Monday, June 11, 2007


Some Poems I've Liked Recently


To 'honeybunch," you stupid fucker, you never thought I'd do
it did ya you slimy hogstool, I hope you rot in hell you no good
bum with your big mouth and your endless threats about
breaking both my thumbs. What a joke, it was just a lousy way
of shutting me up and you knew it. Well you can take your
finger out of your ass and shove it up your nose for all I care,
because it's no goddamn thanks to you, hiding my typewriter
and wanting fancy dinners all the time, well why don't you get
one of your girlfriends to make you dinner eh? and now we'll
just see who's going to incapacitate who from now on. So eat
your heart out shitface, and just for the old icing on the cake,
you remember how I told you that big black guy was "just a
friend"? Well, he was considerably more than just a friend and
furthermore had a whang the size of a Coke bottle. So go wipe
out on a freeway, creep, 'cause I'm not taking any more of your

-- Sharon Thesen


"The Kitchen Gods"

Carnage in the lot: blood freckled the chopping block --
The hen's death is timeless, frantic.
Its numbskull lopped, one wing still drags
The pointless circle of a broken clock,
But the vein fades in my grandmother's arm on the ax.
The old ways fade and do not come back.
The sealed aspirin does not remember the willow.
The supermarket does not remember the barnyard.
The hounds of memory come leaping and yapping.
One morning is too large to fit inside the mouth.
My grandmother's life was a long time
Toiling between Blake's root-and-lightning
Yahweh and the girlish Renaissance Christ
That plugged the flue in her kitchen wall.
Early her match flamed across the carcass.
Her hand, fresh from the piano, plunged
The void bowel and set the breadcrumb heart.
The stove's eye reddened. The day's great spirit rose
From pies and casseroles. That was the house --
Reroofed, retiled, modernized, and rented out,
It will not glide up and lock among the stars.
The tenants will not find the pantry fully stocked
Or the brass boat where she kept the matches dry.
I find her stone and rue our last useless
Divisive arguments over the divinity of Christ.
Only where the religion goes on without a god
And the sandwich is wolfed down without a blessing,
I think of us bowing at the table there:
The grand patriarch of the family holding forth
In staunch prayer, and the potato pie I worshiped.
The sweeter the pie, the shorter the prayer.

--Rodney Jones



Now there is no gravity. Freedom is meaningless.
I weigh no more than a hair
on a starched collar.
Lips meet in the ellipsis at the end of a drowning
confession; on the sand, a crab closes its claws hermetically
and moves one step forward and two steps to the right.
It was long ago when I first broke into a shudder
at the touch of your fingers;
no more shyness, no more healing, no more death.
Now I am light as an Indian feather, and can easily reach the moon
a moon clean as an angel's sex
on the frescoes of the church.
Sometimes I can even see asteriods dying like drones
in ecstacy for their love, their queen.

--Luljeta Lleshanaku
(translated from the Albanian by Henry Israeli and Ukzenel Bucpapa)



The lock was on the right although I had to
open it from the left so I could use
my other hand to turn the knob and there were
four windows facing the street and for a
study I put my feet on the painted board
that covered the radiator and that's where I
slept for an hour since it was too exhausting
to cross the room, and when I got up I walked
downstairs so I could sit in the square on one
of the cold benches behind the limp flags
for it was two in the morning and the prostitutes
were making faces at the slow-moving cop cars
and smoking cigarettes the secondhand smoke of
which I moved two benches away to escape
though I didn't say a word nor did they ask me
for anything more than a cigarette, and one of them
gave me a flower, it was a faded blue iris,
and it was cold that night, I put it inside
my shirt so I could hurry home to adore it.

