Wednesday, May 30, 2007

421. Sestina - Elizbeth Bishop

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinotical tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know; says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

420. Love - Czeslaw Milosz

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills -
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn't matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn't always understand.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

419. Being Listened To - John Fox

When someone deeply listens to you,
it is like holding out a dented cup
you've had since childhood
and watching it fill up
with cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches
your skin,
you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you,
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you
wrote your first poem
begins to glow in your
mind's eye.
It is as if gold has been

When someone deeply listens to you,
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

Friday, May 25, 2007

418. The God Abandons Antony - C. P. Cavafy (1)

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keely and Philip Sherrard

When suddenly at midnight you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don't mourn your luck that's failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive - don't mourn them uselessly;
as one long prepared and full of courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don't fool yourself, don't say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don't degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and full of courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion,
but not with the whining, the pleas of the coward;
listen- your final pleasure - to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

417. Homer's Seeing-Eye Dog - William Matthews

Most of the time he worked, a sort of sleep
with a purpose, so far as I could tell.
How he got from the dark of sleep
to the dark of waking up I'll never know;
the lax sprawl sleep allowed him
began to set from the edges in,
like a custard, and then he was awake,
me too, of course, wriggling my ears
while he unlocked his bladder and stream
of dopey wake-up jokes. The one
about the wine-dark pee I hated instantly.
I stood at the ready, like a god
in an epic, but there was never much
to do. Oh now and then I'd make a sure
intervention, save a life, whatever.
But my exploits don't interest you
and of his life all I can say is that
when he'd poured out his work
the best of it was gone and then he died.
He was a great man and I loved him.
Not a whimper about his sex life --
how I detest your prurience --
but here's a farewell literary tip:
I myself am the model for Penelope.
Don't snicker, you hairless moron,
I know so well what faithful means
there's not even a word for it in Dog,
I just embody it. I think you bipeds
have a catchphrase for it: "To thine own self
be true, . . ." though like a blind man's shadow,
the second half is only there for those who know
it's missing. Merely a dog, I'll tell you
what it is: " . . . as if you had a choice."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

416. Virginia Woolf Gathers Mushrooms - William Dickey

She is not easy to see. she wears
something anonymous: not the dress
she has not got and so (sigh of relief)
cannot go the the party she was
so much of two minds about going to.
Certainly not the dress she wore down
to dinner at Hyde Park Gate, after
washing in the inadequate basin, the dress
her half-brother, that authority,
looked at and looked away.

The mushrooms are not
really an obsession, but, as the war
keeps killing and removing, as the moon
becomes a mere indicator (if it bright
there will be German planes, the servants
on mattresses in the basement) there is
little enough to hope for, little
that seems convincing
in any natural way.

Chocolate is unobtainable, eggs arrive
by two, if they arrive. But on the slope
above Asheham, at the right time of the year,
the mushrooms are given. There are the right places
to find them, learned only be craft and care.
Some visitors (Pernel Strachey, Vice-President
of Newham College, Cambridge) look too high.
The trick is to focus in.

The years gone, it is easy to imagine her,
that historic profile, attending to the best music,
dividing and discriminating, allowed for once
the right dress, the right hat, the clothes
one discriminates in.

to watch her carry her almost-nothing body
up the earth slope, taking on an earthen color,
vanishing almost from the over-freighted air,
to watch where yesterday
there was nothing; today, something.
In a little dip of the hill, enough mushrooms
to fill her handkerchief, enough
for two people to eat, quietly, at evening,
love continuing, life happening,
the house easy so.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

415. A Large Number - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

Four billion people on this earth,
but my imagination is the way it's always been:
bad with large numbers.
It is still moved by particularity.
It flits about the darkness like a flashlight beam,
disclosing only random faces,
while the rest go blindly by,
unthought of, unpitied.
Not even a Dante could have stopped that.
So what do you do when you're not,
even with all the muses on your side?

Non omnis moriar—a premature worry.
Yet am I fully alive, and is that enough?
It never has been, and even less so now.
I select by rejecting, for there's no other way,
but what I reject, is more numerous,
more dense, more intrusive than ever.
At the cost of untold losses—a poem, a sigh.
I reply with a whisper to a thunderous calling.
How much I am silent about I can't say.
A mouse at the foot of mother mountain.
Life lasts as long as a few lines of claws in the sand.

