Friday, November 17, 2006


Some Long, Skinny Poems

"Ode to My Socks"

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
knitted with her own
shepherd's hands,
two socks soft
as rabbits.
I slipped
my feet into them
as if
jewel cases
with threads of
and sheep's wool.

Audacious socks,
my feet became
two woolen
two long sharks
of lapis blue
with a golden thread,
two mammoth blackbirds,
two cannons,
thus honored
my feet
They were
so beautiful
that for the first time
my feet seemed
unacceptable to me,
two tired old
fire fighters
not worthy
of the woven
of those luminous

I resisted
the strong temptation
to save them
the way schoolboys
the way scholars
sacred documents.
I resisted
the wild impulse
to place them
in a cage
of gold
and daily feed them
and rosy melon flesh.
Like explorers
who in the forest
surrender a rare
and tender deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stuck out
my feet
and pulled on
then my shoes.

So this is
the moral of my ode:
twice beautiful
is beauty
and what is good doubly
when it is a case of two
woolen socks
in wintertime.

--Pablo Neruda
(translated by Margaret Sayers Peden)



Rosa is nothing like a rose,
her flowering gone to fat
where for years the firm layers
of her flesh had contained
a dream like a pearl:
that she would one day
buy her way out of the barrio
with its rows of grey buildings
all the same,
and the cycle of poverty
that spun her playmates
into too soon weddings
with each year
the frenzy of cheap organdy gowns
cut from the same Simplicity pattern,
passed down to younder sister or cousin
and always
the bride wore yellow.
But Rosa's eyes grew ringed
in black waiting for yer day,
the fabric of her youth stretching
to accomodate the years
that came and went
with the rejected suitors.
Each time she looked in the mirror,
there was more of herself she did not recognize.

In night school English,
Rosa in her tight red dress
clashes with the green walls of a classroom
where day laborers carrying the day
on their faces, and women
wearing coats over housedresses
squeeze into desks meant for lighter bodies.
The professor lectures on subjects
as foreign to them
as their dark faces are to him.
He will not address this motley group
by their given names.
"Miss Malpaz," he calls on Rosa,
his pale blue eyes following a pattern
of pinpoint lights made by his gold watch
on the ceiling.
"Do you understand the meaning
of the line,'My mistress' eyes
are nothing like the sun?'"
Rosa understands.
She knows the distance
between her and the man
who drops pretty words before them
like crumbs for the pigeons.
She understands.
So she pulls her eyes away
from the graven image
of his golden head,
sinking into her chair
in the posture of defeat
that they both understand.

--Judith Ortiz Cofer


"That the Pear Delights Me Now"

That the pear's boughs
delight me now is

But after fragrance come
bull bumblebees.
On ozone wings they hum,

on hairyhorny knees
rudely they enter,
nuzzle, gnash, & guzzle

nectar of the pear.
Roystering honeymakers,
wholly unaware

of the dust their bristles brought,
of the lovestrong draught
they pour down those pear-pistils.

It's June now, and the petals
have dropped, dried, crumbled,
in dust they've blown away.

Bees snarl in thick thistles;
pearboughs, hung in the hot day,
sprout grren nubs now. Birdcalls

drench the leaves like fragrance;
fruit grows opulent in
summer lightning, heat, rains.

Sensuous the pears hang
richly, sweet and bursting.
Pears plop down. Birds follow, thirsting.

Nights nip the earthskin tighter,
sap stops of a morning,
sunred leaves more harshly flutter;

old pears the starling pecked at
wrinkle in the waning shade.
Fruit sourly lies, rejected

till it's out of the earth invaded:
maggots rapaciously & noiseless
fatten on fermented juices

and the gristle wriggles through
their sniggling tails & slime
spreads beneath the peartree.

Some squush remains, though,
some meat around the seed.
When Indian Summer strains

the last warmth through the orchard
pearpits feast and feed
and stir, & burst, & breed:

Earthward plunge the tendrils.
That the pear delighted me
is wholly incidental,

for the flower was for the fruit,
the fruit is for the seed.

--Daniel Hoffman


"The Macaroni Song"

I remember macaroni,
the end of the month,
the last week
when there was so little.

I made up
a song for the children.

The Macaroni Song!

Around the table
we would go,
laughing and singing.

Macoroni, Macaroni!

I can't make the song
work now on the page,
just remember, we
laughed so hard.

My wife stood
over the grey metal
where the macaroni boiled.

She never sang the song.

It was always six o'clock.

The children would cry:

Sing the Macaroni Song!

And I would sing.

