Wednesday, March 29, 2006

85. SAYINGS OF THE BLIND - William Stafford

.
Feeling is believing.

Mountains don't exist. But their slopes do.

Little people have low voices.

All things, even the rocks, make a little noise.

The silence back of all sound is called "the sky."

There's a big stranger in town called the sun.
He doesn't speak to us but puts out a hand.

Night opens a door into a cellar––
you can smell it coming.

On Sundays everyone stands farther apart.

Velvet feels black.

Meeting cement is never easy.

What do they mean when they say night is gloomy?

Edison didn't invent much.

Names have a flavor.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

84. Excerpt from THE INTERLUDE - Karl Shapiro

.
What lives? the proper creatures in their homes?
A weed? the white and giddy butterfly?
Bacteria? necklaces of chromosomes?

What lives? the breathing bell of the clear sky?
The crazed bull of the sea? Andean crags?
Armies that plunge into themselves to die?

People? A sacred relic wrapped in rags,
The ham-bone of a saint, the winter rose,
Do these?—And is there not a hand that drags

The bottom of the universe for those
Who still perhaps are breathing? Listen well,
There lives a quiet like a cathedral close

At the soul’s center where substance cannot dwell
And life flowers like music from a bell.

Friday, March 24, 2006

83. CLASS PICTURE, 1984 - Billy Collins

.
I am the third one
from the left in the third row.

The girl I have been in love with
since the 5th grade is just behind me
to the right, the one with the bangs.

The boy who pushes me down
in the playground
is the last one on the left in the top row.

And my friend Paul is the second one
in the second row, the one
with his collar sticking out, next to the teacher.

But that's not all––
if you look carefully you can see
our house in the background

with its porch and its brick chimney
and up in the clouds
you can see the faces of my parents,

and over there, off to the side,
Superman is balancing
a green car over his head with one hand.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

82. POEM ABOUT MORNING - William Meredith

.
Whether it's sunny or not, it's sure
To be enormously complex––
Trees or streets outdoors, indoors whoever you share,
And yourself, thirsty, hungry, washing.
An attitude towards sex.
No wonder half of you wants to stay
With your head dark and wishing
Rather than take it all on again:
Weren't you duped yesterday?
Things are not orderly here, no matter what they say.

But the clock goes off, if you have a dog
It wags, if you get up now you’ll be less
Late. Life is some kind of loathsome hag
Who is forever threatening to turn beautiful.
Now she gives you a quick toothpaste kiss
And puts a glass of cold cranberry juice,
Like a big fake garnet, in your hand.
Cranberry juice! You’re lucky, on the whole,
But there is a great deal about it you don’t understand.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

81. When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone - Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell - When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone

1

When one has lived a long time alone
one refrains from swatting the fly
and lets him go, and one hesitates to strike
the mosquito, though more than willing go slap
the flesh under her, and one lifts the toad
from the pit too deep for him to hop out of
and carries him to the grass, without minding
the toxic urine he slicks his body with,
and one envelops, in a towel, the swift
who fell down the chimney and knocks herself
against the window glass and releases her outside
and watches her fly free, a life line flung at reality,
when one has lived a long time alone.


2

When one has lived a long time alone,
one grabs the snake behind the head
and holds him until he stops trying to stick
the orange tongue, which splits at the end
into two black filaments and jumps out
like a fire-eater's belches and has little
in common with the pimpled pink lump that shapes
sounds and sleeps inside the human mouth,
into one's flesh, and clamps it between his jaws,
letting the gaudy tips show, as children do
when concentrating, and as very likely
one down oneself, without knowing it,
when one has lived a long time alone.

3

When one has lived a long time alone,
among regrets so immense the past occupies
nearly all the room there is in consciousness,
one notices in the snake's eyes, which look back
without paying less attention to the future,
the first coating of the opaque milky-blue
leucoma snakes to get when about to throw
their skins and become new––meanwhile continuing,
of course, to grow old––the exact bleu passé
that discolors the corneas of the blue-eyed
when they lie back at last and look for heaven,
a blurring one can see means they will never find it,
when one has lived a long time alone.

4

When one has lived a long time alone,
one holds the snake near a loudspeaker disgorging
gorgeous sound and watches him crook
his forepart into four right angles
as though trying to slow down the music
flowing through him, in order to absorb it
the milk of paradise into the flesh,
and now a glimmering appears at his mouth,
such a drop of intense fluid as, among humans,
could form after long exiting at the tip
of the the penis, and as he straightens himself out
he has the pathos one finds in the penis,
when one has loved a long time alone.

5

When one has lived a long time alone,
one can fall to poring upon a creature,
contrasting its eternity's-face to one's own
full of hours, taking note of each difference,
exaggerating it, making it everything,
until the other is utterly other, and then,
with hard effort, possibly with tongue sticking out,
going back over each one once again
and cancelling it, seeing nothing now
but likeness, until . . . half an hour later
one starts awake, taken aback at how eagerly
one swoons into the happiness of kinship,
when one has lived a long time alone.

