Friday, February 29, 2008

609. At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border - William Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

608. Keats - Christopher Howell

When Keats, at last beyond the curtain
of love’s distraction, lay dying in his room
on the Piazza di Spagna, the melody of the Bernini
Fountain “filling him like flowers,”
he held his breath like a coin, looked out
into the moonlight and thought he saw snow.
He did not suppose it was fever or the body’s
weakness turning the mind. He thought, “England!”
and there he was, secretly, for the rest
of his improvidently short life: up to his neck
in sleigh bells and the impossibly English cries
of street vendors, perfect
and affectionate as his soul.
For days the snow and statuary sang him so far
beyond regret that if now you walk rancorless
and alone there, in the piazza, the white shadow
of his last words to Severn, “Don’t be frightened,”
may enter you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

607. Lines & Circularities - Howard Nemerov

On Hearing Casals' Recording the the Sixth Suite

Deep in a time that cannot come again
Bach thought it through, this lonely and immense
Reflexion wherein our sorrows learn to dance.
And deep in the time that cannot come again
Casals recorded it. Playing back,
And bending now over the instrument,
I watch the circling stillness of the disc,
The tracking inward of the tone-arm, enact
A mystery wherein the music shares:
How time, that comes and goes and vanishes
Never to come again, can come again.

How many silly miracles there are
That will not save us, neither will they save
The world, and yet they are miraculous;
The tone-arm following the spiral path
While moving inward on a shallow arc,
Making the music that companions it
Through winding ways to silence at the close;
The delicate needle that navigates these canyons
By contact with the edges, not the floor;
Black plastic that has memorized and kept
In its small striations whatever it was told
By the master's mind and hand and bow and box,
Making such definite shudderings in the air
That Bach's intent arises from the tomb . . .
The Earth, that spins around upon itself
In the simple composition of Light and Dark,
And varying her distance on the Sun
Makes up the Seasons and the years, and Time
Itself, whereof the angels make record;
The Sun, swinging his several satellites
Around himself and slowly around the vast
Galactic rim and out to the unknown
Past Vega at the apex of his path;
And all this in the inward of the mind,
Where the great cantor sings his songs to God . . .

The music dances to its inner edge
And stops. The tone-arm lifts and cocks its head
An instant, as if listening for something
That is no longer there but might be; then
Returns to rest, as with a definite click
The whole strange business turns itself off.

Monday, February 25, 2008

606. A New Poet - Linda Pastan

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don't see

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day - the odor of truth
and of lying.

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

605. Otherwise - Jane Kenyon

(Jane Kenyon died several years ago of cancer.)

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Friday, February 22, 2008

604. Selecting A Reader - Ted Kooser

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

603. The Dead Man's Clothes - Pat Boran

The dead man's clothes
were willed to the village orphans
so that, those long summer evenings,
he was everywhere,
moving through the fields
till the sun died

The villagers loved it, calling
Gretel, Hansel, Romulus,
and watching the old man's shoulder turn
or the big baggy arse
that was his alone come
to a sudden, billowing halt.

Except his wife. Unable to decide,
whether this was flattery
or insult, she kept herself
to herself, shut up inside

while the village orphans
come home from the fields,
their hands reddened from picking berries
and trailing mothballs in the street
like puffs of light.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

602. On My Return - Yehuda Amichai

Translated from the Hebrew by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes

I will not be greeted on by return
by children's voices, or by the barking
of a loyal dog, or by blue smoke rising
as it happens in legends.

There won't happen for me any 'and he
lifted his eyes' - as
in the Bible - 'and behold'.

I have crossed the border of being an orphan.
It's a long time since they called me
an ex-serviceman.
I'm not protected anymore.

But I have invented the dry weeping.
And who has invented this
has invented the beginning of the world's end,
the crack and the tumbling down and the end

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

601. Variations On The Word Love

This is a word we use to plug
holes with. It’s the right size for those warm
blanks in speech, for those red heart-
shaped vacancies on the page that look nothing
like real hearts. Add lace
and you can sell
it. We insert it also in the one empty
space on the printed form
that comes with no instructions. There are whole
magazines with not much in them
but the word love, you can
rub it all over your body and you
can cook with it too. How do we know
it isn’t what goes on at the cool
debaucheries of slugs under damp
pieces of cardboard? As for the weed-
seedlings nosing their tough snouts up
among the lettuces, they shout it.
Love! Love! sing the soldiers, raising
their glittering knives in salute.

