Monday, March 31, 2008

630. Because What I Want Most Is Permanence - May Sarton

Because what I want most is permanence,
The long unwinding and continuous flow
Of subterranean rivers out of sense,
That nourish arid landscapes with their blue––
Poetry, prayer, or call it what you choose
That frees the complicated act of will
And makes the whole world both intense and still––
I set my mind to artful work and craft,
I set my heart on friendship, hard and fast
Against the wild inflaming wink of chance
And all sensations opened in a glance.
Oh blue Atlantis where the sailors dream
Their girls under the waves and in the foam––
I move another course. I'll not look down.

Because what I most want is permanence,
What I do best is bury fire now,
To bank the blaze within, and out of sense,
Where hidden fires and rivers burn and flow,
Create a world that is still and intense.
I come to you with only the straight gaze.
These are not hours of fire but years of praise,
The glass full to the brim, completely full,
But held in balance so no drop can spill.

Friday, March 28, 2008

629. The Railroad Station - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish the by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

My nonarrival in the city of N.
took place on the dot.

You'd been alerted
in my unmailed letter.

You were able not to be there
at the agreed-upon time.

The train pulled up at Platform 3.
A lot of people got out.

My absence joined the throng
as it made its way toward the exit.

Several women rushed
to take my place
in all that rush.

Somebody ran up to one of them.
I didn't know him,
but she recognized him

While they kissed
with not our lips,
a suitcase disappeared,
not mine.

The railroad station in the city of N.
passed its exam
in objective existence
with flying colors.

The whole remained in place.
Particulars scurried
along the designated tracks.

Even a rendezvous
took place as planned.

Beyond the reach
of our presence.

In the paradise lost
of probability.

Somewhere else.
Somewhere else.
How these little words ring.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

628. A Dark Swimming Figure - Tomos Tranströmer

Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton

About a prehistoric painting
on a rock in the Sahara:
a dark swimming figure
in an old river which is young.

Without weapons or strategy,
neither at rest nor quick
and cut from his own shadow
gliding on the bed of the stream.

He struggled to make himself free
from a slumbering green picture,
to come at last to the shore
and be one with his own shadow.

628. A Dark Swimming Figure - Tomos Tranströmer

Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton

About a prehistoric painting
on a rock in the Sahara:
a dark swimming figure
in an old river which is young.

Without weapons or strategy,
neither at rest nor quick
and cut from his own shadow
gliding on the bed of the stream.

He struggled to make himself free
from a slumbering green picture,
to come at last to the shore
and be one with his own shadow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

627. Of Politics & Art - Norman Dubie

for Allen

Here, on the farthest point of the peninsula
The winter storm
Off the Atlantic shook the schoolhouse.
Mrs. Whitimore, dying
Of tuberculosis, said it would be after dark
Before the snowplow and bus would reach us.

She read to us from Melville.

How in an almost calamitous moment
Of sea hunting
Some men in an open boat suddenly found themselves
At the still and protected center
Of a great herd of whales
Where all the females floated on their sides
While their young nursed there. The cold frightened whalers
Just stared into what they allowed
Was the ecstatic lapidary pond of a nursing cow's
One visible eyeball.
And they were at peace with themselves.

Today I listened to a woman say
That Melville might not
Be taught in the next decade. Another woman asked, "And why not?"
The first responded, "Because there are
No women in his one novel."

And Mrs. Whitimore was now reading from the Psalms.
Coughing into her handkerchief. Snow above the windows.
There was a blue light on her face, breasts, and arms.
Sometimes a whole civilization can be dying
Peacefully in one young woman, in a small heated room
With thirty children
Rapt, confident and listening to the pure
God-rendering voice of a storm.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

626. The Traveling Onion - Naomi Shihab Nye

It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship ––– why I haven't been
able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and
on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.
––– Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,

Monday, March 24, 2008

625. Love Affair - Richard Foerster

Driving west
on a black road,
top down, and the wind
tousling the gray,
I let the radio
thunder Siegfried's death
and funeral music.
Suddenly I am aware
my emotions are all wrong.
The autumn colors
crackle overhead,
and in the open blue
some geese in haggard V's
are forging south,
but though this is Maine
and the world is slipping
into dark and cold,
just for now I am
revving into orange flame,
a hero's afterglow.

