Wednesday, October 31, 2007

518. Sleeping in the Forest - Mary Oliver

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

517. On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam - Hayden Carruth

Well I have and in fact
more than one and I'll
tell you this too

I wrote one against
Algeria that nightmare
and another against

Korea and another
against the one
I was in

and I don't remember
how many against
the three

when I was a boy
Abyssinia Spain and
Harlan County

and not one
breath was restored
to one

shattered throat
mans womans or childs
not one not

but death went on and on
never looking aside

except now and then
with a furtive half-smile
to make sure I was noticing.

Monday, October 29, 2007

516. The Yellow Steeple - Andrew Hudgins

On my way home from work, I jumped the fence
and cut across the Baptist cemetery.
As I walked over Sarah Pratt,
I saw a workman standing on a scaffold
and swatting a coat of yellow paint
over the peeling whitewash on the steeple.
He dropped a can of paint, and as it fell
the paint dispersed into a mist
and spread a rain of yellow dots
across a corner of the cemetery––
the bushes , trees, headstones, and me.
It ruined by coat. I didn't care:
I felt like Danae when she
was loved by Zeus in the golden rain.
Then, looking up, I saw a hawk.
It didn't move at all––not once––
but hung arrested in the air
till I released the breath I held
in awe of its pinpoint, predatory grace.
Still watching it as I walked home,
I barked my shins on a marble angel,
slid down a bank of slick white mud,
fell in the creek, and came up laughing.

It was one of those sustaining days
when you're absolutely sure you have a soul.

Friday, October 26, 2007

515. A Not So Good Night In The San Pedro Of The World - Charles Bukowski

it's unlikely that a decent poem is in me
and I understand that this is strickly my
and of no interest to you
that I sit here listening to a man playing
a piano on the radio
and it's bad piano, both the playing and
the composition
and again, this is of no interest to you
as one of my cats,
a beautiful white with strange markings,
sleeps in the bathroom.

I have no ideas of what would be of interest to you
but I doubt that you would be of
interest to me, do don't get
in fact, come to think of it, you can
kiss my ass.

I continue to listen to the piano
this will not be a memorable night in my
life or yours.

let us celebrate the stupidity of our

 (Thanks Obaid)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

514. Dennis Was Very Sick - Yehuda Amichai

Translated from the Hebrew by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes

Dennis was very sick.
His face retreated
But his eyes advanced from it
With great courage
As in a war
When the fresh reinforcements
Pass on their way to the front
The retreating columns of the beaten.

He has to get healthy soon.
He is like our bank,
In which we deposited all we had in our heart.
He is like Switzerland,
Filled with banks.

Already he is smoking one cigarette,
Trembling a little,
And as it should be with a true poet,
He puts the burned matches
Back into the box.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

513. Obituary - Weldon Kees

Boris is dead. The fatalist parrot
No longer screams warnings to Avenue A.
He died last week on a rainy day.
He is sadly missed. His spirit was rare.

The cage is empty. The unhooked chain,
His pitiful drippings, the sunflower seeds,
The brass sign, "Boris" are all that remain.
His irritable body is under the weeds.

Like Eliot's world, he went out with a whimper;
Silent for days, with his appetite gone,
He watched the traffic flow by, unheeding,
His universe crumbling, his heart a stone.

No longer will Boris cry, 'Out brief candle!"
Or "Down with tyranny, hate, and war!"
To astonished churchgoers and businessmen.
Boris is dead. The porch is a tomb.
And a black wreath decorates the door.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

512. A Poem In Honor Of - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

Once, upon a time, invented zero.
In an uncertain country. Under a star
which may be dark by now. Bounded by dates,
but no one would swear to them. Without a name,
not even a contentious one. Leaving behind
no golden words beneath his zero
about life being like. Nor any legends:
that one day he appended zero
to a picked rose and tied it up into a bouquet;
that when he was about to die, he rode off into the desert
on a hundred-humped camel; that he fell asleep
in the shadow of the palm of primacy; that he will awaken
when everything has been counted,
down the last grain of sand. What a man
Slipping into the fissure between fact and fiction,
he has escaped our notice. Resistant
to every fate. He sheds
every form I give him.
Silence has closed over him, his voice leaving no scar.
The absence has taken on the look of the horizon,
Zero writes itself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

