Monday, December 29, 2008

756. Drinking Wine - Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska - Drinking Wine (1)
Translated from the Polish by Graźyna Drabik and Sharon Olds

He looked, and gave me beauty,
and I took it as if mine.
Happy, I swallowed a star.

I allowed myself to be
invented in the likeness
of the reflection in his eyes.
I am dancing, dancing
in the flutter of sudden wings.

A table is a table.
Wine is wine in a glass
that is just a glass and stands
standing on a table. While
I am imaginary
to the point of no belief,
imaginary
to the point of blood.

I am telling him
what he want to hear: ants
dying of love under
the constellation of the dandelion.
I swear that a white rose,
sprinkled with wine, sings.

I am laughing, tilting
my head carefully
as if checking an invention
I am dancing, dancing
in astonished skin, in
an embrace that creates me.

Eve from a rib, Venus from sea-foam,
Minerva from Jove's head––
all were more real than I.

When he stops looking at me
I search for my reflection
on a wall. I see only
a nail from which a picture
has been removed

Wislawa Szymborska - Drinking Wine (2)
Translated from the Polish by ?

He looked at me, bestowing beauty,
and I took it for my own.
Happy, I swallowed a star.

I let him invent me
in the image of the reflection
in his eyes. I dance, I dance
in an abundance of sudden wings.

A table is a table, wine is wine
in a wineglass, which is a wineglass
and it stands standing on a table
but I am a phantasm,
a phantasm beyond belief,
a phantasm to the core.

I tell him what he wants to hear––about ants
dying of love
under a dandelion's constellation.
I swear that sprinkled with wine
a white rose will sing.

I laugh, and tilt my head
carefully, as if I were testing
an invention. I dance, I dance
in astounded skin, in the embrace
that creates me.

Eve from a rib, Venus from sea foam,
Minerva from the head of Jove
were much more real.

When he's not looking at me,
I search for my reflection
on the wall. All I see
is a nail on which a painting hun

Sunday, December 28, 2008

755. This Way Out - Rui Pires Cabral

.
But is there a way out? Imagine
in insomnia the forests that grow
at such hours in other regions, the trains
that cross them to reach a destination
in the future of others.

Is there a way our? Imagine
night filled with violent cities,
the rumbling of engines in the subways
and rain falling on the black plastic
of strawberry fields, all the suffering
and uncertainty of the world.

And in the morning, look, it's a beautiful
day Your friends are getting up in the other room,
they're heading down to the kitchen to make coffee.

But is there a way out?

Monday, December 22, 2008

754. The Calm - David Wagoner

.
Drifting and mimicking the loss of the wind
With a loss of mind,
Left slack-sailed here in the sea, doing nothing at all
For days, we begin
Taking our lives uneasily. Only the daylight
And the cracked chronometer
Are moving. Though we turn away from the sun
Or rise under the moon
As if we were earth and tide, the rest is stillness.
If we broke our silence,
This palpable air would ripple obediently,
But our voices falter.
They melt on the sea, as brief as glints of starlight.
On the deep dry land
Why did we never think of the miles and miles
Under us, holding us?
Above half-leagues of water, we think of little
Else than how deeply
The two of us might sink, turning to food
For the thoughts of others.
We could have stayed on firmanent, on a desert
Where water waves goodbye,
Goodbye, and vanishes, a plain where it flows
On its own sight journeys,
Or on mountains where we could watch it frozen, toppling
(Instead of us) down cliffsides.
But here we huddle, surrounded. From miles below,
Now, come the monsters
Toward the glassy calm around us, uncoiling,
Lifting kelp-ragged
Slime-scaled snag-toothed cold impossible heads.
Eyes filled to the brim
With blankness, breaching and hulking, slewing toward us
Where we drift like lures.
Though they come closer, closer, blurred in the dark,
They never strike, never
Loom, ravenous, never thrash the surface
To break this mirror.

Friday, December 19, 2008

753. Alphabet Song - Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan - Alphabet Song

Like a train made up of 26 boxcars,
the alphabet drags such a heavy cargo
down the tracks, such strange,
compelling combinations

that we are left breathless, admiring
a world constructed of words
and sentences as much
as the sunsets and snowfalls

which perform their mysteries
before our distracted eyes.
Now we learn how alphabets of genes
produce jellyfish and roses

and the intricate brain
that invented language—then wrote
a poem which like a brief breeze
wafts over us and is gone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

752. Last Gods - Galway Kinnell

She sits naked on a rock
a few yards out in the water.
He stands on the shore,
also naked, picking blueberries.
She calls. He turns. she opens
her legs showing him her great beauty,
and smiles , a bow of lips
seeming to tie together
the ends of the earth.
Splashing her image
to pieces, he wades out
and stands before her, sunk
to the anklebones in leaf-mush
and bottom-slime—the intimacy
of the geographical. He puts
a berry in its shirt
of mist into her mouth
She swallows it. He puts in another.
She swallows it. Over the lake
two swallows whim, juke jink,
and when one snatches
an insect they both whirl up
and exult. He is swollen
not with ichor but with blood.
She takes him and talks him
more swollen. He kneels, opens
the dark, vertical smile
linking heaven with the underearth
and murmurs her smoothest flesh more smooth.
On top of the rock they join.
somewhere a frog moans, a crow screams.
The hair of their bodies
startles up. They cry
in the tongue of the last gods,
who refused to go,
chose death, and shuddered
in joy and shattered in pieces,
bequeathing their cries
into the human breast. Now in the lake
two faces, floating, see up
a great maternal pine whose branches
open out in all directions
explaining everything.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

751. Vermeer - Howard Nemerov

.
Taking what is, and seeing it as it is,
Pretending to no heroic stances or gestures,
Keeping it simple; being in love with light
And the marvelous things that light is able to do,
How beautiful a modesty which is
Seductive extremely, the care for daily things.

At one for once with sunlight falling through
A leaded window, the holy mathematic
Plays out the cat's cradle of relation
Endlessly; even the inexorable
Domesticates itself and becomes charm.

If I could say to you, and make it stick,
A girl in a red hat, a woman in blue
Reading a letter, a lady weighing gold . . .
If I could say this to you so you saw,
And knew, and agreed that this was how it was
In a lost city across the sea of years,
I think we should be for one moment happy
In the great reckoning of those little rooms
Where the weight of life has been lifted and made light,
Or standing invisible on the shore opposed,
Watching the water in the foreground dream
Reflectively, taking a view of Delft
As it was, under a wide and darkening sky.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

750. Vermeer - Tomas Tranströmer

.
No sheltered world . . . on the other side of the wall the
noise beginTomas Tranströmer - Vermeer
Translated from the Swedish by ?

No sheltered world . . . on the other side of the wall the

noise begins
the tavern begins
with laughter and bickering, rows of teeth, tears, the din
of bells
and the mentally disordered brother-in-law, the bearer
of death that everyone must tremble for.

The great explosion and the delayed tramp of rescuers

the boats that strut at anchor, the money that creeps into
the pocket of the wrong person
demands piled on demands
Cusps of gaping red flowers that sweat premonitions of
war

Away from there and straight through the wall into the

bright studio
into the second that goes on living for hundreds of years.
Paintings titled The Music Lesson
or Woman in Blue Reading a Letter --
she's in her eighth month, two hearts kicking inside her.
On the wall behind her hangs a wrinkled map of Terra
Incognita.

Breathe calmly . . . An unknown blue material is nailed

to the chair.
The gold upholstery tacks flew in with unheard-of speed
and stopped abruptly
as if they had never been anything but stillness.
The ears ring with either depth or height.
s
the tavern begins
with laughter and bickering, rows of teeth, tears, the din
of bells
and the mentally disordered brother-in-law, the bearer
of death that everyone must tremble for.