Then there’s the two
of us. This word
is far too short for us, it has only
four letters, too sparse
to fill those deep bare
vacuums between the stars
that press on us with their deafness.
It’s not love we don’t wish
to fall into, but that fear.
this word is not enough but it will
have to do. It’s a single
vowel in this metallic
silence, a mouth that says
O again and again in wonder
and pain, a breath, a finger
grip on a cliffside. You can
hold on or let go.

Monday, February 18, 2008

600. 27-Nerisa del Carmen Guevara

And by the time I reach 80
I would have fallen in love with
An entire city.
All the people on the streets
Would follow me down with
A knowing.
All hate gone. All sorrow.
The word absence would not
make sense.

The dinosaurs are still underground;
All the species the eco-warriors were not able to save
Have walked without regret to wastelands they haven’t found yet;
Most of the people we love, walking or dead,
Are sometimes in the dust we sweep out on Sundays.
The trees always leave an instant mix,
Just add water
And we are still
Remembering even what we try to forget.

The once loved, the once loving,
The kept, the abandoned,
Finally making sense of it all.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

599. You Who Never Arrived - Rainer Maria Rilke

You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don’t even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of the next
moment. All the immense
images in me – the far-off, deeply-felt landscape,
cities, towers, and bridges, and un-
suspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods –
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at;
longing. An open window
in a country house –, and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me. Streets that I chance upon, –
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back
my too-sudden image. Who knows? Perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening . . .

Friday, February 15, 2008

598. At Seven-Mile Ranch, Cornstock, Texas

I live like I know what I’m doing.

When I hand the horses a square of hay,
when I walk the road of stones
or chew on a cactus pulp,
there’s a drumming behind me,
the day opens up to let me pass through.

I know the truth,
how always I’m following each sign that appears.
This sheep that materialized behind a clump of cenizo bushes
knows I didn’t see him till he raised his head.

Out here it’s impossible to be lonely.
The land walking beside you is your oldest friend,
pleasantly silent, like already you’ve told the best stories
and each of you knows how much the other made up.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

597. Outside History - Eavan Boland

These are outsiders, always. These stars—
these iron inklings of an Irish January,
whose light happened
thousands of years before
our pain did; they are, they have always been
outside history.
They keep their distance. Under them remains
a place where you found
you were human, and
a landscape in which you know you are mortal.
And a time to choose between them.
I have chosen:
out of myth in history I move to be
part of that ordeal
who darkness is
only now reaching me from those fields,
those rivers, those roads clotted as
firmaments with the dead.
How slowly they die
as we kneel beside them, whisper in their ear.
And we are too late. We are always too late.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

596. Donald - James Kavanaugh

Donald lives with his mother
and everyone says that's ridiculous
For a forty-two-year-old man with a good job.
But Donald tried making it alone
Until it got too lonely in the morning.
Besides, his mother is nice and makes very good coffee.

Martin thinks Donald is a latent queer,
But Martin thinks that about almost everyone––
Which sometimes makes me wonder latently about Martin.

Mrs. Carmody says she'd never do what Donald's mother did,
But she doesn't say what Donald's mother did.
Nor admit her only son hasn't spoken to her in ten years.

Betty Lou is certain that Donald is impotent,
Which probably explains why Betty Lou's husband works nights.

Dr. Adcock suggested over martinis that it was an oral fixation
Aptly symbolized by Donald's hysterical overbite.
Adcock did not reveal the symbolism of his own elongated incisors.

Madge Lewis thinks Donald is afraid of women,
And he is, of Madge Lewis. But then so is everyone else.

Eddie Lewis says Donald is the kind you read about
That chokes his mother and buries her in the backyard.
Which is exactly what Eddie Lewis would like to do with Madge.

Donald says that when he lived alone
It got too lonely in the morning.
Besides, his mother is nice,
And makes very good coffee.

Monday, February 11, 2008

595. Equations Of A Villanelle - Howard Nemerov

The breath within us is the wind without,
In interchange unnoticed all our lives.
What if the same be true of world and thought?

Air is the ghost that comes and goes uncaught
Through the great system of lung and leaf that sieves
The breath within us and the wind without;

And utterance, or inspiration going out,
Is borne on air, on empty air it lives
To say the same is true of world and thought.

