Sunday, December 31, 2006


Some January Poems

"January First"

The doors of the year open,
like the doors of language,
onto the unknown.

Last night you said:


we must draw signs,
sketch a langscape, hatch a plot
on the unfolded page
of paper and the day.
Tomorrow we must invent,
the reality of this world.

When I opened my eyes it was late.
For a second of a second
I felt like the Aztec
on the rock-strewn peak,
the cracks of horizons
for the uncertain return of time.

No, the year came back.
It filled the room,
and my glances could almost touch it.
Time, without our help,
had arranged
in the same order as yesterday,
the houses on the empty street,
the snow on the houses,
the silence on the snow.

You were beside me,
still sleeping.
The day had invented you,
but you hadn't yet accepted
your day's invention,
nor mine.
You were still in another day.

You were beside me,
and I saw you, like the snow,
asleep among the appearances.
Time, without our help,
invents houses, streets, trees,
sleeping women.

When you open your eyes
we'll walk, anew,
among the hours and their inventions,
and lingering among the appearances
we'll testify to time and its conjugations.
We'll open the doors of this day,
and go into the unknown.

--Octavio Paz
(translated by Eliot Weinberger)


"Orchard Trees, January"

It's not the case, though some might wish it so
Who from a window watch the blizzard blow

White riot through their branches vague and stark,
That they keep snug beneath their pelted bark.

They take affliction in until it jells
To crystal ice between their frozen cels,

And each of them is inwardly a vault
Of jewels rigorous and free of fault,

Unglimpsed by us until in May it bears
A sudden crop of green-pronged solitaires.

--Richard Wilbur


"Month of Cleansing"

January sunshine; frozen, denuding translucency.
All the clouds vanished suddenly. On the wooded hills,
still dark from the long dampness, rises
the sky blue smoke of shepherds. And the mountain ridges farther
absolutely sky blue -- that superb sky blue. No other color,
-- he says -- can fit in this great, limpid landscape
except a speck of red from the rooster they slaughtered
on the foundation stone. So he spoke. and by this he meant
the movement of two fingers uncovering
a naked shoulder, a wound, a fountain, or a dream.

--Yannis Ritsos
(translated by Kimon Friar)



"Cold as the moon," he'd mutter
In the January of 5 a. m. and 15 below
As he tried to tease the old Chev into greeting
One more misanthropic morning.

It was an art (though he never
Used that curious word) as he thumped
The gas pedal and turned the key
So carefully while he held his breath
And waited for the sharp jounce
And roar of an engaged engine.

"Shoulda brought in the battery last night."
"Shoulda got up around midnight
And turned it over once."

It was always early rising as he'd worked
A lifetime "in every damn sort
Of damn factory." Machines were
As natural to him as dogs and flowers.
A machine, as he put it, "was sensible."

I was so stupid about valves and intakes
He thought I was some religious type.
How had I lived as long as I had
And remained so out of it?
And why had I moved of my own free will
To a place that prided itself
On the blunt misery of January?

"No way to live," he'd say as he poked
A finger into the frozen throat
Of an unwilling carburetor.
His breath hung in the air
Like a white balloon.

Later on the way to the town where
We worked while the heater
Wheezed fitfully and the windshield
Show indifference to the defroster
He'd turn to me and say that
The two best things in this world
Were hot coffee and winter sunrises.
The icy road beckoned to no one,
Snow began to drift down sleepily,
The peace of servitude sighed and dreamed.

--Baron Wormser


"The New Year"

Someone dragged our Christmas tree
onto the bonfire. A blaze of white-gold, sudden
heat. The slender branches curled like fingers,
clutching and clutching
what was already gone. We stood close
together on the snowy edge of the beach.
My son was scrolling Happy
New Year in the air with sparklers,
and my daughter writing her name,
as if it might stay there.

On the point, someone lit fireworks
-- red, green, yellow -- like handerchiefs
plucked out of a top hat. They went up,
down. Phfft. Overhead, the stars
stayed in their places. The night was cold,
so cold, and for a moment I say time --
century on century -- frozen into place. Nothing
moved. They could have been under the glassy ice,

those things from the past. A howl
stopped in the throat. A thin child running, naked,
down a road. No going back for anything.
But then someone reached over
and kissed me. I offered
a bouquet of sparklers
to my son, who threw it,
joyously, across the icy harbour.
A tiny, extravagant flourish.