Friday, March 21, 2008

624. Spare Parts - Trish Dugger

We barge out of the womb
with two of them: eyes, ears,

arms, hands, legs, feet.
Only one heart. Not a good

plan. God should know we
need at least a dozen,

a baker's dozen of hearts.
They break like Easter eggs

hidden in the grass,
stepped on and smashed.

My own heart is patched,
bandaged, taped, barely

the same shape it once was
when it beat fast for you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

623. This Houre Her Vigill - Valentin Iremonger

Elizabeth, frigidly stretched,
On a spring day surprised us
With her starched dignity and the quietness
Of her hands clasping a black cross.

With book and candle and holy water dish
She received us in the room with the blind down,
Her eyes were peculiarly closed and we knelt shyly
Noticing the blot of her hair on the white pillow

We met that evening by the crumbling wall
In the field behind the house where I lived
And talked it over, but could find no reason
Why she had left us whom she had liked so much.

Death yes, we understood: something to do
With age and decay, decrepit bodies;
But here was this vigorous one, aloof and prim
Who would not answer our furtive whispers

Next morning, hearing the priest call her name,
I fled outside, being full of certainty,
And cried my seven years against the church's stone wall.
For eighteen years I did not speak her name

Until this autumn day when, in a gale,
A sapling fell outside by window, its branches
Rebelliously blotting the lawn's green. suddenly, I thought
Of Elizabeth, frigidly stretched.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

622. Conversing With Paradise - Howard Nemerov

for Robert Jordan

To see the world the way a painter must,
Responsive to distances, alive to light,
To changes in the colors of the day,
His mind vibrating at every frequency
He finds before him, from wind waves in wheat
Through trees that turn their leaves before the storm,
To string-bag pattern of the pebbled waves
Over the shallows of the shelving cove
In high sunlight; and to the greater wave-
lengths of boulder and building, to the vast
Majestic measures of the mountain's poise;

And from these modulations of the light
To take the elected moment, silence it
In oils and earths beneath the moving brush,
And varnish it and put it in a frame
To seal it off as privileged from time,
And hang it for a window on the wall,
A window giving on the ever-present past;

How splendid it would be to be someone
Able to do these mortal miracles
In silence and solitude, without a word.

Monday, March 17, 2008

621. JUNE 1968 - Jorge Luis Borges (2)

Translated from the Spanish by Norman Thomas di Giovanni

On a golden evening,
or in a quietness whose symbol
might be a golden evening,
a man sets up his books
on the waiting shelves,
feeling the parchment and leather and cloth
and the satisfaction given by
the anticipation of a habit
and the establishment of order.
Stevenson and that other Scotsman, Andrew Lang,
will here pick up again, in a magic way,
the leisurely conversation broken off
by oceans and by death,
and Alfonso Reyes surely will be pleased
to share space close to Virgil.
(To arrange a library is to practice,
in a quiet and modest way,
the art of criticism.)
The man, who is blind,
knows that he can no longer read
the handsome volumes he handles
and that they will not help him write
the book which in the end might justify him,
but on this evening that perhaps is golden
he smiles at his strange fate
and feels that special happiness
which comes from things we know and love.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

620. Best Society - Philip Larkin

When I was a child, I thought
Casually, that solitude
Never needed to be sought.
Something everybody had,
Like nakedness, it lay at hand,
Not specially right or specially wrong,
A plentiful and obvious thing
Not at all hard to understand.

Then, after twenty, it became
At once more difficult to get
And more desired – though all the same
More undesirable; for what
You are alone has, to achieve
The rank of fact, to be expressed
In terms of others, or it's just
A compensating make-believe.

Much better stay in company!
To love you must have someone else
Giving requires a legatee,
Good neighbours need whole parishfuls
Of folk to do it on – in short,
Our virtues are all social; if,
Deprived of solitude, you chafe,
It's clear you're not the virtuous sort.

Viciously, then, I lock my door.
The gas-fire breathes. The wind outside
Ushers in evening rain. Once more
Uncontradicting solitude
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.