My dreams—even they are not as populous as they should be.
There is more solitude in them than crowds or clamor.
Sometimes someone long dead will drop by for a bit.
A single hand turns a knob.
Annexes of echo overgrow the empty house.
I run from the threshold down into the quiet
valley seemingly no one's—an anachronism by now.

Where does all this space still in me come from—
that I don't know.

Monday, May 21, 2007

414. Where Do Your People Come From? - Pattiann Rogers

Great-grandfather originated
inside the seamless shell of a hickory nut,
being enabled, thereby, to see
in blindness the future brightness
of combusting seeds and the sun's dark
meat captured in walls like night.

Three aunts came up through the roots
of raspberries, rhododendrons and oaks
and so perceive prophecy in the water-seeking
lines of the moon, in the urging branches
of the incantatory voice. They perceive
the sweet fruits and blossoms thriving
unwitnessed in the plane above the stars.

My sisters were spun outward
from the pinion and swirling-lariat swim
of seals under ice. They walk on earth,
therefore, with bodies as smooth
and radiant as daylight through snow.
Each opens to her lover with the same
giving grace hidden in the fur-warmth
of a seal inclining toward surges,
turning passion round, round in currents
slowly, then heading fast for heaven.

From the line between rock and sky
come my brothers who hold measure
and lock in one hand, hold flocking
violet-green swallows and thin, shining
robes of rain in the emptiness
of the other hand, brothers who swell
with the blue space of mercy
in their stone-steady bones.

My cousins rose right out of the cheery,
cheery, cheery chu
cry of the painted redstart.
Thus they think in terms of three two-turning
leaves and one hanging plum, seven-syllable
gods, three open windows and a single latched
door, six stitches of scarlet silk––three
in, three out––and a final knot.

And I, rising up through sedimentary
earth––fossil femur, jaw and shell,
burrow and track––speak as I must,
in just this way, of all beginning
points of origin.

Friday, May 18, 2007

413. Ann Griffiths - Sally Roberts Jones

In little time I stake my claim
To all the panoply of fame.
My words are air, their manuscript
Forgetful flesh, a bony crypt
To lay these stillborn creatures in.

The foolishness of light intent
I turn to praise, my patterns meant,
Poor gist, for Him by whose free gift
My life is bought; the seasons sift
Away my youth, my fear, my sin.

The fire upon my hearth is tame
God's gentile creature; now my name
Is signed in polished oak and brass,
My soul is singing, clear as glass,
Pure as this babe I bear within.

My songs as light as ash are spent;
My hope's elsewhere, a long descent
In flesh and land –– and yet the air
Stirs with fresh music, calls me where
Intricate webs of words begin.

Lord, let me not be silent till
All earth is grinding in Your mill!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

412. Ordinance On Winning - Naomi Lazard

The suspense is over. You are the winner.
The doubts you have had
concerning the rules of the contest,
about the ability and fairness of the judges,
were illfounded. The rumors
pertaining to a "fix"
have been exposed as nonsense.
The contest is fair and always has been.
Now that the results are in
your prize will be sent to you
under separate cover. Be sure to have
your social security number
or other proper identification
for the postman.

Upon receiving it
contact us immediately
in order that you may be notified
of further developments, ensuing publicity,
other honors which will be forthcoming.
If by some chance your prize does not arrive
as scheduled, do not bother to inform us.

Our responsibility is discharged
with this announcement.
In the event that you do not receive
your prize, there is no authority
to whom you can turn
for information or redress.
We advise you to wait patiently
for your prize
which will either come or not.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

411. The Cloister - William Matthews

The last light of a July evening drained
into the streets below: My love and I had hard
things to say and hear, and we sat over
wine, faltering, picking our words carefully.

