Saturday, November 29, 2008


Twenty Poems by Poets for Other Poets

"Voices Inside and Out"
for Hayden Carruth

When I was a child, there was an old man with
a ruined horse who drove his wagon through the back
streets of our neighborhood, crying, Iron! Iron!
Meaning he would buy bedsprings and dead stoves.
Meaning for me, in the years since, the mind's steel
and the riveted girders of the soul. When I lived
on Ile Saint-Louis, a glazier came every morning,
crying Vitre! Vitre! Meaning the glass on his back,
but sounding like the swallows swooping years later
at evening outside my high windows in Perugia.
In my boyhood summers, Italian men came walking ahead
of the truck calling out the ripeness of their melons,
and old Jews slogged in the snow, crying, Brooms! Brooms!
Two hundred years ago, the London shop boys yelled
at people going by, What do you lack? A terrible
question to hear every day. "Less and less," I think.
The Brazilians say, "In this country we have everything
we need, except what we don't have."

-- Jack Gilbert

* * *

"The Room I Work In"
To Derek Walcott

The room I work in is as foursquare
as half a pair of dice.
It holds a wooden table
with a stubborn peasant's profile,
a sluggish armchair, and a teapot's
pouting Hapsburg's lip.
From the window I see a few skinny trees,
wispy clouds, and toddles,
always happy and loud.
Sometimes a windshield glints in the distance
or, higher up, an airplane's silver husk.
Clearly others aren't wasting time
while I work, seeking adventures
on earth or in the air.
The room I work in is a camera obscura.
And what is my work --
waiting motionless,
flipping pages, patient meditation,
passivities not pleasing
to that judge with the greedy gaze.
I write as slowly as if I'll live two hundred years.
I seek images that don't exist,
and if they do they're crumpled and concealed
like summer clothes in winter,
when frost stings the mouth.
I dream of perfect concentration; if I found it
I'd surely stop breathing.
Maybe it's good I get so little done.
But after all, I hear the first snow hissing,
the frail melody of daylight,
and the city's gloomy rumble.
I drink from a small spring,
my thirst exceeds the ocean.

-- Adam Zagajewski
translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

* * *

"For You"
For James Schuyler

New York's lovely weather hurts my forehead
here where clean snow is sitting, wetly
round my ears, as hand-in-glove and
head-to-head with Joe, I go reeling
up first Avenue to Klein's. Christmas
is sexy there. We feel soft sweaters
and plump rumpled skirts we'd like to try.
It was gloomy being broke today, and baffled
in love: Love, why do you always take my heart away?
But then the soft snow came sweetly falling down
and head in the clouds, feet soaked in mush
I rushed hatless into the white and shining air,
glad to find release in heaven's care.

-- Ted Berrigan

* * *

"The Garden"
for Robert Penn Warren

It shines in the garden,
in the white foliage of the chestnut tree,
in the brim of my father's hat
as he walks on the gravel.

In the garden suspended in time
my mother sits in a redwood chair;
light fills the sky,
the folds of her dress,
the roses tangled beside her.

And when my father bends
to whisper in her ear,
when they rise to leave
and the swallows dart
and the moon and stars
have drifted off together, it shines.

Even as you lean over this page,
late and alone, it shines; even now
in the moment before it disappears.

-- Mark Strand

* * *

"Stones and Angels"
for Yannis Ritsos

I tried to find a stone for you to paint on, Yanni, and I found that
Stones are lost sheep in golden dust
Stones are the blind eyes of lost gods
Stones are stars that failed and fell here
Stones are the faces of watches without hands,

Stones are the masters of time.

And we would become the masters of time, Yanni, in the great loneliness which is God,
In the mad, dynamic silence poems and icons adore.

We would paint the universe the colors of our minds and flirt with death, but
Whether we dance or faint or kneel we fall
On stones.

Stones are old money with which we rent the world, forgetting that the landscape borrows us
For its own time and its own reason.

The way is open, it is paved with stones;
They are the fallen eyes of angels.

