Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Some Poems from First Collections
"The Racer's Widow"
The elements have merged into solicitude.
Spasms of violets rise above the mud
And weed and soon the birds and ancients
Will be starting to arrive, bereaving points
South. But never mind. It is not painful to discuss
His death. I have been primed for this,
For separation, for so long. But still his face assaults
Me, I can hear that car careen again, the crowd coagulate on asphalt
In my sleep. and watching him, I feel my legs like snow
That let him finally let him go
As he lies draining there. and see
How even he did not get to keep that lovely body.
-- Louise Gluck
from Firstborn (1968)
* * *
This evening in the settling dark,
in what my father called tornado weather,
I watch the heat lift its shimmering weight
above the snapdragons and low sumac
into what light remains inside the maples.
Those long nights while I was up,
sick, heavy with heat and dreams,
I was sure it was my father's broad palm
pressed against my forehead
that held the fever in.
I was no better without him.
If the dark brings with it relief, a chill,
it is a trick -- weather storing up its storm.
June bugs rattle the screen, annoying as ever,
like the song he murmured that would not let me sleep.
-- Eric Pankey
from For the New Year (1984)
* * *
"Marine Surface, Low Overcast"
Out of churned aureoles
this buttermilk, this
herringbone of albatross,
floss of mercury,
deshabille of spun
aluminum, furred with a veloute
a stuff so single
it might almost be lifted,
folded over, crawled underneath
or slid between, as nakedness-
caressing sheets, or donned
and worn, the train-borne
trapping of an unrepeatable
rumpling as of oatfields,
a suede of meadow,
a nub, a nap, a mane of lustre
lithe as the slide
of muscle in its
sheath of skin,
laminae of living tissue,
mysteries of flex,
affinities of texture,
subtleties of touch, of pressure
and release, the suppleness
of long and intimate
new synchronies of fingertip,
of breath, of sequence,
entities that still can rouse,
can stir or solder,
whip to a froth, or force
to march in strictly
down galleries of sheen, of flux,
cathedral domes that seem to hover
overturned and shaken like a basin
to a noise of voices,
from a rustle to the jostle
of such rush-hour
no loom, no spinneret, no forge, no factor,
no process whatsoever, patent
applied or not applied for,
no five-year formula, no fabric
for which pure imagining,
except thus prompted,
can invent the equal.
from The Kingfisher (1983)
* * *
Whole years I knew only nights: automats
& damp streets, the Lower East Side steep
with narrow rooms where sleepers turn beneath
alien skies. I ran when doorways spoke
rife with smoke & zippers. But it was only the heart's
racketing flywheel stuttering I want, I want
until exhaustion, until I was a guest in the yoke
of my body by the last margin of land where the river
mingles with the sea & far off daylight whitens,
a rending & yielding I must kneel before, as
barges loose glittering mineral freight
& behind me facades gleam with pigeons
folding iridescent wings. Their voices echo
in my voice naming what is lost, what remains.
from Ghost Money (1986)
* * *
"Beautiful Girl in the Garden"
You woke the waterdrop of day
Upon the start of the trees' song
Oh how lovely you are
With your joyful hair unbound
And with the fountain open in which you came
For me to year you passing by and living!
Oh how lovely you are
Running with a larkgirl's fluff
around the musk rose that blows at you
The way a sigh blows featherdown
With a great sun in your hair
And with a honeybee in your dance's glow
Oh how lovely you are
With the new soil that you ache for
From root to shadows' summit
among the eucalyptus nets
With half the sky in your eyes
And half in the eyes you love
Oh how lovely you are
As you wake the mill of the winds
and lean your nest to the left
That so much love not go for lost
That not one shadow make complaint
To the Greek butterfly girl you lit
Aloft with your morning-star's gladness
Filled with the east's greenery
Filled with the first-heard birds
Oh how lovely you are
Tossing the waterdrop of day
Upon the start of the trees' song!
-- Odysseus Elytis
(translated by Jeffrey Carson and Nikos Sarris)
from Orientations (1939)
* * *
Shelley was drowned near here. Arms at his side
He fell submissive through the waves, and he
Was but a minor conquest of the sea:
The darkness that he met was nurse not bride.
Others make gestures with arms open wide,
Compressing in the minute before death
What great expense of muscle and of breath
They would have made if they had never died.
Byron was worth the sea's pursuit. His touch
Was masterful to water, audience
To which he could react until an end.
