Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Twelve Poems Beginning With The Word "The"

"Essex Rag"

Do not play this piece fast.
It is never right to play ragtime fast.
-- Scott Joplin

The piano years . . . Too young to drive
I played pedal to the metal,
full reverb, wah-wah and fuzz,
a collision course bending Chopsticks
into hairpins, trilling the hell
out of cheesy Fur Elise.

The teacher's 'grown-up' bait
was a bowdlerised Ode to Joy,
heavy goods I slammed through,
dropping a trail of exhausted parts
-- like the juggernauts
shouldering the lane past our door.

If the point is not to bring the house down,
what better place
than somewhere you wake up
to everything years after it's moved on?
The times I tried to move on . . .
But from here, I mean there, wherever

you get to is not far and still nowhere, so
there's nothing for it but to head home,
unsure whether the last bus has gone.
There's slow and there's the discovery of slow.
The last bus has not gone.
It never comes.

-- Lavinia Greenlaw

* * *

"12th-Century Chinese Painting
with a Few Dozen Seal Imprints Across It"

The tea has given way to plum wine,
and still they're talking, animated down to points
of fire deep in their pupils -- two scholars. "Look,"
one motions at what's outside the sliding panels: landscape
where the purling of river leads to foothills,
then to the tree-frowzed mountains themselves, and
up from there . . . . The sky
has opened. Out of it, as large as temple gongs
yet floating as easily as snowflakes, pour
transistor circuits, maps of topiaries, cattle brands,
IUDs, the floorplans of stockades, cartouches,
hibachi grills, lace doilywork, horsecollars,
laboratory mouse-mazes, brain-impressions, all of it
sketching the air like a show of translucent
kites in blacks and reds, a few beginning
("Look, there . . .") to snag in the treeline, or hover
above the whorling bunched rush of a riverbend . . . .
"You see?" says one with a shrug and eloquent
tenting-up of his eyebrows, "You see?? -- he's
too polite to declaim it in words.
They've been arguing if The Other World exists.

-- Albert Goldbarth

* * *

"Golden Mountains"

The first time
I saw mountains
I was

In their presence
I didn't laugh
I didn't shout
I spoke in whispers

When I returned home
I meant to tell
what mountains were like

That was difficult to do
at night
everything looks different
even mountains and words

Mother was silent
perhaps tired
she fell asleep

The moon
the golden mountain
of humble folk
waxed in the clouds

--Tadeusz Rozewicz
translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski

* * *

"Rabbit Cry"

The season? Not yet spring. The place? Beside
A knot of sapling birches, under sky
Silver as birch-bark. Here were gaping wide
A warren's crumbling mouths to catch our feet.
We stooped; the nets were staked, the bag untied,
And into day's eye glared a blood-red eye --
The ferret trembled, with a sudden slide
Plunged white to darkness. Hearts resumed their beat.

Yet memory's fixed by what I did not see.
It was as if I heard the birches creak
Under a troubling gust, as if each tree
Now drew up from its roots those shreds of words
That in the windless day surrounded me.
It was the warren's mouths began to shriek --
I saw their breathless immobility
Ajar to the still sky stripped bare of birds.

-- Edward Lucie - Smith

* * *


The fork, leaving
my mouth, travels to plate, then sink,
dishwasher, drawer, in your hand
beats eggs in Grandma's bowl.

You cook as though you're still pipetting
DNA. You're always measuring.
As stings sailed us down the aisle,
you checked your watch. Reaching

to set the timer, you make
an egg yolk cataract. There is
the broken bowl, my grief,
you don't know how much,

how many spoons of blood leak
from me each month, amount
of anxiety held while scrubbing egg
from tines. So little time; my fingers

would rather be quiet on the porch
ofl your eyelashes. that time, obsessed
with BOOP (Bronchiolitis Obliterans
with Organizing Pneumonia), you didn't

see me for days, although we rose,
ate breakfast, faced the sun, felt
the same counter, toothpaste tube --
parallel circuits; calculate

the distance between. The fork is clean.
I'd love to take in
the lovely souffle, but you --
you are the sun

with headlamp in he next room,
holding out a soccer ball, spun
(its axis is your thumb) for our son
into its countless days.

-- Barbara Nickel

* * *

"The Empty Sky"

The empty sky. The empty sky.
I can't tell what might satisfy.
No more perhaps than a few bars
across the window to stop my eye.

