Saturday, July 21, 2007


Some More Poems I've Liked Recently

in memory of Kenneth Koch

You died the day I was driving to Carrigskeewaun
(A remote townland in County Mayo, I explain,
Meaning, so far as I know, The Rock of the Wall Fern)
And although it was the wettest Irish year I got the car
Across the river and through the tide with groceries
And laundry for my fortnight among the waterbirds.
If I'd known you were dying, Kenneth, I'd have packed
Into cardboard boxes all your plays and poems as well
And added to curlew and lapwing anxiety-calls
The lyric intensity of your New York Jewish laughter.
You would have loved the sandy drive over the duach
('The what?'), over the machair ('The what?'), the drive
Through the white gateposts and the galvanised gate
Tied with red string, the starlings' sleeping quarters,
The drive towards turf-fired hilarity and disbelief,
'Where are all those otters, Longley, and all those hares?
I see only sparrows here and house sparrows at that!'
You were so tall and skinny I shall conscript a heron
To watch over you on hang-glider wings, old soldier,
An ashy heron, ardea cinerea, I remind you
(A pedant neither smallminded nor halfhearted):
'And cinerarius?': a slave who heats the iron tongs
In hot ashes for the hair-dresser, a hair-curler
Who will look after every hair on your curly head.
That afternoon was your night-season. I didn't know.
I didn't know that you were 'poured out like water
And all your bones were out of joint'. I didn't know.
Tuck your head in like a heron and trail behind you
Your long legs, take to the air above a townland
That encloses Carrigskeewaun and Central Park.

--Michael Longley


"Southern Gothic"

I have lain down into 1970, into the bed
my parents will share for only a few more years.
Early evening, they have not yet turned from each other
in sleep, their bodies curved -- parentheses
framing the separate lives they'll wake to. Dreaming,
I am again the child with too many questions --
the endless why and why and why
my mother cannot answer, her mouth closed, a gesture
toward her future: cold lips stitched shut.
The lines in my young father's face deepen
toward an expression of grief. I have come home
from the schoolyard with the words that shadow us
in this small Southern town -- peckerwood and nigger
, half-breed, and zebra -- words that take shape
outside us. We're huddled on the tiny island of bed, quiet
in the language of blood: the house, unsteady
on its cinderblock haunches, sinking deeper
into the muck of ancestory. Oil lamps flicker
around us -- our shadows, dark glyphs on the wall,
bigger and stranger than we are.

--Natasha Trethewey



When I think what's waiting for me at home --
Those swine the suitors,
Blind drunk, their armour gathering dust on the pegs,
Playing backgammon all the time
Till dice and muscles waste away together
So they're no use for marrying,
Not even some old woman
Older even than Penelope
(Would she really be older herself?)

Not to mention that weeping woman
Who goes on spinning crazily, because of her nerves,
Witch that she is, tangling all the threads in the world!
I can see her at the gate, welcoming me:
--Where have you been?
--I've been fighting the Trojan War, daon't nag . . .
--Well, well, but Clytemnestra's Agamemnon,
How come he got away earlier, he's already rotted by now,
Weren't you all fighting the same war?
--For ten years I wandered on the ocean because Neptune . . .
--Leave Neptune out if it, please, and just tell me:
With whom?
And right up till now?
Really up till now?
Which ocean was it?

Oh, if only I could make a little house
Here on the waves,
Raise a tent in this tiny corner
More sheltered
Between Scylla and Charybdis.

-- Marin Sorescu
(translated by D. J. Enright and Joana Russell-Gebbett)


"Group Photograph Before the Hydrangeas"

Centered and focused, the people rail dissonant
before the hydrangeas, soldiers of process
in the afternoon flash. Pale and thoughtful
secrets of congenital blooms, ingenious
and panting a warm sticky pink,
crescendo of idea in a lake of day.

The flowers are pretending to be
asleep: their idea of focus is
one last long boat gliding out; the latent suck
of water to the root; a flower or gang of flower
petals, obscure and certain sprout of color.
The people are quite lucid by comparison.