--Gerald Stern


for Jon and Jill

Eyeing the grass for mushrooms, you will find
A stone or stain, a dandelion puff
Deceive your eyes -- their color is enough
To plump the image out to mushroom size
And lead you through illusion to a rind
That's true -- flint, fleck or feather. With no haste
scent-out the earthy musk, the firm moist white,
And, played-with rather than deluded, waste
None of the sleights of seeing: taste the sight
You gaze unsure of -- a resemblance, too,
Is real and allits likes and links stay true
To the weft of seeing. You, to begin with,
May be taken in, taken beyond, that is,
This place of chiaroscuro that seemed clear,
For realer than a myth of clarities
Are the meanings that you read and are not there:
Soon, in the twilight coolness, you will come
To the circle that you seek and, one by one,
Stooping into their fragrance, break and gather,
Your way a winding where the rest lead on
Like stepping stones across a grass of water.

-- Charles Tomlinson


"The Weight of Experience"

Crossing the wet fields on a winter afternoon,
the brown rows oozing nutrients and seeds,
I see the house at the edge of a crossroads. Our house,
built on the beds of frozen vegetables, a system
of roots and rivers, pumpkin vines. There were the years
when I was expected to fight the weather
and you played the part of the blonde from witch country,
the beauty with an illness, a premonition.
This was in the land of gorges, of meltwater
and giants, where I was happy to stand between you
and the elements, to work, to bring home the food.
I walked the roads through every season;
I mastered the wind. Remember: in this life, I was young.
I loved you. I was capable of anything.

Now, I turn the corner onto a sand street,
toward another house, set deep in permanent summer.
The bluest sky, the dunes like walls. I am followed
by a blind sun as I cross this valley of silica and fine-ground glass.
All the windows, too, are blinded, all the gardens
claimed by the beach. I have spent the day in an office;
I have traveled here by train, in my writer's suit, carrying
the pens that still inscribe your name, only your name.
this is the longest I have believed in anything. This is
the life in which no one knows how old I am. This life,
this life, these final years, when you still remember
to turn me out into the world. when the weight of experience
grows lighter with each step I take and you are
always waiting, the blonde behind the open door.

--Eleanor Lerman


"Pierre Bonnard: Standing Nude"

Glossy lime, amethyst, rosewater, mother-of-
Pearl: what other than color stays alive
And under the sun to love? The tall flat
Mirror I see for myself has been left out
Of the picture you approach, and the giggly, mild
Children who gather together in my
Field of view, then chase each other away,
Their vinyl coats scraping and swixhing, can never hold
My interest as I might keeps theirs; my gold-
Flecked sides have gone bare for so many summers that I
Can shrug off their gazes with ease as I do
My hair. Once I rang in the brave new
Year as the belle of a country ball, who now
Face all day the severity of a Mission-
Style rocking chair; I look askance
At a minor Degas (very minor) as she strains
To pull on her new tights. Her poiseless
Poise, forever off balance
Through no fault of her own, shows how her lot
Is cast: she means to fit
Them perfectly, or die in the attempt.
The copper-blue-nailed, violet-haired, contempt-
Uous guard who covers her rippling yawn
comes closer than any admirer to my own
Sang-froid: each day I watch an ever-gaudier
Sun (itself unseen) embroider
The robes I will never pick up, in band over band
Of opalescent sparks. I stand behind
A door I will never pas through, and all I have
To keep to myself are times when visitors leave,
And colors I know, by now, like the back of my hand.

--Stephen Burt


"A Thanksgiving Dance"

His spirit dances the long ago, and later.
Starlight on a country road in worn-out
western Pennsylvania. The smell of weeds
and rusting iron. and gladness.
His spirit welcomes the Italian New Year's
in a hill town filled with the music
of glass crashing everywhere in the cobbled
streets. Champagne and the first kisses.
Too shy to look at each other and no language
between them. He dances alone, the dance
of after that. Now they sit amid the heavy
Roman sunlight and talk of the people
they are married to now. He secretly
dances the waltz she was in her astonishing
beauty, drinking wind and laughing, the window
behind her filled with winter rain.