Antiparos, Greece, 1976

-- Gwendolyn MacEwen

* * *

"Mango Eating in America"
for Denise Duhamel & Nick Carbo

The best way to eat a mango,
my father-in-law once told me,
is in the shower, how juices

run down your chin
and neck, when the seed slips
out of your hands like soap,

and you bite down on the soft
meat of a delicious, ripe mango,
and I remember the times I went

into the mango orchards of a distant
neighborhood, climbed the trees,
shook a branch or two, knocked

down an armful of mangos, then sat
to eat them on the stairs of a house
previously owned by a doctor

who'd left his country, and there
in the quiet, between the chirps
of birds and the warm, sticky breeze,

I ate the mangos, bit into them
with a hunger for sweetness,
wondered about a god who created

such a delicious tropical fruit,
so perfect, and the trees loomed
around me like these giants,

friends offering up their gifts;
it's been years now since I've eaten
a real Cuban mango, but the memory

comes back not only in dreams,
but in Miami when the street vendors
lift their bags of three mangos

for a dollar, and I am so tempted,
but decline the offer because I know
that, like my father who never ate imported

mangos again in his life, I will one day soon.

-- Virgil Suarez

* * *

"Appointment in June"
for Marilyn Hacker

Roses curve around the lawn, their pale cheeks
Barely letting the blood's anguish well up
And beyond the roses' curve, the curve of benches, loges
To contemplate their candor, offered to the sun
Which slides across them, as across a page
Whose words will soon no longer matter
The sun broils superfluous words
Which keep it at bay. Good gardener
It burns what it has first brought to bloom
And so my first death was your death in June
The nectar of your brain borne off by bees
Towards the rays of a starry hive
Perhaps you were my first real poem
Flesh warms the benches but no emptiness
Shimmers when the embracing couple leaves
Children play at capturing the small
Red house atop a bright yellow ladder
Hanging over its ramp like bent old men
A girl in laced boots bites into an apple
The drone of passing cars is comforting
Will there always be people to embrace
in the enclosure of the blood-loud arms?
And grass, pale roses to calm
Their clamorous flight into the void?
And will there always be a figure bent
Over decoding the benevolent
Mystery of a summer morning?
Someone something to suggest somewhere
A place to meet again?

-- Claire Malroux
translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

* * *

"Three Butterflies"
for Fleur Adcock

Your sister in New Zealand held the telephone
Above your mother in her open coffin
For you to communicate. How many times
Did silence encircle the globe before
The peacock butterfly arrived in your room?
We all know what the butterfly represents.
I granted my own mother a cabbage-white.
On the Dooaghtry cairn which commemorates
God knows whom a tortoiseshell alighted
To sun itself. It had been wintering
In memory's outhouse and escaped the wren.

-- Michael Longley

* * *

"Message to Cesar Vallejo"

Caught in the crosswind
of my desires, I'm here
to stay: New Orleans,
Crescent City along the river
that still moves underground
to take the dead in its arms.
Where moss creeps down
ropes on the hanging trees,
and the children of mixed blood
carefully whiten the faces
in the photo albums. I hear
the blues through a grillework door:
I can't go on this way.

Vallejo, you would understand
how a lover's memory of home
opens the shuttered windows,
and know why he still paces off
outlines of the auction block.
How we don't owe any explanation
for where we don't belong.

I read your exile's life again.
Those months in the Chicama Valley
you watched Indians come back at dusk
from the sugarfields for the day's
handful of rice, the sweat of alcohol
on credit, your first poems
burning the planation storehouse
to the ground. Trujillo's jail
and Espana falling on its thorns.
Even then you knew
how border towns are everywhere
and the passport that opens them
a switchblade through melons.

No more excuses, you would say.
No listening for the lover's key
in the lock, breath like mosquito netting
I've wrapped myself in.
suitcases are too easy,
the army blanket from Da Nang
at the foot of the bed
another reason not to stay.

You never went home to Huamachuco.
What y ou knew Good Friday,
1938, crying those last words
from your bed: "I want to go
to Spain!" as Franco's troops
swept down the Ebro Valley to the sea.

Cesar, I'm staying.
I, whose people starved
during the York enclosures
and burned at the stake
in Zurich, know how often my name
was written in the logbooks
of slaveships. I cancel
the exist visas I thought
my life depended on.

-- Carolyne Wright

* * *

to Tom van Deel, Dutch academic, poet and
critic, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday.

This evening I would like to say a few things
while actually there are no things to express them

such as light -- would like to explain
what light is before death
takes us off in the night

into the night as I try
to think you and me back
together this evening --

but look at the glasses in our hands
filled to the brim filled with light

-- Rutger Kopland
translated from the Dutch by Willem Groenewegen

* * *

"For You"
for Michael Palmer

Did we run out of things or just a name for you?
Above us the sun doubles its acclaim for you.