Strong swimmers, fishermen, explorers: such
Dignify death by thriftless violence --
Squandering with so little left to spend.
-- Thom Gunn
from Fighting Terms (1954)
* * *
"On Reading a Poem Written in Adolescence"
Couldn't write then maybe
but how I could love --
When I said "Tree"
my skin grew rough as bark.
I almost remember how all the leaves
rushed shouting shimmering
out of my veins.
I can almost remember
how many hands I had
hooked in the sky.
-- Pat Lowther
from This Difficult Flowring (1968)
* * *
October: the falling leaves resume the earth,
Recording time upon the sodden floor;
All energies and foreign heats retract
And luminous at night, in rain, the mold
Decays. It is a timely paradox
To be considered by who works in stone.
Fading the flesh delineates the bone,
Indicts your face, a precious artifact,
that so your legal beauty may be known.
Mortal and inconclusive every fall
By repetition further unredeemed
Tears at the rotting fabric of this world
And falls away: in the destructive hour
False permanence of stone can speculate
In splendid light, illumination and
Reconnaissance of always failing time.
How should we be the emblem of our tomb?
Always we fail with time to fall: and yet
Love might construct a form so true, so tense
As to survive its own antithesis,
Achieving an ironic permanence
With, for a pulse, repetitive despair.
Fading, the flesh delineates the bone
As surely, certainly, as autumn leaves
Describe a tree when they resume the earth.
Then do not fear your beauty will be known
Only by fever, attempted by decay:
Love is the form of stone, statue and law
As far locked from corruption of the sun
As Buddha smiling in the seamless rock.
. . . for my wife
-- Howard Nemerov
from The Image and the Law (1947)
* * *
Still it's too early for sowing. Fields
surface in rain, March stars appear.
Like an afterthought, the universe submits
to familiar equations, such as the light
that falls but leaves the snow untouched.
Under the snow there will also be dust
and, what doesn't disintegrate, the dust's
later nourishment. O wind, picking up.
Again the plows rip open the darkness.
Each new day will want to be longer.
It's on long days that we are sown,
unasked, in those neat and crooked rows,
as stars sink away above. In fields
we thrive or rot without a choice,
submitting to rain and also at last to the light.
-- Ingeborg Bachmann
(translated by Peter Filkins)
from Borrowed Time (1953)
* * *
"The Oboe Player"
His lips are full, but to play he must fold them in,
making a tight line of those wet curves. It is shocking to see
them sprout out again when he finishes playing a long note,
takes a breath. The sound he produces is never thin enough,
cannot express I am a lost nymph in the woods without adding,
a voluptuous nymph at that. He has tried to take the wink
out of his playing, read the most obscure books on the subject,
one filled with circus metaphors: think tightrope
but he is always down in the sawdust, slapping a seal,
pinching the plump curves of an acrobat. The audience loves
or hates him; there is no in-between. Those who pick
at their programs wish his solo were over, others look down
thinking he would only have to look at a bundle of green twine
and it would burst into flower. Both flute and clarinet
become breathless in their attempts to outdo him.
The conductor who approached the podium resolving
to rein him in abandons his brisk baton strokes, succumbs
to swaying. And the oboist, who has been whispering
his sins into that dark wooden tube hoping for absolution,
flinches as the house lights come up hearing want
echoed back in each footstamp, each clap.
-- Matthea Harvey
from Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (2000)
* * *
Suppose you sat writing at your desk
Between days, long before dawn,
The only one up in town,
And suddenly saw out the window
A great star float by,
Or heard on the radio sweet voices
From wandering Venus or Neptune,
A little hello from the voids.
Who would believe you in the morning
Unless you'd practiced for years
A convincing style?
So you must learn to labor each day.
Finally a reader may write he's certain
Whatever you've written or will write is true.
Then all you need is the patience to wait
For stars or voices.
-- Carl Dennis
from A House of My Own (1974)
* * *
"Menace of the Skies"
It's a golden prison. The light on my hair
cries for memory, for anything
to weigh it down. All this time
I've been hanging, the secret tides
of my body staying high. I remember
I am childless. I could have given it
a hunter's name, Orion, because that's where
we end, up here, in these wisps.
We didn't do right by the Earth.
It kept giving us pictures, big frantic snow,
midnight fires in the willows.
we should have walked somewhere like Jesus,
sowing equilibrium, slow to consume.