--Jack Gilbert


"Marine Biology"

We make it the sum
of our salts and muscle, a mirror
giving us back to ourselves,
our first crush, the romance of self
poured into earth's old bowls.
How pretty we look
inlaid with green and a necklace of terns
or how sad, each love affair
another lost sailor. In tides
we discern our strength of resolve,
sonorous waves of human spirit,
that eternal relentless
media darling. regarding ourselves
from the shore is what we do best,
pulled this way and that by the moon.
With bivalve organs shifting softly,
soul sounding
in our sexy seas and the brain
in its brine, we are innocent
as nutrients. warm inside
our big sweaters. To return
means drowning among creatures that hate
our true grit and diesel, the way we love
what we love to death
from a desire to name what swims
inside us. the last frontier.
Cod hide behind furnitures of reef.
In places, ice is metres thick
and sturgeon in the lower rooms
reach with their gills for another era,
ancient hearts beating,
waiting us out.

--Karen Solie


"As simple as a drop of water"

As simple as a drop of water,
as clear as a splinter of birch,

Because the foal falls patiently, cautiously
out of the horse and is able to stand,

And the fish unfolds like a metal tear
and is able to fly, and people quand meme

Are slow to learn silence and absence
amidst their armored scree,

It isn't as simple, as clear
what I'm left with when I
have put down my pen.

-- Hans Faverey
(Translated from the Dutch by Francis R. Jones)


"The Gathering Evening"

Shadows are the patient apprentices of everything.
They follow what might be followed,

Sit with what will not move.
They take notes all day long --

We don't pay attention, we don't see
The dark writing of the pencil, the black notebook.

Sometimes, if you are watching carefully,
A shadow will move. You will turn to see

What has made it move, but nothing.
The shadows transcribe all night.

Transcription is their sleep.
We mistake night as a setting of the sun:

Night is all of them comparing notes,
so many gathering that their crowd

Makes the darkness everything.
Patient, patient, quiet and still.

One day they will have learned it all.
One day they will step out, in front,

And we will follow them, be their shadows,
And work for our turn --

The centuries it takes
To learn what waiting has to teach.

--Alberto Rios


"Your Unconscious Speaks to My Unconscious"

Your unconscious speaks to my unconscious
like subtitles of another language, saying:
Why? Why did you do this
to me?
So while we are laughing and playing,
my unconscious, hearing, says, What did I
Now yours is crying, weeping, saying,
Why are you doing this? Why
do you leave me? aren't you staying?

And mine, astonished, says, Sweetheart, I
am right here. I am here.
Your eyes
looking into mine. Your fingers in my hair.
But as our spines bend, something unties
in me and I am no longer there.
For I have already watched you go,
in the movie, in the darkness, through the snow.

--Kate Light


"The Master of Metaphor"

Even on days when his body seems too heavy
and broken to live with gracefully,
He tries not to think of it as a prison,
Not to consider himself a spirit
Who merely happens to be embodied.
Better for him, he believes, to begin with body,
Body enlivened, awakened, inspirited.
as for the earth, how can it be a prison
When he's an earthling, his lungs having evolved
to thrive in an atmosphere richly embued
with the exhalations of earthly plant life,
His legs evolved to carry him to a stand of pear trees,
His arms and hands to reach up and pluck?

And when he wakes in the dark an hour past midnight
With his lungs aching, gasping for breath,
He doesn't blame the weight of his body
Or the weight of the eartly atmosphere.
It's simply the weight of the dark itself.
And when he's tempted to call that dark a prison,
He reminds himself its walls and bars will dissolve
Like mist when dawn finally arrives,
Ddear dawn striding across the hills to lift the stone
Night has rolled on his chest and let him rise.
A miracle, he believes he can say without hyperbole,
If the term can refer to familiar splendor,
Not only to what's revealed to the faithful
Far less often than once a day.

--Carl Dennis


Butterfly Valley: A Requiem


Up they soar, the planet's butterflies,
pigments from the warm body of the earth,
cinnabar, ochre, phosphor yellow, gold
a swarm of basic elements aloft.

Is this flickering of wings only a shoal
of light particles, a quirk of perception?
Is it the dreamed summer hour of my childhood
shattered as by lightning lost in time?

No, this is the angel of light, who can paint
himself as dark mnemosyne Apollo,
as copper, hawk moth, tiger swallowtail.

I see them with my blurred understanding
as feathers in the coverlet of haze
in Brajcino Valley's noon-hot air.

