Wednesday, August 30, 2006

199. Lost - David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

198. The Bog Queen - Seamus Heaney

I lay waiting
between turf-face and demesne wall,
between heathery levels
and glass-toothed stone.

My body was braille
for the creeping influences:
dawn suns groped over my head
and cooled at my feet,

through my fabrics and skins
the seeps of winter
digested me,
the illiterate roots

pondered and died
in the cavings
of stomach and socket.
I lay waiting

on the gravel bottom,
my brain darkening.
a jar of spawn
fermenting underground

dreams of Baltic amber.
Bruised berries under my nails,
the vital hoard reducing
in the crock of the pelvis.

My diadem grew carious,
gemstones dropped
in the peat floe
like the bearings of history.

My sash was a black glacier
wrinkling, dyed weaves
and Phoenician stitchwork
retted on my breasts'

soft moraines.
I knew winter cold
like the nuzzle of fjords
at my thighs––

the soaked fledge, the heavy
swaddle of hides.
My skull hibernated
in the wet nest of my hair.

Which they robbed.
I was barbered
and stripped
by a turfcutter's spade

who veiled me again
and packed coomb softly
between the stone jambs
at my head and my feet.

Till a peer's wife bribed him.
The plait of my hair
a slimy birth-cord
of bog, had been cut

and I rose from the dark,
hacked bone, skull-ware,
frayed stitches, tufts,
small gleams on the bank.

197. Leaving Something Behind - David Wagoner

A fox at your neck and snakeskin on your feet,
You have gone to the city behind an ivory brooch,
Wearing your charms for and against desire, bearing your beauty
Past all the gaping doorways, amazing women on edge
And leading men's eyes astray while skirting mayhem,
And I, for a day, must wish you safe in your skin.

The diggers named her the Minnesota Girl. she was fifteen,
Eight thousand years ago, when she drowned in a glacial lake,
Curling to sleep like her sea-snail amulet, holding a turtleshell,
A wolf's tooth, the tine of an antler, carrying somehow
A dozen bones from the feet of water birds. She believed in her charms,
But something found her and kept her. She became what she wore.

She loved her bones and her own husk of creatures
But left them piecemeal on the branching shore.
Without you, fox paws, elephant haunches, all rattling tails,
Snails' feet, turtles ' remote hearts, muzzles of wolves,
Stags' ears, and the tongues of water birds are only themselves.
Come safely back. There was nothing in her arms.

Monday, August 28, 2006

196. CONSOLATION - Wislawa Szymborska

(translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh & Stanislaw Baranczak)

They say he read novels to relax,
But only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If anything like that turned up,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’d had enough of dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggles to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction
with its diminutions.

Hence the indispensable
silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
seducers scurrying to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly
in the last.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

195. in this cage some songs are born - Charles Bukowski

I write poetry, worry, smile,
continue for a while
just like most of us
just like all of us;
sometimes I want to hug all
Mankind on earth
and say,
god damn all this that they've brought down
upon us,
we are brave and good
even though we are selfish
and kill each other and
kill ourselves,
we are the people
born to kill and die and weep in dark rooms
and love in dark rooms,
and wait, and
wait and wait and wait.
we are the people.
we are nothing

Thursday, August 24, 2006

194. The Afterlife - Billy Collins

While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth,
or riffling through a magazine in bed,
the dead of the day are setting out on their journey.

They're moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
The place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals--eagles and leopards--and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

(And some just smile, forever on)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

193. PROSPECTING - A. R. Ammons

Coming to cottonwoods, an
orange rockshelf,
and in the gully
an edging of stream willows,

I made camp
and turned by mule loose
to graze in the dark
evening of the mountain.

Drowzed over the coals
and my loneliness
like an inner image went
out and shook
hands with the willows,

and running up the black scarp
tugged the heavy moon
up and over into light,

and on a hill-thorn of sage
called with the coyotes
and told ghost stories to
a night circle of lizards.
Tipping on its handle
the Dipper unobtrusively
poured out the night.

