Wednesday, February 28, 2007

346. Ancient Air - Li Po

Li Po (701-762) - Ancient Air
(Translated from the Chinese by J. P. Seaton)

Climbed high, to gaze upon the sea,
Heaven and Earth, so vast, so vast.
Frost clothes all things in Autumn,
Winds waft, the broad wastes cold.
Glory, splendor; eastward flowing stream,
This world's affairs, just waves.
White sun covered, its dying rays,
The floating clouds, no resting place.
In lofty Wu-t'ung trees nest lowly finches.
Down among the thorny brush the Phoenix perches.
All that's left, to go home again,
Hand on my sword I sing, "The Going's Hard."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

345. Last Laugh - Robert Penn Warren

The little Sam Clemens, one night back in Hannibal,
Peeped through the dining-room keyhole, to see, outspread
And naked, the father split open, lights, liver, and all
Spilling out from that sack of mysterious pain, and the head

Sawed through, where his Word, like God’s, held its deepest den,
And candlelight glimmered on blood-slick, post-mortem steel,
And the two dead fish eyes stared steadily ceilingward--well, then,
If you yourself were, say, eleven, just how would you feel?

Oh, not that you’d love him—that ramrod son of Virginia,
Though born for success, failing westward bitterly on.
“Armed truce,” was all, years later, you could find to say in you.
But still, when a father’s dead, an umbrella’s gone

From between the son and the direful elements.
No, Sam couldn’t turn from the keyhole. It’s not every night
You can see God butchered in such learned dismemberments,
And when the chance comes you should make the most of the sight.

Though making the most, Sam couldn’t make terms with the fact
Of the strangely prismatic glitter that grew in his eye,
Or, climbing the stairs, why his will felt detached from the act,
Or why, stripping for bed, he stared so nakedly
At the pore little body and thought of the slick things therein.
Then he wept on the pillow, surprised at what he thought grief,
Then fixed eyes at darkness while, slow, on his face grew a grin,
Till suddenly something inside him burst with relief,

Like a hog bladder blown up to bust when the hog-killing frost
Makes the brat’s holiday. Then he just began laughing and could not
Stop, and so laughed himself crying to sleep. At last,
Far off in Nevada, by campfire or sluice or gulch-hut,

Or in roaring S.F., in an acre of mirror and gilt,
Where the boys with the dust bellied-up, he’d find words come,
His own face as stiff as a shingle, and him little-built.
Then whammo—the backslapping riot! He’d stand, looking dumb.

God was dead, for a fact. He knew, in short, the best joke.
He had learned its thousand forms, and, since the dark stair hall,
Had learned what was worth more than bullion or gold-dust-plump poke.
And married rich, too, with an extra spin to the ball,

For Livy loved God, and he’d show her the joke, how they lied.
Quite a tussle it was but, hot deck or cold, he was sly
And won every hand but the last. Then, at her bedside,
He watched dying eyes look up at a comfortless sky

And was left alone with his joke, God dead, till he died.

Monday, February 26, 2007

344. Ordinance On Arrival - Naomi Lazard

Welcome to you
who have managed to get here.
It's been a terrible trip;
you should be happy you have survived it.
Statistics prove that not many do.
You would like a bath, a hot meal,
a good night's sleep. Some of you
need medical attention.
None of this is available.
These things have always been
in short supply; now
they are impossible to obtain.

This is not
a temporary situation;
it is permanent.
Our condolences on your disappointment.
It is not our responsibility
everything you have heard about this place
is false. It is not our fault
you have been deceived,
ruined your health getting here.
For reasons beyond our control
there is no vehicle out.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

343. Flight - Jorge Guillén

(Translated from the Spanish by Reginald Gibbons)

Through summer air
The ascending gull
Dominates the expanse, the sea, the world
Under the blue, under clouds
Like the whitest wool-tufts,
And supreme, regal,
It soars.

All of space is a wave transfixed.

White and black feathers
Slow the ascent,
Suddenly slipping on the air,
On the vast light.

It buoys up the whiteness of the void.

And suspended, its wings abandon themselves
To clarity, to the transparent depths
Where flight, with stilled wings,
Gives itself entirely to its own delight, its falling,
And plunges into its own passing—
A pure instant of life.