511. Excerpt from Oedipus - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Translated from the Greek by Ted Hughes
Act Five. Chorus draws the moral: fate cannot be avoided

Fate is the master of everything ... it is vain to fight against fate
from the beginning to the end the road is laid down
human scheming is futile ... worries are futile ... prayers are futile
sometimes a man wins ... sometimes he loses
who decides whether he loses or wins
it has all been decided long ago elsewhere
it is destiny
not a single man can alter it
all he can do is let it happen
the good luck the bad luck everything that happens
everything that seems to toss our days up and down
it is all there from the first moment
it is all there ... tangled in the knotted mesh of causes
helpless to change itself
even the great god lies there entangled
helpless in the mesh of causes
and the last day lies there tangled with the first
a man's life is a pattern on the floor ... like a maze
it is all fixed ... he wanders in the pattern
no prayer can alter it
or help him to escape it ... nothing

then fear can be the end of him
a man's fear of his fate is often his fate
leaping to avoid it ... he meets it

Friday, October 19, 2007

510. Henry James At Newport - Weldon Kees

(For Ann)

And shores and strands and naked piers,
Sunset on waves, orange laddering the blue,
White sails on headlands, cool
Wide curving bay, dim landward distances
Dissolving in the property of local air.

Viterbo, Bagdad, Carcassonne––
They play upon the mind, the eyes again,
Although these back verandas, resolutely prim,
Say Quakers, Roger Williams––murmurs of the past––
While special staircase ghosts return,
Known voices in the old brown rooms:
"People don't do those things."
The pictures huddle in the frames.

Removed from those blank days
In which the margin is consumed,
The palace sites stare seaward, pure, blasé,
Remember the detached, the casually disqualified,
The mild cosmopolites whose ivory dream
Found no successors, quietly embalmed.
They nursed nostalgia on the sun-warmed rocks,
Exquisite, sterile, easily distressed,
Thought much of Paris; died
While he lived out their deaths.

Shores, strands, white sails and naked piers,
Wide curving bay and landward distances.
Thoughts of the dispossessed on summer afternoons.
The sails are tattered and the shrubs are dead.
The stone-walled fields are featureless.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

509. Sweet Talk - Billy Collins

You are not the Mona Lisa
with that relentless look.
Or Venus borne over the froth
of waves on a pink half shell.
Or an odalisque by Delacroix,
veils lapping at your nakedness.

You are more like the sunlight
of Edward Hopper,
especially when it slants
against the eastern side
of a white clapboard house
in the early hours of the morning,
with no figure standing
at a window in a violet bathrobe,
just the sunlight,
the columns of the front porch,
and the long shadows
they throw down
upon the dark green lawn, baby.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

508. In The Louvre - Harvey Shapiro

Merode, Annunciation

I like my miracles in the living room
as in this 15th-century Dutch Annunciation.
The lady puts her book down for a moment
in deference to the angel, who is
trying to tell her something, while at the same time
struggling with his wings that are
too large for the small, well-furnished room.
The colors are the key to everything.
They are so rich and bright
as they might have been in the beginning
or as the painter believed them to be
in this beginning. They light up the room
for the lady as this small painting,
for a moment lights up a world.

Monday, October 15, 2007

507 - The Dance - William Carlos Williams

In Brueghel's great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash the impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess.

Friday, October 12, 2007

506. The All-Encompassing - Pattiann Rogers

Philosopher in Meditation by Rembrandt

The philosopher is the old, bearded
man in the red beanie, dozing,
it seems, in the sun by the window.
Before him on the table lies his ponderous
volume open to the indirect
light of the day.

But the philosopher could be
the bent firekeeper by the wall
behind the stairs. He stirs, rouses
the coals, studies the combustion.
He's hunched and crotchety there,
concentrating obviously as he constructs
his viable conflagration.

The sold spiral, helix staircase,
curving down the middle of the room,
could be the philosophy, each step leading
naturally and logically to the next.
It's the physical form of ordered thought
reaching a grand staircase conclusion.
The carpenter, then, is the missing seer.