One night
I stole three tomatoes
from Mister Sagetti's garden
and dropped them
into the curl of water.

My wife.
She loved me.
We worked so hard
to make a life.

Three tomatoes.
I still dream of them.
We were, what you
would call now, poor.

But when we danced
around the table,
my sons and my one
daughter in my hands
and sang the macaroni
song, God, in that moment,
we were happy.

And my wife at the grey stove
spooned the pale bare curls
onto each plate
and that one night
the thin threads
of three tomatoes.

I still dream of them.

Mister Sagetti, dead,
wherever you are
I want to say
this poem is for you.
I'm sorry I stole
your tomatoes.
I was poor and I
wanted, for my children,
a little more.

--Patrick Lane


"Our Love Is Like Byzantium"

Our love is like Byzantium
must have been
on the last evening. There must have been
I imagine
a glow on the faces
of those who crowded the streets
or stood in small groups
on streetcorners and public squares
speaking together in low voices
that must have resembled
the glow your face has
when you brush your hair back
and look at me.

I imagine they haven't spoken
much, and about rather
ordinary things
that they have been trying to say
and have stopped
without having managed to express
what they wanted
and have been trying again
and given up again
and have been loking at each other
and lowered their eyes.

Very old icons, for instance,
have that kind of glow
the blaze of a burning city
or the glow which approaching death
leaves on photographs of people who died young
in the memory of those left behind.

When I turn towards you
in bed, I have a feeling
of stepping into a church
that was burned down long ago
and where only the darkness in the eyes of the icons
has remained
filled with the flames
which annihilated them.

--Henrik Nordbrandt
(translated by Henrik Nordbrandt and Alexander Taylor)


"Night Seasons"

Up late, reading alone,
I feed printed pages
Into the Kurzweil scanner
An electronic reader
For the blind.

Randomly now
I take books fro my shelves,
Open the mysterious volumes,
And lay them flat on the machine.
I can't say
What's coming next --
I wait in perfect silence
For the voice to begin,
This synthetic child
Reading to an old man.

The body, stalled,
Picks fragments,
Scraps of paper,
Whatever comes.

Pico della Mirandola,
Egyptian love poems,
Essene communes beside the Red Sea,
Paavo Haavikko's "Konig Harald"
. . .

An old professor,
Bitter at the graceful way
The poets have
Of gathering terms
Told me, "The poets are fools.
They read
Only in fragments."

I'm the fool
Of the night seasons,
Reading anything, anything.
When daylight comes
And you see me on the street
Or standing for the bus,
Think of the Greek term
Word for soul and body
Constructing each other
After dark.

--Stephen Kuusisto


"Prayer To Be with Mercurial Women"

Let me never have her father
call me, saying how's about
a round of golf? Instead I'll take
the grim, forbidding monster
who inspects me for a crooked
trouser crease. And spare me too
from palmy evenings which sail by
in restaurants, on barstools,
without a storming off or two.
'Darling, you were made for me.'
I pray I'll never hear those words.
I need to feel I'm stealing
love another man would kill for.
When in sleep she curls herself
around me, may she whisper names
that are not mine. I'd prefer
to be the second best she's had.
A curse on mouths which dovetail
as if there'd been a blueprint made:
I'd rather blush and slobber.
And once a month, please let me be
a punchbag. I'll take the blame
for everything: I want to taste
the stinging of a good slap.
I hope I'll find my begging notes
crumpled, torn in half, unread,
and when I phone, I want to hear
an endless sound of ringing.
Help me avoid the kind of girl
who means things when she says them,
unless she's screeching, telling me
exactly what I am. Amen.

--Roddy Lumsden



As you kneel
be a scholar,
wear color and silk,
hold out to all
your newly woven hand.

A bird in bamboo
is curing the village
as it rides
through the dust storm.

Have you seen,
among clouds and waves,
the unknown artist
in the shape of a fan?

He is at sea
with two pine trees
where the Seven deities
of the Northern Dipper
dance around a toad.

An angler
is playing the flute
in a boat.

Be a waterfall
with your casual advice
which is like
to not understanding
but is a pair
of travelers.

It is ink
on paper love
and I am dead
because I am attributed
to the moods of others
like a peony.

--Frank O'Hara


"You Are in Bear Country"
Advice from a pamphlet published by the
Canadian Minister of the Environment

been here
for thousands of years.
the visitor.
encounters. Think ahead.
Keep clear
of berry patches
garbage dumps, carcasses.
On woods walks bring
noisemakers, bells.
Clap hands along the trail
or sing
but in dense bush
or by running water
bear may not hear your clatter.
Whatever else
dont' whistle. Whistling
is thought by some to imitate
the sounds bears make when they mate.