We should have fought to know him,
to trap and spawn his grace.
But maybe we'd already met, and he saw,
and this is the scar of that encounter.
from Dark Sky Question (1998)
* * *
Under these warped eaves, the planters floating
in the humid air, the sucker vines
pulling their shadows along the trellises,
I have been watching the night come on.
Not a single car has passed by.
I have been watching the wind, slow
as a dropped feather, brush across the grass
and pass from limb to limb in the elms,
the last hand-me-down colours of the afternoon
sliding from the roofs or hanging,
a moment longer, to the metal gutters.
The streetlights have finally begun to tick on,
one at a time, with their hum and whirr.
Mosquitoes come with theirs.
The whole porch opens up to the night . . .
and, as if they were waiting for this,
two nightjars begin answering each other
across the new distance.
I do not need to see them in the trees.
I know exactly where they are.
-- David Baker
from Laws of the Land (1981)
* * *
He thrust his joy against the weight of the sea,
climbed through slid under those long banks of foam --
(hawthorn hedges in spring, thorns in the face stinging).
How his brown strength drove through the hollow and coil
of green-through weirs of water!
Muscle of arm thrust down long muscle of water.
And swimming so, went out of sight
where mortal, masterful, frail, the gulls went wheeling
in air, as he in water, with delight.
Turn home, the sun goes down; swimmer, turn home.
Last leaf of gold vanishes from the sea-curve.
take the bigk roller's shoulder, speed and swerve.
Come to the long beach home like a gull diving.
for on the sand the grey-wolf sea lies snarling;
cold twilight wind splits the waves' hair and shows
the bones they worry in their wolf-teeth. O, wind blows,
and sea crouches on sand, fawning and mouthing;
drops there and snatches again, drops and again snatches
its broken toys, its whitened pebbles and shells.
-- Judith Wright
from The Moving Image (1946)
* * *
The sky is dawning; a new lavender
where birds, caught in lariats of wind,
range from the clouds' upper battlements
to stipple early morning fields
with their mortal presence. who I am
or who you claim to be scarcely matters;
only the smell of ozone settling
over our clothes, the blood scribing praise
through our hearts. And these birds
who need to find a wintering place:
dark wings beating against the wet and damp,
lifting into the absence of the earth.
-- Chris Banks
from Bonfires (2003)
* * *
"Atheist Lighting a Candle in Albi Cathedral"
i. m. Tyler Kelley
It seems to matter
I use a Zippo,
not the taper's monkish flame.
It seems to matter I choose the white
over red before asking the difference,
that I love the fresco's talented horse
though couldn't name his rider --
but what's not authentic at the Virgin's feet?
She knows I am not a bad person, just troubled.
She knows the wick is burning.
-- Frances Leviston
from Public Dream (2007)
* * *
We were the first four-by-fours,
muscular vehicles taming the land.
Flags cracked like whips in the west wind.
We ate out of your hands.
The tanned saddle's origin, the nightmares
of ground hooves kept us blind as motors,
our the eyes of the ridden, your whores
who bridled silent, bucked at our own expense.
Instinct lived beyond your unbuilt fences,
was stampeded into the sea. But still our iron footfall
nailed smiles into the earth, patient
for steam, for sugar to fill our tanks,
and we thanked our flesh, that we could be broken
but not as machinery is broken,
that we would die unengineered, be well spoken
of, as the dead are.
We came to rest on oval courses.
We were driven by all that drives progress.
-- Sonnet L'Abbe
from A Strange Relief (2001)
* * *
"To A Married Sister"
Helping you to move in, unpacking,
I was proudly shown the bedroom. Patches
Of damp stained the walls a tea colour,
Like the sluggish tints of an old map.
Our mother would have said,'A new bride
And a through-other house make a bad match'.
But you like dilapidation, the touch
Of somewhere that's been lived-in -- the gloom
Of empty hallways, the shadow of the fanlight
Fading dimly, imperceptibly
Along the flowered paper; the hairline net
Of cracks on worn enamel; a tree-darkened room.
I left you cluttered with gifts -- crockery,
Knives, the bed-linen still in its cellophane --
watching you in that obscure privacy
Pick your way through the white delph
and golden straw to trace your new initials
On the spidered windowpane.
Your husband had talked of mending
Broken doors, the cheap furniture
That bore the accidents of others' lives,
That were there before you. A gold resin
Leaked from the slackened joints.
