Friday, December 25, 2009

843. Mist In The Morning - Mary Oliver

Mist In The Morning, Nothing Around Me
    But Sand And Roses

Was I lost? No question.
did I know where I was? Not at all.
Had I ever been happier in my Life? Never

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

842. The Laboratory - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

Did it all
happen in the laboratory?
Beneath one lamp by day
and billions by night?

Are we a trial generation?
Poured from one beaker to another,
shaken in retorts,
observed by something more than an eye,
each one individually
taken by forceps?

Or maybe otherwise:
no interventions.
The transformations occur on their own
in accordance with a plan.
The needle draws
the expected zigzags.

Maybe until now there was nothing interesting in us.
The control monitors are seldom switched on,
except when there's a war, and a rather big one at that,
several flights over the lump of clay called Earth,
or significant movements from point A to point B.

Or perhaps thus:
they only have a taste for episodes.
Look! a little girl on a big screen
is sewing a button to her sleeve.

The monitors begin to shriek,
personnel come running in.
Oh, what short of tiny creature
with a little heart beating on the inside!
What graceful dignity
in the way she draws the thread!
Someone calls out in rapture:
Tell the Boss,
and let him come see for himself!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

841. A Primer of the daily Round - Howard Nemerov

A peels an apple, while B kneels to God,
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E's knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H's grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L's head,
And M takes mustard, N drives into town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead,
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,
Who happens just now to remember A
Peeling an apple somewhere far away.

Friday, December 11, 2009

840. But Wise Men Apprehend What Is Imminent - C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn

"The gods perceive what lies in the future, and mortals, what occurs in the present, but wise men apprehend what is imminent."
-Philostratus, Life of Apolloniur of Tyans, VII, 7

Mortal men perceive things as they happen.
What lies in the future the gods perceive,
full and sole possessors of all enlightenment.
Of all the future holds, wise men apprehend
what is imminent. Their hearing,

sometimes, in moments of complete
absorption in their studies, is disturbed. The secret call
of events that are about to happen reaches them.
And they listen to it reverently. While in the street
outside, the people hear nothing at all.

Monday, December 07, 2009

839. Of Simplicity - James Kavanaugh

Simplicity calls
After all the schemings done,
Now that I've paid homage
To damn near everyone.
God should be satisfied,
Parents got their due.
My education's justified.
I proved myself to you.

Simplicity calls
Now that everyone's been paid,
But even so I hesitate
Because I'm still afraid.
One of these days,
I'll jump the last few walls:
Give no explanation
Save "Simplicity calls"!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

838. Insomnia - Linda Pastan

I remember when my body
was a friend.

when sleep like a good dog
came when summoned.

The door to the future
had not started to shut,

and lying on my back
between cold sheets

did not feel
like a rehearsal.

Now what light is left
comes up—a stain in the east,

and sleep, reluctant
as a busy doctor,

gives me a little
of its time.

Friday, November 27, 2009

837. To The Required Unknown - William Wehrmeister

This world, with its flashing lights, and images, and blazing with speed

gives us little time, and less to reflect, and worse does our lives impede

so much so, that even to glance at a book, or any printed matter to read

it drops from our hands, with nervous tics and birdlike jumps that bleed

and betray only too well how this very second steals even that small seed

of graciousness, of time well spent quietly and well, to soothe others need.

But at times, must we whether work, travel, or move to events accurst,

yet must we stop, in force, for there is no other choice, no, this calls first,

only breathing that never stops, and the human voice, and baking thirst

wins precedence, for stopping brings only disaster, the horrid worst

but, with that duress, there comes a surety, a certainty that knows erst

a chance to be still and reflect, think deep thoughts, and write this verse.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

836. Oatmeal - Galway Kinnell

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that it is better for your mental health if
somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal with
John Keats.
Keats said I was right to invite him: due to its glutinous texture,
gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, and unusual willingness to
disintegrate, oatmeal must never be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is OK to eat it with an
imaginary companion, and that he himself had enjoyed
memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John Milton.
Even if such porridges are not as wholesome as Keats claims,
still, you can learn something from them.
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the
"Ode to a Nightingale."
He had a heck of a time finishing it––those were his words––
"Oi ad a 'eck of a toime, "he said more or less, speaking
through his porridge.
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck
in his pocket, but when he got home he couldn't figure out the
order of the stanzas, and he and a friend spread the papers on
a table, and they made some sense of them, but he isn't sure
to this day if they got if right
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between
stanzas and the way here and there a line will go into the
configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up
and peer about, and then lay itself down slightly off the mark,
causing the poem to move forward with God's reckless wobble.
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard
about the scraps of paper on the table and tried shuffling
some stanzas of his own but only made matters worse.
When breakfast was over John recited "To Autumn."
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the
works lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn." I doubt if there
is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him
started on it and two the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed
their clammy cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by
hours," came to him while eating oatmeal alone.
I can see him––drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into
the glimmering furrows, muttering––and it occurs to me:
maybe there is no sublime, only the shining of the amnion's
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over
from lunch.
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and
simultaneously gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to
invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

835. Theodotus - C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn

If you are among the truly elect,
watch how you achieve your predominance.
However much you're glorified, however much
your accomplishments in Italy and Thessaly
are blazoned far and wide by governments,
however many honorary decrees
are bestowed on you in Rome by your admirers,
neither your elation nor your triumph will endure,
nor will you feel superior—superior how?—
when, in Alexandria, Theodotus brings you,
upon a charger that's been stained with blood,
poor wretched Pompey's head.

And do not take it for granted that in your life,
restricted, regimented, and mundane,
such spectacular and terrifying things don't exist.
Maybe at this very moment, into some neighbor's
nicely tidied house there comes—
invisible, immaterial—Theodotus,
bringing one such terrifying head.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

834. I Am Too Close. - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

I am too close for him to dream of me.
I don't flutter over him, don't flee him
beneath the roots of trees. I am too close.
The caught fish doesn't sing with my voice.
The ring doesn't roll from my finger.
I am too close. The great house is on fire
without me calling for help. Too close
for one of my hairs to turn into the rope
of the alarm bell. Too close to enter
as the guest before whom walls retreat.
I'll never die again so lightly,
so far beyond my body, so unknowingly
as I did once in his dream. I am too close,
too close, I hear the word hiss
and see its glistening scales as I lie motionless
in his embrace. He's sleeping,
more accessible at this moment to an usherette
he saw once in a traveling circus with one lion,
than to me, who lies at his side.
A valley now grows within him for her,
rusty-leaved, with a snowcapped mountain at one end
rising in the azure air. I am too close
to fall from that sky like a gift from heaven.
My cry could only waken him. And what
a poor gift: I, confined to my own form,
when I used to be a birch, a lizard
shedding times and satin skins
in many shimmering hues. And I possessed
the gift of vanishing before astonished eyes,
which is the riches of all. I am too close,
too close for him to dream of me.
I slip my arm from underneath his sleeping head -
it's numb, swarming with imaginary pins.
A host of fallen angels perches on each tip,
waiting to be counted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

833. Pursery Rhyme - Gen. Isaac R. Sherwood

(From: An Anthology of Revolutionary Poetry, 1929)
Sing a song of Europe,
Highly civilized.
Four and twenty nations
Wholly hypnotized.

When the battles open
The bullets start to sing;
Isn't that a silly way
To act for any King?

The Kings are in the background
Issuing commands;
The Queens are in the parlor,
Per etiquette's demands.

The bankers in the counting house
Are busy multiplying;
The common people at the front
Are doing all the dying.