Friday, February 23, 2007

342. Secrets - Sandra Hochman

He dreams every
Night of green
Women. In our sleep
We talk and move
About as if we were
Wrestling with
Perfect errors, He finds
The woman. Swiftly
I run to hide and
Slay her with
My melting fist.
Later, he opens the windows
And turns the woman
Over on her side
And holds in his arms
Her buzzing green shadows.
Again tonight,
He finds the woman
Blooming from the sky.
She grows brilliant gold
Scales as saints once
Grew halos of fire.
As she unfolds her secret,
I wake with my senses wide open.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

341. Woman At Lit Window - Eamon Grennan

Perhaps if she stood for an hour like that
and I could stand to stand in the dark
just looking, I might get it right, every
fine line in place: the veins of the hand
reaching up to the blind–cord, etch
of the neck in profile, the white
and violet shell of the ear
in its whorl of light, that neatly
circled strain against a black
cotton sweater. For a few seconds

she is staring through me
where I stand wondering what I'll do
if she starts
on that stage of light
taking her clothes off. But she only
frowns out at nothing or herself
in the glass, and I think I could,
if we stood for an hour like this,
get some of the real details down. But
already, even as she lowers the blind,
she's turning away, leaving a blank
ivory square of brightness
to float alone in the dark, the faint
grey outline of the house
around it. Newly risen, the half moon casts
my shadow on the path
skinned with grainy radiance
as I make my way back
to my own place
among the trees, a host of fireflies
in fragrant silence and native ease
pricking the dark around me
with their pulse of light.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

340. Quick And Bitter - Yehuda Amichai

Translated from the Hebrew by Assia Gutmann

The end was quick and bitter.
Slow and sweet was the time between us,
Slow and sweet were the nights
When my hands did not touch one another in despair
But with the love of your body
Which came between them.

And when I entered into you
It seemed then that great happiness
Could be measured with the precision
Of sharp pain. Quick and bitter.

Slow and sweet were the nights.
Now is as bitter and grinding as sand -
'We shall be sensible' and similar curses.

And as we stray further from love
We multiply the words,
Words and sentences long and orderly.
Had we remained together
We could have become a silence.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

339. Two Monkeys By Brueghel - Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska - Two Monkeys by Brueghel
(Translated by Magnus Kryski)

I keep dreaming of my graduation exam:
in a window sit two chained monkeys,
beyond the window floats the sky,
and the sea splashes.

I am taking an exam on the history of mankind:
I stammer and flounder.

One monkey, eyes fixed upon me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be dozing--
and when silence follows a question,
he prompts me
with a soft jingling of the chain.

Wislawa Szymborska - The Two Apes Of Brueghel
(Translated by Sharon Olds)

Here's my dream of final exam:
two apes, in chains, sitting at a window.
Outside the sky is flying
and the sea bathes.

I am taking the test on human history.
I stammer and blunder.

One ape, staring at me, listens with irony,
the other seems to doze ––
but when I am silent after a question,
she prompts me
with a soft clanking of the chain.

Monday, February 19, 2007

338. The Glass And The Bowl - Louise Erdrich

The father pours the milk from his glass
into the cup of the child,
and as the child drinks
the whiteness, opening
her throat to the good taste
eagerly, the father is filled.
He closes the refrigerator
on its light, he walks out
under the bowl of frozen darkness
and nothing seems withheld from him.
Overhead, the burst ropes of stars,
the buckets of craters,
the chaos of heaven, absence
of refuge in the design.
Yet down here, his daughter
in her quilts, under patterns
of diamonds and novas,
full of rich milk,

Saturday, February 17, 2007

337. Luncheon On The Grass - Carl Phillips

Carl Phillips - Luncheon On The Grass
(Manet Dejeuner sur l'herbe)

They're a curious lot, Manet's scandalous
lunch partners. The two men, lost
in cant and full dress, their legs sprawled
subway-style, as men's legs invariably are, seem
remarkably unruffled, all but oblivious to their nude
female companion. Her nudity is puzzling and
correct; clothes for her are surely only needed
to shrug a shoulder out of. She herself appears
baldly there-for-the-ride; her eyes, moving out
toward the viewer, are wide with the most banal,
detached surprise, as if to say, "where's
the real party?"

Now, in a comparable state of outdoor
undress, I'm beginning to have a fair idea
of what's going on in that scene. Watching
you, in clothes, remove one boot to work your
finger toward an itch in your athletic sock,
I look for any similarities between art
and our afternoon here on abandoned
property. The bather in the painting's
background, presumably there for a certain
balance of composition, is for us an ungainly,
rusted green dumpster, rising from overgrown
weeds that provide a contrast only remotely
pastoral. We are two to Manet's main group
of three, but the hum of the odd car or truck
on the highway below us offers a transient third.
Like the nude. I don't seem especially hungry,
partly because it's difficult eating naked when
everyone else is clothed, partly because
you didn't remember I hate chicken salad.
The beer you opened for me sits untouched,
going flat in the sun. I stroke the wet bottle
fitfully, to remind myself just how far
we've come or more probably have always been
from the shape of romance. My dear,
this is not art, we're not anywhere close
to Arcadia.

Friday, February 16, 2007

336. The First Kingdom - Seamus Heaney

The royal roads were cow paths.
The queen mother hunkered on a stool
and played the harpstrings of milk
into a wooden pail.
With seasoned sticks the nobles
lorded it over the hindquarters of cattle.