Negative sun or negative shade pulled from the ground . . .
and the image brought in one ornate frame for you.

At my every word they cry, "Who the hell are you?"
What would you reply if they thus sent Fame to you?

What a noise the sentences make writing themselves --
Here's every word that we used as a flame for you.

Because in this dialect the eyes are crossed or quartz,
A STATUE A RAZOR A FACT I exclaim for you.

The birthplace of written language is bombed to nothing.
How neat, dear America, is this game for you?

The angel of history wears all expressions at once.
What will you do? Look, his wings are aflame for you.

On a visitor's card words are arranged in a row --
Who was I? Who am I? I've brought my claim. For you.

A pity I don't know if you're guilty of something!
I would -- without y our knowing -- take the blame for you.

Still for many days he rain would continue to fall . . .
A voice will say, "I'm burning, God, in shame for You."

Something like smoke rises from the snuffed-out distance . . .
Whose house did that fire find which once came for you?

God's dropped the scales. Whose wings will cover me, Michael?
Don't pronounce the sentence Shahid overcame for you.

-- Agha Shahid Ali

* * *

"Sunday Morning"
for Don McKay & Jan Zwicky

Moonset at sunrise, the mind
dividing between them. The teeth
of the young sun sink through the breast of the cloud.
And a great white pelican rests in the bay,
on his way from Great Slave Lake
to Guatemala.
The mind is made out of the animals
it has attended.
In all the unspoken languages,
it is their names.

To know is to hold no opinions: to know
meaning thinks, thinking means.
The mind is the place not already taken.
The mind is not-yet-gathered beads of water
in the teeth of certain leaves --
Saxifraga punctata, close by the stream
under the ridge leading south to Mount Hozameen,
for example -- and the changing answers of the moon.
The mind is light rain gathered
on the ice-scarred rock, a crumpled mirror.

To be is to speak with the bristlecone
pines and the whitebarks,
glaciers and rivers, grasses and schists,
and if it is permitted, once also
with pelicans. being
is what there is room for in that
conversation. The loved is what stays
in the mind; that is, it has meaning,
and meaning keeps going. This
is the definition of meaning.

What is is not speech.
What is is the line
between the unspeakable
and the already spoken.

-- Robert Bringhurst

* * *

"Sunrise: Ode to Frank O'Hara"

The gulls glide, in 1939, into the bonus of another country,
the balloons and machinery of all the Europes and Americas,
a hundred million thoughts at rest in the river,
stirring, as I begin to think about myself,
and in the history of my ears making a beginning of the frontier.

Ah the complete bunker of the earth and its dirt flying up,
across our view at the peak of the centuries,
pauses and silences as subtle as the wines of bordeaux, as words
coming time after time before the vigilance of your dizzying indulgence.

An incredible weight hangs today from my evasions;
you, and my biography, which gets a little endless,
your immortal heart disappearing endlessly in the crisis,
slowly to be clear and quickly to be interesting,
as we stay in the tonic of the bad air.

So what is the distinction of the river drawing you forward,
away from the restiveness of a vast American poetry
you created with an unfathomable love?
You will be with the few of the past great enough to talk to,
as the remainder of this century of poetry begins to suffer
and your work bursts repeatedly our silence of unbearable memory.

August and then December will close the century
O air of your dreams descending on my day off.

-- Tony Towle

* * *

For Gregory Orr, who asked, "How can one teach
'Spring and Fall: To a Young Child' in the Hawaiian Islands?"

Your question persists, like the scent
of ginger blossoms, like the remembered
banyan trees whose aerated roots
seize the earth like the claws of a cast-out god.
How, in a place where winter means
a token lessening, an almost unnoticed
handicap on profusion,
like the quiet stages inside our bodies,
which mean adjustment but not death,
not even simulation of death.
Not like snow, the old metaphor
for the bleached shroud; not like the trees
outside my window, all bare bones,
those terrible reminders
which also comfort in their mute
indifference. Yesterday
it was 80 degrees in Honolulu,
while here in the frozen grass
a hungry owl dug its claws
into a rabbit in broad daylight.
But that's taxonomy; change the names
and y ou have a tropical bird and its prey.
No difference there. And perhaps
the shock and clatter of loosening leaves
is greater in the imagination
of those who live in paradise
than it is for us who see it happen,
just as we dream the plumage
of equinoctial parrots
even gaudier than it is,
and a deaf-blind child
imagined a Venice so splendid
she could not sleep all night.

