Thursday, November 30, 2006


Some December Poems

"December Wind"

The December wind kills hope,
but don't let it take
the blue mist from the ocean
and the summer morning's mildness.

Who believes that invisible,
light islands still exist
and stains of sunshine
on a parquet floor.

Sleep wanders in rags
begging for alms
while memory, like Mary Stuart,
withers in a prison cell.

--Adam Zagajewski
(translated by Clare Cavanagh)


"In the Grip of the Solstice"

Feels like a train roaring into night,
the journey into fierce cold just beginning.
The ground is newly frozen, the crust
brittle and fancy with striations,
steeples and nipples we break
under our feet.

Every day we are shortchanged a bit more,
night pressing down on the afternoon
throttling it. Wan sunrise later
and later, every day trimmed
like an old candle you beg to give
an hour's more light.

Feels llike hurtling into vast darkness,
the sky itself whistling of space
the black matter between stars
the red shift as the light dies,
warmth a temporary aberration,
entropy as a season.

Our ancestors understood the brute
fear that grips us as the cold
settles around us, closing in.
Light the logs in the fireplace tonight,
light the candles, first one, then two,
the full chanukiya.

Light the finre in the belly.
Eat hot soup, cabbage and beef
borscht, chicken soup, lamb
and barley, stoke the marrow.
Put down the white wine and pour
whiskey instead.

We reach for each other in our bed,
the night vaulted above us
like a cave. Night in the afternoon,
cold frosting the glass so it hurts
to touch it, only flesh still
welcoming to flesh.

--Marge Piercy


"December in Los Angeles"

The tulip bulbs rest darkly in the fridge
To get the winter they can't get outside;
The drought and warm winds alter and abridge
The season till it almost seems denied.

A bright road-running scrub jay plies his bill,
While searching through the garden like a sleuth
For peanuts that he's buried in the soil:
How different from the winters of my youth.

Back in Vermont, we'd dress on furnace vents.
A breakfast of hot cereal -- and then
We'd forge out to a climate so intense
It would have daunted Scott and Amundsen.

I'd race down icy Howard Street to catch
The school bus and pursue it, as it roared
Up Union, my arms waving, pleading, much
To the amusement of my friends on board.

But here I look out on a garden, whose
Poor flowers are knocked over on their side.
Well, stakes and ties will cure them of the blues
(If not the winds) and see them rectified.

And in the shower is a pail we use
To catch and save the water while it warms:
I fetch and pour it on the irises
And hope this winter will bring drenching storms.

--Timothy Steele


"December Blues"

At the bad time, nothing betrays outwardly the harsh findings,
The studies and hospital records. Carols play.

Sitting upright in the transit system, the widowlike women
Wait, hands folded in their laps, as monumental as bread.

In the shopping center lots, lights mounted on cold standards
Tower and stir, condensing the blue vapour

Of the stars; between the rows of cars people in coats walk
Bundling packages in their arms or holding the hands of children.

Across the highway, where a town thickens by the tracks
With stores open late and creches in front of the churches,

Even in the bars a businesslike set of the face keeps off
The nostalgic pitfall of the carols, tugging. In bed,

How low and still the people lie, some awake, holding the carols
Consciously at bay, Oh Little Town, enveloped in unease.

--Robert Pinsky


"White Christmas"

For once it is a white Christmas,
so white the roads are impassable
and my wife is snowbound
in a town untroubled by tractor or snowplough.
In bed, awake, alone. She calls

and we pass on our presents by telephone.
Mine is a watch, the very one
I would have chosen. Hers is a song,
the one with the line Here come the hills of time
and it sits in its sleeve,

unsung and unopened. But the dog downstairs
is worrying, gnawing, howling,
so I walk her through clean snow
along the tow-path to the boat-house at a steady pace,
then to my parents' place

where my mother is Marie Curie, in the kitchen
discovering radium, and my father is Fred Flintstone,
and a guest from the past has a look on her face meaning
lie and I'll have your teeth for a necklace, boy,
your eyeballs for earrings,

your bullshit for breakfast,
and my two-year-old niece is baby Jesus,
passing between us with the fruit of the earth
and the light of the world -- Christingle -- a blood orange
spiked with a burning candle.

We eat, but the dog begs at the table,
drinks from the toilet, sings in the cellar.
Only baby Jesus wanders with me down the stairs
with a shank of meat to see her, to feed her.
Later, when I stand to leave

my father wants to shake me by the hand
but my arms are heavy, made of a base metal,
and the dog wants to take me down the black lane, back
to an empty house again. A car goes by
with my sister inside

and to wave goodnight
she lifts the arm of the sleeping infant Christ,
but I turn my wrist to notice the time. There and then
I'm the man in the joke, the man in a world of friends
where all the clocks are stopped,

synchronising his own watch.

--Simon Armitage


"December Moon"

Before going to bed
After a fall of snow
I look out on the field
Shining there in the moonlight
So calm, untouched and white
Snow silence fills my head
After I leave the window.

Hours later near dawn
When I look down again
The whole landscape has changed
The perfect surface gone
Criss-crossed and written on
where the wild creatures ranged
while the moon rose and shone.

why did my dog not bark?
Why did I hear no sound
There on the snow-locked ground
In the tumultuous dark?

How much can come, how much can go
When the December moon is bright,
What worlds of play we'll never know
Sleeping away the cold white night
After a fallof snow.

--May Sarton



It is December in the garden,
an early winter here, with snow
already hiding my worst offenses --
the places I disturbed your moss
with my heavy boots; the corner
where I planted in too deep a hole
the now stricken hawthorne: crystals
hanging from its icy branches
are the only flowers it will know.

When did solitude become
mere loneliness and the sounds
of birds at the feeder seem
not like a calibrated music
but the discordant dialects
of strangers simply flying through?
I have tried to construct a life
alone here -- coffee at dawn; a jog
through the chilling air

counting my heartbeats,
as if the doctor were my only muse;
books and bread and firewood --
those usual stepping-stones from month
to freezing month. but the constricted light,
the year closing down on itself with all
the vacancies of January ahead, leave me
unreconciled even to beauty.
When will you be coming back?

--Linda Pastan


["On the plazas of the city at Christmas"]

On the plazas of the city at Christmas
I screamed, yelled, that the police
had turned red and the carp's eyes
stopped to stare.

Silent night, holy
night, when the bough flies from the tree
and is hung everywhere, when
from tables the crusts fly,
when the gifts begin to tremble
because lovelessness walks through the world,
because it snarls at you, barks at you from the snow,
and the silver ribbons rip and the tinsel rustles silvery,
and the silver and gold, and a golden word
come to you on which you choke
because you have been sold and betrayed,
and because it does not suffice that for you
one is redeemed who once died.

--Ingeborg Bachmann
(translated by Peter Filkins)


"December River"

After riding the brown harvest of rains, express lights
Are riding behind bare poles.

As the flood clears to cider and shrinks a little,
Leaves spinning and toiling in the underboil,
I go to find salmon.