This is the spirit's seamless fabric wrought
Invisible, whose working magic gives
The breath within us to the wind without.

O great wind, blow through us despite our doubt,
Distilling all life's sweetness in the hives
Where we deny the same to world and thought,

Till death, the candle guttering to naught,
Sequesters every self as it forgives
The breath within us for the wind without;
What if the same be true of world and thought?

Friday, February 08, 2008

594. Landscape - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

In an old master's landscape
trees take root beneath the oil paint,
the path clearly leads somewhere,
a dignified blade of grass replaces the signature,
it's a credible five o'clock in the afternoon,
a gently but firmly stopped May,
so I too have stopped off––yes, dear,
I am that maiden beneath the ash tree.

Look how far away I've moved from you,
how white is my bonnet, how yellow my skirt,
how firmly I clutch my basket so I won't fall out of the painting,
how I parade in another's fate
and take a rest from living mysteries.

Even if you called, I would not hear,
and even if I heard, I would not turn,
and even if I made that impossible move,
your face would seem strange to me.

I know the world within a six-mile radius.
I know the herbs and spells for every ailment.
God still looks down on the top of my head.
I still pray for an unsudden death.
War is a punishment, and peace a reward.
Embarrassing dreams come from Satan.
My soul is as plain as the pit of a plum.

I don't know the game of hearts.
I don't know the nakedness of the father of my children.
I don't suspect the Song of Songs
of a complex, inked-up first draft.
What I want to say, is in complete sentences.
I don't use despair, for it is not mine,
but only entrusted me for safekeeping.

Even if you barred my path
even if you looked into my eyes,
I would pass you by on the razor's edge of the abyss.

To the right is my house, which I know my around,
along with its stairs and the passageway in,
where unpainted stories unfold:
the cat leaps onto a bench,
the sun falls onto a tin pitcher,
and a gaunt man sits at the table
repairing a clock.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

593. Hommages - Tomas Tranströmer

Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton

Walked along the antipoetic wall.
Die Mauer. Don't look over.
It wants to surround our adult lives
in the routine city, the routine landscape.

Eluard touched some button
and the wall opened
and the garden showed itself.

I used to go with the milk pail through the wood.
Purple trunks on all sides.
And old joke hung
as beautiful as a votive ship.

Summer read out of Pickwick Papers.
The good life, a tranquil carriage
crowded with excited gentlemen.

Close your eyes, change horses.

In distress come childish thoughts.
We sat by the sickbed and prayed
for a pause in the terror, a breach
where the Pickwicks could pull in.

Close your eyes, change horses.

It is easy to love fragments
that have been on the way a long time.
Inscriptions on church bells
and proverbs written across saints
and many-thousand-year-old seeds.

Archilochos!—No answer.

The birds roamed over the seas' rough pelt.
We locked ourselves in with Simenon
and felt the smell of human life
where the serials debouch.

Feel the smell of truth.

The open window has stopped
in front of the treetops
and the evening sky's farewell letter.

Shiki, börling, and Ungaretti
with life's chalks on death's blackboard.
The poem which is completely possible.

I looked up when the branches swung.
white gulls were eating black cherries.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

592. POEM - Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane.
The news would pour out of various devices
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

591. The Handbell Choir - Jane Flanders

Twelve children, twelve gray geese in starched
collars, file onstage. Like their bells,
which are set out buffet-style on a long table,
they are graduated. The gym with its folding chairs
and stale air, seems wrong;
they belong in a cloister or small pond.

The director, also in gray, appears.
They will play "Geese . . . " no, "Sheep May Safely Graze,"
in honor of Bach's three hundredth birthday.
Her raised hand, their rapt stance quiet us,
who suddenly seem to be listening
for a rush of wings. But the advent
is simply that of a sweet chord.

With a flick of the wrist, each bell is rung
then silenced on the breast. No hurry.
They take all the repeats,
arms rising and falling stiffly, like clockwork
hammers sounding over the roofs of Eisenach
on a March day for the baptism of the infant
Johann Sebastian. We think of sheep and lambs
in spitting snow. The church is clammy, water cold
on a baby's head, he cries a bit––
another miraculous, ordinary birth.

