Thursday, January 22, 2009


Some Poems with Bugs in Them

"To a Wasp"

You must have chortled
finding that tiny hole
in the kitchen screen.  Right
into my cheese cake batter
you dived,
no chance to swim ashore,
no saving spoon,
the mixer whirring
your legs, wings, stinger,
churning you into such
delicious death.
Never mind the bright April day.
Did you not see
rising out of cumulus clouds
that fist aimed at both of us?

-- Janice Townley Moore

* * *

"Mountain Steppers"

They're shy --
a look, 
a bit of light,
and they run and hide.
Maybe it's the feelers on their heads
can weigh in waves
what you're thinking from far away.
All they want is a lick of water,
a dot of egg,
or a nap on the crumbs under the toaster.
They have shiny black eyes
small as pencil points,
and wings on their backs they never use,
fine as peanut skin.
They look like they're driving when they run,
they go so smoothly.
And they can walk over the sharpest knives
without hurting their feet,
or sit upside down under the neck of a spoon
without falling off.
Stop fast too!
And they talk with their arms and legs like dancers.
Real steppers!

-- Peter Van Toorn

* * *


When you see us swarm -- rustle of

wingbeat, collapsed air -- your mind
tries to make us one, a common

intelligence, a single spirit un-
tethered.  You imagine us merely
searching out the next

vessel, anything

that could contain us, as if the hive
were just another jar.  You try

to hold the ending, this
unspooling, make it either

zero or many, lack

or flurry.  I was born,
you begin, & already each word
makes  you smaller.  Look at this field --

Cosmos.  Lungwort.  Utter each
& break

into a thousand versions of yourself.

You can't tell your stories fast enough.
The answer is not one, but also

not two.

-- Nick Flynn

* * *

"Shellback Tic"

Match-head of groins
nailhead in fur
blank itch of blank
the blood thereof
is the strength thereof is
the jellied life-breath  is O the
sweet incision so the curdy reed
floodeth sun-hot liquor the only ichor the only
which existeth wholly alley-echoing
duple rhythmic feed which same of great yore turned
my back on every other thing the mothering thereof
the seed whereof in need-clotting strings
of plaque I dissolve with reagent drool
that doth stagger swelling's occult throb.
O one tap of splendour turned to me --
blank years grass grip
sun haggard rain
shell to that all.

-- Les Murray

* * *


Dark specks whirr like lint alive in the sunlight.
The sky above the birches is disturbed.

Swarms swarm between pure heaven and treetops:
it's the mayflies' four-hour frenzy before they fall.

Waterward, they lay eggs in their dying
spasms, having then endured it all.

For five long shimmering afternoons that summer
we walked beneath the birchgroves on the shore

and watched the empty light on leaftips pour
and out of nowhere whirled the nebulae,

gadding gilded, all green energy, toward death.
After, the birches stirred, and we beneath

saw south-flying mallards bleak the air.
Green turns husk now.  The world's shrunk to the bone.

Our thin flesh alone
through this long, cold, fruitless season

scampers frantic in wild whirligig motion
while larvae of the mayfly wait

and mallards migrate and the sap runs slow;
ours alone form time strains to purchase

pleasures mayflies find among the birches.

-- Daniel Hoffman

* * *

"Autumn Places"

Autumn, labyrinth of sibilance,
of syllables, I mean, slow pupil,
river of unmeasured waters
and of tall alders where
the last light of the cicadas sings,
still glassy, feathery, and white.

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

* * *

"The Moth"

The moth
having left its pupa
in the galaxy of flour grains
and pots of rancid

the moth 
discovers in this 
topical darkness
that it's a kind of butterfly
it can't believe it,
it can't believe it,

it can't believe
that it's a tiny,
flying, relatively
free moth

and it wants to go back,
but there's no way.

Freedom makes
the moth tremble
forever, that is,
twenty-two hours.

-- Miroslave Holub
(translated  from the Czech by David Young & Dana Habova)

* * *

"The Dazed Fly"

My flatted hand descends.
It's too late for him to write his will
or think about estranged wife and friends.  Best
just to lie still and keep hoping he'll be able
to hobble to his notary
when what's happened's
all over.  For now he must
wait till complete awareness returns
and lie, as now, unmoving and quiet
since not yet undazed enough to crawl
to where the smells of mowed grass
are coming from
or the fine points
of fractured light.