The afternoon before I had lain across
my bed and my cat leapt up to lie
alongside me, purring and slowly
growing dozy. By this ritual I could

clear some clutter from my baroque brain.
And into that brief vacancy the image
of a horse cantered, coming straight to me,
and I knew it brought hard talk and hurt

and fear. How did we do? A medium job,
which is well above average. But because
she had opened her heart to me as far
as she did, I saw her fierce privacy,

like a gnarled, luxuriant tree all hung
with disappointments, and I knew
that to love her I must love the tree
and the nothing it cares for me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

410. A Tale Begun - Wislawa Szymborska

The world is never ready
for the birth of a child.

Our ships are not yet back from Vinland.
We still have to get over the St. Gotthard pass.
We've got to outwit the watchmen on the desert of Thor,
fight our way through the sewers to Warsaw's center,
gain access to King Harold the Butterpat
and wait until the downfall of Minister Fouché.
Only in Acapulco
can we begin anew.

We've run out of bandages,
matches, hydraulic presses, arguments, and water.
We haven't got the trucks, we haven't got the Mings' support.
This skinny horse won't be enough to bribe the sheriff.
No news so far about the Tartars' captives.
We'll need a warmer cave for winter
and someone who can speak Harari.

We don't know who to trust in Nineveh,
what conditions the prince cardinal will decree,
which names Beria's still got inside his files.
They say Charles the Hammer strikes tomorrow at dawn.
In this situation let's appease Cheops,
report ourselves of our own free will,
change faiths,
pretend to be friends with the Doge
and that we've got nothing to do with the Kwabe tribe.

Time to light the fires.
Let's send a cable to grandma in Zabierzow.
Let's untie the knots in the yurt's leather straps.

May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.

But not so far
that it sees into the future.
Spare him
that one gift,
0 heavenly powers.

Monday, May 14, 2007

409. The Silence Of The World Before Bach - Lars Gustafsson

Translated from the Swedish by the poet and Australian poet Philip Martin

There must have been a world before
the Trio Sonata in D, a world before the A minor Partita,
but what kind of a world?
A Europe of vast empty spaces, unresounding,
everywhere unawakened instruments
where the Musical Offering, the Well Tempered Clavier
never passed across the keys.
Isolated churches
where the soprano-line of the Passion
never in helpless love twined round
the gentler movements of the flute,
broad soft landscapes
where nothing breaks the stillness
but old woodcutters' axes,
the healthy barking of strong dogs in winter
and, like a bell, skates biting into fresh ice;
the swallows whirring through summer air,
the shell resounding at the child's ear
and nowhere Bach nowhere Bach
the world in a skater's silence before Bach.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

408. How to Read This Story to Your Children - Kathleen Flenniken

When you woof for the dog,
imagine him gray at the muzzle,
profound and gentle, but
with a taste for tasseled loafers.
The clock in the hall tick tocks
with an Eastern European accent;
the scissors snip crisply
as a nurse in starched cap.

The child in this story never ain'ts
or slams doors or speaks insincerely,
and he's suspiciously good natured.
You'll need to intimate with your pauses
the sticky striped candy hidden in his fist,
and in the spaces between words
those midnight walks
when he sneaks into a field
of sunflowers and stars.

When Father speaks,
put a slight yawn in his voice,
as though he's only just
wakened into his life,
the delicacy of his son's bones,
his wife's cotton dress,
the morning home free from
the mysteries of work. Where
have I been? he seems to ask
behind his newspaper.
How do I enter the story?

And the smiling mother,
who speaks of nothing
but blueberries and making jam––
let her voice have an edge to say
she hates the hot work of canning,
the too-small house.
The sweeter and more patient her words,
the more impatient she sounds,
hinting she might shout with dismay
if her child asks one more question,
or run out and cut off all her hair.

When you're narrating, be the voice
of kindness, your very best self,
but a little removed
as if watching from the top banister.
You read in warm blue tones suggesting
dog and boy, father and mother
retrace their steps
over countless readings,
that no matter how they never learn,
you forgive them everything.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

407. On A Painting - Su Tung P'O

Su Tung P'O (1036-1101) - On A Painting By Wang The Clerk Of Yen Ling
(Translated from the Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth)

The slender bamboo is like a hermit.
The simple flower is like a maiden.
The sparrow tilts on the branch.
A gust of rain sprinkles the flowers.
He spreads his wings to fly
And shakes all the leaves.
The bees gathering honey
Are trapped in the nectar.
What a wonderful talent
That can create an entire Spring
With a brush and a sheet of paper.
If he would try poetry
I know he would be a master of words.

