Thursday, November 30, 2006

272. Epilogue - Robert Lowell

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme--
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter's vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All's misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

271. Musée Des Beaux Arts - W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

270. Giacometti - Richard Wilber

Rock insults us, hard and so boldly browed
Its scorn needs not to focus, and with fists
Which still unstirring strike:
Collected it resists
Until its buried glare begets a like
Anger in us, and finds our hardness. Proud,

Then, and armed, and with a patient rage
We carve cliff, shear stone to blocks,
And down to the the image of man
Batter and shape the rock's
Fierce composure, closing its veins within
That outside man, itself its captive cage.

So we can baffle rock, and in our will
Can clothe and keep it. But if our will, though locked
In stone it clutches, change,
Then are we much worse mocked
Than cliffs can do: then we ourselves are strange
To what we were, which lowers on us still.

High in the air those habitants of stone
Look heavenward, lean to a thought, or stride
Toward some concluded war,
While we on every side,
Random as shells the sea drops down ashore,
Are walking, walking, many and alone.

What stony shape could hold us now, what hard
Bent can we bulk in air, where shall our feet
Come to a common stand?
Follow along this street
(Where rock recovers carven eye and hand),
Open the gate, and cross the narrow yard

And look where Giacometti in a room
Dim as a cave of the sea, has built the man
We are, and made him walk:
Towering like a thin
Coral, out of a reef of plaster chalk,
This is the single form we can assume.

We are this man unspeakably alone
Yet stripped of the singular utterly, shaved and scraped
Of all but being there,
Whose fullness is escaped
Like a burst balloon's: no nakedness so bare
As flesh gone in inquiring of the bone.

He is pruned of every gesture, saving only
The habit of coming and going. Every pace
Shuffles a million feet.
The faces in this face
Are all forgotten faces of the street
Gathered to one anonymous and lonely.

No prince and no Leviathan, he is made
Of infinite farewells. O never more
Diminished, nonetheless
Embodied here, we are
This starless walker, one who cannot guess
His will, his keel his nose's bony blade.

And volumes hover round like future shades
This least of man, in whom we join and take
A pilgrim's step behind,
And in whose guise we make
Our grim departures now, walking to find
What railleries of rock, what palisades?

Monday, November 27, 2006

269. London Pavement Artist - James Schevill

His place is before, not in, the National Gallery,
On the sidewalk, down on hands and knees,
Grey hair a massive flag of identity,
Hands like hooks grappling with stone,
Savage beard a porcupine defense
Against the jeers of passerby.
Draw to eat. Simple motivation,
But what eats him is the pavement,
Devouring his images of chalk
That rain-washed, fog-lost, wind-whipped cement
On which he draws flowers and faces,
Simple subjects to elicit simple coins,
Penny and ha'penny thudding in his cap.
It it art" Stupid question.
The images of chalk fade in the rain . . .
Art is the pavement that eats you.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

268. The Western Approaches - Howard Nemerov

As long as we look forward, all seems free,
Uncertain, subject to the Laws of Chance,
Though strange that chance should lie subject to laws,
But looking back on life it is as if
Our Book of Changes never let us change.

Stories already told a time ago
Were waiting for us down the road, our lives
But filled them out; and dreams about the past
Show us the world is post meridian
With little future left to dream about.

Old stories none but scholars seem to tell
among us any more, they hide the ways,
Old tales less comprehensible than life
Whence nonetheless we know the things we do
And do the things they say the fathers did.

When I was young I flew past Skerryvore
Where the Nine Maidens still grind Hamlet's meal,
The salt and granite grain of bitter earth,
But knew it not for twenty years and more.
My chances past their changes now, I know

How long life grows ghostly towards the close
As any man dissolves in Everyman
Of whom the story, as it always did, begins
In a far country, once upon a time,
There lived a certain man and he had three sons . . .

Saturday, November 25, 2006

267. In November - Lisel Mueller

Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

Friday, November 24, 2006

266. West - Louis Simpson

On US 101
I felt the traffic running like a beast,
Roaring in space.

The red princess slopes
In honeyed burial from hair to feet;
The sharp lifting fog
Uncurtains Richmond and the ridge
––With two red rubies set upon the bridge––
And curtains them again.

Ranching in Bolinas, that's the life,
If you call cattle life.
To sit on a veranda with a glass
And see the sprinklers watering your land
And hear the peaches dropping from the trees
And hear the ocean in the redwood trees,

The whales of time,
Masts of the long voyages of earth,
In whose tall branches day
Hangs like a Christmas toy.