He begins a faint buzz, a feeble stir
himself around, once, once more,
like a minuscule coin or turnstile
a hand has twirled into motion
stops all of a sudden
to get his bearings and rest.  Another buzz
this time much louder
marking out a silence
in which to consider possible meanings.

Was it another insect, larger, more powerful?
The wind that
when the luck's with him
usually lifts his wings
and escorts him from hedge to hedge?
Perhaps a Fly-God he'd ignorantly overlooked
or hadn't sufficiently flattered or propitiated?

Or, as now seems most likely,
the ledge he was hopping towards when he felt
the sharp thunder at his back
and everything went suddenly inexplicably black?

-- Irving Layton

* * *

"Song:  Wild Grape"

Tendrils of wild grape,
their pink tips elegant, erotic,
twine along the edges of the porch.

Bees hover in the soapwort, sound 
both balm and irritant, someone
insisting that you sleep.

It will be weeks
before th e hard green clusters
swell and darken, and by then

we're gone.
Always such impatience --
abundant, now, and sad.

--Jan Zwicky

* * *


When the flowered tablecloth, honey, and fruit were mowed from the 
table in one fell swoop, the wasp made an attempt to fly off.  Wrapped in
stifling clouds of net curtain, it went on buzzing for a long time.  Finally it
made it to the window.  Again and again it beat its weakening body against
the cold welded air of the pane.  In the last movement of its wings there
lingered the same faith that the body's unrest can raise a wind carrying us
to longed-for worlds.

You who have stood under a beloved's window, you who have seen
your happiness on display -- can you find it in yourselves to extract the sting
of this death?

-- Zbigniew Herbert
(translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles)

* * *

"Butterfly Valley:  V"

As admirals, as blues, as mourning cloaks
in the colors' periodic table scheme
assisted by the smallest nectar drop
can raise the earth up like a diadem,

as they, in color's clear lightheartedness,
in lavender, in crimson, lignite brown,
neatly encompass sorrow's hiding places,
although their life of joy is too soon done,

with butterfly proboscis they are able
to breathe the world as an image-fable
light as the gliding flight of a caress,

till every spark of love is used, and just
beauty's and terror's vying sparks remain,
as peacock butterflies are fluttering.

-- Inger Christensen
(translated from the Danish by Susanna Nied)

* * *

"Poem Beginning With An Image Of Fireflies"

All night, watching
those aerial embers
wink off and on

beneath the stars
in the meadowy
clearing around the pond

I try to scatter
the sparks
of my desire, every taste

every touch and trace
even the faintest fragrance
of my wanting you

But who would chasten
the fires of desire
must swim, come morning

in a weedy pond, as I do now
having left behind
my rings, my clothes

the house just now waking
in the welter of bird cry
Must turn aside from

the weeping beech
lichen gray in the mist
Must ignore the sun

burning off the mist
that conceals
the one bright pearl I'm after

Must forget I'm and after
pearl and goal
And go where light is

Around me like silk, like silt
the pond opens and closes
and I swim in circles

my fingertips brushing
frogbit, bottom sedge
and waterweed

Breath by breath I take on
the life of the old
muddy bass who outwits

all the shrap hooks
that have dangled before it
even the tiniest of enticements

and yes, smiling at this fine
conceit, taking refuge
as it fades into water and ripple

into the bubbles of my breath
Until, exhausted, I flip over
on my back, floating now
into a scented commonwealth
of pond lilies -- astonished
to see high overhead

a pond of sky, invisible fathoms
measureless air
that only seems to be rimmed

by the billowy crowns
of he oaks
that edge the clearing

Whatever once I wanted
whatever once I was
is now just

this unguarded light, without
beginning or end
As it floats

in me, I float in it
so empty, nacreous, and bright
I cannot tell in which

pond above or pond below
not one not two
there are floating now

tip-to-tip attached
two green dragonflies
taking their full ease

-- Margaret Gibson

* * *


The June bug
on the screen door
whirs like a small
ugly machine,

and a chorus of frogs
and crickets drones like Muzak
at all the windows.
What we don't quite see

comforts us.
Blink of lightning, grumble
of thunder -- just the heat
clearing its throat.

-- Linda Pastan

* * *

"Death Song"

Hear culex mosquitos sing in my ear,
Minute Bachs composing Komm Susser Tod
Ad Major Gloria Dei, to God's great glory, where
No composer will find them later, save odd
Folk who may come to my puny grave
Where my bones will lie buried, providing
Nutrients to the living.  Till then now
I lie near where my two dogs lie buried
Guarded by a stone St. Francis, who preached
To the wild creatures, God's Little Poor Man,
God's poor retard more likely, who reached
A credulous Pope's attention, as can
People of that ilk.  Now those bones are less
Than dust, no longer feeding even the grass.