A frost-fragility hangs.
Duck-eggshell emptiness, bare to the space-freeze.
Jupiter crucified and painful. Vapour-trails keen as incisions.

Crusty tricorne sycamore leaves are tick-tocking down
To hit the water with a hard tiny crash.

From under the slag-smoke west
The molten river comes, bulging,
With its skin of lights.

Too late now to see much
I wade into the unfolding metals.

This vein from the sky is the sea-spirit's pathway.
Here all year salmon have been their own secret.
They were the heavy slipperiness in the green oils.

The steady name -- unfathomable --
In the underbrow stare-darkness.

They leapfrogged the river's fifty-mile ladder
With love-madness for strength,
Weightlifting through all its chimneys of tonnage

And came to ther never-never land -- to these
Gutters the breadth of a tin bath.
And dissolved

Into holes of obviousness. anchored in strongholds
Of a total absence. Became
The transparency of their own windows.

So, day in day out, this whole summer
I offered all I had for a touch of their wealth --
I found only endlessly empty water.

But I go now, in near-darkness,
Frost, and close to Christmas, and am admitted
To glance down and see, right at my heel,
A foot under, where blackwater mills rubbish,
Like a bleached hag laid out -- the hooked gape
And gargoyle lobster-claw grab

Of a dead salmon, and its white shirt-button eye.

That grimace
Of getting right through to the end and beyond it --
That helm
So marvellously engineered

Discarded, an empty stencil.
A negative, pale
In the dreggy swirlings
Of earth's already begun mastication.

I freed it, I wanted to get it
Wedged properly mine
While the moment still held open.

As I lifted its child-heavy rubbery bulk
Marbled crimson like an old woman's fire-baked thigh
The shallows below lifted
A broad bow-wave lifted and came frowning
Straight towards me, setting the whole pool rocking,

and slid under smoothness into the trench at my feet.

Into the grave of steel
Which it could still buckle.

--Ted Hughes


"Year's End"

Now the seasons are closing their files
on each of us, the heavy drawers
full of certificates rolling back
into the tree trunks, a few old papers
flocking away. Someone we loved
has fallen from our thoughts,
making a little, glittering splash
like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.
Otherwise, not much has happened;
we fell in love again, finding
that one red reather on the wind.

--Ted Kooser


"Stone Thoughts"

I speak cold silent words a stone might speak
If it had words or consciousness,
Watching December moonlight on the mountain peak,
Relieved of mortal hungers, the whole mess
Of needs, desires, ambitions, wishes, hopes.
This stillness in me knows the sky's abyss,
Reflected by blank snow along bare slopes,
If it had words or consciousness,
Would echo what a thinking stone might say
To praise oblivion ords can't possess
As inorganic muteness goes its way.
There's no serenity without the thought serene,
Owl-flight without spread wings, honed eyes, hooked beak,
Absence without the meaning absence means.
To rescue bleakness from the bleak,
I speak cold silent words a stone might speak.

--Robert Pack


"Christmas East of the Blue Ridge"

So autumn comes to an end with these few wet sad stains
Stuck to the landscape,
December dark
Running its hands through the lank hair of late afternoon,
little tongues of the rain hold forth
under the eaves,
Such wash, such watery words . . .

So autumn comes to this end,
And winter's vocabulary, downsized and distanced,
Drop by drop
Captures the conversation with its monosyllabic gutturals
And tin music,
gravelly consonants, scratched vowels.

Soon the camel drivers will light their fires, soon the stars
Will start on their brief dip down from the back of heaven,
Down to the desert's dispensation
And night reaches, the gall and first birth,
The second ony one word from now,
one word and its death from right now.

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, the half-moon
Hums like a Hottentot
high over Monticello,
Coulds dishevel and rag out,
The alphabet of our discontent
Keeps on with its lettering,
gold on the black walls of our hearts . . .

--Charles Wright


"Winter Song"

on a line from Arthur Waley

So I go on, tediously on and on . . .
We are separated, finally, not by death but life.
We cling to the dead, but the living break away.

On my birthday, the waxwings arrive in the garden,
strip the trees bare as my barren heart.
I put out suet and bread for December birds:
Hung from evergreen branches, greasy gray
Ornaments for the rites of the winter solstice.

How can you and I meet face to face
After our triumphant love?
After our failure?

Since this isolation, it is always cold.
My clothes don't fit. My hair refuses to obey.
And, for the first time, I permit
These little anarchies of flesh and object.
together, they flick me toward some final defeat.

Thinking of you, I am suddenly old . . .
A mute spectator as the months wind by.
I have tried to put you out of my mind forever.

Home isn't here. It went away with you,
Disappearing in the space of a breath,
In the time one takes to open a foreknown letter.
My fists are bruised from beating on the ground.
There are clouds between me and the watery light.

Truly, I try to flourish, to find pleasure
Without an endless reference to you
Who made the days and years seem worth enduring.

--Carolyn Kizer



The leaves are coming down in huge bunches now
(all I can think is hair after chemo), and we're to believe
the death around the corner of December is natural --
because it happens unstoppably, because it unhappens
when earth tires of being stone, when liquid comes alive
in the heartwood, the topsoil, so we've got to swallow
our medicine now, break out the scrapers and mittens,
and salute the natural order, which will mean at least
one ice storm per county, racking up 4.5 highway deaths
whether or not highways are natural, or the jaws of life,
for that matter, whcih is what's got its teeth around my
mother's wrist, holding on, her soul meanwhile
stalled out on the dark road right there in her living room
where her feet dig in, her knees unlock, she must be
dragged to her chair, she must be as tired of this
as her dragger, who is informed at monthly appointments
that this is a natural progression, even the newest
wrinkle: his sweetheart's wordless refusal
of the muffin he offers up to her clenched mouth,
just as for year he offered his parishioners grape juice,
little squares of white bread, the promise of eternal life.

--Ellen Doré Watson


"The First Day of Winter"

On the first day of winter,
the earth awakens to the cold touch of itself.
Snow knows no other recourse except
ths falling, this sudden letting go
over the small gnomed bushes, all the emptying trees.
Snow puts beauty back into the withered and malnourished,
into the death-wish of nature and the deliberate way
winter insists on nothing less than deference.
waiting all its life, snow says, Let me cover you.

--Laura Lush


"December 1"

The vineyard country, russet, reddish, carmine-brown in this season.
A blue outline of hills above a fertile valley.
It's warm as long as the sun does not set, in the shade cold returns.
A strong sauna and then swimming in a pool surrounded by trees.
Dark redwoods, transparent pale-leved birches.
In their delicate network, a sliver of the moon.
I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy
And the visible world is all that remains.

--Czeslaw Milosz
(translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass)


"The Drift"

In Canada, he said, you have
a nuclear winter every year,
but the sun always, he said,
comes back, and you have
another wheat harvest.
The gift

I figure of the magi.

You will follow a star
if there is no sun. A moth
will aspire to Venus
if he cant find a flame.

so Christmas. It comes to Flin Flon
when Flin Flon, I mean for example,
needs it. a Canadian winter,
the one they show me on billboards,
is no idyl, the god of snow
does not fiddle, no cow I know
can jump from the foothills
over the moon.


