Monday, December 31, 2007

564. Alusina takes a walk in the rain - Conchitina Cruz

Conchitina Cruz - Alusina takes a walk in the rain

It is difficult to miss you in the summer, your voice written all over the clear night sky, the
stars mapping out your single instruction: go home. Each night, I keep my eyes on the
shadow of my open umbrella. I stay indoors, stay away from windows.

Today, the news tells me you are scheduled to be lonely. I part my curtains and look up.

Later, when the roads turn slippery with your sadness, I will put on my shoes, soak myself
in your tears. It is difficult not to miss you when the evening sky is speechless, when your silence
travels down my cheeks, like a request.

I cannot forgive you. That day, if you had not refused, I would have given you a present. I
would have carved my love in stone.

Friday, December 28, 2007

563. Comes The Dawn - Virginia Shopstall

After awhile you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn that love doesn’t mean possession
and company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises
and you begin to accept your defeats with your head up
and your eyes ahead
with the grace of an adult not the grief of a child.

And you learn to build your roads today
because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have ways of falling down in mid-flight.

After awhile you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much
so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and you really do have worth
and you learn and you learn…with every goodbye you learn.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

562. Variations On A Theme By Joyce - Weldon Kees

.
The war is in words and the wood in the world
That turns beneath our rootless feet;
The vines that reach, alive and snarled,
Across the path where the sand is swirled,
Twist in the night. The light lies flat.
The war is in words and the wood is the world.

The rain is ruin and our ruin rides
The swiftest winds; the wood is whorled
And turned and smoothed by the turning tides.
––There is rain in the woods, slow rain that breeds
The war in the words. The wood is the world,
This rain is ruin and our ruin rides.

The war is in words and the wood is the world,
Sourceless and seized and forever filled
With green vines twisting on wood more gnarled
Than dead men's hands. The vines are curled
Around these branches, crushed and killed.
The war is in words and the wood is the world.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

561. Remember - Joy Harjo

.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
in a bar once in Iowa City.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth,
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe. I heard her singing Kiowa war
dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once.
Remember that you are all people and that all people
are you. Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember that language comes from this.
Remember the dance that language is, that life is.
Remember.

Friday, December 21, 2007

560. The Untrustworthy Speaker - Louise Gluck

.
Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.
I don’t see anything objectively.

I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.
When I speak passionately,
That’s when I’m least to be trusted.

It’s very sad, really: all my life I’ve been praised
For my intelligence, my posers of language, of insight–
In the end they’re wasted–

I never see myself,
Standing on the front steps. Holding my sisters hand.
That’s why I can’t account
For the bruises on her arm where the sleeve ends…

In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.
People like me, who seem selfless.
We’re the cripples, the liars:
We’re the ones who should be factored out
In the interest of truth.

When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.
A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers,
Underneath, a little gray house. The azaleas
Read and bright pink.

If you want the truth, you have to close yourself
To the older sister, block her out:
When a living thing is hurt like that
In its deepest workings,
All function is altered.

That’s why I’m not to be trusted.
Because a wound to the heart
Is also a wound to the mind.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

559. At Blackwater Pond - Mary Oliver

.
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

558. Autumn Day - Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell

Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

557. Antarctica - Derek Mahon

"I am just going outside and may be some time." The others nod, pretending not to know. At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime. He leaves them reading and begins to climb, Goading his ghost into the howling snow; He is just going outside and may be some time. The tent recedes beneath its crust of rime And frostbite is replaced by vertigo: At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime. Need we consider it some sort of crime, This numb self-sacrifice of the weakest? No, He is just going outside and may be some time – In fact, for ever. Solitary enzyme, Through the night yield no glimmer there will glow, At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime. He takes leave of the earthly pantomime Quietly, knowing it is time to go. "I am just going outside and may be some time." At the heart of the ridiculous , the sublime.

556. Orchards In July - Zbigniew Machej

.
Waters from cold springs
and glittering minerals
tirelessly wander.
Patient, unceasing,
they overcome granite, layers
of hungry gravel, iridescent
precincts of clay. If they abandon
themselves to the black
roots it's only to go
up, as high as possible
through wells hidden
under the bark of fruit trees. Through
the green touched with gray, of leaves,
fallen petals of white
flowers with rosy edges,
apples heavy with sweet redness
and their bitterish seeds.
O, waters from cold
springs and glittering
minerals. You are awaited
by a cirrus with a fluid
sunny outline
and by an abyss of blue
which has been rinsed
in the just wind.

Monday, December 17, 2007

555. Once A Great Love - Yehuda Amichai

Translated from the Hebrew by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes

Once a great love cut my life in two.
The first part goes on twisting
at some other place like a snake cut in two.

The passing years have calmed me
and brought healing to my heart and rest to my eyes.

And I'm like someone standing in the Judean desert, looking at a sign:
'Sea Level'.
He cannot see the sea, but he knows.

Thus I remember your face everywhere
at your 'face level'.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

554. On Parting - Anne Szumigalski

.
It's over you know, the summer's over.
Clouds of dust as the last vehicle went out.

A jeep hauling a small boat on a trailer
Through the dust of the grey country road.

Patterns of tires, patterns of cast leaves
Printed in ashen dust

The next day clouds of snow, the crumbled sky
Falling and settling on the trees
Of the bare abandoned forest.

They have all returned to the city, while I remain
Sorting my summer notebooks:

Drawings of tender plants begun in the spring
Pressings of leaves

Which are prints of tough early autumn, before
The rot comes that thickens
The floor of the woods.

And what lies beneath the snow, the needle duff?
Cities of pebbles and crushed shells,

Kingdoms of beetles, republics of worms,
Forest of hyphae, tangled mycelium,

Roots of trees coming upon each other
In the dark.

--

Saturday, December 15, 2007

553. The Sycamore - Wendell Berry

.
In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

552. Among The Multitudes - Wislawa Szymborska

.
I am who I am.
A coincidence no less unthinkable
than any other.

I could have different
ancestors, after all,
I could have fluttered
from another nest
or crawled bescaled
from under another tree.

Nature's wardrobe
holds a fair supply of costumes:
spider, seagull, field mouse.
Each fits perfectly right off
and is dutifully worn
into shreds.

I didn't get a choice either,
but I can't complain.
I could have been someone
much less separate.
Someone from an anthill, shoal, or buzzing swarm,
an inch of landscape tousled by the wind

Someone much less fortunate,
bred for my fur
or Christmas dinner,
something swimming under a square of glass.

A tree rooted to the ground
as the fire draws near.

A grass blade trampled by a stampede
on incomprehensible events.

A shady type whose darkness
dazzled some.

What if I'd prompted only fear,
loathing,
or pity?

If I'd been born
in the wrong tribe,
with all roads closed before me?

Fate has been kind
to me thus far.

I might never have been given
the memory of happy moments.

My yen for comparison
might have been taken away.

I might have been myself minus amazement,
that is,
someone completely different.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

551. Sotto Voce - Kathleen Flanniken

.
Tonight blame Kiri Te Kanawa
infusing the kitchen with her aria,
blame the mixed bouquet of basil

and flayed tomatoes and onions
and one expansive high note blooming
like a rose in fast-frame.