-- Vassar Miller

* * *

"The Mayfly is Frail"

The way thek shivering Northern lights are frail.

Erupting floods, flood-lava drag across farms,
Oak-roots cartwheeling --
The inspiration was seismic.

Some mad sculptor
In frenzy remaking the river's rooms
Through days and night of bulging shoulders
And dull bellowing -- cooled with cloudbursts --
Needed all his temperament.

Now he sprawls -- flat in the sun --
Apparently burned out.

And now comes the still small voice.

Out of his glowing exhaustion
Heals a giddy mote,
A purity in a mould

And the mould splits at a touch of the air.

A shimmering beast
Dawn's from the river's opened side.

-- Ted Hughes

* * *

"Luna Moth Meditation"

How foolish to think death's pale flag
would be rectangular and stark, rather than this
scrap of wedding dress symmetrically ripped
and sent back, cruelly,
to be his deaf and nearly mouthless
messenger.  As it unfolds -- gorgeous, appalling --
I can feel my mind fill up
with its own weight, as though
suffering unexpected snowfall.
Think of a Eurydice who makes it
all the way, following an Orpheus
with more self-discipline,
and probably less talent, just to find herself
forbidden that huge
other eros:
how she craves the darkness and her legs
drink down into dirt.  And that moment
in the sickroom when the dead one's been removed
and the Kleenex in the waste can
starts to metamorphose, tissue
taking wing, wing
taking the very drape and slope of grief
and struggling out the door.

-- Don McKay

* * *

"The Dragonfly"

You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;
To be ceaseless movement,
Unending hunger,
Grappling love.

Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridescence
Upon your body and wings.

Twice-born, predator,
You split into the heat.
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consmes you.

You rocket into the day.
But at last, when the wind flattens the grasses,
For you, the design and purpose stop.

And you fall
With the other husks of summer.

-- Louise Bogan

* * *

Addendum:  I accidently omitted this from
the original post.

"The Fruitfly"

The vein's of the fruit fly's wings map the rivers
of a small corner of Minnesota and Ontario
as they may have flowed or yet may flow.

Out of fruit, out of nothing, the fly beats its wings
a thousand thousand times before hands clap it
not into history, for that would take a scrawl

darker and longer than its 6 point semi-colon
rinsed from the palms, but into diminishing silence.
Let's say the first molecule of air to be unmoved

by its high-pitched harmony marks its end.
By then bananas, mangos and papayas,
pomegranates, quinces and figs, all feared

exotic fruit will burst from their nothings
generations of possible geographies.

-- Stephen Brockwell

* * *
* * *

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Some Poems I Liked in 2008

Here are a dozen poems I first read in 2008 that particularly stood out for me.  Two of them -- Steven Heighton's "Constellations" and Roy K. Kiyooka's "just the other day i ate up the last bowlful of" -- appeared in earlier Jackdaw's posts and, while I normally try to avoid repetitions, these two have struck me so strongly that I believe they deserve repetition.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll enjoy these.

"Address to an Absent Flea"

Reading the sonnet the old way
was impossible once the period

started leaping about.  through
the magnifying glass you seemed

a gadget God, with a suitably
parasitical air.  I am trying not

to let making too much of things
become a habit -- I read too slowly

already.  Little Itch-Ticket whose
menu has only one item on it,

I think it's important to be specific.
I've never felt desire before.

I won't believe that was accidental
syntax.  If a pen were a turret to me

I too might wait, nest in a tapestry
& save my stories for some bloodless day,

but please come back frm wherever 
you've gone.  There is so little left.

-- Matthea Harvey

* * *

"Catmint Tea"

The cat and I are quite alike, these winter nights:
I consult thesauruses; he forages for mice.
He prowls the darkest corners, while I throw the dice
Of rhyme, and rummage through the OED's delights.

He's all ears and eyes and whiskery antennae
Bristling with the whispered broadcast of the stars,
And I have cruised the ocean of a thousand bars,
And trawled a thousand entries at the dawn of day.

I plucked another goose-quill from the living wing
And opened up my knife, while Cat unsheathed his claws.
Our wild imaginations started to take wing.

