Thursday, January 31, 2008

586. Shhh - Michael Waters

The language that remains unspoken, often
for years, till the shuddering rhythm of the Accord

helps to shape a stanza you revise aloud
in splendid isolation, becomes another version of goodbye

still less eloquent than Miles' muted "Shhh" on FM
& arriving much too late to make leaving easier for either.

"If I love you," wrote Goethe, "what business is it of yours?"
So the spondees that propel your dented shell this evening

begin to dissipate in the never-imagined future-without-her
like gasoline fumes floating from your fingers,

while those smoky solos––how she clasped you within her!––
resonate like the muffled clamor of orgasm, chords

blown beyond improvisation, beyond prosody, till
you surrender destination, your stress-laden vocabulary,

to the tires' susurration on the sodden leaves, & the slow,
unbroken seeping-upward of the combo. Shhh.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

585. You Darkness - Ranier Maria Rilke

You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything;
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them!—
powers and people—

and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

584. Numbers - Mary Cornish

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition--
add two cups of milk and stir--
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

And multiplication's school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.

Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else's
garden now.

There's an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mothers' call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn't anywhere you look.

Monday, January 28, 2008

583. Shapechangers In Winter - Margaret Atwood

Through the slit of our open window, the wind
comes in and flows around us, nothingness
in motion, like time. The power of what is not there.
The snow empties itself down, a shadow turning
to indigo, obliterating
everything out there, roofs, cars, garbage cans,
dead flowerstalks, dog turds, it doesn’t matter.
You could read this as indifference
on the part of the universe, or else a relentless
forgiveness: all of our
scratches and blots and mortal
wounds and patched-up jobs
wiped clean in the snow’s huge erasure.

I feel it as a pressure,
an added layer:
above the white waterfall of snow
thundering down; then attic, moth-balled
sweaters, nomadic tents,
the dried words of old letters;
then stairs, then children, cats and radiators, peeling paint,
us in our bed, the afterglow
of a smoky fire, our one candle flickering;
below us, the kitchen in the dark, the wink
of pots on shelves; then books and tools, then cellar
and furnace, graying dolls, a bicycle,
the whole precarious geology of house
crisscrossed with hidden mousetrails,
and under that a buried river
that seeps up through the cement
floor every spring,
and the tree roots snouting their slow way
into the drains;
under that, the bones
of our ancestors, or if not theirs, someone’s,
mixed with a biomass of nematodes;
under that, bedrock, then molten
stone and the earth’s fiery core;
and sideways, out into the city, street
and corner store and mall
and underpass, then barns and ruined woodlands, continent
and island, oceans, mists
of story drifting
on the tide like seaweed, animal
species crushed and blinking out,
and births and illnesses, hatred and love infra-
red, compassion fleshtone, prayer ultra-
violet; then rumours, alternate waves
of sad peace and sad war,
and then the air, and then the scintillating ions,
and then the stars. That’s where
we are.

Some centuries ago, when we lived at the edge
of the forest, on nights like this
you would have put on your pelt of a bear
and shambled off to prowl and hulk
among the trees, and be a silhouette of human
fears against the snowbank.
I would have chosen fox;
I liked the jokes,
the doubling back on my tracks,
and, let’s face it, the theft.
Back then, I had many forms:
the sliding in and out
of my own slippery eelskin,
and yours as well; we were each other’s
iridescent glove, the deft body
all sleight-of-hand and illusion.
Once we were lithe as pythons, quick
and silvery as herring, and we still are, momentarily,
except our knees hurt.
Right now we’re content to huddle
under the shed feathers of duck and goose
as the wind pours like a river
we swim in by keeping still,
like trout in a current.
Every cell
in our bodies has renewed itself
so many times since then, there’s
not much left, my love,
of the originals. We’re footprints
becoming limestone, or think of it
as coal becoming diamond. Less
flexible, but more condensed;
and no more scales or aliases,
at least on the outside. Though we’ve accumulated,
despite ourselves, other disguises:
you as a rumpled elephant—
hide suitcase with white fur,
me as a bramble bush. Well, the hair
was always difficult. Then there’s
the eye problems: too close, too far, you’re a blur.
I used to say I’d know you anywhere,
but it’s getting harder.

This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.

