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

***

"Islands"
[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

***

"Broadview"
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

***

"Mushrooms"

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,
russulas,
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

***

"Gopher"

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"

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)









Comments:
Gorgeous. I especially enjoyed the one about Rothko, and the playful one about the Whales at the Waldorf.
In fact I enjoyed so many of them, it's hard to pick out favourites.
 
Glad you enjoyed them; thanks for stopping by. (And congratulations on the book acceptance; that's really exciting.)
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
An excellent choise as usual, Hedgie. What is strange is that though I have read a lot of Pavese, I hadn't read the one you posted: double pleasure.
 
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