Friday, April 30, 2010


Twelve Poems with Three-Word Titles

"At The Piccolo"

Sitting in the jazz café at four a. m.
plotting a future in another country and a change of heart
I see a friend walk past with a 'striking woman'
I happen to know has syphilis. His last girl was a lesbian
the one before that slit her wrist
four times in a week. Sitting at my table
with a Spanish coffee and a diary of despair
scribbling its lunatic message in my eyes
I think of two foreign girls with brutal inclination
grappling on the gymnasium floor with their legs
awkwardly apart, smelling of stale perfume, honest toil
and a frank desire to please.

The girl thinks she might make the coffee
'on the house'. I'd back out of such a contract
on principle, remembering the advice of a friend:
Don't shit on your own doorstep, he said. Outside
the street takes on a pale radiance and a hint of mist.
My friend walks in, alone, and we talk
carefully avoiding references to women, love, despair
and the pale carnage of the street.

-- John Tranter

* * *

"Natural Science Teacher"

Finally I spy that bundle of light, slowly flowing into the woods. Like a
silent stream, leaving a waterfall, myriad specks of dust, like spores, float
among the beams, exploring, or aimlessly wander off.

They enter the woods. there's a child fascinated by insects, going on and
on about plants with me. there's a youngster who loves climbing
mountains and fording streams, who will someday trace every range I've
crossed. As for that girl who writes like a poem, she's never grown up,
still that same likeness of an 11-year-old I dote on.

They'll come across my death, in different places. It might be like the
shards of a beetle shell, or possibly a rotting, withered tree.

And, by chance, they'll encounter my birth, a kind of essence even more
concrete than tender shoots and new leaves, sitting by their side in
lonesome moments.

They continue going into the woods. Inside my aged sea-turtle's body
they squirm about, vexing me, tiring me, harassing me. It's always been
my living question mark, my uncertainty.

-- Liu Kexiang
translated from the Chinese by Nicholas A. Kaldis

* * *

"In This January"

This must be the month when someone decided
to make months; to count sunsets and full moons and only give it
so much time. And though Janus looks both ways, this January

is intent only on winter's face. It cups and kisses it
on the forehead, on the eyelashes. Why could winter
ever want to leave, if all that attention kept up.

I pass a half-built church on my walk every morning
and every morning I'm filled with the envy thinking of the dreams
the people building it must have. My dreams are shoeboxes

filled with bones from my feet. When I wake it's with a mouthful
of mother-may-I's and the taunting of another day,
daring me to take a step as it pulls the walls up even higher.

No, it doesn't look both ways, it makes me do that.
This house is a maze of those bare walls, perfect
for showing home movies on. And I've become the projector.

-- Susan Goyette

* * *

"Inside the Redwood"

Floating tiers and worlds
a green heaven doll house

dense microwood spaces
needle masses stretch out

big rain shroud wings over
air runways imagined solid

as clouds flown through in planes
thick stacked tufted landings

branch bales piled up feathery
no sky shows through

in there the greens so dark
like blacks with orange edged

light lower lift-ups
of needle tip droopers poised

to move up and down in
the water weighted wind

-- Tom Clark

* * *

"Out of Body"

That wasn't love; that was
you unravelling quietly
on the backseat,

lying back thinking
you never dreamed
phallic was this big.

You skipped
your favourite:
stew peas and rice,

for this?
You should eat something
before you take in

too much air. Fill yourself
with yellow and gold
or the sounds of rain

falling out of a movie
you remember watching
when no one was on top of you.

You move your right hand
down the slope of back.

You've never prayed like this,
for flesh and flood.
You've found a village.

This place is your own:
the smell of you
like damp earth and curry.

What sex are we
twined like bamboo stalks
in a farmer's hands,

journeying to the sound
of a car engine?
Me, somewhere on a gravelled road.

-- Tanya Shirley

* * *

"Washing the Grain"

Round and round the year tilts
from nighttime to dawn from sunlight to shadow
and the pale days falling from this side to that
yield a fine cloudiness only

We are so far now, so far, cry the grains
the home-field only a memory warm
in the husk
and that too sloughed off
that too lost
in the mortar's pounding

Round and round spin the days
another year of this churning
and tilting, washing at last
quite over the rim
will we lie in clear water,
pure, transparent,
delicately separate?