Taking hands like children
lost in a six-dimensional
forest, we step across.
The walls of the house fold themselves down,
and the house turns
itself inside out, as a tulip does
in its last full-blown moment, and our candle
flares up and goes out, and the only common
sense that remains to us is touch,

as it will be, later, some other
century, when we will seem to each other
even less what we were.
But that trick is just to hold on
through all appearances; and so we do,
and yes, I know it’s you;
and that is what we will come to, sooner
or later, when it’s even darker
than It is now, when the snow is colder,
when it’s darkest and coldest
and candles are no longer any use to us
and the visibility is zero: Yes.
It’s still you. It’s still you.

Friday, January 25, 2008

582. Poetry Break - Louis Glück

The sun is setting behind the mountains,
the earth is cooling.
A stranger has tied his horse to a bare chestnut tree.
The horse is quiet - he turns his head suddenly,
hearing, in the distance, the sound of the sea.

I make my bed for the night here,
spreading my heaviest quilt over the damp earth.

The sound of the sea-
when the horse turns its head, I can hear it.

On a path through the bare chestnut trees,
a little dog trails its master.

The little dog - didn’t he used to rush ahead,
straining the leash, a though to show his master
what he sees there, there in the future-

the future, the path, call it what you will…

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

581. Let Evening Come - Jane Kenyon

Let the light of the late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the crickets take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to his sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

580. Druidic Rimes - Howard Nemerov

The mind went forth with naked eye
To take a turn about the sky.
The number of the stars was small,
Not 'numberless' at all.

Back then, the nature of the field
Was chiefly to be unrevealed.
But when the telescope was trained
Where only darkness reigned,

Or seemed to, lights broke into being
As if to marry the eye's seeing
In the flowering of a cosmic spring
That grew like anything.

Astronomers then put their hopes
Into profounder telescopes
And for a while the universe
Answered with stars and stars,

Whole galaxies and nebulae,
As if they'd just begun to be,
Blazed in the dark of outer space
As in the mind's dark place.

Now mind went forth without the eye
On waves beyond the visible sky:
Impulses from what scarce was matter
Bounced off a shallow platter

Into the realm of number pure
The only measure made so sure
That mind was guaranteed to mind it
And always stand behind it.

Number went through the universe.
Numberless numbers in reverse
Came back in echo, pulse and blip;
It was as if the lip

Of silence learned to intimate
In integers that it might mate
Its dark selfhood to any mind
Consenting to blind

Into the secret labyrinth
Of its own lens, and its first myth
Of sacrificing to the sky
The always naked eye.

Monday, January 21, 2008

579. News Of The World - Harvey Shapiro

The past, like so many bad poems,
Waits to be reordered,
And the future needs reordering too.
Rain dampens the brick,
And the house sends up its smell
Of smoke and lives––
My own funk the major part.
Angling from direction,
I think of the favored in Homer,
Who in a dream, a council meeting,
At the bottom of despair,
Heard the voice of a god or goddess,
Though it was, say, only Polites
Speaking. Turning to a friend,
I ask again
For news of the world.

Friday, January 18, 2008

578. Musical Moments, Outside A Graveyare - Dannie Abse

One day, the piano has all the colours of
the orchestra; another day, it brings forth
sound that come from other worlds.

Edwin Fischer

Many nearer than you have gone, too many,
so your going does not touch me deeply,
a one-fingered piano note only
soft as a caress, sounding regret
and then again regret, diminuendo,
spare––hardly a Wagnerian funeral march;
yet I want to say, 'Sorry, Miss Crouch,'
now that you are dismissed forever.
You were so unassuming and gentle.
If there's a heaven, that's you address.

Once, after the war, I observed you
at a romantic Moiseiwitsch concert,
at Cardiff's plush Empire (so soon after,
demolished, replaced by a neon-lit Superstore).
You sat thrilled in the stalls, eyes raptly shut
––not in the insanity of prayer but
as if that music was making love to you.

Now I stare at church gargoyles, church spire,
then close my eyes also. Wait! Be patient! Look!
The Assumption of Miss Crouch. There! Up there!
Several hundred feet above the spire,
blessed and sedate in evening dress,
rising slowly above Glamorganshire,
you, old lady, playing the piano––
not an upright piece of furniture either,
but a concert-hall, exalted Bechstein,
its one black wing uplifted and beating,
bringing forth sounds from another world,
yes, you and the piano triumphantly rising
between the clouds, high and higher.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

577. Allegro - Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer - Allegro (1)
Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton

I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green, lively, and calm.