You need to know
there are two kinds:
ursus arctus horribilis
or grizzly
and ursus americanus
the smaller black
said to be
somewhat less likely to attack.
Alas, a small horrilibis
is difficult to distinguish
from a large americanus.

there is no
guaranteed life-saving way
to deal with an aggressive bear
some ploys
have proved more
successful than others.
Running's a poor choice.
Bear can outrun a racehorse.

Once you're face to face
speak softly. Take
off your pack
and set it down
to distract the grizzly.
Meanwhile back
slowly toward a large
sparsely branched tree
but remember
black bears are agile climbers
in which case
a tree may not offer escape.

As a last resort you can
play dead. Drop
to the ground face down.
In this case
wearing your pack
may shield your body from attack.
Courage. Lie still. Sometimes
your bear may veer away.
If not
bears have been known
to inflict only minor injuries
upon the prone.

Is death
by bear to be preferred
to death by bomb?
these extenuating circumstances
your mind may make absurd
leaps. The answer's yes.
Come on in. Cherish
your wilderness.

--Maxine Kumin


"The Need to Hold Still"

Winter weeds,
of a golden age,
take over the open land,
pale armies
redressing the balance

Again we live
in a time of fasting,
burlap cassocks,
monks on their knees,
bells tolling
in an empty sky

among the thin,
the trampled-on,
the inarticulate
clothed in drafts
and rooted in shocked earth
which remembers nothing

fields and fields of them


Queen Anne's lace
love grass:
plain, strong names,
bread and water

A woman
coming in from a walk
notices how drab
her hair has become
that gray and brown
are colors
she disappears into

that her body
has stopped asking
for anything except calm


When she brings them
into the house
and shortens them
for the vase,
their stems break
like old bones,

No holding on
No bitter odor
No last drop of juice

Hers, as long as she wants them

Their freedom from either/or
will outlast hers every time


The dignity of form
after seduction
and betrayal
by color

the heads,
but held together
by an old design
no one has thought
to question

the open pods
that have given
and given again

dullness of straw
which underlies
the rose
the grape
the kiss

the narrow leaf blades,
shape of the body

the fine stems,
earliest brushstrokes,
lines in the rock
on the wall
the page

--Lisel Mueller


"Coming Home From The Post Office"

On Sunday night we would
see the women returning
from an evening with God,
their faces glowing with faith,
and the hard sweat of their faith.
They would sing separately
or together, and when the bus
stopped and one got carefully
off the sisters would shout
news of the good days ahead
and the joys of handmaidenship.
I remember an evening in April
when I passed in and out of
sleep, and the woman who stood
above me stared into my eyes
as though searching for a sign
that might bring light softly
falling among the dark houses
we stuttered by. When I closed
my eyes I saw cards, letters,
small packages, each bearing
a particular name and some
burden of grief or tidings
of loss. Names like my own
passed moment by moment
into the gray sacks that slumbed
open mouthed. On strong legs
she stood easily, swaying
from side to side, a woman
in a green suit, a purse held
in one hand, a hankie folded
in the other. Her pale eyes
held mine easily each time
I wakened, and so I wakened
not into the colorless light
from overhead but into
the twin mysteries of a life
in God. When I fell back
into my light sleep I saw
a great clear river running
between the house I knew
and a bright shore of temples,
glowing public squares, children
in long robes flowing, those I
loved climbing a high hill
toward a new sun. Hours later
the driver softly wakened
me with a hand on my head
and a single word, and I
stepped lightly into the world,
my shoulders hunched, my collar
turned up against the hour,
and headed down the still street.
The new spring winds goraned
around me, the distant light
of no new star marked me home.

--Philip Levine


"Wolf Moon"

Now is the season
of hungry mice,
cold rabbits,
lean owls
hunkering with their lamp-eyes
in the leafless lanes
in the needled dark;
now is the season
when the kittle fox
comes to town
in the blue valley
of early morning;
now is the season
of iron rivers,
bloody crossings,
flaring winds,
birds frozen
in their tents of weeds,
their music spent
and blown like smoke
to the stone of the sky;
now is the season
of the hunter Death;
with his belt of knives,
his blck snowshoes,
he means to cleanse
the earth of fat;
his gray shadows
are out and running -- under
the moon, the pines,
down snow-filled trails they carry
the red whips of their music,
their footfalls quick as hammers,
from cabin to cabin,
from bed to bed,
from dreamer to dreamer.