This is the month, and this
the happy morn, he said. Yes
and the unhappy are filled
with jubilation. It depends

like a full stocking off a fireplace
mantle, it depends. Do you see
the death of winter born
with the deepest December snow?

Do you see that billboard,
deep tire tracks in the white,
a Canadian winter -- it's
expensive. We know who's filled

with jubilation. Every winter
is new and every midnight is clear,
and someone has to pay
for those long tall magnesium candles

cuddled in their electronic silos,
round yon virgin, under the drift
of dry snow, belly deep in
the collected blood of the roast lamb.


And then, they said, no spirit can walk abroad,
Flin Flon, hunkered at our heart, is sure,
its fires burn friendly molecules, some god
we celebrate clenches us, like a young woman
in a Japanese car, before the heater kicks in.

The night is wholesome, no planets strike.
Our friendly fire burns till dawn,
while north of us the Dew Line rots away.

No fairy tales, nor witch has power to charm,
so sacred is the time, so gracious,
so forgetful are we, so loud did santa
roar from his disguised moter
on the bare pavement, in the mall.

She's a schoolteacher, that's why
she's in that Japanese car. It is
almost new. It is driving along
one of the cross-hairs on a distant scope,
but she doesn't know that.

She thiks it is the invisible
Saskatchewan border. she can see lines of light
that are winter roofs
in Manitoba.


What harvest?
What gift?
What magi?

In a drear-nighted December, he said,
too happy, happy tree,
your branches dont remember
their green fecility.

The tree, the tree, the Christmas
tree cut down dead, Jesus
come down, the old decorations
go back up, the star no sun on top.

The tree, dying slowly, like a world,
is covered with shiny
petroleum products, magic for the very young,
goodbye for a pine
that never will be.

This the happy never morn,
they'll chuck him over the fence,
brown in the back lane, crisp
in the wet snow; never count the rings,
his age, never see
the invisible god, never evergreen.


If winter comes, he might say,
spring can be so far behind,
she'll never catch up.

If winter comes upon a midnight
new and clear, even Mr. Flin Flon
will not have time

to remember Satan, on his motor,
on the soft pavement, in the mall,
waving his bright red arm
at them all.

A sad song, a carol
at every doorstep.
We do need the time, this dark afternoon,
to sleep in earthly peace.

We do need, sleeping child,
we do need you, soil asleep
beneath a brittle snow.

We do need you, poets of the seed,
stacked in the warm shed,
waiting for an ancient sun.

We need you, too, you unnameable,
blow the flame off your candles,
climb out of that warm concrete hole,
put your heart's gloves on,

give us two hands, help us
push this little Japanese car
out of the drift.

--George Bowering

Friday, November 17, 2006


Some Long, Skinny Poems

"Ode to My Socks"

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
knitted with her own
shepherd's hands,
two socks soft
as rabbits.
I slipped
my feet into them
as if
jewel cases
with threads of
and sheep's wool.

Audacious socks,
my feet became
two woolen
two long sharks
of lapis blue
with a golden thread,
two mammoth blackbirds,
two cannons,
thus honored
my feet
They were
so beautiful
that for the first time
my feet seemed
unacceptable to me,
two tired old
fire fighters
not worthy
of the woven
of those luminous

I resisted
the strong temptation
to save them
the way schoolboys
the way scholars
sacred documents.
I resisted
the wild impulse
to place them
in a cage
of gold
and daily feed them
and rosy melon flesh.
Like explorers
who in the forest
surrender a rare
and tender deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stuck out
my feet
and pulled on
then my shoes.

So this is
the moral of my ode:
twice beautiful
is beauty
and what is good doubly
when it is a case of two
woolen socks
in wintertime.

--Pablo Neruda
(translated by Margaret Sayers Peden)



Rosa is nothing like a rose,
her flowering gone to fat
where for years the firm layers
of her flesh had contained
a dream like a pearl:
that she would one day
buy her way out of the barrio
with its rows of grey buildings
all the same,
and the cycle of poverty
that spun her playmates
into too soon weddings
with each year
the frenzy of cheap organdy gowns
cut from the same Simplicity pattern,
passed down to younder sister or cousin
and always
the bride wore yellow.
But Rosa's eyes grew ringed
in black waiting for yer day,
the fabric of her youth stretching
to accomodate the years
that came and went
with the rejected suitors.
Each time she looked in the mirror,
there was more of herself she did not recognize.

In night school English,
Rosa in her tight red dress
clashes with the green walls of a classroom
where day laborers carrying the day
on their faces, and women
wearing coats over housedresses
squeeze into desks meant for lighter bodies.
The professor lectures on subjects
as foreign to them
as their dark faces are to him.
He will not address this motley group
by their given names.
"Miss Malpaz," he calls on Rosa,
his pale blue eyes following a pattern
of pinpoint lights made by his gold watch
on the ceiling.
"Do you understand the meaning
of the line,'My mistress' eyes
are nothing like the sun?'"
Rosa understands.
She knows the distance
between her and the man
who drops pretty words before them
like crumbs for the pigeons.
She understands.
So she pulls her eyes away
from the graven image
of his golden head,
sinking into her chair
in the posture of defeat
that they both understand.

--Judith Ortiz Cofer


"That the Pear Delights Me Now"

That the pear's boughs
delight me now is

But after fragrance come
bull bumblebees.
On ozone wings they hum,

on hairyhorny knees
rudely they enter,
nuzzle, gnash, & guzzle

nectar of the pear.
Roystering honeymakers,
wholly unaware

of the dust their bristles brought,
of the lovestrong draught
they pour down those pear-pistils.

It's June now, and the petals
have dropped, dried, crumbled,
in dust they've blown away.

Bees snarl in thick thistles;
pearboughs, hung in the hot day,
sprout grren nubs now. Birdcalls

drench the leaves like fragrance;
fruit grows opulent in
summer lightning, heat, rains.

Sensuous the pears hang
richly, sweet and bursting.
Pears plop down. Birds follow, thirsting.

Nights nip the earthskin tighter,
sap stops of a morning,
sunred leaves more harshly flutter;

old pears the starling pecked at
wrinkle in the waning shade.
Fruit sourly lies, rejected

till it's out of the earth invaded:
maggots rapaciously & noiseless
fatten on fermented juices

and the gristle wriggles through
their sniggling tails & slime
spreads beneath the peartree.

Some squush remains, though,
some meat around the seed.
When Indian Summer strains

the last warmth through the orchard
pearpits feast and feed
and stir, & burst, & breed:

Earthward plunge the tendrils.
That the pear delighted me
is wholly incidental,

for the flower was for the fruit,
the fruit is for the seed.

--Daniel Hoffman


"The Macaroni Song"

I remember macaroni,
the end of the month,
the last week
when there was so little.

I made up
a song for the children.

The Macaroni Song!

Around the table
we would go,
laughing and singing.

Macoroni, Macaroni!

I can't make the song
work now on the page,
just remember, we
laughed so hard.

My wife stood
over the grey metal
where the macaroni boiled.