The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn't pay the emperor tax.

I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on world calmly.

I hoist the Haydnflag––it signifies:
"We don't give in. But want peace."

The music is a glass-house on the slope
where the stones fly, the stones roll.

And the stones roll right through
but each pane stays whole.

Tomas Tranströmer - Allegro (2)
Translated from the Swedish by May Swenson and Leif Sjöberg

I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in by hands.

The keyboard is willing. Mild hammers strike.
The sound is green, lively tranquil.

The sound says that freedom exists,
that someone does not pay Caesar's tax.

I put my hands in by Haydn-pockets
and pretend to take a cool look at the world.

I hoist the Haydn-flag––it indicates:
"We won't surrender. But want peace."

Music is a glass house on the hillside
where stones fly, stones crash.

And the stones crash straight through glass,
but the house remains whole.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

576. ". . .Else A Great Prince In Prison Lies" - Denise Levertov

All that blesses the step of the antelope
all the grace a giraffe lifts to the highest leaves
all steadfastness and pleasant gazing, alien to ennui,
dwell secretly behind man's misery.

Animal face, when the lines
of human fear, knots of a net, become transparent
and your brilliant eyes and velvet muzzle
are revealed, who shall say you are not the face of a man?

In the dense light of wakened flesh
animal man is a prince. As from alabaster
a lucency animates him from heel to forehead.
Then his shadows are deep and not gray.

Monday, January 14, 2008

575. Ars Poetica - Blaga Dimitrova

Translated from the Bulgarian by Ludmilla G. Popava-Wightman

Write each of your poems
as if it were your last.
In this century, saturated with strontium,
charged with terrorism,
flying with supersonic speed,
death comes with terrifying suddenness.
Send each of your words
like a last letter before execution,
a call carved on a prison wall.
You have no right to lie,
no right to play pretty little games.
You simply don’t have the time
to correct your mistakes.
Write each of your poems,
tersely, mercilessly,
with blood — as if it were your last.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

574. Sunday Morning With The Sensational Nightingales - Billy Collins

It was not the Five Mississippi Blind Boys
who lifted me off the ground
that Sunday morning
as I drove down for the paper, some oranges, and bread.
Nor was it the Dixie Hummingbirds
or the Soul Stirrers, despite their quickening name,
or even the Swan Silvertones
who inspired me to look over the commotion of trees
into the open vault of the sky.

No, it was the Sensational Nightingales
who happened to be singing on the gospel
station early that Sunday morning
and must be credited with the bumping up
of my spirit, the arousal of the mice within.

I have always loved this harmony,
like four, sometimes five trains running
side by side over a contoured landscape––
make that a shimmering, red-dirt landscape,
wildflowers growing along the silver tracks,
lace tablecloths covering the hills,
the men and women in white shirts and dresses
walking in the direction of a tall steeple.
Sunday morning in a perfect Georgia.

But I am not here to describe the sound
of the falsetto whine, sepulchral bass,
alto and tenor fitted snugly in between;
only to witness my own minor ascension
that morning as they sang, so parallel,
about the usual themes,
the garden of suffering,
the beads of blood on the forehead,
the stone before the hillside tomb,
and the ancient rolling waters
we would all have to cross some day.

God bless the Sensational Nightingales,
I thought as I turned up the volume,
God bless their families and their powder blue suits.
They are a far cry from the quiet kneeling
I was raised with,
a far, hand-clapping cry from the candles
that glowed in the alcoves
and the fixed eyes of saints staring down
from their corners.

Oh, my cap was on straight that Sunday morning
and I was fine keeping the car on the road.
No one would ever have guessed
I was being lifted into the air by nightingales,
hoisted by their beaks like a long banner
that curls across an empty blue sky,
caught up in the annunciation
of these high, most encouraging tidings.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

573. Radio - David Lehman

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the
of Teddy Wilson
After You've Gone
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom as I enter
in the dark

Friday, January 11, 2008

572. A Voyage Across Oceanus Librarius - William Wehrmeister

Open the book slowly, to the first paragraph,
and you are on the promenade deck, hanging
over the railing and looking down at travelers
as they board with their boxes and suitcases,
the excited clatter drowned by the ship's
whistle blaring, and then, the gangplank drawn,
the bow points out the bay to the ocean,
and the deck rises to the first great waves
arriving from two thousand miles away, and
there is the sharp bitter tang of the salt air.