Perhaps today a girl
who might have been your student
is driving around the island
changed. Someone she loved has died.
She stares at the prodigal trees,
the bold, insistent flowers,
but all she sees is a bitter landscape:
goldengrove unleaving,
bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

-- Lisel Mueller

* * *

"People Like Us"
For James Wright

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can't remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and people
Who love God but can't remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It's
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he's lonely, and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul,
And greatness has a defender, and even in death you're safe.

-- Robert Bly

* * *

"To Vasko Popa in Rome"

'Rome I dislike,' you said in French,
'With its imperial pretensions.' You
Were the least imperious of men, in verse
And person. We met only once again
And it was clear y our days were near their end,
Your life and death feeding on cigarette
On cigarette, 'Like a prince in exile,'
Someone said, but that seemed fanciful for a man
Indifferent to empire. You were in exile from yourself,
From that puzzled ebullience, watchful irony,
Balanced, it seemed almost bodily --
For you were then a man of ample flesh --
Between Gallic precision, Italian largesse,
As our conversation veered from tongue to tongue
In search of words adequate to express
Our sense of the occasion. As to princeliness, I recall
Hearing you muse, 'Hughes, they say,'
)Crossing the Borghese park near midnight)
'Lives like a prince.' 'That's true,'
Was my reply, 'if generosity's what they intend,
And if you are his guest or friend, it's you
Who live like one.' Pacing on,
Complaining of the melancholy great cities breed,
As if all generosity must feed that, too,
You drew your gloom from a reserve of riches
That soon must fail. In Rome, today,
I almost persuade myself you would agree
That the bounty of the place exceeds pretention,
Bursting on one, as when the roar
Of the Trevi fountain rounds the corner of its square;
And that these levels of wrought stone and water --
Metamorphosis over an ungiving ground --
Are one more form of poetry, and we
Guests of the imagination here. The imagination
Proposes what it does not need to prove
And, when all's said and done, what cannot be:
Now we shall never pace this square together
Through the Roman sunlight and the autumn air.

--Charles Tomlinson

* * *

"Three Apples, Two Chestnuts, Bowl, and
Silver Goblet; or, The Silver Goblet"
after Chardin; for Lisa Jarnot

As in the darkly open science of the foreground, sheepishly
at rest as upon air; the rest we stand in. We stand in for
the chestnuts, a type of their magnetism, reflecting on the
room; or upon the average darkness, aristocratic brown, with
hunted things; we come to rest among them. The painted
room, locked in a type of kindness. We reflect upon this
lovely habit of this hare with whom we are, in the habit
of this picture, getting caught. To hide the virtues of a
boundless leaping, we regard reflection in the chestnut. As
if the painter drew himself as Death into the still life; as of a
sculptural stillness, commas in the dark. A figure of ourselves
reflected or a type of picture resting; sheepishly as air, locked
in a form of capture.

-- Elizabeth Willis

* * *

"To Yehuda Amichai"

Because you are a kind and I'm only a prince
without a country
with a people who trust in me
I wander sleepless at night

And you are a king and look on me as a friend
worryingly -- how long can you drag yourself
through the world

-- A long time Yehuda To the very end

Even our gestures differ -- gestures of mercy
of scorn of understanding
-- I want nothing from you but understanding

I fall asleep at a fie with my head on my hand
when night burns out dogs howl and guards go
to and fro in the mountains

-- Zbigniew Herbert
translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles

* * *

"Pecked to Death by Swans"
--for Stephen Dobyns

Your tear-wracked family bedside: elderly grandchildren,
great-grandchildren arriving
straight from med school; not a peep of pain, calm,
lucid, last words impeccably drafted?

No. Pecked to death by swans.

Having saved the lives of twelve crippled children
(pulled from a burning circus tent), the president
calling your hospital room, and you say: Tell him
to call back; all the opiate drugs you want?

No. Pecked to death by swans.

Great honors accrued, Don't go telegram from the pope
on the side table, serious lobby
already in place re a commemorative stamp; a long
long life capped by falling, peacefully, asleep?

No. I said: Pecked to death by swans.

By a bullet meant for a lover or a best friend,
by a car set to kill someone else whom you pushed,
because you could, out of the way; the ululations
of a million mourners rising to y our window?