The great explosion and the delayed tramp of rescuers

the boats that strut at anchor, the money that creeps into
the pocket of the wrong person
demands piled on demands
Cusps of gaping red flowers that sweat premonitions of
war

Away from there and straight through the wall into the

bright studio
into the second that goes on living for hundreds of years.
Paintings titled The Music Lesson
or Woman in Blue Reading a Letter --
she's in her eighth month, two hearts kicking inside her.
On the wall behind her hangs a wrinkled map of Terra
Incognita.

Breathe calmly . . . An unknown blue material is nailed

to the chair.
The gold upholstery tacks flew in with unheard-of speed
and stopped abruptly
as if they had never been anything but stillness.
The ears ring with either depth or height.
It's the pressure from the other side of the wall
that leaves every fact suspended
and holds the brush steady.

It hurts to go through walls, it makes you sick

but it's necessary.
The world is one. But walls . . .
And the wall is part of yourself --
Whether you know it or not it's the same for everyone,
everyone except little children. No walls for them.

The clear sky has set itself on a slant against the wall.

It's like a prayer to emptiness.
And the emptiness turns its face to us
and whispers,
"I am not empty, I am open."

Tomas Tranströmer - Vermeer
Translated from the Swedish by ?


No protected world . . . Just behind the wall the noise begins,

the inn
with laughter and bickering, rows of teeth, tears, the din of bells
and the insane brother-in-law, the death-bringer we all must tremble for.

The big explosion and tramp of rescue arriving late.

the boats preening themselves on the straits, the money creeping down
in the wrong man's pocket
demands stacked on demands
gaping red flowerheads sweating premonitions of war.

And through the wall into the clear studio

into the second that's allowed to live for centuries.
Pictures that call themselves The music Lesson
or Woman in Blue Reading a Letter––
she's in her eighth month, two hearts kicking inside her.
On the wall behind is a wrinkled map of Terra Incognita.

Breathe calming . . . An unknown blue material is nailed to the chairs.

The gold studs flew in with incredible speed
and stopped abruptly
as if they had never been other than stillness.

Ears sing, from depth of height.

It's the pressure from the other side of the wall.
It makes each fact float
and steadies the brush.

It hurts to go through walls, it makes you ill

but is necessary.
The world is one. But walls . . .
And the wall is part of yourself––
we know or we don't know but it's true for us all
except for small children. No walls for them.

The clear sky has leaned against the wall.

It's like a prayer to the emptiness.
And the emptiness turns its face to us
and whispers.
"I am not empty. I am open."

Monday, December 08, 2008

749. True Love - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

True love. Is it normal
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions but convinced
it had to happen this way - in reward for what?
For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple.
Couldn't they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends' sake?
Listen to them laughing - its an insult.
The language they use - deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines -
it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

It's hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? What renounced?
Who'd want to stay within bounds?

True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there's no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.

Monday, December 01, 2008

748. Angel - James Merrill

.
Above my desk, whirring and self-important
(Though not much larger than a hummingbird)
In finely woven robes, school of Van Eyck,
Hovers an evidently angelic visitor.
He points one index finger out the window
As winter snatching to its heart,
To crystal vacancy, the misty
Exhalations of houses and of people running home
From the cold sun pounding on the sea;
While with the other hand
He indicates the piano
Where the Sarabande No. 1 lies open
At a passage I shall never master
But which has already, and effortlessly, mastered me.
He drops his jaw as if to say, or sing,
"Between the world God made
And this music of Satie,
Each glimpsed through veils, but whole,
Radiant and willed,
Demanding praise, demanding surrender,
How can you sit there with your notebook?
What do you think you are doing?"
However he says nothing –– wisely: I could mention
Flaws in God's world, or Satie's; and for that matter
How did he come by his taste for Satie?
Half to tease him, I turn back to my page,
Its phrases thus far clotted, unconnected.
The tiny angel shakes his head.
There is no smile on his round, hairless face.
He does not want even these few lines written.

Friday, November 28, 2008

747. Our Turn - Rui Pires

Translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

It's the cold that cripples us on a winter
Sunday, when hope is at its
rarest. There are certain fixations
of consciousness, things that wander
about the house searching for their place

and secretly they slip into a poem.
It's envelopes from the water
company, a knife smeared with butter
on the tablecloth, that trail we leave
behind us and decipher without effort
and to no advantage. It's the wait

and the delay. It's the streets so still
at newscast time and the clinking of
neighborhood cutlery. It's the nighttime
aimlessness of memory: it's the fear
of having lost, quite casually,

our turn

Monday, November 24, 2008

746. On A Painting By Rousseau - Weldon Kees


Father Juniers Dog-Cart, 1908
Rousseau, Henri (le Douanier)
Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris, France


The clouds seem neater than the trees.
The sky, like faded overalls,
Breaks the distances of sight;
And shadow that defines the curb
shelters the silhouette of dog
Who, waiting patiently beneath
The amazing carriage with tangerine wheels,
Is eyeless, though he seems to sense
The black Chihuahua that the pavement grows.

The street is bare. The hooves and mane
Of the posing horse and his speckled flanks
Flow back to the six in the cart he draws:
The idiot aunt and the girl in white
(A Ventriloquist's doll with a colorless wig),
And a sexless figure upon whose lap
A beast is squatting, macabre, blurred.

These four and the one in the yellow hat
Regard us with eyes like photographs
That have been shown us long ago.
––All but the man in the driver's seat,
His wax hands fastened on the reins,
Who, from the corners of his eyes,
Watches the horse he does not trust.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

745. The Painter Dreaming in the Scholar's House - Howard Nemerov

In memory of the painters Paul Klee and Paul Terence Feeley

I
The painter's eye follows relation out.
His work is not to paint the visible,
He says, it is to render visible.

Being a man, and not a god, he stands
Already in a world of sense, from which
He borrows, to begin with, mental things
Chiefly, the abstract elements of language:
The point, the line, the plane, the colors and
The geometric shapes. Of these he spins
Relation out, he weaves its fabric up
So that it speaks darkly, as music does
Singing the secret history of the mind.
And when in this the visible world appears,
As it does do, mountain, flower, cloud, and tree,
All haunted here and there with the human face,
It happens as by accident, although
The accident is of design. It is because
Language first rises from the speechless world
That the painterly intelligence
Can say correctly that he makes his world,
Not imitates the one before his eyes.
Hence the delightsome gardens, the dark shores,
The terrifying forests where nightfall
Enfolds a lost and tired traveler.

And hence the careless crowd deludes itself
By likening his hieroglyphic signs
And secret alphabets to the drawing of a child.
That likeness is significant the other side
Of what they see, for his simplicities
Are not the first ones, but the furthest ones,
Final refinements of his thought made visible.
He is the painter of the human mind
Finding and faithfully reflecting the mindfulness
That is in things, and not the things themselves.

For such a man, art is an act of faith:
Prayer the study of it, as Blake says,
And praise the practise; nor does he divide
Making from teaching, or from theory.
The three are one, and in his hours of art
There shines a happiness through darkest themes,
As though spirit and sense were not at odds.

II
The painter as an allegory of the mind
At genesis. He takes a burlap bag,
Tears it open and tacks it on a stretcher.
He paints it black because, as he has said,
Everything looks different on black.

Suppose the burlap bag to be the universe,
And black because its volume is the void
Before the stars were. At the painter's hand
Volume becomes one-sidedly a surface,
And all his depths are on the face of it.

Against this flat abyss, this groundless ground
Of zero thickness stretched against the cold
Dark silence of the Absolutely Not
Material worlds arise, the colored earths
And oil of plants that imitate the light.

They imitate the light that is in thought
For mind relates to thinking as the eye
Relates to light. Only because the world
Already is a language can the painter speak
According to the grammar of the ground.