At dawn returning, wet
to the hips with meetings,
my loneliness woke me up
and we merged refreshed into
the breaking of camp and day.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

192. A CIVIL WAR VETERAN... - Norbert Krapf

Norbert Krapf - A Civil War Veteran from Indiana Recalls Visiting with Walt Whitman in a Washington Hospital

Even now, as I stare into the fire,
I can see him sitting there, that
lonely old man whose eyes fluttered
like quail roosting beyond the snowy
white bush of his whiskers and hair.
At first when I came to at dusk
and saw him sitting there, through
my fever, I was suspicious. As you
can imagine! What could an old man
want in a ward of wounded and dying
solders that reeked of gangrene
and piss? But when he spoke,
I relaxed. I had never heard
such a voice. His words were salve
to my wound. He talked like one
of us, but somehow gentler.
He asked about my pain, if it was
better. I nodded. When I admitted
I was thirsty, he put water to my
lips. He wanted to know where my
folks lived, whether they'd heard
about my injury. When I shook
my head sideways and mumbled "Indiana,
southern Indiana," he said: "Oh, yes,
the hills. A Hoosier from the hills!"
He'd once sailed up the Ohio River
past Troy, he said, on his way back
from New Orleans. He wrote a letter
like I'd never read. It arrived like
balm for my mother's fears, beer
to my father's thirst for news. Mother
saved it till she died. "Don't worry,"
he wrote, "your brave son will be back
eating pawpaws soon." When I got back
enough strength to become a good listener,
he explained he'd gone all the way
from New York to Virginia looking
for his brother George; he'd been wounded
in the first Fredericksburg battle.
My God, how he loved to talk! Sometimes
I wondered who was the patient and who
was the aide. Outside the hospital
at Fredericksburg, he said, he found
"a heap of feet, arms, legs, and hands. . .
Enough to fill a whole horse cart!"
He shook his head, shuddered, and
sort of moaned: "and dead bodies
covered with brown woolen blankets."
He took a deep breath, then sighed:
"But George was alive and whole."
Sometimes when he looked into my eyes
from behind that white bush, I thought
I might have once been his brother,
in some other world. I was by no means
the only soldier he visited. He'd come
into the ward coat and trouser pockets
bulging with gifts: apples, oranges,
sweet crackers, figs. Once he came
in carrying a jar of preserved raspberries
"donated by a lady." A few times I saw
him slip a coin into someone's moist
palm. Once I saw him lift a twist
of tobacco to an amputee's jaw.
Many's the time I watched him tear off
a sheet of paper from a pad, write
while he asked questions at the side
of the bed, and seal a letter into
an envelope. How that man loved
to write! To people from all over!
You'd have thought he was a parent himself.
He once confessed that he'd written many
a tender love letter for the wounded.
That made him chuckle. The night before
I left, he read to me from a book.
I had never heard anything like it.
It was like the person in that book
was talking right to me, had known
me all my life. He spoke my kind
of language. It was beautiful without
being fancy. It was natural as sun,
rain, and snow. The rhythm swelled
like the sea, as I imagined it to sound.
I could see leaves of grass growing
on the graves of soldiers. I could
see a young boy growing up on an island
with an Indian-sounding name. I could
feel the sun on my shoulders, hear
the surf splash on the shore. When his
voice ebbed like that tide, I looked
into his soft eyes, and told him how
good it was. He smiled, thanked me,
said he wrote the book himself.
Watching the fire fade, I can still
hear his salty voice roll like the sea.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

191. ODYSSEUS'S SECRET - Stephen Dunn

At first he thought only of home, and Penelope.
But after a few years, like anyone on his own,
he couldn't separate what he'd chosen
from what had chosen him. Calypso, the Lotus-eaters, Circe;
a man could forget where he lived.
He had a gift for getting in and out of trouble,
a prodigious, human gift. To survive Cyclops
and withstand the Sirens' song––
just those words survive, withstand, in his mind became a music
he moved to and lived by.
How could govern, even love, compete?
They belonged to a different part of a man,
the untested part, which never has transcended dread,
or the liar part, which always spoke like a citizen. The larger the man, though,
the more he needed to be reminded
he was a man. Lightning, high winds;
for every excess a punishment.
Penelope was dear to him, full of character and fine in bed.
But by the middle years this other life
had become his life. That was Odysseus's secret,
kept even from himself. When he talked about return
he thought he meant what he said. Twenty years to get home?
A man finds his shipwrecks,
tells himself the necessary stories.
Whatever gods are––our own fearful voices
or intimations from the unseen order
of things, the gods finally released him, cleared the way.
Odysseus boarded that Phaeacian ship, suddenly tired
of the road's dangerous enchantments,
and sailed through storm and wild sea
as if his beloved were all that ever mattered.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