On their red columns drowse
The eagles battered at the Western gate;
These trees have held the eagles in their state
When Rome was still a rumor in the boughs.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

265. Mississippi - Louis Simpson

When we went down the river on a raft
So smooth it was and easy it would seem
Land moved but never we. Clouds faded aft
In castles. Trees would hurry in the dream
Of water, where we gazed, with this log craft
America suspended on a gleam.

The days were mostly pipes and fishing lines,
Though for a turn or two we had a king,
A Nonesuch with his royal monkeyshines,
But treacherous, for all his capering.
The naked wickedness of his designs
Brought on Democracy, a steady thing.

Steady but alarming. Rip-tooth snags
Are wrapped in smoothness like the tiger's hide,
And when she blows, chickens and carpet bags
Go roiling seaward on the yellow tide.
And Brady photographs the men like flags
Still tilted in the charges where they died.

The river is too strong for bank or bar,
The landmarks change, and nothing would remain
But for the man who travels by a star,
Whose careful eye adjusts the course again . . .
Still shadow at the wheel, his rich cigar
Glowed like a point of rectitude––Mark Twain.

If ever there were Mississippi nights,
If ever there was Dixie, as they sing,
Cry, you may cry, for all your true delights
Lost with the banjo and the Chicken Wing
Where old St. Joe slid on the water lights
And on into the dark, diminishing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

264. 90 North - Randall Jarrell

At home, in my flannel gown, like a bear to its floe,
I clambered to bed; up the globe's impossible sides
I sailed all night—till at last, with my black beard,
My furs and my dogs, I stood at the northern pole.

There in the childish night my companions lay frozen,
The stiff fur knocked at my starveling throat,
And I gave my great sigh: the flakes came huddling,
Were they really my end? In the darkness I turned to my rest.

—Here, the flag snaps in the glare and silence
Of the unbroken ice. I stand here,
The dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare
At the North Pole . . .
And now what? Why, go back.

Turn as I please, my step is to the south.
The world—my world spins on this final point
Of cold and wretchedness: all lines, all winds
End in this whirlpool I at last discover.

And it is meaningless. In the child's bed
After the night's voyage, in that warm world
Where people work and suffer for the end
That crowns the pain—in that Cloud-Cuckoo-Land

I reached my North and it had meaning.
Here at the actual pole of my existence,
Where all that I have done is meaningless,
Where I die or live by accident alone—

Where, living or dying, I am still alone;
Here where North, the night, the berg of death
Crowd me out of the ignorant darkness,
I see at last that all the knowledge

I wrung from the darkness—that the darkness flung me—
Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing,
The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

263. 50 Years Linda Pastan

Though we know
how it will end:
in grief and silence,
we go about our ordinary days
as if the acts of boiling an egg
or smoothing down a bed
were so small
they must be overlooked
by death. And perhaps

the few years left, sun drenched
but without grand purpose,
will somehow endure,
the way a portrait of lovers endures
radiant and true on the wall
of some obscure Dutch museum,
long after the names
of the artist and models
have disappeared.

Monday, November 20, 2006

262. Song Of The Oceans Of The World Becoming - Pattiann Rogers

The song of the oceans
of the world becoming is always
among us. It rises over and over
from the oceans of the grasslands,
rippling like the shifting waves of orange
autumn sorrell, green May barley.
It ascends in immediacy
from the oceans of the forest floor,
spreads through a flotsam of mosses,
ferns, vine maple, pine accretions;
thus it is permeated by branches,
staubs, leaves, thorny seeds, shingled
bark, which become, in truth,
the momentary architecture
of its carriage and meter.

Smelling slightly of salt, wet weed,
and sea sand, down comes this song
again and again like a tidal blue
surf of the skies, down from the floating
black depth of the stars. It swirls
like channeled winds flooding rock
caverns, like lolling swells of winter
in a whiteout. It engulfs with daylight,
spilling around and throughout
a solar deluge of summer.

The song of the world becoming
in its expanse and bottomless height
can nonetheless gather wholly
into one molecule on the tip of one
tentacle of an anemone attached
to the rim of a low-tide rock,
and briefly balance there. It is complete
and prophetic in a gesture of light
off the neon needle of a damselfly
vanishing and reappearing above
warm mud and water rushes

The song of the oceans of migrating
caribou, flocking bats, goldfinches,
of swarming honey bees, swarming
suns and stellar dusts, travels
beautifully with all the masses
of its expanding cosmic horizons.
Present in circular motions to the outer
edges of the known universe evolving,
it is ancient, it is partial.