It is archaic speech, that has not yet
Divided out its cadences in words;
It is a language for the oldest spells
About how some thought rose into the mind
While others, stranger still, sleep in the world.

So grows the garden green, the sun vermilion
He sees the rose flame up and fade and fall.
And be the same rose still, the radiant in red.
He paints his language, and his language is
The theory of what the painter thinks.

III
The painter's eye attends to death and birth
Together, seeing a single energy
Momently manifest in every form,
As in the tree the growing of the tree
Exploding from the seed not more nor less
Than from the void condensing down and in,
Summoning sun and rain. He views the tree,
The great tree standing in the garden, say,
As thrusting downward its vast spread and weight,
Growing its green height from dark watered earth,
And as suspended weightless in the sky,
Haled forth and held up by the hair of its head.
He follows through the flowing of the forms
From the divisions of the trunk out to
The veinings of the leaf, and the leaf's fall.
His pencil meditates the many in the one
After the method in the confluence of rivers,
The running of ravines on mountainsides,
And in the deltas of the nerves; he sees
How things must be continuous with themselves
As with whole worlds that they themselves are not,
In order that they may be so transformed.
He stands where the eternity of thought
Opens upon perspective time and space;
He watches mind become incarnate; then
He paints the tree.

IV
These thoughts have chiefly been about the painter Klee,
About how he in our hard time might stand to us
Especially whose lives concern themselves with learning
As patron of the practical intelligence of art,
And thence as model, modest and humorous in sufferings,
For all research that follows spirit where it goes.

That there should be much goodness in the world,
Much kindness and intelligence, candor and charm,
And that it all goes down in the dust after a while,
This is a subject for the steadiest meditations
Of the heart and mind, as for the tears
That clarify the eye toward charity.

So may it be to all of us, that at some times
In this bad time when faith in study seems to fail,
And when impatience in the street and still despair at home
Divide the mind to rule it, there shall some comfort come
From the remembrance of so deep and clear a life as his

Whom I have thought of, for the wholeness of his mind,
As the painter dreaming in the scholar's house,
His dream an emblem to us of the life of thought,
The same dream that then flared before intelligence
When light first went forth looking for the eye.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

744. Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye - Gerald Stern

.
Every city in America is approached
through a work of art, usually a bridge
but sometimes a road that curves underneath
or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel-
you don't know it-that takes you through the rivers
and under the burning hills. I went there to cry
in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle
through fire and flood. Some have little parks-
San Francisco has a park. Albuquerque
is beautiful from a distance; it is purple
at five in the evening. New York is Egyptian,
especially from the little rise on the hill
at 14-C; it has twelve entrances
like the body of Jesus, and Easton, where I lived,
has two small floating bridges in front of it
that brought me in and out. I said good-bye
to them both when I was 57. I'm reading
Joseph Wood Krutch again-the second time.
I love how he lived in the desert. I'm looking at the skull
of Georgia O'Keeffe. I'm kissing Stieglitz good-bye.
He was a city, Stieglitz was truly a city
in every sense of the word; he wore a library
across his chest; he had a church on his knees.
I'm kissing him good-bye; he was, for me,
the last true city; after him there were
only overpasses and shopping centers,
little enclaves here and there, a skyscraper
with nothing near it, maybe a meaningless turf
where whores couldn't even walk, where nobody sits,
where nobody either lies or runs; either that
or some pure desert: a lizard under a boojum,
a flower sucking the water out of a rock.
What is the life of sadness worth, the bookstores
lost, the drugstores buried, a man with a stick
turning the bricks up, numbering the shards,
dream twenty-one, dream twenty-two. I left
with a glass of tears, a little artistic vial.
I put it in my leather pockets next
to my flask of Scotch, my golden knife and my keys,
my joyful poems and my T-shirts. Stieglitz is there
beside his famous number; there is smoke
and fire above his head; some bowlegged painter
is whispering in his ear; some lady-in-waiting
is taking down his words. I'm kissing Stieglitz
good-bye, my arms are wrapped around him, his photos
are making me cry; we're walking down Fifth Avenue;
we're looking for a pencil; there is a girl
standing against the wall-I'm shaking now
when I think of her; there are two buildings, one
is in blackness, there is a dying poplar;
there is a light on the meadow; there is a man
on a sagging porch. I would have believed in everything.

Monday, November 17, 2008

743. Brueghel: The Triumph of Time - Howard Nemerov


Passing a Flemish village and a burning city
possible Babylon the Great, bringing the Spring
from Winter and any beginning to its end, there go
the actors in the ramshackle traveling show
that does whatever's done and then undoes it:
the horses of the sun and moon, stumbling on plate
and bullion, patiently pull the flat-bed wagon
where Cronos munches a child and the zodiac-encircled world
bears up a tree that blossoms half and withers half;
Death on a donkey follows, sloping his scythe,
and last a trumpeter angel on an elephant
is puffing the resurrection and the end of days.

Under the wheels, and under the animals' feet,
palette and book are broken with the crowns of kings
and the instruments of music, intimating to our eyes
by means of many examples the Triumph of Time,
which everything that is, with everything that isn't,
as Brueghel patiently puts it down, exemplifies.

Friday, November 14, 2008

742. Landscape - Wislawa Szymborska

.
In the old master's landscape,
the trees have roots beneath the oil paint,
the path undoubtedly reaches its goal,
the signature is replaced by a stately blade of grass,
it's a persuasive five in the afternoon.
May has been gently, yet firmly, detained,
so I've lingered, too. Why, of course, my dear,
I am the woman there, under the ash tree

Just see how far behind I've left you,
see the white bonnet and the yellow skirt I wear,
see how I grip my basket so as not to slip out of the painting,
how I strut within another's fate
and rest awhile from living mysteries.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

741. On A Celtic Mask By Henry Moore - Horace Gregory

.
The burnished silver mask hangs in white air,
The eyes stick out, the lips raised in a smile:
Where eyes had been, the hawk-winged Hebrides,
Tall, weeping waves against their friendless shores,

Rain in small knives that cut the flesh away,
And Sun the sword that flashes from the sky:
Sea-lion-headed creatures stalk these islands,
And breed their young to stand before their graves.

A crying Magdalen sings from her grotto,
Precarious life-in-death between the waters ––
None see her breasts, flushed limbs and winding hair ––
The women hear her in the new moon's madness.

Monday, November 10, 2008

740. 50 Years - Linda Pastan

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

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

Saturday, November 08, 2008

739. Lost Friends - Rui Pires Cabral

Translated fro the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

Friends carried off by life
are the most difficult to appease, the most
tyrannical. Barbarians of an unknown land,
they sip the poison of silence and they grow
beyond all limits in the distance, a blind eye
to our loneliness. And to think that we were
brothers in arms, that we dug up buried treasure
from the same islands, from the most
barren of books. How things turn out.
Could all have been in vain? It seemed
that we were destined for the same
songs, for a more certain kind of love.
Well, well. And we cannot even understand
what happened.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

738. Breughel's Winter - Rutger Kopland

Translated from the Dutch by James Brockway


Winter by Breughel, the hill with hunters
and dogs, at their feet the valley with the village.
Almost home, but their dead-tired attitudes, their steps
in the snow––a return, but almost as
slow as arrest. At their feet the depths
grow and grow, become wider and further,
until the landscape vanishes into a landscape
that must be there, is there but only

as a longing is there.

Ahead of them a jet-black bird dives down. Is it mockery
of this labored attempt to return to the life
down there: the children skating on the pond,
the farms with women waiting and cattle?

An arrow underway, and it laughs at its target.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

737. Brueghel's Snow - Anne Stevenson


Here in the snow:
three hunters with dogs and pikes
trekking over a hill,
into and out of those famous footprints -
famous and still.