--Mary Oliver



As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It's as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
a voracious
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.

--Claribel Alegria
(translated by Margaret Sayers Peden)


"Keep Driving"

steering her smooth burgundy car
past orange crates
and complicated shipyards
has always lived in Yokohama,
but possibly this neighborhood
sprang up over the weekend
when we were off beside the sea.
Massive concrete, tones of gray.
Every day something changes in a city.
A woman pulls groceries home
in a metallic cart past five thousand
beige apartments,
but she wil find her own
and twist the key.
We respect her.
Iron girders for a new
Rafters. Pipes.
Legions of coordinated
Atsuko cannot see any street
she recognizes,
one roadside tree
staked to bamboo
looks vaguely familiar.She has seen other trees like that.
Will I keep my eyes open please?
Let her know if I spot any clues?
Remember who
you are talking to
, I say,
and we both laugh very loudly,
which is not something
I thought I would get to do
in Japan this soon.
We veer under highways,
elevated tracks, clouds.
The red train zips by smoothly overhead,
but all our streets go one way the wrong way
and I'm still confused by her steering wheel
on the right side, my foot punching
an invisible clutch.
What has she done?
Atsuko keeps apologizing
as we circle shoe shops dress shops party shops --
obviously her city is bigger
than she thought it was.
We must get gas.
Another day Mount Fuji-san looming
on the horizon
might help us gain our bearings,
but it's invisible today.
Right now
everything is gray.
Only the red train for punctuation.
She has never been more lost.
Keep driving, I whisper,
Kyoto, Hokkaido,
villages, rice fields,
how can I be lost or found
if I have never been here before?
Your hotel is hiding, she groans.
Instead we find the Toyota dock
for the third time
in three hours.
Tricky city clicking its rhythms
into each U-turn, crosswalk,
the intricate red blood
networks of people,
into the secret hidden dirt.
Soon I will feel as grounded
as the citizens of the foreign cemetery
on the one high hill
who cam here planning to

--Naomi Shihab Nye


"Rising Dust"

The physiologist says I am well over
half water.
I feel, look, solid; am
though leaky firm.
Yet I am composed
largely of water.
How the composer turned us out
this way, even the learned few do not
explain. That's life.

And we're in need of
more water, over and over, repeatedly
thirsty, and unclean.

The body of this earth
has water under it and
over, from
where the long winds sough
tirelyessly over water, or shriek around
curved distances of ice.

Sky and earth invisibly
breathe skyfuls of
water, visible when it
finds its own level.

Even in me?
Kin to waterfalls
and glacial lakes and sloughs
and all that flows and surges,
yet I go steadily,
or without distillation climb at will
(until a dissolution
nobody anticipates).

I'm something else besides.
The biochemist does not
concern himself with this.
It too seems substance,
a vital bond threaded on an
as-if loom out there.
The strand within
thrums and shudders and twists.
It cleaves to this
colour or texture and
singles out to a rhythm
almost its own, again,
anticipating design.

But never any of us
physiologist or fisherman
or I
quite makes sense of it. We
find our own level

as prairie, auburn or snow-streaming, sounds forever
the almost limitless.

--Margaret Avison


"Hampstead: the Horse Chestnut Trees"

At the top of a low hill
two stand together, green
bobbings contained within
the general sway. They
must be about my age.
My brother and I
rode between them and
down the hill and the impetus
took us on without pedalling
to be finally braked by
a bit of sullen marsh
(no longer there) where the mud
was coloured by the red-brown
oozings of iron. It
was autumn
or was it?

Nothing to keep it there, the
smell of leaf in May
sweet and powerful as rutting
confuses me now, it's all
getting lost, I started
forgetting it even as I wrote.

Forms remain, not the life
of detail or hue
then the forms are lost and
only a few dates stay with you.

But the trees have no sentiments
their hearts are wood
and preserve nothing
boles get great, they are
embraced by the wind they
rushingly embrace,
they spread outward
and upward
without regret
hardening tender green
to insensate lumber.

--Thom Gunn



I wake to dark,
a window slime of dew.
Time to start

from the text,

from this trash
and gimmickry
of sex
my aesthetic:

a hip first,
a breast,
a slow
shadow strip
out of clothes

that busheled me
What an artist I am!

Barely light
and yet --
cold shouldering

clipped laurel
nippling the road --
I subvert

the old mode;
I skin
I dimple clay,
I flesh, I rump stone.

This is my way--
to strip and strip

my dusk flush,
nude shade,

of hip,

blacks light
and I become the night.