She never sang the song.

It was always six o'clock.

The children would cry:

Sing the Macaroni Song!

And I would sing.

One night
I stole three tomatoes
from Mister Sagetti's garden
and dropped them
into the curl of water.

My wife.
She loved me.
We worked so hard
to make a life.

Three tomatoes.
I still dream of them.
We were, what you
would call now, poor.

But when we danced
around the table,
my sons and my one
daughter in my hands
and sang the macaroni
song, God, in that moment,
we were happy.

And my wife at the grey stove
spooned the pale bare curls
onto each plate
and that one night
the thin threads
of three tomatoes.

I still dream of them.

Mister Sagetti, dead,
wherever you are
I want to say
this poem is for you.
I'm sorry I stole
your tomatoes.
I was poor and I
wanted, for my children,
a little more.

--Patrick Lane


"Our Love Is Like Byzantium"

Our love is like Byzantium
must have been
on the last evening. There must have been
I imagine
a glow on the faces
of those who crowded the streets
or stood in small groups
on streetcorners and public squares
speaking together in low voices
that must have resembled
the glow your face has
when you brush your hair back
and look at me.

I imagine they haven't spoken
much, and about rather
ordinary things
that they have been trying to say
and have stopped
without having managed to express
what they wanted
and have been trying again
and given up again
and have been loking at each other
and lowered their eyes.

Very old icons, for instance,
have that kind of glow
the blaze of a burning city
or the glow which approaching death
leaves on photographs of people who died young
in the memory of those left behind.

When I turn towards you
in bed, I have a feeling
of stepping into a church
that was burned down long ago
and where only the darkness in the eyes of the icons
has remained
filled with the flames
which annihilated them.

--Henrik Nordbrandt
(translated by Henrik Nordbrandt and Alexander Taylor)


"Night Seasons"

Up late, reading alone,
I feed printed pages
Into the Kurzweil scanner
An electronic reader
For the blind.

Randomly now
I take books fro my shelves,
Open the mysterious volumes,
And lay them flat on the machine.
I can't say
What's coming next --
I wait in perfect silence
For the voice to begin,
This synthetic child
Reading to an old man.

The body, stalled,
Picks fragments,
Scraps of paper,
Whatever comes.

Pico della Mirandola,
Egyptian love poems,
Essene communes beside the Red Sea,
Paavo Haavikko's "Konig Harald"
. . .

An old professor,
Bitter at the graceful way
The poets have
Of gathering terms
Told me, "The poets are fools.
They read
Only in fragments."

I'm the fool
Of the night seasons,
Reading anything, anything.
When daylight comes
And you see me on the street
Or standing for the bus,
Think of the Greek term
Word for soul and body
Constructing each other
After dark.

--Stephen Kuusisto


"Prayer To Be with Mercurial Women"

Let me never have her father
call me, saying how's about
a round of golf? Instead I'll take
the grim, forbidding monster
who inspects me for a crooked
trouser crease. And spare me too
from palmy evenings which sail by
in restaurants, on barstools,
without a storming off or two.
'Darling, you were made for me.'
I pray I'll never hear those words.
I need to feel I'm stealing
love another man would kill for.
When in sleep she curls herself
around me, may she whisper names
that are not mine. I'd prefer
to be the second best she's had.
A curse on mouths which dovetail
as if there'd been a blueprint made:
I'd rather blush and slobber.
And once a month, please let me be
a punchbag. I'll take the blame
for everything: I want to taste
the stinging of a good slap.
I hope I'll find my begging notes
crumpled, torn in half, unread,
and when I phone, I want to hear
an endless sound of ringing.
Help me avoid the kind of girl
who means things when she says them,
unless she's screeching, telling me
exactly what I am. Amen.

--Roddy Lumsden



As you kneel
be a scholar,
wear color and silk,
hold out to all
your newly woven hand.

A bird in bamboo
is curing the village
as it rides
through the dust storm.

Have you seen,
among clouds and waves,
the unknown artist
in the shape of a fan?

He is at sea
with two pine trees
where the Seven deities
of the Northern Dipper
dance around a toad.

An angler
is playing the flute
in a boat.

Be a waterfall
with your casual advice
which is like
to not understanding
but is a pair
of travelers.

It is ink
on paper love
and I am dead
because I am attributed
to the moods of others
like a peony.

--Frank O'Hara


"You Are in Bear Country"
Advice from a pamphlet published by the
Canadian Minister of the Environment

been here
for thousands of years.
the visitor.
encounters. Think ahead.
Keep clear
of berry patches
garbage dumps, carcasses.
On woods walks bring
noisemakers, bells.
Clap hands along the trail
or sing
but in dense bush
or by running water
bear may not hear your clatter.
Whatever else
dont' whistle. Whistling
is thought by some to imitate
the sounds bears make when they mate.

You need to know
there are two kinds:
ursus arctus horribilis
or grizzly
and ursus americanus
the smaller black
said to be
somewhat less likely to attack.
Alas, a small horrilibis
is difficult to distinguish
from a large americanus.

there is no
guaranteed life-saving way
to deal with an aggressive bear
some ploys
have proved more
successful than others.
Running's a poor choice.
Bear can outrun a racehorse.

Once you're face to face
speak softly. Take
off your pack
and set it down
to distract the grizzly.
Meanwhile back
slowly toward a large
sparsely branched tree
but remember
black bears are agile climbers
in which case
a tree may not offer escape.

As a last resort you can
play dead. Drop
to the ground face down.
In this case
wearing your pack
may shield your body from attack.
Courage. Lie still. Sometimes
your bear may veer away.
If not
bears have been known
to inflict only minor injuries
upon the prone.

Is death
by bear to be preferred
to death by bomb?
these extenuating circumstances
your mind may make absurd
leaps. The answer's yes.
Come on in. Cherish
your wilderness.

--Maxine Kumin


"The Need to Hold Still"

Winter weeds,
of a golden age,
take over the open land,
pale armies
redressing the balance

Again we live
in a time of fasting,
burlap cassocks,
monks on their knees,
bells tolling
in an empty sky

among the thin,
the trampled-on,
the inarticulate
clothed in drafts
and rooted in shocked earth
which remembers nothing

fields and fields of them


Queen Anne's lace
love grass:
plain, strong names,
bread and water

A woman
coming in from a walk
notices how drab
her hair has become
that gray and brown
are colors
she disappears into

that her body
has stopped asking
for anything except calm


When she brings them
into the house
and shortens them
for the vase,
their stems break
like old bones,

No holding on
No bitter odor
No last drop of juice

Hers, as long as she wants them

Their freedom from either/or
will outlast hers every time


The dignity of form
after seduction
and betrayal
by color

the heads,
but held together
by an old design
no one has thought
to question

the open pods
that have given
and given again

dullness of straw
which underlies
the rose
the grape
the kiss

the narrow leaf blades,
shape of the body

the fine stems,
earliest brushstrokes,
lines in the rock
on the wall
the page

--Lisel Mueller


"Coming Home From The Post Office"