What did they catch?
They have little to show
on their bowed backs.
Unlike the delicate skaters below,
these are grim, they look ill.

In the village, it's zero.
Bent shapes in black clouts,
raw faces aglow
in the firelight, burning the wind
for warmth, or their hunger's kill.

What happens next?
In the unpainted picture?
The hunters arrive, pull
off their caked boots, curse the weather
slump down over stoups. . .

Who's painting them now?
What has survived to unbandage
my eyes as I trudge through this snow,
with my dog and stick,
four hundred winters ago?

Monday, November 03, 2008

736. A Medieval Miniature - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by ?
Help! can anyone in the whole wide world send me this picture?

"Limbourg Brothers "Canonical Hours"

Up the verdantest of hills,
in this most equestrian of pageants,
wearing the silkiest of cloaks.

Toward a castle with seven towers,
each of them by far the tallest.

In the foreground, a duke,
most flatteringly unrotund;
by his side, his duchess
young and fair beyond compare.

Behind them, the ladies-in-waiting,
all pretty as pictures, verily,
then a page, the most ladsome of lads,
and perched upon his pagey shoulder
something exceedingly monkeylike,
endowed with the drollest of faces
and tails.

Following close behind, three knights,
all chivalry and rivalry,
so if the first is fearsome of countenance,
the next one strives to be more daunting still,
and if he prances on a bay steed
the third will prance upon a bayer,
and all twelve hooves dance glancingly
atop the most wayside of daisies.

Whereas whosoever is downcast and weary,
cross-eyed and out at elbows,
is most manifestly left out of the scene.

Even the least pressing of questions,
burgherish or peasantish,
cannot survive beneath this most azure of skies.

And not even the eaglest of eyes
could spy even the tiniest of gallows -
nothing casts the slightest shadow of a doubt.

Thus they proceed most pleasantly
through this feudalest of realisms.

This same, however, has seen to the scene's balance:
it has given them their Hell in the next frame.
Oh yes, all that went without
even the silentest of sayings.

Friday, October 31, 2008

735. True Love - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

True love. Is it normal
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions but convinced
it had to happen this way - in reward for what?
For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple.
Couldn't they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends' sake?
Listen to them laughing - its an insult.
The language they use - deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines -
it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

It's hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? What renounced?
Who'd want to stay within bounds?

True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there's no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

734. Morning - Billy Collins

.
Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on expresso—

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on expresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

733. Nude Descending A Staircase - X. J. Kennedy


Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.

One-women waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long drape
and pausing, on the the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

732. A Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal - Billy Collins


"A Poet . . . never speaks directly, as to someone
at the breakfast table." — Yeats



Every morning I sit across from you
at the same small table,
the sun all over the breakfast things—
curve of a blue-and-white pitcher,
a dish of berries—
me in a sweatshirt or robe,
you invisible.

Most days, we are suspended
over a deep pool of silence.
I stare straight through you
or look out the window at the garden,
the powerful sky,
a cloud passing behind a tree.

There is no need to pass the toast,
the pot of jam,
or pour you a cup of tea,
and I can hide behind the paper,
rotate in its drum of calamitous news.

But some days I may notice
a little door swinging open
in the morning air,
and maybe the tea leaves
or some dream will be stuck
to the china slope of the hour—

then I will lean forward,
elbows on the table,
with something to tell you,
and you will look up, as always,
your spoon dripping milk, ready to listen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

731. Horace - Book II. Ode 16

Translated from the Latin by Mark Strand

When storm clouds closing in darken the sea
and cover the moon and hide the stars that might
have guided him across rough waters, the sailor
prays for peace;

the battle-weary Thracians pray for peace,
the Parthians with their fancy daggers
pray for peace, but peace cannot be bought
with purple, gold or gems;

and peace cannot be won with rank or money,
neither one can ease the soul's distress,
the worries and the nagging fears that flit
about in paneled rooms.

A man can please himself with little, a salt dish
handed down for generations can gleam upon
the table, and his sleep will not be ruined by
the sordidness of greed.

So why do we waste our time chasing down
possessions? Why do we leave home and head south
to a foreign land, a foreign sun? Who really
can escape himself?

Trouble leaps aboard the rich man's brigantine,
outruns the fastest horse, the nimblest deer,
is swifter than Eurus, the bad-weather wind
responsible for storms.

We should be happy in the here and now
and unconcerned with what the future holds;
we should blunt the edge of sorrow with a smile.
There is no perfect joy.

Achilles met with death when was young,
Tithonus lived on to be the shadow of
his former self; and fate might give to me
what it withholds from you.

Your fields are filled with lowing herds of prime
Sicilian cattle, and from your stable you
can hear the whinnies of your racing mare;
the clothes you have are made

of wool twice-dyed in African purple, whereas
it is my lot to have a smallish house,
a gift for turning Greek verse into Latin,
and scorn for the envious

Translated from the Latin by Christopher Smart


TO GROSPHUS.
O Grosphus, he that is caught in the wide Aegean Sea; when a black tempest has obscured the moon, and not a star appears with steady light for the mariners, supplicates the gods for repose: for repose, Thrace furious in war; the quiver-graced Medes, for repose neither purchasable by jewels, nor by purple, nor by gold. For neither regal treasures nor the consul’s officer can remove the wretched tumults of the mind, nor the cares that hover about splendid ceilings. That man lives happily on a little, who can view with pleasure the old-fashioned family salt-cellar on his frugal board; neither anxiety nor sordid avarice robs him of gentle sleep. Why do we, brave for a short season, aim at many things? Why do we change our own for climates heated by another sun? Whoever, by becoming an exile from his country, escaped likewise from himself? Consuming care boards even brazen-beaked ships: nor does it quit the troops of horsemen, for it is more fleet than the stags, more fleet than the storm-driving east wind. A mind that is cheerful in its present state, will disdain to be solicitous any further, and can correct the bitters of life with a placid smile. Nothing is on all hands completely blessed. A premature death carried off the celebrated Achilles; a protracted old age wore down Tithonus; and time perhaps may extend to me, what it shall deny to you. Around you a hundred flocks bleat, and Sicilian heifers low; for your use the mare, fit for the harness, neighs; wool doubly dipped in the African purple-dye, clothes you: on me undeceitful fate has bestowed a small country estate, and the slight inspiration of the Grecian muse, and a contempt for the malignity of the vulgar.


American man of letters Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960) imitated Horace's ode in his collection of light verse In Other Words (1920).


Grosphus, a guy who's sailing in a tempest
On the Aegean when the moon is hidden --
He wants a rest, while stewing in his stateroom,
Weary and seasick.

Weary of war, what do the Thracians yearn for?
What seek the Medes, with quivers full of arrows?
What can't you buy with purple, gold or rubies?
Rest is the answer.

Not Morgan's cash, nor Rockefeller's money,
No blue-and-brass can drive away the willies
Caused by the care of elegant apartments,
Rugs and swell ceilings.

Wise the gazabe upon whose simple table
Old-fashioned truck like salt-and-pepper castors
Yet may be found. His bean is never bothered --
Sleeps like a hallboy.

Why do we fuss for one thing and another?
Why do we hike to Saranac or Newport?
How can a human leave himself behind him?
Answer: He cannot.

Worry can get a guy on the Olympic;
Worry can chase a colonel in the Army;
Swift as the wind, to use a new expression --
Care is some sprinter.

Merry and bright, the citizen who's cheerful
Won't worry much about to-morrow's breakfast.
"No one," he smiles, "who faces Time the pitcher
Wallops one thousand."

There was Achilles, cut off in his twenties,
And, au contraire, Tithonus was a hundred;
I may be lucky; you might be run over
Most any morning.