Yet the small round door (dwarf-size)
behind the old man, rightly accepts,
by portal philosophy, that it must meditate
on its closed and locked condition
until a key appears, at which time
it must assimilate the revelation of open.

Does the blind black in the corners
beyond the reach of the window radiance,
as well as the cavern maw at the top
curve of the stairs, match the oblivion
in the sleep of the thinker? If so,
then the sun works a philosophy itself
by realizing the window ledge, the pottery
on the still and idle book, the folded hands,
the dropped chin. And the old scholar
sleeps in the light of the known.

O philosopher's meditation, don't you understand,
even the baskets and barrels and pots
and smoke of this hovel that split
and bang and cling, and the firekeeper
cracking his throat and the bucket
of ashes and clinkers on the hearth,
and each separate mediation in its place
and time, all these must take their positions
in the rhetoric of the system?

If I hear the ancient housewife rattling
and creaking now down the curve of the stairs
(old gene, spiral of conception, old twist),
dogs scrambling at her heels, broom
and dustpan knocking, if she enters here
with her raucous retinue, cursing and barking,
jolts the sleeper, sweeping under the old man's
stool, cuffs the firekeeper, sets the pans
and spoons swinging, then all previous
suppositions fail, and we must begin again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

505. People On A Bridge - Wislawa Szymborska (3)

Translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski Dziwna

A strange planet with its strange people.
They yield to time but don't recognise it.
They have ways of expressing their protest.
They make pictures, like this one for instance:

At first glance, nothing special.
You see water.
You see a shore.
You see a boat sailing laboriously upstream.
You see a bridge over the water and people on the bridge.
The people are visibly quickening their step,
because a downpour has just started
lashing sharply from a dark cloud.

The point is that nothing happens next.
The cloud doesn't change its colour or shape.
The rain neither intensifies nor stops.
The boat sails on motionless.
The people on the bridge
run just where they were a moment ago.

It's difficult to avoid remarking here:
this isn't by any means an innocent picture.
Here time has been stopped.
Its laws have been ignored.
It's been denied influence on developing events.
It's been insulted and spurned.

Thanks to a rebel,
a certain Hiroshige Utagawa
(a being which as it happens
has long since and quite properly passed away)
time stumbled and fell.

Maybe this was a whim of no significance,
a freak covering just a pair of galaxies,
but we should perhaps add the following:

Here it's considered proper
to regard this little picture highly,
admire it and thrill to it from age to age.

For some this isn't enough.
They even hear the pouring rain,
they feel the cool drops on necks and shoulders,
they look at the bridge and the people
as if they saw themselves there
in the self-same never-finished run
along an endless road eternally to be travelled
and believe in their impudence
that things are really thus.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

504. People On The Bridge - Wislawa Szymborska (2)

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak
(Hiroshige Utagawa: "The Landscape")

Strange planet and strange people on it.
They yield to time, but don't want to recognize time.
They have their ways of expressing resistance.
They make pictures such as this:

Nothing remarkable at first glance.
One can see water,
one riverbank,
a narrow boat strenuously moving upstream,
a bridge over the water,
and people on the bridge.
They are clearly picking up the pace,
as rain starts lashing down from a dark cloud.

The point is, nothing happens further.
The cloud changes neither shape not color.
The rain neither subsides nor surges.
The boat moves without moving.
The people on the bridge run
exactly where they ran before.

It is hard to get by without commentary:
This is not at all an innocent picture.
Time's been stopped here,
its laws no longer consulted.
It's been denied impact on the course of events,
disregarded and dishonored.

Thanks to a rebel,
one Hiroshige Utagawa
(a being who, by the way,
passed away, as is proper, long-ago),
time stumbled and fell.

Perhaps it is merely a prank without much meaning,
a whim on the scale of just a few galaxies,
but just in case,
let's add what happens next:

For generations it has been considered in good taste
to hold this painting in high esteem,
to praise it and be greatly moved by it.

For some, even that is not enough.
They hear the patter of rain,
feel the chill of raindrops on necks and shoulders,
they look at the bridge and the people on it
as if they saw themselves there,
in that never-ending race
along the endless road, to be traveled for eternity
and they have the audacity to believe
that it is real.