His new saw glittered like your wedding silver.
from The New Estate (1976)
* * *
He left her
to marry another woman
(rich, vain, ugly, stupid,
but rich) & advance his career
as a warrior-artiste,
but he missed her prettiness
her devoted love her long
long black hair.
Her form would appear to him
while he aimed at the target
etc. he would lose
himself in the vision.
Finally, after many years
he went back to find her
& he did, she was there
where he had left her,
& just as beautiful as ever.
Her love, too.They slept together &
the next morning
pure horror. She was dead
all skull & bones & dust
& her hair chased him
all around the rotting house
him yelling & terrified
& then with a soft, swishing
kind of sound it swept
down upon his neck &
in his prime.
from Artemis Hates Romance (1980)
* * *
"The Pregnant Lady Playing Tennis"
The pregnant lady playing tennis
bobs on her toes at the court's left side,
raises the green ball high, and sets it
spinning. Then moving in circles
of deliberate size, she returns the lob
with the same giddy grace. In the quiet glide
of the lady playing tennis,
there's a knowledge of speeds and angles,
arcs and aims. From the other courts,
the players watch, dismayed, half-fearing
for the safety of the lady playing tennis,
half-wishing this odd distraction shut away.
Tennis, they notice, is a dngerous game.
But the ovals close
on the lady playing tennis, as if
the tight-knit mesh of her racket
were a magnet, with the ball
a perfect pole veering home. Watching
each hard-shot lob clear the net,
the pregnant lady playing tennis
braces in the pure sensation of her game,
in her body's stretch and haul, and plants
a crazy slam past the net: past the lines,
past the out zone, past the court's steel network wall.
-- Karen Volkman
from Crash's Law (1996)
* * *
Between the stones, by the sea's edge,
And in sheltered hollows of the rock,
Flat lichens cling. Their surfaces are grey,
Dry and crinkly. some are cracked and sharp
Or flake away like weathered paint in strips.
They survive the cold light and the spray
Torn from the North Atlantic. The way they clasp
And cover the rocks seems to signify
Inconspicuous courage and tenacity. But
At evening they gleam bleakly in exact
Configurations and their order is fiercer
Than the sea's: their drab arabesques
Look splotchy, rust-wept or scaly as dead bark;
Far-off they're starlike, spiky as galaxies.
Like us they clutch and grip their chilly homes
And the wind defines their possibilities.
-- Eric Ormsby
from Bavarian Shrine and Other Poems (1990)
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Some Poems with Gardens
She is alive. Although her doctors said
there was nothing to be done, she is home,
planting her summer garden, is not dead,
and plans to eat everything she has grown
in this plot, each carrot and tomato,
each squash, pepper, lettuce leaf. She will live
beyond the harvest and what will not grow
is her tumor, its flowers held captive
and still beneath her heart. Only the live
wire of her will separates her now from
the future displayed in black and white five
months ago, backlit clearly. It will come
sooner or later, but this is her time
to cultivate and seed. she is alive.
-- Floyd Skloot
* * *
"In the Garden"
Let's go out now
before the morning
Get your bicycle,
your teddy bear --
the one that's penny-coloured
like your hair --
I want to show you
I don't exactly know.
We'll find out.
It's our turn
in this garden,
by this light,
among the snails
and daisies --
one so slow
and one so closed --
I could show you things:
how the poplar root
is pushing through,
how your apple tree is doing,
shut like traps.
But you're happy
as it is
that until this
an abstract water,
is risen here
before the dew,
before the bloom,
the snail was here.
The whole morning is his loom
and this is truth,
this is brute grace
as only instinct knows
how to live it:
turn to me
your little face.
It shows a trace still,
an inkling of it.
-- Eavan Boland
* * *
"The Gardener to His God"
Amazing research proves simple prayer makes flowers grow
many times faster, stronger, larger.
-- Advertisement in The Flower Grower
I pray that the great world's flowering stay as it is,
that larkspur and snapdragon keep to their ordinary size,
and bleedingheart hang in its old way, and Judas tree
stand well below oak, and old oaks color the fall sky.
For the myrtle to keep underfoot, and no rose
to send up a swollen face, I simply pray.
There is no disorder but the heart's. But if love goes leaking
outward, if shrubs take up its monstrous stalking,
all greenery is spurred, the snapping lips are overgrown,
and over oaks red hearts hang like the sun.