190. Meeting A Bear - David Wagoner

If you haven't made noise enough to warn him, singing, shouting,
Or thumping sticks against trees as you walk in the woods,
Giving him time to vanish
(As he wants to) quietly sideways through the nearest thicket,
You may wind up standing face to face with a bear.
Your near future,
Even your distant future, may depend on how he feels
Looking at you, on what he makes of you
And your upright posture
Which, in his world, like a down-swayed head and humped shoulders,
Is a standing offer to fight for territory
And a mate to go with it.
Gaping and staring directly are as risky as running:
To try for dominance or moral authority
Is an empty gesture,
And taking to your heels is an invitation to a dance
Which, from your point of view, will be no circus.
He won't enjoy your smell
Or anything else about you, including your ancestors
Or the shape of your snout. If the feeling's mutual,
It's still out of balance:
He doesn't care what you think or calculate; your disapproval
Leaves him as cold as the opinions of salmon.
He may feel free
To act out all his own displeasures with a vengeance:
You would do well to try your meekest behavior,
Standing still
As long as you're not mauled or hugged, your eyes downcast.
But if you must make a stir, do everything sidelong,
Gently and naturally,
Vaguely oblique. Withdraw without turning and start saying
Softly, monotonously, whatever comes to mind
Without special pleading:
Nothing hurt or reproachful to appeal to his better feelings.
He has none, only a harder life than yours.
There's no use singing
National anthems or battle hymns or alma maters
Or any other charming or beastly music.
Use only the dullest,
Blandest, most colorless, undemonstrative speech you can think of,
Bears, for good reason, find it embarrassing
Or at least disarming
And will forget their claws and cover their eyeteeth as an answer.
Meanwhile, move off, yielding the forest floor
As carefully as your honor.

Monday, August 14, 2006

189. WASTED - Charles Bukowski

too often the people complain that they have
done nothing with their
and then they wait for somebody to tell them
that this isn't so.
look, you've done this and that and you've
done that and that's
you really think so?
of course.

but they had it right.
they've done nothing.
shown no courage.
no inventiveness.
they did what they were taught to
they did what they were told to
they had no resistance, no thoughts
of their own.
they were pushed and shoved
and went obediently.
they had no heart.
they were cowardly.
they stank in life.
they stank up life.

and now they want to be told that
they didn't fail.
you've met them.
they're everywhere.
the spiritless.
the dead-before-death gang.

be kind?
lie to them?
tell them what they want to hear?
tell them anything they want to hear?

people with courage made them what they

and if they ask me, I'll tell them what they
don't want to hear.

it's better you
keep them away from me, or
they'll tell you I'm a cruel man.

it's better that they confer
with you.

I want to be free of

Saturday, August 12, 2006

288. Lost - David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Friday, August 11, 2006

187. CAPRICCIO ITALIEN - Stephen Dunn

From the mountain drifts down the finest mist,
so fine you walk in it, letting it glaze
your hair, while boats on the lake bob and blur.
This is not your country; everything you see––
cobblestoned ancient streets, unbrella'd tables,
laundry hanging from the balconies of the poor––
appears meaningful.
Just off the piazza, a window display
of squab and rabbit and roasted pig.
No outsized dream sullens the friendly clerks.
If they're unhappy you're happy
a tradition helps them not to let it show.
You buy the most expensive tie you've ever bought,
silk and wide, blue with subtle, well-spaced dots.
You try on a flamboyant scarf. In the mirror
someone foolish stares back at you.
You take it anyhow.
You're a woman's man, and you're womanless.
How absurd to think anyone can escape
being judged for what he doesn't have.
Oh the chosen gloomy beauty of a tourist town––
you've always known
what lifts you up can get you down.
You've come far to feel this keenly low.
The pigeons coo their greedy songs.
You break off bits of bread and leave no trail.
At dusk, if the mist is gone, you plan to sit
with some grappa in a slender glass.
You're sure the swallows won't disappoint––
swoop and dive as they did the night before,
mindless, wild, wholly in control.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

