Saturday, November 17, 2007
Some Title Poems from Collections
"The Niagara River"
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
As it moves along,
we notice -- as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced --
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.
-- Kay Ryan
The Niagara River, Grove Press, 2005
* * *
"Days and Nights of the Blue Iguana"
One day when you and I
have gone our separate ways,
we will remember
the days and nights of the blue iguana.
And how the rain came down
at five in the morning
like white curtains of voile over the hills,
and how the red immortelle exploded in the valleys,
and how we laughed and laughed.
One day, when you and I
have unpacked in different cities,
and divided our books correctly,
we will remember how we drank coffee
on the verandah, and how
the blue iguana crept along the wall,
and stretching its long neck
performed its graceful toilette.
And how we laughed and laughed.
One day, when you and I
have gone our separate ways,
we will remember.
Days and Nights of the Blue Iguana, Peepal Tree Press, Ltd., 2005
* * *
"The Voice at 3:00 A. M."
Who put canned laughter
Into my crucifixion scene?
The Voice at 3:00 A. M.: Selected Late and New Poems, Harcourt, Inc., 2003
* * *
Dog whelks maraud in mud
How the North Atlantic
Wrangles the rocks!
Above, the houses of the fishermen
Look matchstick but are fierce.
They hold to the skittish boulders with all their might.
Next door, in the wired-off
Graveyard of the cove,
The headstones lean aslant,
Scripture pages thumbed down by the wind.
Below them the ocean
Seethes and scathes all day,
All night, and the spray
Smokes where it slaps the shore.
Tide pools boil with foam.
On coastlines you realize
What world will last.
See how the lean light
Glances against granite.
Erosion gorges the coastline out,
Nibbles the gaps.
You feel a shiver in
The ocena's memory.
What if this coastal road, these roofs
Vivid against the ocean, these
Steeples and these gas
Stations, what if these docks and piers and
Marinas, these tough
White houses with their windowboxes,
Stood only in the minute's multitude?
What if each minute made its universe?
What if in our hands we held our world
Breakable and rainbow-velveted as mere
Wobbling bubbles that our children blow?
I feel my skin, I feel my face,
Yield to the light as coastlines yield,
Accepting the loving
Phosphorence of daylight's
Demarcation. I feel
The viiolance of all its delicacy.
Coastlines are where our opposites ignite
And no one can say, After all, it's all right.
Coastlines are where your father and your mother
Turn without a word forever from each other.
Coastlines are where the quick-footed sun
Touches Ultima Thule and can no longer run.
Coastlines are where we learn the ocean's tragedy:
Incessant endeavour, incessant panoply,
Broken down to crumbs of nothingness
And yet we want to bless
Each ragged repetition of the waves --
So inconsolable, so close to us.
Coastlines, ECW Press, 1992
* * *
"Chosen by the Lion"
I am the one chosen by the lion at sundown
and dragged back from the shining water.
Yanked back to bushes and torn open, blood
blazing t the throat and breat of me.
taken as meat. Devoured as spirit by spirit.
The others will return quickly to drink again
peacefully, but for me now there is only faith.
Only the fact that the tall windows I lived
with were left uncovered halfway up.
And the silence of those days I lived there
which were marked by your arrivals like
stations on a long journey. You write to say
you love me and lie awake in stillness
to avoid the pain. I remember looking
at you from within at the last moment,
with faith like a gift handkerchief, delicate
and almost fragile. This is the final thing.
Purity and faith, power and blood. Is there
nothing to see? Not memory even of forgetting?
Only the body eating the body? what of faith
when it meets death, being when it is hard
to account for? the nipples you bit
and the body you possessed lie buried in you.
My faith shines as the moon in darkness
on water, as the sky in the day. does it hover
in the air around you? does it come like
a flower in your groin? Or is it like before
when you were alone and about to fall asleep
saying out loud in the darkness, "Linda,"
and hearing me answer immediately, "Yes!'
-- Linda Gregg
Chosen by the Lion, Graywolf Press, 1994
* * *
Each evening at six-fifteen, the weatherman
turns a shoulder to us, extends his hand,
and talking softly as a groom, cautiously
smmoths and strokes the massive, dappled flank
of the continent, touching the cloudy whorls
that drift like galaxies across its hide,
tracing the loops of harness with their barbs
and bells and pennants; then, with a horsefly's touch,
he brushes a mountain range and sets a shudder
running just under the skin. His bearing
is cavalier from years of success and he laughs
at the science, yet makes no sudden moves
that might startle that splendid order
or loosen the physics. One would not want to wake
the enormous Appaloosa mare of weather,
asleep in her stall on a peaceful moonlit night.
-- Ted Kooser
--Weather Central, University of Pittsburg Press, 1994
* * *
If I were ever contracted to
design a proper café
I'd begin with foreign girls
whose every nuance would describe
the right way to hold a milky coffee,
allow exhaled nicotine to look
more Fleming than Le Carré --
by which I mean, exotic romance
over ambiguity. Regulars crave
excuses to sit long hours, spying
good students at studying: slim,
and in twos and threes, at tables
stacked with books and biros,
representing human perfectibility,
the losses an eye would endure
unable to decamp here awhile,
glimpsing a blonde smile, or
a brunette stir her Earl Grey.