Deliver us from its giant gardening, from walking
all over the earth with no rest from its disproportion.
Let all flowers turn to stone before ever they begin to share
love's spaciousness, and faster, stronger, larger
grow from a sweet thought, before any daisy
turns, under love's gibberellic wish, to the day's eye.
Let all blooms take shape from cold laws, down from a cold air
let come their small grace or measurable majesty.
For in every place but love the imagination lies
in its limits. Even poems draw back from images
of that one country, on top of whose lunatic stemming
whoever finds himself there must sway and cling
until the high cold God takes pity, and it all dies
down, down into the great world's flowering.
--Mona Van Duyn
* * *
It is a gesture against the wild,
The ungovernable sea of grass;
A place to remember love in,
To be lonely for a while;
To forget the voices of children
Calling from a locked room;
To substitute for the care
Of one querulous human
Hundreds of dumb needs.
It is the old kingdom of man.
Answering to their names,
Out of the soil the buds come,
The silent detonations
Of power wielded without sin.
-- R. S. Thomas
* * *
"Mother Jackson and the Tomatoes"
Peering though the spider grill at the window
of the habitation she calls her own,
Mother Jackson level with the lumpy, green tomatoes
pumping themselves up to maturity.
Distorted by the cataract crimp in her one serviceable eye,
they seem to cluster together in league against her.
She feels in her bones the chill of their self-containment,
interpreting it as a display of innocence, tinged with mockery.
The tightness of their pale, luminous skins
not yet primed to a blush
reminds her of her salad days --
taunting her with the green core-loneliness
of eighty unfulfilling years.
"Who sprinkled your seed
row by row in an old seed box?" she breathes,
"and transplanted your brat suckers
in earth rich with cow dung reduced to dust?
Who dragged the garden boy's hose two chains to water you?
And had to nag the garden boy to fetch those ragged sticks
staked upright and firm in the loam for you to lean on?
Who stabbed one crooked finger teasing out a tangle of raffia,
and fumbled stubborn knots, struggling
to anchor your limp stems to the crooksticks?
Who was it rescued you when your heads
of their own weight bowed to Mother earth?"
The fruit, devoid of human affection or malice,
though it is well known that plants respond to music of sorts,
continue to burgeon in silence.
But it seem Mother Jackson derives solace
from the thoughts in her own head.
"I should have let you take your chances with the slugs,"
she adds, a note of tenderness creeping into her voice,
"and saved myself the expense of the insect spray."
From where she stands in her parlour, Mother Jackson
could squeeze one arm through the grill
to reach out and caress the frilly party dresses,
or to count the fruit by touch, each on its splayed stalk.
She resists the temptation being mindful not to injure
the tender creatures she has nurtured.
The acrid scent of the plants fills her nostrils,
more health-giving than breath of peppermint or rosemary.
-- Gloria Escoffery
* * *
Weeds have invaded my garden.
Queen Anne's lace embroiders the edges.
Lavender primroses trespass in
cracks of the pavement.
Adjuratum chokes the chrysanthemums
and the grass surrendered to
dandelions long ago.
Everywhere, everywhere honeysuckle
hems the hedges, breathing out
sweetness so strong
it drowns my senses.
I used to fight the weeds
and torn nails and scraped hands.
A few skirmishes I won,
but they always came back
stronger than ever.
Now grudgingly I give
them growing space.
Defeated in battle,
I sit in my garden chair
and take some pleasure in
the glowing color
that delights the eye.
Weeds and I have at last come to terms.
-- Helen F. Blackshear
* * *
"At the Botanical Gardens,
University of British Columbia"
The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne,
th'assay so hard, so sharp the conquering,
the dredful joy, alway that slit so yerne,
all this mene I by Love . . .
-- Chaucer, Parliament of Fowles
Among the sepals crisping
where they strain apart to show
tips of blushy petals getting set
to push each other outward
into bloom, the bud
to extend its destiny.
The parts -- the drinking roots
the arching leaves the gorgeous
the dredful joy in days of time --
maintain their efforts separately
though the loft & drift
of heavy odor from the heart
as petals open over it
proclaim their joyful unity
even as it dissipates.
