Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Another Dozen Poems I Like

"You Gave Me Hyacinths First a Year Ago"

The world's a stranger's room, we meet to part,
I stand, transfixed, an arrow through my heart.

My ageing Cupid, careful of his aim,
plucks out the shaft, and causes twice the pain.
My awkward arms are full of brandy, sin,
helpless I watch our promenade begin.

Hands touch, eyes falter, tremble, fix and cling,
the heart leaps up, the blood beneath the skin
tingles like frost, then all disguise is shed,
until he husks me naked in my bed.

My hyacinths are nettles, the cold breath
of the Toad Prince is in my ear like death.
'What will become of us?' 'We'll live to die,'
and in that restless void, disfigured, lie
forever, and forever answer, 'No.'
Contending on heaven's plain we'll weep and go.

So without choice, and convinced of doom,
I go to meet you in the stranger's room.

-- Dorothy Hewitt

* * *

"All the Way from Akkad, from Elam, from Sumer"

Awakener, uprooter
Suffered breath, hastener breath
Master of the three paths, you are facing a man
who has walked a lot.
All the way from Elam.  From Akkad.  From Sumer.
Master of the three paths, you are facing a man
who has carried a lot.
All the way from Elam.  From Akkad.  From Sumer.
I have carried the commandant's body.  I have carried the commandant's railroad.  I have carried the
commandant's locomotive, the commandant's cotton.  On my wooly head which works so fine
without a little cushion I have married God, the machine, the road -- the God of the commandant.
Master of the three paths I have carried under the sun, I have carried in the fog I have carried over
the ember shards of legionary ants.
I have carried the parasol I have carried the explosives I have carried the iron-collar.
All the way from Akkad.  From Elam.  From Sumer.
Master of the three paths, Master of thek three channels, for once only the first time since Akkad
since Elam since Sumer may you grant that -- my muzzle apparently more tanned than the calluses
on my feet but in reality softer than the raven's scrupulous beak and as if draped in bitter folds
provided by my borrowed grey skin (a livery that men force onto me every winter)
-- I advance across the dead leaves with my little sorcerer steps

toward where the inexhaustible injunction of men thrown to the knotted sneers of the hurricane
threatens triumphantly.
All the way from Elam from Akkad from Sumer.

-- Aime Cesaire
(translated from the French by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith)

* * *

"A Cup of Stone"

Water leaves its mark on stone.  What falls
moves mountains.  In the mines my father
worked in the great darkness of stones,
bringing from the belly of the earth
silver for the wrists and necks of women
in the far cities.  The quartz he sucked
into his lungs hissed with each breath
he took, so that laying my head
on his breast I thought his ribs held
in their cage a crystal chime.  His death
was another kind of mountain.  His life
was the measure I made from time,
so like a stone whose belly is hollowed
by falling water, the sound in the empty
mine shafts where he laboured is what I hear
when I place my ear against his earth.
A cup of stone.  I have seen everything
and I have done nothing in this world.
There are days I want to kill my mind:
the woman who leans toward her man,
her necklace making the softest sound,
as silver does against silver, as water
does when it touches hollow stone.

-- Patrick Lane

* * *

"Practicing Ballerina"

Thew large gymnasium in morning light
Filled with notes from a tired piano,
Mirrored walls' staring images of mirrors.

She scratches her right armpit
Through a hole in her worn leotard,
Does stretches and lays her palms
On the floor's scuffed parquet,
Presses her ballet slippers together
Before the kaleidoscope is shaken
And movement explodes time's musty immobility.

A hazy conception of rhythms and patterns
In secret union with an ancient sun.
Inklings that sharpen into burning certainty
As the blood races ecstatically toward the heart.
The primeval gods'  passionate breath
 Where they whirled above the earth as newborn titans
Glimpsed here in an empty practice room
In a decrepit century
That's wearing a smooth pubescent mask
Over its torpid old-man's skin.