What camera pretends to know its
roots as spy-glass, tilted and refracting a magnified perception,
the soft shades of purple prismatic, the lucid and livid
faces an adhesive and difficult corsage?
Spiky tiny teeth and high relief.
Ugle blossom gathered at the stems, passive
and proud, wide-open.

Hydrangeas vocal as the summer,
and dark as candy at the core of blossom
agree with all the wind by feeling sleepy. A lick
of think cohesive perfume lures
the noses and the rooty mouths
of the stick figures, compassionate and inarticulate.

--Amy Newman


"It is a Matter of Winter"

We fly south to forget winter and instead
we remember the long color of snow.

We seek to recover the sun and instead
we imagine the uses of shade, carrying

our heads in shadows, our arms in
screening oils that prevent the light.

We are become old, we say, and embrace
the moment simply by lying down

on hot sand, our bare, unsalvaged bodies
ripening like wheat in northern fields.

We come here to loaf by water and read;
instead the words slash each solitude

into nakedness, and once again Iphigenia
becomes the shoreline sacrifice

so that the ships might sail to Troy,
and loss tear down the towers.

Stonehenge surely is a stone clock that begs,
Please, sun, come back from your far drowning.

The soldiers at Dieppe, again and again that August day,
wading ashore in the red waves, meet winter.

And so it goes. We who are bandaged lie bandaged
in our dreams. It is a matter of winter.

Here by the salt sea, we dare to hope by remembering:
salt eats the snow from the hidden road.

--Robert Kroetsch


"Who Among You Knows the Essence of Garlic?"

Can your foreigner's nose smell mullets
roasting in a glaze of brown bean paste
and sprinkled with novas of sea salt?

Can you hear my grandmother
chant the mushroom's sutra?

Can you hear the papays crring
as they bleed in porcelain plates?

I'm telling you that the bamboo
slips the long pliant shoots
of its myriad soft tongues
into your mouth that is full of oranges.

I'm saying that the silver waterfalls
of bean threads will burst in hot oil
and stain your lips like zinc.

The marbled skin of the blue mackerel
works good for men. The purple oils
from its flesh perfume the tongues of women.

If you swallow them whole, the rice cakes
soaking in a broth of coconut milk and brown sugar
will never leave the bottom of your stomach.

Flukes of giant black mushrooms
leap from their murky tubs
and strangle the toes of young carrots.

Broiling chickens ooze grease,
yellow tears of fat collect
and spatter in the smoking pot.

Soft ripe pears, blushing
on the kitchen window sill,
kneel like plump women
taking a long, luxurious shampoo,
and invite you to bite their hips.

Why not grab basketfuls of steaming noodles,
lush and slick as the hair of a fine lady,
and squeeze?

The shrimps, big as Portuguese thumbs,
stew among cutr guavas, red onions,
ginger root, and rosemary in lemon juice,
the palm oil bubbling to the top,
breaking through layers and layers
of shredded coconut and sliced cashews.

Who among you knows the essence
of garlic and black lotus root,
of red and green peppers sizzling
among squads of oysters in the skillet,
of crushed ginger, fresh green onions,
and pale-blue rice wine simmering
in the stomach of a big red fish?

-- Garrett Hongo


"Rubbing Lamps"

Things besides
Aladdin's and
the golden cave
fish's lamps
grant wishes.
In fact,
most lamps
aren't lamp-
shaped and
happen by
accident: an
ordinary knob
goes lambent
as you twist
or a cloth turns
to silver mesh
against a dish --
so odd and
filled with promise
for a minute
that you spend
your only wish
wishing someone else
could see it.