Monday, October 08, 2007

503. The People On The Bridge - Wislawa Szymborska (1)

(Hiroshige Utagawa: "The Landscape")

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

An odd planet, and those on it are odd, too.
They're subject to time, but they won't admit it.
They have their own ways of expressing protest.
They make up little pictures, like for instance this:

At first glance, nothing special.
What you see is water.
And one of its banks.
And a little boat sailing strenuously upstream.
And a bridge over the water, and people on the bridge.
It appears that the people are picking up their pace
because of the rain just beginning to lash down
from a dark cloud.

The thing is, nothing else happens.
The cloud doesn't change its color or its shape.
The rain doesn't increase or subside.
The boat sails on without moving.
The people on the bridge are running now
exactly where they ran before.

It's difficult at this point to keep from commenting.
This picture is by no means innocent.
Time has been stopped here.
Its laws are no longer consulted.
It has been relieved of its influence over the course of events.
It has been ignored and insulted.

On account of a rebel,
one Hiroshige Utagawa
(a being who, by the way,
died long ago and in due course),
time has tripped and fallen down.

It might well be simply a trifling prank,
an antic on the scale of just a couple of galaxies,
let us, however, just in case,
add one final comment for the record:

For generations, it's been considered good form here
to think highly of this picture,
to be entranced and moved.

There are those for whom even this is not enough.
They go so far as to hear the rain's spatter,
to feel the cold drops on their necks and backs,
they look at the bridge and the people on it
as if they saw themselves there,
running the same never-to-be-finished race
through the same endless, ever-to-be-covered distance,
and they have the nerve to believe
that this is really so.

Friday, October 05, 2007

502 Devotions, Six O'Clock - Lynne Knight

(After Paul Klee's La Belle Jardinière)

The beautiful gardener stood in the rain
and sang down to the roots
of all she'd lost and seen returned.
Her blue skirt darkened
like the patch of sky gone black
an hour back in warning.
Her shirt clung to her breasts,
thin hair to her skull.
Everything was hers: both joy and threat.
She thought of lovers, all
of them lost or gone, how the taste
of the body was like rain: nothing
you could name, just that mix
of sweet and steel in the hollow
of the tongue. She sang down
to the vein until the lovers
rose before her, ghostly
in the wet and steel-bright light.
It was not madness.
she studied their faded eyes,
black shoes, the hands she would know
anywhere. What could she want from them,
they seemed to ask (each mouth
open like a bird's at dawn).
What had they still not given.
This devotion, she whispered.
And took their hands and danced
while rain came down and time bled
into everything withheld.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

501. Hephaestus Starts Achilles' Shield


Hephaestus Starts Achilles' Shield
in Iliad XVIII: 508, Lombardo translation

Hephaestus...went to his bellows,
Turned them toward the fire, and ordered them to work.
And the bellows, all twenty, blew on the crucibles,
Blasting out waves of heat...
He cast durable bronze onto the fire, and tin,
Precious gold and silver. Then he positioned
His enormous anvil up on its block
And grasped his mighty hammer
In one hand, and in the other his tongs.
He made a shield first, heavy and huge,
Every inch of it intricately designed.
He threw a triple rim around it, glittering
Like lightning, and he made the strap silver.

The shield itself was five layers thick, and he
Crafted its surface with all of his genius.
On it he made the earth, the sky, the sea,
The unwearied sun, and the moon near full,
And all the signs that garland the sky,
Pleiades, Hyades, mighty Orion,
and the Gear they also call the Wagon....
On it it he made two cities, peopled
And beautiful.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

500. Watercolor By Paul Klee - Diane Ackerman

Because your head is a birdcage
(Jeder Mensch hat seinen Vogel),
because your brows still ladder high in surprise,
because your eye slots accept the large coins of devotion,
because your lips calm a kite wearing a spit curl,
because your sex is a lightpull beneath the hem of an angel
striding away briskly in pinstripe pants,
because you float above an organ's rosy music
and flaming exclamations points,
because you don't believe me when I pretend to lie,

dance you monster to my soft song!