Here in the audience,
even in middle age, a little voice sings
from the back of the auditorium

of my throat. Aren't all of us
waiting to be discovered?
Men and women enter the grand halls

of regional sales meetings
pressing nametags to dresses and ties.
I have been one of those

entering hopefully, conducting
delicate exchanges in hotel rooms.
I have called those pale disclosures

my life. Blame the cheap seats
we bought in the balcony.
We barely hear the little cogs

in our own hearts. Mozart, they say,
heard entire operas in a moment––
second violins, a glaze of harp,

heroic voices in the chorus all
clamoring to be realized
at once. My genius may be small,

but sometimes truth rolls right at me
like a hard head of cabbage
and I see myself that suddenly,

draining the pasta.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

550. The End Of The Opera - Howard Nemerov

.
Knowing that what he witnessed was only art,
He never wept while the show was going on.

But the curtain call could always make him cry.
When the cast came forward hand in hand
Bowing and smiling to the clatter of applause,
Tired, disheveled, sweating through the paint,
Radiant with our happiness and theirs,
Illuminati of the spot and flood,
Yet much the same as ordinary us.

The dive, the soubrette, the raisonneur,
The inadequate hero, the villain, his buffoon,
All equalled in the great reality
And living proof that life would follow life . . .

Though back of that display there'd always be,
He knew, money and envy, the career,
Tomorrow and tomorrow––it didn't seem
At that moment as if it mattered much
Compared with their happiness and ours
As we wept about the role, about the real,
And how their dissonances harmonized
As we applauded us: ite, missa est.

Monday, December 10, 2007

549. On Commitment - W. H. Murray

.
Until one is committed there is always hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
There is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
raising to one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings
and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt
would come his way.
"Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."


“This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:"
"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!"

Saturday, December 08, 2007

548. Eruption: Pu`u Ō`o - Garrett Kaoru Hongo

.
We woke near midnight,
flicking on the coat closet’s bulb,
the rainforest chilled with mist,
a yellow swirl of gas
in the spill of light outside.
Stars paling, tucked high
in the sky’s blue jade,
we saw, through the back windows
and tops of ohi`a trees,
silhouettes and red showers
as if from Blake’s fires,
magenta and billows of black volleying.
Then, a burbling underground,
like rice steaming in the pot,
shook through chandeliers of fern
and the A-frame’s tambourine floor,
stirring the cats and chickens
from the crawl-space and their furled sleep.

The fountains rose to 900 feet that night,
without us near it, smoking white,
spitting from the cone 6 miles away,
a geyser of flame, pyramids and gyre of ash.
Novices, we dressed and drove out,
first to the crater rim, Uwēkahuna
a canyon and sea of ash and moonstone,
the hardened, grey back of Leviathan
steaming and venting, dormant under cloud-cover.
And then next down Volcano Road past the villages
to Hirano Store on Kīlauea’s long plateau
There, over canefield and the hardened lava land,
all we saw was in each other’s eyes ––
the mind’s fear and the heart’s delight,
running us this way and that.

Friday, December 07, 2007

547. the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls - e. e. cummings

.
the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things—
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
.... the Cambridge ladies do not care, above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

Thursday, December 06, 2007

546. Morning - Conchitina Cruz

.
You never know when somebody will walk away from you on a bright day on a busy street, never looking back and

you cannot believe the slow disappearance, cannot believe what is moving away from your reach until the busy street no longer needs its presence to look the same, because it is the same.

And the city offers you its fruits and fish, and the churchgoers lift their veils as they step out in the open

and you know the picture is incomplete but it can stand for itself

and who are you to ask for more, who are you to insist on hunger?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

545. Evening Talk - Charles Simic

.
Everything you didn’t understand
Made you what you are. Strangers
Whose eye you caught on the street
Studying you. Perhaps they were all-seeing
Illuminati? They knew what you didn’t,
And left you troubled like a strange dream.

Not even the light stayed the same.
Where did all that hard glare come from?
And the scent, as if mythical beings
Were being groomed and fed stalks of hay
On these roofs drifting among the evening clouds.

You didn’t understand a thing!
You loved the crowds at the end of the day
That brought you so many mysteries.
There was always someone you were meant to meet
Who for some reason wasn’t waiting.
Or perhaps they were? But not here, friend.

You should have crossed the street
And followed that obviously demented woman
With the long streak of blood-red hair
Which the sky took up like a distant cry.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

544. Postscript - Seamus Heaney

.
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into Country Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-gray lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Monday, December 03, 2007

543. Carson McCullers - Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski - Carson McCullers

she died of alcoholism
wrapped in a blanket
on a deck chair
on an ocean steamer.

all her books of
terrified loneliness

all her books about
the cruelty
of loveless love

were all that was left
of her

as the strolling vacationer
discovered her body

notified the captain

and she was quickly dispatched
to somewhere else
on the ship

as everything
continued just
as
she had written it.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

542. Slough - John Betjeman

.
Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who'll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women's tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are mad,
They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It's not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren't look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

541. The Layers - Stanley Kunitz

.
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written,
I am not done with my changes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

540. All This - Saint Augustine

.
All this I do inside me,
in the huge court of my memory.
There I have by me the sky, the earth,
the sea, and all things in them
which I have been able to perceive . . .
There too I encounter myself . . .

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

539. Now, When the Waters Are Pressing Mightily - Yehuda Amichai

Translated from the Hebrew by Leon Wieseltier

Now, when the waters are pressing mightily
on the walls of the dams,
now, when the white storks, returning,
are transformed in the middle of the firmament
into fleets of jet planes,
we will feel again how strong are the ribs
and how vigorous is the warm air in the lungs
and how much daring is needed to love on the exposed plain,
when the great dangers are arched above,
and how much love is required
to fill all the empty vessels
and the watches that stopped telling time,
and how much breath,
a whirlwind of breath,
to sing the small song of spring.

Monday, November 26, 2007

538. San Francisco - Weldon Kees

.
Beside the bay, observers penetrate
Distance upon distance, cloud on cloud,
Crayons of smoke that sketch blue sky
With gray appeals. We pause, stretched side by side,
Safe for the moment from the nudging crowd,
Laughter for strangeness, and old myths crisping in the grate.

These trinkets, essences that we have saved,
Sheathed valuables that hold us here
Where gull-cry, wave-wash, dash of listening sea
Stir memory and love, are suddenly
Minute survivors, permanent and clear.
-We must go back. Your eyes are mirrors, strangely grave.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

537. Honey At The Table - Mary Oliver

.
It fills you with the soft
essence of vanished flowers, it becomes
a trickle soft as a hair that you follow
from the honey pot over the table

and out the door and over the ground,
and all the while it thickens,

grows deeper and wilder, edged
with pine boughs and wet boulders,
pawprints of bobcat and bear, until

deep in the forest you
shuffle up some tree, you rip the bark,

you float into and swallow the dripping combs,
bits of the tree, crushed bees — a taste
composed of everything lost, in which everything
lost is found.