6

When one has lived a long time alone
and listens at morning to mourning doves
sound their kyrie eleison, or the small thing
spiritualizing onto one's shoulder cry "pewit-phoebe!"
or peabody-sparrows at midday send schoolboys'
whistlings across the field, or at dusk, undamped,
unforgiving clinks, as from stonemasons' chisels,
or on trees' backs tree frogs scratch the thighs'
needfire awake, or from the frog pond pond frogs
raise their ave verum corpus—listens to those
who hop or fly call down upon us the mercy
of other tongues—one hears them as inner voices,
when one has lived a long time alone.

7

When one has lived a long time alone,
one knows only consciousness consummates,
and as the conscious one among these others
uttering compulsory cries of being here—
the least flycatcher witching up "che-bec,"
or redheaded woodpecker clanging out his
music from a metal drainpipe, or ruffed grouse
drumming "thump thrump thrump thrump-thrump-
thrump-thrump-rup-rup-rup-rup-rup-r-r-r-r-r-r"
through the treees, all of them in time's
unfolding trying to cry themselves into self-knowing—
one knows one is here to hear them into shining,
when one has lived a long time alone.

8
When one has loved a long time alone,
one likes alike the pig, who brooks no deferment
of gratification, and the porcupine, or thorned pig,
who enters the cellar but not the house itself
because of eating down the cellar stairs on the way up,
and one likes the worm, who by bunching herself together
and expanding rubs her way through the ground,
no less than the butterfly, who totters full of worry
among the day-lilies, as they darken,
and more and more one finds one likes
any other species better than one's own,
which has gone amok, making one self-estranged,
when one has lived a long time alone.

9

When one has lived a long time alone,
sour, misanthropic, one fits to one's defiance
the satanic boast—It is better to reign
in hell than to submit on earth—

and forgets one's kind, as does the snake,
who has stopped trying to escape and moves
at ease across one's body, slumping into its contours,
adopting its temperature, and abandons hope
of the sweetness of friendship or love
—before long can barely remember what they are—
and covets the stillness in organic matter,
in a self-dissolution one may not know how to halt,
when one has lived a long time alone.

10

When one has loved a long time alone,
and the hermit thrush calls and there is an answer,
and the bullfrog, head half out of water, remembers
the exact sexual cantillations of his first spring,
and the snake slides over the threshold and disappears
among the stones, one sees they all live
to mate with their kind, and one knows,
after a long time of solitude, after the many steps taken
away from one's kind, toward the kingdom of strangers,
the hard prayer inside one's own singing
is to come back, if one can, to one's own,
a world almost lost, in the exile that deepens,
when one has lived a long time alone.

11

When one has lived a long time alone,
one wants to live again among men and women,
to return to that place where one's ties with the human
broke, where the disquiet of death and now
also of history glimmers its firelight on faces,
where the gaze of the new baby looks past the gaze
of the great-granny, and where lovers speak,
on lips blowsy from kissing, that language
the same in each mouth, and like birds at daybreak
blether the song that is both earth's and heaven's,
until the sun has risen, and they stand
in a light of being united: kingdom come,
when one has lived a long time alone.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

80. SEPTEMBER, THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL - Howard Nemerov

I
My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave, he does
Let Go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago
I may have had a hard time letting go.

Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Learning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible

Bow down before it, as in Joseph's dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness come of it in the end.

II
A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare's plays,
As from the integers comes Euler's Law,
As from the whole, inseparably, the lives,

The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic phantasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form

Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

79. SCRAMBLED EGGS AND WHISKEY - Hayden Carruth

.
Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren't we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don't say a word,
don't tell a soul, whey wouldn't
understand, they couldn't, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

78. FREEDOM - William Stafford

.
Freedom is not following a river.
Freedom is following a river,
though, if you want to.
It is deciding now by what happens now.
It is knowing that luck makes a difference.

No leader is free; no follower is free––
the rest of us can often be free.
Most of the world are living by
creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming
to be worth arguing about by reason.

If you are oppressed, wake up about
four in the morning: most places,
you can usually be free some of the time
if you wake up before other people.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

77. NIGHTCLUB - Billy Collins

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don't hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.

For no particular reason the afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts of love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else's can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o'clock in the morning,
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.

Friday, March 10, 2006

76. ROLLS-ROYCE DREAMS - Ginger Andrews

.
Using salal leaves for money,
my youngest sister and I
paid an older sister
to taxi an abandoned car
in our backyard. Our sister
knew how to shift gears
turn smoothly with a hand signal,
and make perfect screeching stop sounds.

We drove to the beach,
to the market, to Sunday School,
past our would-be boyfriends' houses,
to any town, anywhere.
We shopped for expensive clothes everywhere.
Our sister would open our doors
and say, Meter's runnin' ladies,
but take your time.