--Inger Christensen
(Translated from the Danish by susanna Nied)


"Cartoon Physics, part 1"

Children under, say, ten, shouldn't know
that the universe is ever-expanding,
inexorably pushing into the vacuum, galaxies

swallowed by galaxies, whole

solar systems collapsing, all of it
acted out in silence. At ten we are still learning

the rules of cartoon animation,

that if a man draws a door on a rock
only he can pass through it.
anyone else who tries

will crash into the rock. Ten-year-olds
should stick with burning houses, car wrecks,
ships going down -- earthbound, tangible

disasters, arenas

where they can be heroes. You can run
back into a burning house, sinking ships

have lifeboats, the trucks will come
with their ladders, if you jump

you will be saved. A child

places her hand on the roof of a schoolbus
& drives across a city of sand. She knows

the exact spot it will skid, at which point
the bridge will give, who will swim to safety
& who will be pulled under by sharks. she will learn

that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff
he will not fall

until he notices his mistake.

--Nick Flynn


First Book of Odes


Dear be still! Time's start of us lengthens slowly.
Bright round plentiful nights ripen and fall for us.
Those impatient thighs will be bruised soon enough.

Sniff the sweet narcotic distilled by coupled
skins; moist bodies relaxed, mild, unemotional.
Thrifty fools spoil love with their headlong desires.

Dayyy! Waste! Mock! Loll! till the chosen sloth fails,
huge gasps empty the loins shuddering chilly in
long accumulated delight's thunderstorm.

Rinsed in cool sleep day wil renew the smmer
lightnings. Leave it to me. Only a savage's
lusts explode slapbang at the first touch like bombs.

--Basil Bunting


"when i was five i thought heaven was located"

when i was five i thought heaven was located
in the hayloft of our barn the ladder to get
up there was straight & narrow like the Bible
said if you fell off you might land on the
horns of oa cow or be smashed on cement the men
in the family could leap up in seconds wielding
pitchforks my mother never even tried for us
children it was hard labour i was the scaredy
i couldn't reach the first rung so i stood at
the bottom & imagined what heaven was like there
was my grandfather with his Santa Claus beard
sitting on a wooden throne among straw bales
never saying a word but smiling & patting us
on the head & handing out bubble gum to those
who were good even though his eyes were half
closed he could see right inside your head so
i squirmed my way to the back of the line &
unwished the little white lie i had told which
i could feel growing grimy up there & tried
not to look at the dark gaping hole where they
shoved out black sinners like me but the best
part was the smell of new pitched hay wafting
about some of it fell to where i stood under
the ladder there were tiny blue flowerets pressed
on dry stems i held them to my nose & breathed
deep sky & sun it was enough heaven for me for
one day

--Di Brandt


"A Toast"

If you will it, it is no dream.
-- Theodore Herzl

October: grapes hung like the fists of a girl
gassed in her prayer. Memory,
I whisper, stay awake.

In my veins
long syllables tighten their ropes, rains come
right out of the eighteenth century
Yiddish or a darker language in which imagination
is the only word.

Imagination! a young girl dancing a polka,
unafraid, betrayed bu the Lord's death
(or his hiding under the bed when the Messiah
was postponed).

In my country, evenings bring the rain water, turning
poplars bronze in a light that sparkles on these pages
where I, my fathers,
unable to describe your dreams, drink
my silence from a cup.

-- Ilya Kaminsky


"Shadow Poem"

You know me
But the gauze that fetters the earth
Keeps you from knowing

We were souls together once
Wave after wave of ether
Alive outside of time

I'm still there
Though twice I curled
Into a speck-sized marvel

And waited
In the wet earth of you
Briefly human

You fear everything
and live by a single
Inconstant light

Hearing nothing
A radio stuck between stations

The second time
I played giddy music
On my blinking heart

Now I watch the dumb machine
Of your body loving
With the loveless wedge of you

That made me

When I want to tell you something
I say it in a voice
The shadow of water

I don't wake you
But the part of you
That's still like me

That rises about your body
When your body
Sinks into itself

The part that doesn't
Belong to you
Knows what it hears

You are not the only one
Alive like that

-- Tracy K. Smith



When winter ratchets down its crunch-bone cold, oranges
provide our talisman, our bough of gold, oranges.