While at the zinc, a hired dropout
muses on his fallen state, denied
heaven's front gate, though able
to wait upon talented treats,
the summer sweets under glass.
Café Alibi, DC Books, 2002
* * *
"Mother Jackson Murders the Moon"
sees the moon coming at her
and slams the door of her shack
the tin louvres shudder with eagerness
to let the moon in.
If she should cry for help
the dog would skin its teeth at her,
the cat would hoist its tail
and pin the whole moonlit sky to the gutter.
The neighbours would maybe
douse her in chicken blood
and hang her skin out to dry
on the packy tree.
swallows her bile and sprinkles oil
from the kitchen bitch on her ragged mattress.
Then she lights a firestick
and waits for the moon to take her.
-- Gloria Escoffery
Mother Jackson Murders the Moon, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., 1998
* * *
"An Early Afterlife"
" . . . a wise man in time of peace, shall make the necessary preparations for war."
Why don't we say good-bye right now
in the fallacy of perfect health
before whatever is going to happen
happens. we could perfect our parting,
like those characters in On the Beach
who said farewell in the shadow
of the bomb as we sat watching,
young and holding hands at the movies.
we could use the loving words
we otherwise might not have time to say.
We could hold each other for hours
in a quintessential dress rehearsal.
Then we would just continue
for however many years were left.
The ragged things that are coming next --
arteries closing like rivers silting over
or rampant cells stampeding us to the exit --
would be like postscripts to our lives
and wouldn't matter. and we would bask
in an early afterlife of ordinary days,
impervious to the inclement weather
already in our long-range forecast.
Nothing could touch us. we'd never
have to say good-bye again.
-- Linda Pastan
An Early Afterlife, W. W. Norton & Company, 1995
* * *
"Company of Moths"
We thought it could all be found in The Book of Poor Text,
the shadow the boat casts, angled mast, fretted wake, indigo eye.
Windows of the blind text,
keening, parabolic nights.
and the rolling sun, sun tumbling
into then under, company of moths.
can you hear what I'm thinking, form there, even as you sleep?
Streets of the Poor Text, where a child's gaze falls
on the corpse of a horse beside a cart,
whimpering dog, woman's mute mouth agape
as if to say, We must move on,
we must not stop, we must not watch.
For after all, do the dead watch us?
to memorize precisely the tint of a plum,
curse of a body at rest (sun again),
the words to each popular song,
surely that would be enough.
For are you not familiar with these crows by the shore?
did you not call them sea crows once?
did we not discuss the meaning of "as the crow flies"
one day in that square -- station of exile -- under the reddest
of suns? and then, almost as one, we said, It's time.
And a plate shattered, a spoon fellto the floor,
towels in a heap by the door.
Drifts of cloud over
steeples from the west.
Faith in the Poor Text.
Outline of stuff left behind.
-- Michale Palmer
Company of Moths, New Directions, 2005
* * *
Had I met you when I was a girl, all bony laughter and ragged sighs, I would
have fallen under your shadow, knelt in the grass, been your weed, your
bride. and had I met you when I was another man's wife -- still young, hair
full of flame -- I'd have taken the spell for a sign. I'd have been jewel to your
thief, little sin, and never forgiven myself for that kiss. Or had I met you
in the early wind of my solitude, I might have snapped. Cracked like that
naked branch I swung from all those aching, brilliant nights. Instead, you
came late, you came after I'd made myself into harbor and chalice and wick.
MOre like the ashes than any warm hearth. More like a widow than wanton,
beloved. And you lifted me over the wall of the garden and carried me back
to my life.
-- Cecilia Woloch
Late, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2003
* * *
"The Night Abraham Called to the Stars"
Do you remember the night Abraham first called
To the stars? He cried to Saturn: "You are my Lord!"
How happy he was! When he saw the Dawn Star,
He cried, "You are my Lord!" How destroyed he was
When he watched them set. Friends, he is like us:
We take as our Lord the stars that go down.
We are faithful companions to the unfaithful stars.
We are diggers, like badgers; we love to feel
The dirt flying out from behind our hind claws.
And no one can convince us that mud is not
Beautiful. It is our badger soul that thinks so.
We are ready to spend the rest of our life
Walking with muddy shoes in the wet fields.
We resemble exiles in the kingdom of the serpent.
We stand in the onion fields looking up at the night.
My heart is a calm potato by day, and a weeping,
Abandoned woman by night. Friend, tell me what to do,
Since I am a man in love with the setting starts.
The Night Abraham Called to the Stars, HarperCollins Publishers, 2001
* * *
"Home of Sudden Service"
The last year of high school, I got a job
as a pizza delivery person, drove burning hot
stacks of Hawaiian-with-extra-cheese around
all night in my Volkswagen Rabbit. The radio
always playing something like "Smoke
on the Water" or "Crazy on You," and I smoked
so many cigarettes my pointer finger started
turning really yellow. after a while, they let me work
in the kitchen too. Squirting bottles of sweet
tomato sauce onto discs of dough.
