Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Twelve More 12-Line Poems

The "Twelve 12-Line Poems" thread from February has received a surprisingly large number of hits; therefore, here is a follow-up with twelve more.  Enjoy.


You know the parlor trick.
Wrap your arms around your own body
and from the back it looks like
someone is embracing you,
her hands grasping your shirt,
her fingernails teasing your neck.

From the front it is another story.
You never looked so alone,
your crossed elbows and screwy grin.
You could be waiting for a tailor
to fit you for a straitjacket,
one that would hold you really tight.

-- Billy Collins

* * *


The spring has swept the ice from all my frozen rivers
My young sap trembles at the first caresses along the tender bark.
But see how in the midst of July I am blinder than the Arctic winter!
My wings beat and break against the barriers of heaven
No ray pierces the deaf vault of my bitterness.
What sign is there to find?  What hey to strike?
And how can god be reached by hurling javelins?
Royal Summer of the distant South, you will come too late, in a hateful September!
In what book can I find the thrill of your reverberation?
And on the pages of what book, on what impossible lips taste your delirious love?

The impatient fit leaves me.  Oh! the dull beat of the rain on the leaves!
Just play me your 'Solitude,' Duke, till I cry myself to sleep.

-- Leopold Sedar Senghor
translated from the French by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier

* * *

"Garden Codes"

Those scarlet runner beans
just sprawl everywhere.  Later,
the scarlet blossoms give way
to beans green and sweet.

These are bleeding hearts
broken in the last storm.
The fleshy stems are so fragile --
they snap in the wind.

And these are morning glories:
they bloom -- blue -- for a day.
Blue trumpets with sunshine.
at the heart.

-- Mary Dalton

* * *

"North Carolina"

Everything about you's a bit like me --
in the same way that North Carolina's a bit like Ribena
but rhymes with Vagina, which is nearly the same,
but much darker --
brutal and sweet like disease,
sweet as an asphalt dealer.

Imagine a cloud.
Imagine eating a cloud.
Imagine your mouth being full of the cloud like the world.
And imagine a person like me with a person like you.
I have turned you into a cloud.
Prepare to be eaten.

-- Denise Riley

* * *

"The Father"

In this place there are so many
who spent half their life in Viet Bac, the other half along the Truong Son mountains,
men and women who once ate roots, bamboo shoots for meals
and now make do with taro leaves and wild tendrils.

Their great hopes have turned their skulls white,
their native villages so far away now, like distant seasons.
A lifetime working in sun and rain,
a lifetime walking, and they've yet to reach home.

All along the far horizon, families drift off to sleep.
A father old as a thousand hills, a mother old as a hundred rivers.
When the winds come, they'll have to arc and circle, climb over
the great bends and twists of the forests to get to this place.

-- Nguyen Duy
translated from the Vietnamese by Nguyen Ba Chung and Kevin Bowen

* * *

"How Lies Grow"

The first time I lied to my baby, I told him that it was his face on the
baby food jar.  The second time I lied to my baby, I told him that he
was the best baby in the world, that I hoped he'd never leave me.  Of
course I want him to leave me someday.  I don't want him to become
one of those fat shadows who live in their mother's houses watching
game shows all day.  The third time I lied to my baby I said, "Isn't she
nice?"  of the woman who'd caressed him in his carriage.  She was old
and ugly and had a disease.  The fourth time I lied to my baby, I told
him the truth, I thought.  I told him how he'd have to leave me some-
day or risk becoming a man in a bow tie who eats macaroni on Fri-
days.  I told him it was for the best, but then I thought, I want him to
live with me forever.  Someday he'll leave me:  then what will I do?

-- Maxine Chernoff

* * *

"We do what?  We are involved in space,"

We do what?  We are involved in space,
are silent, we let the dead sleep on.
We cut down trees, fence off compost,
pry open traps in which mice have come to grief.
Evenings, we take our dinner out to the garden,
bring brushwood back into the room.
We return it yellowed to the bonfire, 
its sweet smoke billowing through our wardrobes.
In the twilight we look out at the wall
and speak so as not to wake the dead.
Amidst the furniture we make love
with bodies, which are not the opposite of space.

-- Petr Borkovec
translated from the Czech by Justin Quinn

* * *

"I Want My Soil Back" 

How can I grow, spread my roots
Far and deep when beneath
Me, the soil has been gouged,
Displaced, to form a multitude
Of bricks that shapes a wall
Dividing man from man?

Now a strong wind blows.
I cannot withstand it.
Rocking and shaking,
I blanch, turn ill and frail.
The earth cannot nourish me.
I want my soil back.

-- Dorji Penjore

* * *

"Aunt Sophie's  Morning"

A spinster swats a worm on her tabletop.
It was heading for the waffles or the coffee.
She's read bout this in the tabloids, oceanic
worms with  nerve systems like radio signals.
They are as blind as icepicks and don't care.
They come in the morning when  you're barely awake
and carve their initials on tabletops.
Maybe you pick one up thinking it's a lipstick.
Maybe they are in the bathtub with you.
Or maybe they just curl up in the fireplace
and shine until your favorite cat is legally dead.
They're not bad worms, she say, they're just different.

-- James Tate

* * *

"Small Prayer"
to Yiannis Ritsos

I asked you to share
and salt with me.
So on Sundays I wouldn't be afraid
of saltiness anymore.

However you sang alone
obscure and unintelligible

I only heard you saying
the body,
the body
(where the soul resides).

-- Marigo Alexopoulou
translated from the Greek by Roula Konsolaki

* * *

"Psalm before Sleep"

Except for my body, who accompanies me
into this little death?  Except for the stars
opening now on the vault overhead,

except for the barque I fit into so snugly,
my arms, my legs, shivering to dissolve,
dividing the great tides bearing me on.

Except for this song, the wind in my ears
which has joined the sky, reciting a black music
the constellations go on repeating in silence.

This is the way out:  tomorrow I am someone else
I will meet face to face, the other shore arising.
This is the poem my words never bring back.

--Peter Cooley

* * *

"Laurel to the Sun God, Apollo"

When you raged, I knew the reason.
Not that I smiled over fondly at others,
bared the tops of my breasts
or failed to close my knees in company.
It was my separateness,
the bonds that tied me to my mother,
that denied complete surrender.

Now rooted, boughs stretching skyward,
no point of entry in bole or crotch,
unmoved by tempests or searing ardors,
I feel your gold head resting in my branches
and ;the leaves sing.

-- Helen Ruth Freeman

And do not forget Ben Jonson's "On My First Son."
It's hard not to fall for Billy Collins. He is good at what he does.

Thanks for this collection.
Who is this Marigo Alexopoulou and where can we find more? I have a weakness for Greek poetry.
Marigo Alexopoulou teaches at Athens College and the University of the Peloponnese and has published 3 books of poetry; to my knowledge, none of them are available in English. The only work of hers I'm aware of in English are four poems included in New European Poets edited by Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer (Graywolf Press, 2008). If you find anything more substantive of hers in English, please let me know; I really like the few of hers I've read.
Dearest Hedgie....I just started to read through all the prayers and good wishes sent to us after the accident, and your good name was amongst them. I am touched, and from the bottom of my heart I thank you for your kindness and healing help....
with great affection,
Braja xx
I just glad you're recovering well, Braja. Continued best wishes for both you and your husband's return to good health.
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