-- Kay Ryan


"In The Studio"

With a light step
he moves
from spot to spot
from fruit to fruit

the good gardener
props a flower with a stick
a human being with joy
the sun with deep blue

nudges his glasses
puts on a tea kettle
mmbles to himself
strokes the cat

When God built the world
he wrinkled his forehead
calculated and calculated
hence the world is perfect
and impossible to live in

on the other hand
a painter's world
is good
and full or error
the eye strolls
from spot to spot
from fruit to fruit

the eye purrs
the eye smiles
the eye remembers
the eye says you'll last
if you manage to enter
right into that center
where the painter was
he who has no wings
wears floppy slippers
he who has no Virgil
with a cat in a pocket
a genial imagination
an unconscious hand
correcting the world

-- Zbigniew Herbert
(translated by Alissa Valles)


"Wild Grass"

How easily we are transformed. For some
it takes only a lover's hand moving like water

through their hair -- the shushing of a voice to shape them.
From that moment, living has reversed itself. Now, they say,

I will work my way back towards birth rather than from it.
This is misfortune, or fortune, depending on where you stand.

But think. At first a man's body is too much too bear.
There is too much of it, and all of it strange -- strange

as another country, another gravity. His love first sounds
like labour, like pleasure, and somehow you know it is both.

This weight is how we begin. Like wild grass
from under the hoof of a pastured animal, we spring up.

-- Elizabeth Bachinsky


"Someone Else's Good News"

Even as I say, "That's fantastic!
I'm glad for you," my hand quivers, my mood
Conks out, flaming, at 30, 000 feet.
What is the sound of "overjoyed," and how
Convey it, as if what is good for friends
Is good for me -- as if my own crippled
Hopes aren't leaping off gurneys, flopping
Out of wheelchairs screaming, "Shit! Shit! Why
Wasn't it me?!" Sheepish good sport, bloody-
Nosed loser shaking the champion's hand,
Poor jilted chump who sends a wedding gift
And sings "Take good care of my baby,"
I winder to hear ho winner Joan almost
Skipped the contest I've entered faithfully
For twenty years, how winner John rang
The wrong doorbell and blundered into the woman
I've spent thousands on dating services
And flirting seminars trying to find.
I feel mean, threacherous, small: fighting
Not to think "Get cancer," "Die in a car wreck,"
"Be burned alive with your pisshead cheerful
Wife and noisy, overindulged kids."
Trophy trout leaping on every line
But mine, I crash upstream, downstream, cursed
By everyone whose cast I cross, whose hole
I hog -- all dignity lost, all pretense gone.
I foam with envy as if I'm a salted snail.
Acid in my eyes: the excitement
Of the fortunate, the grin (politely restrained)
That still says I've done it! I've arrived!
While for me it's Oh God no, back
To the old job, back to the hands above
The keyboard, paralyzed, not knowing how
To start again. I wave as friends' yachts leave
The dock, straining to hoist the corners
Of my mouth, although the little Atlases
Supporting them have gulped bad oysters, and
Just want to lie down, just want to throw up.

-- Charles Harper Webb


"In Love with Raymond Chandler"

An affair with Raymond Chandler, what a joy! Not because of the
mangled bodies and the marinated cops and hints of eccentric sex, but
because of his interest in furniture. He knew that furniture could
breathe, could feel, not as we do but in a way more muffled, like the
word upholstery, with its overtones of mustiness and dust, its bouquet
of sunlight on aging cloth or of scuffed leather on the backs and
seats of sleazy office chairs. I think of his sofas, stuffed to roundness,
satin-covered, pale blue like the eyes of his cold blond unbodied
murderous women, beating very slowly, like the hearts of hibernating
crocodiles; of his chaises longues, with their malicious pillows. He
knew about front lawns too, and greenhouses, and the interiors of cars.
This is how our love affair would go. we would meet at a hotel, or

a motel, whether expensive or cheap it wouldn't matter. We would
enter the room, lock the door, and begin to explore the furniture, fin-
gering the curtains, running our hands along the spurious gilt frames
of the pictures, over the real marble or the chipped enamel of the lux-
urious or tacky washroom sink, inhaling the odor of the carpets, old
cigarette smoke and spilled gin and fast meaningless sex or else the rich
abstract scent of the oval transparent soaps imported from England,
it wouldn't matter to us; what would matter would be our response to
the furniture, and the furniture's response to us. Only after we had
sniffed, fingered, rubbed, rolled on, and absorbed the furniture of the
room would we fall into each other's arms, and onto the bed (king-
siae? peach-colored? creaky? narrow? four-postered? pioneer-quilted?
lime-green-chenille-covered?), ready at last to do the same things to
each other.