Monday, November 09, 2009

832. A World To Do - Theodore Weiss

“I busy too,” the little boy
said, lost in his book
about a little boy, lost
in his book, with nothing

but a purple crayon
and his wits to get him out.
“Nobody can sit with me,
I have no room.
I busy
too. So don’t do any noise.
We don’t want any noise
right now.”
He leafs
through once, leafs twice;
the pictures, mixed with windy
sighs, grow dizzy,
as difficult, high-drifting
as the two-day snow that can
not stop.
How will the bushes,
sinking deeper and deeper,
trees and birds, wrapt
up, ever creep
out again?
Any minute now the blizzard,
scared and wild, the animals
lost in it—O the fur,

the red-eyed claws, crying
for their home—may burst
into the room. Try words
he’s almost learned
on them?
He sighs, “I need a man here;
I can’t do all this work
And still, as though
intent on reading its own
argument, winter continues
thumbing through itself.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

831. The Sun - Mary Oliver

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone—
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance—
and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love—
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world—

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

830. Impressions - E. E. Cummings

From: An Anthology of Revolutionary Poetry, 1929
the hours rise up putting off stars and it is
into the street of the sky light walks scattering poems

on earth a candle is
extinguished the city
with a song upon her
mouth having death in her eyes

and it is dawn
the world
goes forth to murder dreams . . . .

i see in the street where strong
men are digging bread
and i see the brutal faces of
people contented hideous hopeless cruel happy

and it is day,

in the mirror
i see a frail
dreams in the mirror

and it
is dusk on earth

a candle is lighted
and it is dark.
the people are in their houses
the frail man is in his bed
the city
sleeps with death upon her mouth having a song in her eyes
the hours descend
putting on stars . . . .

in the street of the sky night walks scattering poems.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

829. Some Like Poetry (Four translations) - Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska - Some Like Poetry
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Maria Trzeciak

not all, that is.
Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting school, where one must,
or the poets themselves,
there'd be maybe two such people in a thousand.

but one also likes chicken-noodle soup,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one's point,
one likes to pet a dog.

but what sort of thing is poetry?
Many a shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and hold on to it,
as to a saving bannister.

Wislawa Szymborska - Some People Like Poetry (2)
Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

Some people--
that is not everybody
Not even the majority but the minority.
Not counting the schools where one must,
and the poets themselves,
there will be perhaps two in a thousand.

but we also like chicken noodle soup,
we like compliments and the color blue,
we like our old scarves,
we like to have our own way,
we like to pet dogs.

but what is poetry.
More than one flimsy answer
has been given to that question.
And I don't know, and don't know, and I
cling to it as to a life line.

Wislawa Szymborska - Some People Like Poetry (3)
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Some people––
that means not everyone.
Not even most of them, only a few.
Not counting school, where you have to,
and poets themselves,
you might end up with something like two per thousand.

but then, you can like chicken noodle soup,
or compliments, or the color blue,
your old scarf,
your own way,
petting the dog.

but what is poetry anyway?
More than one rickety answer
has tumbled since that question first was raised.
But I just keep on not knowing, and I cling to that
like a redemptive handrail.

Wislawa Szymborska - Some Like Poetry (4)
Translated from the Polish by Regina Grol

Some -
thus not all. Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting schools, where one has to,
and the poets themselves,
there might be two people per thousand.

Like -
but one also likes chicken soup with noodles,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes having the upper hand,
one likes stroking a dog.

Poetry -
but what is poetry.
Many shaky answers
have been given to this question.
But I don't know and don't know and hold on to it
like to a sustaining railing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

828. Brueghel's Snow (Six poems about the same picture)

Rutger Kopland - Brueghel's Winter
Translated from the Dutch by James Brockway

Winter by Brueghel, 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.

Anne Stevenson - Brueghel's Snow

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?

Joseph Langland - Hunters In The Snow: Brueghel

Quail and rabbit hunters with tawny hounds,
Shadowless, out of late afternoon
Trudge toward the neutral evening of indeterminate form.
Done with their blood-annunciated day
Public dogs and all the passionless mongrels
Through deep snow
Trail their deliberate masters
Descending from the upper village home in hovering light.
Sooty lamps
Glow in the stone-carved kitchens.

This is the fabulous hour of shape and form
When Flemish children are grey-black-olive
And green-dark-brown
Scattered and skating informal figures
On the mill ice pond.
Moving in stillness
A hunched dame struggles with her bundled sticks,
Letting her evening's comfort cudgel her
While she, like jug or wheel, like a wagon cart
Walked by lazy oxen along the old snowlanes,
Creeps and crunches down the dusky street.
High in the fire-red dooryard
Half unhitched the sign of the Inn
Hangs in the wind
Tipped to the pitch of the roof.
Near it anonymous parents and peasant girl,
Living like proverbs carved in the alehouse walls,
Gather the country evening into their arms
And lean to the glowing flames.

Now in the dimming distance fades
The other village; across the valley
Imperturbable Flemish cliffs and crags
Vaguely advance, close in, loom,
Lost in nearness. Now
The night-black raven perched in branching boughs
Opens its early wing and slipping out
Above the grey-green valley
Weaves a net of slumber over the snow-capped homes.
And now the church, and then the walls and roofs
Of all the little houses are become
Close kin to shadow with small lantern eyes.
And now the bird of evening
With shadows streaming down from its gliding wings
Circles the neighboring hills
Of Hertogenbosch, Brabant.

Darkness stalks the hunters,
Slowly sliding down.
Falling in beating rings and soft diagonals.
Lodged in the vague vast valley the village sleeps.

William Carlos Williams - The Hunters In The Snow

The over-all picture is winter
icy mountains
in the background the return

from the hunt it is toward evening
from the left
sturdy hinters lead in

their pack the inn-sign
hanging from a
broken hinge is a stag a crucifix

between his antlers the cold
inn yard is
deserted but for a huge bonfire

that flares wind-driven tended by
women who cluster
about it to the right beyond

the hill is a pattern of skaters
Brueghel the painter
concerned with it all has chosen

a winter-stuck bush for his
foreground to
complete the picture

Anne Stevenson - Brueghel's Snow

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?

Walter de la Mare - Brueghel's Winter

Jagg'd mountain peaks and skies ice-green
Wall in the wild, cold scene below.
Churches, farms, bare copse, the sea
In freezing quiet of winter show;
Where ink-black shapes on fields in flood
Curling, skating, and sliding go.
To left, a gabled tavern; a blaze;
Peasants; a watching child; and lo,
Muffled, mute--beneath naked trees
In sharp perspective set a-row--
Trudge huntsmen, sinister spears aslant,
Dogs snuffling behind them in the snow;
And arrowlike, lean, athwart the air
Swoops into space a crow.
But flame, nor ice, nor piercing rock,
Nor silence, as of a frozen sea,
Nor that slant inward infinite line
Of signboard, bird, and hill, and tree,
Give more than subtle hint of him
Who squandered here life's mystery.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

827. Reisebilder - Edoardo Sanguineti

To the mini-skirted customs official who with sibyl-dove eyes honed in on me
in the interminable line of travelers in transit, I told the entire truth,
confined within a plywood separé-confessional: I said I have a son who
studies Russian and German and that Bonjours les ami, a four-volume French
course, was for my wife; I was ready to concede more: that I knew it had
been Rosa Luxemburg to launch the slogan "socialism or barbarism," and that
I could make up an impressive madrigal on the same; but I was sweating
as I searched my pockets in vain for the bill from the Operncafé; and then
suddenly you were there, even dragging in the kids, marvelous and marveling;
(we ordered you out with the same harsh gestures, my uniformed Beatrice of
democracy and myself); but the irreparable had already been consummated for me
there at the border between the two Berlins: forty-one-year-old seduced
by a police officer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

826. Invitation To Miss Marianne Moore - Elizabeth Bishop

(Suggested by a poem of Pablo Neruda)

From Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
please come flying.
In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,
please come flying,
to the rapid rolling of thousands of small blue drums
descending out of the mackerel sky
over the glittering grandstand of harbor-water,
please come flying.