The ballerina in sweaty concentration
Hides in her taut body
The sacred source
Of life's rebellious daughter, Dance.

Not even death can obliterate her:
Her imprint, clear and sharp, remains
As the universe's glowing chaos hardens
Into the shape of the new world.

-- Henning Kramer Dahl
(Translated from the Norwegian by Roger Greenwald)

* * *

"White Lily"

Gnomish in its rounded hunch
of greeny folds, three-fourths of the year
it resembles a weed.  Now spring's

unseasonable heat
brings vindication.  trumpet
over frilled, frail trumpet

spills its bone-white notes
in April air.  Below, in shadow --
shrunken, overawed -- skulks

the novice rosebush
we rooted in the fall.  This
spendthrift, who's squandered

brilliant buds for months,
today knows the earthy weight
of morning-after.  Our double

hibiscus, also, pinkly plumed,
succumbed to a plumber's truck
\that veered too soon.  but the lily

in her straight ascetic's
rigid pose, white as the ember
of a low, enduring fire

takes her pleasure like
the wife of the pastor
come to bed -- prim in her cotton frock

throughout the day, precise
in her firm instructions
to the maid, who cradled

in the rough caress of muslin sheets
bares her stoic shoulders to the room
and seizes in her strong white legs

the truant moon.

-- Karen Volkman

* * *

"Winter Elegy"

how quick:  the quiet avarice in whitening;
blackening, vanishing into furrows in the road a crow flock crumbles.
How clear my breath is on the pane.  Fractured with violet, fields
wide, gaping.  Parched ponds as docile
as if touched by gentle hands,
not bandages of frost.
The hills grow cold over the crowns of apples and alders,
in the window a light is lit in the distance.  sparks of warmth wander
into the ashes of dusk,
unthinking I break off a hunk of bread:

and we, how quick, into furrows of time, into mute
and like stones

-- Marzanna Bogumila Kielar
(translated from the Polish by W. Martin)

* * *

"Finishing Touch"

Ever since the painter depicted
Your finger extended to Your creature,

we have known we crave a surrogate touch.
We press others' palms to our faces,

as if we were still being molded,
polished by an apprenticed love revising

our rougher destinies:  Each hand found
more skillful than the last, each imprint closer

to Your transforming seal.  I know this,
and still I have to ask for reprieve

in illusion, to linger in this present
flesh, believe in her finishing touch.

I want this hand:  its knowing strokes
inside my thighs where all portrayal begins.

Let this hand complete me for the stretch,
the soft edges of these fingers be the last

of earth I feel, let itk be her own
hand -- hers alone -- that will close these eyes.

-- Martha Serpas

* * *

"Dawn Images"

Water from the sprinkler obscured the scene
like a fog,
like white-hot flame, mistress
of itself, of its shifting spew, of its
and cadenced pulse.
A bit farther and farther still
it reaches the rocks.  sheets of sun
on the misty rim; quartz rain; an interior
wave.  Its own
movement centers it; sinks it
to its astonished heart.  Deep, drizzling
It restarts, in spurts, its palpitations.  Marmoreal and slow,
bubbling brightness.
A little farther, and farther still, its limpid stroke
shudders.  They're sluggish,
the rocks,
in that stellar swarm, in its incessantly lit
snow.  For a moment,
its silk slinks across the garden.  submissively,
the tree trunks give in
and bend out over the grass;
long dark paths beneath the sieve through
which dawn pours.  when its rains
drift toward the east,
the shadows thin
and the trunks harden and straighten up.
Then the arc reappears,
resplendent.  a new blaze obscures the scene,
a scent of magnolias 
and wet rocks.

-- Coral Bracho
(translated from the Spanish by Forrest Gander)

* * *

"Black Woman"

Naked woman, black woman
Dressed in your color that is life, in your form that is beauty!
I grew up in your shadow.  the softness of your hands
Shielded my eyes, and now at the height of Summer and Noon,
From the crest of a charred hilltop I discover you, Promised Land
And your beauty strikes my heart like an eagle's lightning flash.

