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 . . .