Friday, November 23, 2007

536. In Praise of Shadow (3) - Jorge Luis Borges

Translated from the Spanish by Anthony and Willis Barnstone

Old age (this is the name that others give it)
may be the time of our happiness.
The animal is dead or nearly dead.
Man and his soul remain.
I live among vague and luminous forms
that are not yet darkness.
Buenos Aires,
which once was torn into far suburbs
facing the endless plain,
is not the cemetery of the Recoleta, the Retiro square,
the dingy streets of the Eleventh district,
and the precarious old houses
that we still call the South.
Always there were too many things in my life;
Demokritos of Abdera tore out his eyes to think;
time has been by Demokritos.
This penumbra is slow and brings no pain;
it flows down a gentle slope
and resembles eternity.
My friends have no faces,
women are what they were so many years ago,
one street corner might be another,
there are no letters on the pages of books.
All this ought to unnerve me,
but it is a sweetness, a return.
From the generations of texts on the earth
I have read only a few,
the ones I keep reading in memory,
reading and distorting.
From the South, the East, the West, the North,
roads converge that have led me
to my secret center.
Those roads were echoes and footsteps,
women, men, agonies, resurrections,
days and nights,
half dreams and dreams,
every obscure instant of yesterday
and of the world's yesterdays,
the firm sword of the Dane and the moon of the Persian,
the deeds of the dead,
shared love, words,
Emerson and snow and so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my center,
my algebra and my key,
my mirror.
Soon I will know who I am.

535. In Praise of Darkness (2) - Jorge Luis Borges

(Elogio de la Sombra)
Translated from the Spanish by Norman Thomas di Giovanni

Old age (this is the name that others give it)
may prove a time of happiness.
The animal is dead or nearly dead;
man and soul go on.
I live among vague whitish shapes
that are not darkness yet.
Buenos Aires,
which once broke up in a tatter of slums and open lots
out toward the endless plain,
is not again the graveyard of the Recolets, the Retiro square,
the shabby streets of the old Westside,
and the few vanishing decrepit houses
that we still call the South.
All through my life things were too many.
To think, Democritus tore out his eyes;
time has been my Democritus.
This growing dark is slow and brings no pain;
it flows along an easy slope
and is akin to eternity.
My friends are faceless,
women are as they were years back,
one street corner is taken for another,
on the pages of books there are no letters.
All this should make me uneasy,
but there's a restfulness about it, a going back.
Of the many generations of books on earth
I have read only a few,
the few that in my mind I go on reading still––
reading and changing.
from south and east and west and north,
roads coming together have led me
to my secret center.
These roads were footsteps and echoes,
women, men, agonies, rebirths,
days and nights,
falling asleep and dreams,
each single moment of my yesterdays
and of the world's yesterdays,
the firm sword of the Dane and the moon of the Persians,
the deeds of the dead,
shared love, words,
Emerson, and snow, and so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my center,
my algebra and my key,
my mirror.
Soon I shall know who I am.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

534. In Praise of the Shadow (1) - Jorge Luis Borge

(Elogio de la Sombra)

Old age (such is the name that others give it)
can become the time of our happiness.
The beast is dead, or dying.
The man and his soul remain,
alive, between images both bright and blurred,
those not yet hidden in shadow.
Buenos Aires,
which once hid itself away in outskirts, suburbs
now shows itself to be the Recoleta, the Retiro,
the muddy lanes of el Once,
and the precarious old houses
that we once called el Sur.
Throughout my life there were always things--too many--
Democritus of Abdera tore out his eyes so he could think;
time has been my Democritus.
The shadow is slow. It does not hurt;
it flows as if down a gentle slope.
Perhaps the shadow is eternity.
My friends no longer have faces,
the women, finally, can be what they became long ago,
street corners are strangers,
and there are no letters on the printed page.
All of this would frighten me
if it were not a sweet return.
From all the generations of books born on this earth,
I will only have known a few,
those which I continue reading in memory,
reading and transforming.
From the South, the East, the West, the North,
converge the paths which brought me
to my most secret self.
Those ways were echoes and steps,
women, men, agonies, resurrections,
days and nights,
waking-dreams and dreams,
every shrinking instant of yesterday
and the yesterdays of the world,
the resolute Danish sword and beckoning Persian moon,
the deeds of our ancestors,
the shared love, those words,
Emerson and the snow and so many other things.
Now I can forget them. I arrive at my inner self,
my algebra and my key,
my mirror.
Soon I will know who I am.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

533. Marginalia - Billy Collins

.
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have manage to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

531. The Layers - Stanley Kunitz

.
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written,
I am not done with my changes.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

530. Atavism - William Stafford

1
Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.

2
Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.

Friday, November 16, 2007

529. Cassandra - Wislawa Szymborska

.
It's me, Cassandra.
And this is my city covered with ashes.
And this is my rod, and the ribbons of a prophet.
And this is my head full of doubts.

It's true, I won.
What I said would happen
hit the sky with a fiery glow.
Only prophets
whom no one believes
witness such things,
only those who do their job badly.
And everything happens so quickly,
as if they had not spoken.

Now I remember clearly
how people, seeing me, broke off mid-sentence.
Their laughter stopped.
They moved away from each other.
Children ran towards their mothers.
I didn't even know their vague names.
And that song about a green leaf––
nobody ever finished singing it in front of me.

I loved them.
But I loved them from a height,
from above life,
from the future.
Where it's always empty
and where it's easy to see death.
I am sorry my voice was harsh.
Look at yourselves from a distance, I cried,
look at yourselves from a distance of stars.
They heard and lowered their eyes.

They just lived.
Not very brave.
Doomed.
In departing bodies, from the moment of birth.
But they had this watery hope,
a blame feeding on its own glittering.
They knew what a moment was.
How I wish for one moment, any,
before––
I was proved right.
So what. Nothing comes of it.
And this is my robe scorched by flames.
And these are the odds and ends of a prophet.
And this is my distorted face.
The face that did not know its own beauty.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

528. Throw Yourself Like Seed - Miguel de Unamuno

Translated from the Spanish 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 abundant.

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 field,
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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

527. The Art Of Disappearing - Naomi Shihab Nye

.
When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

526. Follower - Seamus Heaney

.
My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horse strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck

Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.

Monday, November 12, 2007

525. Once Again I Fail To Read An Important Novel - George Bilgere

Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.

We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other's silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.

All the characters can relax.
I'm giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.

In the afternoon,
at lunch near the cathedral,
and in the evening, after my lonely,
historical walk along the promenade,

the men and women, the children
and even the dogs
in the important, complicated novel
have nothing to fear from me.

We will sit quietly at the table
with a glass of cool red wine
and listen to the pigeons
questioning each other in the ancient corridors.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

524. The Discovery Of Daily Experience - William Stafford

It is a whisper. You turn somewhere,
hall, street, some great even: the stars
or the lights hold; your next step waits you
and the firm world waits- but
there is a whisper. You always live so,
a being that receives, or partly receives, or
fails to receive each moment's touch.