--Anne Simpson



Gone or away? Right now I prefer away
because a storm rolls down through the valley
with its load of leaves, twigs, bird nests
and soil from another continent
and makes the windows on the sunroom rattle like a castle in Siberia.
Saying gone would resonate too deeply
and damage the foundations of the house.
Away is a small white cloud, a kite
in a bleak September sky
a wheelbarrow tipped over the edge of the woods
a striped sock on the riverbank
away is the white pebbles on the bottom of a brook
whose water knows the secrets of astronomy.
With the changing seasons I have thought of you
as a wanderer between gone and away
a homeless sooul, an eye that cannot shut.
As fast as fire, water, darkness, and sun overtake
each other
on this afternoon early in January
I can only think of you as gone away. With the emphasis on gone.

--Henrik Nordbrandt
(translated by Thom Satterlee)


"The Sixth of January"

The cat sits on the back of the sofa looking
out the window through the softly falling snow
at the last bit of gray light.

I can't say the sun is going down.
We haven't seen the sun for two months.
Who cares?

I am sitting in the blue chair listening to this stillness.
The only sound: the occasional gurgle of tea
coming out of the pot and into the cup.

How can this be?
Such calm, such peace, such solitude
in this world of woe.

--David Budbill


"In This January"

This must be the month when someone decided
to make months; to count sunsets and full moons and ony give it
so much time. and though Janus looks both ways, this January

is intent only on winter's face. It cups and kisses it
on the forehead, on the eyeleashes. Why would winter
ever want to leave, if all that attention kept up.

I pass a half-built church on my walk every morning
and every morning I'm filled with the envy thinking of the dreams
the people building it must have. My dreams are shoeboxes

filled with bones from my feet. When I wake it's with a mouthful
of mother-may-I's and the taunting of another day,
daring me to take a step as it pulls the walls up even higher.

No, it doesn't look both ways, it makes me do that.
This house is a maze of those bare walls, perfect
for showing home movies on. And I've become the projector.

--Susan Goyette


"January Night"
Late, after walking for hours on the beach,
a storm rises, with wind, rain and lightning

In front of me on my desk
Is typewriter and paper,
And my beautiful jagged
Crystal, larger than a skull,
And beyond, the black window,
Framing the wet and swarming
Pointillism of the city
In the night, in the valley
And spread on the distant hills
Under the rain, and beyond,
Thin rivulets of lightning
Trickling down the sky,
And all the intervening
Air wet with the fecundity
Of time and the promises
Of the earth and its routine
Annual and diurnal
Yearly and daily changeless
Motion; and once more my hours
Turn in the trough of winter
And climb towards the sun.

--Kenneth Rexroth


"New Year's Day"

Each thing in the clean morning light
is a promise. I start the day
by building a feeding place for the birds,
stacking up castaway crates in the snow.
How they come! Sparrows and blue jays
dropping like leaves from the elms,
which though burned with disease
still promise some sort of a spring,
their branches lined with hard buds
like birds perching, or the seeds of birds,
still more birds to come.

--Ted Kooser


"January Apparition"

Where is last year's snow?
Where is this year's?
January gleams cold
like a scoured
limestone statue in the graveyard.
I throw black clods
at the winter trees
instead of snowballs.

I am blue, blue,
parched blue, insdie and out,
and stiffening with cold I remember
staggering, drunken reed-harvesters
who made pitchforks dance on the ice
and yelled, jumping all around:
mad land, mad land.

At least five grains of frost
would rolls here quickly,
at least five grains of pearls
from northern native countries.
I would multiply them
as Jesus did the fish,
I would multiply them
as Jesus did the bread.

But only a bobbing-necked gander
with ruffled feathers
is stepping whitely toward me.
He's ambling down from the tall roost.
Purple flashes of lightning keep
leaping from his waxed beak.
I stop and stare:
this goose, too, could be a castrated swan!

Where is last year's snow?
And my God, where is this year's?
Where are the tongues of the snow-covered
sleighbells and where the carnival yells?
A sparrow pecks frozen
breadcrumbs from the ground,
and flies away with one, like
a skeletal alien, filled with fright.

--Sandor Csoori
(translated by Len Roberts)


"No Possum, No Sop, No Taters"

He is not here, the old sun,
As absent as if we were asleep.

The field is frozen. The leaves are dry.
Bad is final in this light.

In this bleak air the broken stalks
Have arms without hands. They have trunks

Without legs or, for that, without heads.
They have heads in which a captive cry

Is merely the moving of a tongue.
Snow sparkles like eyesight falling to earth,

Like seeing fallen brightly away.
The leaves hop, scraping on the ground.

It is deep January. The sky is hard.
The stalks are firmly rooted in ice.

It is in this solitude, a syllable,
Out of these gawky flitterings,

Intones its single emptiness,
The savagest hollow of winter-sound.

It is here, in this bad, that we reach
The last purity of the knowledge of good.

The crow looks rusty as he rises up.
Bright is the malice in his eye . . .

One joins him there for company,
But at a distance, in another tree.