Whistles, pennants and smoke are blowing. The ships
are signaling cordially with multitudes of flags
rising and falling like birds all over the harbor.
Enter: two rivers, gracefully bearing
countless little pellucid jellies
in cut-glass epergnes dragging with silver chains.
The flight is safe; the weather is all arranged.
The waves are running in verses this fine morning.
Please come flying.

Come with the pointed toe of each black shoe
trailing a sapphire high-light,
with a black cape-full of butterfly wings and bon-mots,
with heaven knows how many angels all riding
on the broad black brim of your hat,
please come flying.

Bearing a musical inaudible abacus,
a slight censorious frown, and blue ribbons,
please come flying.
Facts and skyscrapers glint in the tide; Manhattan
is all awash with morals this fine morning,
so please come flying.

Mounting the sky with natural heroism,
above the accidents, above the malignant movies,
the taxi-cabs and injustices at large,
while horns are resounding into your beautiful ears
that simultaneously listen to
a soft uninvented music fit for the musk deer,
please come flying.

For whom the grim museums will behave
Like courteous male bower-birds,
for whom the agreeable lions lie in wait
on the steps of the Public Library,
eager to rise and follow through the doors
up into the reading rooms,
please come flying.
We can sit down and weep; we can go shopping,
or play at the game of constantly being wrong
with a priceless set of vocabularies,
or we can bravely deplore, but please
please come flying.

With dynasties of negative constructions
darkening and dying around you,
with the grammar that suddenly turns and shines
like flocks of sandpipers flying,
please come flying.

Come like a light in the white mackerel sky,
come like a daytime comet
with a long unnebulous train of words,
from Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
please come flying.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

825. First Day of the Future - Galway Kinnell

They always seem to come up
on the future, these cold, earthly dawns;
the whiteness and the blackness
make the flesh shiver as though it's starting to break.
But always it is just another day they illuminate
of the permanent present. Except for today.
A motorboat sets out across the bay,
a transfiguring spirit, its little puffy gasps
of disintegration collected
and hymned out in a pure purr of dominion.
It disappears. In the stillness again
the shore lights remember the dimensions of the black water.
I don't know about this new life.
Even though I burned the ashes of its flag again and again
and set fire to the ticket that might have conscripted me into its
ranks forever,
and I squandered my talents composing my emigration papers,
I think I want to go back now and live again in the present time,
back there
where someone milks a cow and jets of intensest nourishment go
squawking into a pail,
where someone is hammering, a bit of steel at the end of a stick
hitting a bit of steel, in the archaic stillness of an afternoon,
or somebody else saws a board, back and forth, like hard labor
in the lungs of one who refused to come to the very end.
But I guess I'm here. So I must take care. For here
one has to keep facing the right way, or one sees one dies, and one

Saturday, October 17, 2009

824. Song of one of the girls - Dorothy Parker

Here in my heart I am Helen;
I'm Aspasia and Hero, at least.
I'm Judith, and Jael, and Madame de Stael;
I'm Salome, moon of the East.

Here in my soul I am Sappho;
Lady Hamilton am I, as well.
In me Recamier vies with Kitty O'Shea,
With Dido, and Eve, and poor Nell.

I'm of the glamorous ladies
At whose beckoning history shook.
But you are a man, and see only my pan,
So I stay at home with a book.

Monday, October 12, 2009

823. Work Around Your Abyss - Henry Nouwen

There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You
will never succeed in filling that hole, because your
needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it
so that gradually the abyss closes.
Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish
so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it.
There are two extremes to avoid: being completely
absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so
many things that you stay far away from the wound
you want to heal.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

822. Descartes's Loneliness - Allen Grossman

Toward evening, the natural light becomes
intelligent and answers, without demur:
"Be assured! You are not alone. . . ."
But in fact, toward evening, I am not
convinced there is any other except myself
to whom existence necessarily pertains.
I also interrogate myself to discover
whether I myself possess any power
by which I can bring it about that I
who now am shall exist another moment.

Because I am mostly a thinking thing
and because this precise question can only
be from that thoughtful part of myself,
if such a power did reside within me
I should, I am sure, be conscious of it. . . .
But I am conscious of no such power.
And yet, if I myself cannot be
the cause of that assurance, surely
it is necessary to conclude that
I am not alone in the world. There is

some other who is the cause of that idea.
But if, at last, no such other can be
found toward evening, do I really have
sufficient assurance of the existence
of any other being at all? For,
after a most careful search, I have been
unable to discover the ground of that
conviction––unless it be imagined a lonely
workman on a dizzy scaffold unfolds
a sign at evening and puts his mark to it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

821. Apologies - Gwendolyn Mac Ewen

from The T.E. Lawrence Poems

I did not choose Arabia; it chose me. The shabby money
That the desert offered us bought lies, bought victory.
What was I, that soiled Outsider, doing
Among them? I was not becoming one of them, no matter
What you think. They found it easier to learn my kind
of Arabic, than to teach me theirs.
And they were all mad; they mounted their horses and camels
from the right.

But my mind's twin kingdoms waged an everlasting war;
The reckless Bedouin and the civilized Englishman
fought for control, so that I, whatever I was,
Fell into a dumb void that even a false god could not fill,
could not inhabit.

The arabs are children of the idea; dangle an idea
In front of them, and you can swing them wherever.
I was also a child of the idea; I wanted
no liberty for myself, but to bestow it
Upon them. I wanted to present them with a gift so fine
it would outshine all other gifts in their eyes;
it would be worthy. Then I at last could be

You can't imagine how beautiful it is to be empty.
Out of this grand emptiness wonderful things must surely
come into being.
When we set out, it was morning. We hardly knew
That when we moved we would not be an army, but a world.

Friday, October 02, 2009

820. A Night At The Opera - Charles Tomlinson

When the old servant reveals she is the mother
Of the young count whose elder brother
Has betrayed him, the heroine, disguised
As the Duke's own equerry, sings Or'
Che sono, pale from the wound she has received
In the first act. The entire court
Realize what has in fact occurred and wordlessly
The waltz song is to be heard now
In the full orchestra. And we too,
Recall that meeting of Marietta with the count
Outside the cloister in Toledo. She faints:
Her doublet being undone, they find
She still has on the hair-shirt
Worn ever since she was a nun
In Spain. So her secret is plainly out
And Boccaleone (blind valet
To the Duke) confesses it is he (Or' son'io)
Who overheard the plot to kidnap the dead
Count Bellafonte, to burn by night
The high camp of the gipsy king
Alfiero, and by this stratagem quite prevent
The union of both pairs of lovers.
Now the whole cast packs the stage
Raging in chorus round the quartet- - led
By Alfiero (having shed his late disguise)
And Boccaleone (shock has restored his eyes):
Marietta, at the first note from the count
(Long thought dead, but finally revealed
As Alfiero), rouses herself, her life
Hanging by a thread of song, and the Duke,
Descending from his carriage to join in,
Dispenses pardon, punishment and marriage.
Exeunt to the Grand March, Marietta
(Though feebly) marching, too, for this
Is the 'Paris' version where we miss
The ultimate dènouement when at the command
Of the heroine (Pura non son') Bellafonte marries
The daughter of the gipsy king and . . .

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

819. Destruction - Joanne Kyger

First of all do you remember the way a bear goes through
a cabin when nobody is home? He goes through
the front door. I mean he really goes through it. Then
he takes the cupboard off the wall and eats a can of lard.

He eats all the apples, limes, dates, bottled decaffeinated
coffee, and 35 pounds of granola. The asparagus soup cans
fall to the floor. Yum! He chomps up Norwegian crackers
stashed for the winter. And the bouillon, salt, pepper,
paprika, garlic, onions, potatoes.