-- Marie Ponsot
* * *
I couldn't do it again,
I could hardly bear to look at it --
in the garden, in light rain
the young couple planting
a row of peas, as though
no one has ever done this before,
the great difficulties have never as yet
been faced and solved --
They cannot see themselves,
in fresh dirt, starting up
the hills behind them pale green, clouded with flowers --
She wants to stop;
he wants to get to the end,
to stay with the thing --
Look at her, touching his cheek
to make a truce, her fingers
cool with spring rain;
in thin grass, bursts of purple crocus --
even here, even at the beginning of love,
her hand leaving his face makes
an image of departure
and they think
they are free to overlook
-- Louise Gluck
* * *
"The White Garden"
So white are the white flowers in the white garden that I
Disappear in no time at all among lace and veils.
For whom do I scribble the few words that come to me
From beyond the arch of white roses as from nowhere,
My memorandum to posterity? Listen. 'The saw
Is under the garden bench and the gate is unlatched.'
* * *
"Primer on Digging"
Memory is the characteristic art form
of those who have just decided to die
and those who have just decided to live.
-- Daniel Stern, The Suicide Academy
Listen: when you dig
in the garden
expect to be bitten.
Those fish heads you buried
last spring endure beyond seasons,
breeding their own subtleties.
Your fingers will encounter
the slow growth of moss,
the spasms of slugs
recoiling from salt.
Go further: one mild earthworm
is not sufficient to measure the world.
Hard by the brick wall
the roly-poly unfurls,
a bolus of damp memory
assaulting your nostrils.
Wait. Don't reach for the spade.
You must touch the white root
with your fingers, follow
its search for cool water .
Now that your hands are submerged
notice how the dark treasures
quicken like dreams
beneath your swollen fingertips.
-- Dannye Romine Powell
* * *
"The Gardener's Litany"
We plant, it is true.
I start the tiny seedlings
in peat pots, water, feed.
But the garden is alive
in the night with its own
adventures. Slugs steal
out, snails carry their
spiraled houses upward,
rabbits hop over the fence.
The garden like a green
and bronze goddess loves
zucchini this year but will
not give us cucumbers.
she does as she pleases.
Purple beans but no yellows.
Serve me, she whispers,
maybe I will give you tomatoes,
or maybe I will hatch into
thousands of green caterpillars.
Maybe I will grow only bindweed,
joe-pye weed and dandelions.
All gardeners worship weather
and luck, We begin in compost
and end in decay. The life
of one is the death of the other.
Beetles eat squash plant. Bird
eats beetle. Soil eats all.
-- Marge Piercy
* * *
"In The Pea Patch"
These as they clack in the wind
saying castanets, saying dance with me,
saying do me, dangle their intricate
and these with the light shining through
call up a woman in a gauzy dress
young, with tendrils of hair at her neck,
leaning in a summer doorway
and as the bloom of the lime-green pod
rubs away under the polishing thumb
in the interior
sweet for the taking, nine little fetuses
nod their cloned heads.
-- Maxine Kumin
* * *
With his knife he cuts a small country of grass,
shakes it like a rabbit's skin, loosening
the clumps of blood-dirt.
Then he cuts at the weeds, their difficult leaves.
He cuts with joy, with determination,
without fear that they will come back -- which they surely will.
But it's the transplanting of the perennials.
How he lifts their slender noise, the buds' bright singing.
Then finds that one place for them to spill their seeds.
When he puts them into the ground,
a certainty comes back into the world --
that his line will continue
through these flowers,
these perennials' small exertings.
The roots already grabbing onto their tiny bit of earth,
-- Laura Lush
* * *
Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.
So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
"Light splashed . . ."
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.
-- Stanley Kunitz
* * *
Welcome! You think the bamboo stand
more lush this year? You have an eye.
The people perish daily yet the island
blooms. The blood of those who die
seems to enrich the soil and roses darken
to a warmer red, crotons
to a deeper gold. How else explain the garden's
new exuberance? Tonight the guns
will fertilize a lovelier tomorrow
while I stroll in splendid isolation
under the protection and shadow
of this wall, finding consolation
in music, poetry and art. After all,
I do not pull the trigger, harbour no hate.
How fey of you, my dear, to smuggle this apple
past the customs. Should I take a bite?
-- Ralph Thompson
* * *
"To a Garden Asleep"
Sleep, garden, in your beauty now:
You may, nor fear a meddling hand
Will dare disturb a single leaf.