You see the people around you––the honors
they bear––a crutch, a cane, eye patch,
or the subtler ones, that fixed look, a turn
aside, or even the brave bearing: all declare
our kind, who serve on the human front and earn
whatever disguise will take them home. (I saw
Frank last week with his crutch de guerre.)

When the world is like this––and it is––
whispers, honors or penalties disguised––no wonder
art thrives like a pulse wherever civilized people,
or any people, live long enough in a place to
build, and remember, and anticipate; for we are
such beings as interact elaborately with what
surrounds us. The limited actual world we successively
overcome by fictions and by the mind's inventions
that cannot be quite arbitrary (and hence do reflect
the actual), but can escape the actual (and hence
may become art).

Friday, November 09, 2007

523. A TELEGRAM FROM THE MUSE - William Mathews

.
CARO THOSE LAST FEW POEMS ARE DYNAMITE
STOP SOON THE SEVEN ENVIES WILL INVEST
YOUR FELLOW SCRIBBLERS STOP BUT DON'T IGNITE
BOTH ENDS OF YOUR STOUT CANDLE STOP TIME TO REST
TO READ SOME MYSTERY NOVELS TO GRILL
FAT TUNA STEAKS IN THE WAVERY BLUE
GRAY ADIRONDACK LIGHT THAT STAINS THE HILLS
AT DUSK STOP I CONFESS THE RUMORS TRUE
I ONCE WROTE A LITTLE VERSE MYSELF STOP
SIT ON THOSE ADORABLE LAURELS AND UNSCREW
A FEW CORKS AND PLAY SOME TENNIS
STOP FELICIA SAYS YOUR PALE AS A DISH
OF HERRING IN FLUORESCENT LIGHT STOP DO
NOTHING TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME STOP

Monday, November 05, 2007

522. Letters of the Dead - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Vuyelwa Carlin

We read the letters of the dead like puzzled gods –
gods nevertheless, because we know what happened later.
We know what money wasn’t repaid,
the widows who rushed to remarry.
Poor, unseeing dead,
deceived, fallible, toiling in solemn foolery.
We see the signs made behind their backs,
catch the rustle of ripped-up wills.
They sit there before us, ridiculous
as things perched on buttered bread,
or fling themselves after whisked-away hats.
Their bad taste – Napoleon, steam and electricity,
deadly remedies for curable diseases,
the foolish apocalypse of St. John,
the false paradise on earth of Jean-Jacques . . .
Silently, we observe their pawns on the board
– but shifted three squares on.
Everything they foresaw has happened quite differently,
or a little differently – which is the same thing.
The most fervent stare trustingly into our eyes;
by their reckoning, they’ll see perfection there.

.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

521. How Did A Flag - Yehuda Amichai

Translated from the Hebrew by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes

How did a flag come into being?
Let's assume that in the beginning
there was something whole, which was
then torn into two pieces, both big enough
for two battling armies.
Or like the ragged striped fabric
of a beach chair in an abandoned
little garden of my childhood,
flapping in the wind. This
too could be a flag making you arise
to follow it or to weep at its side,
to betray it or to forget.

I don't know. In my wars
no flag-bearer marched in front
of the grey soldiers in clouds of dust and smoke.
I've seen things starting as spring,
ending up with hasty retreat
in pale dunes.
I'm far away from all that, like one
who in the middle of a bridge
forgets both its ends
and remains standing there
bent over the railing
to look down into the streaming water:
This too is a flag.

Friday, November 02, 2007

520. Praise To The Mind - Weldon Kees

.
Praise to the mind
That slowly grows
In solid breadth, that knows
Its varied errors, shows
And will admit
Its witlessness.

Praise to the single mind
That sees no street
Run through this world, complete,
That does not meet,
Bending at end,
Remorselessly, its source.

Praise to the mind
That moves toward meaning,
Kindness; mixes keenness
With routine of
Grace, has space,
And finds its place.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

519. Answers To Letters - Tomas Tranströmer

.
In the bottom drawer of my desk I found a letter that first arrived twenty-
six years ago. A letter in panic, and it's still breathing when it arrives the
second time.

A house has five windows: through four of them the day shines clear
and still. The fifth faces a black sky, thunder and storm. I stand at the fifth
window. The letter.

Sometimes an abyss opens between Tuesday and Wednesday
but twenty-six years could pass in a moment. Time is not a straight line, it's
more of a labyrinth, and if you press close to the wall at the right place you
can hear the hurrying steps and the voices, you can hear yourself walking
past on the other side.

Was the letter ever answered? I don't remember, it was long ago. The
countless thresholds of the sea kept migrating. The heart kept leaping
from second to second like a toad in the wet grass of an August night.

The unanswered letters pile up, like cirrostratus clouds promising bad
weather. They can make the sunbeams lusterless. One day I will answer. One
day when I am dead and can at last concentrate. Or at least so far away
from here that I can find myself again. When I'm walking, newly arrived,
in the big city, on 125th Street, in the wind on the street of dancing
garbage. I who love to stray off and vanish in the crowd, a capital T in the
endless mass of the text.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

518. Sleeping in the Forest - Mary Oliver

.
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

517. On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam - Hayden Carruth

.
Well I have and in fact
more than one and I'll
tell you this too

I wrote one against
Algeria that nightmare
and another against

Korea and another
against the one
I was in

and I don't remember
how many against
the three

when I was a boy
Abyssinia Spain and
Harlan County

and not one
breath was restored
to one

shattered throat
mans womans or childs
not one not

one
but death went on and on
never looking aside

except now and then
with a furtive half-smile
to make sure I was noticing.

Monday, October 29, 2007

516. The Yellow Steeple - Andrew Hudgins

.
On my way home from work, I jumped the fence
and cut across the Baptist cemetery.
As I walked over Sarah Pratt,
I saw a workman standing on a scaffold
and swatting a coat of yellow paint
over the peeling whitewash on the steeple.
He dropped a can of paint, and as it fell
the paint dispersed into a mist
and spread a rain of yellow dots
across a corner of the cemetery––
the bushes , trees, headstones, and me.
It ruined by coat. I didn't care:
I felt like Danae when she
was loved by Zeus in the golden rain.
Then, looking up, I saw a hawk.
It didn't move at all––not once––
but hung arrested in the air
till I released the breath I held
in awe of its pinpoint, predatory grace.
Still watching it as I walked home,
I barked my shins on a marble angel,
slid down a bank of slick white mud,
fell in the creek, and came up laughing.

It was one of those sustaining days
when you're absolutely sure you have a soul.

Friday, October 26, 2007

515. A Not So Good Night In The San Pedro Of The World - Charles Bukowski

.
it's unlikely that a decent poem is in me
tonight
and I understand that this is strickly my
problem
and of no interest to you
that I sit here listening to a man playing
a piano on the radio
and it's bad piano, both the playing and
the composition
and again, this is of no interest to you
as one of my cats,
a beautiful white with strange markings,
sleeps in the bathroom.

I have no ideas of what would be of interest to you
but I doubt that you would be of
interest to me, do don't get
superior.
in fact, come to think of it, you can
kiss my ass.

I continue to listen to the piano
this will not be a memorable night in my
life or yours.

let us celebrate the stupidity of our
endurance.

