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)

* * *

"Tornado Weather"

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
of looking-glass,

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

this wind-silver
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
hierarchical formation

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.

--Amy Clampitt
from The Kingfisher (1983)

* * *

"At Thirty"

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.

--Lynda Hull
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.

Even  now
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)

* * *

"March Stars"

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)

* * *

"Useful Advice"

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.

--Larissa Szporluk
from Dark Sky Question (1998)

* * *

"Front Porch"

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)

* * *

"The Surfer"

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)

* * *

"Wintering Place"

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.

--Ciaran Carson
from The New Estate (1976)

* * *

"Japanese Movies"

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 &
throttled him
in his prime.

--Sharon Thesen
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)

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