Units of measurement were pondered
by the cartful, barrowful and bucketful.
Time was a backward rote of names and mishaps,
bad harvests, fires, unfair settlements,
deaths in floods, murders and miscarriages.

And if my right to it all came only
by their acclamation, what was it worth?
I blew hot and blew cold.
They were two-faced and accommodating.
And seed, breed and generation still
they are holding on, every bit
as pious and exacting and demeaned.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

335. If He Let Us Go Now - Shirley Williams

let me strap.
the baby in the seat, just don't say
nothing all that while . . .
I move round to
the driver side of the car. The air
warm and dry here. Lawd know what it be
in L.A. He open the door for me
and I slide behind the wheel. Baby
facin me lookin without even
blinkin his eye. I wonder if he
know I'm his mamma that I love him
that that his daddy by the door (and
he won't let us go; he still got time
to say wait). Baby blink once but
he only five week old and whatever
he know don't show.
His daddy call
my name and I turn to him and wait.
It be cold in the Grapevine at night
this time of year. Wind come whistlin down
through them mountains almost blow this old
VW off the road. I'll be in
touch he say. Say, take care; say, write if
you need somethin.
I will him to touch
us now, to take care us, to know what
we need is him and his name. He slap
the car door, say, drive careful and turn
to go. If he let us go now . . . how
we gon ever take him back? I ease
out on the clutch, mash in on the gas.
The only answer I get is his back.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

334. so you want to be a writer? - Charles Bukowski

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.

Monday, February 12, 2007

333. About Opera - William Meredith

It's not the tunes, although as I get older
Arias are what I hum and whistle.
It's not the plots––they continue to bewilder
In the tongue I speak and in several that I wrestle.

An image of articulateness is what it is:
Isn't this how we've always longed to talk?
Words as they fall are monotone and bloodless
But they yearn to take the risk these noises take.

What dancing is to the slightly spastic way
Most of us teeter through our bodily life
Are these measured cries to the clumsy things we say,
In the heart's duresses, on the heart's behalf.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

332. Daybreak - Stephen Spender

At dawn she lay with her profile at that angle
Which, when she sleeps, seems the carved face of an angel.
Her hair a harp, the hand of a breeze follows
And plays, against the white cloud of the pillows.
Then, in a flush of rose, she woke, and her eyes that opened
Swam in blue through her rose flesh that dawned.
From her dew of lips, the drop of one word
Fell like the first of fountains: murmured
'Darling', upon my ears the song of the first bird.
'My dream becomes my dream,' she said, 'come true.
I waken from you to my dream of you.'
Oh, my own wakened dream then dared assume
The audacity of her sleep. Our dreams
Poured into each other's arms, like streams.

Friday, February 09, 2007

331. For Theodore Roethke - James Schevill

How he rolled down night streets
Like a barrel heaved from side to side;
How his heavy, high forehead,
Great chunk of a headstone,
Loomed over the polished bars
In a frenzy of glass-shaking laughter.

This was a master of witch-rhythms,
Gropings through the root;
A breeder in water
Floating light out of the depths;
A curious waddling land-animal,
Air-fingered, at home by waves,
Who took from the whitecapped sea
A sense of skimming.

He saw with his eye "close on the object,"
Staring at the disguises of God,
Stone, water, tree, elemental root,
Learning we need the catalogue
As well as the lyrical dance
To find a language
"natural to the immediate thing,"
A language to seize from the self-trap
A time of communion, to sense beneath
The facile ornaments the simple drawing
That is the source of fire.

Dance on! Dance on!
Through a country lost
In immigration fury,
Lost in the action,
Motion of disguise,
Burning of early angels,
Savagery of racial wars;
Through the long, tangled line of Whitman absorbing all
Down to your short line, end-stopped,
Paring everything away
To the final pause,
The breath that stops
As the song sings
Through death into

Thursday, February 08, 2007

330. At Thirty-Three - Hans Magnus Enzensberger

(Translated from the German by Michael Hamburger)

It was all so different from what she'd expected
Always those rusting Volkswagens.
At one time she'd almost married a baker.
First he read Hesse, then Handke.
Now often she does crosswords in bed.
With her, men take no liberties.
For years she was a Trotskyist, but in her own way.
She's never handled a ration card.
When she thinks of Kampuchea she feels quite sick.
Her last lover, the professor, always wanted her to beat him.
Greenish batik dresses, always too wide for her.
Greenflies on her Sparannia.
Really she wanted to paint, or emigrate.
Her thesis, Class Struggles in Ulm 1500
to 1512 and References to them in Folksong:
Grants, beginnings and a suitcase full of notes.
Sometimes her grandmother sends her money.
Tentative dances in her bathroom, little grimaces,
cucumber juice for hours in front of the mirror.
She says, whatever happens I shan't starve.
When she weeps she looks like nineteen.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

