two facing profiles.
They are wondering
how we travel so far
on warm wordless breaths,
and asking themselves
who they are.

Friday, July 21, 2006


is not silent, it is a speaking-
out-loud voice in your head; it is spoken,
a voice is saying it
as you read. It's the writer's words,
of course, in a literary sense
his or her "voice" but the sound
of that voice is the sound of your voice.
Not the sound your friends know
or the sound of a tape played back
but your voice
caught in the dark cathedral
of your skull, your voice heard
by an internal ear informed by internal abstracts
and what you know by feeling,
having felt. It is your voice
saying, for example, the word "barn"
that the writer wrote
but the "barn" you say
is a barn you know or knew. The voice
in your head, speaking as you read,
never says anything neutrally--some people
hated the barn they knew,
some people love the barn they know
so you hear the word loaded
and a sensory constellation
is lit: horse-gnawed stalls,
hayloft, black heat tape wrapping
a water pipe, a slippery
spilled chirr of oats from a split sack,
the bony, filthy haunches of cows...
And "barn" is only a noun--no verb
or subject has entered into the sentence yet!
The voice you hear when you read to yourself
is the clearest voice: you speak it
speaking to you.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


The thing gets made, gets built, and you're the slave
who rolls the log beneath the block, then another,
then pushes the block, then pulls a log
from the rear back to the front
again and then again it goes beneath the block,
and so on. It's how a thing gets made - not
because you're sensitive, or you get genetic-lucky,
or God says: Here's a nice family,
seven children, let's see: this one in charge
of the village dunghill, these two die of buboes, this one
Kierkegaard, this one a drooling

nincompoop, this one clerk, this one cooper.
You need to love the thing you do - birdhouse building,
painting tulips exclusively, whatever - and then
you do it
so consciously driven
by your unconscious
that the thing becomes a wedge
that splits a stone and between the halves
the wedge then grows, i.e., the thing
is solid but with a soul,
a life of its own. Inspiration, the donnée,

the gift, the bolt of fire
down the arm that makes the art?
Grow up! Give me, please, a break!
You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth's core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosophere.
And with that you go to work.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

167. Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry - Stephen Dunn

Relax. This won't last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there's a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he'll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you're busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it's sex you've always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party's unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don't think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don't know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it's needed. For it's apparent
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I'll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don't give anything for this poem.
It doesn't expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case
or in your house. And if you're not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here's what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There's an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You're beautiful for as long as you live.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

166. THE GOOD NEWS - Thich Nhat Hanh

An Excerpt from Call Me by My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Good News

They don't publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh Winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

Monday, July 17, 2006

165. BEDTIME - Denise Levertov

We are a meadow where the bees hum,
mind and body are almost one

as the fire snaps in the stove
and our eyes close,

and mouth to mouth, the covers
pulled over our shoulders,

we drowse as horses drowse afield,
in accord; though the fall cold

surrounds our warm bed, and though
by day we are singular and often lonely.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


It was supposed to be Arts & Crafts for a week,
but when she came home
with the "Jesus Saves" button, we knew what art
was up, what ancient craft.

She liked her little friends. She liked the songs
they sang when they weren't
twisting and folding paper into dolls.
What could be so bad?

Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith
in good men was what
we had to do to stay this side of cynicism,
that other sadness.

OK, we said, One week. But when she came home
singing "Jesus loves me,
the Bible tells me so," it was time to talk.
Could we say Jesus

doesn't love you? Could I tell her the Bible
is a great book certain people use
to make you feel bad? We sent her back
without a word.

It had been so long since we believed, so long
since we needed Jesus
as our nemesis and friend, that we thought he was
sufficiently dead,

that our children would think of him like Lincoln
or Thomas Jefferson.
Soon it became clear to us: you can't teach disbelief
to a child,

only wonderful stories, and we hadn't a story
nearly as good.
On parents' night there were the Arts & Crafts
all spread out

like appetizers. Then we took our seats
in the church
and the children sang a song about the Ark,
and Hallelujah

and one in which they had to jump up and down
for Jesus.
I can't remember ever feeling so uncertain
about what's comic, what's serious.

Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes.
You can't say to your child
"Evolution loves you." The story stinks
of extinction and nothing

exciting happens for centuries. I didn't have
a wonderful story for my child
and she was beaming. All the way home in the car
she sang the songs,

occasionally standing up for Jesus.
There was nothing to do
but drive, ride it out, sing along
in silence.

Friday, July 14, 2006

163. HANDS - Robinson Jeffers

Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara
The vault of rock is painted with hands,
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men's palms, no more,
No other picture. There's no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying: "Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws. All hail
You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

162. CONSOLATION - Billy Collins

How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyes camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

161. OFFERING - Sonnet L'Abbé

The vocabulary of desire
is incomplete, a word is missing.

My tongue searches
for your body in language
and finds you in every word.

I thought this was a small thing, a stone
in the palm I could offer you,
my body in darkness a simple gift
casual as a pebble.
As if touching were easier than speaking,
as if this poem did not prove you
inside me already, as if asking
meant I still had the power to invite.

But you make me aware of breathing,
of the awesome fact
that each particle of air
has been taken at least once
into every lung.
Suddenly I have no boundaries
and to kiss you seems to drink up the sky,
I slip it from my tongue into your mouth.

Our bodies just our hearts' clothing,
and I came to you so shabbily dressed.
Maybe I thought that for one night
I could wear your beauty through closeness
and for a few hours believe myself
splendidly arrayed.

But you know all the lyrics
to rejection.
My body, your exquisite voice's
shattered glass.