They are not rare, as in our parents' shared anecdotes,
exotic gifts a stocking toe might hold, oranges.

Thin-skinned and rich in oils, blue-ribbon specimans,
perfume the fingertips when palmed and rolled, oranges.

Girdled by four equators, pared meticulously,
eight petals curl, disclose the pulp, unfold oranges.

Segments divide, cathedral window-stained translucency
bursts on the tongue; heart hungers are consoled, oranges.

Papaya, mango, carabola, persimmon
forsworn, we load the cargo bay with cold oranges.

Let the Olympians brag their nectar, their ambrosia.
Our feast is not less rightfully extolled, oranges.

Barefoot, we trod where warm waves wreathed our ankle bones
and bobbed with windfalls. From those waves we trolled oranges.

Make no mistake. such food as feeds and cheers is luxury,
however cheap or dear or freely doled: oranges.

Indentured pickers work for pittance. Little changes
since wenches hawked, by stage-lamp, bawdy-bold, oranges.

What renders living graciously exploitative;
the justice-loever, moralistic scold? Oranges?

Thus cries the roving minstrel,"Sweet or sour or contraband --
come buy my wares, if you can be cajoled: oranges."

--Mary Pryor


Saturday, June 02, 2007


Some Poems from Prize-Winning Collections


The hornet holds on to the curtain, winter
sleep. Rubs her legs. Climbs the curtain.
Behind her the cedars sleep lightly,

like guests. But I am the guest.
The ghost cars climb the ghost highway. Even my hand
over the page adds to the 'room tone': the little

constant wind. The effort of becoming. These words
are my life. The effort
of loving the un-become. To make the suffering

visible. The un-become love: What we
lost, a leaf, what we cherish, a leaf.
One leaf of grass. I'm sending you this seed-pod,

this red ribbon, my tongue,
these two red ribbons, my mouth, my other mouth,

--but the other words -- blindly I guzzle
the swimming milk of its seed field flower --

--Jean Valentine, Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems 1965 - 2003
The National Book Award for Poetry, 2004


"The Breasts"

She gathered up her breasts in her two hands
like small explosions, a soft outward flow,
a timing device that anytime could blow.
So life hangs on the slenderest of strands,
a lover's hunger can seem all of it,
a child, an image in the mirror, hope,
the way a back, or pair of hips might slope,
or how two closing bodies click and fit.

Time is always against us. Youth slips down
the polished shoulder like a loosening strap.
She looked down from her bosom to her lap
and ran her palms over her dressing gown,
her mirrored face drowned in a cloud of dust:
How beautiful, she thought, and how unjust.

--George Szirtes, Reel
T. S. Eliot Prize, 2004


"12th Century Chinese Painting with a Few Dozen Seal Imprints Across it"

The tea has given way to plum wine,
and still they're talking, animated down to points
of fire deep in their pupils -- two scholars. "Look,"
one motions at what's outside the sliding panels: landscape
where the purling of river leads to foothills,
then to the tree-frowzed mountains themselves, and
up from there . . . The sky
has opened. Out of it, as large as temple gongs
yet floating as easily as snowflakes, pour
transistor circuits, maps of topiaries, cattle brands,
IUDs, the floorplans of stockades, cartouches,
hibachi grills, lace doilywork, horsecollars,
laboratory mouse-mazes, brain-impressions, all of it
sketching the air like a show of translucent
kites in blacks and reds, a bew beginning
("Look, there . . .") to snag in the treeline, or hover
above the whorling bunched rush of a riverbend . . .
"Yo0u see?" says one with a shrug and eloquent
tenting-up of his eyebrows, "You see?" -- he's
too polite to declaim it in words.
They've been arguing if The Other World exists.