329. Clever Women - L. E. Sissman

Clever women live and die on our attention.
They make us feel that we are their invention,
Perhaps we are. They scale us like a tower,
Hand over hand, their eyebeams locked on ours,
Until they overrun our slower brains.
Then what confusion what cerebral pains!
We drown in borrowed wit and rented reading,
Tags, quotes, allusions, maxims, special pleading,
Polemics, set pieces, and syllogisms
Designed to tax us for our sins and schisms
In spurning each one of those nobly sexed
And fashionably gownéd intellects
Who wear the Empress's new clothes. Alas,
We can't accommodate their weight on us,
Who weighed on them until at length we sprang,
Relieved, to life, and joined the shabby gang
Of men, our dumb, companionable brothers
Leaving behind those weeping, waving mothers,
Who now, refleshed as a small-breasted race
Of long-haired daughters, press their aching case
Against our flabby front at every arty
Show, opening, dance, happening, and party.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

328. Figures Of Thought - Howard Nemerov

To lay the logarithmic spiral on
Sea-shell and leaf alike, and see it fit,
To watch the same idea work itself out
In the fighter pilot's steepening, tightening turn
Onto his target, setting up the kill,
And in the flight of certain wall-eyed bugs
Who cannot see to fly straight into death
But have to cast their sidelong glance at it
And come but cranking to the candles flame –
How secret that is, and how privileged
One feels to find the same necessity
Ciphered in forms diverse and otherwise
Without kinship –– that is the beautiful
In Nature as in art, not obvious,
Not inaccessible, but just between.

It may diminish some our dry delight
To wonder if everything we are and do
Lies subject to some little law like that;
Hidden in nature, but not deeply so.

Monday, February 05, 2007

327. On The Way To The Depot - P. J. Kavanagh

It's a pleasant night. So tonight I'll talk on the way
Of the images I seem to think in every day
Five strange years after:
Of how my life appears to me.
I don't speak of it, the thing itself, not that,
But of how I seem to see our lives in the light of it.
It's as though you live in big rooms filled with laughing;
I see little tables, and shining black pianos,
And you very busy. And me outside in the street
(Don't laugh) sweeping it.
The place I suppose is my idea of heaven.
I haven't described it (who could?)
But I've put in some writing desks and black pianos
Because that's, if I'm honest, the best my poor brain can rise to
Without inventing. Spirits, like flames, that meet
Melting into each other –– yes, that makes sense to me often
But not (and you know this) every day.
Anyway, here I am
Out on the pavement. And every night
I wheel my day's collection to the depot
Where it's assessed. But
(And here's the odd part)
I don't know who does the assessing
Or what it's best to bring. One just leaves it all there
And goes to bed; every day.
The streets and dreams and faces that I've seen now
Without you. Or with you? . . .
It's late.
Time to turn in my collection.
Heaven knows how I'm doing!
When I sleep
Visit me then, reassure me. Don't share my puzzle.
And let me hear you laugh in my dustman's hat .. .

Sunday, February 04, 2007

326. Later - L. E. Sissman

Two last exhibits must be introduced
In evidence, if it please your honor. One,
Called "Two Comedians," painted at the end
Of Hopper's life, shows Pierrot, stage front,
Grim-lipped, in whiteface, presenting Pierrette
To an unseen audience; the figures are,
His wife said –– following his death and soon
Before her own –– intended to represent
The painter and his wife, Such comedy ––
So high as to be cosmic –– is perhaps
Played out in the second exhibit, "Sun
In an Empty Room," where the interiors
Of all his early years are fused in one
Apartment room movers have visited
With their pantechnicon of mise-en-scéne,
Taking away the givens of the past ––
Bed, rugs, lamps, people, papers, chiffoniers ––
And leaving a sizable memorial
To his life and to the state he lived it in:
A green tree blowing outside; streaming in
Through the two-light window, forming cream oblongs
On window wall and alcove wall and on
The bare wood floor, a shaft of morning sun
Peoples the vacuum with American light.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

325. Truce (1914) -Paul Muldoon

It begins with one or two soldiers
And one or two following
With hampers over their shoulders.
They might be off wildfowling

As they would another Christmas Day,
So gingerly they pick their steps.
No one seems sure of what to do.
All stop then one stops.

A fire gets lit. some spread
Their greatcoats on the frozen ground.
Polish vodka, fruit and bread
Are broken out and passed round.

The air of an old German song,
The rules of Patience, are the secrets
They'll share before long.
They draw on their last cigarettes

As Friday-night lovers, when it's over,
Might get up from their mattresses
To congratulate each other
And exchange names and addresses.

Friday, February 02, 2007

324. Stevie Smith - Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
and now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.