He rips the Green Tara
poster from the wall. Tries the Coleman Mustard. Spills
the ink, tracks in the flour. Goes up stairs and takes
a shit. Rips open the water bed, eats the incense and
drinks the perfume. Knocks over the Japanese tansu
and the Persian miniature of a man on horseback watching
a woman bathing.

Knocks Shelter, Whole Earth Catalogue,
Planet Drum, Northern Mists, Truck Tracks, and
Women's Sports into the oozing water bed mess.

He goes down stairs and out the back wall. He keeps on going
for a long way and finds a good cave to sleep it all off.
Luckily he ate the whole medicine cabinet, including stash
of LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, Amanita, Benzedrine, Valium
and aspirin.

Monday, September 28, 2009

818. Things of the Past - Theodore Weiss

“Your great-grandfather was . . .”

And Mrs. C, our tart old Scots
landlady, with her stomping legs,
four bristles sprouted from her chin-
wart, she who briskly
chats away
about Montrose, founder of her clan,
as though she’s just now fresh
from tea with him,
regards you
incredulously, a bastard gargoyle
off some bastard architecture,
one grown topsy-turvy:
“Not to know
your great-grandfather! How do
you live? O you Americans!”
cannot see what freedom it affords,
your ignorance,
a space swept
clear of all the clutter of lives
And yet who can dismiss
her words entirely? It burdens too,
this emptiness,
pervasive presence
not a room away that, no matter
how you hammer at its wall,
refuses to admit you.
As though
you woke and in a place you thought
then had a sense (what
is it that has been disturbed?)
of one you never met
yet somehow
knew—looks echoing among the dusty
that myopic glass
reflecting, like a sunset lingered
inside trees,
a meditative smile:
a breath warm to your cheek,
your brow:
the hand (whose?)
moving on your blanket in a gesture
that you fail to recognize

yet know it as you know
the taste through oranges of sun-
light current in them still—

then gone as you began to stir.
And for a moment dawn seems lost
as in a mist, seems wistful

for a feeling it cannot
achieve . . . the sun breaks through,
an instant medleying the leaves.

Friday, September 25, 2009

817. Am I Not Among The Early Risers - Mary Oliver

Am I not among the early risers
and the long-distance walkers?

Have I not stood, amazed, as I consider
the perfection of the morning star
above the peaks of the houses, and the crowns of the trees
blue in the first light?
Do I not see how the trees tremble, as though
sheets of water flowed over them
though it is only wind, that common thing,
free to everyone, and everything?

Have I not thought, for years, what it would be
worthy to do, and then gone off, barefoot and with a silver pail,
to gather blueberries,
thus coming, as I think, upon a right answer?

What will ambition do for me that the fox, appearing suddenly
at the top of the field,
her eyes sharp and confident as she stared into mine,
has not already done?

What countries, what visitations,
what pomp
would satisfy me as thoroughly as Blackwater Woods
on a sun-filled morning, or, equally, in the rain?

Here is an amazement–––once I was twenty years old and in
every motion of my body there was a delicious ease,
and in every motion of the green earth there was
a hint of paradise,
and now I am sixty years old, and it is the same.

Above the modest house and the palace–––the same darkness.
Above the evil man and the just, the same stars.
Above the child who will recover and the child who will
not recover, the same energies roll forward,
from one tragedy to the next and from one foolishness to the next.

I bow down.

Have I not loved as though the beloved could vanish at any moment,
or become preoccupied, or whisper a name other that mine
in the stretched curvatures of lust, or over the dinner table?
Have I ever taken good fortune for granted?

Have I not, every spring, befriended the swarm that pours forth?
Have I not summoned the honey-man to come, to hurry,
to bring with him the white and comfortable hive?

And while I waited, have I not leaned close, to see everything?
Have I not been stung as I watched their milling and gleaming,
and stung hard?

Have I not been ready always at the iron door,
not knowing to what country it opens–––to death or to more life?

Have I ever said that the day was too hot or too cold
or the night too long and as black as oil anyway,
or the morning, washed blue and emptied entirely
of the second-rate, less than happiness

as I stepped down from the porch and set out along
the green paths of the world?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

816. Memorandum Book - Primo Levi

Translated from the Italian by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann
    In such a night as this,
Of north wind and rain mixed with snow,
There is someone who drowses in front of a TV,
Someone who resolves to rob a bank.
In such a night as this,
Distant as it takes light to travel in five days,
There is a comet that plummets onto us
From the black womb without height or depth.
The same one Giotto painted,
It will bring neither luck nor disasters,
But ancient ice and a reply, perhaps.
In such a night as this
There is a half-mad old man,
Fine metalworker in his day,
But his day was not our day,
And now he sleeps at Ports Nuova, drinks.
In such a night as this
Someone stretches out next to a woman
And feels he no longer has weight.
It's today that counts and not tomorrow,
And the flow of time pauses briefly.
In such a night as this
Witches used to choose hemlock and hellebore
To pick by the light of the moon
And cook in their kitchens.
In such a night as this
There's a transvestite on Corso Matteotti
Who would give a kidney and a lung
To grow hollow and become a woman.
In such a night as this
There are seven young men in white lab coats,
Four of them smoking pipes.
They are designing a very long channel
In which to unite a bundle of protons
Almost as swift as light.
If they succeed, the world will blow up.
In such a night as this
A poet strains his bow, searching for a word
That can contain the typhoon's force,
The secrets of blood and seed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

815. Cosmic Gall - John Updike

'Every second, hundreds of billions of these neutrinos pass through each square inch of our bodies, coming from above during day and from below at night, when the sun is shining on the other side of the earth.' - (from 'An Explanatory Statement on Elementary Particle
Physics,' By M. A. Rudermand and A. H. Rosenfeld, in American Scientist)

Neutrinos, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed –– you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

814. In Distress - John Wagoner

(Selected entirely from International Code of Signals, United States
Edition, published by U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office)

I am abandoning my vessel
Which has suffered a nuclear accident
And is a possible source of radiation danger.
You should abandon your vessel as quickly as possible.
Your vessel will have to be abandoned.
I shall abandon by vessel
Unless you will remain by me,
Ready to assist.
I have had a serious nuclear accident
And you should approach with caution.
The position of the accident is marked by flame.
The position of the accident is marked by wreckage.
I need a doctor. I have severe burns.
I need a doctor. I have radiation casualties.
I require a helicopter urgently, with a doctor.
The number of injured or dead is not yet known.
Your aircraft should endeavor to alight
Where a flag is waved or a light is shown.
Shall I train my searchlight nearly vertical
On a cloud intermittently and, if I see your aircraft,
Deflect the beam upwind and on the water
To facilitate your landing?
I do see any light.
You may alight on my deck; I am ready to receive you forward.
You may alight on my deck; I am ready to receive you amidship.
You may alight on my deck; I am ready to receive you aft.
I am entering a zone of restricted visibility.
You should come within visual signal distance.
I require immediate assistance; I have a dangerous list.
I require immediate assistance; I have damaged steering gear.
I require immediate assistance; I have a serious disturbance on board.
I require immediate assistance; I am on fire.
What assistance do you require?
Can you proceed without assistance?
Boats cannot be used because of weather conditions.
Boats cannot be used on the starboard side because of list.
Boats cannot be used on the port side because of list.
Boats cannot be used to disembark people.
Boats cannot be used to get alongside.
Boats cannot be used to reach you.
I cannot send a boat.
I require immediate assistance; I am drifting.
I am breading adrift. I have broken adrift.
I am sinking.
Did you see the vessel sink?
Is it confirmed the the vessel has sunk?
What is the depth of water where the vessel sank?
Where did the vessel sink?
I have lost sight of you.
My position is doubtful.
My position is ascertained by dead reckoning.
Will you give me my position?
You should indicate your position by searchlight.
You should indicate your position by smoke signal.
You should indicate your position by rockets or flares.
My position is marked by flame.
My position is marked by wreckage.
Are you in the search area?
I am in the search area.
Are you continuing to search?
Do you want me to continue to search?
I cannot continue to search.
I cannot save my vessel.
Keep close as possible.
I wish some persons taken off.
A skeleton crew will remain on board.
You should give immediate assistance to pick up survivors.
You should try to obtain from survivors all possible information.
I cannot take off persons.
There are indications of an intense depression.
The wind is expected to veer.
You should take appropriate precautions.
A phenomenal wave is expected.
I cannot proceed to the rescue.
I will keep close to you during the night.
Nothing can be done until daylight.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