We shall become
consumable: our pale substance
will satisfy somebody

And this dark grit
trapped in the bowl's fine furrows
may be disposed of, thrown
out upon the wattles and dry grass

-- Yasmine Gooneratne

* * *

"Their Canvases Are"

full of the timeless faces
of their kind, gazing out
at a distance that is empty
of our inventions and serene

so. the trees are dark
flames, burning in the Florentine
weather in answer to
their need of the blind hand

for form, kindling nothing
but the imagination, for
the earth that produced
these was fertile of

worse things: our shadows,
for instance. fortunate
people, foreseeing so much
on the horizon, but never ourselves coming.

-- R. S. Thomas

* * *

"Configuration of One"

A friend wrote: "you know of course
the 'you' in that short piece I wrote
beginning 'I dreamed that you were in
my dream' etc. was you" and you know
last night I dreamed
someone had put a fine wire
across my path and I tripped.
And I told someone the reason I thought
I like green so much is because
I was once a bird. "An owl," he said.
Some people have said I was
in Italy during the time of the Medici
but I think it was earlier, back
when Giotto was pressing angels into
flat chapel walls. When you came
into the room last night I was that again.

--Ann Lauterbach

* * *

"What It Does"

The sea bit,
As they said it would,
And the hill slid,
As they said it would,
And the poor dead
Nodded agog
The poor head.

O topmost lofty
Tower of Troy,
The poem apparently
Speaks with joy
Of terrible things.
Where is the pleasure
The poetry brings?

Tell if you can,
What does it make?
A city of man
That will not shake,
Or if it shake,
Shake with the splendor
Of the poem's pleasure.

-- David Ferry

* * *

"Always, Not Always"

Always evening. always fall
or early winter. Street lights burn;
soft discs smudge into brown

haze. Not always.
Sometimes, in the green
and white of spring

she sat with an old friend
in the park, where mint
made its own season,

cool summer; fragrant
warmth in winter's rain.
He told her of waking

to its smell, subtle blossoming
in tea. Of the fountain where
his daughter liked to play;

the plane's white wings, stains
on shuddering tarmac
where he trained younger men.

Back in the city where they talked
she wakes. cut-glass
in a strange apartment shimmers

deep, obsessive blue,
fills her eye. In the air,
he told her, land, your loved ones

fall away so easily . . . . It's here,
now, you feel it, faces
turn dispassionate, eyes

glance off you, flicker with some
hostile feeling. but there,
you let it go, hands free.

Except in the whining surge
of take-off and descent
when the earth, its contents,

pull with such force
you beg them not
to let you leave.

-- Diana Fitzgerald Bryden

* * *

"Little Night Music"

Of neighbors' voices and dishes
Being cleared away
On long summer evenings
With the windows open
As we sat on the back stairs,
Smoking and sipping beer.

The memory of that moment,
So sweet at first,
The two of us chatting away,
Till the stars made us quiet.
We drew close
And held fast to each other
As if in sudden danger.

That one time, I didn't recognize
Your voice, or dare turn
To look at your face
As you spoke of us being born
With so little apparent cause.
I could think of nothing to say.
The music over, the night cold.

-- Charles Simic

* * *

"The New Pastoral"

The first man had flint to spark. He had a wheel
to read his world

I'm in the dark.

I am a lost, last inhabitant --
displaced person
in a pastoral chaos.

All day I listen to
the loud distress, the switch and tick of
new herds.

But I'm no shepherdess.

Can I unbruise these sprouts or clean this mud flesh
till it roots again?
Can I make whole
this lamb's knuckle, butchered from its last crooked suckling?

I could be happy here,
I could be something more than a refugee
were it not for this lamb unsuckled, for the nonstop
switch and tick
telling me

there was a past
there was a pastoral,
and these chance sights

what are they all
but amnesias of a rite

I danced once on a frieze?

-- Eavan Boland

* * *
* * *

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