I quit that place for the coffee shop with
the medical/dental and got an apartment
with angel right away, which was about time.
The first month, we made love
in every room. I worked my ass
off in the coffee shop and got myself promoted
to shift supervisor after only four months;
Angel got on full-time at the shop.
So I got my Dogwood and I got pregnant.
didn't seem to be any reason not to, especially
with the mat leave, and we weren't wrong.
Cole's three-and-a-half now. I have to leave him
with Mom on the days I go to work.
I try to get a lot of early shifts so I can spend
nights with angel and Cole, but it's hard.
There aren't that many supervisors at the shop,
so I have to work a lot of nightsd anyway.
It's a lot of responsibility. On my days off
I take Cole to visit his dad at work.
Cole loves a truck up on a jack.
Whenever we show up, we wait for Angel
in the office. There's a sign out front that reads
Home of Sudden Service, but sometimes
it takes him a while to notice us.
When he looks out from under the truck
and sees us, though, he gives
us this shy kind of smile, as if we're his secret
and heat passes through my body like a wave.
Sometimes I think he's still getting used
to the idea of us. when he comes home, he's filthy,
but I love the smell of him, he smells like my father
used to when he came home from work.
I don't know . . . is that fucked up? I don't think so.
-- Elizabeth Bachinsky
Home of sudden Service, Nightwood Editions, 2006
* * *
"If I Had Wheels or Love"
Chiefly for Joanne Avinger
I could make prayers or poems on and on,
Relax or labor all the summer day,
If I had wheels or love, I would be gone.
Spinning along the roadsides into dawn,
Feeling the flesh of lovers whom I'd lay
I could make prayers or poems on and on.
Whistling the hours by me as they drone,
Kissed on my breast and belly where I'd play
If I had wheels or love, I would be gone.
Over the next horizon toward the sun,
Deep in the shodows where I found the way
I could make prayers or poems on and on.
Along the country backroads flower-strewn,
Fondling your flanks, my dear, made clouds from clay.
If I had wheels or love, I would be gone.
Cool as the evening is and soft as fawn,
Warm as my fiddling fingers when they say
I could make prayers or poems onand on.
IIf I had wheels or love, I would be gone.
-- Vassar Miller
If I Had Wheels or Love: Collected Poems of Vassar Miller, Southern Methodist University Press, 1991
* * *
"Go Leaving Strange"
You sit watching hounds go leaving strange,
their nails clicking swift on the wooden floor
as they slide like narrow smoke away.
What's out there is anyone's child or beast.
They know. They have the smell on them.
You see it move in folds, the slcck jowl
flutters pink and the tooth comes down
cutting stiff and the ear upraised. The door
is one way of knowing the world's gone wrong.
You let the hounds out and they go leaving strange,
even the one you call Slip tracking quick
on the heels of his wretched dam without a sound.
When a hound goes quiet into the night
you wonder. Head down and the long ears
lifting scent into the nose, she leads, he follows,
the young ones coming last, the little one
jumping vertical to see what he can't smell.
Hounds run silent till they catch the spoor.
It's why you close the door
and when your woman asks what's wrong, say
nothing, the sky inventing clouds
where no clouds are, the light in the thin pines
turning pale and the hounds lost in their steady run.
-- Patrick Lane
Go Leaving Strange, Harbour Publishing, 2004
* * *
"The Simple Truth"
I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the roadside stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "eat, eat," she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.
The Simple Truth, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002
* * *
In Chinatown, we order Happy Family,
the Specialty of the House.
The table set; red paper placemats
inscribed with the Chinese zodiac.
My husband's an ox; my daughter's
a dragon, hungry and cranky; I'm a pig.
The stars will tell us whether
we at this table are compatible.
The waiter vanishes into the kitchen.
Tea steeps in the metal teapot.
My husband plays with his napkin.
In the booth behind him sits a couple
necking, apparently in love.
Every Saturday night after work,
my mother ordered takeout from the Hong Kong,
the only Chinese restaurant in town.
She filled the teakettle.
By the time it boiled,
the table was set, minus knives and forks,
and my father had fetched the big brown paper bag
leaking grease: five shiny white food cartons stacked inside.
My littel sister and I unpcked the food,
unsheathed the wooden chopsticks -- siamese twins joined at the shoulders --
whcih we snapped apart.
Thirteen years old, moody, brooding,
daydreaming about boys,
I ate and ate safe chop suey,
bland Cantonese shrimp,
moo goo gai pan, and egg foo yung.
My mother somber, my father drained,
too exhausted from work to talk,
as if the clicking chopsticks
were knitting something in their mouths.
My mother put hers aside
and picked at her shrimp with a fork.
She dunked a Lipton teabag in her cup
until the hot water turned rusty,
refusing the Hong Kong's complimentary tea,
no brand she'd ever seen before.
I cleared the table,
put empty cartons back in the bag.
Glued to the bottom,
translucent with oil, the pale green bill
a maze of Chinese characters.