We rolled in serendipity upon the mat.
I forged a chapter of the Universal Laws.
Then he became the man, and I the cat.

--Ciaran Carson

* * *


After bedtime the child climbed on her dresser
and peeled phosporescent stars off the sloped
gable-wall, dimming the night-vault of her ceiling
like a haze, or the interferring glow
of a great city, small hands anticipating
eons as they raided the playful patterns
her father had mapped for her -- black holes now
where the raised thumb-stubs and ears of the Bat
had been, the feet of the Turtle, wakeful
eyes of the Mourning Dove.  She stuck those paper
stars on herself.  One on each foot, the backs
of her hands, navel, tip of nose and so on,
then turned on the lamp by her bed and stood close
like a child chilled  after a winter bath
pressed up to an air duct or a radiator
until those paper stars absorbed more light
than they could hold.  then turned off the lamp,
walked out into the dark hallway and called.

Her father came up.  He heard her breathing
as he clomped upstairs preoccupied, wrenched
out of a rented film just now taking grip
on him and the child's mother, his day-end
bottle of beer set carefully on the stairs,
marking the trail back down into that evening
adult world -- he could hear her breathing (or
really, more an anxious, breathy giggle) but
couldn't see her, then in the hallway stopped,
mind spinning to sort the apparaition
of fireflies hovering ahead, till he sensed
his daughter and heard in her breathing
the pent, grave concentration of her pose,
mapped onto the star chart of the darkness,
arms stretched high, head back, one foot slightly raised --
the Dancer, he supposed, and all his love
spun to centre with crushing force, to find her
momentarily fixed, as unchanging
as he and her mother must seem to her,
and the way the stars are; as if the stars are.

--Steven Heighton

* * *

"Mulga Parrots"
for Rod Smith

Subtle birds, canvassing
salt wastes for seeds,
brilliant array of colours
squeezed through reeds
of clarinets, the bleak lake
rippling with simultaneity.

Their relationship
to YenYenning is discreet,
and sympathy is outside
our hearing, thin scrubland
a habitat where vigilance
brings rewards for foraging,

where undulating flight
takes them to high pranches
of trees resisting poison,
each pair as one:  russet,
yellow, orange, emerald green
and olive-brown; the sounds

of imploded suns,
evening-light at midday.

--John Kinsella

* * *

"Still Water for Lorine Niedecker (1903 - 1970)"

she seined words
as others stars
or carp

laconic as
a pebble
in the Rock River

along the bank
where the peony flowers

her tall friend
the pine tree
is still there

to see

--Jonathan Williams

* * *

"This migratory red seems out of place"

This migratory red seems out of place.
I can see it fall near the root
of the ceiba tree, a studious space
that welcomes death, that filtered truth.
Perhaps this spin of sun begins the chase,
the particle flow of a boat
set on its shifting course.  Where is the trace
of Tlaloc's domain?  That fine cloth,
absolute loss, seems easy to embrace.
I go east and south, west and north,
provoked by silence, the commonplace
refusal to swear another oath
to the figure and ground of hidden grace.
I know the dusty labyrinth
of stars obscures me, threatens to erase
my body's bright archive, uproot
the scandalous order that is the case.
My being wanders the seventh
dimension of fertility, the base
of shifting ground and that rude
insistent darkness that makes loss love's face.
This migratory red is just
the night's desire for morning's thrilling pace.

-- Jay Wright

* * *

"A Leaf of Basil"

I never understood the words
Take, eat . . . until
Joan brought to the hospital
a sprig of basil, and Jean,
who hadn't eaten
more than a daily mouthful,
keeping her eyes closed,
put her hand on Joan's
and drew the basil close.
Breathed it in, smiled,
paused -- then, guiding the basil
into her mouth, ate.
Ate all of Greece,
Corfu especially, and Crete.
Ate goat cheese and a crust
of bread, the dust
of ruins and wild thyme.
Kissed her dead husband's
living mouth, wrapped
around her body
a wide shawl
from Oaxaca's market.
Wrote in her journal.
Folded clothing
for those made homeless
by war, said
something in Italian,
in Spanish, in German.
Said light.  Remembered
merriment and evening wine.
Uncorked new bottles
she'd made from dandelions
gathered in fields
thick with sun.  Walked
outside at night to watch
the slow, sudden comet
arc between the cedars.
Made her way to the garden
to harvest beans.
Sat quietly with friends.
Set the table, mended socks,
tended whatever needed
tending -- for of such
is the kingdom of heaven.
And wasn't it heaven
and earth entire
she swallowed?  One leaf.
Absolute and momentary.
Leaf of final emptiness
and harvest,
leaf of open windows
and self-watchful passion.
Leaf of Antares, Arcturus,
lamplight and fountain.
One leaf, she took.
One leaf, she breathed.
One leaf, she was . . .