Where it goes, you think you know, but today
it floats by strange mazes in the deep green
of the Amazon, where red painted Jivaros stare
out, and vivid parrots scream in the treed canopy.
Around several furious bends, the sudden roar
of a thundering waterfall with vortexed eddies,
and pulling into a sandy safe landing, the river
is silenced by the galaxy as it wheels overhead,
in the soft darkness of the empty quarter of Arabia,
two hundred miles from the nearest town.

There is the sudden shriek of a great haboob,
and sand blots out all vision, and the amber grit
clogs the nostrils and the folds of the Keffiyeh.
Clearing at dawn, the sun glares on the roads
of a crowded city, where people, dressed in Saris,
emerge from trains onto streets, and immerse us in
the huge floods of a dusty population, while
you hang precipitously, hacking steps on the
steep wall of an ice blue glacier, the chips
falling away thousands of feet into nothingness,
into the sweaty depths of a Parisian kitchen,
clogging debris laden sinks while great chefs swear
vile imprecations at a clumsily dropped pan.

Outside on the crowded streets, the great towers of
Shanghai sheer upwards over limos and taxis,
bicycles weave fearlessly in and out, underneath
the white statue of Christ which rises above the blue lined
beaches, while the flashing dancers of Rio samba
through the sidewalk revelers of Mardi Gras,
next to the black hooded Penitentes of Spain.
The throng parts to make way for the camels,
as they plod softly across the Steppes of Central
Asia, the snow capped Pamirs overhead,
while the minaret spires of Haga Sophia stare
out over the Bosphorus, echoing the prayers
of the Hassidic Jews at the Wailing Wall.

A ferry’s white wake is in the distance, bearing
escapees to Alcatraz, island of Pelicans,
surrounded by the sun shimmering summer of the
great California valley, from the center of which
no hill, no tree, only the same unending green.
A bulky Eskimo lurches through the chest high plants,
hurling his spear at a seal on an ice floe, at the edge
of a deep unknown valley of New Guinea, where
a Papuan turns his face upward, hearing the churr
churr kyong, to see the flash of orange wings.
What’s that? says the dentist, “You’re still feeling pain?”
His large needle is poised once again over our gaping
mouth, as we stare upward at the great comet, it’s tail
stretching from horizon to zenith, while Mars flaunts
it’s flaming red, and the four planets of Jupiter
cast orbed shadows over the equatorial belts,
and Saturn's rings float arching overhead.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

571. The League Of Minor Characters - Kathleen Flenniken

The main character sits on his childhood bed
naming everything that's gone––ex-job, ex-wife,
ex-best friend––and finally apprehends

the breakdown we've felt coming since chapter five.
When his doctor calls with test results, most of us
decide to remain minor characters

like the quixotic neighbor growing
bonsai sequoias, or the waitress with thick
glasses and a passion for chess,

because the main character, in the thrall
of a relentless plot, can't help hurtling toward
the crumbling cliff edge. And who needs that?

Some inherit genes from generations
of minor players, some must learn to guard
those sunny Sundays with the paper

full of heroes in distant gunfire. And some of us
who've gotten smug over the years turn another page,
turn on the football game, until one day

the doorbell rings. We close our books,
adjust our eyes, and the protagonist
sweeps in insisting himself into our lives

with his entourage of lust and language,
sorrow, brio. Hero, anti-hero, it hardly matters
with the lights this bright. The music crests

and it's time to speak.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

570. Praying - Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Monday, January 07, 2008

569. Halloween - Ross Talarico

for Joseph

My son, a mere three,
Did not hesitate
When I asked if I should carve
A happy face or sad
In the hallowed pumpkin.
Sad, he said.

The knife glistened
In the warm, leafy, October air,
And slid easily
Through the dry pulp
Until the down-turned mouth
Bought smiles, like masks,
To our faces.

This is our costume,
The happiness we don
Through the haunted doorways
Of the bewitched dark.
Too easily his bag fills with treats,
Small, sweet sacrifices
To appease the other god
Who roams about, that ghost writer
Of window verse.

Under the soft, smokey haze
Of the streetlamp
Witches, skeletons, Spiderman
And Hulks
Dance their way
Into the fragrant transcendence
Of burning leaves, hearts,
Ashes swirling
Under the stars . . .