So the song is becoming as the world
becomes, and it can never leave us;
for we are the notice in its passages,
and we are the divining in its composition,
and we practice in death the immortality
of its nature forever.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

261. Snow Thinking - Pattiann Rogers

Pattiann Rogers - Snow Thinking

Someone must have thought of snow falling first,
before it happened. That's what I believe,
someone way before me, way before anyone
could write "snow" and then see it happen––
in the cracks between the mud bricks
of the patio, assuming the shapes
of seeded sedum and wineleaf, covering
the tops of overturned flowerpots,
so much whiter than the sky it comes from––
as we do sometimes.

I think it must have come (the being
of the motion of snow, I mean, furling out
of the black, this method of winding
and loosening, this manner of arriving)
first from deep inside someone, as we say,
out of some quiet, exuberant graciousness,
far beyond neutron or electron, was before
eyes or hands, far before any crudeness
like that.

It had to come from someone first,
before snow, this expression of snow,
the swift, easy, multi-faceted
passion possessed and witnessed
in descending snow. It must be so.
Otherwise, how could we, as ourselves,
recognize it now––the event of snow,
so clearly eloquent, so separate,
so much rarer than snow? It's there.
We know it––the succumbing to sky,
the melding, nothing too small
for the embracing, a singular gentleness.

And don't we know now, without seeing it,
without touching it, that outside the window
the snow is coming, accumulating over the walls
and hedges of the garden, covering
the terra cottta, filling all the filigree
and deficiencies of evening?

I believe that snow snowing is the form
of someone singing in the future
to a new and beloved child, a child who,
staring up at the indistinguishable
features of his mother's star–filled face
in the dark, knows, without touching
or seeing, the experience of snow, opening
his mouth to catch and eat every spark
of the story as it breaks and falls
so particularly upon him.

Friday, November 17, 2006

260. From: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Why Jerusalem? - Yehuda Amichai

And there are days here when everything is sails and more sails,
even though there's no sea in Jerusalem, not even a river.
Everything is sails: the flags, the prayer shawls, the black coats,
the monks' robes, the kaftans and kaffiyehs,
young women's dresses and headdresses,
Torah mantles and prayer rugs, feelings that swell in the wind
and hopes that set them sailing in other directions.
Even my father's hands, spread out in blessing,
my mother's broad face and Ruth's faraway death
are sails, all of them sails in the splendid regatta
on the two seas of Jerusalem:
the sea of memory and the sea of forgetting.

Two lovers talking to each other in Jerusalem
with the excitement of tour guides, pointing,
touching, explaining: These are my father's eyes you see
in my face, these are the sleek thighs I inherited from a distant mother
in the Middle Ages, this is my voice which traveled
all the way here from three thousand years ago,
this is the color of my eyes, the mosaic of my spirit,
the archaeological layers of my soul. We are holy places.
In ancient caves we can hide and write secret scrolls
and lie together in the dark.
Once in Ein Kerem in an abandoned cave I saw
rooster feathers and the torn dress of a woman
and I was filled with fury, my wrath was almost biblical.
In the courtyard of the orphanage, in the convent beside that cave,
there was suddenly a wild commotion and a rushing about
of young girls and nuns, a crazy she-goat, barking dogs.
Then stillness and a worn brown wall.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

259. Indolence in Early Winter - Jane Kenyon

A letter arrives from friends. . . .
Let them all divorce, remarry
and divorce again!
Forgive me if I doze off in my chair.

I should have stoked the stove
an hour ago. The house
will go cold as stone. Wonderful!
I won't have to go on
balancing my checkbook.

Unanswered mail piles up
in drifts, precarious,
and the cat sets everything sliding
when she comes to see me.

I am still here in my chair,
buried under the rubble
of failed marriages, magazine
subscription renewal forms, bills,
lapsed friendships. . . .

This kind of thinking is caused
by the sun. It leaves the sky earlier
every day, and goes off somewhere,
like a troubled husband,
or like a melancholy wife.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

258. Elizabeth Barrett Browning - A Musical Instrument

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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

257. Pattiann Rogers - Portrait

This is a picture of you
Reading this poem. concentrate
On the finite movement
Of your eyes as they travel
At this moment across
The page, your fingers
Maintaining the stability
Of the sheet. Focus on the particular
Fall of your hair, the scent
Of your hands, the placement of your
Feet now as they acknowledge
Their name.

Simultaneously with these words, be aware
Of your tongue against
Your teeth, the aura
Of heat at your neckline
And wrists, the sense
Of your breath inside its own hollows.

Imagine yourself
Ten feet away and look back
At your body positioned
Here with this book. Picture
The perspective, the attitude
Of your shoulders and hips,
The bend of your head as you
Read of yourself.