813. Letters of the Dead - Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska - Letters of the Dead
from Wszelki Wypadek (Could Have), 1972
Translated from Polish by Vuyelwa Carlin

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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

812. Ode To Arnold Schoenberg - Charles Tomlinson

Ode To Arnold Schoenberg On a Performance of His Concerto for Violin

At its margin
the river's double willow
that the wind
disrupts, effaces
and then restores
in shivering planes:
it is
calm morning.
The twelve notes
(from the single root
the double tree)
and their reflection:
let there be
however the winds rout
or the wave disperses
remains, as
in the liberation of the dissonance
beauty would seem discredited
and yet is not:
it may be reachieved,
thus to proceed
through discontinuities
to the whole in which
discontinuities are held
like the foam in chalcedony
the stone, enriched
by the tones' impurity.
The swayed mirror
and the reflection
yields to reflected light.
Day. The bell-clang
goes down the air
and, like a glance
grasping upon its single thread
a disparate scene,
crosses and recreates
the audible morning.
All meet at cockcrow
when our common sounds
confirm our common bonds.
Meshed in meaning
by what is natural
we are discontented
for what is more,
until the thread
of an instrument pursue
a more than common meaning.
But to redeem
both the idiom and the instrument
was reserved
to this exiled Jew––to bring
by fiat
certainty from possibility.
For what is sound
made reintelligible
but the unfolding word
branched and budded,
the wintered tree
creating, cradling space
and then
filling it with verdure?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

811. Omen - Jon Swan

You will not even notice our departure.
The small, falling like plump leaves
among the fallen leaves,
will lie indistinguishable, each with his song
locked in his throat.
The large, unable to climb, to soar,
will invisibly die in their high places,
which only the few sure-footed among you could scale.
Only the tame, safe in your cages, will for a time, survive.

We have, it would seem, outlived our purpose,
whose strokes in the sky taught you symbols
to preserve what you thought.
In those days, we seemed lines drawn by a wise god
as we flew, flocked,
presaging more than a change in season.
Each savior in turn had his holy bird,
his practical, heavenly messenger descending
to peck a seed from the ear or to seal some voice as divine.

We, who announced the birth of each sun,
who once were, to the discoverer,
true sign of the unseen,
longed-for land ahead, now may announce no new thing
save this darkness
which we, at your bidding, must enter.
We fall, as pit-birds fell, silent.
Their silence was always clear warning to you to turn back.
But you, hacking at shadows, still fail to hear us though we
cease to sing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

810. You - Jorge Luis Borges

Translated from the Spanish by Alastair Reid
In all the world, one man has been born, one man has died.
To insist otherwise is nothing more than statistics, an impossible
No less impossible than bracketing the smell of rain with your
dream of two nights ago.
The man is Ulysses, Abel, Cain, the first to make constellations
of the stars, to build the first pyramid, the man who contrived
the hexagrams of the Book of Changes, the smith
who engraved runes on the sword of Hengist, Einar Tamberskelver
the archer, Luis de León, the bookseller who
fathered Samuel Johnson, Voltaire's gardener, Darwin
aboard the Beagle, a Jew in the death chamber, and, in
time, you and I.
One man alone has died at Troy, at Metaurus, at Hastings, at
Austerlitz, at Trafalgar, at Gettysburg.
One man alone has died in hospitals, in boats, in painful solitude,
in the rooms of habit and of love.
One man alone has looked on the enormity of dawn.
One man alone has felt on his tongue the fresh quenching of
water, the flavor of fruit and of flesh.
I speak of the unique, the single man, he who is always alone.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

809. 1938 - Pastor Niemöller

       'First they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists
And I did not speak out —
Because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me —
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.'

808. Ramon Gurthie - The Making of The Bear

Perhaps for fear of saying to oneself,
“Why you rather than another?” or asking
why it should be done at all,
it is not good to plan such things too long.

No question others had more craft than I.
I had waited for the Old One to give the sign
to one of us, half hoping still his choice
might fall on me. But lately he had turned
to graving stags and reindeer on bits of antler—
art that for all his pains my clumsy fingers
could never seem to master. In any case,
his choice for cavern walls ran to pregnant cows,
bison, and ponies. That, and more and more
he favored places not too hard to get at.
“What’s the harm in having good work seen?”

Meanwhile the first full moon of spring was near.
I can’t say why I chose the cave I did.
Passing that way one day, I’d seen it
and taken it for a badger’s hole until
I saw an owl rise from it and, listening close,
caught the voices of the water.

I set out before dawn and took along
well-scorched moss, and tallow, stone lamp, firestick
in a deer bladder lashed tight with pitched sinews.
The flint I carried in a pouch tied to my wrist.
I crawled with hips and belly till I came
into a place where I could squat. There I made
my first light. The water sounded fairly near,
though the first spur I took was full of twists
that led me farther from it. I turned back.
Now, inching on a ledge with steep-sloped roof,
I struck a fissure where the torrent spouted.
I whispered to the spirit, filled my lungs,
and plunged.
Swim? I doubt a salmon could
have swum it. I braced and fought for holds
in walls and ceiling to haul myself along,
still with no sign that anything but more
and wilder water lay ahead, a chance
a man must take. Half drowned, I reached a sweep
and lay there spewing out my lungs and caught between
terror of the dark and the solid feel
of rock beneath me. I could hope the bladder
still was staunch but dared not open it until
I knew my hands were dry. When at last I twirled
the firestick and coaxed the wick to flame,
I say the place was far too open
to waste good work on.

I edged my way along a slit so barred
by stone icicles that I would have given up
when almost now in reach, I saw the wall
that I have known since childhood
yet never seen before. I saw it now
even to the scratches other men,
knowing the place for what it was, had made
ages before me. Some of their animals were not
like ours–––one hairy beast with two horns on his snout
was half glazed over by a layer of stone-ice.
Many of them were drawn overlapping others—
as mine would sprawl on theirs. None of them
was anything the size that I intended.

The stone was even-grained would take flint clean,
and yet not soft enough to flake with time.
Pressing my back against the other wall
to have full arm-room, I sketched him in—
a bear as big as living. I worked fast,
paused only when the need was to renew
the wick and tallow. First I got the spine—
that line where limberness and strength
of any living beast is—cut firmly,
the head scaled in and forelegs placed
before the tallow failed.
Spilling down the torrent,
then guided most by slithering in my own tracks,
I found my way out—into moonlight. The sun,
it seemed, had set twice since I left.
Ate and slept but, lest
the bear be dimmed in me, did not go in
to either of my women.
I told no one where I had been or why.

Next day I packed another bladder, taking
a good supply of moss and tallow, honey and nuts,
and other, heavier, newly beveled flints.
As a last thought, I went to see old Kill-Bear.
“Look like?” he puffed. “A bear? Why, you’ve seen bears
since you were a baby.” (And drawn them, too,
he might have said, since I could scratch earth
with a stick.) “Come now, you’ve seen those I killed.
Look like? Well, they’ve got hair all over them.
Stub tails, big paws and heads, and lots of teeth.”
I left the old fool bawling after me,
“hey, you ain’t found one, have you? You’re supposed
to tell me if you have. Don’t you go trying
to get my job by killing it yourself!”