Friday, March 14, 2008

619. California - Paul Hoover

Paul Hoover - California

From the cool electric gaze of a Hollywood enigma
to the cormorant eating fish at a Muir Beach tide pool,
the state's a deep oasis of appetite and ease.
The newspaper reports eighty quakes a week,
most of them temblors faint as a star on water.
As whole hands of fog drape over the Golden Gate,
a piano in Oakland moans like a choir.
In the High Sierras, falling snow
is blue as brand-new skin;
the world's weight is measured
by a metaphysical Reno as clean as Disneyland.
Closer to Sacramento, the hum of BMWs
on their way to a software convention
sounds tasteful in the rain.
The motel owner knows the desert speed
of screenplays, since he is writing one
in the neon light of a nude but lucid room.
A postmodern bar just opened down the street.
No dancing, no smoking, no alcohol are allowed.
But you can get a mud bath, scented body wrap,
and whales hysterically singing
directly into your headphones.
The county sheriff has a Ph.D and surfs the internet.
Relations are wreathed with chaos theory
and the "new world order."
As the millennium approaches and nature
politely recedes, everyone thinks good thoughts.
Former cheerleaders join a women's drumming circle.
The family leaves the Methodist Church
for a sweat lodge in the country. In the absence
of the Soviet Union, Satan makes a comeback
along with angels who look like airline stewards,
cheeks rosy with steroids and purpose.
But they're on leave or out of work.
Narcissus drowns in a tide pool while reflecting
on a starfish; Sisyphus rides a mountain bike
up Mt. Tamalpais, where Zeus confuses omniscience
with his remote control. The future oversleeps.
But in a trailer home in Rancho Cucamonga,
the present has a theory scratched as paradise.
Bruise's star is dark.
The bargain was to sing, as populations do,
the terrors of pleasure, like holding the gecko's tail
after it has dropped. disguised by rear-view worlds,
we have taken steps in just that direction.
Glad the puritans came, we wander back repressed
to the land we would unsettle. Darkness
swallows borders. A wilderness shines.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

618. Arboretum - Louise Gluck

We had the problem of age, the problem of wishing to linger.
Not needing, anymore, even to make a contribution.
Merely wishing to linger: to be, to be here.

And to stare at things, but with no real avidity.
To browse, to purchase nothing.
But there were many of us; we took up time. We crowded out
our own children, and the children of friends. We did great damage,
meaning no harm

We continued to plan; to fix things as they broke.
To repair, to improve. We traveled, we put in gardens.
And we continued brazenly to plant trees and perennials.

We asked so little of the world. We understood
the offense of advice, of holding forth. We checked ourselves:
we were correct, we were silent.
But we could not cure ourselves of desire, not completely.
Our hands, folded, reeked of it.

How did we do so much damage, merely sitting and watching,
strolling, on fine days, the grounds of the park, the arboretum,
or sitting on benches in front of the public library,
feeding pigeons out of a paper bag?

We were correct, and yet desire pursued us.
Like a great force, a god. And the young
were offended, their hearts
turned cold in reaction. We asked

so little of the world; small things seemed to us
immense wealth. Merely to smell once more the early roses
in the arboretum: we asked
so little, and we claimed nothing. And the young
withered nevertheless.

Or they become like stones in the arboretum: as though
our continued existence, our asking so little for so many years, meant
we asked everything.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

617. Sestina: Travel Notes - Weldon Kees

Directed by the eyes of others,
Blind to the long, deceptive voyage,
We walked across the bridge in silence
And said "Goodnight," and paused, and walked away.
Ritual of apology and burden:
The evening ended; not a soul was harmed.

But then I thought: we all are harmed
By the indifference of others;
Being corrupt, corruptible, they burden
All who would vanish on some questioned voyage,
Tunneling through the longest way away
To maps of bitterness and silence.

We are concerned with that destructive silence
Impending in the dark, that never harms
Us till it strikes, washing the past away.
Remote from intrigues of the others,
We must chart routes that ease the voyage,
Clear passageways and lift the burden.

But where are routes? Who names the burden?
The night is gifted with a devious silence
That names no promises of voyage
Without contagion and the syllables of harm.
–I see ahead the hands of others
In frantic motion, warning me away.