We rode all over in that ugly green Hudson
with its broken front windshield, springs poking
through its back seat, blackberry vines growing
through rusted floorboards,
with no wheels, no tires, taillights busted,
headlights missing, and gas gage on empty.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

75. GREEN STREET - Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The Green Street Mortuary Marching Band
marches right down Green Street
and turns into Columbus Avenue
where all the cafe sitters at
the sidewalk cafe tables
sit talking and laughing and
looking right through it

as if it happened every day in
little old wooden North Beach San Francisco
but at the same time feeling thrilled
by the stirring sound of the gallant marching band
as it it were celebrating life and
never heard of death

And right behind it comes the open hearse
with the closed casket and the
big framed picture under glass propped up
showing the patriarch who
has just croaked

And now all seven members of
the Green Street Mortuary Marching Band
with the faded gold braid on their
beat-up captains' hats
raise their bent axes and
start blowing all more or less
together and
out comes this Onward Christian Soldiers like
you heard it once upon a time only
much slower with a dead beat

And now you see all the relatives behind the
closed glass windows of the long black cars and
their faces are all shiny like they
been weeping with washcloths and
all super serious
like as if the bottom has just dropped out of
their private markets and
there's the widow all in weeds, and the sister with the
bent frame and the mad brother who never got through school
and Uncle Louie with the wig and there they all assembled
together and facing each other maybe for the first time in a long
time but their masks and public faces are all in place as they face
outward behind the traveling corpse up ahead and oompah oompah
goes the band very slow with the trombones and the tuba
and the trumpets and the big bass drum and the corpse hears
nothing or everything and it's a glorious autumn day in old
North Beach if only he could have lived to see it

Only we wouldn't have had the band who half an hour later can be seen
straggling back silent along the sidewalks looking like hungover
brokendown Irish bartenders dying for a drink or a last hurrah

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

74. COURAGE - Anne Sexton

.
It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love, love as simple as shaving soap.

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on you carpet slippers
and stride out.

Monday, March 06, 2006

73. WALKING THE DOG - Howard Neverov

.
Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.
Mostly I look at lamplight through the leaves
While he mooches along with tail up and snout down,
Getting a secret knowledge through the nose
Almost entirely hidden from my sight.

We stand while he's enraptured by a bush
Till I can't stand our standing any more
And haul him off; for our relationship
Is patience balancing to this side tug
And that side drag; a pair of symbionts
Contented not to think each other's thoughts.

What else we have in common's what he taught,
Our interest in shit. We know it every state
From steaming fresh through stink to nature's way
Of sluicing it downstreet dissolved in rain
Or drying it to dust that blows away.
We move along the street inspecting it.

His sense of it is keener far than mine,
And only when he finds the place precise
He signifies by sniffing urgently
And circles thrice about, and squats, and shits,
whereon we both with dignity walk home
And just to show who's master I write the poem.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

72. STEPPING OUT OF POETRY - Gerald Stern

.
What would you give for one of the old yellow streetcars
rocking toward you again through the thick snow?

What would give for the feeling of joy as you climbed
up the three iron steps and took your place by the cold window?

Oh, what would you give to pick up your stack of books
and walk down the icy path in front of the library?

What would you give for your dream
to be as clear and simple as it was then
in the dark afternoons, at the old scarred tables?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

71. CHILD DEVELOPMENT - Billy Collins

As sure as prehistoric fish grew legs
and sauntered off the beaches into forests
working up some irregular verbs for their
first conversation, so three-year-old children
enter the phase of name-calling.

Every day a new one arrives and is added
to the repertoire. You Dumb Goopyhead,
You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on-the-Floor
(a kind of Navaho ring to that one)
they yell from knee level, their little mugs
flushed with challenge.
Nothing Samuel Johnson would bother tossing out
in a pub, but then the toddlers are not trying
to devastate some fatuous Enlightenment hack.

They are just tormenting their fellow squirts
or going after the attention of the giants
way up there with their cocktails and bad breath
talking baritone nonsense to other giants,
waiting to call them names after thanking
them for the lovely party and hearing the door close.

The mature save their hothead invective
for things: an errant hammer, tire chains,
or receding trains missed by seconds,
though they know in their adult hearts,
even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bed
for his appalling behavior,
that their bosses are Big Fatty Stupids,
their wives are Dopey Dopeheads
and that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants.

Friday, March 03, 2006

70. POEM IN THANKS - Thomas Lux

.
Lord Whoever, thank you for this air
I'm about to in- and exhale, this hutch
in the woods, the wood for fire,
the light–––both lamp and the natural stuff
of leaf-black fern, and wing.
For the piano, the shovel
for ashes, the moth-gnawed
blankets, the stone-cold water
stone-cold: thank you.
Thank you, Lord, coming for
to carry me here–––where I'll gnash
it out, Lord, where I'll calm
and work, Lord, thank you
for the goddamn birds singing!