186. 1979 - Wendell Berry

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


This is not the way I am.
Really, I am much taller in person,
the hairline I conceal reaches back
to my grandfather, and the shyness my wife
will not believe in has always been why
I was bold on first dates. My father a crack salesman.
I've saved his pines, the small acclamations
I used to show my friends. And the billyclub
I keep by my bed was his, too; an heirloom.
I am somewhat older than you can tell.
The early deaths have decomposed
behind my eyes, leaving lines apparently caused
by smiling. My voice still reflects the time
I believed in prayer as a way of getting
what I wanted. I am none of my clothes.
My poems are approximately true.
The games I play and how I play them
are the arrows you should follow: they'll take you
to the enormous body of a child. It is not
that simple. At parties I have been known to remove
from the bookshelf the kind of book
that goes best with my beard.
My habits in bed are so perverse that they differentiate me
from no one. And I prefer soda, the bubbles just after
it's opened, to anyone who just lies there. Be careful:
I would like to make you believe in me.
When I come home at night after teaching myself
to students, I want to search the phone book
for their numbers, call them, and pick their brains.
Oh, I am much less flamboyant than this.
If you ever meet me, I'll be the one with the lapel
full of carnations.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

184. A NOTE - Wislawa Szymborska

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it's not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up drenched in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

Monday, August 07, 2006

183. OLD WALT - Langston Hughes

Old Walt Whitman
Went finding and seeking,
Finding less than sought
Seeking more than found,
Every detail minding
Of the seeking or the finding.

Pleasured equally
In seeking as in finding,
Each detail minding,
Old Walt went seeking
And finding.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

182. be alone - Charles Bukowski

when you think about how often
it all goes wrong
again and again
you begin to look at the walls
and yearn to stay inside
because the streets are the
same old movie
and the heroes all end up like
old movie heroes:
fat ass, fat face and the brain
of a lizard.

it's no wonder that
a wise man will
climb a 10,000 foot mountain
and sit there waiting
living off of berry bush leaves
rather than bet it all on two dimpled knees
that surely won't last a lifetime
and 2 times out of 3
won't remain even for one long night.

mountains are hard to climb.
thus the walls are your friends.
learn your walls.

what they have given us out there
in the streets
is something that even children
get tired of.

stay within your walls.
they are the truest love.

build where few others build.
it's the last way left.

Friday, August 04, 2006

181. a vote for the gentle light - Charles Bukowski

a vote for the gentle light
burned senseless by other people's constant
I pull the curtains apart,
aching for the gentle light.
it's there, it's there
I'm sure.

oh, the faces of depression, expressions
pulled down into the gluey dark.
the bitter small sour mouths,
the self-pity, the self-justification is
too much, all too much.
the faces in shadow,
deep creases of gloom.

there's no courage there, just the desire to
possess something––admiration, fame, lovers,
money, any damn thing
so long as it comes easy.
so long as they don't have to do
what's necessary.
and when they don't succeed they
become embittered,
they imagine that they have
been slighted, cheated,

then they concentrate upon their
unhappiness, their last
and they're good at that,
they are very good at that.
they have so much unhappiness
they insist upon your sharing it

they bathe and splash in their
they splash it upon you.

it's all they have.
it's all they want.
it's all they can be.

you must refuse to join them.
you must remain yourself.
you must open the curtains
or the blinds
or the windows
to the gentle light.
to joy.
it's there in life
and even in death
it can be

Thursday, August 03, 2006

180. AFTER - Stehpen Dunn

Stephen Dunn - After

Jack and Jill at home together after their fall,
the bucket spilled, her knees badly scraped,
and Jack with not even an aspirin for what's broken.
We can see the arduous evenings ahead of them.
And the need now to pay a boy to fetch the water.
Our mistake was trying to do something together,
Jill sighs. Jack says, If you'd have let go for once
you wouldn't have come tumbling after.
He's in a wheelchair, but she's still an item––
for the rest of their existence confined
to a little, rhyming story. We tell it to our children,
who laugh, already accustomed to disaster.
We'd like to teach them the secrets
of knowing how to go too far,
but Jack is banging with his soup spoon,
Jill is pulling out her hair. Out of decency
we turn away, as if it were possible to escape
the drift of our lives, the fundamental business
of making do with what's been left us.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

179. TO JACQUES PEPIN - Shanna Compton

Shanna Compton – To Jacques Pepin

Touch me
with your impeccably clean hands.
Go ahead: Say beutter, instead of butter.
I can take it.

I love your rhapsodies of oil.
You are hypnotic as you pat
a chicken's rump with your right hand, swirl
your ruby glass in the left.

For a Frenchman,
you are remarkably open
to wines vinted by Californians.
Don't misunderstand.

I never intended any innuendo,
but I dream of being food in your kitchen.
Every night I become a perfect tomato,
a parcel of pastry, crimped and tender.

Give me away in a frock of parchment paper. Fold
me in. Slick me a little clarified gold.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

178. The Journey - Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice––
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations––
though the melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do––
determined to save
the only life that you could save.