I found the cave was easier going this time,
but the torrent sucked and swirled up to the ceiling.
I moved half into it to test its tug.
It grabbed me, and pulled by under. The bladder buoying me,
I found a shallow dome that let my nose just clear
the water. Strange, where with death so sure, I thought
not for my women or their young but for the bear
that I would heave unfinished. Him I commended
to the spirits of the dark.

Slowly the water
ebbed, below my chin and then my shoulders.
It rose again and then as sudden fell.
I was on a rock shelf.
I had slept. The bladder was still with me.
The roar was gone, the water gurgled like a brook.

The new flints bit well. To give him weight,
I undergouged the belly and hindquarters.
A natural bulge I fashioned into head.
I gave him teeth and claws. Then last of all
he took on eyes and nostrils. When he began to breathe,
I stopped and snuffed the wick, safe in his
protection, slept.
Waking and making light the last time,
I scratched a spear mark on his flank as we were taught—
so shallow though that he would never feel it—
made him an offering of honey, nuts, and tallow,
ate some myself. The lamp and flints I left there.

Heft, strength, the saddle and the soles,
the rambling appetite, fur, the rolling amble,
the curious investigating “ Whoof!,”
the clatter of unretracting claws, the bear-play—
sliding on their rumps down clay banks into puddles,
standing erect and balancing vines across their noses—
patience to wait with poised paw
on a rock among the rapids
to snatch the salmon as they leap,
the good
bear-smell of being bears
are what I had tried to make the flint say
on the cavern wall.

Ferocity and gentleness...

Your bear is one great fool and so is man!
I have seen a naked child in pigtails,
squealing her delight,
chase a full-grown bear splashing across the meadow—
and a half-grown cub stand up and brave
a dozen hunters with javelins and torches.

Bison are better eating
and their hides tan easier
but you can’t laugh at a bison.

Beside the profound, absolute
dark of caves, our night seems noon.
Even beneath a starless sky
the eye makes out bulk and shapes,
but in winding scapes of underground,
where no sun’s light has ever shone,
finger may touch the lash
of open eye unseen.

in that total lack of light
is where my bear is.
No one will ever see him
but he still
is there.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

807. As You Like It - Theodore Weiss

An old master yourself now, Auden,
like that much admired Cavafy and those
older still, in this you were wrong.
are not indifferent, let alone oblivious,
to the momentary, great scene.
like Mrs. Gudgeon, the smart little little char
come with our London flat,
to the wireless, a most impressive array
of "the best minds"
engaged in difficult,
arduous talk, and she intent on it,
to her husband's
"What're you listening for?
You don't understand a word they say,"
"O I enjoy it, just the sound
of it, so musical, And anyway I take
from it whatever I like,
then make of it,
in my own mind, whatever I will,"
like Mrs. Gudgeon
most of us, watching
the moment, some spectacular event,
whether it be Icarus,
Cleopatra consorting
with the streets, or the astronauts
cavorting on the moon,
bear off those bits
that we can use. This is the greatness
of each creature,
the mouse at the Feast
of the Gods, one crumb doing for it
what heaped-up platters cannot do for Them.

Friday, September 04, 2009

806. As Much As You Can (1&2&3) - C. P. Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy - As Much As You Can (1)
Translated from the Greek by ?

And even if you cannot make your life the way you want it,
this much, at least, try to do
as much as you can: don't cheapen it
with too much intercourse with society,
with too much movement and conversation.

Don't cheapen it by taking it about,
making the rounds with it, exposing it
to the everyday inanity
of relations and connections,
so it becomes like a stranger, burdensome.

C. P. Cavafy - As Long As You Can (2)
Translated from the Greek by Theoharis C. Theoharis

And even if you cannot make your life what you want,
for as long as you can at least
try to do this: do not trivialize it
in all the busy contacts of the world,
in all the swarm and gossip.

Do not trivialize it, hauling it,
roaming with it, always exposing it
to the pairings and relations
of everyday stupidity,
until it ends up irritating, stubborn as a beggar.

C. P. Cavafy - As Much As You Can (3)
Translated from the Greek by ?

And if you can't shape your life the way you want,
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.

Try not to degrade it be dragging it along,
taking around and exposing it so often
to the daily stillness
of social events and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.

805. Six Years Later - Joseph Brodsky

Translated, from the Russian, by Richard Wilber
So long had life together been that now
The second of January fell again
On Tuesday, making her astonished brow
Lift like a windshield wiper in the rain,
So that her misty sadness cleared, and showed
A cloudless distance waiting up the road.

So long had life together been that once
The snow began to fall, it seemed unending;
That, lest the flakes should make her eyelids wince,
I’d shield them with my hand, and they, pretending
Not to believe that cherishing of eyes,
Would beat against my palm like butterflies.

So alien had all novelty become
That sleep’s entanglements would put to shame
Whatever depths the analysts might plumb;
That when my lips blew out the candle flame,
Her lips, fluttering from my shoulder, sought
To join my own, without another thought.

So long had life together been that all
That tattered brood of papered roses went,
And a whole birch grove grew upon the wall,
And we had money, by some accident,
And tonguelike on the sea, for thirty days,
The sunset threatened Turkey with its blaze.

So long had life together been without
Books, chairs, utensils—only that ancient bed—
That the triangle, before it came about,
Had been a perpendicular, the head
Of some acquaintance hovering above
Two points which had been coalesced by love.

So long had life together been that she
And I, with our joint shadows, had composed
A double door, a door which, even if we
Were lost in work or sleep, was always closed:
Somehow, it would appear, we drifted right
On through it into the future, into the night.

804. Surplus - Wislawa Szymborska

Surplus (1)
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

A new star has been discovered,
which doesn't mean that things have gotten brighter
or that something we've been missing has appeared.

The star is large and distant,
so distant that it's small,
even smaller than others
much smaller than it.
Small wonder, then, if we were struck with wonder;
as we would be if only we had the time.

The star's age, mass, location––
all this perhaps will do
for one doctoral dissertation and
a wine-and-cheese reception
in circles close to the sky:
the astronomer, his wife, friends, and relations,
casual, congenial, come as you are,
mostly chat on earthbound topics,
surrounded by cozy earth tones.

The star's superb,
but that's no reason
why we can't drink to the ladies
who are incalculably closer.

The star's inconsequential.
It has no impact on the weather, fashion, final score,
government shake-ups, moral crises, take-home pay.

No effect on propaganda or on heavy industry.
It's not reflected in a conference table's shine.
It's supernumerary in the light of life's numbered days.

What's the use of asking
under how many stars man is born
and under how many in a moment he will die.

A new one.
"At least show me where it is."
"Between that gray cloud's jagged edge
and the acacia twig over there on the left."
"I see," I say.

Surplus (2)
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

A new star has been discovered,
which doesn't mean it's gotten any brighter
or something missing has been gained.

The star is large and distant,
so distant, that it's small,
even smaller than others
a lot smaller than itself.
Surprise would be nothing surprising
if we only had time for it.

Star's age, star's mass, star's position,
all of that may be enough
for one doctoral thesis
and a modest glass of wine
in the circles close to the sky:
an astronomer, his wife, relatives, and colleagues,
a casual ambience, no dress code,
local topics fuel a down-to-earth conversation
and people are munching on terra chips.

A wonderful star,
but that's still no reason
not to drink to the ladies,
incomparably closer.

Star without consequences.
Without influence on weather, fashion, score of the game,
changed in government, income, or the crisis of values.

