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

Gosh, you've got great taste, Howard.

I especially liked "A Leaf of Basil"
Thanks. I heard Margaret Gibson read back in the spring and really liked her work. I've posted a couple of her pieces before: "Washing the Pitcher" in the "Against the Dark" thread just before this one, and "Cooking Supper While My Sister Dies" earlier this year. All those poems are from One Body, which is my favorite of those books of hers I have. She has a new one coming out, too, if it isn't already; most of what she read was from that new one.
I'm so glad you posted these-I'm saving them to read after I read more about poetry. :)
I think that Carson's poem might be based on an old Irish poem, Pangur Ban, a marginalia I think by a monk illuminating a manuscript!
Thanks for stopping by, Eva and Barbara. The cat poem is monkish marginalia? Who would have thought?
Will you post, Cooking Supper While my Sister Dies?

In my opinion, the sentence is a poem.
Okay, I'll add it to the bottom of this thread.
Here's a link to a version of the poem: Pangur Ban It's attibuted to our old friend Anon, 8th c.
Thanks for the link, Barbara. That's a neat poem; some of the stuff the medieval monks left behind is really fascinating.
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