On Sunday night we would
see the women returning
from an evening with God,
their faces glowing with faith,
and the hard sweat of their faith.
They would sing separately
or together, and when the bus
stopped and one got carefully
off the sisters would shout
news of the good days ahead
and the joys of handmaidenship.
I remember an evening in April
when I passed in and out of
sleep, and the woman who stood
above me stared into my eyes
as though searching for a sign
that might bring light softly
falling among the dark houses
we stuttered by. When I closed
my eyes I saw cards, letters,
small packages, each bearing
a particular name and some
burden of grief or tidings
of loss. Names like my own
passed moment by moment
into the gray sacks that slumbed
open mouthed. On strong legs
she stood easily, swaying
from side to side, a woman
in a green suit, a purse held
in one hand, a hankie folded
in the other. Her pale eyes
held mine easily each time
I wakened, and so I wakened
not into the colorless light
from overhead but into
the twin mysteries of a life
in God. When I fell back
into my light sleep I saw
a great clear river running
between the house I knew
and a bright shore of temples,
glowing public squares, children
in long robes flowing, those I
loved climbing a high hill
toward a new sun. Hours later
the driver softly wakened
me with a hand on my head
and a single word, and I
stepped lightly into the world,
my shoulders hunched, my collar
turned up against the hour,
and headed down the still street.
The new spring winds goraned
around me, the distant light
of no new star marked me home.

--Philip Levine


"Wolf Moon"

Now is the season
of hungry mice,
cold rabbits,
lean owls
hunkering with their lamp-eyes
in the leafless lanes
in the needled dark;
now is the season
when the kittle fox
comes to town
in the blue valley
of early morning;
now is the season
of iron rivers,
bloody crossings,
flaring winds,
birds frozen
in their tents of weeds,
their music spent
and blown like smoke
to the stone of the sky;
now is the season
of the hunter Death;
with his belt of knives,
his blck snowshoes,
he means to cleanse
the earth of fat;
his gray shadows
are out and running -- under
the moon, the pines,
down snow-filled trails they carry
the red whips of their music,
their footfalls quick as hammers,
from cabin to cabin,
from bed to bed,
from dreamer to dreamer.

--Mary Oliver



As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It's as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
a voracious
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.

--Claribel Alegria
(translated by Margaret Sayers Peden)


"Keep Driving"

steering her smooth burgundy car
past orange crates
and complicated shipyards
has always lived in Yokohama,
but possibly this neighborhood
sprang up over the weekend
when we were off beside the sea.
Massive concrete, tones of gray.
Every day something changes in a city.
A woman pulls groceries home
in a metallic cart past five thousand
beige apartments,
but she wil find her own
and twist the key.
We respect her.
Iron girders for a new
Rafters. Pipes.
Legions of coordinated
Atsuko cannot see any street
she recognizes,
one roadside tree
staked to bamboo
looks vaguely familiar.She has seen other trees like that.
Will I keep my eyes open please?
Let her know if I spot any clues?
Remember who
you are talking to
, I say,
and we both laugh very loudly,
which is not something
I thought I would get to do
in Japan this soon.
We veer under highways,
elevated tracks, clouds.
The red train zips by smoothly overhead,
but all our streets go one way the wrong way
and I'm still confused by her steering wheel
on the right side, my foot punching
an invisible clutch.
What has she done?
Atsuko keeps apologizing
as we circle shoe shops dress shops party shops --
obviously her city is bigger
than she thought it was.
We must get gas.
Another day Mount Fuji-san looming
on the horizon
might help us gain our bearings,
but it's invisible today.
Right now
everything is gray.
Only the red train for punctuation.
She has never been more lost.
Keep driving, I whisper,
Kyoto, Hokkaido,
villages, rice fields,
how can I be lost or found
if I have never been here before?
Your hotel is hiding, she groans.
Instead we find the Toyota dock
for the third time
in three hours.
Tricky city clicking its rhythms
into each U-turn, crosswalk,
the intricate red blood
networks of people,
into the secret hidden dirt.
Soon I will feel as grounded
as the citizens of the foreign cemetery
on the one high hill
who cam here planning to

--Naomi Shihab Nye


"Rising Dust"

The physiologist says I am well over
half water.
I feel, look, solid; am
though leaky firm.
Yet I am composed
largely of water.
How the composer turned us out
this way, even the learned few do not
explain. That's life.

And we're in need of
more water, over and over, repeatedly
thirsty, and unclean.

The body of this earth
has water under it and
over, from
where the long winds sough
tirelyessly over water, or shriek around
curved distances of ice.

Sky and earth invisibly
breathe skyfuls of
water, visible when it
finds its own level.

Even in me?
Kin to waterfalls
and glacial lakes and sloughs
and all that flows and surges,
yet I go steadily,
or without distillation climb at will
(until a dissolution
nobody anticipates).

I'm something else besides.
The biochemist does not
concern himself with this.
It too seems substance,
a vital bond threaded on an
as-if loom out there.
The strand within
thrums and shudders and twists.
It cleaves to this
colour or texture and
singles out to a rhythm
almost its own, again,
anticipating design.

But never any of us
physiologist or fisherman
or I
quite makes sense of it. We
find our own level

as prairie, auburn or snow-streaming, sounds forever
the almost limitless.

--Margaret Avison


"Hampstead: the Horse Chestnut Trees"

At the top of a low hill
two stand together, green
bobbings contained within
the general sway. They
must be about my age.
My brother and I
rode between them and
down the hill and the impetus
took us on without pedalling
to be finally braked by
a bit of sullen marsh
(no longer there) where the mud
was coloured by the red-brown
oozings of iron. It
was autumn
or was it?

Nothing to keep it there, the
smell of leaf in May
sweet and powerful as rutting
confuses me now, it's all
getting lost, I started
forgetting it even as I wrote.

Forms remain, not the life
of detail or hue
then the forms are lost and
only a few dates stay with you.

But the trees have no sentiments
their hearts are wood
and preserve nothing
boles get great, they are
embraced by the wind they
rushingly embrace,
they spread outward
and upward
without regret
hardening tender green
to insensate lumber.

--Thom Gunn



I wake to dark,
a window slime of dew.
Time to start

from the text,

from this trash
and gimmickry
of sex
my aesthetic:

a hip first,
a breast,
a slow
shadow strip
out of clothes

that busheled me
What an artist I am!

Barely light
and yet --
cold shouldering

clipped laurel
nippling the road --
I subvert

the old mode;
I skin
I dimple clay,
I flesh, I rump stone.

This is my way--
to strip and strip

my dusk flush,
nude shade,

of hip,

blacks light
and I become the night.

What stars
I harvest
to my dark!

Cast down

their eyes
cast down.

I have them now.
I'll teach them now.
I'll show then how

in offices,
their minds
blind on file,

the view
blues through
my curves and arcs.

They are
a part
of my dark plan:

Into the gutter
of their lusts
I burn

the shine
of my flesh.
Let them know

for a change
the hate
and discipline,

the lusts
that prison
and the light that is
frigid, constellate.