Between the sealed lips of my fortune cookie,
a white scrap of paper poking out . . .
Tonight, the wiater brings Happy Family
steaming under a metal dome
and three small igloos of rice.
Mounded on the white oval plate, the unlikely
marriage of meat and fish, crab and chicken.
Not all Happy Families are alike.
The chef's tossed in wilted greens
and water chestnuts, silk against crunch;
he's added fresh ginger to baby corn,
carrots, bamboo shoots, scallions, celery,
broccoli, pea pods, bok choy.
My daughter impales a chunk of beef
on her chopstick and contentedly
sucks on it, like a popsicle.
Eating Happy family, we all begin to smile.
I prod the only thing left on the plate,
a large garnish
carved in the shape of an open rose.
Is it a turnip? an asian pear?
The edges of the delicate petals
tinged with pink dye, the flesh
white and cool as a peeled apple's.
My daughter reaches for it --
"No good to eat!" The waiter rushes over --
"Rutabaga! Not cooked! Poison!" --
and hands us a plate with the bill
buried under three fortune cookies --
our teeth already tearing
at the cellophane, our fingers prying open
our three fates.
-- Jane Shore
Happy Family, Picador USA, 1999
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Some Poems with 3-Line Stanzas
Praised be the ornament makers
the masons and the decorators
the creators of flitting angels
also the makers of ribbons
and on them hearty inscriptions
(fluttered by a great river-wind)
flutists and fiddlers who ensure
that every note plaed is pure
guarding Bach's Air on the G-string
and poets it goes without saying
the defenders of children playing
giving voice to smiles hands and eyes
they're right it is not art's business
to seek out the truth is for science
masons guard the heart's warmth
so that there be a a mosaic over the gate
a dove a branch or a sun amid daisies
(past the gate symbols' strings are pulled)
we already have words colors rhymes
that laugh and cry as if alive
the masons will preserve these words
that by this dark mills are powered
we masons frankly can't be bothered
we are the party of life and delight
in a street with a joyful carnival
there's the eyesore of a prisonj wall
an ugly stain on an ideal landscape
they called out the best of the masons
and allnight they painted the prisons
pink even the backs of the men inside
-- Zbigniew Herbert
(translated by Alissa Valles)
* * *
Moon in a town sky,
Half shut, dark one way from the middle,
Above a creek with spring peepers.
Homeward all alone, after joy,
Hands in pockets, making a thoughtful way
Over the bridge, down the street.
No voices, no women,
And a solemn unsteadiness of all things.
* * *
My father was excited. He waited for a family gathering to
give us his gift, the quarter-century of slides he'd compressed
and assembled into a half-hour video. We closed draperies
in the den, sipped on flutes of champagne as he pressed
the play button. He hadn't known he could add sound. We
staggered back to a silent family there in the TV screen,
three grainy children lined up with no voices, well-clothed,
inert, poised as little windbreaks beside the house and stiffened
into like smiles, shallow crypts of lips and eyes unable to hide
grim tedium, fear, a mean creature scowling inside my older sister,
my younger brother's frenetic cowlick the beginning of the alcoholic,
my good angel vacancies. Generous and spare, at times I glimpsed
light shining through. How could I not thank him for that gift,
his last to remind us we'd come of age under the stern eye
of the brown box camera, its leather strap tight across his chest.
I watched another family unearth itself in the viewing,
brush a rock-chalk powder across our grown up faces, twist
its sadness into the room like an old family ghost
no one willingly sees, let alone speaks to. Later, in privacy,
my husband spoke of it. And to it. He reached across that chasm,
touched where my wings were, and said I see you now.
* * *
for John Coltrane
Propped against the crowded bar
he pours into the curved and silver horn
his old unhappy longing for a home
the dancers twist and turn
he leans and wishes he could burn
his memories to ashes like some old notorious emperor
of rome. but no stars blazed across the sky when he was born
no wise men found his hovel. this crowded bar
where dancers twist and turn
holds all the fame and recognition he will ever earn
on earth or heaven. he leans against the bar
and pours his old unhappy longing in the saxophone
* * *
Here finally I have shriven myself and am saint,
Pouring the detergent just so, collating the whites
With the whites, and the coloreds with the coloreds,
Though I slip in a light green towel with the load
Of whites for Vivian Malone and Medgar Evers,
Though I leave a pale shift among the blue jeans
For criminals and the ones who took small chances.
O brides and grooms, it is not always perfect.
It is not always the folded, forsqure, neat soul
Of sheets pressed and scented for lovemaking,
But also this Friday, stooping in a dark corner
Of the bedroom, harvesting diasporas of socks,
Extracting like splinters the T-shirts from the shirts.
I do not do this with any anger, as the poor chef
May add to a banker's consommé the tail of a rat,
But with the joy of a salesman closing a sweet deal,
I tamp loosely around the shaft of the agitator
and mop the kitchen while it runs the cycles.
Because of my diligence, one woman has time
To teach geography, another to design a hospital.
The organ transplant arrives. The helicopter pilot
Steps down, dressed in an immaculate garment.