Monday, July 10, 2006

160. PARABOLA - A. D. Hope

Year after year the princess lies asleep
Until the hundred years foretold are done,
Easily drawing her enchanted breath.
Caught on the monstrous thorns around the keep,
Bones of the youths who sought her, one by one
Rot lose and rattle to the ground beneath.

But when the Destined Lover at last shall come,
For whom alone Fortune reserves the prize,
The thorns give way; he mounts the cobwebbed stair;
Unerring he finds the tower, the door, the room,
The bed where, waking at his kiss she lies
Smiling in the loose fragrance of her hair.

That night, embracing on the bed of state,
He ravishes her century of sleep
And she repays the debt of that long dream;
Future and Past compose their vast debate;
His seed now sown, her harvest ripe to reap
Enact a variation on the theme.

For in her womb another princess waits,
A sleeping cell, a globule of bright dew.
Jostling their way up that mysterious stair,
A horde of lovers bursts between the gates,
All doomed but one, the destined suitor, who
By luck first reaches her and takes her there.

A parable of all we are or do!
The life of Nature is a formal dance
In which each step is ruled by what has been
and yet the pattern emerges always new:
The marriage of linked cause and random chance
Gives birth perpetually to the unforeseen.

One parable for the body and the mind;
With science and heredity to thank,
The heart is quite predictable as a pump,
But, let love change its beat, the choice is blind.
"Now" is a cross-roads where all maps prove blank,
And no-one knows which way the cat will jump.

So here stand I, by birth a cross between
Determined pattern and incredible chance,
Each with an equal share in what I am.
Though I should read the code stored in the gene,
Yet the blind lottery of circumstance
Mocks all solutions to its cryptogram.

As in my flesh, so in my spirit stand I
When does this hundred years draw to its close?
The hedge of thorns before me gives no clue.
My predecessor's carcass, shrink and dry,
Stares at me through the spikes. O well here goes!
I have this thing, and only this, to do.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

159. FREDERICK DOUGLASS - Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden - Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglas, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
not with the loves grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

158. ARS POETICA - Philip Appleman

Think of it, nine thousand
breakfasts together, and now
coffee again for the first time: what
a virginal movement it is, this
silvering together, every day
the very first day, every night
the first night, not a film replayed, more
like pages in a long book, strata
in these limestone hills we live in,
two billion years old.
We're not yet as old as the limestone,
but we're catching up––or rather
reducing the proportion, like a kid brother
gaining on his elders; we're gaining
on the limestone and
beginning to see
it's an art, like Cellini's, this
silvering––like poetry, reminding us
in its earnest, nagging way,
that every new minute we risk
immortality, surviving
for nine thousand days by luck or cunning;
but at the end we're sent to press
with all our typos intact, fossils, captive
in the ancient rock. Meanwhile,
we're all such fumblers, gauche,
all thumbs: maybe
poems and marriages deal
mostly in failures––on the way to shape,
nine thousand blemishes hitching a ride. Maybe
only a poem or a silver bowl
will tell us as well as love: that
these are the only raw
materials we have––the painful
moments of wonder,
the small, well-meant betrayals, rain
in the limestone hills.
Well, we're not finished yet;
the revisions are still in process, a line here,
a day there, the whole thing
taking on a kind of polished
mutilation, a scarred silver florin,
a weathered hill,
an epic fragment.
There's time yet to get it––not right,
of course, but anyway revised,
emended, more mature
in its lumpy way. Think of it,
two billion years of shaping:
it's a beginning.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Slowly, slowly wisdom gathers:
Golden dust in the afternoon,
Somewhere between the sun and me,
Sometimes so near that I can see,
Yet never settling, late or soon.

Would that it did, and a rug of gold
Spread west of me a mile or more:
Not large, but so that I might lie
Face up, between the earth and sky,
And know what none has known before.

Then I would tell as best I could
The secrets of that shining place:
The web of the world, how thick, how thin,
How firm, with all things folded in;
How ancient, and how full of grace.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Slowly, slowly wisdom gathers:
Golden dust in the afternoon,
Somewhere between the sun and me,
Sometimes so near that I can see,
Yet never settling, late or soon.

Would that it did, and a rug of gold
Spread west of me a mile or more:
Not large, but so that I might lie
Face up, between the earth and sky,
And know what none has known before.

Then I would tell as best I could
The secrets of that shining place:
The web of the world, how thick, how thin,
How firm, with all things folded in;
How ancient, and how full of grace.

Monday, July 03, 2006

155. Patrizia Vicinelli - I Met The Thieving Miss Magpie

I met the thieving miss magpie, la numero 123
in the small trees
in the deep garden of summer;
after her blind nosedive,
she then flew way up high.
For some obscure reason she took
a fancy to my ankle and brushed against it with
her chin;
a lady merchant with black inventive eyes,
I thought her a beauty,
truly outstanding in her impossible humanity.
Like Saint Frances of Assisi, we had ourselves a
nice chat, exchanged a load of secrets, her in
her black and blue dress, me in
my usual Moschino jeans.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


(translated by Stephen Tapscott)

Love crosses its islands, from grief to grief,
it sets its roots, watered with tears,
and no one––no one––can escape the heart’s progress
as it runs, silent and carnivorous.

You and I search for a wide valley, for another planet
where the salt wouldn’t touch your hair,
where sorrows couldn’t grow because of anything I did,
where bread could live and not grow old.

A planet entwined with vistas and foliage,
a plain, a rock, hard and unoccupied:
we wanted to build a strong nest

with our own hands, without hurt or harm or speech,
but love was not like that: love was a lunatic city
with crowds of people blanching on their porches.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

153. WRITING - Octavio Paz

(translated by Eliot Weinberger)

I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
and does not return