You've got a farm with fancy sheep and heifers;
You've got a mare all curry-combed and glossy;
Purple silk socks and purple fancy weskits --
You're a swell dresser.

And what has Fate, the undeceitful, slipped me?
Only a small apartment out in Harlem,
And, with a trick of turning snappy Sapphics,
Scorn for the roughneck.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

730. Horace - Book I. Ode 11

Translated from the Latin by Heather McHugh

Don't ask, Clarice, we're not supposed to know
what end the gods intend for us.
Take my advice: don't gamble so
on horoscopes of Babylon. Far better just

to take what heaven might allot us, whether
it's winters galore, and more, until we're stiff,
or only the one wintertime to end all others,
grinding Tuscany Sea with its pumice of cliff.

Get wise. Get wine, and one good filter for it.
Cut that high hope down to size, and pour it
into something fit for men. Think less
of more tomorrows, more of this

one second, endlessly unique: it's
jealous, even as we speak, and it's
about to split again . . .


Translated from the Latin by Burton Raffel

Leucon, no one's allowed to know his fate,
Not you, not me: don't ask, don't hunt for answers
In tea leaves or palms. Be patient with whatever comes.
This could be our last winter, it could be many
More, pounding the Tuscan Sea on these rocks:
Do what you must, be wise, cut your vines
And forget about hope. Time goes running, even
As we talk. Take the present, the future's no one's affair.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

729. Domestic Interior - Eavan Boland





The woman is as round
as the new ring
ambering her finger.
The mirror weds her.
She has long since been bedded.

There is
about it all
a quiet search for attention,
like the unexpected shine
of a despised utensil.

The oils,
the varnishes,
the cracked light,
the worm of permanence––
all of them supplied by Van Eyck––

by whose edict she will stay
burnished, fertile
on her wedding day,
interred in her joy.
Love, turn.

The convex of your eye
that is so loving, bright
and constant yet shows
only this woman in her varnishes,
who won't improve in the light.

But there's a way of life
that is its own witness:
put the kettle on, shut the blind.
Home is a sleeping child,
and open mind

and our effects,
shrugged and settled
in the sort of light
jugs and kettles
grow important by.

Monday, October 06, 2008

728. My Special Love In Passing - James Kavanaugh

.
You are my special love in passing,
My fantasy bond for times alone.
You'll never know my lips,
But our eyes have met
And said more than most eyes ever say.
We know, love,
Though we'll probably never tell
Even one another.
But I told myself
And somehow I know you told yourself
That you are my special love in passing.

I studied your lips and legs,
Know your pain and longing.
Wondered about your breasts
And the sounds you'd make in love.
I'll never know—you'll never know—
But we already know
More than most ever know
So I'll take you away to secret places,
Call to you with only waves to hear,
Or the darkness of a California sky,
That you are my special love in passing.

Friday, October 03, 2008

727. Staying at Ed's Place - May Swenson

.
I like being in your apartment, and not disturbing anything.
As in the woods I wouldn't want to move a tree,
or change the play of sun and shadow on the ground.

The yellow kitchen stool belongs right there
against white plaster. I haven't used your purple towel
because I like the accidental cleft of shade you left in it.

At your small six-sided table, covered with mysterious
dents in the wood like a dartboard, I drink my coffee
from your brown mug. I look into the clearing

of your high front room, where sunlight slopes through bare
window squares. Your Afghanistan hammock, a man-sized cocoon

slung from the wall to wall, your narrow desk and typewriter

are the only furniture. Each morning your light from the east
douses me where, with folded legs, I sit in your meadow,
a casual spread of brilliant carpets. Like a cat or dog

I take a roll, then, stretched out flat
in the center of color and pattern, I listen
to the remote growl of trucks over cobbles on Bethune Street below.

When I open my eyes I discover the peaceful blank
of the ceiling. Its old paint-layered surface is moonwhite
and trackless, like the Sea—of Tranquillity.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

726. May 16,1973 -Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

One of those many dates
which no longer say anything to me.

Where I went that day,
what I did––I don't know.

If a crime was committed nearby
––I'd have no alibi.

The sun shone and set
without my noticing.
The earth rotated
without mention in my notebook.

It would be easier for me to think
that I died for a while
than to admit that I remember nothing,
although I was alive the whole time.

After all I was not a ghost,
I breathed and ate,
took steps
which were audible,
and left fingerprints
on the doorknobs. I was reflected in the mirror.
I wore something of a certain color.
I'm sure several people saw me.
Perhaps on that day I found something I had lost earlier,
or lost something which was later found.

Feelings and impressions filled me.
Now all that
is like dots inside parentheses.

Where I hid,
where I hung out ––
it's not a bad trick
to vanish from my own sight.

I'll jog my memory ––
maybe something in its recesses
which has been dormant for years
will awaken with a start.

No.
I am most clearly demanding too much,
though but a second of time.

Monday, September 29, 2008

725. The Old Writers' Welcome to the New - William Stafford

.
Somewhere out there new light
is crossing a field. Our time, long
preparing for this, carefully comes near.
Without our knowing, our lives
have bent steadily toward this field,
and now we approach and bow down.

All that we welcomed and then forsook,
or lost by weakness, or by cruel time—
friends grown cold, family turned away,
Katherine whose face reflects even yet
when a train goes by, and old Lief
looking at us toward the end from his kennel—
these were needed so that this future could arrive.

Glad for this field, welcoming new light,
we embrace the loss and regret we must pay
all through our years, that Now may arrive,
that our story come true and be what it is,
again and again.

But oh our loves, happy goodbyes.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

724. Welcome - Stephen Dunn

.
if you believe nothing is always what's left
after a while, as I did,
If you believe you have this collection
of ungiven gifts, as I do (right here
behind the silence and the averted eyes)
If you believe an afternoon can collapse
into strange privacies—
how in your backyard, for example,
the shyness of flowers can be suddenly
overwhelming, and in the distance
the clear goddamn of thunder
personal, like a voice,
If you believe there's no correct response
to death, as I do; that even in grief
(where I've sat making plans)
there are small corners of joy
If your body sometimes is a light switch
in a house of insomniacs
If you can feel yourself straining
to be yourself every waking minute
If, as I am, you are almost smiling . . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

723. I Laugh And Cry With The Same Eyes - James Kavanaugh

.
I laugh and cry with the same eyes,
Love and hate with the same heart.
I feel my rage and my gentleness,
My sanity and suicide.
When I hide my anger, my joy doesn't seem real.
When I hide my fear, my strength is a fraud.
If I only laugh, I leave no place for your pain.
If I only shout, I leave no place for your tenderness.
I want to be all of myself,
So you can be all of yourself,
And together we can be whole.

Friday, September 19, 2008

721. We Knew The World Backwards And Forwards - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

We knew the world backwards and forwards
So small it fit in a handshake
So easy it could be described in a smile
As plain as the echoes of old truths and a prayer

History did not greet us with triumphant fanfare
It flung dirty sand in our eyes
Ahead of us were distant roads leading nowhere
Poisoned wells, bitter bread

The spoils of war is our knowledge of the world
So large it fits in a handshake
So hard it could be described in a smile
As strange as the echoes of old truths and a prayer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

720. The Printer's Error - Aaron Fogel

.
Fellow compositors
and pressworkers!

I, Chief Printer
Frank Steinman,
having worked fifty-
seven years at my trade,
and served five years
as president
of the Holliston
Printer's Council,
being of sound mind
though near death,
leave this testimonial
concerning the nature
of printers' errors.