She waves to me and smiles as I hoist the great
Moist snake of fabric and heave it into the dryer.
I who popped rivets into the roof of a hanger,
Who herded copper tubes into the furnace,
Who sweated bales of alfalfa into the rafters
High in the barn loft of July, who dug the ditch
For the gas line under the Fourteenth Street overpass
And repaired the fence the new bull had ruined,
Will wash the dishes and scrub the counters
Before unclogging the drain and vacuuming.
When I tied steel on the bridge, I was not so holy
As now, taking the hot sheets from the dryer,
Thinking of the song I will make in praise of women,
But also of ordinary men, doing laundry.
* * *
"What Seemed So Quiet"
when I listen hard
is bird to bird, wheel on rain,
what you say, I say.
How tall the pines are!
Heads thinned as though to hear what
heaven says through wind.
The harder grey falls
the brighter grows the dream of
light, and wind (like rain
that is only heard
as it meets our world on water,
stone or pane), wind
itself a slient
thing you think would drown you out
well might, but also
carries you the more
to blow through open windows
like my own, in Highgate.
* * *
"Language as Self-Defense"
Downsizing, his boss calls firing my friend.
Restructuring. She wants him to think
it's not a problem; it's an opportunity.
In the same vein, doctors call agony discomfort;
Mom called death passing away.
The women my friend tries to date
say they're busy the same way his mother
said husky when the world saw fat.
After rain, my desert tortoises drag
from their burrow: mud-caked, living rocks
amid the dandelions and devil grass
I call my lawn. An hour of sun,
and the male will be chasing the female
around the yard. He'll bite her feet,
and ram her shell to show who's boss;
then they'll make love, my neighbor calls it
when she protests the male's loud huffing,
the primal scene "my kids might see!"
"It's so eay for turtles," my friend says,
means, "Nothing's easy for me."
He's right. He's not even my friend,
actually --just a guy who won't let me
forget the discomforts of junior high.
Today he talks of checking out.
And though I tell him, Hang in there.
Getting canned could be a blessing in disguise,
I want to say, "You're right. Death
would be good for you." when I'm with him,
my well-paid job, pretty wife, and bright
prospects shake like an image in water
slapped by wind. I invent places
I've got to go, things I've got to do,
and tell him, It'll all work out, I promise you.
---Charles Harper Webb
* * *
"The Water Column"
We had followed the catwalk upriver
by flowering trees and granite sheer
to the Basin park crying with peacocks.
After those, we struck human conversation.
A couple we'd thoguht Austrian proved to be
Cape Coloured. Wry good sense and lore
and love of their strange country
they presented us with, cheerfully.
They were eager "to get home for the riots."
As we talked, shoes dreamily, continually
passed above us on the horizontal chairlift.
It was Blundstones and joggers that year,
cogwheel treads with faces between them.
That was also the year I learned
the Basin was a cold crater lake:
swimmers whacking above ancient drownings --
"It's never been plumbed, in places."
I thought of a rock tube of water
down, down levels too frigid for upwelling,
standing at last on this miles-deep
lager head, above a live steam layer
in impossible balance, facing
where there can't be water, the planet's
convecting inner abortive iron star.
* * *
Cut and contriving women
hauling fresh shrimps
up in their seines
standing waist deep
in the brown voluptuous
water of their own element
how I remember those women
sweeping in the childish rivers
of my eyes
and the fish slipping
through their laughing thighs
* * *
to my son, Marc
Memory: You were fifteen in the mountains,
your friends were going hunting,
you wanted to go.
Cold, autumn day-sky of steel
and rifles, the shade of bullets. We
fought. I didn't want to let you go.
and you stood up to me, "My friends are
going, their parents let them hunt, like
am I some kind of wimp or what, Mom . . ."
We walked into Thrifty's to buy the bullets,
you would use one of their rifles -- I imagined
you being shot or shooting another eager boy/man.
"What you kill you eat, do you understand?"
I stared each word into your eyes. As you
walked away, I said to the Spirits, "Guard
this human who goes
in search of
You brought home four small quail.
I took them saying, "Dinner." I stuffed
them with rice, apples, baked them in garlic,
onions, wine. "Tonight, Mom?" "Yes, tonight."
I plucked the softest tail feathers and as you
showered, I place them in your pillow case:
"May the thunder and
the prey be
May the hunter eat
and be eaten in
May the boy always
be alive in the
We ate, mostly, in silence --
I felt you thinking, I just
killed this, what I'm chewing . . .
On the highest peaks the first
powder shines like the moon --
winter comes so quickly.
On your face soft, blonde hair (yes, this
son is a gringo) shines like manhood --
childhood leaves so quickly.
The wonder of the hunt is on my tongue,
I taste it -- wild, tangy, reluctant --
this flesh feeds me well.
I light the candles and thank the quail
in a clear voice -- I thank them for their
small bodies, their immense, winged souls.
"God, Mom, you're making me feel like a
killer." "Well, you are and so am I."
Swallowing, swallowing this delicious death.