With no effect on propaganda or heavy industry.
Without reflection in the finish of the conference table.
An excess number for life's numbered days.

Why need we ask
under how many stars someone is born
and under how many they die a little while later?

A new one.
"At least show me where it is."
"Between the edge of that jagged grayish cloud
and the twig of that locust tree on the left."
"Oh," I say.

803. Permanently - Kenneth Koch

One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.

Each Sentence says one thing––for example, "Although it was
a dark rainy day then the Adjective walked by, I shall
remember the pure and sweet expression on her face until
the day I perish from the green, effective earth."
Or, "Will you please close the window, Andrew?"
Or, for example, "Think you, the pink pot of flowers on
the window sill has changed color recently to a light yellow,
due to the heat from the boiler factory which exists nearby."

In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, "And! But!"
But the Adjective did not emerge.

As the adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat––
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.

Monday, August 31, 2009

802. A Fervor Parches You Sometimes - Kenneth Rexroth

A fervor parches you sometimes,
And you hunch over it, silent,
Cruel, and timid; and sometimes
You are frightened with wantonness,
And give me your desperation.
Mostly we lurk in our coverts,
Protecting our spleens, pretending
That our bandages are our wounds.
But sometimes the wheel of change stops;
Illusion vanishes in peace;
And suddenly pride lights your flesh –
Lucid as diamond, wise as pearl –
And your face, remote, absolute,
Perfect and final like a beast's.
It is wonderful to watch you,
A living woman in a room
Full of frantic, sterile people,
And think of your arching buttocks
Under your velvet evening dress,
And the beautiful fire spreading
From your sex, burning flesh and bone,
The unbelievably complex
Tissues of you brain all alive
Under your coiling, splendid hair.

I like to think of you naked.
I put your naked body
Between myself alone and death.
If I go into my brain
And set fire to you sweet nipples,
To the tendons beneath your knees,
I can see far before me.
It is empty there where I look,
But at least it is lighted.

I know how your shoulders glisten,
How your face sinks into trance,
And your eyes like a sleepwalker's,
And your lips of a woman
Cruel to herself.
I like to
Think of you clothed, your body
Shut to the world and self contained,
Its wonderful arrogance
That makes all women envy you.
I can remember every dress,
Each more proud then a naked nun.
When I go to sleep my eyes
Close in a mesh of memory.
Its cloud of intimate odor
Dreams instead of myself.

Friday, August 28, 2009

801. In Love With Raymond Chandler - Margaret Atwood

An affair with Raymond Chandler, what a joy! Not because of the
mangled bodies and the marinated cops and hints of eccentric sex, but
because of his interest in furniture. He knew that furniture could
breathe, could feel, not as we do but in a way more muffled, like the
word upholstery, with its overtones of mustiness and dust, its bouquet
of sunlight on aging cloth or of scuffed leather on the backs and
seats of sleazy office chairs. I think of his sofas, stuffed to roundness,
satin-covered, pale blue like the eyes of his cold blond unbodied
murderous women, beating very slowly, like the hearts of hibernating
crocodiles; of his chaises lounges, with their malicious pillows. He
knew about front lawns too, and greenhouses, and the interiors of cars.
This is how our love affair would go. we would meet at a hotel, or
a motel, whether expensive or cheap it wouldn't matter. We would
enter the room, lock the door, and begin to explore the furniture,
fingering the curtains, running our hands along the spurious gilt frames
of the pictures, over the real marble or the chipped enamel of the
luxurious or tacky washroom sink, inhaling the odor of the carpets, old
cigarette smoke and spilled gin and fast meaningless sex or else the rich
abstract scent of the oval transparent soaps imported from England,
it wouldn't matter to us; what would matter would be our response to
the furniture, and the furniture's response to us. Only after we had
sniffed, fingered, rubbed, rolled on, and absorbed the furniture of the
room would we fall into each others' arms, and onto the bed (king-
size? peach-colored? creaky? narrow? four-postered? pioneer-quilted?
lime-green-chenille-covered?), ready at last to do the same things to
each other.

800. Reckless Poem - Mary Oliver

Today again I am hardly myself.
It happens over and over.
It is heaven-sent.

It flows through me
like the blue wave.
Green leaves – you may believe this or not –
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers

deep in the woods,
in the reckless seizure of spring.

Though, of course, I also know that other song,
the sweet passion of one-ness.

Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
until I came to myself.

And still, even in these northern woods, on these hills of sand,
I have flown from the other window of myself
to become white heron, blue whale,
red fox, hedgehog.
Oh, sometimes already my body has felt like the body of a flower!
Sometimes already my heart is a red parrot, perched
among strange, dark trees, flapping and screaming.

Monday, August 24, 2009

799. The Crux of Martyrdom (Simone Weil) - Morri Creech

[from Morri Creech's Field Knowledge, 2006]
Simone Weil at the sanatorium in Ashford, Kent, England, 1943

It's not that she has given up desire
exactly; more like, it seems, the will to choose —
to swallow bread, potatoes, the ripe pear
a nurse has brought her, which she must refuse
for Christ's sake. Or for her people starving in France.
At first she stayed up late, with prayer and cigarettes,
wrote long lies full of tenderness to her parents

I have never read the story of the barren fig tree
without trembling. I think it is about me

telling of friends in London, the spring's rich blossoms;
yet no word about her health, her body's slow
failure. Day after day the doctors come
complaining of her stubbornness. They know
her. And she, their hopes. Still, she must not choose
to eat, must refuse everything save the logic
of refusal, which she cannot help but choose.

the most beautiful life possible has always seemed
to me one in which everything is determined

So her reason revolves along its course
toward that sure consummation for which she waits.
She waits and waits. Too tired now to rehearse
the poem where Love bade His guest to sit and eat,
she dreams of that attic room He led her to,
where bread was sweet, the wine like sun and soil,
and she could see, beyond the attic window,

He entered my room and spoke: I understood
that He had been mistaken in coming for me

a city's wooden scaffoldings, those boats
unladen by a river, and the sun
raging above the trees . . .
The doctor's coats
Whisper by outside her door. She's alone.
No voice comes down to her; no hallowed word.
Even the headaches have stopped, which once held
her writhing in their vise. And yet she's stirred.

when my headaches were raging, I sometimes
had an intense desire to strike someone

Though it's late, and she's much too tired to write,
she can't quite still the current of ideas
or master her relentless appetite
for thought — philosophy, the worst disease
of a religious mind, perhaps her one
error. For hours she wrestles those abstruse
geometries, turning her whole attention

I will consider men's actions and appetites
as though they were lines, surfaces, and volumes

to the crux of martyrdom. French soldiers
and citizens in thousands have since gone,
quietly or not, to their deaths; how can her
own starvation measure against the ones
who could not choose to choose? Even her days
of factory work — yes, she's felt the strain
of labor, sweating near the furnaces

perhaps He must use even worthless objects
for His purposes: I must tell myself these things

that scorched her hands and fingers long before
Christ, like a migraine, seized her steady mind;
yet always she could have left. And now the war
has jilted her, denying her the blind
hand of necessity. She's made her choice.
The nurse bends down to take her pulse, offering
a sip of tea; but still she must refuse.

if I only had to stretch out my hand to grasp
salvation, I would not put my hand out

And though she's grown too weak to hold a cup
or spoon, she closes her eyes and sees that room,
that attic room, where she was told to sup,
and the long table shimmers, awaiting Him
who will offer her bread, although she must refuse
until He seat her there among the least
and feed them, too, who have no power to choose —

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back

till the Lord whose bread is hunger sets the feast.