First: I hold that all books
and all printed
matter have
errors, obvious or no,
and that these are their
most significant moments,
not to be tampered with
by the vanity and folly
of ignorant, academic
textual editors.
Second: I hold that there are
three types of errors, in ascending
order of importance:
One: chance errors
of the printer's trembling hand
not to be corrected incautiously
by foolish professors
and other such rabble
because trembling is part
of divine creation itself.
Two: silent, cool sabotage
by the printer,
the manual laborer
whose protests
have at times taken this
historical form,
covert interferences
not to be corrected
censoriously by the hand
of the second and far
more ignorant saboteur,
the textual editor.
Three: errors
from the touch of God,
divine and often
obscure corrections
of whole books by
nearly unnoticed changes
of single letters
sometimes meaningful but
about which the less said
by preemptive commentary
the better.
Third: I hold that all three
sorts of error,
errors by chance,
errors by workers' protest,
and errors by
God's touch,
are in practice the
same and indistinguishable.

Therefore I,
Frank Steinman,
typographer
for thirty-seven years,
and cooperative Master
of the Holliston Guild
eight years,
being of sound mind and body
though near death
urge the abolition
of all editorial work
whatsoever
and manumission
from all textual editing
to leave what was
as it was, and
as it became,
except insofar as editing
is itself an error, and

therefore also divine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

719. Waking At 3 a.m. - William Stafford

.
Even in the cave of the night when you
wake and are free and lonely,
neglected by others, discarded, loved only
by what doesn't matter—even in that
big room no one can see,
you push with your eyes till forever
comes in its twisted figure eight
and lies down in your head.

You think water in the river;
you think slower than the tide in
the grain of the wood; you become
a secret storehouse that saves the country,
so open and foolish and empty.

You look over all that the darkness
ripples across. More than has ever
been found comforts you. You open your
eyes in a vault that unlocks as fast
and as far as your thought can run.
A great snug wall goes around everything,
has always been there, will always
remain. It is a good world to be
lost in. It comforts you. It is
all right. And you sleep.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

718. Essy On The Personal - Stephen Dunn

.
Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses--
until we're ready. Always
it's a matter of precision,
what it feels like
to kiss someone or to walk
out the door. How good it was
to practice on stones
which were things we could love
without weeping over. How good
someone else abandoned the farmhouse,
bankrupt and desperate.
Now we can bring a fine edge
to our parents. We can hold hurt
up to the sun for examination.
But just when we think we have it,
the personal goes the way of
belief. What seemed so deep
begins to seem naive, something
that could be trusted
because we hadn't read Plato
or held two contradictory ideas
or women in the same day.
Love, then, becomes an old movie.
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air,
to breath itself, anyone's.
We're left with style, a particular
way of standing and saying,
the idiosyncratic look
at the frown which means nothing
until we say it does. Years later,
long after we believed it peculiar
to ourselves, we return to love.
We return to everything
strange, inchoate, like living
with someone, like living alone,
settling for the partial, the almost
satisfactory sense of it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

717. Wait - Galway Kinnell

(to someone contemplating suicide)

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven't they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Wait.
Don't go too early.
You're tired. But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

Monday, September 08, 2008

716. Scouting - Philip Levine

.
I'm the man who gets off the bus
at the bare junction of nothing
with nothing, and then heads back
to where we've been as though
the future were stashed somewhere
in that tangle of events we call
"Where I come from." Where I
came from the fences ran right
down to the road, and the lone woman
leaning back on her front porch as she
quietly smoked asked me what did
I want. Confused as always, I
answered, "Water," and she came to me
with a frosted bottle and a cup,
shook my hand, and said, "Good lick."
That was forty years ago, you say,
when anything was possible. No,
it was yesterday, the gray icebox
sat on the front porch, the crop
was tobacco and not yet in, you
could hear it sighing out back.
The rocker gradually slowed as
she came toward me but never
stopped and the two of us went on
living in time. One of her eyes
had a pale cast and looked nowhere
or into the future where without
regrets she would give up the power
to grant life, and I would darken
like wood left in the rain and then
fade into only a hint of the grain.
I went higher up the mountain
until my breath came in gasps,
my sight darkened, and I slept
to the side of the road to waken
chilled in the sudden July cold,
alone and well. What is it like
to come to, nowhere, in darkness,
not knowing who you are, not
caring if the wind calms, the stars
stall in their sudden orbits,
the cities below go on without
you screaming and singing?
I don't have the answer. I'm
scouting, getting the feel
of the land, the way the fields
step down the mountainsides
hugging their battered, sagging
wire fences to themselves as though
both day and night they needed
to know their limits. Almost still
the silent dogs wound into sleep,
the gray cabins breathing steadily
in moonlight, tomorrow wakening
slowly in the clumps of mountain oak
and pine where streams once ran
down the little white rock gullies.
You can feel the whole country
wanting to waken into a child's dream,
you can feel the moment reaching
back to contain your life and forward
to whatever the dawn brings you to.
In the dark you can love this place.

Friday, September 05, 2008

715. Myrtle - John Ashbery

.
How funny your name would be
if you could follow if back to where
the first person thought of saying it,
naming himself that, or maybe
some other persons thought of it
and named that person. It would
be like following a river to its source,
which would be impossible. Rivers have no source.
They just automatically appear at a place
where they get wider, and soon a real
river comes along, with fish and debris,
regal as you please, and someone
has already given it a name: St. Benno
(saints are popular for this purpose) or, or
some other name, the name of his
long-lost girlfriend, who comes
at longlast to impersonate that river,
on a stage, her voice clanking
like its bed, her clothing of sand
and pasted paper, a piece of real technology,
while all along she is thinking, I can
do what I want to do. But I want to stay here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

714. Yusef Komunyakaa - Facing It

.
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

Friday, August 29, 2008

713. Epic - Patrick Kavanagh

.
I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting "Damn your soul!"
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel -
"Here is the march along these iron stones."
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

Monday, August 25, 2008

712. One Empty Island - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh


Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

Friday, August 22, 2008

711. "Are You Mr. William Stafford?" - William Stafford

.
"Are you Mr. William Stafford?"
"Yes, but...."

Well, it was yesterday.
Sunlight used to follow my hand.
And that's when the strange siren-like sound flooded
over the horizon and rushed through the streets of our town.
That's when sunlight came from behind
a rock and began to follow my hand.

"It's for the best," my mother said—"Nothing can
ever be wrong for anyone truly good."
So later the sun settled back and the sound
faded and was gone. All along the streets every
house waited, white, blue, gray: trees
were still trying to arch as far as they could.

You can't tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I'm [still] here writing it down
just the way it was. "You don't have to
prove anything," my mother said. "Just be ready
for what God sends." I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.

Well, it was yesterday. And the sun came,
Why
It came.

Monday, August 18, 2008

710. Epithalamion For A Second Marriage - Stephen Dunn

.
If you, X, take this woman, Y,
and if you, Y, take this man, X,
you two who have taken each other
many times before, then this
is something to be trusted,

two separate folks not becoming halves,
as younger people do, but becoming
neither more nor less than yourselves,
separate and together, and if
this means a different kind of love,

as it must, if it means different
conveniences and inconveniences, as it must,
then let this good luck
from a friend act like grease
for what may bet be difficult, undefined,

and when the ordinary days of marriage
stretch out like prairie,
here's to the wisdom which understands
that if the heart's right
and the mind at ease with it

the prairie is a liveable place, a place
for withstanding all kinds of weather,
and here's to the little hills
the ones that take you by surprise,
and the ones you'll need to invent.

Friday, August 15, 2008

709. The Hospital - Patrick Kavanagh

.
A year ago I fell in love with the functional ward
Of a chest hospital: square cubicles in a row
Plain concrete, wash basins - an art lover's woe,
Not counting how the fellow in the next bed snored.
But nothing whatever is by love debarred,
The common and banal her heat can know.
The corridor led to a stairway and below
Was the inexhaustible adventure of a gravelled yard.