Monday, February 04, 2008

590. Dorie Off To Atlanta - Mark Halliday

Jen? Hi, it’s Dorie. I’m on the bus to LaGuardia. … Atlanta.
What? … Maybe. I’m not really sure. I mean his schedule is so
y’know? … But anyway. I was telling you about Marcie. Yeah.
I said to her, I said, Marcie, this one seems different, y’know?
I said the last few guys you’ve dated–from what you’ve told
I mean frankly– … Yeah. I said, Marcie, they might be
like very charming, y’know, and with great jobs, but frankly–
what it comes down to is, Let’s hit the bed,
and in the morning, Thanks for the excellent coffee. Y’know?
But this guy– … What? It’s Jason. Yeah.
So I said Marcie, from what you’ve said, Jason sounds
and from what Bob said about him also. … Bob knows him
from some project last fall. So I said Marcie, you’ve had, what,
two coffees, two lunches, and a dinner, and he still hasn’t– …
No, Bob says he’s definitely straight. …
I think there was a divorce like six years ago or something. But
What? … That’s right, yeah, I did. At Nathan’s party after some
show …
Yeah, “The Duchess of Malfi,” I forgot I told you. What? …
Only for five minutes–one cigarette, y’know? … Kind of low-
like thoughtful. But my point is– … Yeah, exactly! So I said,
Marcie, this is a guy who understands, y’know,
that bed is like part of something, y’know?
Like it’s not the big objective for godsake. It’s like an aspect–
What? … Exactly–it’s an expression of something much more–
Yes!–it’s like, Can we be companions in life, y’know?
So I said, Marcie, for godsake–if you don’t give this guy
like a serious chance, somebody else–y’know? … Right,
I mean let’s face it– … Jen? I’m losing you here–am I breaking
Jen, I’ll call you from the airport–Okay bye.

From The Gettysburg Review

Sunday, February 03, 2008

589. After Us - Connie Wanek

"I don't know if we're in the beginning
or in the final stage."
-- Tomas Tranströmer

Rain is falling through the roof.
And all that prospered under the sun,
the books that opened in the morning
and closed at night, and all day
turned their pages to the light;

the sketches of boats and strong forearms
and clever faces, and of fields
and barns, and of a bowl of eggs,
and lying across the piano
the silver stick of a flute; everything

invented and imagined,
everything whispered and sung,
all silenced by cold rain.

The sky is the color of gravestones.
The rain tastes like salt, and rises
in the streets like a ruinous tide.
We spoke of millions, of billions of years.
We talked and talked.

Then a drop of rain fell
into the sound hole of the guitar, another
onto the unmade bed. And after us,
the rain will cease or it will go on falling,
even upon itself.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

588. The Dover Bitch - Anthony Hecht

A Criticism of Life

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me,
and I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc."
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, butt there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour.

Friday, February 01, 2008

587. The Last Days Of Orpheus - Morri Creech

As for the songs, he still remembered them —
that, at least, was nice; and down the hall
the peevish landlord on his rounds was known
to hum with real feeling. But the days seemed small

and untuned now. He sulked or slept, an old man
in a rented room whose face no one recalled
from record sleeves or posters of the band;
who kept to himself, thick-waisted, a little bald.

There remained, nevertheless, the minor harmonies
of sun and leaf, some clouds and half a moon
to charm the dull hours; or, at times, a phrase
from Brahms or Mahler on the gramophone —

but trees his song swept had resumed their stations;
the wind, stunned to a doldrum by his voice,
now wore at the same gray stone. The audience
of shades had long ago turned toward the noise

and boredom to which the dead are so accustomed.
What was he left with? — photographs, a sheet
or two of notes on which a snowing dust
settled, a bride's gown hung neatly in the closet.

And little else that proved to him the past
was real, or mattered much. He could believe,
for instance, that he sang once in the mist,
the big venues of Hell: here were the sheaves

where he had scrawled the music. He felt sure
someone had listened, sure a fallen leaf
rose to its branch in sympathy: the measures,
repeating in his mind, composed his grief.

He closed his eyes. Perhaps it had been real —
the grandeurs of the stage; love. Yet the years
looked to him like the bride caught in a spell
who winks, then turns her back and disappears.

No matter that he could not retrieve them now.
He remembered a girl's face, her wedding ring
flashing, remembered a place of grief and shadow.
And, as he remembered, he began to sing.