--Alma Lus Villanueva
* * *
The brook, running dry, will stop running, dry:
(it worms now like a lost rope down the slate roughs,
but it wrestles bank stones harshly after
downpours): slowed, it clears skinny dusk mirrors
with overhangs of branches that shade through
the stone bed into sky: the brook doesn't represent
beauty: it tears off a piece of shore moss, the soggy, threaded
bottom dangling in a strip: it sorts spill down ledges,
wears what it wears away, arcs in ice-like fangs or, skimming,
idles scum-floats: it doesn't fall apart representing
style: it means nothing but a sum of forces reacting
along a line to a sum ofl forces from whose sums the mind
makes up a day's subtractions, recollections: nothing
keeps it or wraps or hangs it up: but keep this
poem, this reminder not of keeping but of not keeping.
--A. R. Ammons
* * *
There comes the point
in every story
when I panic,
there comes this panic,
I catch myself clutching
a wrench at a Wal-Mart,
a wren in a field,
clutching a wrist
near a radio tower,
or someone's key
I had not been aware of,
turning the knob
of a make-believe door.
Body the contour
of jazz in a speakeasy,
body the texture
of gasps in a gangway,
why I keep letting
you down is beyond me.
I've taken pains.
Practiced synchronized breathing.
Counted past ten.
Talked with zeal about things.
Even summoned the nerve
to look fetching in amber.
But can't get past
that which rattles inside me.
Try to think back:
was I going
to flash you or juggle.
Or was there a story
I needed to tell you.
Was it important.
Could it have swayed you.
I meant to give objects
refer to childhood,
invoke certain towns.
And would I have broken
one heart or another.
It was the story of my life,
it would have started
with the note la,
then a couple of llamas.
Sometimes, a window fan
would, in it, pass for an eye.
it would have been riveting.
* * *
"Against Daylight Saving Time"
When I was a child
light wandered freely
over the sky,
early risers and late sleepers,
going out to get the paper, my father
a second sun
to my drowsy eyes
before I melted back to dark
curled in a shaving of dream
in a corner of morning.
Now light is snapped
back and forth across the country
on mechanical strings.
* * *
At the edge of the abyss
You guard my every lonely dream --
The rustle of wind through the grass.
The sun in the distance blazes brightly,
Standing by the ditch you cast a shadow,
Ripples cover the surface, sinking yesterday's time.
Should there come a day when you too must wither,
I have just a simple hope:
That you may keep the calm of your first flowering.
(translated by Bonnie S. McDougall)
* * *
You have seen at low tide on the rocky shore
How everything around you sparkles, or
Is made to when you think what went before.
Much of this blaze, that's mental, seems to come
From a pool among the creviced rocks, a slum
For the archaic periwinkle. Some
Are twisting, some are sleeping there, and all
(For sun is pulse, and shade historical)
Cling in blotched spirals to the shadiest wall
--Whose cousins, shingled by the finding tide,
Purpled the cloths of kings. Place one upside-
down in your hand. If at all satisfied,
The little creature stretches from its shell
One lucent, speckled horn by which to tell,
Touching your skin, if that is safe as well;
Then turns with much interior shifting over
Into your palm, so that its spirals cover
Whatever suddenly takes hold. you shiver,
Touched by the fecund past, a creature curled
In a flaky cone which inside is all pearled
With nourishment sucked out from the pulsing world:
Knowing that ancient liveliness undone,
For having crept within, where there was none
To feel it but yourself, squinting in sun,
Caught by the crazy trustfulness of the past:
Its gently sucking, our old nurse at last
Demented, crooned to revery at our breast.
It is ourselves shall tell her fairy tales
Of fountains we scooped dry with bottomless pails.
Then we grow old; her lunacy prevails.
* * *
What did I think, a storm clutching a clarinet
and boarding a downtown bus, headed for lessons?
I had pieces to learn by heart, but at twelve
you think the heart and memory are different.
"'It's a poor sort of memory that only works
backwards,' the Queen remarked. " Alice in Wonderland.
Although I knew the way music can fill a room,
even with loneliness, which is of course a kind
of company. I could swelter through an August
afternoon -- torpor rising from the river -- and listen
to J. J. Johnson and Stan Getz braid variations
on "My Funny Valetine," and feel there in the room
with me the force and weight of what I couldn't
say. What's an emotion anyhow?
Lassitude and sweat lay all around me
like a stubble field, it was so hot and listless,
but I was quick and furtive like a fox
who has thirty miles a day metabolism
to burn off as ordinary business.
I had about me, after all, the bare eloquence
of the becalmed, the plain speech of the leafless
tree. I had the cunning of my body and a few
bars -- they were enough -- of music. Looking back,
it almost seems as though I could remember --
but this can't be; how could I bear it? --
the future toward which I'd clatter
with that boy tied like a bell around my throat,
a brave man and a coward both,
to break and break my metronomic heart
and just enough to learn to love the blues.
* * *
The new explorers don't go
anywhere and what they discover
we can't see. But they change our lives.