--Eavan Boland


"Death by Fruit"

Only the crudest
of the vanitas set
ever thought you had to get
a skull into the picture
whether you needed
its tallowy color
near the grapes or not.
Others, stopping to consider
shapes and textures,
often discovered that
eggs or aubergines
went better, or leeks,
or a plate of string beans.
A skull is so dominant.
It takes so much
bunched up drapery,
such a ponderous
display of ornate cutlery,
just to make it less prominent.
The greatest masters
preferred the subtlest vanitas,
modestly trusting to fruit baskets
to whisper ashes to ashes,
relying on the poignant exactness
of oranges to release
like a citrus mist
the always fresh fact
of how hard we resist
how briefly we're pleased.

--Kay Ryan


"Black Bamboo"

This black
is brushwork

slim as a pen
Not quite
as black as ink

and tufted
at each node
with lanceolate

green chartreuse
and lime


in New Guinea Highlands
boys as slim
and black
as this astonishing

and naked but for leaves
that seemed to grow
from their torsos --
part of them --
vegetable genitals
pubic hair --

leaped from the roadside
where our jeep had passed
to rearrange the stones
its tires displaced

remake the pattern
of their thoroughfare


It was their road
They made it

Broke the rock
to build the roadbed
broke the rock again
tomake a border --
almost a mosaic --

folk art
and accurate
where warring tribes
could without trespass

Their line of life

A safe and neutral space


with this gift
of black bamboo
I am
half naked in the heat
of humid high New Guinea
driving through
its rank green landscape

rancid pig fat


And as our progress
rough and lumbering
scumbles the roadbed
scatters stones
like chicks

young ebony warriors --
the road gang --
from their ambush
in the crotons clad
only in G-strings
armed with digging sticks
to make their high way
beautiful again

--P. K. Page


"The Dragonfly"

Fallen, so freshly fallen
From his estates of air,
He made on the gritty path
A five-inch funeral car,
New Hampshire's lesser dragon
In the grip of his kidnappers.
A triumph of chinoiserie
He seemed, in green and gold
Enameling, pin-brained,
With swizzle-stick for tail,
The breastplate gemmed between.
Wat a gallentry of pomp
In that royal spread of wings!--
Four leaves of thinnest mica,
Or, better, of the skin
Of water, if water had a skin.
Semaphores, at rest,
Of the frozen invisible,
They caught a glinting light
In the hairlines of their scripture
When a vagrom current stirred
And made them feign to flutter.
It was a slow progress,
A thing of fits and starts,
With bands of black attendants
Tugging at the wings
And under the crested feelers
At the loose-hinged head
(So many eyes he had, which were
The eyes?), still others pushing
From behind, where a pair
Of ornamental silks
That steered him in his flights
Gave tenuous pincer-hold.
Admire, I said to myself,
How he lords it over them,
Grounded though he may be
After his blue-sky transports;
But see how they honor him,
His servants at the feast,
In a passion of obsequies,
With chomping mandibles
And wildly waving forelegs
Telegraphing news abroad
Of their booty's worth; oh praise this
Consummate purity
Of the bestriding will!
In a scaled-down mythology
These myrmidons could stand
For the separate atoms of St. George
(Why not?). And fancy drove
Me on, my science kneeling
Before such witless tools,
To pay my tithe of awe
And read the resurrection-sign
In the motion of the death.
But then I saw,
When an imperceptible gust
Abruptly hoisted sails
And flipped my hero over . . .
In the reversal of the scene
I saw the sixfold spasm
Of his tucked-in claws,
The cry of writhing nerve-ends,
And down his membrane-length
A tide of gray pulsation.
I wheeled. The scorpion sun,
Stoking its belly-fires,
Exploded overhead, and the rain
Came down: scales, tortuous wires,
Flakings of green and gold.

--Stanley Kunitz

Monday, November 13, 2006


Poems With Red In Them

"Theories of Education"

These beads are hot, my daughter says,
lifting them gingerly from my neck -- somehow
ignoring the obvious: they're pretty and they're red.

These are the days of pre-school entrance tests. Some
nitwit reads a text, asks kids to give it back verbatim.
The beads are hot, my daughter says,

touching the ring of red glass planets
warm from pooling at the throat's steady pulse.
Ignoring the obvious: that they're pretty and they're red--

she says instead what's usually left unsaid.
In her model galaxy, Earth pushes back Mars.
The beads (strung on hanger wire) are hot, she says:

aligned in sequence from the bulb's too-
steady glare. Hot she says, moving Earth, moving Mars,
ignoring the obvious: one's pretty, one's red.

We can't say why our minds orbit this Earth, can we, kids?
Or why Mars looks mean as Hell! Blood leaps in the neck.
These beads are hot, my daughter says.
Ignoring the obvious: They're pretty. And they're red.

--Carol Muske-Dukes


"Throwing Salt on a Path"

I watch you throw salt on the path,
and see abalone divers point to the sun,
discuss the waves, then throw their

gear back into the car. I watch you
collect large flakes of salt off rocks,
smell sliced ginger and fresh red

shrimp smoking over a fire. Ah,
the light of a star never stops, but travels
at the expanding edge of the universe.

A Swiss gold watch ticks and ticks;
but when you cannot hear it tick anymore,
it turns transparent in your hand.

You see the clear gold wheels
with sharp minute teeth catching each
other and making each spin.

The salt now clears a path in the snow,
expands the edges of the universe.

--Arthur Sze


"Affairs of State"

The lock of hair in a green-lined envelope
which was given to me by a woman with mhom I planned to elope

in the mid-eighties came back, much to my disbelief,
as the single rusty leaf

like a rivet
in a thick hedge of boxwood or privet

along a drive like her front drive, now no more likely to disappoint
as it reached its vanishing point

in the hallway's missing tile
like a missing scale on a reptile

than when the previous owner, the diplomat,
had heard a green-lined envelope slither onto the mat

and, picking it up with a little Oh,
turned to his wife, the second one, the redhead, shortly to be his widow.

--Paul Muldoon


"Dancing Towards Bethlehem"

If there is only enough time in the final
minutes of the twentieth century for one last dance
I would like to be dancing it slowly with you,

say, in the ballroom of a seaside hotel.
My palm would press into the small of your back
as the past hundred years collapsed into a pile
of mirrors or buttons or frivolous shoes,

just as the floor of the nineteenth century gave way
and disappeared in a red cloud of brick dust.
There will be no time to order another drink
or worry about what was never said,

not with the orchestra sliding into the sea
and all our attention devoted to humming
whatever it was they were playing.

--Billy Collins


[for Margaret]

Merely to name them is the prose
Of diarists, to make you a name
For readers who like travellers praise
Their beds and beaches as the same;
But islands can only exist
If we have loved in them. I seek,
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water;
Yet, like a diarist, thereafter
I savour their salt-haunted rooms
(Your body stirring the creased sea
Of crumpled sheets), whose mirrors lose
Our huddled, sleeping images,
Like words which love had hoped to use
Erased with the surf's pages.