 (Thanks Obaid)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

514. Dennis Was Very Sick - Yehuda Amichai

Translated from the Hebrew by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes

Dennis was very sick.
His face retreated
But his eyes advanced from it
With great courage
As in a war
When the fresh reinforcements
Pass on their way to the front
The retreating columns of the beaten.

He has to get healthy soon.
He is like our bank,
In which we deposited all we had in our heart.
He is like Switzerland,
Filled with banks.

Already he is smoking one cigarette,
Trembling a little,
And as it should be with a true poet,
He puts the burned matches
Back into the box.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

513. Obituary - Weldon Kees

.
Boris is dead. The fatalist parrot
No longer screams warnings to Avenue A.
He died last week on a rainy day.
He is sadly missed. His spirit was rare.

The cage is empty. The unhooked chain,
His pitiful drippings, the sunflower seeds,
The brass sign, "Boris" are all that remain.
His irritable body is under the weeds.

Like Eliot's world, he went out with a whimper;
Silent for days, with his appetite gone,
He watched the traffic flow by, unheeding,
His universe crumbling, his heart a stone.

No longer will Boris cry, 'Out brief candle!"
Or "Down with tyranny, hate, and war!"
To astonished churchgoers and businessmen.
Boris is dead. The porch is a tomb.
And a black wreath decorates the door.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

512. A Poem In Honor Of - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

Once, upon a time, invented zero.
In an uncertain country. Under a star
which may be dark by now. Bounded by dates,
but no one would swear to them. Without a name,
not even a contentious one. Leaving behind
no golden words beneath his zero
about life being like. Nor any legends:
that one day he appended zero
to a picked rose and tied it up into a bouquet;
that when he was about to die, he rode off into the desert
on a hundred-humped camel; that he fell asleep
in the shadow of the palm of primacy; that he will awaken
when everything has been counted,
down the last grain of sand. What a man
Slipping into the fissure between fact and fiction,
he has escaped our notice. Resistant
to every fate. He sheds
every form I give him.
Silence has closed over him, his voice leaving no scar.
The absence has taken on the look of the horizon,
Zero writes itself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

511. Excerpt from Oedipus - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Translated from the Greek by Ted Hughes
Act Five. Chorus draws the moral: fate cannot be avoided

Fate is the master of everything ... it is vain to fight against fate
from the beginning to the end the road is laid down
human scheming is futile ... worries are futile ... prayers are futile
sometimes a man wins ... sometimes he loses
who decides whether he loses or wins
it has all been decided long ago elsewhere
it is destiny
not a single man can alter it
all he can do is let it happen
the good luck the bad luck everything that happens
everything that seems to toss our days up and down
it is all there from the first moment
it is all there ... tangled in the knotted mesh of causes
helpless to change itself
even the great god lies there entangled
helpless in the mesh of causes
and the last day lies there tangled with the first
a man's life is a pattern on the floor ... like a maze
it is all fixed ... he wanders in the pattern
no prayer can alter it
or help him to escape it ... nothing

then fear can be the end of him
a man's fear of his fate is often his fate
leaping to avoid it ... he meets it

Friday, October 19, 2007

510. Henry James At Newport - Weldon Kees

(For Ann)

And shores and strands and naked piers,
Sunset on waves, orange laddering the blue,
White sails on headlands, cool
Wide curving bay, dim landward distances
Dissolving in the property of local air.

Viterbo, Bagdad, Carcassonne––
They play upon the mind, the eyes again,
Although these back verandas, resolutely prim,
Say Quakers, Roger Williams––murmurs of the past––
While special staircase ghosts return,
Known voices in the old brown rooms:
"People don't do those things."
The pictures huddle in the frames.

Removed from those blank days
In which the margin is consumed,
The palace sites stare seaward, pure, blasé,
Remember the detached, the casually disqualified,
The mild cosmopolites whose ivory dream
Found no successors, quietly embalmed.
They nursed nostalgia on the sun-warmed rocks,
Exquisite, sterile, easily distressed,
Thought much of Paris; died
While he lived out their deaths.

Shores, strands, white sails and naked piers,
Wide curving bay and landward distances.
Thoughts of the dispossessed on summer afternoons.
The sails are tattered and the shrubs are dead.
The stone-walled fields are featureless.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

509. Sweet Talk - Billy Collins



You are not the Mona Lisa
with that relentless look.
Or Venus borne over the froth
of waves on a pink half shell.
Or an odalisque by Delacroix,
veils lapping at your nakedness.

You are more like the sunlight
of Edward Hopper,
especially when it slants
against the eastern side
of a white clapboard house
in the early hours of the morning,
with no figure standing
at a window in a violet bathrobe,
just the sunlight,
the columns of the front porch,
and the long shadows
they throw down
upon the dark green lawn, baby.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

508. In The Louvre - Harvey Shapiro


Merode, Annunciation

I like my miracles in the living room
as in this 15th-century Dutch Annunciation.
The lady puts her book down for a moment
in deference to the angel, who is
trying to tell her something, while at the same time
struggling with his wings that are
too large for the small, well-furnished room.
The colors are the key to everything.
They are so rich and bright
as they might have been in the beginning
or as the painter believed them to be
in this beginning. They light up the room
for the lady as this small painting,
for a moment lights up a world.

Monday, October 15, 2007

507 - The Dance - William Carlos Williams




In Brueghel's great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash the impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess.

Friday, October 12, 2007

506. The All-Encompassing - Pattiann Rogers


Philosopher in Meditation by Rembrandt


The philosopher is the old, bearded
man in the red beanie, dozing,
it seems, in the sun by the window.
Before him on the table lies his ponderous
volume open to the indirect
light of the day.

But the philosopher could be
the bent firekeeper by the wall
behind the stairs. He stirs, rouses
the coals, studies the combustion.
He's hunched and crotchety there,
concentrating obviously as he constructs
his viable conflagration.

The sold spiral, helix staircase,
curving down the middle of the room,
could be the philosophy, each step leading
naturally and logically to the next.
It's the physical form of ordered thought
reaching a grand staircase conclusion.
The carpenter, then, is the missing seer.

Yet the small round door (dwarf-size)
behind the old man, rightly accepts,
by portal philosophy, that it must meditate
on its closed and locked condition
until a key appears, at which time
it must assimilate the revelation of open.

Does the blind black in the corners
beyond the reach of the window radiance,
as well as the cavern maw at the top
curve of the stairs, match the oblivion
in the sleep of the thinker? If so,
then the sun works a philosophy itself
by realizing the window ledge, the pottery
on the still and idle book, the folded hands,
the dropped chin. And the old scholar
sleeps in the light of the known.

O philosopher's meditation, don't you understand,
even the baskets and barrels and pots
and smoke of this hovel that split
and bang and cling, and the firekeeper
cracking his throat and the bucket
of ashes and clinkers on the hearth,
and each separate mediation in its place
and time, all these must take their positions
in the rhetoric of the system?