What stars
I harvest
to my dark!

Cast down

their eyes
cast down.

I have them now.
I'll teach them now.
I'll show then how

in offices,
their minds
blind on file,

the view
blues through
my curves and arcs.

They are
a part
of my dark plan:

Into the gutter
of their lusts
I burn

the shine
of my flesh.
Let them know

for a change
the hate
and discipline,

the lusts
that prison
and the light that is
frigid, constellate.

--Eavan Boland


"Death by Fruit"

Only the crudest
of the vanitas set
ever thought you had to get
a skull into the picture
whether you needed
its tallowy color
near the grapes or not.
Others, stopping to consider
shapes and textures,
often discovered that
eggs or aubergines
went better, or leeks,
or a plate of string beans.
A skull is so dominant.
It takes so much
bunched up drapery,
such a ponderous
display of ornate cutlery,
just to make it less prominent.
The greatest masters
preferred the subtlest vanitas,
modestly trusting to fruit baskets
to whisper ashes to ashes,
relying on the poignant exactness
of oranges to release
like a citrus mist
the always fresh fact
of how hard we resist
how briefly we're pleased.

--Kay Ryan


"Black Bamboo"

This black
is brushwork

slim as a pen
Not quite
as black as ink

and tufted
at each node
with lanceolate

green chartreuse
and lime


in New Guinea Highlands
boys as slim
and black
as this astonishing

and naked but for leaves
that seemed to grow
from their torsos --
part of them --
vegetable genitals
pubic hair --

leaped from the roadside
where our jeep had passed
to rearrange the stones
its tires displaced

remake the pattern
of their thoroughfare


It was their road
They made it

Broke the rock
to build the roadbed
broke the rock again
tomake a border --
almost a mosaic --

folk art
and accurate
where warring tribes
could without trespass

Their line of life

A safe and neutral space


with this gift
of black bamboo
I am
half naked in the heat
of humid high New Guinea
driving through
its rank green landscape

rancid pig fat


And as our progress
rough and lumbering
scumbles the roadbed
scatters stones
like chicks

young ebony warriors --
the road gang --
from their ambush
in the crotons clad
only in G-strings
armed with digging sticks
to make their high way
beautiful again

--P. K. Page


"The Dragonfly"

Fallen, so freshly fallen
From his estates of air,
He made on the gritty path
A five-inch funeral car,
New Hampshire's lesser dragon
In the grip of his kidnappers.
A triumph of chinoiserie
He seemed, in green and gold
Enameling, pin-brained,
With swizzle-stick for tail,
The breastplate gemmed between.
Wat a gallentry of pomp
In that royal spread of wings!--
Four leaves of thinnest mica,
Or, better, of the skin
Of water, if water had a skin.
Semaphores, at rest,
Of the frozen invisible,
They caught a glinting light
In the hairlines of their scripture
When a vagrom current stirred
And made them feign to flutter.
It was a slow progress,
A thing of fits and starts,
With bands of black attendants
Tugging at the wings
And under the crested feelers
At the loose-hinged head
(So many eyes he had, which were
The eyes?), still others pushing
From behind, where a pair
Of ornamental silks
That steered him in his flights
Gave tenuous pincer-hold.
Admire, I said to myself,
How he lords it over them,
Grounded though he may be
After his blue-sky transports;
But see how they honor him,
His servants at the feast,
In a passion of obsequies,
With chomping mandibles
And wildly waving forelegs
Telegraphing news abroad
Of their booty's worth; oh praise this
Consummate purity
Of the bestriding will!
In a scaled-down mythology
These myrmidons could stand
For the separate atoms of St. George
(Why not?). And fancy drove
Me on, my science kneeling
Before such witless tools,
To pay my tithe of awe
And read the resurrection-sign
In the motion of the death.
But then I saw,
When an imperceptible gust
Abruptly hoisted sails
And flipped my hero over . . .
In the reversal of the scene
I saw the sixfold spasm
Of his tucked-in claws,
The cry of writhing nerve-ends,
And down his membrane-length
A tide of gray pulsation.
I wheeled. The scorpion sun,
Stoking its belly-fires,
Exploded overhead, and the rain
Came down: scales, tortuous wires,
Flakings of green and gold.

--Stanley Kunitz

hey, nice site. for a translation i'm working on, of spanish poet's noemi trujillo's book, i was looking for a poem by henrik nordbrandt & found it, thanks to you. (Without having to trudge off to the library-- i still do those things, i'm a semi-retired lit prof & a writer as well).

Mariana Romo-Carmona
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