-- Margaret Atwood


"The Dragonfly"

You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous doublevans;
To be ceaseless movement,
Unending hunger
Grappling love.

Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridiscence
Upon your body and wings.

Twice-born, predator,
You split into the heat.
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consumes you.

You rocket into the day.
But at the last, when the wind flattens the grasses,
For you, the design and purpose stop.

And you fall
With the other husks of summer.

-- Louise Bogan


"Portrait of My Lover as a Zebra"

Grow a tail,
elongate your ears
and tiptoe through my garden
as a zebra --
a zebra who will take me out for rides
over the heath
to the sandman's private forest
where just to smell the pine-trees is enough,
to be dressed in a dress
embroidered with wild moths
the bedrooms of the married
are much too airless for;
where the sandy zebras' polished hooves on the pine-cones
crack like sound of abbots
cracking the spines of books
as god and neat, my love,
as precious spectacles;
where the rabbits are striped
and the zebra's a friend of mine
and the eyes of the cats
are the colour of Vegemite jars:
O grant me, Lord, one night
beside a zebra,
one perfect sandy night
beside a zebra
that lets me rest my head against its neck.

--Selima Hill


"Bodybuilders' Contest"

From scalp to sole, all muscles in slow motion.
The ocean of his torso drips with lotion.
The king of all is he who preens and wrestles
with sinews twisted into monstrous pretzels.

Onstage, he grapples with a grizzly bear
the deadlier for not really being there.
Three unseen panthers are in turn laid low,
each with one smoothly choreographed blow.

He grunts while showing his poses and paces.
His back alone has twenty different faces.
The mammoth fist he raises as he wins
is tribute to the force of vitamens.

--Wislawa Szymborska
(translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)


"The Field"

The awn of Wild Oats, when dampened, quickly uncoils and moves . . .
as if suddenly endowed with life . . . evidence of influence from the under-world
-- The Book of Grasses

We are the ones who -- through an open gate -- invade a field
of Oat-grass. An untilled field. Chicory low to the ground
turning its bright blue, like sailors, southerly as the sun moves.
Sky clear overhead. Or, let's say it's night and a gibbous moon.
either way we've nothing in hand, less on our minds.
Vacant as a fallow field. It's why we're here. Minds on loan
to whatever it is leading us. Led all our lives. The absent origin
of the shape of our words fall into. after. Maps of a sort.
Spellbound cartographers. Useless citizens of the state
though we all have jobs, houses, mates. We're the clerks
only half there, half the time. thoughts wayward as clover.
Elsewhere and otherwise asserting their claim, and we're compelled
to begin it all again: the gate, the field, the useless maundering.
And though we're not alone, know there's others, have seen
their rough notes, it's not a place we meet: infinite field under a prolix sky.
And we never get right what occurs there. what rises. Or, is it a descent?
Comes somehow into our loneliness. Sudden as a swallow's glide in sea fog.
But that's not it. I wanted to say I've seen you distracted in the sham world
--no, not sham. It's where the children are -- seen truancy cross your view,
heard you withdraw, not a step away.

Time and again, I've passed through the gate, others beside me, unaware,
and that's necessary. but tonight, in the frost-held house,
with the amaryllis just disclosing its red bud from green sheath
I know, as if by torchlight, you're one of those
in whose voice I've heard the confidence of the field.

--Anne Compton


"Hymenopterid Phenomena"

Tonight you are thinking
of the puzzling architecture
of hornets, yellowjackets, and bees:
how their downy abdomens, striped
with black and yellow vees,
and little ochre helmets
are bonr construction warnings.