If I hear the ancient housewife rattling
and creaking now down the curve of the stairs
(old gene, spiral of conception, old twist),
dogs scrambling at her heels, broom
and dustpan knocking, if she enters here
with her raucous retinue, cursing and barking,
jolts the sleeper, sweeping under the old man's
stool, cuffs the firekeeper, sets the pans
and spoons swinging, then all previous
suppositions fail, and we must begin again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

505. People On A Bridge - Wislawa Szymborska (3)


Translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski Dziwna

A strange planet with its strange people.
They yield to time but don't recognise it.
They have ways of expressing their protest.
They make pictures, like this one for instance:

At first glance, nothing special.
You see water.
You see a shore.
You see a boat sailing laboriously upstream.
You see a bridge over the water and people on the bridge.
The people are visibly quickening their step,
because a downpour has just started
lashing sharply from a dark cloud.

The point is that nothing happens next.
The cloud doesn't change its colour or shape.
The rain neither intensifies nor stops.
The boat sails on motionless.
The people on the bridge
run just where they were a moment ago.

It's difficult to avoid remarking here:
this isn't by any means an innocent picture.
Here time has been stopped.
Its laws have been ignored.
It's been denied influence on developing events.
It's been insulted and spurned.

Thanks to a rebel,
a certain Hiroshige Utagawa
(a being which as it happens
has long since and quite properly passed away)
time stumbled and fell.

Maybe this was a whim of no significance,
a freak covering just a pair of galaxies,
but we should perhaps add the following:

Here it's considered proper
to regard this little picture highly,
admire it and thrill to it from age to age.

For some this isn't enough.
They even hear the pouring rain,
they feel the cool drops on necks and shoulders,
they look at the bridge and the people
as if they saw themselves there
in the self-same never-finished run
along an endless road eternally to be travelled
and believe in their impudence
that things are really thus.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

504. People On The Bridge - Wislawa Szymborska (2)

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak
(Hiroshige Utagawa: "The Landscape")


Strange planet and strange people on it.
They yield to time, but don't want to recognize time.
They have their ways of expressing resistance.
They make pictures such as this:

Nothing remarkable at first glance.
One can see water,
one riverbank,
a narrow boat strenuously moving upstream,
a bridge over the water,
and people on the bridge.
They are clearly picking up the pace,
as rain starts lashing down from a dark cloud.

The point is, nothing happens further.
The cloud changes neither shape not color.
The rain neither subsides nor surges.
The boat moves without moving.
The people on the bridge run
exactly where they ran before.

It is hard to get by without commentary:
This is not at all an innocent picture.
Time's been stopped here,
its laws no longer consulted.
It's been denied impact on the course of events,
disregarded and dishonored.

Thanks to a rebel,
one Hiroshige Utagawa
(a being who, by the way,
passed away, as is proper, long-ago),
time stumbled and fell.

Perhaps it is merely a prank without much meaning,
a whim on the scale of just a few galaxies,
but just in case,
let's add what happens next:

For generations it has been considered in good taste
to hold this painting in high esteem,
to praise it and be greatly moved by it.

For some, even that is not enough.
They hear the patter of rain,
feel the chill of raindrops on necks and shoulders,
they look at the bridge and the people on it
as if they saw themselves there,
in that never-ending race
along the endless road, to be traveled for eternity
and they have the audacity to believe
that it is real.

Monday, October 08, 2007

503. The People On The Bridge - Wislawa Szymborska (1)

(Hiroshige Utagawa: "The Landscape")


Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

An odd planet, and those on it are odd, too.
They're subject to time, but they won't admit it.
They have their own ways of expressing protest.
They make up little pictures, like for instance this:

At first glance, nothing special.
What you see is water.
And one of its banks.
And a little boat sailing strenuously upstream.
And a bridge over the water, and people on the bridge.
It appears that the people are picking up their pace
because of the rain just beginning to lash down
from a dark cloud.

The thing is, nothing else happens.
The cloud doesn't change its color or its shape.
The rain doesn't increase or subside.
The boat sails on without moving.
The people on the bridge are running now
exactly where they ran before.

It's difficult at this point to keep from commenting.
This picture is by no means innocent.
Time has been stopped here.
Its laws are no longer consulted.
It has been relieved of its influence over the course of events.
It has been ignored and insulted.

On account of a rebel,
one Hiroshige Utagawa
(a being who, by the way,
died long ago and in due course),
time has tripped and fallen down.


It might well be simply a trifling prank,
an antic on the scale of just a couple of galaxies,
let us, however, just in case,
add one final comment for the record:

For generations, it's been considered good form here
to think highly of this picture,
to be entranced and moved.

There are those for whom even this is not enough.
They go so far as to hear the rain's spatter,
to feel the cold drops on their necks and backs,
they look at the bridge and the people on it
as if they saw themselves there,
running the same never-to-be-finished race
through the same endless, ever-to-be-covered distance,
and they have the nerve to believe
that this is really so.

Friday, October 05, 2007

502 Devotions, Six O'Clock - Lynne Knight




(After Paul Klee's La Belle Jardinière)


The beautiful gardener stood in the rain
and sang down to the roots
of all she'd lost and seen returned.
Her blue skirt darkened
like the patch of sky gone black
an hour back in warning.
Her shirt clung to her breasts,
thin hair to her skull.
Everything was hers: both joy and threat.
She thought of lovers, all
of them lost or gone, how the taste
of the body was like rain: nothing
you could name, just that mix
of sweet and steel in the hollow
of the tongue. She sang down
to the vein until the lovers
rose before her, ghostly
in the wet and steel-bright light.
It was not madness.
she studied their faded eyes,
black shoes, the hands she would know
anywhere. What could she want from them,
they seemed to ask (each mouth
open like a bird's at dawn).
What had they still not given.
This devotion, she whispered.
And took their hands and danced
while rain came down and time bled
into everything withheld.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

501. Hephaestus Starts Achilles' Shield


From: http://www.webwinds.com/myth/hephaestus2.htm


Hephaestus Starts Achilles' Shield
in Iliad XVIII: 508, Lombardo translation

Hephaestus...went to his bellows,
Turned them toward the fire, and ordered them to work.
And the bellows, all twenty, blew on the crucibles,
Blasting out waves of heat...
He cast durable bronze onto the fire, and tin,
Precious gold and silver. Then he positioned
His enormous anvil up on its block
And grasped his mighty hammer
In one hand, and in the other his tongs.
He made a shield first, heavy and huge,
Every inch of it intricately designed.
He threw a triple rim around it, glittering
Like lightning, and he made the strap silver.

The shield itself was five layers thick, and he
Crafted its surface with all of his genius.
On it he made the earth, the sky, the sea,
The unwearied sun, and the moon near full,
And all the signs that garland the sky,
Pleiades, Hyades, mighty Orion,
and the Gear they also call the Wagon....
On it it he made two cities, peopled
And beautiful.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

500. Watercolor By Paul Klee - Diane Ackerman



Because your head is a birdcage
(Jeder Mensch hat seinen Vogel),
because your brows still ladder high in surprise,
because your eye slots accept the large coins of devotion,
because your lips calm a kite wearing a spit curl,
because your sex is a lightpull beneath the hem of an angel
striding away briskly in pinstripe pants,
because you float above an organ's rosy music
and flaming exclamations points,
because you don't believe me when I pretend to lie,

dance you monster to my soft song!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

499. Candle Hat - Billy Collins




In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrant looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
"Come in, " he would say, "I was just painting myself,"
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

498. The Starry Night - Anne Sexton



"That does not keep me from having a terrible
need of––shall I say the word––religion. Then I
go out at night to paint the stars."

Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into the rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

497. A "Thank You" Note (1) - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Maria Trzeciak

There is much I owe
to those I do not love.
The relief in accepting
they are closer to another.

Joy that I am not
the wolf to their sheep.

My peace be with them
for with them I am free,
and this, love can neither give,
nor know how to take.

I don't wait for them
from window to door.
Almost as patient
as a sun dial,
I understand
what love does not understand.
I forgive
what love would never have forgiven.

Between rendezvous and letter
no eternity passes,
only a few days or weeks.

My trips with them always turn out well.
Concerts are heard.
Cathedrals are toured.
Landscapes are distinct.

And when seven rivers and mountains
come between us,
they are rivers and mountains
well known from any map.

It is thanks to them
that I live in three dimensions,
in a non-lyrical and non-rhetorical space,
with a shifting, thus real, horizon.

They don't even know
how much they carry in their empty hands.

"I don't owe them anything",
love would have said
on this open topic.

Monday, September 24, 2007

496. The Eye, The Pulse - Harvey Shapiro

.
The air extends beyond this sill
And, whether I will or not, performs
Its various delights. So children
Race upon the sand and cry
Their colorful syllables, gulls
In rocky congregations cry.
All one mesh and all one dance
Upon the inner ear and eye.

The air extends, and through its light
The mind in intellection moves,
Conning the landscape to a line
Of liquid spars and sanded flats.

The body in projection moves
Into the threaded air and sky.
And now begins the true delight.
The sympathy of life for life
Leaps past formal excellence,
Eros, bringer of delight,
Quickens the landscape to a pulse.
Sand, and child, and formal bird
Stand at the center of our love,
As at the center of this globe
The jewel-spun open and shut
Of an insect's breathing.

Friday, September 21, 2007

495. I Am - John Clare (1793-1864)

I am––yet what I am, none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes––
They rise and vanish in oblivion's host,
Like shadows in love frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live––like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my lifes esteems;
Even the dearest that I love the best
Are strange––nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie,
The grass below––above, the vaulted sky.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

494. Thesaurus - Billy Collins

.
It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.

It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.

Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.

I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.

I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

493. National Cold Storage Company - Harvey Shapiro

.
The National Cold Storage Company contains
More things than you can dream of.
Hard by the Brooklyn Bridge it stands
In a litter of freight cars,
Tugs to one side; the other, the traffic
Of the Long Island Expressway.
I myself have dropped into it in seven years
Midnight tossings, plans for escape, the shakes.
Add this to the national total––
Grant's tomb, the Civil War, Arlington,
The young President dead.
Above the warehouse and beneath the stars
The poets creep on the harp of the Bridge.
But see,
They fall into the National Cold Storage Company
One by one. The wind off the river is too cold,
Or the times too rough, or the Bridge
Is not a harp at all.Or maybe
A monstrous birth inside the warehouse
Must be fed by everything––ships, poems,
Stars, all the years of our lives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

492. The God Forsakes Antony (2,3,4) - C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Rae Dalven

When suddenly at the midnight hour
an invisible troupe is heard passing
with exquisite music, with shouts––
do not mourn in vain your fortune failing you now,
your works that have failed, the plans of your life
that have all turned out to be illusions.
As if long prepared for this, as if courageous,
bid her farewell, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all do not be fooled, do not tell yourself
it was only a dream, that your ears deceived you;
do not stoop to such vain hopes.
As if long prepared for this , as if courageous,
as it becomes you who are worthy of such a city;
approach the window with firm step,
and listen with emotion, but not
with the entreaties and complaints of the coward,
as a last enjoyment listen to the sounds,
the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and bid her farewell, the Alexandria you are losing.

C. P. Cavafy - The God Forsakes Antony
Translated from the Greek by Theoharis C. Theoharis

Suddenly, at midnight, when an invisible troupe
is heard passing,
with exquisite players, with voices—
do not lament your luck, now utterly exhausted,
yours acts that failed, your life's projects,
all ended in delusion.
Like a man who's all along been ready, like a man made bold by it,
say your last farewell to her, to Alexandria, who is leaving.
First, foremost, do not fool yourself,
and say it was a dream, or that your ears were tricked;
do not stoop to such vacant hopes.
Like a man who's all along been ready, like a man made bold by it,
in a way fitting the dignity that made you worthy of such a city,
approach the window steadily,
and listen, moved, but not needy
and disgruntled, like a coward,
listen, taking your final pleasure,
to the sounds, to that mystic troupe's rare playing,
and say your last farewell to her, to that Alexandria you are losing.

C. P. Cavafy - The God Abandons Antony
Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn

When suddenly at midnight, there comes the sound
of an invisible procession passing by
with exquisite music playing, with voices raised—
your good fortune, which now gives way; all your efforts'
ill-starred outcome; the plans you made for life,
which turned out wrong: don't mourn them uselessly.
Like one who's long prepared, like someone brave,
bid farewell to her, to Alexandria, who is leaving.
Above all do not fool yourself, don't say
that it was a dream, that your ears deceived you;
don't stoop to futile hopes like these.
Like one who's long prepared, like someone brave,
as befits a man who's been blessed with a city like this,
go without faltering toward the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the entreaties and the whining of a coward,
to the sounds—a final entertainment—
to the exquisite instruments of that initiate crew,
and bid farewell to her, to Alexandria, whom you are losing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

491. Robert Hass - Heroic Simile

.
When the swordsman fell in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai
in the gray rain,
in Cinemascope and the Tokugawa dynasty,
he fell straight as a pine, he fell
as Ajax fell in Homer
in chanted dactyls and the tree was so huge
the woodsman returned for two days
to that lucky place before he was done with the sawing
and on the third day he brought his uncle.

They stacked logs in the resinous air,
hacking the small limbs off,
tying those bundles separately.
The slabs near the root
were quartered and still they were awkwardly large;
the logs from midtree they halved:
ten bundles and four great piles of fragrant wood,
moons and quarter moons and half moons
ridged by the saw's tooth.

The woodsman and the old man his uncle
are standing in midforest
on a floor of pine silt and spring mud.
They have stopped working
because they are tired and because
I have imagined no pack animal
or primitive wagon. They are too canny
to call in neighbors and come home
with a few logs after three days' work.
They are waiting for me to do something
or for the overseer of the Great Lord
to come and arrest them.

How patient they are!
The old man smokes a pipe and spits.
The young man is thinking he would be rich
if he were already rich and had a mule.
Ten days of hauling
and on the seventh day they'll probably
be caught, go home empty-handed
or worse. I don't know
whether they're Japanese or Mycenaean
and there's nothing I can do.
The path from here to that village
is not translated. A hero, dying,
gives off stillness to the air.
A man and a woman walk from the movies
to the house in the silence of separate fidelities.
There are limits to imagination.