--Wallace Stevens


"Midwinter Thaw"

Stunned in their voiceless way to be alive
This drizzling three-day January thaw,
Green lilac buds appear that won't survive
When Arctic winds crack down from Canada
And half-starved foxes shake and paw
A rabbit carcass in its stiffened fur.
Green lilac buds appear that won't survive
This third day of our January thaw,
This gap in time, this season not their own,
Merely a mockery of spring
With sun's warmth wasted on a stone,
And still my mind goes groping in the mud to bring
Some stubborn sprouts up through the stubble hay,
To follow in the path of their brief blossoming
In search of brighter green to come. No way!

--Robert Pack


"Rain in January"

I woke before dawn, still
in a body. Water ran
down every window, and rushed
from the eaves.

Beneath the empty feeder
a skunk was prowling for suet
or seed. The lamps flickered off
and then came on again.

Smoke from the chimney
could not rise. It came down
into the yard, and brooded there
on the unlikelihood of reaching

heaven. When my arm slipped
from the arm of the chair
I let it hand beside me, pale,
useless, and strange.

--Jane Kenyon


"Reading: Winter"

He's not sure how to get the jack on -- he must have recently bought the car, although it's an ancient,
impossibly decrepit, barely holding-together Chevy: he has to figure out how each part works,
the base plate, the pillar, the thing that hooks on to the bumper, even the four-armed wrench,
before he can get it all together, knock the hubcap off and wrestle free the partly rusted nuts.
This all happens on a bed of sheet ice: it's five below, the coldest January in a century.
Cars slip and skid a yard away from him, the flimsy jack is desperately, precariously balanced,
and meanwhile, when he goes into the trunk to get the spare, a page of old newspaper catches his attention
and he pauses, rubbing his hands together, shoulders hunched, for a full half minute, reading.

--C. K. Williams


"January Morning"


    I HAVE discovered that most of
    the beauties of travel are due to
    the strange hours we keep to see them:

    the domes of the Church of
    the Paulist Fathers in Weehawken
    against a smoky dawn -- the heart stirred --
    are beautiful as Saint Peters
    approached after years of anticipation.

    Though the operation was postponed
    I saw the tall probationers
    in their tan uniforms
    hurrying to breakfast!
    -- and from basement entries
    neatly coiffed, middle aged gentlemen
    with orderly moustaches and
    well-brushed coats

    -- and the sun, dipping into the avenues
    streaking the tops of
    the irregular red houselets,
    the gay shadows drooping and drooping.

    -- and a young horse with a green bed-quilt
    on his withers shaking his head:
    bared teeth and nozzle high in the air!

    --and a semicircle of dirt-colored men
    about a fire bursting from an old
    ash can,

    -- and the worn,
    blue car rails (like the sky!)
    gleaming among the cobbles!

    -- and the rickety ferry-boat "Arden"!
    What an object to be called "Arden"
    among the great piers, -- on the
    ever new river!
    "Put me a Touchstone
    at the wheel, white gulls, and we'll
    follow the ghost of the Half Moon
    to the North West Passage -- and through!
    (at Albany!) for all that!"

    Exquisite brown waves -- long
    circlets of silver moving over you!
    enough with crumbling ice crusts among you!
    The sky has come down to you,
    lighter than tiny bubbles, face to
    face with you!
    His spirit is
    a white gull with delicate pink feet
    and a snowy breast for you to
    hold to your lips delicately!

    The young doctor is dancing with happiness
    in the sparkling wind, alone
    at the prow of the ferry! He notices
    the curdy barnacles and broken ice crusts
    left at the slip's base by the low tide
    and thinks of summer and green
    shell-crusted ledges among
    the emerald eel-grass!

    Who knows the Palisades as I do
    knows the river breaks east from them
    above the city -- but they continue south
    -- under the sky -- to bear a crest of
    little peering houses that brighten
    with dawn behind the moody
    water-loving giants of Manhattan.

    Long yellow rushes bending
    above the white snow patches;
    purple and gold ribbon
    of the distant wood:
    what an angle
    you make with each other as
    you lie there in contemplation.

    Work hard all your young days
    and they'll find you too, some morning
    staring up under
    your chiffonier at its warped
    bass-wood bottom and your soul --
    -- among the little sparrows
    behind the shutter.

    -- and the flapping flags are at
    half-mast for the dead admiral.

All this --
was for you, old woman.
I wanted to write a poem
that you would understand.
For what good is it to me
if you can't understand it?
But you got to try hard --
But --
Well, you know how
the young girls run giggling
on Park Avenue after dark
when they ought to be home in bed?
that's the way it is with me somehow.
--William Carlos Williams

Another wonderful series, Hedgie. So glad to See Paz included.

Happy New Year!
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