Watch how you turn back as you
Remember the sounds surrounding you now,
As you recall the odors
Of wood fibers in this place
Or the lack of them.

And take note of this part
Of your portrait––the actual
Mechanism by which you are perceiving
The picture, the fixed
Expression on your face as you
Arrange these words at this moment
Into their proper circles, as you
Straighten out the aspects
Of the page, the linguistics of the sight
And color of light on the paper.

This is the printed
Form of you watching
Yourself now as you consider
Your person. This portrait is
Finished when you raise
Your eyes.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

256. A Thought In Time - Robert Hillyer

Elinor Wylie fell in love with Shelly,
Amy Lowell fell in love with Keats,
Byron posthumously does so well he
Can hardly count his valentine receipts.
Die early, poets, if you would adorn
The boudoirs of young ladies yet unborn.

Nobody ever fell in love with Shakespeare,
Nobody ever fell in love with Blake.
A poet must be Lancelot of the Lake"s peer
Yet perish young and fair for Beauty's sake.
I'm far too old myself, at fifty-three;
No one will ever fall in love with me.

(But hold! a saving thought, a ray of hope!
Edith Sitwell fell in love with Pope.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

255. Pantoum of the Great Depression - Donald Justice

Our lives avoided tragedy
Simply by going on and on,
Without end and with little apparent meaning.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.

Simply by going on and on
We managed. No need for the heroic.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.
I don't remember all the particulars.

We managed. No need for the heroic.
There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
I don't remember all the particulars.
Across the fence, the neighbors were our chorus.

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
Thank god no one said anything in verse.
The neighbors were our only chorus,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.

At no time did anyone say anything in verse.
It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.
No audience would ever know our story.

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
What audience would ever know our story?
Beyond our windows shone the actual world.

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
Somewhere beyond our windows shone the world.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
We did not ourselves know what the end was.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.
We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.

But we did not ourselves know what the end was.
People like us simply go on.
We have our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues,
But it is by blind chance only that we escape tragedy.

And there is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

254. In Order To Perceive - Pattiann Rogers

At first you see nothing. The experience is similar
To opening your eyes wide as white marbles
Inside the deepest cave, beneath tons of limestone,
Or being awake in a dark room, your head
Under a heavy blanket.

Then someone suggests there is a single candle
Wavering far off in one corner, flickering red.
You think you see it
As someone else draws your attention to the sharp
Beaming wing tips, the white end of the beak,
The obvious three points of the wild goose overhead
And the seven-starred poinsettia to the west, the bright
Cluster at its belly.

You are able to recognize, when you are shown,
The sparks flying from the mane of the black stallion,
The lightning of his hooves as he rears,
And in the background a thick forest spreading
To the east, each leaf a distinct pinprick of light.

Then you begin to notice things for yourself,
A line of torches curving along a black valley,
A sparkling flower, no bigger than a snowflake,
Shining by itself in the northwest coordinate.
It is you who discovers the particular flash
Of each tooth inside the bear's open mouth and the miners
With their lighted helmets rising in a row.

How clear and explicit, you tell someone with confidence,
That ship, each separate gleaming line of its rigging,
The glowing dots of the oars, the radiating
Eyes of the figure on the prow, the corners
Of each sail lit.

Soon there is no hesitation to the breadth
Of your discoveries. Until one night during the long
Intensity of your observation, you look so perfectly
That you finally see yourself, off in the distance
Among the glittering hounds and hunters, beside the white
Shadows of the swans. There are points of fire
At your fingertips, a brilliance at the junctures
Of your bones. You watch yourself floating,
Your heels in their orbits, your hair spreading
Like a phosphorescent cloud, as you rise slowly,
A skeleton of glass beads, above the black desert,
Over the lanterned hillsides and on out through the hollow
Stretching directly overhead.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

253. Six Poets In Search Of A Lawyer - Donald Hall

Finesse be first, whose elegance deplores
All things save beauty, and the swinging doors;
Whose cleverness in writing verse is just
Exceeded by his lack of taste and lust,
Who lives off lady lovers of his verse
And thanks them by departing with their purse;
Who writes his verse in order to amaze,
To win the Pulitzer, or Time's sweet praise;
Who will endure a moment, and then pass,
As hopeless as an olive in his glass.

Dullard be second, as he always will,
From lack of brains as well as lack of skill.
Expert in some, and dilettante in all
The ways of making poems gasp and fall,
He teaches at a junior college where
He's recognized as Homer's son and heir.
Respectable, brown-suited, it is he
Who represents on forums poetry,
And argues to protect the libeled Muse,
Who'd tear his flimsy tongue out, could she choose.