They interpret absence
as presence, measuring it by the movement
of its neighbours. Their world is
an immense place; deep down is as distant
as far out, but is arrived at
in no time. There are the new
linguists, exchanging across closed
borders the currency of their symbols.
Have I been too long on my knees
worrying over the obscurity
ofa message? These have their way, too,
other than prayer of breaking that abstruse code.
--R. S. Thomas
* * *
I pale my cheek against the pane
as the runway jolts blurs us into our city.
I watch them unnoticed
from the cement railing outside
the Jose Marti YMCA, its glass doors locked for the day.
tomatoes, limes, onions
hang in cellophane bags
from the rusted van.
Crates of papayas and avocados
surround this old vendor still smiling
after 11 years on the same street corner.
Friends take turn in the shade
from a distant canvas.
A middle aged woman, fighting a lost battle,
with her red umbrella.
A young woman struggles
to push the baby carriage
along the brick sidewalk.
A Bronco pulls up
to buy its share
of the tropics
I understand their voices,
and the silhouette of the vendor
could easily be that of my uncle, now dead in Havana.
But in minutes,
I drive across a deep fissure
in the asphalt.
I wonder how long I will be able
to step into this mirror of a city
and return home in one piece.
* * *
The storm broke, and it rained,
And water rose in the pool,
And frogs hopped into the gutter,
With their skins of yellow and green,
And just their eyes shining above the surface
Of the warm solution of slime.
At night, when fireflies trace
Light-lines between the trees and flowers
the frogs speak to each other
In rhythm. the sound is monstrous,
But their voices are filled with satisfaction.
In the city I pine for the country;
In the country I long for conversation --
Our happy croaking.
* * *
To hum in a smoke-dank alley a song by Elvis
was not the height of my love for you. To turn
my arm from its socket like a hateful thing
was not devotion only. To Speak your name
like a spell to my imagined foes was not
peace, no, not ever. Rather, you were a stone
I licked and pretended to eat. You were
ever a dream of falling. an odor of smoke.
You were the design of my worst
crimes. What I stole for love added up.
It added up to nothing. To the air perfumed
by an absent woman. To a box
filled with crushed chalk. god save me
from the stars, once and for all --
I have had enough. Let me love anything
but that: let me go free and dream
of green oceans and the surf
that batters some other world to sleeplessness.
O. It is enough to whisper only
this. To speak to the flame in your breast
and hear nothing else. Once
I believed I could possess
what touched you: the worn sweater,
or the song on the radio
that meant nothing and all in that instant.
Against your door I pressed
my ear, and heard nothing, the whisper
of water, maybe, a breath of cool air --
the gossip of your absence --
and nothing in me could knock or wait,
and all around me the night
spread like water through a rag,
and I let my hands drop whatever they held.
* * *
"On Hearing the Hungarian Quartet at Aspen"
Over the calm ring of the mountains
Thunder, a low wind, breathing
To die away in the pineclad flanks.
Summerly from the engirdled plain
the music rises to marry those echoes
and the dark peace sleeps again within the pines.
Where light, the great draughtsman
Pieces out of the gloom
In the infinite moods of the mountain
The pineclad music broods
To vibrate again with the winds
Of winder snows.
--A. J. Seymour
* * *
"A Questionnaire for Walter Mitty"
for Harry Chambers
The opus virtuoso, the piano grand --
And how your unaccomplished fists extend
Themselves to musically athletic hands!
Mitty, on such voyages to legend
What luggage do you take? what currency?
Could it be truth you carry? lies you spend?
To climb an Everest or swim a sea --
No matter what the end in view -- requires
A proper change of heart, some urgency.
In mixing with the doers and the triers
Whose dreaming modulates to enterprise,
Whose actions carry weight, whose churches spires,
Do you employ deceit or just disguise?
As agent, cipher or as catalyst
Do you conceal, do you apotheosise
These jungle pioneers, these pianists,
Your coinhabitants of wonderland,
Each one a namesake on the honours list?
At which side of the glass does Mitty stand
In his epiphany -- in front? behind?
Or both -- the hero with the also-ran?
And, Walter Mitty, how would you define
The water-walker who made the water wine --
Was it christ the God? was it Christ the Man?
* * *
The floorboards squeaked and startled me
with the sound of a room
being emptied of furniture.
as I stood still, I could hear the beach:
The stones rattled dry
as though inside a clay pot.
The new tenant never showed up.
The insects stopped trying
to tear down the house just over my head.
Outside it was clear moonlight.
The bare trees
should have been cut down long ago.
(translated by Thom Satterless)
* * *
"To Have To"
is an odd infinitive, in which
compulsion and possission meet
and share a word together.
Both propose, and both accept;
to have, because it wants to hold;
have to, because it has no will.
But then there is
no part or present, either:
coming's going, in this match.
It's odd because they're two at one
but endless, in the end, in their
capacity to be attached . . .
* * *
Some afternoons after school we spun our tops
on the road; some were bought, most homemade
out of guava wood and spined with fat, honed nails.