No. Pecked to death by swans.

-- Thomas Lux

* * *
* * *

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Twenty Four-Line Poems and Two More


at this hour
death has more spark
than life.

-- Claribel Alegria
translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden

* * *


The sheets and towels of rented rooms

a million ways
of failing to say home.

-- Selima Hill

* * *


You, I,  steadying
in our in-bourne, out-bourne sparks
of empathy, the flower
of Earth:  wet red fireworks-flower.

-- Jean Valentine

* * *


Were it indeed an accident of birth
That she looks on the gentle earth
And the seemingly gentle sky
Through one brown and one blue eye.

-- Paul Muldoon

* * *

"The lines of this new song are nothing"

The lines of this new song are nothing
But a tune making the nothing full
Stonelike become more hard than silent
The tune's image holding in the line.

-- Louis Zukofsky

* * *

"The Woodcut on the Cover of
Robert Frost's Complete Poems"

For Wendell Berry

A man plowing starts at the side of the field
Nearer home and works outward and away.
Why?  Because plowing is always an adventure.
Then walking home with the horses at end of day.

-- Hayden Carruth

* * *

"'The Vision of the Virgin'"

For his climactic Divine Comic strip
Illustrating Dante's Paradiso
Botticelli wrote this title, then stopped
And left the vellum blank.  It was as though

-- Ian Duhig

* * *

"Small Song:  Sandwiches"

So:  we are alive!
Bread, and between it
slices of summer afternoon.  Coffee,
talk, ash trees leaping into the astonished sky.

-- Jan Zwicky

* * *


Remember the wise philosophers:
Life is but a moment.
And yet whenever we waited for our girlfriends
it was an eternity.

-- Jaroslav Seifert
translated from the Czech by Ewald Osers

* * *


After many winters the moss
finds the sawdust crushed bark chips
and says old friend
old friend

-- W. S. Merwin

* * *

"The Florida Citrus Growers Association
Responds to a Proposed Law Requiring
Handwashing Facilities in the Fields"

An orange,
squeezed on the hands,
is an adequate substitute
for soap and water 

-- Martin Espada

* * * 

"The House"

The house I loved was demolished
Death walks in the stillness of the garden
The life whispered in the foliage
Broke and is no longer mine

-- Sophia de Mello Breyner
translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith

* * *


Mare's tail clouds cotton white
against a summer yacht blue
sky -- the extending of light into
the renewing of the evening

-- Tom Clark

* * *

"Epitaph for a Good Mouser"

Take, Lord, this soul of furred unblemished worth,
The sum of all I loved and caught on earth.
Quick was my holy purpose and my cause.
I die into the mercy of thy claws.

-- Anne Stevenson

* * *

"Snowmen in a Green Hayfield"

No one had expected the snow so early.
Children pulled out sledges, built snowmen and houses.
Today it's sunny and mild again.  The snowmen
are still there, alone, weeping in a green hayfield.

-- Olav H. Hauge
translated from the Norwegian by Robin Fulton

* * *

"At a Cocktail Party"

They are machines with few surprises
Circulating with little ado
On plottable courses, asking each other
What make are you?

-- C. H. Sisson

* * *

"A Valediction for My Father (1898 - 1974)"

all the old things
are gone now

and the people are

-- Jonathan Williams

* * *

"not all harsh sounds displease"

not all harsh sounds displease --
Yellowhead blackbirds cough
through  reeds and fronds
as through pronged bronze

-- Lorine Niedecker

* * *


the laundry basket lid is still there
though badly chewed up by the cat
but time has devoured the cat

-- Anselm Hollo

* * *

"To free myself from sleep, to be"

To free myself from sleep, to be
the slow explosion of seaside flowers
in the happy air, a fist aflame,
light cloven by the blaze of limestone white.

-- Eugenio de Andrade
translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

* * *
* * *

Two more (in my estimation, the finest two
four-line poems in the English language):

"Upon Prew His Maid"

In this little urn is laid
Prewdence Baldwin (once my maid)
From whose happy spark here let
Spring the purple violet.

-- Robert Herrick

* * *

"Western Wind"

Western wind, when wilt thou blow
the small rain down can rain?
Christ, were my love in my arms
and I in my bed again.

-- Anonymous, c. mid 15th Century

* * *
* * *

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