-- Margaret Gibson

* * *

"The Possessed Winter Dusk"

Possessed by phantom touch
I am tuned to your power station
Soprano sax sounds float in the cold blue dusk
Over East Bay hills' heavy green shoulders

Brawn by dark earth rising plants
Like some buffalo soldier on an Indian pony
I hold on to the night's dark mane
In the hollow bowl of the drum of your body

-- Tom Clark

* * *

"December Moon"

Like the web of a leaf -- fine as the mesh
of a moth's crest or a filigreed
blade of coral -- that I'd stoop to peel
from the damp pavement and carry home
(another object for my collection)
in spite of Mother's protestations

like a scrap of lace on the blue carpet
of her cool bedroom, that lay unnoticed
since I cut and hemmed a veil for my doll
from a torn scarf (or perhaps to knot
around my neck for dressing-up)

like the wrinkled skin my mother would scrape
so carefully with a little spoon
from the top of my cup of boiled milk
(which unlessshe did I wouldn't drink)

and watch her drop it onto tht plate --
my favourite -- with a painted line
around the rim like autumn trees
against a sky (it's not that long
since the leaves fell) of the same

rare December blue as the morning sky
I see today here when I draw
the curtains apart, and this pale moon
half consumed by the last month
of another year, floats into view.

-- Ruth Fainlight

* * *

"Drops in the Bucket"

At first
each drop
makes its
own pock
against the tin.
In time
there is a 
thin lacquer
which is
layered and
till there's
a quantity
of water
with its
own skin
and sense
of purpose,
shocked at
each new violation
of its surface.

--Kay Ryan

* * *

"just the other day i ate up the last bowlful of"

just the other day i ate up the last bowlful of

your preserved pears and wasn't it just the day before
'yesterday' we stood in the back-alley looking up
at its array of white blossoms and under our breath say
how lucky we are to find such a splendid clapboard
house with its own tall pear tree  .  eight brimfilled years
spoke to me as i put the last sliver in my mouth and
suckt up all the sweet pear juice  .  from here on in i'll
go it alone if i'm to compost another spring  .
i'll miss your preserved pears your paring knife and son  .

p/s there's a dozen pears rotting on top of the camper

-- Roy K. Kiyooka

* * *

"Ode to Hot Sauce"

Your leaving tastes
of nothing.  Numb,

I reach for you
to cover my tongue

like the burnt word
of God -- surrender

all to you, my fiery
sacrifice.  My father

never admitted anything
was too hot

for him, even as the sweat
drained down his forehead,

found his worn collar
& eyes.  You make mine

water & even water
won't quench you.

Only bread bests you.
Only the earth cools

& quiets this leftover
life, lights

my open mouth.
These days I taste

only its roof --
my house

on fire, all the doors
locked, windows latched

like my heart.  My heart.
Carve it out

& on the pyre --
after the witch hunt

& the devil's
trial, after repentance

& the bright
blaze of belief --

it will outlive even
the final flame.

This is why I take
your sweet sting

into my eyes
& mouth like turpentine, rise

& try to face
the furnace of the day.

-- Kevin Young

* * *
* * *

In answer to Charmaine's request, here is Margaret Gibson's "Cooking Supper While My  Sister Dies":

"Cooking Supper While My Sister Dies"

She takes her last meal of sugar water and oblivion ,
the needle keen as a knife, a double-edge bridge

she must cross into the Unsayable. Wait, I say, wait --
but she will not, nor can I go with her, delay

in each grain of rice, exile in the onions I chop so fine
I am word blind, my face wet with the rain

that was her grief, and mine, that we did not love
each other long enough. Black olives, then zucchini

diced, swept into a pan from the wooden board,
a heave offering to the wind-dark sea.

And I must . . . I can only . . . I am left with . . .
this tomato, sun-ripened and taut, tinged green

as the pock where it let go of the vine. Into hinged
wedges I cut it slowly. Slowly. Wanting

her to be like a flower that opens into a summer night
of stars, breath by breath.

Wondering, Is it here? Is it yet? Is it now?

-- Margaret Gibson

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