This is what love does to things: the Rialto Bridge,
The main gate that was bent by a heavy lorry,
The seat at the back of a shed that was a suntrap.
Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge;
For we must record love's mystery without claptrap,
Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

708. It Is Marvellous to Wake Up Together - Eliazbeth Bishop

.
It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.

An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening:

And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise

The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking.
Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

707. Patrick Kavanagh: An Annotated Exequy - L. E. Sissman

.
Well, Kavanagh, you've gone and done it, died
The way you said you would, propped up with pride
And penury in a dim nursing home
In Dublin, not in Monaghan. The morn-
Ing newspapers1 said what you said they would,2
Not mourning, so it's nice and tidy. Good.
But wait. I'm here to say a thing or two
About a lovely man I never knew
Who lived in lodgings next door to despair,
And caught the winter light in Gibson Square,3
and walked alone in crumbling Islington,
And saw the setting of the Irish sun
On the potato fields of Monaghan
Across the ocean wild and wide, a home
To be escaped from the returned to, where
Calves called for his deft hands, and up the stair
The mother lay in her bare, crucified
Chamber, as old and constant as the tide
In rising and receding to and from
The complicated presence of a son,
Or else his absence. Absent in a slum
Of Dublin or of London, he conveyed
His country to the city, which he made
New with his patient peasant heart and hand
And urbane horn-rimmed head. Of course he'd stand––
And be stood ––– too much drink in darkling bars
And wake up to the anthem of the cars
And lorries of the morning. But he got
On with the serious business of what
An artist is to do with his rucksack
Of gift, the deadweight that deforms his back
And drives him on to prodigies of thought
And anguishes of execution, bought
At all cost of respectability
And all expense of nice society,
Until, alone, he faces homely him,
The only other tenant of his room,
And finds the world well lost.4 Well Kavanagh,
Possession being nine points of the law,
I find you guilty of possession of
The mortal spirit of unstinted love
For all things animate and otherwise,
And of the fatal talent to devise
Live poems expressing it, transcending all
Obituaries which record your fall.5

–––––––––––––––––––––––
1 The morning newspapers and the radio
Announced his death in a few horrid words:
–– a man of talent who lacked the little more
That makes the difference
Between success and failure
–– "Portrait of the Artist"

2 Reputation for Eccentricity
Said to Have Overshadowed
Talents as a Writer
–– Obituary in the Times

3 I'll show you a holier aisle ––
The length of Gibson Square
Caught in November's stare
That would set you to prayer
–– "News Item"

4 And I also found some crucial
Documents of sad evil that may yet
For all their ugliness and vacuous leers
Fuel the fires of comedy. The main thing is to continue,
To walk Parnassus right into the sunset
Detached in love where pygmies cannot pin you
To the ground like Gulliver. So good luck and cheers.
–– "Dear Folks"

5 He's finished and that's definitely.
–– "The Same Again"

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

706. The Seance - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

Chance shows her tricks.
She pulls a glass of cognac from her sleeve
and seats Henry on it.
I enter the bar and stand dumbfounded.
It's Henry and no one else
than the brother of Agnes' husband,
and Agnes is a relative
of Sophie's aunt's brother-in-law.
It turned out that we have a great grandfather in common.

Space in the fingers of fortune
expands and contracts,
lengthens and shortens.
It was just a tablecloth
and now it's like a handkerchief.
Guess whom I met,
and where, in Canada,
and after how many years!
I thought he was no longer living,
and he's in a Mercedes.
Or on a plane to Athens.
Or in a stadium in Tokyo.

Chance turns a kaleidoscope in her hands.
Billions of colored glass particles flash.
Suddenly Hansel's piece of glass
crashes with Gretel's.
Imagine, in the same hotel.
Face to face in the elevator.
In the toy shop.
At the corner of Szewska and Jagiellonska Streets.

Chance is wrapped in the cape.
Things are lost and found again.
I came across something involuntarily.
I bent down and picked it up.
I look, and it's that spoon
from a stolen set.
If it weren't for the bracelet
I would not have recognized Ola,
and I happened on that clock in Plock.

Chance gazes deeply into our eyes.
Our heads begin to get heavy.
Our eyelids droop.
We feel like laughing and weeping,
for it's incredible --
from the fourth B on this ship,
there must be something to it.
We feel like screaming
how small the world is,
how easy to grasp
with open arms.
For a short while yet we are filled with joy,
both illuminating and deceiving.

Monday, August 04, 2008

705. Because We Are Not Taken Seriously - Stephen Dunn

.
Some night I wish they'd knock,
on my door, the government men,
looking for the poem of simple truths
recited and whispered among the people.
And when all I give them is silence
and my children are exiled
to the mountains, my wife forced
to renounce me in public,
I'll be the American poet
whose loneliness, finally, is relevant,
whose slightest movement
ripples cross-country.

And when the revolution frees me,
its leaders wanting me to become
"Poet of the Revolution," I'll refuse
and keep a list of their terrible reprisals
and all the dark things I love
which they will abolish.
With the ghost of Mandelstam
on one shoulder, Lorca on the other,
I'll write the next poem, the one
that will ask only to be believed
once it's in the air, singing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

704. Inniskeen Road: July Evening - Patrick Kavanagh

.
The bicycles go by in twos and threes –
There's a dance in Billy Brennan's barn tonight,
And there's the half-talk code of mysteries
And the wink-and-elbow language of delight.
Half-past eight and there is not a spot
Upon a mile of road, no shadow thrown
That might turn out a man or woman, not
A footfall tapping secrecies of stone.

I have what every poet hates in spite
Of all the solemn talk of contemplation.
Oh, Alexander Selkirk knew the plight
Of being king and government and nation.
A road, a mile of kingdom, I am king
Of banks and stones and every blooming thing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

703. Taking Our Bearings - David Wagoner

.
To find out where we are, we gaze at the sunset,
Then the moon and stars.
We bring their images down to touch the sea,
And there we are: there,
At a certain time where straight lines intersect
On a chart––that's you and I
In all this emptiness, the only two
In the world existing
Our way in this place. We can put our fingers
Surely on our uniqueness,
Call where-we-are what-we-are, letting it go
Finally that simply,
Saying again it's only the beginning
Again, it's only
The beginning of everything we always wanted
To do and know and be.
Bracing uncertain sea-legs, we breathe the salt
Of our own blood,
Pitching, heeling, and yawing with the unbreakable
Rules of this road,
And steer by constellations we needn't measure,
Name, or number.
One must keep watch now while the other sleeps,
Each dreaming of sharing
Dreams like our food or, through a dreamless night,
Sleeplessly waiting
For daybreak, sharing the naked love of dreaming.
It will mean we're becoming
Each other, replacing our dying mothers and fathers
And our own children,
Rocked in this wooden cradle of the deep,
By good dead reckoning
Leaving behind our streaming, luminous wake,
Sailing toward morning.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

702. Drift - Linda Pastan

Lying in bed this morning
you read to me of continental drift,
how Africa and South America
sleeping once side by side
slowly slid apart;
how California even now
pushes off like a swimmer
from the country's edge, along
the San Andreas Fault.
And I thought about you and me
who move in sleep each night
to the far reaches of the bed,
ranges of blankets between us.
It is a natural law this drift
and though we break it
as we break bread
over and over again, you remain
Africa with your deep shade,
your heat. And I, like California,
push off from your side
my two feet cold
against your back, dreaming
of Asia Minor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

701. Drawing Lessons - Howard Nemerov

I

Your pencil will do particles and waves––
We call them points and lines––and nothing else.
Today we shall explore the mystery
Of points and lines moving over the void––
We call it paper––to imitate the world.
First think a moment of the ocean wave
When it stubs its toe against the scend of the shore
And stumbles forward, somersaults and breaks.
A moment ago nothing was there but wave,
And now nothing is here but particles;
So point and line not only turn into
Each other, but each hides from the other, too.
The seed of a point grows into a tree of line,
The line unfolding generates the plane
Of the world, perspective space in light and shade.

