Tuesday, February 28, 2006

69. LEARNING - William Stafford

A piccolo played then a drum.
Feet began to come-a part
of the music. Here came a horse,
clippety clop, away.

My mother said, "Don't run––
the army is after someone
other than us. If you stay
you'll learn our enemy."

Then he came, the speaker. He stood
in the square. He told us who
to hate. I watched my mother's face,
its quiet. "That's him," she said.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

68. YOU AND ART - William Stafford

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face––
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

And you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

67. AT LEAST - Raymond Carver

I want to get up early one more morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of the other houses.
I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the strait from every
seafaring country in the world–––
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every color under the sun
that cut the water as they pass.
I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.
I hate to seem greedy–––I have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what's going to happen.

Friday, February 24, 2006

66. FAMILY REUNION - Judith Viorst

The first full-fledged family reunion
Was held at the seashore
With 9 pounds of sturgeon
7 pounds of corned beef
1 nephew who got the highest mark on an intelligence test
ever recorded in Hillside, New Jersey
4 aunts in pain taking pills
1 cousin in analysis taking notes
1 sister-in-law who makes a cherry cheesecake a person
would be happy to pay to eat
5 uncles to whom what happened in the stock market
shouldn't happen to their worst enemy
1 niece who is running away from home the minute the
orthodontist removes her braces
1 cousin you wouldn't believe it to look at him only likes
1 nephew involved with a person of a different racial
persuasion which his parents are taking very well
1 brother-in-law with a house so big you could get lost and
carpeting so thick you could suffocate and a mortgage so
high you could go bankrupt
1 uncle whose wife is a saint to put up with him
1 cousin who has made such a name for himself he was
almost Barbra Streisand's obstetrician
1 cousin who has made such a name for himself he was
almost Jacob Javits' CPA
1 niece it wouldn't surprise anyone if next year she's playing
at Carnegie Hall
1 nephew it wouldn't surprise anyone if next year he's
sentenced to Leavenworth
2 aunts who go to the same butcher as Philip Roth's mother
And me wanting approval from all of them

Sunday, February 19, 2006

65. EASTER MORNING - William Stafford

Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
"Repent," and you say, "Come on in," and it's
Jesus. That's when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, "I'm still here," and you know it's true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.

Except, maybe that someone says, "I've got a deal
for you." And you listen because that's how
you're trained––they told you, "Always hear both sides."
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you're getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I'd say always go to
the door; yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, "Jesus?"

Friday, February 17, 2006


All afternoon I have been struggling
to communicate in Italian
with Roberto and Giuseppe, who have begun
to resemble the two male characters
in my Italian for Beginners,
the ones who are always shopping
or inquiring about the times of trains,
and now I can hardly speak or write English.

I have made important pronouncements
in this remote limestone valley
with its trickle of a river,
stating that it seems hotter
today even than it was yesterday
and that swimming is very good for you,
very beneficial, you might say.
I also posed burning questions
about the hours of the archaeological museum
and the location of the local necropolis.

But now I am alone in the evening light
which has softened the white cliffs,
and I have had a little gin in a glass with ice
which has softened my mood or—
how would you say in English—
has allowed my thoughts to traverse my brain
with greater gentleness, shall we say,

or, to put it less literally,
this drink has extended permission
to my mind to feel—what's the word?—
a friendship with the vast sky
which is very—give me a minute—very blue
but with much great paleness
at this special time of day, or as we say in America, now.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

63. Excerpt from Preludes to Attitude, LVI - Conrad Aiken

Let us describe the evening as it is:—
The stars disposed in heaven as they are:
Verlaine and Shakspere rotting, where they rot,
Rimbaud remembered, and too soon forgot;

Order in all things, logic in the dark;
Arrangement in the atom and the spark;
Time in the heart and sequence in the brain—

Such as destroyed Rimbaud and fooled Verlaine.
And let us then take godhead by the neck—

And strangle it, and with it, rhetoric.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


February 1939


He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the air-ports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
O all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By morning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed: he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections;
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom;
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

O all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us: your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself; mad Ireland hurt you into poetry,
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its saying where executives
Would never want to tamper; it flows south
From ranches of isolation and busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest:
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

61. THESAURUS - Billy Collins

It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.

It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.

Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.

I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.

I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.

Monday, February 06, 2006

60. STONE VILLAGES - Joseph Brodsky

The stone-built villages of England.
A cathedral bottled in a pub window.
Cows dispersed across fields.

A man in a moth-eaten suit
sees a train off, heading, like everything there, for the sea,
smiles at his daughter, leaving for the East.
A whistle blows.

And the endless sky over the tiles
grows bluer as swelling birdsong fills.
And the clearer the song is heard,
the smaller the bird.