Friday, May 11, 2007

406. Reading Cavafy In Translation - Mairi Macinnes

He would never have liked me,
A woman who's ample and hopeful and hard-working,
Bothered by sentiment, neither stylish no austere.
Yet the loveless cadences of his translation
Warm me like an old friend from the capital
Met by chance in a provincial town.
His observations, not witty, are precise –
Like good stones in a jeweller's window
They give out fire.
They are the bounty of a fortunate life.
I understand too that the original contains
A familiar sadness about the civilization
Falling away behind us, and a dry contempt
For our inept love of the present,
That flares sometimes, like beacons before Armada.
A clever friend, he'd be amused to see me mourn
About the clouding over and loss of heaven to come.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

405. Our Ancestors' sort Lives- Wislava Szymborska

Few of them made it to thirty'.
Old age was the privilege of rocks and trees.
Childhood ended as fast as wolf cubs grow.
One had to hurry,
to get on with life
before the sun went down,
before the first snow.

Thirteen-year-olds bearing children,
four-year-olds stalking birds' nests in the rushes,
leading the hunt at twenty-
they aren't yet, then they are gone.
Infinity's ends fused quickly.
Witches chewed charms
with all the teeth of youth intact.
A son grew to manhood beneath his father's eye.
Beneath the grandfather's blank sockets the grandson was born.

And anyway they didn't count the years.
They counted nets, pots, sheds, and axes.
Time, so generous toward any petty star in the sky,
offered them a nearly empty hand
and quickly took it back, as if the effort were too much.
One step more, two steps more
along the glittering river
which sprang from darkness and vanished into darkness.

There wasn't a moment to lose,
no deferred questions, no belated revelations,
just those experienced in time.
Wisdom couldn't wait for gray hair.
It had to see clearly before it saw the light
and to hear every voice before it sounded.

Good and evil-
they knew little of them, but knew all:
when evil triumphs, good goes into hiding;
when good is manifest, then evil lies low.
Neither can be conquered
or cast off beyond return.
Hence, if joy, then with a touch of fear,
if despair, then not without some quiet hope.
Life, however long, will always be short.
Too short for anything to be added.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

404. The Signature Of All Things - Kenneth Rexroth

Kenneth Rexroth - The Signature Of All Things


My head and shoulders, and my book
In the cool shade, and my body
Stretched bathing in the sun, I lie
Reading beside the waterfall –
Boehme's 'Signature of all Things.'
Through the deep July day the leaves
Of the laurel, all the colors
Of gold, spin down through the moving
Deep laurel shade all day. They float
On the mirrored sky and forest
For a while, and then, still slowly
Spinning, sink through the crystal deep
Of the pool to its leaf gold floor.
The saint saw the world as streaming
In the electrolysis of love.
I put him by and gaze through shade
Folded into shade of slender
Laurel trunks and leaves filled with sun.
The wren broods in her moss domed nest.
A newt struggles with a white moth
Drowning in the pool. The hawks scream,
Playing together on the ceiling
Of heaven. The long hours go by.
I think of those who have loved me,
Of all the mountains I have climbed,
Of all the seas I have swum in.
The evil of the world sinks.
My own sin and trouble fall away
Like Christian's bundle, and I watch
My forty summers fall like falling
Leaves and falling water held
Eternally in summer air.


Deer are stamping in the glades,
Under the full July moon.
There is a smell of dry grass
In the air, and more faintly,
The scent of a far off skunk.
As I stand at the wood's edge,
Watching the darkness, listening
To the stillness, a small owl
Comes to the branch above me,
On wings more still than my breath.
When I turn my light on him,
His eyes glow like drops of iron,
And he perks his head at me,
Like a curious kitten.
The meadow is bright as snow.
My dog prows the grass, a dark
Blur in the blur of brightness
I walk to the oak grove where
The Indian village was once.
There, in blotched and cobwebbed light
And dark, dim in the blue haze,
Are twenty Holstein heifers,
Black and white, all lying down,
Quietly together, under
The huge trees rooted in the graves.