-- Agnes Nemes Nagy
translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes

* * *

"What It Really Means"

The cemetery where the college
students went to screw
was where we went to test
this S. M. business after
drinking up to it. I tried
to put a rose-thorn
through your ear lobe but
you ran off screaming while I
didn't feel a god-damned thing:
you weren't a masochist,
I wasn't a sadist, we
weren't even lovers, but
we did remain friends
back in philosophy class
where "The truth
of a theory is
demonstrated by
its practical application."
This is what it really
means, Pragmatism.

-- Alan Dugan

* * *

"The New Style Western"

the two horsemen
on opposite banks of the Rio Grande
their fists
then solemnly turned
their knob-kneed steeds
and rode away

they would be back
but not in this movie
which was about the strange and amusing ways
prairie dog
owl and rattler have
of living together

--Anselm Hollo

* * *

"The Kitchen Grammars"

The verb in a Sanskrit or Farsi
or Latin or Japanese sentence
most frequently comes last,
as if the ingredients and spices
only after collection, measure and
even preservation might get cooked.
To all these cuisines renown attaches.

It's the opening of a Celtic sentence
is a verb. And it was more fire and pot
for us very often than ingredients.
Had we not fed our severed heads on poetry
final might have been our fame's starvation.
Upholding cuisine for us are the French
to be counting in scores and called Gallic.

In English and many more, in Chinese
the verb surrounds itself nucleus-fashion
with its subjects and qualifiers.
Down every slope of the wok they go
to the spitting middle, to be sauced,
ladled, lidded, steamed, flipped back up,
becoming verbs themselves often

and the calm egg centres the meatloaf.

-- Les Murray

* * *

"The Egg"

The old woman dried an egg
with her working apron
heavy egg the color of ivory
which nobody claims from her
then she looks at the autumn
through the little dormer
and it is like a fine painting
the size of a picture book
nothing is
out of season
and the fragile egg
that she holds in her palm
remains the one thing that is new.

-- Jean Follain
translated from the French by W. S. Merwin

* * *

"Harp Trees"

the cast-iron moon on the wall
vibrates a kind of speech
at the edge of thought
in the dark
I lay my cheek
against her cold lace, crescent
and our hair blows out into the world
the glint into which we're gone

she was the symbol of a group
called the maidens
and before that she was part
of the wall of the ice-cream
parlour, Owl Drugstore, San
Francisco, 1915

her speech is the kindness of
the house
as the Royal Hudson passes
whistling down the steam tracks

and the trees speak on the
feathered wind a greenness
harp-sequoias lost at the windows
neither kisses nor wounds in the nests

-- Robin Blaser

* * *

"Torch Song"

The heaven of her
hips -- over me, such sway --

She got some saint
standing at the gate

keeping the crowds away.
I would get down

on knees, or pay
to build a stain-glass mission

if that would get me in --
I'd slave

& scrub & sing
in Sunday best till I was clean

as a broke-leg dog --

I'd save & spring
for a whole new church wing

if that would let me see
my Lady of Fog

& the Forty
Sorrows again --

--Kevin Young

* * *
* * *

Saturday, January 09, 2010


Twelve Poems with Food in Them

"Sonnets from Hellas 6: Desfina"

Mount Parnassus placid on the skyline:
Slieve na mBard, Knock Filiocht, Ben Duan.
We gaelicized new names for Poetry Hill
As we wolfed down horta, tarama, and houmos
At sunset in the farmyard, drinking ouzos,
Pretending not to hear the Delphic squeal
Of the streel-haired cailleach in the scullery.
Then it was time to head into Desfina
To allow them to sedate her. And so retsina,
Anchovies, squid, dolmades, french fries even.
My head was light, I was hyper, boozed, borean
As we bowled back down towards the olive plain
Siren-tyred and manic on the horn
Round hairpin bends looped like boustrophedon.

-- Seamus Heaney

* * *


yellow is decidedly hot
like curried goat simmered with peper
or jumping-rope to the rhythm of
your desire's name

it's love bush covering
everything it clings to
like wormy fingers
crawling up your legs
and you not knowing
how to say stop
or even if you want to say stop
or how to pretend as if
it's not awakening something
somewhere inside you

you cannot draw a line
between guinep and june-plum
or jack-fruit to an adolescent kiss
tongue on tongue
at a sunday evening cricket match

yellow is like that
a poui tree in blossom
golden goblets
hanging from branches

yes yellow is
that innocent and all desire too

-- Opal Palmer Adisa

* * *

"How to Make Pesto"

Go out in mid sunny morning
a day bright as a bluejay's back
after the dew has vanished
fading like the memory of a dream.