-- Albert Goldbarth, Heaven and Earth: A Cosmology
National Book Critics' Circle Award for Poetry, 1991


"Of All the Dead That Have Come to Me, This Once"

I have never written against the dead. I would open my
shirt to them and say, yes, the white
cones still making sugary milk,

but when grandfather's gold pocketwatch
came in by air over the Rockies,
over the dark yellow of the fields
and the black rivers, with Grandmother's blank
face pressed against his name in the back,

I thought of how he put the empty
plate in front of my sister, turned out
the lights after supper, sat in the black
room with the fire, the light of the flames
flashing in his glass eye
in that cabin where he taught my father
how to do what he did to me, and I said

No. I said Let this one be dead.
Let the fall he made through that glass roof,
splintering, turning, the great shanks and
slices of glass in the air, be his last
appearance here.

--Sharon Olds, The Dead and the Living
The Lamont Poetry Selection for 1983
National Book Critics' Circle Award for Poetry, 1984



Most of the things you made for me -- armless
rocker, blanket chest, lap desk -- I gave away
to friends who could use them and not be reminded
of the hours lost there, the tedious finishes.

But I did keep the mirror, perhaps because
like all mirrors, most of these years it has been
invisible, part of the wall, or defined
by reflection -- safe -- because reflection,

after all, does change. I hung it here
in the front, cark hallway of this house you will
never see, so that it might magnify
the meager light, become a lesser, backward

window. No one pauses long before it.
This morning, though, as I put on my coat,
straightened my hair, I saw outside my face
its frame you made for me, admiring for the first

time the way the cherry you cut and planed
yourself had darkened, just as you said it would.

--Claudia Emerson, Late Wife
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 2006



As when the flesh is shown
to be remarkable
most, for once, because

where the bruise
was, that we called

a bell, maybe, or
-- tipped,
stemless --

a wineglass, or just
the wine spilling

or a lesser lake viewed
from a great height
of air,

instead the surprise that
is blunder when it
has lifted, leaving

the skin to resemble
something like clear
tundra neither foot nor

wing finds,
-- or shadow of.
When did the yard get

this swollen --
mint, apples,
like proof of all that

anyway went
on, in our distraction?
When did the room

itself start

stirring with -- distant, but
decidedly -- the scent of

pines wintering, further
still, a not-very-far
sea --

--Carl Phillips, The Tether
Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, 2002



It is four skeins of gut, tight on four pegs
he turns to true the pitch, secured below
over a crested comb; clasped by his legs,
wood tortured to a torso; now, the bow --
horsehair, taut on a rod -- with which he plays.
And each returns, each thing, to praise and grieve
the gift it gave in dumb compliance, days
it still loves (the tree to bud and leave,
green in remembrance, and the phantom horse
to pace its field again, and with a sound
halfway from roar to cry, the ox, dark force,
to rise both sweet and harsh from underground),
all shedding at his touch their one despair,
a kind of unseen blood staining the air.

-- Rhina P. Espaillat, Rehearsing Absence
Recipient of the 2001 Richard Wilbur Award



Nights are hardest, the swelling,
tight and low (a girl), Delta heat,

and that woodsy silence a zephyred hush.
So how to keep busy? Wind the clocks,

measure out time to check the window,
or listen hard for his car on the road.

Small tasks done and undone, a floor
swept clean. She can fill a room

with a loud clear alto, broom-dance
right out the back door, her heavy footsteps

a parade beneath the stars. Honeysuckle
fragrant as perfume, nightlife

a steady insect hum. Still, she longs
for the Quarter -- lights, riverboats churning,

the tinkle of ice in a slim bar glass.
Each night a refrain, its plain blue notes

carying her, slightly swaying, home.

--Natasha Trethewey, Domestic Work
The Cave Canem Poetry Prize, 1999



Lisa, Leona, Loretta?
She's sipping a milkshake
In Woolworths, dreassed in
Chiffon & fat pearls.
She looks up at me,
Grabs her purse
& pulls at the hem
Of her skirt. I want to say
I'm just here to buy
A box of Epsom salt
For my grandmama's feet.