When I dragged the rotten log
From the bottom of the pool,
It seemed heavy as stone.
I let it lie in the sun
For a month; and then chopped it
Into sections, and split them
For kindling, and spread them out
To dry some more. Late that night;
After reading for hours,
While moths rattled at the lamp,
The saints and the philosophers
On the destiny of man;
I went out on my cabin porch,
And looked up through the black forest
At the swaying islands of stars.
Suddenly I saw at my feet,
Spread on the floor of night, ingots
Of quivering phosphorescence,
And all about were scattered chips
Of pale cold light that was alive.

Monday, May 07, 2007

403. Teaching The Ape To Write - James Tate

They didn't have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair
then tied his pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
"You look like a god sitting there.
Why don't you try writing something?"

Saturday, May 05, 2007

402. 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

Friday, May 04, 2007

401. The Lindberghs Land At Point Barrow - Jane Flanders

(after Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

"Dit-dah-dah-dit; dah-dah-dah . . ."
In foggy half-light we cling
To the cry of an impossible bird;
Someone tapping a slender key
Makes us believe in Point Barrow.
He says we must not mistake
That staggered cliff of ice for
Houses. Watch for red roofs.

"Dit-dah-dah . . ." In stunted speech
I plead for the weather. We are flying
Blind through Arctic vapors, answering
His shrill song with the engine's buzz,
Nosing over the tundra like an exotic
Bee tuned to the flower.

"Dit-dah-dit-dit . . . Low fog bank lifting
Off ice cap." The word we waited for.
The ice gives off its own gray light
As we search for the lagoon.
For the red roofs and the tower,
For the rare men who preceded us here.

We have emerged to crowds before, but never
Into such silence. Staunchly as
Animals, alien, fur-bearing,
They watch us come, draw back and
Greet us with a strange "yah-yah."
They've kept Thanksgiving dinner warm ––
Reindeer and snow goose.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

400. Blaen Cwrt - Gillian Clarke

You ask how it is. I will tell you.
There is no glass. The air spins in
The stone rectangle. We warm our hands
With apple wood. Some of the smoke
Rises against the ploughed, brown field
As a sign to our neighbours in the
Four folds of the valley that we are in.
Some of the smoke seeps through the stones
Into the barn where it curls like fern
On the walls. Holding a thick root
I press my bucket through the surface
Of the water, lift it brimming and skim
The leaves away. Our fingers curl on
Enamel mugs of tea, like ploughmen.
The stones clear in the rain
Giving their colours. It's not easy.
There are no brochure blues or boiled sweet
Reds. All is ochre and earth and cloud-green
Nettles tasting sour and the smells of moist
Earth and sheep's wool. The wattle and daub
Chimney hood has decayed away, slowly
Creeping to dust, chalking the slate
Floor with stories. It has all the first
Necessities for a high standard
Of civilised living: silence inside
A circle of sound, water and fire,
Light on uncountable miles of mountain
From a big, unpredictable sky,
Two rooms, waking and sleeping,
Two languages, two centuries of past
To ponder on, and the basic need
To work hard in order to survive.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

399. Breakfast Piece - Nancy Esposito

Were this the seventeenth century,
Antwerp or Haarlem, this would be
a painting, this table, earthenware
cup and silver strainer, black-handled
knife, pewter plate, this
tangerine. A wedge of light
from a windowless edge would slice
the chestnut wood, closing around
each object like calyxes of flowers
in a vase removed from this table.

In fact, it was a warm day
in December late
in the twentieth century, a day
I stood in a market looking
at tangerines that called up tile roofs
and cobble streets in any Flemish town.
And Florida or California
had been warmer still the day
a brown-skinned Mexican girl picked
this tangerine that I had picked out
and carried back to lie on this plate,
which could be pewter, next to this
knife, which could be black-handled,
and so on.
The orange of it is perfect
orange collapsed into a scar
that tattles of generality.

On this plate or in this painting
this tangerine is absolutely
what it is, select
as though it were meant to be.
And as the light
through the window shifts to reflect
the coming snow, a nimbus
of tangerine illuminates the table,
cup, strainer, knife and plate, selected
for still life by an Old Master