Go with scissors and basket.
Snip to encourage branching.
Never strip the basil plant
but fill the basket to overarching.

Take the biggest garlic cloves
and cut them in quarter to ease
off the paper that hides the ivory
tusk within. grind Parmesan.

I use pine nuts. Olive oil
must be a virgin. I like Greek
or Sicilian. Now the aroma
fills first the nose, then the kitchen.

The UPS man in the street sniffs.
The neighbors complain; the cats
don't. We eat it on pasta, chicken,
on lamb, on beans, on salmon

and zucchini. we add it to salad
dressings. We rub it behind our
ears. We climb into a tub of pesto
giggling to make aromatic love.

-- Marge Piercy

* * *

"The Orange Is Ripe"

The orange is ripe
the sun-filled orange is ripe

Let me into your heart
heavily laden with love

The orange is ripe
its skin exudes a fine mist

Let me into your heart
grief becomes a fountain of joy

The orange is ripe
a bitter net contains each segment

Let me into your heart
to find my shattered dream

The orange is ripe
the sun-filled orange is ripe

-- Bei Dao
translated from the Chinese by Bonnie S. McDougall

* * *

"The Dinner Guest"

Let's begin with dinner, the menu:
oiled lettuce, lemon juice, broken bread,

noodles spun with crushed tomatoes,
and the matchstick julienne
of fennel and skin of an orange.

I'm not angry yet, stirring the sauce.
The wine taste like a ripe field.

Let the fly rub his legs together
over the wet cutting board,
let him hold still in the bright aroma.

Dinner's next: sipping, chewing,
talk of a high order among men.

The female side of the table
is motherly, leaning with spoons
to serve the salad. No one says thanks --

is this 1953? Sorry.
The newest year's dashed outside,

wind takes the trees,
and pine needles fly,m a dry shower,
a needle storm. There's no decorum outside.

Stirring, stirring more sauce,
while his words cascade around me,

I focus on the spoon,
ruined with red. The spoon
is the center of the rising heat world.

The spoon with its shreds of red
holds the glory of taste and submission

in its olive grain.
Bump, bump, bump, I tap the spoon
on the bowl's edge.

I keep undercutting the beauty.
The guest is sated, sips his wine,

tips the chair on two legs.
The fly has found the leftovers.
Let him eat from the same plate.

-- Ann Townsend

* * *


No one knows
what potatoes do.
Quiet and secretive
they stick together.
So many under one roof
there is talk of incest.

The pale, dumb faces,
the blank expressions.

Potatol dumplings.
Potato pancakes.
Potato head.

In dark cellars
they reach across the potato bin
to hold one another
in their thin white arms.

-- Lorna Crozier

* * *

"The Human Sacrament"

Is nothing new sacred? The book, the sky,
The women on the blue and red screen
Painted in Japan about five hundred years ago. Someone
Has tipped the screen over. I'll set it back up
Putting all the emotion in the thing felt at the thing done. A mirror can be clearer
Than a dog, but a small dog can run. Sacred
is perhaps the relation that caused
My daughter to be born. Yet is she sacred?
She is a woman with someone's arm
Around her shoulders. she is of this world
The way the pipe is, that goes from the well to the house,
and the way the grass is that at this season leaps about up and under it,
And as the cigarette is that the gardener throws in the grass.
Has it a sacred flame? The pope going to the house. Later, who knows?
The sacred is the sacrament. and it is what
We wanted once to be --
Give me some more coffee,
Some more milk, some more bread, some more breakfast!
Is nothing new sacred? The screen is standing up.
My daughter and her baby come for tea. The baby comes for milk.
They're here in time.

--Kenneth Koch

* * *

"Summer Food"

Green, the shape of a man
with the insides of a woman,

they swim and dive around each other
in the boiling water, like porpoises.

O, to put the whole pod
of okra in the mouth.

Tomatoes, it is time to taste
ourselves, in these wet, red rooms,
the rooms of our mouths,
where lives the sigh
of language.

Corn, the tassels pull apart,
ears and silk, ears and silk and teeth,

Cantaloupe, a globe in tight webbing,
crisscross imprint. the onion underground,
in crumbs of dirt and old fabric.
Heat waves take form. without fear or panic,
the air becomes visible.

Cucumbers, turning and sinking in the vinegar bowl.

I hold a head of cauliflower in my hand.