So, like a diarist in sand,
I mark the peace with which you graced
Particular islands, descending
A narrow stair to light the lamps
Against the night surf's noises, shielding
A leaping mantle with one hand,
Or simply scaling fish for supper,
Onions, jack-fish, bread, red snapper;
And on each kiss the harsh sea-taste,
And how by moonlight you were made
To study most the surf's unyielding
Patience though it seems a waste.

--Derek Walcott


"Every Blessed Day"

First with a glass of water
tasting of iron and then
with more and colder water
over his head he gasps himself
awake. He hears the cheep
of winter birds searching
the snow for crumbs of garbage
and knows exactly how much light
and how much darkness is there
before the dawn, gray and weak,
slips between the buildings.
Closing the door behind him,
he thinks of places he
has never seen but heard
about, of the great desert
his father said was like
no sea he had ever crossed
and how at dusk or dawn
it held all the shades of red
and blue in its merging shadows,
and though his life was then
a prison he had come to live
for these suspended moments.
Waiting at the corner he feels
the cold at his back and stamps
himself awake again. seven miles
from the frozen, narrow river.
Even before he looks, he knows
the faces on the bus, some
going to work and some coming back,
but each sealed in its hunger
for a different life, a lost life.
Where he's going or who he is
he doesn't ask himself, he
doesn't know and doesn't know
it matters. He gets off
at the familiar corner, crosses
the emptying parking lots
toward Chevy Gear & Axle # 3.
In a few minutes he will hold
his time card above a clock,
and he can drop it in
and hear the moment crunching
down, or he can not, for
either way the day will last
forever. So he lets it fall.
If he feels the elusive calm
his father spoke of and searched
for all his short life, there's
no way of telling, for now he's
laughing among them, older men
and kids. He's saying, "Damn,
we've got it made." He's
lighting up or chewing with
the others, thousands of miles
from their forgotten homes, each
and every one his father's son.

--Philip Levine


"Le Dame E I Cavalieri"

Considering our resources, it was a staggering sum.
A dozen birds of paradise spit-roasted with
Red and yellow cherries wedged in their beaks.
Here was finally something to make amends
For all the greasy burgers and fries we lived on.
It was like a church choir barging into a whorehouse;
I mean, our anticipation and sinful joy
At the prospect of such a feast. Fake Madonna
Biting your nails, and you, too, Doc,
Shaking hands all around, get over here!
Our quarters are cramped, but we can all fit
If we sit in each other's laps. It'll be
Like a séance and we the twelve psychic crime solvers.
Mr. Undertaker, and you Mr. Corpse,
Let me be the first to say, this bird of heaven
Looks good but tastes something awful.

--Charles Simic


"Her Account of Herself"

Born at the onset
of this tranquilizer age,
I spent decades awakening,
wandering this nation's
dazzling displays
of petticoats and neckties.
I grew into a needle-nosed
scribbler, a tight-lipped
wallflower seated between
lively philistines at banquets
and sacrifices. Such am I:

a barren head-hanger,
a secret rabbit breeder
addicted to bonbons
and collecting botanically
accurate hand-tinted
etchings of flowering cacti
since time out of mind.
I kept my legs crossed
just as instructed,
for a hideously long time.
I still have trouble telling
the difference between
progress and pathology,
hate getting my face wet,
will not eat banana squash,
learned to ride a bike
at twenty, experience
difficulty warming up.
Were there a museum of me,
it might contain my fur muff,
my pup's first leather collar,
necklaces I made as a child
by stringing watermelon seeds,
my hearing aid, five mother-
of-pearl buttons from my unhappy
grandmother's blouse
(she never wanted to marry,
but got pregnant, and that
was that), a lopped-off ponytail,
a red eucalyptus leaf
that stuck to the windshield
of one I unsuccessfully loved,
my pocket watch, and the tub of
sweet grease I use
to groom my terrible hair.
I've often sought asylum,
remained unseduced by food,
planted a kiss on the wall
by the landing where the turn
in the stairs is called
the "coffin corner."
I'm nothing if not
cheerfully morbid, or so
my friends claim.
Call upon me if you need
contact with that breezy,
self-conscious type of tormoil
that chases its tail all day,
forming little whirlwinds.

--Amy Gerstler


"Wednesday at the Waldorf"

Two white whales have been installed at
the Waldorf. They are tumbling slowly
above the tables, butting the chandeliers,
submerging, and taking soft bites
out of the red-vested waiters in the
Peacock Room. They are poking fleur-de-lys
tails into the long pockets on the
waiters' thighs. They are stealing
breakfast strawberries from two eccentric
guests -- one, skunk-cabbage green with
dark peepers -- the other, wild rose and
milkweed, barelegged, in Lafayette loafers.
When the two guests enter the elevator,
the whales ascend, bouncing, through all
the ceilings, to the sixth floor. They
get between the sheets. There they turn
candy-pink, with sky-colored eyes, and
silver bubbles start to rise from velvet
navels on the tops of their heads.
Later, a pale blue VW, running on poetry,
weaves down Park Avenue, past yellow
sprouts of forsythia, which, due to dog-do
and dew, are doing nicely. The two
white whales have the blue car in tow
on a swaying chain of bubbles. They are
rising toward the heliport on the Pan Am
roof. There they go, dirigible and slow,
hide-swiping each other, lily tails flipping,
their square velvet snouts stitched with
snug smiles. It is April. "There's
a kind of hush all over the world."

--May Swenson


"Election Day, 1984"

Did you ever see someone coldcock a blind nun?
Well, I did. Two helpful idiots
Steered her across the tarmac to her plane
And led her smack into the sing.
She deplaned with two balck eyes & a crooked wimple,
Bruised proof that the distinction is not simple
Between ineptitude and evil.
Today, with the President's red button playing
Such a prominent role,
Though I can't vote for it, I wonder
If evil could be safer, on the whole.

--Carolyn Kizer


"Cardinals in a Shower at Union Square"

At first they look like any other birds
on gun line from the underbrush, so someone
calls them sparrows and someone who thinks
he knows, scarlet tanagers or something else
exotic, as if they've slipped captivity --
one of those white sky August days the hammer
of the heat picks out the old one or the child
locked in a car, while gathered above the blank
grave of the pavement, at the altitude of snow,
enough rain to almost forgive it all.
Only two are really red, the rest a buoyant
dried blood brown, young or female, all of them
with masks and crests that make them what
they are, explosions from the other side
or blown in, with the paper, with the storm.
Whoever starts the clapping is answered
by a show of hands to meet baptismal waters
and a couple, who are high, bird-dancing.
Whoever starts the shouting is quieted
by the lady who hears silences,
cupping her clownish ears . . . .
For a moment the ringing air is clean, then
for a moment nothing happens, nothing moves
except the cardinals, in and out of trees.
And in that moment ends. The cloudburst
passes, the air turns into fire again,
the sirens sing their distances, the walls
of light burn down. And in no time,
in the time it takes the runoff to drain
back underground, there's no one left
but lifers and the dealers and rain birds
swallowed upward by the sun, and rain, new rain,
in the rivers and the reservoir uptown,
ready to rise and pour its heart out all over.