Lena, Lois? I feel her
Strain to not see me.
Lines are now etched
At the corners of her thin,
Pale mouth. Does she know
I know her grandfather
Rode a whie horse
Through Poplas Quarters
Searching for black women,
How he killed Indians
& stole land with bribes
& fake deeds? I remember
She was seven & I was five
When she ran up to me like a cat
With a gypsy moth in it mouth
& we played doctor & house
Under the low branches of a raintree
Encircled with red rhododendrons.
We could pull back the leaves
& see grandmama ironing
At their wide window. Once
Her mother moved so close
To the yardman we thought they'd kiss.
What the children of housekeepers
& handymen knew was enough
To stop biological clocks,
It's hard now not to walk over
& mention how her grandmother
Killed her idiot son
& salted him down
In a wooden barrel.

Yusef Komunyakaa, Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1994
Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, 1994


"Another Theory of Dusk"

What is there to say
when the sky pours in the window
and the ground begins to eat its figures?
We sit like dummies in our kitchen, deaf
among enormous crumplings of light.
Small wonder each thing looms
crowding its edge.
In silent movies everyone overacts a little.

It would be nice to breaths the air inside the cello.
That would satisfy one
thirst of the voice. As it is

only your ribcage speaks for me now,
a wicker basket full of sorrow and wish, so tough
so finely tuned we have often
reinvented the canoe

and paddled off.
It would be nice to write the field guide for those riverbanks,
to speak without names of the fugitive
nocturnal creatures that live and die in our lives.

--Don McKay, Night Field
The Governor General's Award for English Language Poetry, 1991


"Divining the Field"

Through the body of the crow the finch flies:
Small yellow-green patch of flower springing
Up in the weedy field: of briefest flight.
The flower will be shot dead by the coming cold
Or by the woman's disregard. Her forgetfulness
Arrows him the way Saint Sebastian was arrowed:
Poor man stuck with a hundred bony wings, laddered,
The stripped shafts trembling, as if Sebastian
Had been instructed to climb his own flesh
Up into the high regard his skewered sight
Was planting there: Crow's Nest: House of the Spy.
Regards grow up like trees. The thing Sebastian
Was thinking when he died: a leafy assemblage
With a driven core: swift monument of oak or stone
The heart passes through, the way the finch
Passes through the body of the crow: the lord
Of highness. From his post the crow shouts
The other hawkers down: sells tickets to
Sebastian fledging: devours in one gesture
The finch like a piece of fruit: like a roasted morsel.
It is too much to bear sometimes: a tree
Of flame-flung arrows, a bird selling portions,
Our endless lust for spectacle to rouse
The stupored sight. As if the body of Sebastian's
Death were not always with us: This high
White garment of grasses the birds fly through,
Opening with their sharp gold wings
The purple and crimson wounds of the flowers.

--Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Song
The Lamont Poetry Selection for 1994


"The Ferns"

One day we will no longer be stunned
by the bric-a-brac,
the china model of each month
with her name on a sash,
February molded with a miniature muff
or June with a tuft of net
glued to her tiny shoe.
The violet dachshund made of clear glass,
chipped yellow plate,
pink chalk of the pots-de-creme
in the salt-eaten blue of the snappy air
where we found our troves,
these conversation pieces
with nothing to say.
What were we doing out there in the world
but looking for something to bring back
and set by the bed
as proof we had been?
Do nuns collect?
And the favored whore
in her high shoes,
insteps arched like a back in labor,
needs a few things to survive.
We put on and put off
our coats.
We know the earth
once belonged to the ferns.
But these earrings
in the shape of grapes,
complete with frosted leaves,
they dangle and glisten;
we bear their weight
for awhile.

--Mary Ruefle, The Adamant
The Iowa Poetry Prize, 1988


"The Wreck"

But what loevers we were, what lovers,
even when it was all over --

the deadweight, bull-black wines we swung
towards each other rang and rang

like bells of blood, our own great hearts.
We slung the crunk boat out of port

and watched our unreal sober life
unmoor, a continent of grief;

the candlelight strange on our faces
like the tiny silent blazes

and coruscations of its wars.
We blew them out and took the stairs

into the night for the night's work,
stripped off in the timbered dark,

gently hooked each other on
like aqualungs, and thundered down

to mine our lovely secret wreck.
We surfaced later, breathless, back

to back, then made our way alond
up the mined beach of the dawn.