It's the head of someone whose name escapes,
which is not so strange. there are many names
for the ones we love, and wonderful to say:

Broccoli, Lettuce, Cabbage,
String Beans, Snow Peas, Pear,
Watermelon, Pomegranate, Plum.

\Let us eat the solid forms of sunlight,
and walk around after supper
in the gold time,
loving each other and talking vegetables.

-- Coleman Barks

* * *

"Making Salad"
after Eihei Dogen

I rub the dark hollow of the bowl
with garlic, near to the fire enough
so that fire reflects on the wood,
a reverie that holds emptiness
in high regard. I enter the complete
absence of any indicative event,
following the swirl of the grain,
following zero formal and immanent
in the wood, bringing right to
the surface of the bowl the nothing
out of which nothing springs.

I turn open the window above the sink
and see fire, reflected on the glass,
spring and catch on a branch a light
wind tosses about. Here or there,
between new leaves the Pleiades,
like jewels in the pleromatic lotus,
flash. I watch the leaves swirl
and part, gathering light fresh
from Gemini, ten millennia away, fresh
from Sirius -- holding each burning
leaf, each jewel within whatever light
a speck of conscious mind can make,
unshadowed by reflection or design,

impartial. Out the tap, from a source
three hundred feet down, so close
I feel the shudder in the earth, water
spills over my hands, over the scallions
still bound in a bunch from the store.
I had thought to make salad, each element
cut to precision, tossed at random
in the turning bowl. Now I lay the knife
aside. I consider the scallions. I consider
the invisible field. Emptiness is bound
to bloom -- the whole earth, a single flower.

-- Margaret Gibson

* * *


Great love goes mad to be spoken: you went out
to the ranked tent-poles of the butterbean patch,
picked beans in the sun. You bent, and dug
the black ground for fat purple turnips.
You suffered the cornstalk's blades, to emerge
triumphant with grain. You spent all day in a coat
of dust, to pluck the difficult word
ofka berry, plunk in a can. You brought home
voluminous tribute, cucumbers, peaches,
five-gallon buckets packed tightly with peas,
cords of sugar-cane, and were not content.

You had not yet done the pure, the completed,
the absolute deed. Out of that vegetable ore,
you wrought miracles: snap-beans broke
into speech, peas spilled from the long slit pod
like pearls, and the magical snap of your nail
filled bowls with the fat white coinage of beans.

Still, you were unfinished. Now fog swelled
in the kitchen, your hair wilted like vines.
These days drove you half-wild -- you cried, sometimes,
for invisible reasons. In the yard, out of your way,
we played in the leaves and heard
the pressure-cooker blow out its musical shriek.

Then it was done: you had us stack up the jars
like ingots, or books. In the dark of the shelves,
quarts of squash gave off a glow like late sun.

That was the last we thought of your summer
till the day that even the johnson grass died.
Then, bent over sweet relish and black-eyed peas,
over huckleberry pie, seeing the dog outside
shiver with cold, we would shiver, and eat.

-- Jack Butler

* * *

"Meditation for a Pickle Suite"

Morning: the soft release
As you open a jar of pickles.
The sun through the window warm
And moving like light through the brine,
The shadows of pickles swim the floor.
And in the tree, flowing down the chimney,
The songs of fresh birds clean as pickles.
Memories float through the day
Like pickles, perhaps sweet gherkins.
The past rises and falls
Like curious pickles in dark jars,
Your hands are sure as pickles,
Opening dreams like albums,
Pale Polish pickles.
Your eyes grow sharp as pickles,
Thoughts as green, as shining
As rows of pickles, damp and fresh,
Placed out in the afternoon sun.

-- R. H. W. Dillard

* * *

"Ode to Pork"

I wouldn't be here
without you. Without you
I'd be umpteen
pounds lighter & a lot
less alive. You stuck
round my ribs even
when I treated you like a dog
dirty, I dare not eat.
I know you're the blues
because loving you
may kill me -- but still you
rock me down slow
as hamhocks on the stove.
Anyway you come
fried, cued, burnt
to within one inch
of your life I love. Babe,
I revere your every
nickname -- bacon, chitlin,
cracklin, sin.
Some call you murder,
shame's stepsister --
then dress you up
& declare you white
& healthy, but you always
come back, sauced, to me.
Adam himself gave up
a rib to see y ours
piled pink beside him.
Your heaven is the only one
worth wanting --
you keep me all night
cursing your four-
letter name, the next
begging for you again.

-- Kevin Young

* * *
* * *

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