--Stanley Plumly


For John Edward

Take the red streetcar that stops at Broadview
you will come to a sealed lane named Brydale
by walking along wool weaver's avenue.
On the corner in a tall rented place
with stained-glass cathedral windows live now
two people whose lives add up to over
a century. Two who took a late chance
to mend and solder their divided selves
into strong binding two-toned interlace.
Torches carried became welding flames
for trying days; briar ways they came
through acres long untended. At ease then,
scythe rank choke weed, lower the nightshades,
sweet thyme take root in perfumed herb garden.

--Lorna Goodison


"For Mark Rothko"

Shall I say it is the constancy of persian red
that permits me to see
this persian-red bird
come to sit now
on the brick barbecue
within my windowframe. Red

on a field made crooked
as with disillusion or faulty
vision, a backyard in winter
that secretly seeks a bird. He has
a curiosity
that makes him slightly awkward,

as if just learning
something innate, and yet
there is no impatience,
just that pose of hi
once between each move
as if to say, and is this pleasing?

When I look again he is gone.
He is easy to imagine
in flight: red extended flame,
I would say, or, ribbon
torn from a hat
rising once

before it catches on a twig
or, flying painted mouth
but then how far
have we come?
He could fly now
into a moment of sunlight

that fell from the sun's edge
ten thousand years ago,
mixed in with sunlight
absolutely new.
There is no way to understand
the difference. Some red

has always just slipped from
our field of vision, a cardinal
dropping from persian to magenta to white so slowly
in order that the loss
be tempted,
not endured.

--Jorie Graham


"With Her in an Apple"

You visit me in an apple.
We listen together to the knife
Paring all around us, carefully
Not to tear the peel.

You speak to me, I can trust your voice,
It holds pieces of hard pain
As real honey holds waxen pieces
Of honeycomb.

With my fingers I touch your lips.
This too is a gesture of prophecy.
Your lips are red, as a scorched field is black.
Everything comes true.

You visit me in an apple.
And you stay with me in the apple
Till the paring knife finishes its work.

--Yehuda Amichai
(translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav)


"Backyard Swingset"

Splayed, swayback, cheap pipe
playground: a swing, a slide, some rings
maybe -- we love our babies,
and a tire hanging from a branch
won't do. For one summer
it shines -- red, the chains of silver,
and beside it the blue plastic pool.
First winter out it goes to rust.
I love america's backyards,
seen from highways, or when
you're lost and looking

hard at houses, numbers.
The above, plus a washed-out willow,
starveling hedge, tool shed
a dozen times dented,
and a greasy streak
against the garage where a barbecue
went berserk. A Chevy engine block
never hauled away
or the classic Olds on chocks . . . .
Beneath the blue-gray humps of snow: pieces
of a summer, a past

Mom said to pick up,
but they weren't.
Now, nobody's home, all across America
nobody's home now.
Brother or sister is, in fact, on Guam,
or working nightshift at the box factory,
or one is married and at this moment
wiping milk rings from a kitchen table.
And Mom, Mom is gone,
and the ash on Father's cigarette grows so long
it begins to chasm and bend.

--Thomas Lux



Rain, and then
the cool pursed
lips of the wind
draw them
out of the ground --
red and yellow skulls
pummeling upward
through leaves,
through grasses,
through sand; astonishing
in their suddenness,
their quietude,
their wetness, they appear
on fall mornings, some
balancing in the earth
on one hoof
packed with poison,
others billowing
chunkily, and delicious --
those who know
walk out to gather, choosing
the benign from flocks
of glitterers, sorcerers,
panther caps,
shark-white death angels
in their torn veils
looking innocent as sugar
but full of paralysis:
to eat
is to stagger down
fast as mushrooms themselves
when they are done being perfect
and overnight
slide back under the shining
fields of rain.

--Mary Oliver



Dirt divers, you pop up, fast and fleshy weeds. We turn
our ankles where you've been and bust your heads
for fun. In the lab of summertime we experiment the finer points
of poison, snares, gasoline, twist your tails off at the root,
then finally, old enough, use that christmas .22 gifted
lovingly, oiled, with a big red bow. You eat and breed. We try
to drown you out. You're thieves, and we can't spare a thing.
In winter, as you coma deep inside your rancid holes,
we satisfy ourselves chasing rabbits with Ski-doos
until spring when hungry coyotes raid the coops and we need
to shoot them too. They kill the fawns, reserved
for city hunters who pay cash to anyone whol'll take them
through the fields. Each season has its cruelties. It's for the best.
Is nature not more callous than the gun? first and precious
taste of blood, there's always more where you come from.

--Karen Solie



Again, great season, sing it through again
Before we fall asleep, sing the slow change
That makes October burn out red and gold
And color bleed into the world and die,
And butterflies among the fluttering leaves
Disguise themselves until the last few leaves
Spin to the ground or to the skimming streams
That carry them along until they sink,
And through the muted land, the nevergreen
Needles and mull and duff of the forest floor,
The wind go ashen, till one afternoon
The cold snow cloud comes down the intervale
Above the river on whose slow black flood
The first few flakes come hurrying in to drown.

--Howard Nemerov


"On the Line"

Feel, you said. How does this feel?
Shy, if you must know,
to be asked.

But after, when you'd left
this all-gold absence
round me, in me, in even my ears,

I wondered. Sharp,
an axe on a bell.
Blast of the Trovatore chorus

when you open the oven door.
An extra-terrestrial
skiffle in the dish
at Jodrell Bank.

As if I'd never known red.
Hi-volt chillies
dong press-ups in a haybag of velvet.

An anaconda with hiccups.
Like the only thing. Like you.

--Ruth Padel


"Dina Thinking"

It's a joy to jump in this water, now flowing so clear
and fresh in the sun: nobody's here at this hour.
The husks of the poplars startle me more, when they touch me,
than the slap of the water as I plunge in. It's still dark under there,
and the cold is killing, but as soon as you jump back out
into the sunlight, you see the world with washed eyes.

It's a joy to lie naked in grass that's already warm
and to gaze up with half-closed eyes at the high hills
that rise over the poplars and look down on me naked
and nobody up there can tell. that old man in his hat
and his underwear, fishing one day, saw me dive in,
but thought I was a boy and never uttered a word.

This evening I'll return as a woman in a red dress --
those men who smile at me out on the street don't know
I'm lying here naked right now -- I'll go back dressed
to gather their smiles. Those men don't know it
but tonight in my red dress my hips will be stronger
and I'll be a new woman. Nobody sees me down here:
and beyond these bushes are sand-diggers stronger
than those men who smile: but nobody sees me.
Men are so silly -- tonight as I dance with them all
it'll be as if I was naked, like now, and no one will know
they could've found me right here. I'll be just like them.
Except that those fools will want to pull me too close
and whisper proposals like con men. But what do I care
for the caresses of men? I can touch me all by myself.
But I wish we could be naked in front of each other tonight
withour smiling like con men. I smile to myself now,
and stretch out in the tall grass, and nobody knows.

--Cesare Pavese
(translated by Geoffrey Brock)

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