You remember reading somewhere
of the bees' dance:
how, with heavy wiggle, they can mime
the exact proximity of hive
to hidden gold mine of pollen.
Perhaps bees' bodies hold
a quantum knowledge, a buzz humans
cannot hear, because it hums
in a distant, sixth dimension.
Maybe for bees, six is everything.
Bees might be sixual creatures,
their sensuality, their whole busy society,
reflected in their hexagonal fabrications,
the same way a queer explanation of us
can be found in our erection
of minarets, towers, columns, spires.

Now you are thinking of your love,
how she loves honey.

-- Sonnet L"Abbé


"Meditation at Lagunitas"

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculptured trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked aobut it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. after a while I understaood that,
talking this way, everything dissovles: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you,
and I There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. there are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry

-- Robert Hass


"The Killer Snails"

The killer snails
Have slung their silver trails
Along the doormat, out across the lawn,
Under the bushes
Where the alarming thrushes
Give night its notice, making way for dawn,
And the obliging lizards drop their tails.

On webs of dew
The spiders stir their pots of glue
And drag their quartered vicitims to the shade.
Soaked in their rugs
Of grass and moss the slugs
wind up another night of sluggish trade
And young ingredients get into a stew.

The sorrel bends.
The path fades out but never ends
Where brambles clutch and bracken wipes your feet.
It goes in rings.
Its mind's on other things.
Its way and its intentions never meet.
Meetings of friends?
It gives no undertaking. It depends.

-- James Fenton


"On Parting"

It's over you know, the summer's over.
Clouds of dust as the last vehicle went out.

A jeep hauling a small boat on a trailer
Through the dust of the grey country road.

Patterns of tires, patterns of cast leaves
Printed in ashen dust

The next day clouds of snow, the crumbled sky
Falling and settling on the trees
Of the bare abandoned forest.

They have all returned to the city, while I remain
Sorting my summer notebooks:

Drawings of tender plants begun in the spring
Pressings of leaves

Which are prints of tough early autumn, before
The rot comes that thickens
The floor of the woods.

And what lies beneath the snow, the needle duff?
Cities of pebbles and crushed shells,

Kingdoms of beetles, republics of worms
Forest of hyphae, tangled mycelium,

Roots of trees coming upon each other
In the dark.

--Anne Szumigalski


"Assorted Flora"


Always plural,

Edible because
something must be finished off,

your unflinching
ruffled orange and gold,
your tart leaves.

Even aphids will not
do the trick.
Even inclement weather:

Even in October
you assert yourselves,

outdoing the leaves,
the smug pumpkins.


Your spine is a secret grief.

Rooted in inconstant mud,
you manage to stand, proud

though purple marks the perfect
white of your throat.

But cut, left
alone in a vase, you will lean

away from the light, shrink
into your crippled shadow.

Beach Sweet Pea

Tenancious as cat's claws
you cling to the salt
grit, mark your place

in roots and the innermost
pink of anemone's
tentacles. beside that dropped

starfish with its guts to the sky,
that branch bleached
and sea-worn,

you are the one
who holds brine between your toes,
tide in your teeth.

Oriental Poppy

The truth is in the red of you,
the black centre wide
as a pupil in a blind-drawn room.

Bloodshot, you stare
into the sky and will not squint
until the sun does.

-- Stephanie Bolster



Something about a flock of birds toward evening.
The weather report sleet, snow.
The hot males riding ahead,
the swamp ridged in last year's cattails.
Ego, vanity, the male strut.
Oh, that burr and sweetest whistle,
their hearts pump with thrush steroids.
In another week, perhaps a quick melt
and we'll hear them clinging to the old stalks,
staking out their claims
while from the south
the slow shadow of the migrating females
like Cleopatra's barge,
the oars dipping,
the fringed canopy
like clouds of sweet rain
rippling behind.
The eternal tribal ritual,
the dense flock, undulating
packet of the future --
great sperm bank of the galaxy,
the billions of the separate
that gathers itself into the one,
summer after summer.

-- Ruth Stone

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