To pay no heed, and walk away
Is easy; but the familiar burden
Of a later time, when certainties of others
Assume the frigid shapes of silence
And build new winters, echoing harm,
May banish every passageway for voyage.

You knew before the fear of voyage,
You saw before the hands that warned away,
You heard before the voices trained to harm
Listeners grown weak through loss and burdens.
Even in city streets at noon that silence
Waited for you, but not, you thought, for others.

Storms will break silence. Seize on harm,
Play idiot or seer to others, make the burden
Theirs, though no voyage is, no tunnel, door, nor way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

616. Evening Music - May Sarton

We enter this evening as we enter a quartet
Listening again for its particular note
The interval where all seems possible,
Order within time when action is suspended
And we are pure in heart, perfect in will.
We enter the evening whole and well-defended
But at the quick of self, intense detachment
That is a point of burning far from passion––
And this, we know, is what we always meant
And even love must learn it in some fashion,
To move like formal music through the heart,
To be achieved like some high difficult art.

We enter the evening as we enter a quartet
Listening again for its particular note
Which is your note perhaps, your special gift,
A detached joy that flowers and makes bloom
The longest silence in the silent room––
And there would be no music if you left.

Monday, March 10, 2008

615. Possibilities - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the overtrustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos the hell order.
I prefer the Grimms' fairy tales to the newspapers' front pages.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven't mentioned here
to many things I've also left unsaid.
I prefer zeros on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

614. Morning Poem - Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

Friday, March 07, 2008

613. Amaryllis - Connie Wanek

A flower needs to be this size
to conceal the winter window,
and this color, the red
of a Fiat with the top down,
to impress us, dull as we've grown.

Months ago the gigantic onion of a bulb
half above the soil
stuck out its green tongue
and slowly, day by day,
the flower itself entered our world,

closed, like hands that captured a moth,
then open, as eyes open,
and the amaryllis, seeing us,
was somehow undiscouraged.
It stands before us now

as we eat our soup;
you pour a little of your drinking water
into its saucer, and a few crumbs
of fragrant earth fall
onto the tabletop.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

612. Morning Birds - Tomas Tranströmer

Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton

I waken the car
whose windshield is coated with pollen.
I put on my sunglasses.
The birdsong darkens.

Meanwhile another man buys a paper
at the railway station
close to a large goods wagon,
which is all red with rust
and stands flickering in the sun.

No blank space anywhere here.

Straight through the spring warmth a cold corridor

where someone comes running
and tells how up at the head office
they slandered him.

Through a back door in the landscape
comes the magpie
black and white, Hell's bird.
And the blackbird darting to and fro
till everything becomes a charcoal drawing,
except the whit clothes on the washing-line:
a palestrina chorus.

No blank space anywhere here.

Fantastic to feel how my poem grows
while I myself shrink.
It grows, it takes my place.
It pushes me aside.
It throws me out of the nest.
The poem is ready.

Monday, March 03, 2008

611. It's Most Fortunate - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

It's most fortunate
that we do not know exactly
what kind of world we live on.

It would be necessary
to have existed very long,
decidedly longer
than the world.

If only for comparison
to get acquainted with other worlds.

One must soar out of the body
which cannot do anything
but limit
and create difficulties.

For the sake of research,
clarity of the picture,
and the final results,
one must rise above time,
in which everything drives and whirls.

From this perspective
you must once and for all get rid of
details and episodes.

Counting the days of the week
must seem
a meaningless activity,

throwing letters into a mail box
is a whim of foolish youth,

the plaque "Don't trample the grass" is
a senseless one.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

610. Fault - Ron Koertge

In the airport bar, I tell my mother not to worry.
No one ever tripped and fell into the San Andreas
Fault. But as she dabs at her dry eyes, I remember
those old movies where the earth does open.

There's always one blonde entomologist, four
deceitful explorers, and a pilot who's good-looking
but not smart enough to take off his leather jacket
in the jungle.

Still, he and Dr. Cutie Bug are the only ones
who survive the spectacular quake because
they spent their time making plans to go back
to the Mid-West and live near his parents

while the others wanted to steal the gold and ivory
then move to Los Angeles where they would rarely
call their mothers and almost never fly home
and when they did for only a few days at a time.