Friday, September 14, 2007

490. The Great Figure - William Carlos Williams


Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

489. No Title Required - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

It's come to this: I'm sitting under a tree,
beside a river
on a sunny morning.
It's an insignificant event
and won't go down in history.
It's not battles and pacts,
whose motives are scrutinized,
or noteworthy tyrannicides.

And yet I'm sitting by this river, that's a fact.
And since I'm here,
I must have come from somewhere,
and before that
I must have turned up in many other places,
exactly like the conquerors of nations
before setting sail.

Even a passing moment has its fertile past,
its Friday before Saturday,
its May before June.
Its horizons are no less real
than those a marshal's fieldglasses might scan.

This tree is a poplar that's been rooted here for years.
The river is the Raba; it didn't spring up yesterday.
The path leading through the bushes
wasn't beaten last week.
The wind had to blow the clouds here
before it could blow them away.

And though nothing much is going on nearby,
the world's no poorer in details for that,
it's just as grounded, just as definite
as when migrating races held it captive.

Conspiracies aren't the only things shrouded in silence.
Retinues of reasons don't trail coronations alone.
Anniversaries of revolutions may roll around,
but so do oval pebbles encircling the bay.

The tapestry of circumstance is intricate and dense.
Ants stitching in the grass.
The grass sewn into the ground.
The pattern of a wave being needled by a twig.

So it happens that I am and look.
Above me a white butterfly is fluttering through the air
on wings that are its alone
and a shadow skims through my hands
that is none other, no one else's, but its own.

When I see such things I'm no longer sure
that what's important
is more important than what's not.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

488. When They Are Found - C. P. Cavafty

.
Try to guard them, poet,
however few there are that can be kept.
The visions of your loving.
Set them, half hidden, in your phrases.
Try to sustain them, poet,
when they are roused in your brain
at night, or in the glare of noon.

Monday, September 10, 2007

487. The First Dream - Billy Collins

.
The Wind is ghosting around the house tonight
and as I lean against the door of sleep
I begin to think about the first person to dream,
how quiet he must have seemed the next morning

as the others stood around the fire
draped in the skins of animals
talking to each other only in vowels,
for this was long before the invention of consonants.

He might have gone off by himself to sit
on a rock and look into the mist of a lake
as he tried to tell himself what had happened,
how he had gone somewhere without going,

how he had put his arms around the neck
of a beast that the others could touch
only after they had killed it with stones,
how he felt its breath on his bare neck.

Then again, the first dream could have come
to a woman, though she would behave,
I suppose, much the same way,
moving off by herself to be alone near water,

except that the curve of her young shoulders
and the tilt of her downcast head
would make her appear to be terribly alone,
and if you were there to notice this,

you might have gone down as the first person
to ever fall in love with the sadness of another.

Friday, September 07, 2007

486. This Is A Wonderful Poem - David Wagoner

.
Come at it carefully, don't trust it, that isn't its right name,
It's wearing stolen rags, it's never been washed, its breath
Would look moss-green if it were really breathing,
It won't get out of the way, it stares at you
Out of eyes burnt gray as the sidewalk,
Its skin is overcast with colorless dirt,
It has no distinguishing marks, no I.D. cards,
It wants something of yours but hasn't decided
Whether to ask for it or just take it,
There are no policemen, no friendly neighbors,
No peacekeeping busybodies to yell for, only this
Thing standing between you and the place you were headed,
You have about thirty seconds to get past it, around it,
Or simply to back away and try to forget it,
It won't take no for an answer: try hitting it first
And you'll learn what's trembling in its torn pocket.
Now, what do you want to do about it?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

485. Finalities - C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Rae Dalven

Plunged in fear and suspicions,
with agitated mind and frightened eyes,
we melt, and plan how to act
in order to avoid the certain
danger so frightfully menacing us.
And yet we err, it is not in our paths;
the messages were false alarms,
(or else we did not hear, or fully understand them).
Another catastrophe, that we never imagined,
suddenly, torrentially falls upon us,
and unprepared––there is no more time––carries us off.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

484. Voices - C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Rae Dalven

Ideal and dearly beloved voices
of those who are dead, or of those
who are lost to us like the dead.

Sometimes they speak to us in our dreams;
sometimes in thought the mind hears them.

And for a moment with their echo other echoes
return from the first poetry of our lives––
like music that extinguishes the far-off night.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

483. N. V. N. - Anna Akhmatova

(1915)
Translated from the Russian by Jane Kenyon and Vera Sandomirsky Dunham

There is a sacred, secret line in loving
which attraction and even passion cannot cross,––
even if lips draw near in awful silence
and love tears at the heart.

Friendship is weak and useless here,
and years of happiness, exalted and full of fire,
because the soul is free and does not know
the slow luxuries of sensual life.

Those who try to come near it are insane
and those who reach it are shaken by grief.
So now your know exactly why
my heart beats no faster under your hand.

Monday, September 03, 2007

482. In Favor Of One's Time - Frank O'Hara

.
The spent purpose of a perfectly marvellous
life suddenly glimmers and leaps into flame
it's more difficult than you think to make charcoal
it's also pretty hard to remember life's marvellous
but there it is guttering choking then soaring
in the mirrored room of this consciousness
it's practically a blaze of pure sensibility
and however exaggerated at least somethings going on
and the quick oxygen in the air will not go neglected
will not sulk or fall into blackness and peat

an angel flying slowly, curiously singes its wings
and you diminish for a moment out of respect
for beauty then flare up after all that's the angel
that wrestled with Jacob and loves conflict
as an athlete loves the tape, and we're off into
an immortal contest of actuality and pride
which is love assuming the consciousness of itself
as sky over all, medium of finding and founding
not just resemblance but the magnetic otherness
that that that stands erect in the the spirit's glare
and waits for the joining of an opposite force's breath

so come the winds into our lives and last
longer than despair's sharp snake, crushed before it conquered
so marvellous is not just a poet's greenish namesake
and we live outside his garden in pure tempestuous rights

Friday, August 31, 2007

481. Litany - Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine
. . .
––Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and––somehow––
the wine.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

480. The Ball - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

As long as nothing can be known for sure

(no signals have been picked up yet),

as long as Earth is still unlike
the nearer and more distant planets,

as long as there’s neither hide nor hair
of other grasses graced by other winds,
of other treetops bearing other crowns,
other animals as well-grounded as our own,

as long as only the local echo
has been known to speak in syllables,

as long as we still haven’t heard the word
of better or worse mozarts,
platos, edisons, elsewhere,

as long as our inhuman crimes
are still committed only between humans,

as long as our kindness
is still incomparable,
peerless even in its imperfection,

as long as our heads packed with illusions
still pass for the only heads so packed,

as long as the roofs of our mouths alone
still raise voices to high heavens –

let’s act like very special guests of honour
at the district firemen’s ball,
dance to the beat of the local oompah band
and pretend that it’s the ball
to end all balls.

I can’t speak for other –
for me this is misery and happiness enough:

just this sleepy backwater
where even the stars have time to burn
while winking at us
unintentionally.