II

The points and lines, the seashore and the sea,
The particles and waves, translate as well
Into the consonants and vowels that make
The speech that makes the world; a simple thing.
Or else a complex thing proceeding still
From simple opposites that make it seem
As if it might be understood, though this
Is probably illusion in the sense,
Delusion in the mind, making the world
Our true hallucination. Much as matter
And anti-matter are said to explode at touch,
So at the meeting-place of sea, air, shore,
Both sides explode, the ocean into spray,
The shore more slowly into boulders, rocks,
And final sand. All this repeats itself.

III

Always repeat yourself. To draw a line
's not much, but twenty-seven wavy lines
In parallel will visibly become
The sea; by tempering their distances
Apart, now near, now far away, we make
Ranges of mountains standing in their valleys;
By arbitrary obstacles of shape
That will prohibit passage to our lines,
We make a fleet of sailboats or a forest,
Depending on what shapes we have left void.
We see that repetition makes the world
The way it is, Nature repeats herself
Indefinitely in every kind, and plays
Far-ranging variations on the kinds,
Doodling inventions endlessly, as the pencil does.

IV

We said the water and the shore explode
And then repeat; that's not quite the whole truth.
For water has the wondrous property
And power of assembling itself again
When shattered, but the shore cannot do that.
The Second Law seems to reverse itself
For water, but not for land, whose massive cliffs
Break into boulders that break into rocks
That then descend to sand and don't return.
While I've been taking, you've been drawing lines
With your pencil, illustrating what I say
Along with whatever else you illustrate:
The pencil lead's become a stub, its black
Graphite remains became the world you made,
And it will shorten when you sharpen it.

V

The Second Law's an instrument, we're told,
Of immense power, but there's sorrow in it,
The invention of a parsimonious people
Accustomed to view creation on a budget
Cut to economy more than to delight
At splendor overflowing every vessel.
Land is the locus of form and dignity
Disguising the way down to age and death,
Shameful decay, and dust that blows away––
See, rub your drawing and it smudges into dust,
Because your pencil is a citizen
Of the middle class material world, designed
To be a minor illustrator of
What we become and what becomes of us.
The sea's a little more mysterious than that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

700. Five Villanelles - Weldon Kees

I.
The crack is moving down the wall.
Defective plaster isn't all the cause.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

It's mildly cheering to recall
That every building has its little flaws.
The crack is moving down the wall.

Here in the kitchen, drinking gin,
We can accept the damndest laws.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

And though there's no one here at all,
One searches every room because
The crack is moving down the wall.

Repairs? But how can one begin?
The lease has warnings buried in each clause.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

These nights one hears a creaking in the hall,
The sort of thing that gives one pause.
The crack is moving down the wall.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

II.
Men we once honored share a crooked eye.
We can do nothing more than morn.
The girls we loved will marry them, and die.

Was it the age that they were ruined by?
Was there no prophet who could warn?
Men we once honored share a crooked eye.

Their wells are poisoned, choked with mud, or dry.
There is a weakness even in their scorn.
The girls we loved will marry them, and die.

There is a pattern to the way they cry,
Cursing the special hour they were born.
Men we once honored share a crooked eye.

They speak of honor, yet they lie:
All their certificates of truth are torn.
The girls we loved will marry them and die.

Their promise fades like powder in the sky,
Their fanfares issue from a sour horn.
Men we once honored share a crooked eye;
The girls we loved will marry them, and die.

III. A Villanelle for the Publisher Who Rejected –––'s Book
Stiffen your features at anything new:
Of all the things you do, you do that best.
From your snug vantage point I scarcely like the view.

You have a way of saying, "True,
But what of readers in the West?"
Stiffen your features at anything new.

"Among the public," you will say, "so few
Would welcome just the attitude he's stressed."
From your snug vantage point I scarcely like the view.

"We're liberal here, we welcome every hue,
But not the strange, unfashionable, or the obsessed."
Stiffen your features at anything new.

"I turned down Joyce myself. It was the thing to do.
He, like so many these days, just befouled his nest."
From your snug vantage point I scarcely like the view.

So, for your services to all that's shoddy and untrue,
I gladly pin this dime-store medal on your chest.
Stiffen your features at anything new.
From your snug vantage point I scarcely like the view.

IV.
No sound except the beating of a drum
Is heard along this walled-in corridor.
"Time will go by" we heard; "no messages will come."

The guests seem sad without their opium.
They stare at me and talk about the war.
There is no sound except the beating of a drum.

They want a different noise; like me, they thumb
Through heavy books we keep behind the door.
"Time will go by," we heard; "no messages will come."

Noise with complexity, however glum,
Might give some clue to what there is in store,
But there's no sound except the beating of a drum.

A few wear beards, or sleep all day, while some
Have grown quite philosophical. Some pace the floor.
"Time will go by," we heard; "no messages will come."

I think it is our hearts. Each paralyzed and numb
With waiting. Yet what is it we are waiting for?
No sound except the beating of a drum?
"Time will go by," we heard. "No messages will come."

V.
We had a notion it was dawn,
But it was only torches on the height.
The truce was signed, but the attack goes on.

The major fell down on the blackened lawn
And cried like a fool; his face was white.
We had the notion it was dawn.

On a bombed wall someone had drawn
A picture of a nude hermaphrodite.
The truce was signed, but the attack goes on.

Our food was rotten, all our water gone.
We had penicillin and dynamite,
And had the notion it was dawn

Because a cold gleam, fitful, gray, and wan,
Held for a moment in the signal's light.
The truce was signed, but the attack goes on.

We helped to choose these fields we crawl upon.
Sired in caskets, born to die at night,
We had the notion it was dawn.
The truce was signed, but the attack goes on.

Friday, July 18, 2008

699. Falling Asleep In The Garden - David Wagoner

.
All day the bees have come to the garden.
They hover, swivel in arcs and, whirling, light
On stamens heavy with pollen, probe and revel
Inside the yellow and red starbursts of dahlias
Or cling to lobelia's blue-white mouths
Or climb the speckled trumpets of foxgloves.

My restless eyes follow their restlessness
As they plunge bodily headfirst into treasure,
Gold-fevered among these horns of plenty.
They circle me, a flowerless patch
With nothing to offer in the way of sweetness
Or light against the first omens of evening.

Some, even now, are dying at the end
Of their few weeks, some being born in the dark,
Some simply waiting for life, but some are dancing
Deep in their hives, telling the hungry
The sun will be that way, the garden this far:
This is the way to the garden. They hum at my ear.

And I wake up, startled, seeing the early
Stars beginning to bud in constellations.
The bees have gathered somewhere like petals closing
For the coming of the cold. The silhouette
Of a sphinx moth swerves to drink at a flowerhead.
The night-blooming moon opens its pale corolla.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

698. Prosody 101 - Linda Pastan

.
When they taught me that what mattered most
was not the strict iambic line goose-stepping
over the page but the variations
in that line and the tension produced
on the ear by the surprise of difference,
I understood yet didn't understand
exactly, until just now, years later
in spring, with the trees already lacy
and camellias blowsy with middle age,
I looked out and saw what a cold front had done
to the garden, sweeping in like common language,
unexpected in the sensuous
extravagance of a Maryland spring.
There was a dark edge around each flower
as if it had been outlined in ink
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
between the expected and actual
was like that time I came to you, ready
to say goodbye for good, for you had been
a cold front yourself lately, and as I walked in
you laughed and lifted me up in your arms
as if I too were lacy with spring
instead of middle aged like the camellias,
and I thought: so this is Poetry!