Don Paterson, Landing Light
T. S. Eliot Prize, 2003


"Fear and Fame"

Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight's but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes -- all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O'Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. a gallon of hydrochloric
steaming from the wide glass mouth, a dash
of pale nitric to bubble up, sulphuric to calm,
metals for sweeteners, cleansers for salts,
until I knew the burning stew was done.
Then to climb back, step by stately step, the adventurer
returned to the ordinary blinking lights
of the swingshift at Feinberg and Breslin's
First-Rate Plumbing and Plating with a message
from the kingdom of fire. Oddly enough
no one welcomed me back, and I'd stand
fully armored as the downpour of cold water
rained down onme and the smoking traces puddled
at my f eet like so much milk and melting snow.
Then to disrobe down to my work pants and shirt,
my black street shoes and white cotton socks,
to reassume my nickname, strap on my Bulova,
screw back my wedding ring, and with tap water
gargle away the bitterness as best I could.
For fifteen minutes or more I'd sit quietly
off to the side of the world as the women
polished the tubes and fixtures to a burnished purity
hung like christmas ornaments on the racks
pulled steadily toward the tanks I'd cooked.
Ahead lay the second cigarette, held in a shaking hand,
as I took into myself the sickening heat to quell heat,
a lunch of two Genoa salami sandwiches and swiss cheese
on heavy peasant bread baked by my Aunt Tsipie,
and the third cigarette to kill the taste of the others.
Then to arise and dress again in the costume
of my trade for the second time that night, stiffened
by the knowledge that to descend and rise up
from the other world merely once in eight hours is half
what it takes to be known among women and men.

--Philip Levine, What Work Is
The National Book Award for Poetry, 1991


"Memory's Angel"

In the half-light of closets
you can still see
lust in the trousers,

the bottoms of the legs
caressing dust,
drawing from memory

a pair of shoes, perhaps
the black ones he wore
on his journey through the earth.

In the pocket, the last
grocery list you gave him,
a pencilled check

beside each item. That day
he found everything
and brought it home.

--Lorna Crozier, Inventing the Hawk
The Govenor General's Award for English Language Poetry, 1992
The Pat Lowther Memorial Award, 1993
The Canadian Authors' Association Award fo Poetry, 1993



That astonishing thing that happens when you crack a needle-awl into a block of ice:
the way a perfect section through it crazes into gleaming fault-lines, fractures, facets;
dazzling silvery deltas that in one too-quick-to-capture instant madly complicate the cosmos of its innards.
Radiant now with spines and spikes, aggressive barbs of glittering light, a treasure hoard of light,
when you stab it again it comes apart in nearly equal segments, both faces grainy, gnawed at, dull.

An icehouse was a dark, low place of raw, unpainted wood,
always dank and black with melting ice.
There was sawdust and sawdust's tantalizing, half-sweet odor, which, so cold, seemed to pierce directly to the brain.
You'd step onto a low-roofed porch, someone would materialize,
take up great tongs and with precise, placating movements like a lion-tamer's slide an ice-block from its row.

Take the awl yourself now, thrust, and when the block splits do it again, yet again;
watch it disassemble into smaller fragments, crystal and fissured crystal.
Or if not the puncturing pick, try to make a metaphor, like Kafka's frozen sea within:
take into your arms the cake of actual ice, make a figure of its ponderous inertness,
of how its quickly wetting chill against your breast would frighten you and make you let it drop.

Imagine how even if it shattered and began to liquefy
the hope would still remain that if you quickly gathered up the slithery, perversely skittish chips,
they might be refrozen and the mass reconstituted, with precious little of its brilliance lost,
just this lucent shimmer on the rough, raised grain of water-rotten floor,
just this single drop, as sweet and warm as blood, evaporating on your tongue.

--C. K. Williams, Repair
The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 2000


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