Naked woman, dark woman
Ripe fruit with firm flesh, dark raptures of black wine,
Mouth that gives music to my mouth
Savanna of clear horizons, savanna quivering to the fervent caress
Of the East Wind, sculptured tom-tom, stretched drumskin
Moaning under the hands of the conqueror
Your deep contralto voice is the spiritual song of the Beloved.

Naked woman, dark woman
Oil no breeze can ripple, oil soothing the thighs
Of athletes and the thighs of the princes of Mali
Gazelle with celestial limbs, pearls are stars
Upon the night of your skin.  delight of the mind's riddles,
The reflections of red gold from your shimmering skin
In the shade of your hair, my despair
Lightens in the close suns of your eyes.

Naked woman, black woman
I sing your passing beauty and fix it for all Eternity
before jealous Fate reduces you to ashes to nourish the roots of life.

-- Leopold Sedar Senghor
(translated from the French by Melvin Dixon)

* * *


This morning I rediscover the grapefruit:  they smile up
from their iced platter.  How soigne.  Aunt Shirley

in her pink-tiled kitchen, tomato sauce already
simmering, rolling the fruit on the breadboard, slicing,

digging the edges, sugaring.  Special knives, serrated,
doll-sized, plastic-handled:  a rite of passage.  Much later,

tart juice squeezed into crystal:  so much more
adult than the orange.  Even now I feel a certain weight

as I dig my spoon into the fruit:  ruby, glistening,
and even without sugar, I do not wince, dribble, or squint.

-- Sina Queyras

* * *

"Your Muse Is Visiting"

Your muse is visiting.  Again.
She's a bad guest,
demands attention at all hours.
She dirties the dishes
and never cleans a cup,
wears your clothes
and never does the wash.
She won't even give you time to buy the groceries.

Your muse won't stay in the guest room.
She hangs a do not disturb sign on your door.
Also, please make up this room.

Think a dog is bad?
Try making love
with a muse in the bed.

Your muse puts empty milk cartons
back in the fridge, leaves wet towels on the floor,
piles crockery in the sink.
While the two of you talk about art,
I wash her dirty sheets.

-- Alison Calder

* * *


As if children reciting the exaggerated prayers of harvest,
there is one lesson we have been taught this fall --

to treat earth as if there is something concealed
behind what is given.  In the yard, an orb of gnatted rotation

throbs like the mouth of the God of shorn fields.
There are many gods here that we have forgotten,

those that coaxed fire & bloom from a basilica
inscripted with nightcrawlers.  god of nightshade

& milkweed.  God of ordinary October illumination,
facts preserved beyond a lightning bug's

unfocused S.O.Sing across the windows.
God of delicately carved wolf tracks in front

of the porch; High Priestess of wishbones waiting
to be pulled from a body & tucked away in a cedar drawer.

War God of black & red ant's microscopic ballet
washed into ruins by a garden hose's quick spirals.

God of pheasant tribes wandering shivered corridors of corn,
of a wife in the upstairs bathroom mouthing her minor chords

of suffering.  God of poison ivy accumulated in overgrowth,
scattering rags as if alms for the poor.

Underlord of desperate mathematics spiraling down
to the prime factors of mercy.  God of the original

moment when tadpoles muster legs, when light
on the pond reminds us that human knowledge

will never know the code for croak, bray,
cicada-roar.  God of thistle.  God of once-fed tomcats

bringing scraps of dead robin as an offering,
Deity of insects clotted in fresh paint, of cardinals

fanning a dust bath.  God of tires unceremoniously
crushing them.  What clings over these small losses

is a cloud of gnats that kiss our cheeks as if we were dead,
halo of the last god our bodies will pass through.

-- Andrew Grace

* * *

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