Be what you are, your time is brief:
Do not attempt to understand,
Or wonder when or why or how
This moment will disintegrate.
It is, and while it is, you are.
The day is windless, and it seems
To hold the present fast; our dreams
Vanish into a distant star
Insensitive to human fate.
Extended leaves and petals fit
Exactly into the still air,
And neither proffer; nor refuse.
The quiet is complete. No clues
Suggest another time will dare
To force your beauty to submit.
-- C. H. Sisson
* * *
Like beheaded geese plucked to their yellow skin they lie in the shade
Of an obscene but stalwart little forest of thick leaves,
Lost in all that heat, in a world they never made.
Brought into the house they lose their murdered, meat-shop look --
I place them along the stone wall on the porch,
Their necks entwined like abstracts of little yellow mandolins accompanied by a book.
In a manner of speaking, I have arranged for their rescue --
They are handsome as a Braque, accented by that important,
Lyric-looking volume with the jacket of dark blue.
Always and always the suspicion mounts
as we accumulate ourj world around us and see it rot
That, given the given, it isk what we do with a thing that counts.
Which is not to say that now or ever one will quite be done
With whatever dreams itself to be in us at first glance,
Little glutted, yellow-bellied, murdered geese lying in the sun.
But if on closer look the mandolins are warted, not quite so sleekly gold,
And the wind shallows through thekj pages of the books,
We shall have made our passion for a little while do as they were told.
-- Charles Edward Eaton
* * *
"The Sadness of Gardens"
Nothing sadder anywhere than this:
A garden at the end of summer.
Gone are the tomatoes and beans,
The broccoli and lettuce, the squash,
Melons and peppers, all that rich promise
Earlier in the year. But even as
The rose petals fall and the hydrangeas
Brown and wither, they are preparing
For next year's crop, for return from rest,
For warm weather, turned earth, spring.
* * *
Older it seems than the h ouse,
Though by the upright slabs of the steps,
Weathered, but firm still,
And the terracing, hacked out of rock,
Alone a stranger can tell
That it rose from a vineyard's decay:
Not for white jasmine's fragrance breathed in
Or wisteria's, more harshly sweet,
Such labour here was expended.
But a rich moisture trickles
Through cracks, so that on the salvaged soil
Indigenous trees grow beside
Fruit bush, azalea, peony,
Threaten the absent owner
With a reversion to woodland, scrub.
What will outlast them all,
When to climb the steep slope,
To clear and plant and select
Proves too much for those pampered
As flower and shrub are now,
Grapevines were once,
Is ivy that sucks its living
From rock-face cavity, ledge,
Mounts apple, pear trunk too
Till with the stem, swollen,
It cuts, with its tendrils, leafage
\Drains or smothers the matrix, killing,
and at last will lift, then cover
Even the steps, unshored.
* * *
"In the Van Dusen Gardens"
Rhododendrons burst from hot green,
magenta splashed on with a lavish brush.
Blooms hang, pregnant and tropical, petals wet
with the moist translucence of desire.
I'm heavy, dazed by the floral sheen
lustrous as bruised lipstick. I blush
at a blossom's dampfolds. The flowers sweat.
And then, from this fire,
stillness. Underfoot, a nutshell consoles
with the sealed promise of what it contains.
Beside the path a maze of veins
resolves itself in the skeleton of a leaf.
Lucent, perfect: I think of our souls
and what they maintain. Love. Belief.
-- Alison Calder
* * *
The last seeds have been planted,
and shadow has fallen, over
the long rows. In the loose shingle
the wrens in their tiny nest sing
when the mother comes with their food.
Tired from planting, I'm lying
in the soft grass, listening.
I recognize the dove, the purple finch,
and the cardinal's What cheer, cheer, cheer . . . .
I want to rest here and savor
the first evening of summer,
its delicate green musk. All winter
I looked out my window as if at a blank page,
planning the story of flowers.
Now the ruffled blue iris
joins the poppy with its frivolous orange heart
and the black scar at the center.
I can hardly remember
how I woke in the nights and wept
over something unchangeable.
This year, for the first time,
I noticed the early crocus without elation.
But now the habitual tasks
have carried me out here: weeds
and the work of planting have left me
in the last natural light,
a light I can still see by.
Overhead, in the thin branches,
strands of the day are wound
with the pink threads of the evening,
and nearby, on the fence post,
a thrush is singing, busy with its life.
-- Patricia Hooper