On our porch, awaiting us,
The sad pumpkin
Glows in a last flicker of light.
You said sad
Because you knew that we would
Come back to this,
The costume stripped
From your shoulders,
The frail human yawn,
The kiss and the terrible privacy
Of your sleep;

Because I knew too
In the hollow of my gutted chest
That the joy between us
Is equal to
Its inadequate echo in the world,
That when the pumpkin, like so many moons,
Tumbles through the universe,
The only consideration will be
The grace and curve
Of our carvings;
And those expressionistic slivers,
Smile or frown, will be nothing
But the artful opening
Through which our silence rises
And is sung.

Friday, January 04, 2008

568. Report To Crazy Horse - William Stafford

All the Sioux were defeated. Our clan
got poor, but a few got richer.
They fought two wars. I did not
take part. No one remembers your vision
or even your real name. Now
the children go to town and like
loud music. I married a Christian.

Crazy Horse, it is not fair
to hide a new vision from you.
In our schools we are learning
to take aim when we talk, and we have
found out our enemies. They shift when
words do; they even change and hide
in every person. A teacher here says
hurt or scorned people are places
where real enemies hide. He says
we should not hurt or scorn anyone.
but help them. And I will tell you
in a brave way, the way Crazy Horse
talked: that teacher is right.

I will tell you a strange thing:
at the rodeo, close the the grandstand,
I saw a farm lady scared by a blown
piece of paper; and at the place
horses and policemen were no longer
frightening, but suffering faces were,
and the hunched-over backs of the old.

Crazy Horse, tell me if I am right:
these are the things we thought we were
doing something about.

In your life you saw many strange things,
and I will tell you another: now I salute
the white man’s flag. But when I salute
I hold my hand alertly on the heartbeat
and remember all of us and how we depend
on a steady pulse together. There are those
who salute because they fear other flags
or mean to use ours to chase them:
I must not allow my part of saluting
to mean this. All of our promises,
our generous sayings to each other, our
honorable intentions—those I affirm
when I salute. At these times it is like
shutting my eyes and joining a religious
colony at prayer in the gray dawn
in the deep aisles of a church.

Now I have told you about new times.
Yes, I know others will report
different things. They have been caught
by weak ways. I tell you straight
the way it is now, and it is our way,
the way we were trying to find.

The chokecherries along our valley
still bear a bright fruit. There is good
pottery clay north of here. I remember
our old places. When I pass the Musselshell
I run my hand along those old grooves in the rock.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

567. Poem In Honor Of - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from Polish by Graźyna Drabik and Austin Flint

Once upon a time he was. He invented zero.
In a certain country. Under a star
that by now may have burned out. Between dates
nobody could swear to. Without a name
even to dispute. Beneath his zero
he left no golden thought about life
which is like . . . . Nor a legend
that one day he picked up a rose,
added a zero and tied them into a bouquet
That when he was to die, he rode off into the desert
on a camel of a hundred humps. That he fell asleep
in the shade of the palm of victory. That he will
wake up when everything is counted
to the last grain of sand. What a man.
Through the crack between fact and fiction
he escaped our attention. Resistant
to every fate. He throws off
any form I attempt to give him.
Silence grew over him, leaving not even the scar of a voice.
Absence assumed the shape of a horizon.
Zero writes itself.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

566. one for Sherwood Anderson - Charles Bukowski

sometimes I forget about him and his peculiar
innocence, almost idiotic, awkward and mawkish.
he liked walking over bridges and through cornfields.
tonight I think about him, the way the lines were,
one felt space between his lines, were,
and felt space between his lines, air
and he told it so the lines remained
carved there
something like van Gogh.
he took his time
looking about
sometimes running to save something.
then at other times giving it all away
he didn't understand Hemingway's neon tattoo,
found Faulkner much too clever.
he was a midwestern hick
he took his time.
he was as far away from Fitzgerald as he was
from Paris

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

565. First Grade Homework - D. Nurkse

The child's assignment
"What is a city?"
All dusk, she sucks her pencil
while cars swish by
like ghosts, neighbors' radios
forecast rain, high clouds,
diminishing winds: at last
she writes: The city is everyone."
Now it's time
for math, borrowing and exchanging,
the long discipleship
to zero, the stranger,
the force that makes us
what we study: father and child,
writing in separate books,
infinite and alone.