Up from the point the cord was tightly wound
around the cone, then lined along the middle
of the palm so thumb and index finger fixed
it to the hand. The great thing aimed for was
the mastery of the swing and arc of arm
to bring the north-south axis upside-down
square to the ground and sharply whip the string
away pulling with speed to where your left leg
stood to feel that skilful exercise in grace.
to see your top dig in the pitch and swerve,
then settle upright to go to sleep and sing
before you flicked it on your palm and cradled
it humming there, then tilt it over and knock
your rival skidding, reeled lines of satisfaction
to our minds, such as the sparks of victories
later on could never equal. they made us pray
perfection's curve will bend to anchor what
we do, guiding our hands from all things mediocre.
* * *
I was born in the year of the snake
and maybe this is why
I speak with a forked tongue. I've followed
the vague sibilant thread
of the voice in my head curling
into a tangled snarl
of roots, grass, stems and leaves, so that when
I open my mouth to talk,
a strange song, not mine, comes tumbling out.
Ai-noko, half-caste, I tilt
my head in the mirror first this way
then that -- Horikoshi
cheekbones, Caucasion nose, my ojin-san's
feathering like ink strokes over eyes
not quite green, not quite brown,
in the tranquil white moon of my face.
My blood runs hot and cold.
Slit me open, let me pare away
my body's tourniquet
rind. Itch, twist and tug, I know the lust
for heavy glistening
coil wrapping itself around reborn
coil. I know the dangers
of the in-between. And so I keep
my skins as transient
as the inner tissue-paper wings
that ladybugs conceal
beneath the spotted shields of their bright
metallic shells. And then
I shed them, one after another,
like the discarded husks
of mayflies clinging in tenacious
rows to my window screens
in the summer, their hollowed sheaths
pearlescent -- translucent
paned scaled and two silver wisps of tail.
And when wind's warm breath comes
to unlock this instinctive gripping,
my ghost selves are carried
up like tiny dragon kites spiraling
higher, higher . . . higher.
--Lee Ann Roripaugh
* * *
"Angel of Bees"
that is the mind
crammed with sweetness,
eggs about to hatch --
the slow thoughts
growing wings and legs,
five season, dancing
in the brain's blue light,
each turn and tumble
full of consequence,
distance and desire.
dangerous to disturb
this hive, inventing clover.
How the mind wants
to be free of you,
move with the swarm,
ascend in the shape
of a blossoming tree --
your head on the pillow
emptied of scent and colour,
winter's cold indifference
* * *
its violent candling
of hours: birches
& beach plums flare harsh,
the dog zigzags the hillside
tangled with flaming vines
to the pond below & barks
at the crows' reflected flight,
a reverse swimming
among water lilies, that
most ancient of flowers
anchored by muscular stems
in the silt of cries
& roots, tenacious as the mind's
common bloom, remembered men
I have touched at night
in the room
below the aftican painter's
empty loft, his few abandoned
of drought & famine, of how
his people, hands linked
entered the deepest cave,
the unbearable heart
of belief where each gesture
encloses the next -- clouds
packed densely as ferns, becoming
coal, the final diamond
of light, the god's return
as rain, its soft insistence
loosening the yellowed hands
of leaves that settle
at my feet. How expendable
& necessary this mist
in my hair, these jewels
beading the dog's wet coat.
How smallI am
beneath this vast sway.
* * *
"La Crosse at Ninety Miles an Hour"
Better to be the rock above the river,
The bluff, brown and age-old sandstone,
Than the broad river winding to the Gulf.
The river looks like world reality
And has the serenity of wide and open things.
It is a river of even ice today.
Winter men in square cold huts have cut
Round holes to fish through: I saw it as a boy.
they have a will to tamper with the river.
Up on the high bluffs nothing but spirit!
It is there I would be, where an Indian scout was
Long ago, now purely imaginary.
It is a useless and heaven-depended place,
Commodious rock to lock the spirit in,
Where it gazes on the river and the land.
Better to be rock-like than river-like;
Water is a symbol will wear us all away.
Rock comes to the same end, more slowly so.
Rock is the wish of the spirit, heavy symbol,
Something to hold to beyond worldly use.
I feel it in my bones, kinship with vision,
And on the brown bluffs above the Mississippi
In the land of my deepest, earliest memories,
Rushing along at ninety miles an hour,
I feel the old elation of the imagination.
Strong talk of the river and the rock.
Small division between the world and spirit.
* * *
Sabbath breaks with the swish and plop
of leaping salmon, pressing against the slush
of river bend, bloated with seed and egg.
Elated by her crazy muscle and fin
she tries to fly across the bow, but plats
on the slippery deck among the tackle, rope and rubber.
Scaled, the salmon's belly is soft,
the knife parts the blue black skin
spilling viscera -- this riot of blood animated
like the bubbles of air breeding in the wake
of the cutting propellers plow through the sea
We salt the tender flesh in the Bay
and bake her dripping lemon and honey
on an abondoned rock beach. and on this blue
ecumenical morning we break red flesh
with bread on our scaled knees, eyes glazed
with gratitude. The sun settles above
the upturned cone of pine trees; the hill
for a moment is black, and then light
washes its slopes with tender green.
For what we are about to receive . . .