His opposite is anarchistic Bomb
Who writes a manifesto with aplomb.
Revolt! Revolt! No matter why or when,
It's novelty––old novelty again.
Yet Bomb, if read intently, may reveal
A talent not to murder but to steal:
First from old Gone, whose fragmentary style
Disguised his sawdust Keats a little while;
And now from one who writes at very best
What ne'er was thought and much the less expressed.

Lucre be next, who takes to poetry
The businessman he swore he would not be.
Anthologies and lecture tours and grants
Create a solvency that disenchants.
He writes his poems, now, to suit his purse,
Short-lined and windy, and reserves his curse
For all the little magazines so fine
That offer only fifty cents a line.
He makes his money, certainly, to write,
But writes for money. such is appetite.

Of Mucker will I tell, who tries to show
He is a kind of poet men don't know.
To shadowbox at literary teas,
And every girl at Bennington to seize,
To talk of baseball rather than of Yeats,
To drink straight whiskey while the bard creates––
This is his pose, and so his poems seem
Incongruous in proving life a dream.
Some say, with Freud, that Mucker has a reason
For acting virile in and out of season.

Scoundrel be last. Be deaf, be dumb, be blind,
Who writes satiric verses on his kind.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

252. Reading Time: 1 Minute 26 Seconds - Muriel Rukeyser

The fear of poetry is the
fear: mystery and fury of a midnight street
of windows whose low voluptuous voice
issues, and after that there is not peace.

The round waiting moment in the
theatre: curtain rises, dies into the ceiling
and here is played the scene with the mother
bandaging a revealed son's head. The bandage is torn off.
Curtain goes down. And here is the moment of proof.

That climax when the brain acknowledges the world,
all values extended into the blood awake.
Moment of proof. And as they say Brancusi did,
building his bird to extend through soaring air,
as Kafka planned stories that draw to eternity
through time extended. And the climax strikes.

Love touches so, that months after the look of
blue stare of love, the footbeat on the heart
is translated into the pure cry of birds
following air-cries, or poems, the new scene.
Moment of proof. That strikes long after act.

They fear it. They turn away, hand up, palm out
fending off moment of proof, the straight look, poem.
The prolonged wound-consciousness after the bullet's shot.
The prolonged love after the look is dead,
the yellow joy after the song of the sun.
aftermath proof, extended radiance.

Monday, November 06, 2006

251. The Eagle - Alfred Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands:
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

250. In The Waiting Room - Elizabeth Bishop

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I–we–were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities--
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts--
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How--I didn't know any
word for it--how "unlikely". . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

Friday, November 03, 2006

249. Poem - Donald Justice

This poem is not addressed to you.
You may come into it briefly.
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.

Even while you sit there, unmovable,
You have begun to vanish. And it does not matter.
The poem will go on without you.
It has the spurious glamor of certain voids.

It is not sad, really, only empty.
Once perhaps it was sad, no one knows why.
It prefers to remember nothing.
Nostalgias were peeled from it long ago.

Your type of beauty has no place here.
Night is the sky over this poem.
It is too black for stars.
And do not look for any illumination.

You neither can no should understand what it means.
Listen, it comes without guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.

Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon.
You will forget the poem, but not before
It has forgotten you. And it does not matter.
It has been most beautiful in its erasures.

O bleached mirrors! Oceans of the drowned!
Nor is one silence equal to another.
And it does not matter what you think.
This poem is not addressed to you.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

248. The Mind Is An Ancient And Famous Capital - Delmore Schwartz

The mind is a city like London,
smoky and populous: it is a capital
Like Rome, ruined and eternal,
Marked by the monuments which no one
Now remembers. For the mind, like Rome, contains
Catacombs, aqueducts, amphitheaters, palaces,
Churches and equestrian statues, fallen, broken or soiled.
The mind possess and is possessed by all the ruins
Of every haunted, hunted generation's celebration.

"Call us what you will: we are made such by love."
We are such studs as dreams are made on, and
Our little lives are ruled by the gods, by Pan,
Piping of all, seeking to grasp or grasping
All of the grapes; and by the bow-and-arrow god,
Cupid, piercing the heart through, suddenly and forever.

Dusk we are, to dusk returning, after the burbing,
After the gold fall, the fallen ash, the bronze,
scattered and rotten, after the white null statues which
Are winter, sleep, and nothingness: when
Will the houselights of the universe
Light up and blaze?

For it is not the sea
Which murmurs in a shell,
And it is not only heart, at harp o'clock,
It is the tread terror of the uncontrollable
Horses of the apocalypse, running in wild dread
Toward Arcturus––and returning as suddenly . . .