798. Shemà - Primo Levi

Translated from the Italian by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann

  You live secure
In your warm houses,
Who return at evening and find
Hot food and friendly faces

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a fog in winter

Consider that this has been:
I command these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise,
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

797. Such Is the Sickness of Many a Good Thing - Robert Duncan

Was he then Adam of the Burning Way?
hid away in the heat like wrath
      concealed in Love’s face,
or the seed, Eris in Eros,
      key and lock
of what I was?        I could not speak
      the releasing
word.        For into a dark
      matter he came
and askt me to say what
      I could not say.        "I .."

All the flame in me stopt
      against my tongue.
My heart was a stone, a dumb
      unmanageable thing in me,
a darkness that stood athwart
      his need
for the enlightening, the
      "I love you" that has
only this one quick in time,
      this one start
when its moment is true.

Such is the sickness of many a good thing
that now into my life from long ago this
refusing to say I love you has bound
the weeping, the yielding, the
      yearning to be taken again,
into a knot, a waiting, a string

so taut it taunts the song,
it resists the touch. It grows dark
to draw down the lover’s hand
from its lightness to what’s

796. Mr. Eliot's Day - Robert Francis

(Impressions upon perusing "The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot")

At 8:00 he rises, bathes, and dresses,
And very privately confesses.

At 9:00 he breaks fast with his host
On café noir and thin dry toast.

At 10:00, as one who bears the Grail,
A maid brings him his morning mail.

At 11:00, town. He offers thanks
At one old church and two old banks.

At 12:00, still in the mood of prayer,
He drops into a deep club chair.

At 1:00 he's lunching with a bishop
On spring lamb garnished with true hyssop.

At 2:00 the poet starts to nod,
Now toward, and now away from, God.

At 3:00 he wakes and makes repair
Of the strict parting of his hair.

At 4:00, back at his host's estate,
He picks a rose and ponders fate.

At 5:00, over a cocktail glass,
He is reminded of the Mass.

At 6:00 he and his favorite cat
Hold a brief, metaphysical chat.

At 7:00, with a distinguished sinner
And well-known saint, he faces dinner.

At 8:00 the three men still converse
On why the world is so much worse.

At 9:00, for lighter recreation,
They play charades on In-car-na-tion.

At 10:00, alone, robed in a jaunty
Dressing gown, he's deep in Dante.

11:00 strikes. Now hoots the owl.
He leaves the house for a deep, dark prowl.

At 12:00 he mounts, with measured tread,
The penitential stairs to bed

Friday, August 21, 2009

795. The Bubble - William Allingham

See, the pretty Planet!
Floating sphere!
Faintest breeze will fan it
Far or near;

World as light as feather;
Moonshine rays,
Rainbow tints together,
As it plays;

Drooping, sinking, failing,
Nigh to earth,
Mounting, whirling, sailing,
Full of mirth;

Life there, welling, flowing,
Waving round;
Pictures coming, going,
Without sound.

Quick now, be this airy
Globe repelled!
Never can the fairy
Star be held.

Touched––it in a twinkle
Leaving but a sprinkle,
As of tears.

Monday, August 03, 2009

794. Father's Voice - William Stafford

"No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark."
He wanted me to be rich
the only way we could,
easy with what we had.

And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
easy gift, a wind
that keeps on blowing for flowers
or birds wherever I look.

World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.

Monday, June 29, 2009

793. Mud Trail - Scott Cairns

I'd been walking the mud trail, the mud
leaping out the sides of my boots for hours.
I was thinking I was alone, surrounded
only by the high reach of douglas fir
and cedar. I think it was a change
in the air I noticed first, a warmer,
heavier scent of animal, I was
alone in a small clearing,
then I was not alone and was
surrounded by a hundred elk rising,
or a single elk rising a hundred
times. And the forest was a moving river
of elk, none of them hurrying away, but all
slowly feeling ahead, and beginning
their journey to the east, a hundred times
the same journey.
Miles from there,
they would rest, bed down among
huckleberry and salal, all of them
pulling in their hundred sets of hooves, lowering
a hundred velvetted heads, waiting
for whatever sign of word that calls them
all together to rise again.

Monday, June 22, 2009

792. The Wounded Wilderness Of Morris Graves - Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The wounded wilderness of Morris Graves
is not the same wild west
the white man found
It is a land that Buddha came upon
from a different direction
It is a wild white nest
in the true mad north
of introspection
where 'falcons of the inner eye'
dive and die
glimpsing in their dying fall
all life's memory
of existence
and with grave chalk wing
draw upon the leaded sky
a thousand threaded images
of flight

It is the night that is their 'native habitat'
these 'spirit birds' with bled white wings
these droves of plover
bearded eagles
blind birds singing
in glass fields
these moonmad swans and ecstatic ganders
trapped egrets
charcoal owls
trotting turtle symbols
these pink fish among mountains
shrikes seeking to nest
whitebone drones
mating in air
among hallucinary moons

And a masked bird fishing
in a golden stream and an ibis feeding
'on its own breast'
and a stray 'Connemara Pooka'
(life size)
And then those blown mute birds
bearing fish and paper messages
between two streams
which are the twin streams
of oblivion
wherein the imagination
turning upon itself
with white electric vision
refinds itself still mad
and unfed
among the Hebrides

Friday, June 19, 2009

791. The Tall Figures of Giacometti - May Swenson

We move by means of our mud bumps.
We bubble as do the dead but more slowly.

The products of excruciating purges
we are squeezed out thin hard and dry.

If we exude a stench it is petrified sainthood.
Our feet are large crude fused together

solid like anvils. Ugly as truth is ugly
we are meant to stand upright a long time

and shudder without motion
under the scintillating pins of light

that dart between our bodies
of pimpled mud and your eyes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

790. The Great Wave - Donald Finkel

The Great Wave at Kamagawa
Katsushika Hokusai (1823)

But we will take the problem in its most obscure manifestation, and suppose that our spectator is an average Englishman. A trained observer carefully hidden behind a screen, might notice a dilation in his eyes, even an intake of his breath, perhaps a grunt. (Herbert Read, The Meaning of Art)

It is because the sea is blue,
Because Fuji is blue, because the bent blue
Men have white faces, like the snow
On Fuji, like the crest of the wave in the sky the color of their
Boats. It is because the air
Is full of writing, because the wave is still: that nothing
Will harm these frail strangers,
That high over Fuji in an earthcolored sky the fingers
Will not fall; and the blue men
Lean on the sea like snow, and the wave like a mountain leans
Against the sky.

In the painter's sea
All fishermen are safe. All anger bends under his unity.
But the innocent bystander, he merely
'Walks round a corner, thinking of nothing': hidden
Behind a screen we hear his cry.
He stands half in and half out of the world; he is the men,
But he cannot see below Fuji
The shore the color of sky; he is the wave, he stretches
His claws against strangers. He is
Not safe, not even from himself. His world is flat.
He fishes a sea full of serpents, he rides his boat
Blindly from wave to wave toward Ararat.

Monday, June 08, 2009

789. Landscape With The Fall of Icarus - William Carlos Williams

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

Saturday, June 06, 2009

788. Ithaca - C. P. Cavafy, 5th translation

Translated from the Greek by Theoharis C. Theoharis

As you set out toward Ithaca,
hope the way is long,
full of reversals, full of knowing.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon you should not fear,
never will you find such things on your way
if your thought says lofty, if refined
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonains and Cyclops,
savage Poseidon you will not meet,
if you do not carry them with you in your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Hope the way is long.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, with what joy,
you shall enter first-seen harbors;
may you stop at Phoenician bazaars
and acquire the fine things sold there,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes, every kind there is,
as much as you can abundant sensual perfumes;
may you go to many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those educated.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what has been ordained for you.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts many years;
and you dock an old man on the island,
rich with all that you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
Ithaca gave you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not fooled you.
Having become so wise, with so much experience,
you will have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.